Happiness and The Fall

January 25, 2006    By: Geoff J @ 11:56 pm   Category: Before Abraham,Happiness,Theology

There has been all sorts of talk about happiness lately in the ‘nacle. (See here, here, and here.) I think these happiness discussions dovetail nicely into my recent posts and comments about the Garden of Eden story being allegorical. Since I promised I would flesh this idea out better, I figured I could start that process by looking at how an allegorical Fall of Adam and Eve could or should affect our expectations for happiness in this life.

As a brief recap: I have become increasingly interested in the idea that there was no literal Garden of Eden on the earth, but that the entire story of Adam and Eve in the Garden represents our pre-mortal progress from pre-sentient spirits/intelligences to the sentient spirits/intelligences we are now. Therefore, the Fall could be viewed as figurative of our progressing from innocence and (blissful?) ignorance to sentience and becoming “as the gods, knowing good and evil”. Why would that process be described as a Fall? Well perhaps Dave shed some light on the subject when he retold Voltaire’s “The Story of the Good Brahmin”. It was so good that I’ll repeat it here:


“I wish I had never been born!” the Brahmin remarked.

“Why so?” said I.

“Because,” he replied, “I have been studying these forty years, and I find that it has been so much time lost … I believe that I am composed of matter, but I have never been able to satisfy myself what it is that produces thought. I am even ignorant whether my understanding is a simple faculty like that of walking or digesting, or if I think with my head in the same manner as I take hold of a thing with my hands … I talk a great deal, and when I have done speaking I remain confounded and ashamed of what I have said.”

The same day I had a conversation with an old woman, his neighbor. I asked her if she had ever been unhappy for not understanding how her soul was made? She did not even comprehend my question. She had not, for the briefest moment in her life, had a thought about these subjects with which the good Brahmin had so tormented himself. She believed in the bottom of her heart in the metamorphoses of Vishnu, and provided she could get some of the sacred water of the Ganges in which to make her ablutions, she thought herself the happiest of women. Struck with the happiness of this poor creature, I returned to my philosopher, whom I thus addressed:

“Are you not ashamed to be thus miserable when, not fifty yards from you, there is an old automaton who thinks of nothing and lives contented?”

“You are right,” he replied. “I have said to myself a thousand times that I should be happy if I were but as ignorant as my old neighbor; and yet it is a happiness which I do not desire.”

This reply of the Brahmin made a greater impression on me than anything that had passed.

The idea is pretty simple – knowing hurts. But knowing is still better than not knowing.

Maybe these simple truths explain much of the Fall story. God knew of the great pain that attends sentience and human existence. He knew the horrors and fears that are associated with knowing we will “surely die” here in mortality. This human gig is apparently not for every Intelligence and God warns the pre-sentient intelligences of that. But we (Adam and Eve) were driven by something to want it anyway. (I’ll post later on how the Satan character might represent our nascent pride/ambition/greed.) We insisted on knowing. God let us make that choice (though it may have been a long process). God warned us of the trouble we were asking for too, but he too knew that some of us could and would press through the tempestuous seas and miserable aspects of knowing and eventually reach the peaceful shores on the other side where he resides.

But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it, nevertheless, thou mayest choose for thyself, for it is given unto thee; but, remember that I forbid it, for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. (Moses 3:18)

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it became pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make her wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and also gave unto her husband with her, and he did eat. (Moses 4:12)

I’m reminded of this great quote attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes:

“I wouldn’t give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity; I would give my right arm for the simplicity on the far side of complexity.”

I believe the same principle applies to happiness. I suspect we are human because we are composed of and powered by spirits that didn’t give a fig about the happiness on the ignorant side of complexity so we chose to risk all for the happiness on the far side of complexity. I firmly believe that happiness exists. I think the more we become like God the more we begin to experience it – even in this life.

[Associated radio.blog song: The Lightning Seeds – The Life of Riley. I almost used “Happy” off the same album, but I like this song better and it still fit the post…]


  1. I imagine that you feel that long term happiness comes from ‘becoming’ like God. The happiness in that may be sweeter than if all the knowledge on the other side of complexity were just given to us. I also imagine that you would say that ultimately this knowledge will only fully come through revelation. But that this revelation is not simply given, but must be ‘earned’ in most cases. I agree.

    I guess I fail to see how a symbolic Garden of Eden is necessary to any of this. Literal or not would not the same principle apply? I believe that at a certain level all of us made a similar decision to Adam and Eve.

    Comment by Eric — January 26, 2006 @ 6:45 am

  2. I’ve always found that the more I learn the more I crave to know more. I’ve reflected back many times and thought to myself, I wish I were ignorant like I used to be, when I was ignorant I didn’t have a care in the world. This carelessness also contributed to contentment. I think that contentment is often mistaken for happiness. After my reflections I always end up conceding that I am happier with knowledge than without it, no matter how un-contented I may become.

    Comment by Craig Atkinson — January 26, 2006 @ 8:09 am

  3. Eric: The happiness in that may be sweeter than if all the knowledge on the other side of complexity were just given to us.

    Eric, this is misleading because it is experiential knowledge so cannot be given to us (even if God wanted to). It also explains why Christ insisted on following in his Father’s footsteps in becoming a savior (even though he was already God). Therefore, revelation is an important part of the experience, but not sufficient in itself — we must have the necessary experiences too.

    You are right that we could also see the Fall narrative as literal here on earth but serving as a type and shadow for all the things I mention in this post. (The scientific/evolution evidence has been driving my consideration of a purely allegorical Garden of Eden narrative.)

    Craig – Thanks. You make an interesting differentiation between contentment and happiness.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 26, 2006 @ 9:13 am

  4. Great post, Geoff. I have nothing much to say other than that you are spot-on as far as Eden/Adam/Eve being allegorical. And it’s a great allegory.

    Comment by Ronan — January 26, 2006 @ 11:34 am

  5. Geoff J, could you outline what role you see the atonement playing in our fall. Does it differ at all from how we as lds generally consider the atonement?

    Comment by finn — January 26, 2006 @ 12:20 pm

  6. Sure finn. I have actually written half a dozen posts on the subject of the Atonement already — check them out here. I will probably continue to flesh out ideas about the Fall in the the near future as well.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 26, 2006 @ 12:28 pm

  7. I have NO idea why the Garden of Eden would be considered an allegory? But then, I haven’t been through the temple so then again I’m kind of clueless.

    And I’m not arguing with anyone suggesting that! Just stating my own ignorance of the basis for that.

    BUT. Why I’m really posting! On various happiness/suck threads, I had been tempted to post an experience I had last month. I decided to make it a post on my own blog, and just did so, here.

    Comment by sarebear — January 26, 2006 @ 12:58 pm

  8. Great post. I had similar thoughts about the Brahmin story and the garden of eden. We are all the sort to choose to suffer and know, rather than be content and ignorant.

    As an aside, I’ve met known anyone else that has ever heard of the Lightening Seeds. I’m 22, so it wasn’t really part of the pop culture of my peers when I was growing up. I’m guessing you’re probably my oldest sister’s age. I wanted to be her when I was little, so I’ve inhereted much of her taste in music and other stuff. I tend to get along really well with people who graduated high school in the late 80’s.

    Comment by Andermom/Starfoxy — January 26, 2006 @ 1:54 pm

  9. Thanks Andermom/Starfoxy. Wow. I just realized I graduated from high school nearly 18 years ago! (Class of ’88) That means I’ve almost been out of high school for half of my life now.

    Cool. Being 35-36 is waaaaay more fun than being 17-18 was I think. Let’s hope life keeps getting… ummm… “happier”.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 26, 2006 @ 2:02 pm

  10. Therefore, revelation is an important part of the experience, but not sufficient in itself-we must have the necessary experiences too.

    I was lucky enough to take several classes from the well-knownauthor and philosophy professor, Jacob Needleman, when I was in college. He told the story of a guru high up in the mountains of India (or Tibet?). He held sacred texts that would enlighten those who read them, but for a thousand years, the only way to read them was to make the journey up the mountain to this shrine. One day, he was approached by a publisher who asked the current guardian of the texts to let him publish this knowledge, so that the world could benefit from the enlightenment contained therein. The guru refused, telling the publisher that anyone who bought these texts in a paperback at the store would receive nothing from them. It was the accomplishment of the difficult journey up the mountain that made the texts so meaningful.

    Comment by meems — January 26, 2006 @ 8:28 pm

  11. Just a few quick questions Geoff.

    If the garden story was allegorical as you say, how do you reconcile the account in 2 Nephi ch.2 as that being an actual account of the fall that Adam and Eve caused to happen?

    How does Adam and Eve, (if they were just allegorical creatures), bring about the whole human race after the fall?

    If as you say that the fall was allegorical, does death happening before Adam coincide with the word of God?

    2 Nephi 2:22 speaks of the creation as being immortal, If this is not correct as you have noted in other posts, and you say it was just an allegory, At what point does the fall actually happen and man become mortal?

    You use Adam and Eve to represent us like they are not real people that actually walked the earth. Then you use Satan as if he is not really a person but part of our bad side. How do you use God in the Allegory? What does God represent?

    The only point I agree with you is that at some point we had to come to a knowledge of what and who we are and that with this understanding we could reason and wonder about our destiny to become Godlike. The difference is that we had that knowledge before the creation ever came about. The whole purpose of the creation was so that we could progress onwards with the newfound knowledge we had already been given.

    Adam and Eve were real characters, we have that as evidence from the scriptures. The fall was also an actual physical event, we have that evidence also. The scriptures are full of accounts refering to Adam and the fall as an actual part of recorded history.

    Adam and Eve were truly the first of all flesh (both animal and human)on the earth after it had been sanctified on the seventh day.

    Comment by Rob Osborn — January 26, 2006 @ 10:39 pm

  12. Rob O.,

    I don’t see anything in 2 Nephi 2 that disagrees with my theory about the Garden of Eden narrative as allegory. I think my theory is in harmony with the scriptures. Adam and Eve represent all of us so of course the human race resulted from our collective pre-mortal “fall” from blissful ignorance into painful knowledge. I think the no death before the fall thing refers to the fact that there is no permanent death for spirits and that prior to sentience, intelligences can’t comprehend what death means anyway.

    See my follow up post for answers to several of your other questions. I don’t dispute that there was a literal Adam and Eve on our earth — my contention is that they arrived here when they received a “coat of skins” and were cast out of “paradise”.

    Also, God represents God in the allegory.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 27, 2006 @ 9:28 am

  13. I understand the Genesis 2-3 account as an allegorical history of real events that occured in mankind’s first estate. There was a real spiritual creation of man, spiritual bodies of spirit dust from a spirit earth (minus the eternal intelligence of course). There was a real acquaintance with divine law, there was a real transgression and corruption of that law, and that led to the need for a second estate in mortality, marriage, family, pro-creation, at-one-ment, and so on.

    Mortality wasn’t some sort of magical transformation of our original spirit bodies, mortality was designed to give us a chance to overcome the problems of the first estate, without being cast out of God’s presence forever, due to our transgression of his holy laws according to our own lusts and desires, desires which long preceded mortality. Spiritual death is the natural consequence of those lusts – mortality is a chance given to us to discipline the man of sin, and change our natures of our own accord after the man of the Spirit, through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Comment by Mark Butler — August 14, 2006 @ 10:53 am

  14. Mark,

    It seems to me that you describe a needlessly redundant model. And if we had a literal spirit run-through of everything then why were there no spirit families and spirit procreation with those spirit bodies? Your suggestion makes no sense at all to me. (Even though I recognize that what you describe is a popular take based on the Book of Moses.)

    Comment by Geoff J — August 14, 2006 @ 11:00 am

  15. Geoff,

    There was no pro-creation in our first estate. Pro-creation, and eternal family relationships, with a mother and a father, brother and sister, in the sense we have now were unprecedented. That is why Adam/Eve could not have had children – the bodies they (we) had in the first estate were incapable of such. Now if you imagine a society without nuclear families, and lasting relationships between husband and wife, parent and child, it is pretty easy to see what the weaknesses of life in the first estate tended to be. We see them with the decline of the family in our own day – the weaknesses of crowd mentality, the absence of responsiblity for others, except in the abstract.

    Now, arguendo, if we had nuclear family relationships of the sort we have now, as part of a filial fabric of relationships tying all mankind into one eternal family, then why did we come here to meet an eternal companion, to learn to get along with them, to raise children and be eternally responsible for their salvation, and so on. Pro-creation and family as we know it in our first estate destroys the purpose of the second.

    Comment by Mark Butler — August 14, 2006 @ 11:08 am

  16. Pro-creation, and eternal family relationships, with a mother and a father, brother and sister, in the sense we have now were unprecedented.

    Not so. Families had been inhabiting worlds without end before our planet. If you subscribe to a batch theory of intelligences/spirits then you could claim we never had the chance to procreate before, but that doesn’t mean our chance was something new to existence.

    then why did we come here to meet an eternal companion, to learn to get along with them, to raise children and be eternally responsible for their salvation, and so on.

    I argue that only a tiny percentage of the people who live here will live the full Celestial law and actually be permanently sealed to their spouses. The temple tells me that. The rest will not be permanently sealed together as nuclear families.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 14, 2006 @ 11:24 am

  17. The second estate was definitely something new to the first estate, something fundamentally different in many ways. We wouldn’t have a second estate if there wasn’t something incomplete and inadequate about the first.

    I think every person alive has the opportunity to preserve their families eternally. That is the plan of salvation. When we are saved in the celestial heavens, I think we will be in for a D&C 19 class surprise with regard to the words “forever and ever” in D&C 132:17. It would be contrary to the economy of heaven for God not to try to preserve every family here on the earth, as soon as the persons are ready to abide the laws of the new and everlasting covenant.

    That is what the sealing power is all about – the responsibility of parents to reach out to their children, to send missionaries to them even in hell (spirit prison), that they might yet be redeemed, and take their place at the table.

    This statistical thing has some merit in terms of temporality, but in eternity God has a plan to save virtually all mankind, and if a plan to save them, why not a plan to exalt them, in the process of time?

    Comment by Mark Butler — August 14, 2006 @ 12:24 pm

  18. Mark: We wouldn’t have a second estate if there wasn’t something incomplete and inadequate about the first.

    I agree. What I don’t agree with is your description of the “first estate”. I don’t think it was a dress rehearsal of sorts as you and many others seem to think. I mostly think “first estate” means “before we came here” and second estate mean “here”.

    I think every person alive has the opportunity to preserve their families eternally.

    So do I. But of course “opportunity” is the key word here. It would take a massive “surprise”, as you call it, to change the clear evidence about how many of the inhabitants of this world will actually be permanently sealed together though.

    I think you place far too mush weight on the familial relationships we end up in this world. I suspect a majority of people who have ever lived would loathe the idea of being stuck together forever with many of their close family members. Luckily most people don’t have to worry about that happening because they are no where near living a Celestial law. Those families who do live a Celestial law are the ones that deeply want to be together forever and they are the only ones who have the real opportunity to do so, so it all works out.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 15, 2006 @ 9:23 am

  19. Geoff, I think this life, our second estate, is much more akin to a dress rehearsal, though actually much more significant than that. How could a first estate be a dress rehearsal if there was no pro-creation, no biological families, no death, and so on? No death before the fall is right on, although the “Fall” confuses two distinct events – the decline into iniquity and the preparation of the second estate, or mortality.

    I would say that most people are more likely to get along with their family members on a long term basis, than anyone else in existence. Shared culture, heritage, genetics. What more could you ask for in a small group of individuals? How can a man say he loves God whom he has not seen, if he cannot love his brother, whom he has? (as John says). People who cannot get along with anyone can most certainly not get along with God – who maintains quite a distance from the proud, the self-willed, and the intolerant.

    Comment by Mark Butler — August 15, 2006 @ 9:38 am

  20. In my opinion there was procreation, biological families, death, and so on for us before we came here.

    I would say that most people are more likely to get along with their family members on a long term basis, than anyone else in existence. Shared culture, heritage, genetics.

    You know the saying: “Familiarity breeds contempt”. If a family member is a jerk, spending more time with him/her won’t make him/her more tolerable — it will do the opposite. Moralize all you want about “people who cannot get along with anyone”, but God himself refuses to hang around with his own children who refuse to live a Celestial law. No one is stuck with their jerky family members for eternity just because they were stuck with them here.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 15, 2006 @ 9:50 am

  21. Geoff, My point was in part that we will only live with the same people that God lives with. It is hard to imagine a jerk making it to celestial glory as a jerk.

    Comment by Mark Butler — August 16, 2006 @ 12:18 am