Christian J, commented on my post about evolution. In light of the conversion experience I had in November, my eyes opened to a a real vacancy within current Mormon practice and how the Gospel is taught to children. There is something that most Mormons just don’t get, or at least they don’t talk like they get it. They are often very hostile to it. I believe that a big part of the problem is the LDS understanding of sin. I want to be clear that I think that the problem is not in the LDS scriptures, it is in what is taught in primary. Mormons describe sin as crime, i.e. intentional disobedience to a law. I think this is a fundamental mistake that has dangerous psychological ramifications. This recent conference talk “Avoiding the Trap of Sin” which I chose at random from the LDS website gives a absolutely run-of-the-mill-LDS description of sin. Elder Mazzagardi explains:
I asked my blue-eyed, cheerful, and innocent granddaughter how she was preparing for baptism.
She answered with a question: “Grandpa, what is sin?”
I silently prayed for inspiration and tried to respond as simply as I could: “Sin is the intentional disobedience to God’s commandments. It makes Heavenly Father sad, and its results are suffering and sadness.”
Clearly concerned, she asked me, “And how does it get us?”
The question first reveals purity, but it also reveals a concern for how to avoid involvement with sin.
Elder Mazzagardi gives a typical Mormon caveat about the “trap of sin” and points to how a child might avoid involvement in sin:
When I was a teenager, my curfew was 10:00 p.m. Today, that is the time some go out in order to have fun. Yet we know that it is at night that some of the worst things happen. It is during the dark hours that some youth go to places with inappropriate environments, where music and lyrics do not allow them to have the companionship of the Holy Ghost. Then, under these circumstances, they become easy prey to sin.
This teaching and counsel seems like commonsense to a Mormon, and it is absolutely typical of what is taught in church. Mormons should realize that from a Christian point of view, it is near madness. Believing that we can “avoid involvement in sin” is a misunderstanding of Christianity. His recipe for salvation is equally troubling: “stay strong and make good choices that will allow you to eat the fruit of the tree of life.” I think this talk shows not just a deep misunderstanding of Christianity, but a deep misunderstanding of the vision of the tree of life in the Book of Mormon.
1 Nephi 8:10–12 explains that, in a vision, Lehi “beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy”. The fruit is the love of God. The fruit is not obtained by obedience to the law, but by holding on to the “Word of God” The vision does not describe the way out of sin, but the way to happiness, which is merely the recognition of the Love of God in Christ, not the achievement of righteousness.
Schopenhauer wrote: “The doctor sees all the weakness of mankind, the lawyer all the wickedness, the theologian all the stupidity.” Schopenhauer is right. I have been either a family-law attorney or criminal attorney for the last ten years. When it comes to sinners, my world is filled with the “hard cases”– rapists, child pornographers, sexually violent predators, murderers, thieves, fools, gangsters, madmen, and ordinary people fighting in court for money, vengeance, and control of children. What goes on in family and criminal courts show how easy and common it is for lives to be cut to shreds not by people’s mistakes, or their intentional failure to follow the law, but by their human natures.
What is painfully obvious to me is that understanding and striving to obey human law has almost nothing to do with “involvement in crime”, and, likewise, God’s law, has almost nothing to do with our “involvement in sin”. Understanding how different we are from God, to our cores, is an important method of coming to that discovery. I think we have to understand the difference in order to accept the joy and freedom that the Light of Christ reveals.
Most Mormons might accept evolution as a theory for the explanation of how animals came about, but they don’t accept it as an explanation of human nature. They see our natures as being more godlike than fallen. They buy in to the popular myths that animal behavior is evil, and human nature and reason is, for the most part, good and divine. Lets be clear, human criminals don’t act like animals, they act all-too-human. The theory of evolution, or any other explanation of how we came about, may not effect our day-to-day lives, but the nature of our species absolutely does. The history of our species compared to other species shows that, of all the animals species on earth, human beings are the most monstrous and most in need of salvation. Human beings are not like animals in important ways, animals are much better behaved, more obedient to their own laws, and more in touch with their natures. Human beings are separated from both their animal nature, and their divine nature. If anything, we need to become more like the animals we are and less like the humans that we aspire to be. More on this later. . .