Failing Falling

October 19, 2011    By: Matt W. @ 1:59 pm   Category: Atonement & Soteriology,Plan of Salvation,Theology

“We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.”

-2nd Article of Faith

“All mankind, by the fall of Adam being cut off from the presence of the Lord, are considered as dead, both as to things temporal and to things spiritual”

-Helaman 14:16

It is a common claim (see for example Bhodge’s latest excellent post at BCC) the LDS church rejects “original sin”, and rightly so, due to our second article of faith, the belief that Adam and Eve took the fall as a progressive step, and due to our belief that small children are considered not accountable, and thus innocent.

However, one claim I am uncomfortable with, from Blair’s latest post (and I should add the claim is not his, but that of Peter J. Thuesen, is that this somehow allows our faith to escape the situation of an “inherently damnable humanity”, as Hodges quotes. It is, after all, our inherent damnability which is central to the Gospel.

The Atonement of Jesus Christ occurs to reconcile our sinful nature. We sin because we have free will and are weak creatures. The very plan of salvation (come to earth via birth, get a body, be apart from God, have faith, learn to repent, progress towards being heavenly creatures) is set up so that we can progress, and we would not be able to progress without God, we were selected by him to be his children, and he made it his “work and glory” to bring us up to a higher level of existence.

So if Mormonism does not teach the fall causing inherent damnability, it is only because we have removed it as our starting point, and thus moved our personal damnation back to our eternal selves. Our “original sin” truly becomes original to us, with the sin being our inability to achieve the loving nature required of us to live with God.

This does create for us a unique solution, in that our damnation is defined as our inability to attain a certain nature through our own ability, and God’s salvation is his giving us characteristics which we can use to attain to that nature. (A body, the light of Christ, the gift of the Holy Ghost, the power of faith, covenants, the atoning help of Christ).

It also raises questions. If we are eternal, and unable to change, how does it become possible for God to make this change? I don’t really know, but I do believe.


  1. FWIW, I would argue that the BofM does not deny original sin, but rather argues that the atonement eliminated original sin. In other words, if it were not for Jesus, we all would be punished (enternally sinful and subject to eternal death) for Adam’s sin.

    Comment by the narrator — October 19, 2011 @ 3:05 pm

  2. If we are eternal, and unable to change, how does it become possible for God to make this change?

    I think we need to be careful about what “unable to change” means in the sentence above. I see it as having potential that we could not fulfill on our own. That does not seem particularly problematic. I think we have always had the capacity to change, but that we often lack the strength to change when left to ourselves.

    Comment by Jacob J — October 19, 2011 @ 5:37 pm

  3. I have serious doubts about the reality of true libertarian free-will. If such existed, then given any moral decision, if we repeated that EXACT same moral decision repeatedly (with the exact same circumstances, exact same physical situation, exact same memories, exact same brain states, etc) then we would be capable of (and occasionally actually) making different choices during different iterations of the same event. While my existential self wants to believe that I am capable of making different decisions, my rational self says that it would not happen–that given the exact same iteration, I would make the exact same choice every time.

    I think this is exemplified in Ground Hog Day, where Bill Murray’s character is the only person able to act differently each day because he retains memory of the previous days, and thus approaches each decision differently (whereas everyone else only differs by their interaction with him).

    If this is the case, then our actions and choices would, in a way, be “predetermined” at birth, with the only possibility of diverging from destined paths being from an outside intervention (ie God/grace).

    Comment by the narrator — October 19, 2011 @ 6:00 pm

  4. Narrator #1: I can get behind that, but the “fall forward” concept also relates pretty closely to 2 Ne. 2. The 2nd discussion as I remeber it was all about the fall bringing sin and death into the picture. It’s as original sin as you get, so I think a lot of this is semantics.

    Jacob J #2- I don’t disagree, I just feel like there is something ineffably confusiong to me about eternally unfulfilled potential.

    Narrator #3- I’m not sure I buy into the idea that libertarian free will must require random action. (ie exact situation different action). However, I think it is cosmically impossible to have the exact same situation ever, which leaves such a theory unprovable, IMO. I do, however, think free will is limited.

    Comment by Matt W. — October 19, 2011 @ 6:40 pm

  5. the narrator — nicely said. By being born into mortality, we place ourselves in a deadend but for Christ.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — October 19, 2011 @ 7:44 pm

  6. I think many Latter-day Saints would be shocked to learn that Catholics shouldn’t have any problem with the 2nd Article of Faith. The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church (404, 405) states that:
    404 By yielding to the tempter, Adam and Eve committed a personal sin, but this sin affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state. It is a sin which will be transmitted by propagation to all mankind, that is, by the transmission of a human nature deprived of original holiness and justice. and that is why original sin is called “sin” only in an analogical sense: it is a sin “contracted” and not “committed” – a state and not an act.
    405 Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendant.
    A Catholic friend of mine completely agrees that “men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.”

    In 1859 Orson Pratt explained:
    “Let us now examine how the fall affected their posterity. We do not inherit Adam’s transgression, but the consequences of it. There is a difference between inheriting the original sin and feeling the consequences of it. To illustrate: We do not say, when children inherit the diseases of their parents brought on by drunkenness, debauchery, lasciviousness, and wickedness of every description, that it is the effect of the children’s individual sins. This is not so: they only inherit the consequences of the sins of the parents. So it is with all the posterity of Adam. The consequences of the transgression of Adam and Eve have flowed down upon us; hence we find that all the sons and daughters of Adam have become mortal. The seeds of dissolution are within our tabernacles, because our first parents sinned, and yet we are not guilty of their sins.”
    This is very much inline with the view of original sin as articulated in the Catechism. We are definitely not punished for the personal sins of Adam and Eve. However, we “contract” original sin, meaning the state that was brought upon by Adam’s transgression. I think too many assume somehow Mormonism rejects Original Sin when in fact it really does not. The difference is when and how original sin is abrogated and perhaps to what extent it is abrogated.

    Comment by aquinas — October 19, 2011 @ 8:45 pm

  7. Stephen M (Ethesis)- but again, we were in a deadend before we were in mortality.

    aquinas- I agree. The Eastern Orthodox Church goes even so far as to note original sin brought about spiritual and physical death with the same or similar definitions as Mormonism. We are not as alone/unique in the universe as we sometimes think we are.

    Comment by Matt W. — October 20, 2011 @ 7:45 am

  8. I don’t like the not able to change part either.

    I also think that since the vast majority of our decisions are based on partial information and can often come down to chance/randomness/mental coin flips. I think this is what William James was getting at in the determinist’s dilemma.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — October 20, 2011 @ 8:17 pm

  9. Eric

    I don’t like the not able to change part either. Do you mean you don’t like that I wrote it and disagree that it exists, or that I should have been more nuanced, like Jacob suggests, or that it is a philosophical sticking point for you as well as me?

    My limited understanding of the determinists’ dilemma is that there is no good or bad in a determined system (Like 2 Nephi 2’s compound in one) and that the concept of regret somehow disproves determinism. (Not sure I buy that)

    Maybe I’ll do a post to sum up where I think I am at on the whole free will thing.

    Comment by Matt W. — October 21, 2011 @ 7:12 am

  10. I think the ability to change is quite fundamental to the gospel of repentance. If we do not contribute anything at all to our salvation then it must be based on some type of lottery based grace-alone.

    I think you are right in part on the dilemma, James also asserts that determinism leads to a type of fatalism. I was mostly pointing out that James felt that free-willers should not shy away from random chance as a big part of free will.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — October 21, 2011 @ 8:30 am

  11. I also think the ability to change is fundamental to repentance. However, I believe we can not repent without the intervention of Christ’s atonement. I fought it for a while, but Blake convinced me. (I’ll try and dig up the thread if you like). This is what get’s me to our personal inability to change without divine intervention.

    my problem with randomness boils down to how unsatisfying it is in terms of accountability.

    Comment by Matt W. — October 21, 2011 @ 9:10 am

  12. I guess as long as there is some combination involved with individual merit and Christ’s atonement I am fine. Then it is just a debate about how much of one and how much of the other.

    Accountability can come in with how we might weigh the dice. The gray areas, and how the grays change over time.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — October 21, 2011 @ 11:37 am

  13. I tend to pay more for other people’s transgressions than my own. Why not throw in Adam for good measure?

    But seriously, sin is an intrinsic part of our condition. There is God, there is life, and there is free agency. If those must exist then so must the Christ. We become broken and only Christ can fix us. But only if we let him.

    If I shatter my psyche by committing murder (for example), I may never allow myself to accept the atonement, becoming lost forever. So I think damnability goes hand in hand with our fallen state, which was caused by the fall. Mormonism doesn’t teach that water is wet either.

    The “inability to change” paradox is beyond the scope of mortal life, and I trust that God has that part worked out just as he has everything else worked out.

    Comment by Brad — October 21, 2011 @ 10:25 pm

  14. Narrator #1 – If I’m not mistaken, Parley Pratt maintained much the same in his “Four Kinds of Salvation”.

    Comment by JB — October 22, 2011 @ 3:25 pm

  15. Reading these comments leave my head spinning. Since the atonement was already made Adam’s sin in the garden is not an issue. Physical death is not an issue.

    D.& C. 93:38-39 says that the spirit of man was innocent in the beginning and after the atonement everyone born into the earth was born innocent. They did not inherit their parents sins. Neither did they inherit the consequences of their parents sins because the atonement made those consequences null and void, at least as far as physical death is concerned. However the devil immediately begins to tempt mankind and to deceive them and then they act disobediently. They are also disobedient because of the teachings of their parents. It takes time to learn disobedience from our elders. We are not born with a backlog of knowledge. Traditions are not passed on before birth only afterward. They are not in our DNA. But even if we might inherit some tendencies and characteristics it is still possible to choose a different path.

    How do statements by Paul that without law there is no sin fit into this discussion?

    Comment by Ellis — October 29, 2011 @ 5:06 pm

  16. Ellis- What do you believe about our pre-mortal existence? Were we capable of progressing in that state, or did we need God’s intervention? I hold here the basic concept that damnation is the lack of progress, and the plan of salvation is a plan to overcome that lack of progress. The atonement is part of that plan but not the whole of it.

    Do you think when D&C 93:38 says man was innocent in the beginning that it is talking about the infinite pre-mortal state, or do you think it is merely going back to the events in the Garden of Eden? Do you think we were without sin in the pre-mortal state? Why were we unable to progress without God in the pre-mortal state? Did we merely lack the mental faculty to bring about our own progression, or were we somehow tainted by sin?

    From your perspective, regarding law and sin, are there universal laws which exist, whether we know they are there or not, like the Law of Gravity here on earth?

    putting traditions aside for a moment, when a person is genetically pre-disposed to have depression, or rage, or schizophrenia, do they have the same ability to choose a different path as one who does not have those challenges? Why then do we say certain levels of mental illness do not require

    Just trying to understand your perspective…

    Comment by Matt W. — November 1, 2011 @ 7:41 am

  17. I believe we had agency in the premortal world and were capable of making decisions and choices, even bad ones. I think we were able to learn and change. I do believe we had to have a body in order to become like our Father. That doesn’t mean we could not progress in any way. But it was necessary to become mortal and have a body. That is what the plan of salvation is about–returning to live with God. The atonement is a necessary part of the plan because of the events in Eden which God foresaw.

    I think D&C 93 is referring to both our premortal state and the events in Eden. I think that infants are innocent at birth because their spirits are innocent and because the atonement took care of the fall. I think we could not progress I understand your definition of progression, because we didn’t have the ability to make ourselves mortal. I don’t think it had anything to do with sin.

    Clearly there are universal and eternal laws. However the laws Paul was talking about were those laws given to Moses on the mountain. You want to lower the crime rate make more things legal. Natural laws like gravity will have an effect on us whether we know what they are or understand them. We might suffer if we fall out of a tree, but we will not be damned.

    Mental illness is a thorny problem. It is difficult to say how much choice some people have. Most schizophrenia is not recognized until young adulthood. I think children who are intellectually handicapped and who have the understanding of a normal or average child of age five or six years old does not need baptism. Beyond that I would not begin to guess who might or might not need baptism. Serious mental illnesses, the big three depression, bi-polar and schizophrenia are very complicated. Diagnosis is not easy. These illnesses are treatable and treatment works. The response of society to victims of these illnesses is often more reflective of fear born of inexperience than from any lack on the part of the ill person.

    Comment by Ellis — November 1, 2011 @ 4:53 pm

  18. Ellis: if I read you correctly- you believe that we were innoscent and progressing premortally, but lacked a body. I do not disagree with this at all, I am merely trying to flesh it out a bit more. I would like to suggest we lacked more than a body, otherwise, we would have just received the body and not the period of trial and testing and learning that is mortal life. I think we needed to learn faith, and loving kindness, which traits we would not have needed to exercise in the presence of God. Also we lacked joy, i believe, based on the other things we lacked, and based on 2 Nephi 2. While I can go along with you and say this is not sin, because we did not do it willfully, I would say lacking these things caused us to be unable to progress. We were damned not only by our lack of physicality, but by our lack of ability and experience. I think it is a universal law that lacking these experiences and capacities would cause us to suffer. Just like gravity, or not having a body, it was a fact whether we liked it or not.

    That said, Original Sin is also not sin of comission in the Catholic Tradition, as aquinas quoted above, it is only sin as analogy, in that we are in a state of lesser glory than we otherwise could be. My argument in the OP is that we were in a state of lesser glory already prior to the fall, and truly, Adam and Eve fell forward.

    And I completely agree, mental illness is a thorny problem. I have worked with and around quite a few members who are plagued by it. What I have found is that, when caught early, it can be managed, but when left unchecked, it can be quite a mess. I think God knows that our spirits are willing, but our flesh is weak, and will take that into account and not withhold from any for things they truly could not help. I also think some of these things are thorns in our flesh to keep us humble. I also think some are opportunities for us to reach out and aid others in need. I am all over the place on this one, apparently… (grin)

    Comment by Matt W. — November 1, 2011 @ 7:57 pm

  19. Matt: It sounds like we are basically in agreement. The point of departure I see is in what it means to be damned. I am familiar with the idea of damned being stopped in the course of eternal progression and while I would not say there is no merit in this view it is only part of it. Spiritual death, being denied access to God’s presence, can also be described as damnation. In the pre-earth life we all lived in the presence of God. While our progress was limited we did enjoy the association of glorious beings as well as the prospect of further progression. Those who chose to rebel against the Father’s plan were damned. They are the ones whose progress was eternally stopped.

    Comment by Ellis — November 2, 2011 @ 6:54 am


    Comment by Adam G. — June 12, 2012 @ 9:37 am