My conversion from philosophical atheism to whatever-sort-of-Christian-I-am-now came over the course of a couple of weeks, after having a series of epiphanies about what it is to be human.
The first of these epiphanies came after watching a video where the animal behavior researcher, Frans De Waal, explains the ongoing project to “discover” the rules of human morality based on a detailed study of animal and human behavior. He conducted experiments showing moral behavior in elephants, dogs, monkeys. What intrigued me most was the experiment that proved that monkeys (and even birds and dogs) show a consciousness of fairness:
In the experiment the monkeys are trained to perform a simple task for a reward. The two monkeys were accustomed to getting one cucumber slice for each task. During the stream of tasks the monkeys performed the researchers gave one of the monkeys a grape for their task instead of a cucumber. When the second monkey received only a cucumber slice for his task, he immediately threw the cucumber back at the researcher, screamed, and shook his cage in protest. The dramatic emotional response from the monkey was eye-opening.
The rebellious monkey’s plight stuck in my mind. The monkey was not showing fairness, his behavior only showed that he understood what fair was, expected the keeper to act that way. The monkey’s anger sprang from its awareness of the law and the awareness that keeper was not following it. He is driven by futile, self-destructive anger which causes him to throw his food in the face of the source of his food. A sub-optimal survival strategy, to say the least.
Whatever made the monkey engrained this rebellion in its mind and heart. The rebellion is spawned by the “law” in his own mind, and recognition of insanity of the system he is caught in. The monkey expect even humans to obey the law of the jungle. His disappointment is what enrages him. The law is what torments him.
The root drive for this sort of research is empathy for the suffering of the humans stuck in both literal and metaphorical cages and fed on cucumbers, while other humans are kept in much larger, and luxurious cages and receive grapes for their work (not to mention decent healthcare and iphones).
And we should empathize with the monkey. Given the sort of life the monkey’s body and mind were designed for, the insanity clearly lies in the experiment itself. Whatever fate the monkey now suffers, we don’t understand it to be just by any myth of justice we live by. To the monkey, the game is impossibly cruel, surreal, and strange, the cage must be deemed oppressive. I am sure he is is tired of all the ridiculous unnatural crap he has to put up with, even if he normally seems completely resigned to his fate as a caged lab animal. Our empathy makes his rebellion appear noble, because the monkey is only asking for simple equity — equal pay for equal work. We should also see his rebellion as practical. If enough monkeys decide not to participate in the unfair experiment, the keepers will have to accommodate according to whatever fairness that the monkey demands in order to avoid their rebellion. But this is the salvation of revolutionary politics, not of traditional Christianity or LDS Christianity.
The human researchers are seeking to understand the natural morality of the human spirit and conscience — i.e. our natural understanding of right and wrong. Put in the language of law, the researchers are seeking to define the content of human rights based on the biological nature of human beings, i.e. what rules allow people to flourish as human beings in the world.
Why is this research important? The twentieth century has shown that it is very good thing for everybody to have simple, reliable arguments to identify the injustice in a situation, and then point the sane way out. Our conscience tells us that all of our resources and reason should be marshaled to identify and enshrine the goodness written in human hearts and condemn and eliminate the countervailing badness that leads to genocide, war, and personal atrocity committed in the name of good, profit, and justice, i.e. the insanity of both Rome and the Pharisees that Jesus rejected.
The project entailed by the Gospel, is radically different than this project of science because it does not seek to merely illuminate the law, but it seeks to reveal a reality that is outside the law and the world. The Gospel changes the world not by informing us of the law and enforcing it with guilt and fear of retribution, but by somehow removing the torment that our knowledge of the law causes us and others. It stands firmly against nature. It does not stand against the natural law, it seeks to transcend it. It has the hope that through Christ the lion will abandon the violence that sustains it and the sheep will abandon the fear that controls it.
If monkeys were human, the LDS and the Evangelical would both reach out to somehow save the monkey from his sorrow, even though they would be powerless to change the injustice of the experiment. The LDS would tell the monkey that it is spiritually free, even in its cage, and it should make something of itself within the confines it has been placed simply by following the Holy Spirit, rather than the spirit of wrath that the law of nature inspires. The Spirit brings meaning, understanding, and joy through the monkey’s suffering by somehow purifying the monkey’s thinking about the law, and teaching it to see its suffering as an opportunity to suffer as Christ did, and in doing so, learn to be Christlike. How the monkey bears the suffering caused by the law is the goal of the LDS, and it will also determine the type of joy the monkey is prepared to receive in the hereafter.
The Evangelical would seek to free the monkey from the law that is in its head, to tell him simply that he is free to accept the cage, and ignore the suffering it entails, because in Christ he is released from the law, and the suffering will be only a small moment in the context of eternal joy. The contemplation of the unfathomable joy offered in Christ swallows up the suffering of the cage. The joy should swallow up the fear of death that drives the monkey to rebel in order to feed itself better.
If the monkey could find the strait gate or narrow way of the Gospel, would it be psychologically free from the law and find unending joy in Christ, as Evangelicals urge, or psychologically bound by the law, but free to follow the Spirit in joy, as Mormons claim? Does the Gospel allow the monkey to take advantage of both of these paths to spiritual salvation?