A shout out to all y’all Mormon Pelagians

April 17, 2006    By: Geoff J @ 12:59 am   Category: Atonement & Soteriology,McMurrin Reading,Ostler Reading,Theology

Sterling McMurrin was on to something when he said:

Indeed, since Mormonism is essentially Pelagian in its theology, exhibiting, as already has been pointed out, a quite remarkable similarity to the Pelagian doctrines of the fourth and fifth centuries, it is subject to the same criticism an condemnation from orthodoxy that made Pelagianism the most celebrated heresy in Christian history. But Mormonism outdoes its fifth-century cousin by its denial of the orthodox doctrine of creation, and it thereby produces a basic problem for its own theology in its relation to Christian orthodoxy, the problem of why the doctrine of the salvation of man should involve the traditional pattern of atonement through Christ. (Theological Foundations, pg. 82)

Now I must admit to be a little embarrassed to be using obscure terms like Pelagianism – I try to speak with plainness for the most part here after all — but Pelagianism is a useful term for Mormon theology buffs so here is an overview.

Pelagianism

From Theopedia:

Pelagianism views humanity as basically good and unaffected by the Fall. It denies the imputation of Adam’s sin, original sin, total depravity, and substitutionary atonement. It simultaneously views man as fundamentally good and in possession of libertarian free will. With regards to salvation, it teaches that man has the ability in and of himself (apart from divine aid) to obey God and earn eternal salvation. … Pelagius believed that the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin (the Fall) were restricted to themselves only; and thereby denied the belief that original sin was passed on (or transferred) to the children of Adam and thus to the human race. Adam’s sin merely “set a bad example” for his progeny and Jesus “set a good example” for mankind (thus counteracting Adam’s bad example). Pelagianism teaches that human beings are born in a state of innocence with a nature that is as pure as that which Adam was given at his creation.

See also the Wikipedia article on Pelagius.

Now Mormons are not classic Pelagians or even semipelagians. But it is hard to deny the Pelagian leanings in Mormonism in our denial of the depravity of man due to Original Sin and in our belief that humans come into the world as pure and sinless with inherent free will that theoretically allows us all to refrain from sinning (even if no one but Jesus actually could pull it off). Further, we are very big on Jesus as exemplar — though clearly not to the exclusion of Jesus as Savior and God.

Mormonism’s Pelagian leanings and the Atonement

These leanings create some interesting questions about the atonement. If humans are not guilty of any original sin, and if sin is essentially turning away from God, then turning toward God is righteous. If the Law of the Harvest is to be accepted as an eternal principle (as it tends to be in Mormonism) then sin has its own inherent punishment (“wickedness never was happiness”) and repentance frees us from the pain that sin causes our souls. If that is the case then what needs to be paid for in the repentant person? For example, if I hate my neighbor there is a pain and unhappiness that I naturally reap as a result of sowing that hate, right? But if I then freely choose to have empathy and compassion and forgiveness and charity for my neighbor then I stop paying for that sin and I experience the happiness that is reaped from sowing such Christ-like behavior, right? So what is left for Christ to pay for? Modern revelation makes it clear that only the unrepentant pay for their own sins. So what did Christ really suffer for?

If you can’t tell, this post is another in my series on the atonement. Blake Ostler does a masterful job in his new book explaining why the traditional models of the atonement don’t make any sense at all as he explains why he believes his Compassion Theory of Atonement is superior. But even in his model there is an assumption that the moment we repent and turn toward God we transfer “painful energy” of our sins to Christ. That painful sin energy concept is the idea I have trouble with. What is left over in us to be paid for (or in “painful energy of sin”) if our hearts and minds and characters have changed as a result of our free choice to turn toward God?

Blake already concedes that the painful parts for Christ in his ongoing atonement for us happen mostly in real-time; not in Gethsemane. So if the climactic events in Gethsemane were largely to get us to turn our attention to Christ (as Blake indicates in the book) then why not leave it at that? Why not assume that the atonement was to a) get our attention, b) to allow Christ to be our righteous judge by descending below us all in pain and injustice here on earth, and c) to show us the perfect example of how we should be.

Creedal Christianity thinks we are heretics already, so what keeps Mormons from more fully (or openly) embracing Mormonized Pelagianism with regard to the Atonement of Jesus Christ?

86 Comments »

  1. Wow, that’s cool. I’ve never heard that term before. I think my personal stance falls just short of full-blown pelagianism.

    So what did Christ really suffer for?

    I may be way off here, but here are my initial thoughts: I think it allows us to progress. There is a moment where we go from not loving the neighbor, and paying for the sin, to loving the neighbor and not paying for the sin. I think what the suffering of Christ does is that it allows us to leave it behind. The atonement pays for our forsaken sins. If there were no atonement, we would, in some form, still suffer the effects of past sins.

    Comment by Eric Russell — April 17, 2006 @ 7:26 am

  2. Geoff, nice choice of words: “our denial of the depravity of man due to Original Sin.” The Book of Mormon clearly teaches the depravity of man, in terms that many mainline Christians would be more or less comfortable with. It just doesn’t teach that depravity as having been due to original sin. So you’re right in the words I quoted, but there’s a major obstacle to Pelagianism in our teaching about the natural man.

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — April 17, 2006 @ 8:15 am

  3. Nice Post Geoff:

    I think one addition to the neighbor hater. Yes the person who hates his neighbor can change his ways and perhaps not suffer for the sins. But what of the neighbor that had to endure the hatred? Sure apologies might be made, but there may be emotional and spiritual scars that remain. Christ’s atonement works on that too. Much of that may be taken care of at judgement.

    Comment by Eric — April 17, 2006 @ 8:29 am

  4. I taught the preisthood lesson this Sunday on the Atonement and found it interesting that Pres. Woodruff does not mention one of the negative effects of Adam’s sin being that Adam’s sin made us prone to sin. The only negative effect that Woodruff makes a deal of is death. He says that death is a consequence of disobedience.
    And speaking of Pelagius, I did some research on him with the intent of writing a paper on the similarities between Pelagius and Mormonism. The only problem with that was we have very little of what Pelagius actually wrote, we have more of what his followers wrote. One thing that I found very interesting and rang true to me is the way he defined God’s grace. Pleagius argued that it is a mistake to think of Grace as some sort of abstract metaphysical principle or something like that, but that we can see God’s grace in the gifts he has already given us. For example Pelagius argued that the law and the scriptures are examples of God’s grace.
    Though Pelagius went a little too far in some respects, I think that for the most part I agree with what Pelagius was saying. Of course I don’t agree with Pelagius that I can somehow earn may way to heaven, or become perfect apart from God.

    Comment by Craig Atkinson — April 17, 2006 @ 8:42 am

  5. I think, Craig, that is one big way that many Mormons wouldn’t be Pelegian. i.e. Pelagians tended to see God’s grace primarily in terms of gifts, typically knowledge gifts. I think that most Mormons would say that God’s grace does far, far more than what a Pelagian would be comfortable with.

    Comment by Clark — April 17, 2006 @ 9:03 am

  6. I actually think that the Pelagians were Mormon. Except it had not yet been restored to the earth so they had to go with what we view as possibly second best. Pelagius was ahead of his time, as was Galileo.

    Comment by chronicler — April 17, 2006 @ 9:12 am

  7. Clark,
    Your probably right, but I think there is still something to be learned there. We always think of God’s grace in non-tangible ways, but we never think of the tangible gifts God has given us as manifestations of his Grace for us. So Grace may be more than just merely the law and the scriptures, but I think it’s helpful to not forget that these two are elements of God’s grace. I’d never heard it put that way before until I read some of Pelagius’ stuff.

    Comment by Craig Atkinson — April 17, 2006 @ 9:29 am

  8. Geoff said: “Why not assume that the atonement was to a) get our attention, b) to allow Christ to be our righteous judge by descending below us all in pain and injustice here on earth, and c) to show us the perfect example of how we should be.”

    The obvious reason is that the scriptures repeatedly and poignantly state that Christ suffers as a result of taking our sins upon him. D&C 19 says that Christ suffers what we will suffer if we don’t repent. So there must be some explanation for this suffering and it cannot be just ingored with a wave of the hand. Moreover, there is no true at-one-ment or indwelling sharing of life on the truncated view you have suggested. We share our light and life. That is what I explain in ch. 6 at some length. This doctrine is the most profound and essentially Christian commitment in my view. The only person who can claim to be Christian is one that has Christ countenance and light shining within in shared life. That is why what you suggest, while important, just isn’t a theory of atonement but of empathetic sharing of human experience. We could be moved in the same way you suggest by any other human’s suffering. It seems fairly clear that the scriptures see Christ’s suffering as not only inclusive of the experience of all others who suffer and repent, but far more than mere human suffering.

    Comment by Blake — April 17, 2006 @ 10:04 am

  9. If I had to pick a word of the day it would definitely be “Pelagian”.

    Comment by danithew — April 17, 2006 @ 10:17 am

  10. I think if Mormons are similar to a group it is the semi-Pelagians rather than the Pelagian. I think Mormons just embrace miracles more than Pelagius or the main Pelagians would be comfortable. I also think that Mormons actually do think Adam’s fall made us all fall. It is only through Christ’s atonement that we are automatically redeemed from the effects of Adam’s choice, thus being made free. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I just can’t see Pelagius agreeing with much that say King Benjamin teaches. I think Blake (#8) above, points out what is so fundamental and key in Mormonism being so antagonistic to Pelagius. I think Pelagius adopted a bit too much of the rationalist or even Stoic view of life. (I say that without knowing the historic influences on Pelagius or even if he was exposed to Stoicism: that’s purely a judgement from admittedly limited study on the subject) It really seems that Pelagius privileges reason a bit too much for my tastes.

    Comment by Clark — April 17, 2006 @ 10:22 am

  11. BTW: anyone remember this test that so many of us scored as Pelagian?

    Comment by Clark — April 17, 2006 @ 10:23 am

  12. Eric R. – I’m glad you appreciate adding “Pelagianism” you your lexicon — it is too obscure to bust out in Sunday school very often but it is a useful bit of info to understand.

    I think what the suffering of Christ does is that it allows us to leave it behind. The atonement pays for our forsaken sins. If there were no atonement, we would, in some form, still suffer the effects of past sins.

    Blake agrees with this idea and accounts for it in his Compassion Theory of Atonement. He uses what I think might be the only viable mechanism to account for this in his theory and that includes the idea of “painful sin energy” that stores up in our bodies and must be transferred to Christ. I simply am skeptical of that idea. It seems to me that the unhappiness and pain created by our sins ceases as soon as we fundamentally change our character (aka repent) without residual “energy of sin” hanging around waiting for us to have faith in Christ. In other words, atheists can repent of hating their neighbor and begin charitably loving them too — I think they will immediately be released from the pain and unhappiness of that sin even without entering a relationship with Christ. It is simply the Law of the Harvest in action.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 17, 2006 @ 11:01 am

  13. I’m glad you appreciate adding “Pelagianism” you your lexicon-it is too obscure to bust out in Sunday school very often but it is a useful bit of info to understand.

    I bet to differ. I pulled it out in my preisthood lesson just last week.

    Comment by Craig Atkinson — April 17, 2006 @ 11:04 am

  14. Hehe… but do you bust it out “often” Craig? (I allowed for an occasional try at it after all.)

    Clark – Thanks for the reminder about that thread of yours with the heresy test — I had forgotten. That survey was telling I thought.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 17, 2006 @ 11:23 am

  15. RT: So you’re right in the words I quoted, but there’s a major obstacle to Pelagianism in our teaching about the natural man.

    I’m not convinced that King Benjamin’s sermon needs to be at odds with Pelagianism — or at least with a “Mormonized” variation on it. Have posted twice now (here and here) on the idea that the natural man King Benjamin warns us about is the causally determined person or the person who does not actively use his or her free agency to improve and become more God-like in this life. The idea is that staying on our given “life track” is not good enough and that we must take the “talents” we are handed in life and figure out how to double them. Only in doubling our talents (aka repenting) are we righteous and worthy of hearing “well done thou good and faithful servant” after this life. So I don’t believe that the idea in Mosiah is that all humans are depraved — rather I think the idea is that people who are not actively repenting/improving are “the wicked” and those who are actively repenting/improving are “the righteous”. Nibley pushes this last concept extensively in his essays found in The Prophetic Book of Mormon (I believe that is the one.)

    Comment by Geoff J — April 17, 2006 @ 11:39 am

  16. Eric – That is an interesting direction you are going. I certainly think that the overall Atonement must help account for the comfort we receive from God when we are dealt with unjustly or cruelly by others. I just can’t imagine any reason why the literal suffering of Christ leading up to his crucifixion would be at all connected with us getting that comfort from God. (BTW – I think Blake is right to extend the atonement to a process instead of an single event.)

    Craig – I like that idea of God’s grace being readily manifested in the gifts we already have received. I also think Blake is spot on in saying the primary instance of Grace is God’s ongoing willingness and desire and invitation to be in a personal relationship with us. I agree with you that our spiritual progress is entirely contingent on that grace though — I actually described that notion in my Parable of the Pianist.

    chronicler – Yeah, Mormonism is pretty closely aligned with Pelagianism in lots of ways.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 17, 2006 @ 12:02 pm

  17. Geoff — I think your reading does some degree of violence to the King Benjamin text. After all, the text does in fact contain some elaboration about how to escape from the denigrated status, and it isn’t what you say. For Benjamin, the way out of “natural manhood” isn’t the kind of pseudo-Nietzchean act of non-causally-determined self-creation that you talk about–it’s submission to God and acceptance of the Atonement. The conjunction of the last part of Mosiah 3:18 (“men drink damnation to their own souls…”; note that the passage doesn’t say “some men” or “unrepentant men”) and Mosiah 3:19, which equates the unqualified “men” of the previous verse with the “natural man,” make clear that the “natural man” category isn’t one that applies to only some people. Instead, it applies to all adults until the time that they accept the Atonement and are sanctified through “the enticings of the Holy Spirit.” The strong emphasis on the Atonement and the Holy Ghost as necessary to overcome the universal preexisting corruption of (adult) humanity is quite foreign to Pelagianism, and indeed is quite similar to the ideas described as depravity in other religious traditions.

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — April 17, 2006 @ 12:33 pm

  18. Blake: The obvious reason is that the scriptures repeatedly and poignantly state that Christ suffers as a result of taking our sins upon him.

    Actually, I believe the scriptures say that Christ suffered (past tense) as a result of taking our sins upon him. That, to me, is a major knock against your theory that Christ suffers in real time every time we repent and turn to him.

    (As an aside — Something I have just begun to wonder is how you deal with the atheist who freely chooses to repent in the sense of turn away from something like hating and envying a neighbor and instead to have more patience, charity, empathy, and kindness for that person. Yet she has complete contempt for the notion that there is a God at all. Since she is not really turning toward God or entering a relationship with Christ, what happens to the “painful energy of sin” in her body? Does Christ take that anyway based on this form of repentance or does she have to hold on to it until she develops some faith in the Lord Jesus Christ?)

    I think the question a Pelagian would ask is what exactly does “take upon him our sins” mean? There is no question that Christ suffered beyond what any other man suffered. But couldn’t that be that he was dealing with the pain and alienation that humans suffer for their own unrepentant sins in an incredibly concentrated fashion? That would be taking upon him our sins in a real and important way too I think. It would allow him to descend below us all.

    I don’t think D&C 19 seals your case at all either. Here are those verses:

    15 Therefore I command you to repent-repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore-how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.
    16 For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;
    17 But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;
    18 Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit-and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink-

    First — notice the past tense “suffered”. Second, the idea seems pretty Pelagian (or at least Law of the Harvest-ish) to me: Repent (read: change yourselves for the better) and you don’t have to suffer; fail to repent and you will suffer in the very same ways Christ already had to (though presumably spread out over time and not in such a concentrated way.) Christ is our exemplar in all ways — he showed us how to live and he even showed us what is in store for us if we fail to improve ourselves.

    I disagree with you in the notion that we cannot be one with God if we do not transfer “sin energy” to him. I am slowly becoming one with Kristen here on earth — I have no doubt that we can both become one with God given enough time, effort, and assistance/encouragement from God.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 17, 2006 @ 12:37 pm

  19. RT: For Benjamin, the way out of “natural manhood” isn’t the kind of pseudo-Nietzchean act of non-causally-determined self-creation that you talk about-it’s submission to God and acceptance of the Atonement.

    Umm, submission to God and acceptance of the Atonement is the sort of act of free will I am talking about. Self improvement, or doubling our talents, does not happen naturally and fully accepting Christ and his atonement is part of a non-natural but necessarily freely chosen process. No one is exalted by choosing to simply “go with the flow” — even if they are part of an active Mormon track or flow in life.

    I certainly never said the “natural man” title only applies to some people, but I have said, along with King Benjamin, that we can freely choose to put off the natural man. That is accomplished by accepting the gracious standing offer from God to enter a personal relationship with him and by repenting. As I said in an earlier comment, I completely agree with Blake when he says it is that standing offer from God that constitutes the primary example of God’s grace in our lives.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 17, 2006 @ 12:55 pm

  20. Geoff: The fundamental difference between “repentance” of an atheist and that of a Christian is that repentance means to turn to God and remove whatever gets in the way of having a relationship with God. Obviously the atheist just doesn’t do that. The atheist may change his/her ways, but that isn’t repentance as it is conceived in scriputural texts. Second, it is this very feature of ongoing present-time entering into relationship that shows that the process of atonement is not a one-time thing. Third, repentance means to “give away our sins” (Alma’s term) to christ so that he suffers rather than us. The atheist doesn’t do that. Further, the atheist doesn’t open a heart in atonement to receive Christ’s spirit to reign and rule within the heart as God’s kingdom come on earth. In sum, there is no at-one-ment on either the Pelagian or any view of mere change that an atheist could do.

    Now you appear to argue that the past tense in D&C 19 means that Christ suffered once and for all. That doesn’t support your view since there is NO suffering of Christ for or as a result of our sins on your view. Christ’s suffering doesn’t even consider our sins on such a view (unless you believe we somehow backwardly cause by our present actions pain that Christ suffers in Gethsemane — and I bet you won’t accept that!). The command to repent is in the present tense, our re-newed relationship is in the present tense, and the suffering is already completed on the cross and in Gethsemane as the scriptural instance of the type of suffering that Christ suffers for our sins. So the big question for this Pelagian view is: how is Christ’s suffering in any way related to forgiveness of our sins beyond what mere humans empathetically would suffer?

    That said, I disagree with RT’s reading of King Benjamin and provide in my book an exegesis of these texts regarding two natures among which we can choose to be our nature. The atonement makes us free to choose to be dominated by a “nature” defined by the carnal and devilish (by the body and subjection to the devil) or by a godly nature that defines the way of happiness. There is no sense of human depravity as that term is traditionally understood — but there is a sense of giving away our freedom to act for ourselves and to subject to a carnal and devilish nature where we are merely acted upon.

    Comment by Blake — April 17, 2006 @ 1:06 pm

  21. I don’t have too much to add, so I will just agree with RT and Clark…good post Geoff.

    Comment by J. Stapley — April 17, 2006 @ 1:06 pm

  22. Geoff (#15), I think you are essentially on target on the concept of the “natural man” as taught in the Book of Mormon. The Calvinist-ish interpretation of “natural” as “depraved” is belied by other Book of Mormon teachings – notably those in Moroni 8.

    In context, it seems perfectly clear that “natural” in Mosiah 3:19 should be read simply as “default”, “ordinary”, or “non-cooperating”.

    Some modern commentators seem to get too much of their doctrine straight out the Calvinist playbook, and whatever its merits (any there are many) the doctrine of human depravity is definitely not one of them. The theology of Thomas Aquinas with regard to the concept of “nature” is much more uplifting, and much more consonant with the mainline of Mormon commentary on the matter. Where else but Mormonism could you get the idea that Adam “fell upward” in any significant sense?

    The traditional origin of human depravity is the fall of Adam, and skipping over all the problems of how something like natural depravity can be transmitted from generation to generation, there is a key LDS doctrine that contradicts this idea – namely the War in Heaven.

    All those rebellious spirits didn’t inherit their rebelliousness from Adam, or get it from their infralapsarian existence here on earth, after all. Plenty of pride, fear, and discontent and to go around long before the fall, by all scriptural indications.

    Whatever the consequences of the Fall a transition from happy little obedient spirits to beings of universal depravity was not one of them. The morally significant aspects of the “natural man” cannot be traced to the fall in any coherent Mormon theology. Why would the Lord curse Adam and his posterity with a predisposition to rebel against him? Would our test in this probationary state be fair if he did?

    Comment by Mark Butler — April 18, 2006 @ 2:55 am

  23. There are definitely similarities between Mormonism and Pelagianism. However, there are also fundamental disagreements. Pelagianism was considered a serious heresy in the early Catholic church, for reasons that would not be too dissimilar from an LDS critique. In particular Pelagius denied the need for the Atonement, divine grace, or what we would call the Plan of Salvation. That is the kind of doctrine that had a tendency to reduce some Protestant denominations into little more than charitable organizations fourteen hundred years later.

    Of course there are good aspects as well – the argument I just made about the “natural man” and the consequences of the Fall has Pelagian overtones. However, even those Christian denominations whose doctrines resemble those of Pelagius to some degree (notably the Arminian ones) generally deny the association. Calvinists tend to characterize any form of free will theism, including Mormonism, as a derivative of Pelagian heresy, an identification which is not fair, and which we should be more than hesitant to adopt.

    Comment by Mark Butler — April 18, 2006 @ 3:25 am

  24. I should add that it is an unusually glaring mistake for Sterling McMurrin to state that Mormonism is “essentially Pelagian in its theology”. That is about as accurate as stating that Mormonism is “essentially Nicene in its theology”.

    Comment by Mark Butler — April 18, 2006 @ 3:32 am

  25. Mark: I believe that you are right on. One of the most significant statements in LDS scripture is that as a result of the atonement, Adam’s sin had been forgiven him. (See Moses 6:53-54). Thus, Adam cannot pass onto his posterity that which he no longer has himself. The contagion of “original guilt” has been healed. It is also significant that as a result of the atonement we are made free to choose for ourselves. In the Calvinist and Thomist views of things (and this is where I will partly disagree with your assessment of “nature” in Thomist thought) we are not free to choose until after grace has freed us — and God alone chooses who is saved and thus freed from sin by grace. Predestination follows from this view of grace and depravity. There is no sense of predestination in LDS scripture and it is because we are freed by the atonement to choose and act for ourslves and not merely to be acted upon. We are not the result of prior causes that dictate our nature and what we do — take note so-called “Mormon” causal compatibilists. In fact, those who are subjected to deterministic prior causes are those who reject the atonement and thus become subject to the devil and unable to free themselves from their past sins because they are no longer free to act for themselves but merely to be acted upon. In this sense, causal determinism is the rejection of the gift of the atonement.

    Comment by Blake — April 18, 2006 @ 6:30 am

  26. Geoff, I studied this intensively at the graduate level, and we’re not full Pelagians. At best, we’re semi-pelagian, because much of Pleagius’ theology, especially his views on the garden of Eden, radically contradict our views. His views of grace and works are close, but still no cigar.

    Curiously, Methodists are also accused of being semi-pelagian by Calvinists. One joking Methodist I know (and a guy I revere and respect), jokes to Calvinists in retort that they’re “semi-Islamic” in their views of election. ;)

    Comment by David J — April 18, 2006 @ 6:55 am

  27. Mark B and David J,

    Thanks for your contributions. As I noted in the post, it is clear that Mormons are not classic Pelagians (or even semipelagians). I think that the reason McMurrin made his comment is that he believed that Mormons and Pelagians share the most important characteristics of Pelagianism. Of course the deciding which are the most important or defining element of Pelagianism is somewhat of a subjective task so I don’t hold that comment/opinion of McMurrin against him.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 18, 2006 @ 10:22 am

  28. Blake (#20),

    I’m pleased to see you didn’t ignore or back down from my “repentant atheist” example. I think herein lies a great weakness in your Compassion Theory of Atonement though. You said “The atheist may change his/her ways, but that isn’t repentance as it is conceived in scriptural texts.” The problem is that this undercuts the very issues you have previously said are the noticeable negative consequences of sin. Modifying my comments from the post I would again ask:

    If an atheist hates her neighbor there is a pain and unhappiness that she naturally reaps as a result of sowing that hate, right? But if she then freely chooses to change and to have empathy and compassion and forgiveness and charity for her neighbor then she stops paying for that sin and experiences the happiness that is reaped from sowing such Christ-like behavior (whether she believes in God or not), right?

    I think you paint yourself further into this corner with your comments about such sins like this one from the book:

    The damage that we do to ourselves through sin is literally stored in our bodies in the form of painful memories and disease. Our bodies manifest the energy of such pain in the form of heart disease, high blood pressure, ulcers, and all kinds of psychosomatic illnesses and manifestations of our neuroses. (pg. 245)

    I completely agree that living a hateful life is sinful and has stressful and painful natural consequences. However, it seems intuitively obvious to me that freely choosing to change our ways and forsake sins (as the atheist in my example did) releases us from those painful consequences and sowing such Godlike seeds naturally and automatically means we will reap pleasant consequences — regardless of our relationship or even belief in God.

    20 There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated-
    21 And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.
    (D&C 130: 20-21)

    My point here is that calling anything other than turning to God non-repentance narrows the notion of repentance too far. Consciously turning to God for a personal relationship is certainly a part of repentance and a necessary step on the path to perfection and must eventually be done in the eternities, but an atheist can certainly repent and become somewhat Christ-like with or without believing in God. The Law of the Harvest and this D&C passage and intuition all support that idea.

    So getting back to you theory — this causes major problems for you I think. The largely repentant atheist in my example (who follows laws of God while refusing to believe there is a God) is freed from the painful consequences of her sins based on the Law of the Harvest — not as a result of entering a personal relationship with Christ and transferring painful energy of sin that is stored up in her body to him. Therefore, the notion that all repentance is transferring painful sin energy to Christ as a direct result of a personal relationship with him makes no sense at all to me.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 18, 2006 @ 10:53 am

  29. Mark #22, I can’t see any way in which Moroni 8 is relevant to a discussion of the natural man. Moroni 8 tells us that children can’t sin because they aren’t accountable; they are alive in Christ without any action of their own. So they are a special class, not to be considered within the context of other gospel discussions which make it clear that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. That’s why my comment above emphasized that Benjamin labels all prerepentant adults as the natural man. Which is congruent with (although of course not exactly identical to) ideas of depravity.

    Blake #25, I don’t understand your argument here. Certainly Adam was forgiven; certainly we aren’t punished for his sins. But equally certainly we have a fallen nature because of his acts — the scriptures are utterly clear on that point. Note also that the scriptures make clear that the action of the Holy Ghost is a necessary prerequisite for any decision to accept the Atonement. That’s not deterministic causation, but it is nonetheless a strong form of causation.

    Geoff #19, “submission to God and acceptance of the Atonement is the sort of act of free will I am talking about.” Okay, but as noted in my response to Blake, such submission and acceptance is causally conditioned by God’s actions through the Holy Ghost. Furthermore, accepting Christ is the traditional Christian solution to depravity; this suggests that your view approximates the depravity of man in any case.

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — April 18, 2006 @ 1:22 pm

  30. Geoff: The atheist does not enjoy the benefit of renewed relationship with God through Christ. Certainly atheists can release their pain, but what makes you think that the atonement is not also effective here? After all, the atheist is mistaken about the basis of such forgiveness and in such forgiveness opens to a new path of relationships that is much more likely to open to God. So your example assumes th atheist’s stance and assumes that God in fact isn’t involved. That is false.

    So if an atheist can reap the very same benefit whether there is a god or or not or any atonement, how is your view a view of atonement at all? This is the major problem of your view which you still haven’t addressed.

    Comment by Blake — April 18, 2006 @ 1:23 pm

  31. Oops, quick clarification to comment #29: the action of the Holy Ghost is a necessary prerequisite for acceptance of the Atonement, so it’s a necessary cause. That’s a form of deterministic causation, it’s just not necessary-and-sufficient causation. Okay, I’m done being pedantic…=)

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — April 18, 2006 @ 1:30 pm

  32. Blake: Certainly atheists can release their pain, but what makes you think that the atonement is not also effective here?

    My primary point is that the fact that the atheist is autmoatically and naturally released from their pain upon changing flies in the face of your theory that sin creates a painful energy that is stored in our bodies and that is only released upon our personal faith in and relationship with Christ. I think there is no such thing as “painful sin energy” that stores up in our flesh. But that is a key component of your Compassion Theory of atonement.

    So if an atheist can reap the very same benefit whether there is a god or or not or any atonement, how is your view a view of atonement at all?

    I promise to address this once we nail down this other problem about the painful energy of sin in your theory.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 18, 2006 @ 1:34 pm

  33. RT – That was a wise clarification in #31 because your #29 did sound like causal determinism (and thus predestination). I completely agree that God’s willingness to accept us into a relationship is required for us to be in a relationship with Him. Further, I think that such willingness is the primary manifestation of God’s grace in the world. But that grace and willingness is a standing and omnipresent reality in the world. There are no special invitations sent out to some individuals and not to others. We are all invited all of the time. Therefore, accepting the invitation is completely contingent on our free will.

    In other words, when you say “such submission and acceptance is causally conditioned by God’s actions through the Holy Ghost” or “the action of the Holy Ghost is a necessary prerequisite for any decision to accept the Atonement” it seems as if you are saying God makes some special invitation to individuals and I don’t think this is the case. We are all invited all of the time and our acceptance of that invitation or not is completely within our power to choose. Therefore, I think the net effect is very much like the Law of the Harvest when it comes to accepting the grace of God.

    But equally certainly we have a fallen nature because of his acts-the scriptures are utterly clear on that point.

    I don’t think the scriptures are utterly clear on this point. (For one thing, I confess to sort of doubting the existence of a literal Adam on this earth to begin with.)

    Comment by Geoff J — April 18, 2006 @ 1:48 pm

  34. Geoff: I simply deny that atheists repent and release this energy without it being a part of Christ’s experience and knowledge. Whether they know it or not, the basis of their forgivness and the very freedom they have to repent at all is due to the atonement. So your supposed counter-example is not a counter-example to the compassion view of atonement, it is merely a supposition that denies that there is an atonement or that sins are remitted (given away) or that Christ suffers in any way for our sins.

    So why does Christ suffer for sins on your view?

    Time to quit weaving and dodging. Can an atheist have the benefits of the atonement whether there is no god and no christ on your view?

    My view is fairly straightforward and quite scriptural — and it is in fact painful to be in relationship with us (if you don’t believe me, ask your wife).

    RT: there isn’t a strong form of causation involved since the “causal result” is merely to make a free to choose for ourselves. That means that we don’t have an evil nature. Now I accept that we would be stuck in the past and unable to free ourselves of our past sins because without atonement we could not repent (note that Geoff) and thus would be stuck with an evil nature. In this sense, there are natural men. However, the sense of “natural man” is counterfactual or hypothetical only. It is a state we would be in if there were no atonement. But in fact there are no “natural humans” because whether we suffer from an evil nature is a matter of our choices, not of our nature. This latter fact is essential to the notion of depravity or evil nature. We can return to that evil nature if that is what we choose, but it is up to us. The traditional notion of a nature is that which dictates the kinds of decisions we will make unless redeemed (we will make evil ones). However, we have already been redeemed from the Fall and made free — and that is what is essential in LDS thought as I see it.

    Comment by Blake — April 18, 2006 @ 1:49 pm

  35. Blake, I’ve only followed this thread loosely since I don’t have your book yet. But do you define what you mean by “energy” in the book? It sounds like you are being fairly metaphoric.

    Comment by Clark — April 18, 2006 @ 3:40 pm

  36. Clark: I define energy as: (1) the causal power to bring something about.

    Comment by Blake — April 18, 2006 @ 3:57 pm

  37. RT (#29), Many forms of Christian theology assert the “total depravity” of mankind, in softened form the idea that man has a “total inability” to do good or even desire good prior to the action of divine grace upon him. This condition is traced to the fall of Adam, and imputed to later generations according to a variety of theories. Some Mormon commentators puzzlingly seem to adopt a variant of this idea – namely inherent (as opposed to chosen) human depravity – even though there is a large amount of latter day scriptural evidence against it.

    A key question here is the proper interpretation of Mosiah 3:19. What makes the “natural man” an “enemy to God”, since the “fall of Adam”. Unfortunately the scriptures do not appear to speak with one voice on this issue, so a weighing of evidence is required.

    Moroni 8 is relevant in that if little children are not depraved, then both what one might call the natural transmission theory and the natural environmental theory of human depravity are false. So how can we all be inherently depraved in our natural state here on the earth, if little children are not depraved?

    The more traditional Mormon account of human depravity is that it is the result of free choice, that the sins of the fathers are visited on the heads of the children due to “nuture” not “nature”.

    Now the metaphysics of sin would make for an interesting discussion, but the relevant point is that it is very difficult to argue that what makes the “natural man” an enemy to God is causally traced to the fall of Adam.

    In the light of the other nearly overwhelming evidence, I believe we have to read Mosiah 3:19 with “natural” in the sense of “ordinary”, and “from the fall of Adam” in the sense of “ab initio” or “since that time” with no prejudice to pre earth-existence conditions, and further conclude that whatever makes the natural or ordinary man an enemy to god is a characteristic not particular to this life.

    Comment by Mark Butler — April 18, 2006 @ 9:36 pm

  38. Blake (#25), I am sure there are aspects of the Thomist theology of nature that belie a simple characterization, but looking at it broadly it was and is a much more positive perspective than generally held by Aquinas’ predecessors, or his later Protestant successors.

    For example, the Council of Trent (reacting to Protestant doctrines in a typical expression of Thomist theology) condemned “any one [who] saith, that, since Adam’s sin, the free will of man is lost and extinguished; or, that it is a thing with only a name.”

    [I hardly doubt that Blake knows more about Thomist theology than I do, but let me go on...]

    Thomist theology also maintains that man has a natural ability to recognize the hand of God in nature – where Calvin and Luther managed somehow to maintain both that we are totally depraved and that none of our actions are our own (basically that free will was an illusion), that everything, no matter how bad, was a result of divine providence.

    Arminianism discarded some of the theological baggage introduced in the Protestant Reformation. John Wesley’s tracts sound much more “Mormon” than dominant Protestant Calvinism we hear today. When I compare the theological positions of Mormonism, Protestantism, and Catholicism, I inevitably find a greater similarity between Mormonism and Catholicism than between Mormonism and (Calvinist) Protestantism.

    In most respects Thomism seems a pretty moderate theology befitting a “Universal” church, attempting to draw a careful balance between theological extremes, where Calvinism and Lutheranism are generally the opposite – in the sense of taking certain (admittedly scripturally derived) theological propositions to their logical extreme. The domain of tolerated Catholic theology became rather narrow during the Counter-Reformation, but today and historically speaking the domain of tolerated theology in the Catholic Church is (and has been) much broader than in most Protestant denominations.

    There is a lot more that could be said about the good aspects of the Thomist conception of nature and natural law in general, especially in terms of the Catholic attitude towards reason and rationality.

    By the way, interestingly enough many Calvinists call the Catholics semi-Pelagians too.

    Comment by Mark Butler — April 18, 2006 @ 10:43 pm

  39. Here is a nice description of the relative Catholic and Protestant positions on the topic.

    Dave Armstrong, Total Depravity and the Fall, 1996.
    http://ic.net/~erasmus/RAZ167.HTM

    I might answer the author, that yes, in several critical respects Augustine has more in common with Protestant theology than with Catholic theology. Theologically speaking, Ockham was not the first Protestant, Augustine was.

    Comment by Mark Butler — April 18, 2006 @ 11:01 pm

  40. Mark: I have two chapters on original sin in the second volume. I agree that Thomas is more positive, but he doesn’t believe that we can do anything to move toward God unaided by grace and not everyone receives grace. Further, God’s grace is irresistible because only irresistible grace can overcome our obstinance. I won’t contest anyone’e superior knowledge here — but Thomists all accept predestination and Aquinas adopted the Federal Head theory of orginal sin. We are all guilty of Adam’s sin because he acted as our representative as a head of the corporate body to which we belong (I discuss that in the book too).

    Comment by Blake — April 18, 2006 @ 11:23 pm

  41. Blake: I simply deny that atheists repent and release this energy without it being a part of Christ’s experience and knowledge. Whether they know it or not, the basis of their forgivness and the very freedom they have to repent at all is due to the atonement.

    Alright — so let me get this straight… Does that mean that the repentant atheist in my example is in fact unwittingly entering some kind of personal relationship with Jesus Christ? And as such Jesus is inheriting their “painful energy of sin” as they repent? How can that be called a personal relationship at all if the atheist does not believe in a living God or Christ?

    So why does Christ suffer for sins on your view?

    Well I think the problem here is that there is an equivocation between this concept of the Law of the Harvest and the atonement. You seem to want to have your cake and eat it too with regard to this by wanting the effects of the Universal Law of the Harvest to be centered in the person of Christ. So which is it for you — does Jesus Christ obey the Law of the Harvest and thus retain his divinity or does the Law of the Harvest emanate from Christ? I realize this is a Chicken and Egg question, but I vote for the former. (Of course I think Joseph taught that Jesus and his Father have not always been divine but we can debate that further in future posts.)

    So in answer to your question, if the Law of the Harvest is indeed the a Universal of sorts then I am persuaded by your arguments (as well as those by Dennis Potter) that it is unjust to have a righteous person pay for the sins of an wicked person. You try to work around this by claiming there is a “painful energy of sin” that stores up in our body and remains there until we transfer is to Christ through a personal relationship. I just can’t buy this painful sin energy idea. Therefore I think it is most likely that the term “suffer for sins” must not mean what it traditionally has been interpreted to mean. The hardest question for me to answer is why he had to suffer so much in the flesh though. Perhaps it mostly had to do with being our righteous judge – a judge who could in the end remind us that none were treated more unjustly or descended below him.

    I define energy as: (1) the causal power to bring something about.

    So when you say we transfer the painful energy of sin to Christ upon our repentance in your Compassion Theory, you mean we transfer the “painful causal power to bring about sin” to him? What on earth does that mean? Sounds like free will to me. Clearly in your theory you are taking about some sort of “sin energy” that stores up in our bodies as if it were something akin to electricity. Your entire Compassion Theory rests on this notion. But it is this painful sin energy concept that I am so skeptical of. If that piece does not hold up then current your theory collapses and you are stuck in my boat with this — either accepting something like a substitution theory of atonement or defining “suffer for sins” differently than the norm.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 19, 2006 @ 12:54 am

  42. Geoff: Re the atheist. The atheist is able to let go of the past and repent only because of the atonement — that is what Alma 41 and 42 (as well as numerous other passages I cite) say. Atonement enables us to repent. It happens because we open to relationship with others. And yes, atheists have a relationship with God even if they don’t know it. God knows it. However, it is not the kind of relationship that moves forward with God. They don’t open to accept Christ and let his life in; they merely change in relation to their past by letting go of the past and it is because of atonement that they can let go at all. The atonement makes them free to choose to act for themselves. So there are different ways and degrees of opening as one might expect. Atonement is not an all or nothing state of being. Sometimes we are more at-one and sometimes less — at least until the perfect day when we are perfectly at one. So get this: Christ suffered for atheists too. Since atonement is universal for all mankind in all scripture, it could not be otherwise.

    Why Christ suffers. Your response is a mere dodge and doesn’t explain anything about Christ’s suffering. Moreover, you present a false dilemma and a false dichotomy between the Law of the Harvest and Christ sufferin for sin — and they aren’t even in opposition! You assert: “does Jesus Christ obey the Law of the Harvest and thus retain his divinity or does the Law of the Harvest emanate from Christ?” Well, both if I understand what you may mean. You need to explain how obeying the law of the harvest and retaining divinity are somehow exclusive of the “Law of the Harvest emenating from Christ” (whatever that latter statement means). I don’t even know what the latter phrase means. The Law of the Harvest is independent of Christ though we will be judged by receiving what we give and reaping what we sew. Love is what it is and Christ is loving because he freely choose to love and enter into relationship. So Christ doesn’t create the Law of the Harvest. Love is what it is and the consequences of loving others (or refusing to do so) follow by their very nature. But what does that have to do with how you explain that Christ suffers?

    Nothing you say even begins to explain how or why Christ suffers for sins. What is the traditional interpretation of “pays for sins” to which you refer? Do you mean he literally has a superabundant store of merit somehow stored up that he remits to satisfy the universal law of justice? That can’t be what you mean, but that is the traditional LDS view of how Christ pays for sins — he literally engages in a commerical transaction with an abstract universal to pay it off. Frankly, that view is just nonsense.

    More importantly, your view leaves the gaping hole of even making a beginning of explaining passages like D&C 19 that say that Christ suffers “these things for all that they might not suffer,” or Mosiah 3:7 which states that he suffers by bleeding at every pore “for the wickedness and the abominations of his poeple.” How does Christ “take upon himself the sins of the world” (3 Ne. 11:11)?

    The pain that we experience as a result of our sins is released through atonement and causes Christ pain. That is the scriptural view. Our sin is therfore an energy that causes pain. “Energy” is simply the causal power to bring something about. If we don’t repent, sin causes the pain to us. If we do repent, then Christ suffers that pain instead of us. In fact, if our sins cause pain, then they are energy to cause soemthing. It is just that the scriptures universally say that the cause of this pain (the energy to bring something about) is transferred to Christ so that he experiences it instead of us. What could be more straightforward than that? Further, what could be clearer than it is unjust for both me and Christ to suffer for my sins? If I repent, he suffers. If I don’t repent, I suffer for my sins — but there is no indication that both Christ suffers for my sins and I also suffer for my sins if I don’t repent. Only one persons suffers for sins. I do if I don’t repent. He does if I do. In this sense, his suffering is a sacrifice that he gladly makes on my behalf out of sheer and unconditional love. He loves us that much.

    Comment by Blake — April 19, 2006 @ 6:31 am

  43. Blake: Your response is a mere dodge and doesn’t explain anything about Christ’s suffering.

    Actually, my answer was “I don’t know”. That is hardly a dodge — more of an admission of my ignorance. I’d like to figure something out. So far none of the solutions you and others have proposed are floating my boat, though. Maybe you can convince me at some point though.

    but that is the traditional LDS view of how Christ pays for sins-he literally engages in a commercial transaction with an abstract universal to pay it off. Frankly, that view is just nonsense.

    I think you are probably right. I just wish you had a easier to believe alternative explanation than the notion of storing up painful sin energy (as if sin energy were some unique variety of energy or something).

    your view leaves the gaping hole of even making a beginning of explaining passages like D&C 19 that say that Christ suffers “these things for all that they might not suffer,”

    What is my view again? I thought I confessed to not having a good answer yet. My one guess (that I rattled off on the fly in this post) was that perhaps the suffering Christ felt in Gethsemane was to “a) get our attention, b) to allow Christ to be our righteous judge by descending below us all in pain and injustice here on earth, and c) to show us the perfect example of how we should be”. So while this is still far short of qualifying as “my view”, it seems to me that something in this direction could be a satisfactory alternative reading of the notion that Christ suffered (past tense — as in the scriptures) for our sins in mortality as a major part of his efforts to persuade us to come unto him, enter a relationship with him, and thus forsake and repent of our sins. A view like that would rely on the Law of the Harvest and would not require treating “sin energy” like it is some kind of toxic waste stored up in our bodies. Further it would not require making Jesus the ongoing toxic waste dump of every repentant soul as the Compassion Theory seems to do now. Further it would fit much better with all those scriptures that describe Christ’s suffering in past tense after Gethsemane or as a future event prior to Gethsemane (as opposed to the constant and ongoing suffering required for the version of the Compassion Theory as described in the book).

    How does Christ “take upon himself the sins of the world” (3 Ne. 11:11)?

    Well it seems to me one could posit that he took upon him the type of suffering and alienation that results from worldly sins in Gethsemane (and on the cross) to a degree that no non-divine person could bear. But again, this is a bit on the fly…

    If we don’t repent, sin causes the pain to us. If we do repent, then Christ suffers that pain instead of us.

    Again, I think this is the glaring weakness of the Compassion Theory (I think most of the rest of it is wonderful). If we repent there is no sin left to cause pain. You seem to treat “sin energy” like transferable toxic waste — that is hardly a scriptural view. And if sin energy is just the power to bring something about then it seems to me that you are really talking about free will, because we retain the power to bring about sin forever. When we sin it hurts, when we don’t it doesn’t. Granting the sin itself some status as an “energy” is where the theory fails for me.

    Further, what could be clearer than it is unjust for both me and Christ to suffer for my sins?

    My point exactly. All the pain of sin is experienced by us in our sinful state in in the process of changing to a less sinful state. There is nothing left for Christ to suffer when we repent. There is no residual sin toxic waste to dump on him.

    his suffering is a sacrifice that he gladly makes on my behalf out of sheer and unconditional love. He loves us that much

    I fully agree with this. This is why he has done and will continue to do everything in his power to persuade us to repent come unto him.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 19, 2006 @ 8:53 am

  44. Geoff: I suggest that you think of “enrgy” in terms of light and darkness, but darkness is not merely the absence of light but the presence of chaos and disorder (like in the OT and NT). So sin is not nothing; it is not a negation but the positing of dis-order and dis-ease and has a causal power to cause pain (otherwise, what causes the pain that you agree attends sin?).

    The notion of the transfer of pain, of the effects of sin, is fairly clear with a number of scriptural statements. The rituals of the day of atonement where the sins are transferred to the goat and the goat is released and driven out; the notions of “giving away our sins” or “bearing our sins” or “taking our sins upon him” all attest to this real transfer as real. If you don’t see it and get it, that’s fine. The rest of the theory can bear burden of explaining atonement — what it won’t explain is how our sins cause pain to Christ that is more than merely empathetic. I suppose that one could say that God just knows our pains and empathetically suffers for them. Yet then the Father and Spirit suffer equally and the atonement is not wrought by Christ and something that he suffered uniquely as affirmed universally in scripture.

    Comment by Blake — April 19, 2006 @ 9:07 am

  45. Yeah Blake, I can see the comparison to Light replacing Darkness or the Order replacing Chaos… What I can’t see is the transfer of “sin toxic waste”. I just don’t think there is evidence to support the idea that “sin energy” is a transferable thing or substance.

    But you have also done such a masterful job of convincing me that some of the more tradition views are untenable. I agree with your assessment: “Do you mean he literally has a superabundant store of merit somehow stored up that he remits to satisfy the universal law of justice? That can’t be what you mean, but that is the traditional LDS view of how Christ pays for sins-he literally engages in a commerical transaction with an abstract universal to pay it off. Frankly, that view is just nonsense.” So that leaves me with a vacuum that is not adequately filled by your painful-sin-energy (or as I like to call it, sin toxic waste) transfer theory. I suspect the best way to fill that vacuum is to lean toward the idea that the language in scripture that might be read to imply a literal transfer of sin, as well as the rituals (like transferring sin to a goat), are entirely symbolic and designed to convince us to repent of our sins and come unto Christ.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 19, 2006 @ 11:10 am

  46. Geoff: Nature abhors a vacuum.

    Comment by Blake — April 19, 2006 @ 11:26 am

  47. A person’s relationship with Christ (or vice versa) should not be considered purely an intentional thing. Both are unavoidably directly related through the “light of Christ” as well as transitively related through the effect of their actions on other persons as well.

    It is perfectly to coherent to argue that the level of Christ’s suffering depends on the degree he chooses to enter into a relationship with us, but is never quite zero, any more than being in the same room with a crying baby is pain free whether one administers to its needs or not.

    Comment by Mark Butler — April 19, 2006 @ 1:45 pm

  48. I disagree with the idea that sin correlates with anything that can be “accumulated” or “stored”. Sin certainly has persistent psychological and physiological consequences, but I wouldn’t say that such consequences can be accurately represented as a scalar fluid.

    Scalar “fluids” like heat and entropy can be easily transferred around in a manner akin to refrigeration – some suffering required on the part of the “refrigerator”, or “deep pocket”, but no intelligence necessary.

    I would say rather that the suffering of the Atonement is more like the suffering of a doctor involved in intense micro-surgery than that of a person sweltering under a relatively static load. More like that of a parent than that of an underwriter. More like a creator than a heat sink.

    Comment by Mark Butler — April 19, 2006 @ 2:10 pm

  49. Mark,

    Looks like we are on the same page with regard this subject of the “toxic waste of sin” — even though you nearly lost me when you started bringing up terms like “scalar fluid” and “heat sink“… (Dude — I’m a musician and businessman by training — take it easy on me with the science jargon! (grin)). So yes I agree that the suffering Christ feels is both empathetic and the type of suffering a surgeon feels during an intense procedure. Or more appropriately (and as you noted), the type of suffering a parent feels while raising and teaching a beloved child (see my Parable of the Pianist for more on that comparison).

    Comment by Geoff J — April 19, 2006 @ 3:59 pm

  50. Geoff: Like I said — your view is true as far as it goes, it just isn’t a view of atonement. It doesn’t explain why anything Christ did is essential to forgiving sin. It doesn’t explain why he suffered. It doesn’t explain why Christ and not also the Father, Holy Ghost and every other sensitive human doesn’t suffer for atonement in the same way as Christ. In short, it just doesn’t addres the issue of atonement. It merely assumes that sin is just what we do and when we stop, we are not sinning any more. But that isn’t repentance which involves a change of heart and a sacrifice of of our broken hearts and a contrite spirit. Moreover, why would sin or being in a condition of sinfulness cause us pain? What is it that causes pain — and how could it cause anything if it isn’t an energy?

    Mark: why the relation between what Christ suffers and our sins?

    Comment by Blake — April 19, 2006 @ 4:16 pm

  51. Blake, I think the more direct relationship is in regard to what Christ does to sustain us from day to day – the effect of which is both sustenative and healing. With regard to sin, I would say simply that it increases the burden that he already carries both directly and transitively. I would guess that the material burden of the Lord’s non-sin derived suffering is probably ten times higher than the burden traceable to sin – though the latter must surely sting more.

    And in particular, I believe that the former aspect of the Atonement extends to nearly all mankind (the exception being those benighted souls who literally sin unto spiritual death) on the same principle that the Lord sends rain to both the just and the unjust (Matt 5:45).

    Comment by Mark Butler — April 19, 2006 @ 10:00 pm

  52. I neglected to mention that the sin tracable suffering can be divided into two parts – 1. the increased burden due to the natural consequences of sin on the sinner and others and 2. the burden of healing and mitigating those effects in the sinner and others, in the sinners case on condition of repentance.

    It is worth pointing out that the increased burden due to sin is due to the continued willingness of the Lord to sustain us during our period of probation. If the Lord quit sustaining us (according to the law of justice), the burden would cease. Believer and unbeliever alike, the burden is something the Lord freely submits to in order to accomplish his purposes. The difference is that his grace is (almost) wasted on the wicked.

    Comment by Mark Butler — April 19, 2006 @ 10:22 pm

  53. Actually Blake, I think we are still on the path of becoming at one with Christ in the view I have been describing (again, also described in parable form here) I think we are slowly becoming one with Christ every time we repent and improve and change to become more like him. I think we become at one with God in a similar way that we can become one with our spouse after this life, actually.

    It doesn’t explain why anything Christ did is essential to forgiving sin.

    I do think it is likely that God could forgive our sins upon repentance independently of the culminating events in Gethsemane and the cross — but since you see the atonement as a real-time transfer of our sin energy to Christ, you apparently think the same thing about the events in Gethsemane and the cross.

    It doesn’t explain why he suffered.

    I’ve offered possible explanations why he suffered prior to his death — explanations similar to the ones you gave in your book. You just don’t like my answers.

    It doesn’t explain why Christ and not also the Father, Holy Ghost and every other sensitive human doesn’t suffer for atonement in the same way as Christ.

    I’m not really sure what you mean here, but I do think that Jesus did here only what he saw his Father do before him on another planet. I think the pattern taught by Joseph in the 1840s trumps that obscure 1835 quote from Joseph you are fond of pulling out in opposition to this idea.

    It merely assumes that sin is just what we do and when we stop, we are not sinning any more. But that isn’t repentance which involves a change of heart and a sacrifice of of our broken hearts and a contrite spirit.

    Why do you think that? I think all those things are necessary parts of real repentance — I just reject the idea that there is residual sin toxic waste that we must transfer out of our bodies to Christ.

    Moreover, why would sin or being in a condition of sinfulness cause us pain? What is it that causes pain-and how could it cause anything if it isn’t an energy?

    Stubbing my toe causes pain. Being humiliated causes pain. Lots of things cause pain and unhappiness (including sin). It is just the Law of the Harvest. What does that have to do with storing up painful sin energy?

    Comment by Geoff J — April 19, 2006 @ 11:40 pm

  54. Mark: I would say simply that it increases the burden that he already carries both directly and transitively

    Can you explain this direct and transitive burden in more detail?

    Comment by Geoff J — April 19, 2006 @ 11:44 pm

  55. Geoff J,
    I do not view Christ as a toxic waste dump, but for some reason I have little trouble seeing the pain of our sin as energy that Christ accepts. Christ’s light dispels the darkness and though He accepts the pain of our sins, He is not polluted by the pain of our sins.
    I think my reason for having so little trouble seeing sin as energy that causes pain to those we are in relationship with is that those around me are not in relationships with Geoff, Kristen, and Kristen’s father (none of whom I knew, but I have been reading!!!). Those around me are in relationship with me and the other crazy folks around me. Those folks care deeply and I have great ability to hurt them. Some of those folks also have great ability to hurt others of these folks. Still we all care for each other and freely participate in the horrors we create on a not infrequent enough basis.

    Something Blake said that I can’t seem to find to quote brings into question a little of what I wrote above. He seemed to suggest that a theory of the atonement would need to explain how Christ would absorb that pain and not just any other person. I would like to suggest that Christ is the source of light that drives out the darkness/chaos, but that other loving folks can feel pain through relating to us that ultimately is assuaged by Christ.

    Charity, TOm

    Comment by TOm — April 20, 2006 @ 6:50 am

  56. Blake,
    The continuing nature of the transfer of pain is still something that is a little difficult for me to embrace. It seems to me that most scriptural discussion of the atonement focuses on an event yet to come (before Gethsemane and the Cross) or an event in the past (after). I am not radically bothered by this, but perhaps the work “infinite” might be of some use here. Christ’s infinite suffering for sin during the end of His mortality creates within Him an eternal store of compassion. We may transfer our “sin energy” to Him and because of the accounting of an infinity He suffers no more. Infinity plus TOm’s 10^100^ share of sin is till Infinity, but TOm’s 10^100^ share of sin minus 10^100^ is that departure of pain that was “so exquisite and so bitter” and the infusion of joy “so exquisite and sweet.”

    I still struggle with the reckoning of time for God that does not allow a more one for one transfer, but as I recall Blake’s first book largely disillusioned me of God in an eternal now. Still, I think the “accounting of an infinity” can provide an answer to the continual nature of Christ’s atonement without necessitating a timeless God in an eternal now.

    It seems clear that the scriptures say that there must be an infinite atonement. I think Blake suggested that this is because men continue to be born and continue to sin. If there have been an infinite number of eternal intelligences for all eternity, then this can explain why the atonement must be infinite. (I am interested if you believe there have always been an infinite number of eternal intelligences. I have never seen you address this, but it seems that I might never be born if there were so many to come before me. I read your Kalam infinity arguments, but I am not sure an infinite number of intelligences is not more problematic than an infinite past). In any case, a finite or an infinite amount of sin energy can be absorbed during a temporally bounded but infinite in scope atonement.

    Charity, TOm

    Comment by TOm — April 20, 2006 @ 6:50 am

  57. Geoff: You haven’t offered reasons for Christ suffering that are relevant to his suffering in a way that atones — he merely suffers as any human could on your view.

    So for the record: God can forgive us independently of Christ suffering; however, Christ cannot enter into relationship with us without feeling pain because it is painful to be in relationship with us. we all agree on that. It is the cause of the pain that Christ feels when entering into relationship with us that is at issue.

    I suggest that there is a transfer of painful energy that causes him to suffer. You don’t accept it. However, you have no explanation as to how or why Christ suffers as a result of our sins in atonement. Moreover, I believe that you now admit that your view cannot account for why Christ would suffer but not the Father and everyone else for matter in the same way and for the same reasons that you see Christ suffering.

    You admit that our sins cause pain to Christ; but you deny that there is any form of energy (or power to cause) pain. So explain this to me: how does sin cause pain in us or in Christ? It isn’t like stubbing the toe. I know why I suffer pain if I stub my toe — there is a cause and neural mechanism that fully explains it. But the pain of sin is different than that. It is psychic. It remains after the immediate experience of sinning and can cause us to act in defensive or strange ways long after the sins are committed. So your examples of causing physical pain by a discrete cause are not at all like the pain we suffer for sin if we don’t repent and that Christ does if we do repent.

    Now for the kicker — the pains of our sins are stored in us as memories in electro-chemical forms. I give concrete examples of how the pain we feel for our sins continues to cause real physical effects in both our bodies and in our behaviors. This power to cause these results is what I call “energy,” a very modern concept of whatever has power to cause an effect. It is this dimension of sin — the continuing guilt, pain and what resides within us even though the acts for which we feel guilt are long past — that you refuse to acknowledge. However, once it is seen that this guilt is caused by something, that the pain of our sinful acts is therefore caused by something real, the notion that the cause of this pain is transferred to Christ because it can cause pain to him seems to me to be quite intelligible. If you don’t buy it as “New Age” thinking — so what. It is simply a fact of life that we suffer pain and guilt as a result of sin, that it remains in us long after the acts of sinning, and that it is this cause of our pain that is eradicated in atonement that causes Christ pain. That is just another way of saying there is a real energy that causes pain and that it no longer causes us pain if we repent but it does cause pain to Christ in atonement.

    Comment by Blake — April 20, 2006 @ 6:53 am

  58. Blake and all,
    Now, I think this next comment is a little less related to the current line of discussion, but closer related to the topic of this thread.

    As I remember in Blake’s 2nd (and 1st here in a bit) book he suggested that one of the aspects of the atonement is that it opens up for us the ability to escape from the trap our self-justifying / self-defensive selves create (again as a self-justifier this rang true for me). It seemed to me that he/you Blake were suggesting that a sort of “faith alone, grace alone” was required to escape this trap. And that the victory/gift on the other side of this trap was eternal life in a heavenly kingdom. However, after this there was a much larger Pelagian component to our continued progression towards becoming those who would choose celestial relationships as our eternal path. Based on your comments on this thread perhaps I have misinterpreted your ideas.

    In your second book the NPP on Paul offered a lot of material to reconsider some of my ideas on “working out our salvation.” That being said, I am still quite satisfied with the following thoughts and would like to offer them.

    As eternal intelligences we possess a will. God’s concurring power enables us to exercise this will (first in the pre-existence and then here on earth). Our will is our ability to choose, to co-create our non-determined futures with God. When we CHOOSE to open the gate to an I-Thou relationship with God, we begin to access concurring power of a different nature than that which we previously enjoyed. The co-creating with God utilizing this higher concurring power is a process of works (preformed by God’s power, but our CHOICE) that results in an indwelling transformation such that we become full participants in an I-Thou relationship. If we do not continue to choose these works we do not become what we might, so choosing these works is critical. But it would not be appropriate to say that we do anything more than choose a path that involves co-creation with God because, of our own energy we do not perform these works through which we are transformed.

    I like to say that we are saved by Grace alone through faith and works. I then maintain that we are absolutely capable of CHOICE in a real sense, but choice that involves accepting grace from God. So we do not earn Grace and those in celestial glory did not earn that beyond those in lesser glory. Instead we choose to co-create our futures with God. This involves being infused by His indwelling love and power as we choose to work out our salvation.

    Charity, TOm

    Comment by TOm — April 20, 2006 @ 7:12 am

  59. Geoff and Blake,
    Blake:
    your view cannot account for why Christ would suffer but not the Father and everyone else for matter in the same way and for the same reasons that you see Christ suffering.

    TOm:
    This is one of the examples of a statement that I responded to of Blake’s that I couldn’t quote in post #55.

    Charity, TOm

    Comment by TOm — April 20, 2006 @ 7:16 am

  60. Tom: I agree that Christ drives out the darkness by his love and light; but why does that cause pain to Christ in so doing?

    Comment by Blake — April 20, 2006 @ 2:53 pm

  61. TOm I just wanted to add that I’m in essential agreement with your post #58.

    Comment by Blake — April 20, 2006 @ 3:03 pm

  62. I believe Christ’s burden probably does increase when I stub my toe, on the basis of scriptures that imply his support is necessary for life, and the proposition that ordinary injuries increase the support required.

    Unless this is the case to some degree, it is hard to explain the burden of the atonement at all, without making a hard split between “psychic” or “spiritual” effects and “physical” or “material” effects. Simple sympathy can certainly create sorrow or even pain, but the scriptures imply that something vaguely conservative (in the physics sense) is going on here. i.e. in colloquial terms “the sin must be suffered for”.

    Rather than take that as an abstract law of nature (I hardly think nature knows what “sin” is) I interpret the principle as the consequences of sin as well as other injuries cause a material increase in the amount of effort that must be expended to sustain life before the damage is repaired, as well as to effect the final repair.

    The question of the Atonement then reduces to the division of that effort between us and the Savior. Interesting issues like how long would life sustain itself if the Lord cut us off _completely_. Some would argue from D&C 88 that electrons would cease going around in their orbits. I think that is a bit extreme, but it is clear that his Spirit is involved in sustaining us from day to day, not in the manner of an allowance or budget line item, but at a minimum in terms of required effort to give us promptings or impressions at the right time in the right context, for us to grow and flourish, and quite likely in terms of the effort required for us to heal and stay alive at all.

    Comment by Mark Butler — April 20, 2006 @ 3:52 pm

  63. Geoff, directly caused suffering is suffering in the persons who have a direct relationship with the original injury, where transitive suffering simply means the effects are propagated through other persons before reaching the sufferer. e.g. The suffering of a child when his father loses his job because a factory was closed. Since the Lord sustains all of us by degrees, he feels both direct and transitive suffering, both emotionally (sorrow) and materially (increased sustenative burden).

    Comment by Mark Butler — April 20, 2006 @ 4:02 pm

  64. Blake said:
    I agree that Christ drives out the darkness by his love and light; but why does that cause pain to Christ in so doing?

    TOm:
    I am not sure what you are responding to. I embrace the concept of Christ feeling pain to be in relationship with us. I find it superior to the idea that there is some punishment accounting.
    At first, I thought you were responding to my suggestion that an infinite atonement could eliminate the need to suggest that the atonement is not finished. With that in mind I wrote the below to try and elaborate on my post #56. Instead were you commenting upon my suggestion that sin energy is transferred among loved-ones, but must ultimately be transferred to Christ from post #55 and #59?

    I am trying to acknowledge that the scriptural accounts describing the atonement seem to describe it as occurring at a specific time in our past (and in the future for a number of folks who lived and wrote before Christ).
    Having mostly given up on God’s eternal now, I am trying to employ what I called the “accounting of infinity” to suggest that real sin energy is transferred to Christ from me when I repent. Real pain is involved in being within a relationship with me. However since Christ’s suffering/atonement was infinite about 2000 years ago, my sin energy added to an actual infinity only becomes part of what was already absorbed rather than resulting in suffering within Christ today.

    I am not at all convinced that is an adequate explanation. I am trying to account for a few things that I will mention, but I guess I still feel that the compassionate theory of the atonement (with past and future suffering within Christ) is viable and better than the ledger book of divine punishment. It is quite possible that the concept of an actual infinite suffering/atonement cannot overcome the need to maintain proper timing associated with causes proceeding effects, but it is however true that 100 units of suffering added to infinity units of suffering results in infinity units of suffering.

    Here are some of the things I try to account for by suggesting that the infinite atonement allows future sin absorption without increasing the load of sin upon Christ.

    First, why must the atonement be an infinite atonement. You might respond that there are an infinite number of eternal intelligences (and thus an infinite yet to be born and atoned for), but I am a little concerned about the implications of an actual infinite number of eternal intelligences (how would my turn to be embodied ever come). And even with an infinite number of eternal intelligences, an infinite but temporally bound atonement could still consume all sin energy for an eternity.
    Second, why does scripture seem to say the atonement is in our past and in the future of those folks who lived before Christ atoned. I remember that you commented a little on this above, but I do not remember being overwhelmingly convinced.
    Third, not only does Christ say, “It is finished,” but I want it to be finished. I am already sad enough (or perhaps I am not!) that I hurt those around me and need to repent each day, but it becomes a little more powerful for me when I think that all the sin energy I create will ultimately be absorbed by Christ and cause him pain anew.

    Charity, TOm

    Comment by TOm — April 21, 2006 @ 12:14 am

  65. Pelagius made the case that God’s mercy preceded the life and death of Christ. Thus, Jesus’ entire life and teaching were instructive not atoning. Further, Pelagianism regects the whole idea of atonement and it’s evil parent, blood sacrifice. There is no such thing as original sin, only original ignorance.

    Are we not all aware of the traditional power of commanders, monarchs and governors to pardon? They are given this power because there is no such thing as perfect justice, nor can there be, because the world is not made that way. Once a thing is done, good or bad or both, the world is forever changed and the previous condition can never be restored.

    Does God ask us to do what He himself will not? He commands us to forgive, not demand atonement. I find the very idea of atonement repugnant. Is God our cosmic whipping boy? The concept of the atonement can be reduced to “God died for you, so now you owe him.” It is a horrible notion that evolved from ancient ideas that the God’s demanded blood sacrifice.

    The notion of blood sacrifice was hardly improved by the classical idea of the scales of justice. What was a symbol of the importance of objectivity in fair judgment got perverted into the idea that every sin has an exactly appropriate punishment. This punishment, by that logic, must be bled from the sinner or ransomed by some more worthy person who has sufficient excess merit. Atonement, like punishment, is merely revenge if we think of it as payment. Punishment is only useful to the degree it is instructive.

    This sad misapprehension has sorely diminished the understanding of the need to make amends to WHOM WE HAVE SINNED AGAINST. We always sin against a person, or perhaps an animal or some other part of creation. We frequently sin against ourselves. What we can not sin against is God because we can not injure God. Every law of God’s is for our own benefit. Pelagius said that all our needs would be met if we would only obey God’s law but we do not because of our foolishness.

    Rarely do our attempts to make amends satisfy the injury done. Instead they are the means to demonstrate a contrite heart and restore broken relationships. Amends are the works that show that our faith is not dead. They are how we show to ourselves and others that we have turned ourselves around and now love and understand what we previously did not regard.

    What then is the meaning of Christ’s life? May I point to other self-sacrificing leaders to make it clear. It is what all hero’s do. It is the central concept of the motto of the Infantry. It accounts for why the casualty rate is so much higher for junior officers. It is why they lead from the front instead of from the rear. God likewise leads from the front, not just the lofty heavens. The motto of an infantryman must also be the motto of anyone who is a disciple of Christ. He expressed in his teaching and showed in his life what to do. He lived the motto “Follow me.” That is what we must do — follow him.

    The leading nature of the Christian life was cast another way by Francis of Assisi. He suggested, “Preach the Gospel always. When all else fails, use words.”

    Comment by Morgan — April 28, 2007 @ 10:03 am

  66. Morgan,

    It sounds like what you find repugnant is the concept of penal substitution, not the more general concept of “atonement” (which literally mean at-one-ment, or the process by which we can become at one with God.)

    See our atonement and soteriology category for several other posts and discussions on these topics.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 28, 2007 @ 11:34 am

  67. At-one-ment is where I want to be for sure, but to get there requires a change in my heart and mind not a sacrifice of or by God except in the sense that the example of self-sacrifice may instruct me. As a practical matter the concept of atonement always seems to deteriorate to meaning penal substitution which is why those who are dissatisfied with that are always at pains to explain that atonement isn’t that. It seems to me however that orthodox Christianity is largely based on the idea. Further, John Talmadge’s “Jesus the Christ” seems to be an apology that attempts to steer Mormon thought toward that orthodoxy. I don’t think McMurrin or B.H. Roberts were persuaded.

    Comment by Morgan — April 28, 2007 @ 12:51 pm

  68. Morgan,

    In his Theological Foundations of Mormonism, McMurrin seems to suggest we should adopt a satisfaction theory given his reading of the passages on the atonement in Alma. B.H. Roberts also favors a satisfaction theory (for the most part, he mixes and matches just as Talmage). For example, Roberts wrote that:

    It is the breach in the law that must be mended. …the Atonement is …a matter of satisfying the insulted honor and majesty of God adequately.” B.H. Roberts, Seventy’s Course in Theology 5 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1907-1912) 4:94.

    I agree with you that the concept of the atonement quite often is understood in terms of penal-substitution (which I disgree with), but the Anselm-like satisfaction theories suggested by Roberts and McMurrin are not much better.

    You said:

    At-one-ment is where I want to be for sure, but to get there requires a change in my heart and mind not a sacrifice of or by God except in the sense that the example of self-sacrifice may instruct me.

    I agree that atonement requires a change in our hearts and minds primarily, but I am not so quick to discount the sacrifice of Jesus as merely an example of self-sacrifice. The BofM says explicitely that the sacrifice of Christ was far more than that. If the only thing Christ did was set an example of self-sacrifice, why don’t we worship Ghandi as well as Christ?

    Comment by Jacob J — April 28, 2007 @ 6:13 pm

  69. Gandhi never claimed to be God. He led many toward God by the example of his life.

    Comment by Morgan — April 29, 2007 @ 7:09 am

  70. Jacob
    It is clear that you are more familiar with both McMurrin and Roberts than I. It has been a while since I read either. I am a little more current with Pelagius himself, because I took the trouble to acquire the new translation of his letters. His actual teachings seem to be rather different than what has been defined as Pelagianism by his enemies.

    In any case, I concede that Roberts and McMurrin seemed to think that the atonement was a cosmic event that in some way altered or corrected the universe. For the life of me I can not see how or why?

    Satisfaction theory is as repugnant as penal substitution. The argument that God’s honor was insulted by the breech of the law isn’t persuasive to me. It sounds like the kind of justification medieval kings were prone to use to justify their next invasion. It does not at all sound like Jesus saying, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” Are Roberts et all meaning to say that God or we could not show the same generosity of spirit or it would not have the same efficacy without the cosmic flogging?

    I can not imagine how Adam’s sin or my sins rob the almighty of honor. My sin robs me of my honor. My sin may rob another of many things but the one thing it can not rob them of is their honor.

    When the Nazi robs, beats, starves, humiliates and finally murders the Jew, it is not the Jew’s honor that is robbed, it is the Nazi who has robbed himself of his own honor. Victor Frankel was clear about this in his reminiscence: “Man’s search for meaning.”

    Could you set me straight on this and explain just how the Almighty gets so insulted that he needs to have his son flogged and crucified and please explain just how that might restore his tarnished majesty?

    Comment by Morgan — April 29, 2007 @ 8:11 am

  71. Morgan,

    Jacob isn’t defending Satisfaction Theory. He doesn’t buy it either so he is the wrong guy to ask to vigorously defend it. He simply was pointing out that McMurrin and Roberts seemed to like a variation on it.

    I’ll put a copy of Jacob’s paper on the atonement up and link to it today for you.

    There are several posts with alternative theories in that atonement category I linked to earlier. Here is Blake Ostler’s “Compassion Theory” of atonement. Here is my tentatively names “Royal Empathy Theory” too. Again, I recommend you check out all the discussion in that category.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 29, 2007 @ 8:57 am

  72. Morgan,

    Could you set me straight on this and explain just how the Almighty gets so insulted that he needs to have his son flogged and crucified and please explain just how that might restore his tarnished majesty?

    I can’t set you straight on that because I reject both penal-substitution and satisfaction theories. Not long ago I wrote this post which might interest you.

    Now, you seem to be jumping directly from a rejection of penal substitution and satisfaction to an endorsement of some variation of a moral influence theory, and that jump is what I took issue with you in #68. Just because penal substitution is rejected, it does not obviously follow that the only thing Christ’s suffering accomplished was an example of self-sacrifice. Since you made that leap, I was hoping for you to back it up by explaining how the atonement still makes sense if I follow you and adopt your suggested meaning for the atonement.

    My question about Gandhi was in that spirit. Does your answer in #69 suggest that Christ and Gandhi essentially did the same thing in life, the only difference was that Christ happened to be God (and thus claimed that status)? Is there anything different about Gandhi’s suffering than Christ’s suffering in Gethsemane?

    Comment by Jacob J — April 29, 2007 @ 9:00 am

  73. oops, Geoff posted at the same time as me, so there is a some overlap in our comments.

    Comment by Jacob J — April 29, 2007 @ 9:02 am

  74. No worries Jacob. I just got the download link for your paper back up on the sidebar too. Here it is.

    (Also, I will note that while my tentative theory is largely a moral influence theory when it relates to the direct influence of Jesus’s life and suffering on us, the empathy theory portion makes Jesus’s suffering much different than Gandhi’s.)

    Comment by Geoff J — April 29, 2007 @ 9:15 am

  75. Geoff & Jacob
    Thank you for bringing me up to speed on the depth of your thought on this topic. I found Geoff’s “Royal Empathy” theory entirely satisfactory except for its name, and, entirely Pelagian. I have not read through all the critiques but my only impulse was to reinforce some of your points.

    One of the appealing things about Royal Empathy theory is that it takes the magic out of it. I don’t like magical thinking. It causes a lot of mischief. It never did much good to ask God to extend the mileage of the gasoline in my tank cause I really-really needed to get to church on time in order to do God’s work. My experience so far tells me that the world just doesn’t work that way. The only thing supernatural about the world I live in is its very existence, which is astonishing enough, thank you. Some time ago I gave up asking God to fix things for me. Instead I use prayer to seek insight and express my heart’s desire.

    Another thing Royal Empathy does is turn the infinite atonement on its head. I never found the idea that Christ’s infinite righteousness made his atonement infinitely available to cover every sin. In Royal Empathy, if I understand correctly, to serve justice, Jesus must only suffer and experience just as much as any of the rest of us. It need not be infinite but merely as bad as the rest of the folks hung on crosses, or raped, or abused as children.

    Further, Jesus Christ need not have been perfectly righteous. He could have muddled through double-binds, dilemas, and made mistakes just like the rest of us. I find the whole idea of perfect righteousness a contradiction of the nature of moral life. Morality is difficult precisely because many times there IS no perfect moral choice. Somebody is going to get hurt. Ironically, the imperfect Christ is someone I am all the more prepared to follow because he really does “get” how we suffer.

    Comment by Morgan — April 30, 2007 @ 2:09 pm

  76. I found Geoff’s “Royal Empathy” theory entirely satisfactory except for its name

    Ha ha. I told him the same thing. Needs a new name Geoff. Sorry Stapley.

    Comment by Jacob J — April 30, 2007 @ 3:36 pm

  77. Is it not the “proximate cause” theory? This being the legal principle that the man who hires the gunman is as guilty as the gunman?

    Was it not Lucifer who promised to make sure everything was good and spare us all this suffering. The plan that the son of man proposed meant that we would have free will and ignorance of how the world works. The existence of truely free will meant that the plan would cause many people to suffer many grim things they did not deserve.

    It would mean that Assyrian soldiers would enter a village and make an example by taking men and skinning them while they were still alive and making their their loved ones watch. It would mean we would not know how to treat multiple sclerosis ad people would die a long slow death in which their bodies would just quit working for them, while they remained fully conscious of their helplessness. It meant that some father would be somehow so twisted inside that he would keep his child in a cage and allow it no nurture at all and no stimulation but abuse so that the child’s brain would be so stunted it could never learn to speak. It would mean that Brethren of the Church would line innocent men and women up in a row at a place called Mountain Meadows and shoot them in the back of head and then blame it on the Indians.

    It was the son of man who suggested we all become a part of this. In the proximate sense, he loaded the gun that shot the woman at Mountain Meadows. How could the son of man preserve himself from such suffering? He had to be a full participant and embrace the entire potential of human suffering or he would have been less than the little girl in the cage.

    Comment by Morgan — May 1, 2007 @ 5:31 am

  78. I don’t think so Morgan. You are assuming free will (not just liberty to act, but actual free will in the libertarian sense) can be taken away from a sentient being and I don’t think that is the case. We had free will before this probation and we will continue to have free will for as long as we exist as sentient beings in my opinion. So pinning all the evil in the world on Jesus due to some ultra-literalist view of the council in heaven doesn’t work at all for me.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 1, 2007 @ 11:56 am

  79. BTW — yes I think “Royal Empathy” will have to go as a name for my (currently) preferred atonement theory. I think calling it what it is — a hybrid between Empathy and Moral Influence theories — is probably my best bet.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 1, 2007 @ 11:58 am

  80. Geoff
    Leadership and moral influence do seem to be the ground of your theory, but still there is also a measure of responsibility don’t you think, even though proximate cause may not be its label.

    I’m not a literalist at all. The Mormon creation story is a grand myth. I have an adage.

    “All stories are true. All histories are false.”

    Histories are false because the notion of a history, or any testimony, is that it is a “true” account, when it can only be a point of view or a partial view. It is difficult and perhaps impossible for me to know a thing to be true, I just have degrees of confidence.

    The hearing of a story on the other hand is an experience. The experience of hearing the story is true.

    Thus the fable of the Fox and the Grapes is bad history but never-the-less it is a true and an informing experience.

    It was surprising to me to discover that the Mormon creation myth may be the oldest written story in the world. Hugh Nibley one day, in his “Apocrypha and pseudepigrapha” class, made a passing reference to an especially old version of the Osiris myth. I was startled by this and after class asked him if it were published. He said it has not but he had made a translation of it, which he later gave to me. He said it was the oldest known version of the Osiris myth. It was remarkably similar to the PoGP story: There was a council in heaven. Two choices presented. Osiris proposes freedom his brother Set proposes perfection. Osiris’ plan is chosen and Osiris suffers and dies for our sake. He is resurrected or rather reconstituted by his sister/wife Isis and is more glorious than he was before. The Osiris myth is well known but the particular details in Nibley’s version made it much closer to the PofGP.

    Comment by Morgan — May 2, 2007 @ 5:23 am

  81. but still there is also a measure of responsibility don’t you think

    Hmmm… Well I guess I would need to know what you mean by “a measure”. I suppose we are all bear a measure of responsibility for the existence of evil in the world.

    Re: History vs Stories– I have heard others make the types of claims I think you are making. I have no doubt there is truth in there but it sort of comes off sounding like new-agey/mystical mumbo jumbo to me…

    Re: Osiris Myth — Very interesting. I’ll have to do more research on that. I know Nibley was very much into preaching on the ancient concept of the Two Ways. Sounds like this is connected to that.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 3, 2007 @ 10:49 pm

  82. Let me add a little on the history v story bit. Don’t misunderstand my meaning. An adage is a mind jogger–the western version of a koan. It just reminds us that we ought to view testimony or history at least as skeptically as we do stories and myths. Josephus is not intrinsically more credible than Mathew and Luke, neither is Luke or Mathew more credible than Josephus. They all have their issues that distort the picture of reality they all try to give us.

    You might want to read “When they severed earth from sky” by Elizabeth Wayland Barber and Paul T. Barber. They take ideas of Joseph Campbell in a different direction than the Jungian archetype. Their hypothesis is that some events are so critically important to the survival of a culture that the history of the event is morphed into a myth. The myth is far more memorable than the history. They argue that myths are the way culture preserves the lessons of history. Robert Graves attempted to demonstrate this earlier without benefit of the Barber’s theory or any good way to corroborate his conclusions in his “The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth”

    The Barber’s theory that history morphs into myth in a predictable linguistic and psychological way. In much the same way as linguists back track languages to common origins by meticulous application of general rules, Barber and Barber believe that the history behind myths can be discovered by application of general rules. They offer a set of general rules about how historical events gain mythological character and illustrate them by analyzing some myths and show that they described actual events which have recently been “discovered” by archeology or geology.

    If any story seems to be engaging it is probably worthwhile to ask ourselves why. There may be wisdom in the story.

    As for the responsibility bit I can only say that the person who proposes a plan bears a special responsibility for its outcome even if the plan is endorsed by those who end up following the plan. When the plan seems difficult or unworkable the judgment and sincerity of the planner are called into question.

    Arguably, the very controversial Abraham Lincoln and his ideas about a peace based on amnesty and forgiveness depended on this. When he was shot by a radical southerner it had the ironic effect of increasing his credibility not lessening it. This seems to be so because he personally paid the price that so many had done in laying down their lives. After his assassination it became very difficult to criticize him or his plans.

    Comment by Morgan — May 4, 2007 @ 8:14 am

  83. the person who proposes a plan bears a special responsibility for its outcome

    Ahhh — I see your point now. I suppose if one takes the idea of a proposal of a plan literally in any way then that additional responsibility idea makes sense. I am of the opinion that the plot of our planet is the same general plot that has always happened before, worlds without number. Meaning, among other things, I think every inhabited world has a savior just like ours does and thus Jesus didn’t propose any new plans but rather filled a role for our planet.

    For more on my views on that see here, here, and here.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 4, 2007 @ 7:57 pm

  84. If this be a stage and we but players, one must ask what roll the savior plays? In this analogy, the almighty might be the producer of many plays, the director of our particular play would be the Savior, but in this case the director is also an actor.

    Or, in another analogy, we might consider the trek to Zion. Every company must ultimately take the same journey, even though the details might differ. Here we might see the savior as the trail boss or captain.

    In any case be it a stage play, a cosmic play, or a cosmic journey, someone says to the company, “Let us go down…” and assumes the mantel of leadership among those who follow.

    The Levi Savage story of the Willie Handcart company is an interesting variation. Levi was clearly the most experienced and knowledgeable leader they could have had, although in fact he was subordinate to Willie. Levi advised that the company should wait and not travel so late in the season. When it became evident that the company would not heed his advice he went along with them prophesying of their coming suffering.

    Levi turned out to be absolutely correct in his counsel but also, because of his strength and experience, played a crucial role in the survival of the Willie company. Ever after Bishop Savage was revered by the survivors. If, however, he had staid behind and not suffered with the company, I doubt he would have been remembered or had any special credence with anyone.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Levi_Savage_Jr.

    Comment by Morgan — May 6, 2007 @ 8:46 am

  85. I should also point out that I think this recurring play probably also has mostly recurring actors (though the roles change). See here.

    So I personally don’t see a assigning responsibility to Jesus for anybody else’s sins working at all still.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 6, 2007 @ 12:20 pm

  86. That’s a very interesting idea. Reincarnation on multiple worlds. I like it. Many years ago I outraged my seminary teacher just by suggesting that the three kingdoms (terrestrial, telestial and celestial) were not ends in themselves but more like trains moving along parallel tracks all heading in the same direction but some moving faster than others. I like your idea much better. I am sure it would have given my seminary teacher apoplexy.

    But I still don’t think I have communicated to you my meaning about the inevitable burden of leadership. The way can not be only explained. It must be shown. The strong help the weaker or the younger and say, “follow me, I am with you.” This might be called Royal Empathy, because it certainly is empathetic, but the definition of empathy is limited to vicarious feeling. So, it seems to me that the atonement must include empathic leadership.

    Comment by Morgan — May 7, 2007 @ 9:04 am

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