Saturday, July 18, 2015

The God of Experience

"...[A]ll these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good."

Recently a friend whom I respect highly decided to leave the Mormon Church. For him, it's been a major event which has caused a lot of people to question his reasons and reasoning for doing so. He wrote a public response to a friend outlining those reasons to avoid having to do the same thing multiple times. Near the end, he lays out what he seems to believe is a (if not *the*) major issue with the way Mormonism portrays God. It is reflective of many similar arguments I've seen before, which is why I've decided to write this post.

From the note:

...The God of Mormonism is not the God of love.
Jesus summed up the commandments with this statement: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.”

Nephi goes to get the plates (which could have just been revealed to him just like the dozens of chapters of other revelations that were given to him) from Laban. He finds Laban drunk and is told BY THE SPIRIT, to slay him. This is entirely unnecessary. God could have easily killed Laban himself. God could have kept Laban in a stupor long enough for Nephi to escape. But we tell each other that Nephi had to learn to be obedient.

This is key.

According to the Golden Rule of Jesus, a person should treat others how they want to be treated. Would Nephi want to be slain? Would Christ teach such violent vengeance? I doubt it.

So in this case, Nephi did not learn how to love (which would be the ideal if God were actually Love), but to be obedient. If obedience is more important to God than love, is it correct to say God is love? Shouldn’t we rather say God is obedience?

The God of Obedience is problematic. The God of Obedience is the definition of moral relativity. What is right one day is wrong the next. In a letter attributed to Joseph Smith... it is said, “That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another...Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is.”

If love is not the ultimate standard, then we have no way of determining whether or not a person’s actions are justified...

With the God of Obedience, nothing is off the table. He may command you to sacrifice your child (Abraham)... commit genocide (Joshua), own slaves (Moses)... or behead a drunk man (Nephi).

We condemn ISIS for killing those who disagree with them. Who are we to judge them when our God has commanded and could still command the same thing? Their God is not the God of love; He is the God of Obedience, just like ours.**
 His belief, if I understand it correctly, boils down to this:


Jesus correctly identified the Golden Rule ("One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself") as the ultimate moral code for how to deal with others. Therefore, you should do NOTHING to others that you wouldn't want others to do to you. To do so is to break the "ultimate standard" of morality, the Golden Rule, which might also be called love. Because God gave us that rule and wants us to abide by it, God is a God of Love.

The "God of Obedience" (which is the Abrahamic God found in the Old Testament, Book of Mormon, and some parts of the New Testament) cannot be the God of Love because "nothing is off the table". Instead of requiring that we live by a constant moral code (such as the Golden Rule), the God of Obedience is moral relativity incarnate because "nothing is off the table". The list of things that the God of Obedience has commanded men to do includes child sacrifice, murder, genocide, adultery, slavery, and more; all of which are bad things. Therefore, the Abrahamic God of Obedience cannot be a God of Love, and is therefore unworthy of devotion and adoration and impossible to truly love.


The problem with this outlook is a lack of vision, in a few key ways. What might seem wrong within one narrow context suddenly becomes the right thing to do when you expand your understanding of the situation. For example: from a child's perspective discipline is never appreciated and seems unloving. From a parent's, however, the discipline is a necessary experience the child must endure to grow into a healthy, self-disciplined adult. The parent would, in fact, be unloving to withhold that discipline. By inflicting discomfort and hardship on the child, you are benefiting them in the long run.

One difficulty in applying the Golden Rule is to know in what way you should decide what you would want to be done "unto you". One of the patterns in many domestically abusive relationships is that one party is made to feel guilty because of their "selfishness" and failure to be better. The abused party is blamed for all the abusers' troubles. It's incredibly common for the abused to feel that, if only they loved their abuser more, the abuser would suddenly become better. Therefore, because the abused wants to be loved, they shower love upon the abuser. (Spoiler alert: this doesn't fix the problem.)

If we view the issue of domestic abuse from the narrow viewpoint of the abused, we might be trapped into believing that the only way to "fix" the situation and receive love is to show more love, affection, and obedience to the abuser. When we widen our viewpoint with an understanding of psychology and abusive relationships, however, we begin to realize that the only way for the abused to fix the situation is to begin setting healthy boundaries, thereby distancing the abused from both the abuser and the abusive situation. Depending on your viewpoint, both actions--staying in the abusive relationship and leaving it--are both manifestations of the Golden Rule. The difference lies in the level of one's understanding of human psychology, the nature of intellectual and emotional development, and the patterns set in healthy relationships.

In the same way, when we narrow our viewpoint of the purpose of life to exclude any kind of eternal existence--when we reduce human beings to be passing phantasms of consciousness that arose out of a primordial soup of black nothingness, and whose ultimate destiny is to return to that same black nothingness--we find that the way in which we apply the Golden Rule and the way we understand the nature of "love" are necessarily changed. Suddenly, the "love" reflected in actions become judged entirely by its immediate effect in this world. We judge everything entirely from the limited viewpoint of what we can empirically prove and what is immediately apparent.

If we were to view human existence as something less transient and more permanent, however, we would find that things that may cause us pain, suffering, or even death in this life (seemingly for no reason) could ultimately benefit us in the eternal scheme of things. If God really is our Father, and if He truly loves us and desires only the best for us, then it stands to reason that He would be the strictest disciplinarian in the cosmos when dealing with unruly, rebellious children. If He weren't firm in making sure that we fully understood the consequences of our poor choices, we could grow to have great amounts of power with insufficient discipline to use that power correctly. If the nature of eternal progression is so structured that angels coexist with men and have some degree of autonomy, how much damage could one or two angels with spiritual affluenza cause? How much mischief, sorrow, and damnation could be achieved by angels running amok, lying to good men and helping bad men?

To this end, then, we can surmise that if God is truly a God of Love, and if He is our Father, and if we are eternal beings with no real beginning and no real end, then it stands to reason that He might also be called "the God of Experience" or "the God of Giving Experience". By allowing us to experience consequences (good and bad) that depend on the choices we make, God allows us to grow organically into what we truly want to be, just as disciplining a child allows them to understand the consequences of both following and ignoring correct principles of healthy behavior. That process would necessarily involve, from time to time, harsh lessons about the consequences of making the wrong choice. If we were to narrow our view of the nature of man and then view this same God of Experience, we might say that He looks an awful like a tyrannical God of Obedience because we don't understand the reasons He does what He does.

Having laid that groundwork, I think looking at Nephi's example of killing Laban is prudent.

Laban is a ranking military (and possibly civil) leader in Jerusalem circa 600 B.C. who has, in his possession, certain genealogical and scriptural records that the Lord wants Lehi to have. It is notable that, during this same era in history, Ezekiel had a vision in which he saw 25 men with their backs to the temple, worshiping the Sun in the East, who "commit... abominations... [and] they have filled the land with violence" (Ezekiel 8:15-18). This is a kind of secret combination that Moroni writes about in Ether 8:20, when he says that they are "had among all people". Certain elements of the story of Laban point to him being involved with this secret group, even if he wasn't one of the ones seen in the vision.

When Laman first approaches Laban to ask for the plates, Laban's reaction to the request is nonplussing. He declares that "thou art a robber, and I shall slay thee" (1 Nephi 3:13) and forcibly sends Laman away empty handed. After feeling sorry for themselves and their predicament, Nephi has the idea of trying to buy the plates from Laban with the goods that their father left behind during their flight to the wilderness. When they return with the goods, Laban "saw [their] property, and that it was exceedingly great, he did lust after it, insomuch that he thrust [them] out, and sent his servants to slay [them], that he might obtain [their] property" (1 Nephi 3:25). Whereas the first time he accused Laman of being a robber, he turns around and commits a type of robbery by stealing Lehi's goods. He then goes further and tries to have the boys killed so that he can obtain their property--a pattern of murder and theft we see established with Cain, who self-identified as Master Mahan when he realized that he could murder and "get gain".

We don't know what, exactly, Laban does immediately afterward. We do know that the next time he enters the narrative (a few hours later), he's passed out drunk near his house (1 Nephi 4:7). Later, Zoram would ask Nephi (who was disguised as Laban) concerning the "elders of the Jews", whom Laban was "out by night among" (1 Nephi 4:22). It would make sense that Laban was out cavorting and celebrating the increase to his newfound wealth--and it would make sense that those "elders of the Jews" were somehow connected to the conspiracy seen by Ezekiel.

At this point, it's important to look at a few key facets of ancient Israelite law. By falsely accusing Laman of being a robber, deciding that he was worthy of death, and then turning around and actually stealing from Laman and trying to kill him and his brothers to cover up the act, Laban broke or attempted to break at least 4 of the 10 Commandments (don't kill, bear false witness, murder, or covet). According to the principles found in Deuteronomy 19:16-21, anyone who accuses someone falsely of a crime "[t]hen shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother... thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot". Therefore, according to the principles of the Mosaic law--which Laban was covenentally obligated to abide by and uphold--Laban should have received the results of what he tried to do to Lehi's sons. Laban was worthy of death, according to the law which he had agreed to live by. And, if he were to die, it would be a fulfillment of the Golden Rule, too, because he would receive the very fate he sought to impose on someone else.

Moreover, Laban's death would ultimately serve Laban some good, if he allowed it. By ending his life, Laban was unable to hurt himself or anyone else spiritually. Through suffering the consequences of his actions in a hell of his own making, Laban would learn firsthand why he shouldn't have done all those things. Hopefully, that lesson would be learned, so that when the time of his redemption finally comes and he gets another chance, he will choose a better path.

But, why have Nephi do the killing?

Regarding the Lord's choice to have Nephi act as the executor (instead of simply having Laban die via heart attack or lightning bolt, or stay passed out), my friend claims that Nephi didn't learn "how to love". Is that idea accurate? Was showing love something that Nephi didn't know how to do? By commanding Nephi to kill Laban, was God conditioning Nephi to respond to violence with more violence? Later accounts in 1st and 2nd Nephi show that's not the case at all, as Laman and Lemuel's repeated attempts on Nephi's life are continually met with forgiveness, patience, and love--not violence. Nephi already knew how to love and forgive his enemies. That wasn't what Nephi needed to learn.

Nephi, by his openness to God's love and showing that love to his brothers, had already received a promise from God that he would be a "ruler and teacher" in the future, so long as he continued to keep the commandments of God (1 Nephi 2:16-24). He ended up being the first ruler of the righteous branch of Lehi's posterity in their promised land, and was so beloved by his people that they called every king after him "Nephi". That position of leadership and authority would require him to teach his people, show near superhuman amounts of patience and love, and even lead his people onto the field of battle to protect themselves against their enemies. Nephi's position would require him to understand the full breadth of the human experience, including the gravity and consequences of taking a life. Nephi was naturally a peacemaker and didn't want to kill, as evidenced by the fact that he recoiled at the Spirit's constraint to kill Laban. However, to be the kind of leader that the future Nephites would need, he needed to be able to make the hard choices when the time came. Cowardice or too much hesitation at a crucial moment could have meant the destruction of the Nephite people. The fact that Nephi would leave Jerusalem with the scriptural records, a fine sword, and a servant showed, symbolically, that Nephi was being prepared for a kingship role. In a very real sense, his experience in Jerusalem prepared him to be a righteous king in the future.

By having Nephi kill Laban, the Lord was expanding Nephi's pool of experience and knowledge of human nature. By giving him the grim experience of killing Laban, the Lord was showing Nephi the very dire consequences of continual rebellion against the principles of love and truth, and the difficulty faced by God Himself as He had to make His own hard choices. The entire lesson, as deep and poignant as it was, was summed up by the Spirit's words: "...the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief." (1 Nephi 4:13)

It really is better for an unrepentantly wicked man, who had no qualms about murder and theft and no regard for human life, to die than for an entire nation people to suffer in avoidable misery. God, as the God of Love, had teach both Laban and Nephi hard lessons about the consequences of sin. The way He chose to teach that lesson resulted in Laban dying at Nephi's hand. In so doing, God also showed how He works as the God of Experience.

Being obedient to the commandments of God results in us learning the lessons that God wants us to learn. Therefore, the commandments that God gives (both in general and in specific instances) are based upon the same set of stable, objective principles--although those commands might seem relative and conflicting at times. Learning the lessons God is giving us teaches us the fundamental principles upon which human nature and the entire universe operates. Learning those principles allows us to live in a fashion that allows us to do and be good. And doing and being good leads to being full of love--someone truly reflective of a God of Love.



**I omitted multiple references to the practice of polygamy and the doctrine of blood atonement among the early Latter-day Saints. I wanted to stick to the root issue (the so-called "God of Obedience") and avoid what is, to this discussion, complex but ultimately ancillary issues.

Monday, June 29, 2015

A Warning

With the recent decision of the Supreme Court to expand the definition of "marriage" in the United States to include same-sex relationships, the Mormon Church's history with polygamy and the Manifesto has been on my mind. The argument that the government will never interfere with a religious institution's right to follow the dictates of its own conscience forgets the fact that Congress established the precedence of doing just that with the Edmunds-Tucker Act and the near dissolution of the LDS Church in the late 1800's. The issue revolved entirely around a church's choice to practice a style of marriage based on principles that were inharmonious with majority opinion. The Church had made claims for decades that polygamy was a central practice and doctrine of the religion. The appeal to religious belief didn't stop Congress from passing the Edmunds-Tucker Act, which (among other things) disincorporated the LDS Church, putting control of Church assets in the hands of the government. In 1890, the Supreme Court upheld the government's right to do so. The only thing that saved the Church was the Manifesto and the abandonment of the practice of polygamy entirely.

This story highlights something that every American should be aware of. This goes further than the freedom of religion or discrimination, and it strikes at the very heart of what liberty really is.

The question of the government trying to regulate the affairs of American churches isn't a matter of "if", but of "when". Appeals to First Amendment protections for freedom of speech and religion matter little. When the spirit of liberty dies among the people, those protections become nothing more than empty words on a dead document, and their meanings become malleable and disposable. The spirit of liberty is almost entirely dead in America. The Constitution and Bill of Rights was drafted in a philisophical milieu that accepted, as a rule, that Nature's God existed, and that governments ought to have limited powers to avoid tyranny of the state. Now, the cultural milieu denies or ignores the existence of God, and believes that governments ought to have ever-expanding power so as to be able to forcibly prevent the tyranny of the majority. Instead of governing ourselves, Americans now want others to govern them, tell them what is right and wrong, and make them be good. This shift has been dramatic, and the essential rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights have been almost entirely lost in the transition. It won't take much more time or cultural drift for the loss to be complete.

Political and social liberty is predicated upon the freedom of thought and the expression of that thought. Strict conformism is arguably the fastest way to destroy the liberty of a free nation before the citizens realize that it's happening. And the easiest way to create an atmosphere of strict conformity is to turn the leading social issues of the day into moral issues, make those moral issues black and white, and then label everyone on the undesirable side of the debate as immoral bigots. This exact pattern has happened with the same-sex marriage debate. This is how you manually move the Overton Window in a predetermined direction.

The meteoric rise of the popularity of same-sex marriage attests to the fact that, through various means of social control and influence, a cabal of socially and financially elite members of society can forcibly change public opinion. Our society is both more connected to each other and more disconnected from reality than ever before. The rise of social media has made it easy to constantly exchange opinions and rhetoric, but the materialistic ease in which we now live (thanks to America's wealth and technological advancement) has served to disconnect us from Nature's God and our own human nature. In the vacuum created by the lack of a healthy relationship with the Creator of the universe and ourselves, false and vain ideologies have sprung up and become massively popular. These ideologies seek to establish a worldview devoid of any need for a relationship to the Deity, substitutes agnostic pseudo-inquiry for knowledge, and denies critical portions of the truth. Instead of seeking for the truth, they seek to establish an agenda.

Our society is no longer a paper tiger; it is a china tiger above which hangs a monstrous steel sword of judgment. At this point, America has so many black marks on its record (the oppression of the Native Americans and blacks, the economic inequality that continues to worsen, the meddling in foreign affairs with the sole purpose of advancing America's selfish agenda, among other things) that the question isn't "what can we do that's so bad that we tip the scales of justice against us"; the question is, "what will be the straw that breaks the camel's back and brings the fiery wrath of a just God down on our heads". I don't think that gay marriage is it. The ramifications of the decision drawn out over time, however, could be. If the end result is setting a precedent that the all-powerful State can dictate the acceptable boundaries of religious thought and practice, it definitely will be.

There's a reason that freedom of thought is inseparably tied to freedom of religion. When you control religious thought, you control the acceptable bounds of cosmological theory. When you control cosmological theory, you control the practical application of that theory. When you control the practical application of cosmological theory, you control the minds and hearts of the people. When this happens, the people are no longer free, but slaves--slaves to a very real, very powerful elite group who glut themselves on the labor of the peons below them.

The recent Supreme Court ruling is another step down the nigh-inevitable trail from freedom to tyranny. I pray that somehow America reverses its course before we reach that point.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Condemnation and Forgiveness

Condemnation is the opposite of being forgiven. Forgiveness is the act of “giving as before” and cancelling a debt or punishment owed, thereby restoring the status of the offender to what it was before the offense occurred (D&C 58:42). Condemnation is the lack of forgiveness. Both are states of being before God (Luke 6:37, D&C 64:9). In other words, a person can be "condemned" for a long period of time, and conversely can remain in a "forgiven" state for a long period of time, as well.

Being forgiven is connected with the privilege of receiving more light and truth from God through the mediums of the Light of Christ and the Holy Ghost (D&C 39:6, Moroni 10:5). Whenever a covenant people of the Lord abide in His love and forgiveness by keeping the commandments, it is their right to receive the blessings and knowledge of God.

People come under condemnation because of a refusal to receive the light that is offered to them (D&C 93:31-32). The way to remove the condemnation is to repent (D&C 58:42), otherwise there is a punishment that must be inflicted on the condemned person (2 Nephi 9:25). The way to remove condemnation that was brought about by refusing light and truth is to repent and accept the light and truth originally offered. A person is not condemned for not having received a fullness of the glory of God (or receiving all light and truth), but is only condemned for refusing light and truth that is specifically offered to them (2 Nephi 9:25, 27).

The results of condemnation and forgiveness are the opposite. Condemnation (‘condemn’ has its roots in the latin ‘damnere’, which means to ‘inflict loss on’) results of a loss of light and truth. A person under condemnation is disobedient to God’s commandments, and as a result of that disobedience Satan “taketh away light and truth” (D&C 93:39). Unless the person repents, he will eventually lose so much light and truth that he will be taken captive by Satan. Conversely, someone who continues to repent will receive more light and truth until he knows the mysteries of God “in full” (Alma 12:10-11).

The Lord is merciful and loving, and prefers to forgive us insead of condemn us. We are not condemned for our weaknesses or imperfections, but only for our sins (D&C 9:12). These are all principles upon which individual souls operate, and the Church operates by similar principles. It is the “body of Christ” and is led by the principle of common consent. Therefore if the whole church is under condemnation then the Church, as a whole, will continue to lose light and truth until it, as an institution, is taken captive by the devil (or Babylon, the world).

The Church is in the process of losing light, truth, and knowledge, as evidenced by the narrowing and loss of doctrine since the Prophet Joseph Smith’s day and the shifting nature of the temple endowment. While certain wording and minor parts may be changed without changing the overall ordinance, the removal of the penalties in 1990 resulted in a significant loss from the nature of the covenant being made. There is no real covenant without a warning of the penalties inflicted for breaking it, which was signalized by a specific type of ritual sacrifice in Biblical times (see here for more details). By taking the penalties out of the endowment, a significant alteration to the endowment was made. The penalties allowed the one making the covenant to make it in a way that hearkened back to the time of the Patriarchs. These penalties testify of Christ, who took our rightful punishment for breaking the Law in our stead to answer the ends of the law (Alma 41:21-22, 2 Nephi 2:10).

There are currently two distinct spirits in the Church: one is seeking to reestablish the religion that Joseph Smith restored by repenting and living the teachings restored through him. The other prefers to become more like the world, more like mainstream Christianity, and is glad to jettison the doctrines, ordinances, and policies that made Mormonism “peculiar”. This second spirit seeks to redefine LDS scriptures and reshape the religion to be more harmonious with popular ideological trends. The Lord promised that there was a needed cleansing that would befall the whole world, and that it would begin with the Church (D&C 112:23-26).

The condemnation the Lord declared the Church was under in 1832 was significant. It resulted from rejecting the message of both the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s other teachings. Essentially, it resulted from rejecting what the Lord really wanted the early Church members to believe and do.

In his first General Conference address as the President, Ezra Taft Benson reaffirmed that the condemnation of the Church was still, in his day, in effect ("Cleansing the Inner Vessel", Ensign, May 1986). In a CES Fireside given June 6, 1993, Dallin H. Oaks reaffirmed the fact that the condemnation still remained in effect ("Another Testament of Jesus Christ", Ensign, March 1994). Because no church president since then has contradicted those messages, if we are to honor and follow the living prophets we must conclude that the condemnation still exists, and behave accordingly.

Unless we want to continue to labor under that condemnation--and continue to lose precious light and truth--we must repent and return to the root of the Restoration. We must turn away from some of the additions to and subtractions from the religion that, like too much weight on one side of a ship, threatens to capsize the "Old Ship Zion". If the ship capsizes, then those left holding onto it for dear life will drown.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Idolatry

Idolatry is never about the actual idols. It's about what putting those idols on a pedestal does to a person's heart. You put something up on a pedestal by believing that it will never (or indeed, can never) deceive or hurt you. You claim that it is worthy of your praise, adoration, and devotion. Doing that with anything other than God damns you, because you'll eventually hit a point where you can't progress past the bounds set by your relationship with your idol. God doesn't set these false boundaries.

Ezekiel 14 speaks to this, and Joseph lamented in his day that the members were "depending on the Prophet, hence were darkened in their minds, in consequence of neglecting the duties devolving upon themselves". Even if you belong to an organization headed by a true prophet, you can be an idolater because you "idolize" that prophet. That's how someone can be "of Paul, of Apollos, of Cephas" or even "of Christ" (D&C 76:99-100) and inherit Terrestrial glory. The same principle applies here: if you depend on your leader and the keys he holds for life and salvation, you can be "of Hinckley" or "of Monson" or of the idea of "the living prophet", but still inherit Telestial glory, because you don't receive "the gospel, or the testimony of Jesus, neither the prophets, neither the everlasting covenant" (D&C 73:101). The mandate is to "receive" the prophets (by receiving their testimony and message), not to "follow" or idolize them.

Your duty is to approach Christ directly, through the means of true worship according to "spirit and truth" (John 4:24). Do not let any man tell you that they have the keys that either unlock your ability to worship Christ and receive salvation, or that bars you from doing so. Men can hold some keys, but no one holds the keys to life and eternal salvation except for Christ Himself, and He employs no servant to do the work for Him (2 Nephi 9:41).

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Reasons I Opposed the Vote

I opposed the vote to sustain the President, First Presidency, and 12 Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the 185th General Conference yesterday. I wouldn't be making this public, except for the fact that I fear that the published reason that the group Any Opposed gave for their opposing votes will unduly influence the discussion about what happened from hereon out because it opened and ended with discussions of LGBT issues, therefore emphasizing them. While I don't claim that LGBT issues are unimportant (especially the suicides of LGBT individuals, which is truly tragic), I believe that these other issues are more pressing, and hence need more discussion and exposure. I wasn't in any way affiliated with the actions of Any Opposed, although I was aware of their intentions to oppose before Conference. My decision to oppose wasn't connected to their actions, but was instead something that I felt needed to happen for my own reasons.

For me and hundreds of people I know, our issues with the Church have almost nothing to do with LGBT issues. We are not political or social crusaders trying to force a discussion on social issues or push the Church into changing doctrine or policies to align with a progressive philosophy. What we would like to see, what we believe is mandated in the scriptures that are given as "a law unto [the] Church" (D&C 42:49), is a return to the original doctrine as taught by Joseph Smith, and the more pure, Gospel-centered practices contained in the scriptures. Many of those who share my take on these issues have been excommunicated for their beliefs (you can read a partial list here), but undoubtedly they would have voted in opposition given the chance. My hope is that any faithful member coming across this will take time to read for understanding: even if you don't agree, try to understand where I and many, many others like me are coming from. I personally don't like contention; I eschew confrontation in my own life and, despite my failings and imperfections, want all members to come to a unity of the faith delivered to us by Christ, and restored through Joseph Smith. I am afraid that, if the Church doesn't correct its course soon, the Church will do things that will lead to a loss of that faith, and the fullness of the Gospel will be given to another people.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I can list the reasons that I personally couldn't, in good conscience, either support or abstain from the sustaining vote of the leaders. I believe that every single one of those men are spiritual men. I believe they can be, and very often are, inspired. I believe many of them are honest. I believe many of them do the best, according to the traditions of their fathers and the Church, to be Christlike, and I believe that many of them succeed in becoming very Christlike. However, there is a difference: being spiritual, inspired, honest, and partially Christlike, is not the same as acting in full harmony with the requirements of your appointed station.


I will not engage in the idolatrous notion that "they know more than me", and that therefore the problem lies with me, and that I should keep my thoughts to myself and get back in line. I don't claim to know more than the leaders; I claim that God knows more than us all, that His will is revealed in the scriptures, and that it is the duty devolving on every single member to know His will and use the light and truth that God gives us to judge whether our leaders are leading according to His will. If they're not, it is our duty to oppose the vote to sustain them, that the problems may be brought to light and fixed or, in the worst case, remove the leaders from their office. I don't have any illusions that the latter is going to happen, nor would I want to see it happen; I do, however, hope that the former will.


This list isn't as well-sourced as I'd like it to be. There's a narrow window of time with which I can publish this and have it be even slightly effective. I wrote this up to solidify, in my own mind and heart, the concrete reasons for opposing. I didn't expect it to be published and, so, didn't source it when I first wrote it. I've tried to do what I can but, because it's Easter and I'm not a regular blogger, this is going to be somewhat hasty.  I'm not going to explain the background or give a lot of support for a some of these claims for the same reason. During the editing process, some text has shrunk, and I can't figure out the reason for that, although I tried to fix it. That's life, I guess.





These are the reasons--shared in part by hundreds, if not thousands, of God-fearing members--that I cannot sustain Thomas S. Monson as a prophet, seer, or revelator, and why I cannot sustain him as the President of the Church. By virtue of their connection to, and sustaining of, President Monson, I cannot sustain the rest of the First Presidency or those consisting of the Quorum of the 12, who meet so regularly with the First Presidency and form a united front on these issues. I abstained from sustaining the other general authorities of the Church, and am able to sustain the local leaders because, through interaction with them, I am enabled to partially judge their character and hearts, and I believe them to be sincere. I also believe that my local leaders lead according to both the scriptures and the Spirit, and trust that whenever there was a conflict between the Church Handbook of Instructions and the dictates of the Spirit, they would choose to follow the Spirit. I cannot say the same for the general authorities of the Church, because I do not know them.

  • President Monson has given no indication that he is a prophet, seer, or revelator (PSR) by producing the fruits required to be one (the fruits of being a prophet are prophesies and expounding the scriptures in a prophetic manner; the fruits of being a seer is visions; the fruits of being a revelator, published revelations). To my knowledge he has never made these claims for himself, but he has allowed others to make these claims about him without any sort of correction. Therefore, he is content to let the Church view him as a PSR. Because there are no fruits of his being a PSR, I am under no obligation to accept him as such, although if it were clear it is only in title or aspiration alone he is a PSR, I could do so. However, because he is willing to allow others to sustain him as a PSR (not in aspiration only, but in actuality) without bringing forth the fruits of being one, I cannot in good conscience sustain him, because I believe that is dishonest, even if it is well-intended. The same principles apply to the other presiding Brethren of the Church, none of which (to my knowledge) have brought forth the required fruits to be true PSR's.
  • Under the assumed approbation of President Monson, multiple leaders, including Russell M. Nelson, Henry B. Eyring, Carol F. McConkie, and M. Russell Ballard all gave iterations of an intense "follow the prophet (and us), because he (and we) can't lead you astray" message at the October 2014 General Conference of the Church. The promises offered by these speakers regarding "following the prophet" are not well rooted in scripture. I believe that this message is spiritually toxic to anyone who will heed it, because it takes the emphasis off of God and claims, in a fashion, that "he hath given his power unto men" (2 Nephi 28:5). I believe that this de-emphasis of God will damn anyone who heeds this message because, according to the Lectures on Faith, it is on God and God alone where we must center our faith for life and salvation (LoF 2:2, 3:1, 3:19). The focus on prophets as spiritual luminaries, while de-emphasizing the importance of approaching God for one's self, seeing His face, and receiving one's calling and election, et al. serves to move the center of our faith to man, or somewhere between God and man, and therefore cannot produce faith unto life and salvation. Indeed, there is talk about "personal revelation", but more and more the kind of personal revelation we're encouraged to seek is a confirming witness that "the Prophet" is God's spokesman on Earth, and that we should follow him. There is no longer any substantive general discussion about receiving the mysteries of godliness, how to do so, and why we should do so. We are also told, implicitly, that if we don't receive the confirming revelation that "the Prophet" isn't actually a prophet, to just keep trying and believing and we'll get it one day, and if we don't, the problem is with us. Moreover, the psychological ramifications of encouraging an entrenched "follow the leader, even if you must do so blindly" mentality are serious, and Christ condemned this kind of thing as the blind leading the blind. I cannot in good conscience agree to perpetuating such a system when it is my duty as a priest and elder of the Church to preach, teach, warn, and exhort using the scriptures and the truths of God (D&C 20:38-59), which warn against this kind of trusting in the "arm of flesh" (2 Ne. 28:31). Joseph taught that, in his day, the Saints were "depending on the Prophet, hence were darkened in their minds, in consequence of neglecting the duties devolving upon themselves". This kind of dependence on the prophet is now explicitly encouraged by Church leaders.
  • Under the direction of previous leaders, the curriculum of the Church has been increasingly simplified, and critical doctrine has been de-emphasized or ignored. While President Monson and other leaders aren't directly responsible for this, they continue the trend, and it is getting to the point where deep study into Gospel topics is implicitly or, in some cases, explicitly discouraged. Study is encouraged to a certain point but there is an uncomfortable silence about certain topics, such as having one's calling and election made sure, the doctrine of the Second Comforter, the coming forth of Zion and the abomination of desolation, and other similar topics that are involved with the fullness of the Gospel.
    • For instance, True to the Faith, which was released in 2004 (when President Monson was the First Counselor to President Hinckley) contained the following message from the First Presidency: "This book is designed as a companion to [one's] study of the scriptures and the teachings of latter-day prophets. We encourage you to refer to it as you study and apply gospel principles. Use it as a resource... [to] answer questions about the Church. As you learn gospel truths, you will increase in your understanding of Heavenly Father’s eternal plan." Despite being a resource to answer questions, learn gospel truths, and increase understanding of Heavenly Father's "eternal plan", the topics of "Second Comforter" and "Calling and Election" are not mentioned at all; the topic of "Zion" is briefly mentioned and primarily seen as being "the pure in heart", with no meaningful discussion about it being a physical place we hope to one day build. All three topics are critical pieces of the Restoration that Joseph Smith died to bring about, and we have neglected and forgotten them and their implications.
  • President Monson signed a great deal of control of Church financial decisions to 3 relatively unknown bureaucrats (Robert Cantwell, Douglas Martin, and Steven Penrose)**. I have never been asked to sustain or acknowledge them in any way, but they have been given incredible amounts of power to deal with the financial assets of the Church, which are ostensibly undergirded by tithing donations, which belong to the Lord. This is continuing a trend that seems to have been established or continued by President Hinckley. While this may be for purely legal reasons, to my knowledge these actions aren't comprehended in the rules and regulations of the Church as found in the scriptures, which are a “law unto [God's] church” (D&C 42:59). All things are to be done “by common consent, by much prayer and faith” (D&C 26:2), including financial matters (D&C 104:71). The nature of the Church's legal structure (the fact that it exists as a corporate sole in Utah, for instance) is not widely disseminated information, and the Church does not do its part to make that information known to the average member. This allows ignorance, confusion, and obfuscation to reign in the minds of the Saints. The leaders ask us to take it all as a matter of faith that everything is all right, and the general message is that “all is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth” (2 Nephi 28:21). In that vein, we are given only a general assurance that the Church uses tithing money correctly, according to "approved Church budgets, policies, and accounting practices", which at this point include a great deal of extra-scriptural (and possibly anti-scriptural) instructions. I believe this is dangerous and against the principles that God founded the Church upon. I believe President Monson and the rest are failing in their responsibility to be open and honest about Church finances and structure and to follow the revealed will of the Lord for the Church. If they have received revelation justifying their actions, they have neglected their duty as revelators to let the Church know the will of the Lord on the matter. Either way, they are neglecting the fullness of their duty. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that failing to release a more detailed budget to the members, to ensure that the tithing money is honestly used, is also something that should be fixed, although the failure to disclose the budget is another tradition President Monson inherited and didn't start.
  • President Monson has allowed the Strengthening the Church Member Committee (SCMC), currently headed by Elder Nelson, to continue their work. In my opinion, their work is akin to the Danites in the early Church, which Joseph condemned as a secret combination. The SCMC is responsible for finding and “weeding out” undesirables, and has been a critical cog in the machine of modern Church discipline in at least a few high-profile instances (probably including, but not limited to, Denver Snuffer, Kate Kelly, and John Dehlin). The fact that such a group exists, contrary to the principles found in the D&C and Book of Mormon, is disturbing. The Lord God worketh not in darkness” (2 Nephi 26:23) and the Church isn't supposed to, either. The principles of common consent cannot operate correctly when a large degree of what happens is obfuscated by shadow. Indeed, if we are being lied to or if the truth is being withheld, the principles upon which common consent rest are rendered obsolete, and the sustaining vote becomes a sham and completely meaningless.
  • The Correlation Department's operation and existence continues to harm the Church. Although the motives may have originally been good, I believe it is not of God and continues to direct doctrinal shift by choosing which doctrines are acceptable for member consumption. At this time, it is impossible to determine exactly who's on the committee because that's not public knowledge, yet their power is immense. Even General Conference talks must go through the committee before they are given, according to rumors (again, there isn't much information known about this very important, but secretive, organization).
  • SB 296, the Utah “Antidiscrimination and Religious Freedom” bill. The Church openly endorsed this bill, which I feel goes against the natural right to freedom of association. Based on how the Church has modified its stance on gay marriage in the past 5-6 years, I believe this is a shrewd political move to try to curry favor with the world and the millenials who are leaving the Church over issues like gay marriage. The Church puts a great amount of pressure on the legislature of Utah, and thereby wields undue influence in its politics and policy. The bill would keep the Church exempt from its requirements, but force Church members to abide by its requirements. While I don't disagree with the idea that people shouldn't be fired for sexual orientation or gender identity, I do believe it is wrong to force people to do what I think is right. The Church is wielding unrighteous dominion for the sake of a public relations move that will prove to be noneffective and will probably backfire in the future. As the leaders of the Church President Monson, the First Presidency, and the other Apostles should be held accountable. Perhaps more than any other social issue in the world right now, we need more light and truth from God on the subject of same-sex attraction. However, Church leaders continue to take stances that are a combination of LDS scripture, past policies and doctrinal declarations, and the philosophies and practices of men. Those stances are changing, and will undoubtedly continue to change.

    **Note: The link is to mormondisclosures, which contains a great deal of content I disagree with. However, it is the best source I know of to support the claims made here, because it has facsimiles of the legal document in question. I know the document in question is expired, but it did happen, and I'm sure there's been another drafted to take its place.

How Men (and Women) are Equal


The beauty of the Gospel is that, when fully understood, it allows us to exercise the faith required to rend the veil that separates us from God. Everyone who lives in this world while seeking for a better one encounters the challenge that the veil of unbelief (Ether 4:15, Alma 19:6) poses. The mystery, then, is how to commune with the Lord through the veil, pierce it, and receive His presence. While there is a great veil of unbelief that keeps you from seeing and communing with the heavenly hosts, there are also smaller "veils of unbelief" that keep you trapped in bad habits, downward addictive cycles, immoral practices, and other negative patterns of behavior. All these principles apply to breaking through the lesser veils of unbelief in your life, too.

The canon of LDS scripture is a strong resource for understanding those things. We learn how we are to attain glory and intelligence in this life, to see the face of God, and to have our calling and election made sure. Uniquely Mormon scripture (the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price) and teachings (sermons and teachings from Joseph Smith, covenants and temple rites, and the Lectures on Faith) make the following very clear: those great spiritual gifts and events aren't a privilege reserved only for a spiritual elite; they are something that the Lord desires all to receive. All that is needed is to: forsake your sins, come unto Christ, call on His name, and obey His voice (D&C 93:1). You don't have to be a spiritual, intellectual, or doctrinal giant to have your calling and election made sure or to see the face of the Lord, for the Lord is no respecter of persons (D&C 1:35, 38:16). Receiving one's calling and election made sure and seeing His face is one of the final spiritual milestones we receive in this life; therefore, because there is no limitations upon who can receive those things, there is no limitations on who can receive any number of spiritual gifts, depending on the diligence a person gives unto the Lord and His spirit.

Man is spirit (D&C 93:33) and was in the beginning with God (D&C 93:29), whose glory is intelligence, or the light of truth (D&C 93:36). All truth and intelligence are independent in that sphere in which God has placed them, to "act for itself... otherwise there is no existence" (D&C 93:30). We are intelligent beings; our glory, to the degree that we have any, is intelligence as well. The Lord described the spirits of men as "intelligences" to Abraham (Abraham 3:21), therefore, when the Lord states that all intelligence is independent to act for itself in the sphere in which God places it, it describes us: we are put into a sphere, designated by God, to act for ourselves, and by those actions either gain or lose intelligence. The degree to which we can act is determined by our faith, which is the principle of action in all intelligent beings (LoF 1:9).

Men are born on a level playing field. In the beginning men were innocent and become, upon birth, innocent again in Christ, who redeemed all mankind from the Fall (D&C 93:38). All men are then left to grow according to the natural intelligence they come into the world with, following their great exemplar, Christ, who "received grace for grace; and he received not the fullness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fullness" (D&C 93:12-13). Christ underwent this process perfectly, but we experience something different: we fall. When we fall from grace, and thereafter whenever we sin, "that wicked one taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the traditions of their fathers" (D&C 93:39). Remember that "light and truth" is intelligence, the glory of God. Therefore, the result of our own personal sins is a loss of crucial God-like intelligence, and God-like glory. We lose a critical part of us that was once ours. The story of Adam and Eve is meant to be projected into our own lives, and serves as an allegory of our own fall from grace, and the temple endowment and ceremonies designate a path to return to the Lord. By disobedience to God, we lose intelligence, but through repentance and returning to God, we gain intelligence, and can even regain all the intelligence we once lost.

One of the results of the Fall is that we are cut off from the direct presence of the Lord and His goodness. Regaining the intelligence we first lost due to our personal Fall requires us to re-learn some things about God that we knew in the beginning, but forgot (LoF 2:2-5, see also LoF 2-7). Regaining that knowledge and intelligence redeems us from the Fall and allows us to be brought back into the presence of the Lord (Ether 3:13).

In Christ's Sermon on the Mount, which he delivered almost verbatim to the Nephites as well, he gave them a commandment: "Ye are therefore commanded to be perfect, even as your father which is in heaven is perfect" (JST Matthew 5:48, see also 3 Nephi 12:48). The root of the Greek word translated as "perfect" denotes being "complete, finished, [or] fully developed" (see Matthew 5:48, footnote B, in the current edition of the LDS KJV Bible).

If we are to understand this idea of being "perfect", we would do well to understand in which way we are supposed to be perfect. There is a difference between "perfection" and "fullness". The Father is a being of "spirit, glory and power: possessing all perfection and fulness" (LoF 5:2). How are we to understand that the Father has a "fulness"? If His glory is intelligence, and he contains a fullness of that intelligence, then He contains all intelligence that exists, as is evidenced by His statement to Abraham, that "I am the Lord they God, I am more intelligent than [all other intelligences]" (Abraham 3:19). In other words, the Father possesses all intelligence and glory, and He is complete, finished, and fully developed in the sphere of existence in which He resides because of it. That makes Him more intelligent than all other intelligent beings.

How, then, are we to follow the commandment of Christ and to become perfect, even as our Heavenly Father? If the Father is "perfect" by obtaining the degree of intelligence required to be fully complete in His own sphere, then it stands to reason that we become perfect by obtaining the degree of intelligence required to be fully complete in the sphere in which God has placed us. By doing so, we, like the Earth, abide a Celestial law, because we fulfill the measure of our creation and don't transgress the law (D&C 88:25-26). D&C 93:11-19 helps us understand the measure of our own creation: we become like God by doing the things Christ did, and we worship God by growing from grace to grace and attaining more light and truth.

The difficulty that arises in that journey is that no man or earthly source can tell us what we yet lack. To obtain that information, we need to go directly to God, learn how to discern the voice of His Holy Spirit to us, and learn how to be obedient to that spirit. That is why the wise virgins of the last days are those who have "taken the Holy Spirit for their guide, and have not been deceived" (D&C 45:57). To truly follow the Gospel of Christ, you must use, as your primary guide, the Holy Spirit of God. We must make the Holy Ghost our guide, allow it to inform us of our mistakes, and follow its dictations to us. That is a lifelong quest, and cannot be completed in a day or a week, or even a year. If we fail to undertake that quest, however, we will be unable to cultivate enough faith to receive salvation, and will receive, as our eternal inheritance, a Telestial glory; those who are "liars... [and] love and make a lie...", and are "some of one [prophet], and some of another [prophet]... but receive not the gospel, neither the testimony of Jesus, neither the prophets, neither the everlasting covenant" (D&C 76:99-103). The unwise fail to "receive" the testimony of Jesus, to receive the prophets, and to receive the everlasting covenant, because they failed to receive the Holy Spirit. Without setting their primary guide as the Holy Spirit, a person cannot understand or receive the message of a true prophet, because instead of receiving the message as it's intended, they will become "of" that prophet and follow the prophet instead of following whom the prophet testifies of: Christ. Those who set up idols in their hearts and then go to a true prophet for guidance will be misled according to the idols of their hearts (see Ezekiel 14, which Joseph Smith preached from at the first conference of the Church, and recited to the Relief Society at the end of the Church, saying that it applied both to the corrupt state of the ancient Jewish church, as well as to the then-current state of the LDS Church). Therefore, finding and following a true prophet will do a person no good unless they seek to follow God through the Spirit.

If this task seems overwhelming, take heart! The Gospel plan is designed to help us navigate the tricky waters of overcoming the world, returning to God, and receiving the eternal prize. It is not requisite that a person should run faster or labor more than they have strength or means, but we do need to be diligent in doing what we have been commanded to do (D&C 10:4). We must follow the law which we have been given through our Lawgiver, Christ. And what is the law that we have been given? The Light of Christ which is in all things is the law which governs all things (D&C 88:13), and the word of the Lord is His law (132:19). Those who die without law will be judged, not according to the law they didn't have, but according to what they did have (D&C 45:54, D&C 76:71-73). Therefore, if the light of God and word of God is His law, and we are sanctified or "made holy" by obeying His law (D&C 88:34), then we are made holy by obeying the word of God to us, which is delivered by the Holy Spirit. Conversely, we are "cursed" by hearkening unto the words, philosophies, and precepts of men, unless those words are delivered by the power of the Holy Ghost (2 Nephi 28:31). The key is to learn to discern the voice of the Spirit so that you may know when it speaks to you, so that you may obey its promptings and keep the law, that you may be justified and sanctified by it. Learning how to listen to the Spirit takes time, patience, practice, trial and error, and (most of all) faith, hope, charity, and courage.

We are kept back by unbelief, which can denote either too little faith in the things that are true, or too much faith in things that are untrue. Joseph Smith stated that, regarding the full power of the Melchezidek priesthood, that "angels desire to look into [or understand; achieve] it, but they have set up too many stakes" (History of the Church, 5:554). In another account of the same sermon, Joseph is quoted as saying that "Men will set up stakes and say thus far will we go, and no farther. Did the Savior? No. [He set] up no stake[s], but [came] right up to the mark in all things" (Words of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 245). In the next life, angels are differentiated from "gods" because of the degree of obedience to the Gospel they exhibited here, the sacrifices they made while mortal, and the resulting blessings they obtained. Those who will be gods are more obedient and sacrificed more in this life, and therefore they received greater blessings from God in the next (see D&C 76:50-58, D&C 132:18-19, LoF 6:7-10). Notice that, in Joseph Smith's quote, he notes that is the angels themselves that set up too many "stakes". Stakes denote boundaries that are not to be crossed. God doesn't set those kinds of boundaries that kept the angels back; He places a mark that must be reached. The reason, then, that the angels do not receive the blessings that the gods receive is that angels hold themselves back by their own false beliefs of what God is like, and what He will and will not require. The common theme is that those blessings of godhood are reserved for someone else: someone smarter, or seemingly more spiritual, or in an authority position, or better looking, or taller, or whatever. Those who will be angels fail to rise up to the status of gods because they don't believe it possible. They don't have the faith that they can achieve those blessings, therefore they do not cultivate enough faith to put in the required obedience and sacrifice necessary to obtain said blessings.

These false boundaries are set in two ways: we inherit unbelief because of the traditions of our fathers, and we erect our own false boundaries because of our own lack of intelligence. Incorrect "traditions of [one's] fathers" include anything from false religious ideas (such as an inadequate knowledge about the characteristics of God) to false political ideologies; from false philosophical systems to false economic beliefs. The common factor is that they keep a person from accepting the fullness of the Gospel, and so they are held back from having the faith requisite to pierce the veil of their own unbelief. They then fail to obey the commandments of God and to sacrifice for His sake, and are kept back from being gods. False traditions kept the Lamanites from believing the Gospel (Mosiah 10:12, Helaman 15:15, Alma 9:16). Also, when we sin, we lose critical light and truth. Because of that, we forget the fullness of the Lord's promises to us, and we begin to disbelieve that it is possible for us to receive His promises. If we don't repent, we soon begin to erect our own stakes that keep us from understanding and doing the Lord's will. In fact, "priestcraft and iniquities" were the primary reasons that the Jews rejected and crucified Christ (2 Nephi 10:3-5).

Walking away from those stakes and those false beliefs requires repentance, which includes gaining more light and truth from God through receiving and doing the will of the Lord (3 Nephi 14:24-27) and not hardening our hearts against His word (Alma 12:10-11). If we do that, we will grow up to the stature of Christ, and draw ever closer to the perfect day.

Let us be doers and hearers of the Word, that we may pierce through the veil of unbelief in our own lives, and lay hold on the greatest blessings of the Gospel, which the Lord intends for us all to receive.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Philisophical Beauty

O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell[!]
2 Nephi 9:10
There's a second major reason I believe in the Gospel as taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I believe that, when fully understood, the Gospel encompasses all truth and organizes it into the most wonderful, merciful, and just view of the nature of God, the nature of man, and the purpose of life and existence. I don't claim to be a theologian or expert on world religions, but I am familiar with the basics of most major world religions, and I honestly believe that Mormonism holds the most truth. If I thought another religion or philosophy had more truth, I would join that other religion. So far, I haven't found one.

In this blog post, I won't include scriptural support for my writing; that would make this entry far too long. I will delineate the basic essentials of LDS doctrine.

In the LDS scriptures, there are multiple terms to describe the all-encompassing plan that God has for us. It is called, at various times, the "plan of happiness", "plan of redemption", "plan of mercy", "plan of salvation", "plan of deliverance from death", and "plan of restoration". I think my favorite is the "plan of happiness".

To understand this all-encompassing plan, you have to know our true relationship to God. This knowledge was lost soon after the death of the Apostles in the primitive Christian Church and restored through Joseph Smith.

God is our Father in a quite literal sense; we are of the same divine race as He is. We are gods in embryo. God is not some kind of ethereal, supernatural entity that is categorically different and far removed from us. God, angels, and man are all of the same divine race at different stages of progression. God has fully developed and matured, and His entire purpose in regards to us is to see us grow to be as He is.

A basic tenet of existence is that things grow and evolve. Although we don't know much about the primal origins of our spirits, we do know that there was a time of growth before being born on Earth. Just as babies are born in mortality and grow to maturity, passing through different stages of development, so too are all of God's children born as children and must grow and develop naturally. The final goal is to attain to God's status and become, with Christ, an heir of God's kingdom.

Another important fact is that God has a corporeal body. It is different from our mortal bodies, but our bodies were fashioned after Christ's, which was fashioned after God the Father's. That physical body encompasses both crude element and spirit. All spirit is actually a type of incredibly fine matter, undetectable by our current methods of observation.

Before coming to the Earth, we didn't have physical bodies. Although we are children of God, we are still very young and at an early stage of our development. Before living on Earth, we had bodies composed entirely of spirit, not element. Because we didn't have bodies, there are certain things we couldn't do (such as move and act) that we naturally wanted to do. Eventually we reached a point where we couldn't continue to progress unless we obtained a body. There are certain things that simply cannot be experienced or achieved without a physical body; things that are vital to continued growth to becoming as God is.

The problem is that having a body exposes a person to all sorts of temptations and afflictions. Receiving a body and living in it is a trial-and-error experience, and sometimes we make serious errors.

God is perfectly just. There is a certain order to the cosmos and God's nature that cannot be broken, or else He would cease to be God (for instance, He cannot lie). Because of that justice, he cannot allow anything that would disrupt that perfect order into His kingdom. Therefore, anything and anyone who breaks that perfect order is unfit to live with Him. Unfortunately, everyone who has lived has sinned to some degree and therefore fallen short of the perfect glory of God. That sin corrupts our souls and makes us unfit to return again to live with Him.

God knew that this would happen, and prepared a contingency plan. Jesus Christ was also with us before the world was created. Christ was another child of God who was much farther along the path than we were. Christ was chosen to be the Messiah (literally, the "anointed one") who would act as our Savior: if we would listen to Him and obey His commandments (which He would ensure were always possible to do), He would forgive us our sins, heal our souls, and help us return to live with God again.

One of the defining characteristics of God is agency: He can choose what He will do, thereby affecting the universe. It is by this principle of agency that He is able to organize the cosmos in such a way so as to produce conditions amenable to His children's growth. Because we are like Him, agency is also one of our defining characteristics. We get to choose what we will do, thereby choosing the consequences of our actions.

This mortal life has many purposes. One of those purposes is to act as proving grounds and see whether we will do everything that God requires of us. If we faithfully preform our God-given duties, we will have proven ourselves worthy of inheriting God's kingdom. We must be tested on the most primal level, so that the very core of our nature is revealed. If we remembered our lives before mortality, the proving process wouldn't work as needed. Therefore, there is a "veil of forgetfulness" that stops us from remembering our lives before mortality.

When you combine the natural difficulty of morality (with its temptations and afflictions) with human agency and the veil of forgetfulness, you have a recipe for potential disaster. Even with a Savior, many men and women would choose to reject the truth of God for various reasons. Some would even, after having been fully healed by Christ and brought into His presence again, reject God and thereby damn themselves eternally. A portion of humankind would be lost.

God made us aware of this fact before the Earth was created. We entered into this trial willingly, fully informed of the trials that awaited us. The fact that some would be lost, however, was alarming to a number of God's children. This created a division where Lucifer led a contingent of God's children in rebellion against God and Christ. At the center of the conflict was agency itself: Lucifer claimed that, if given the power, he could remove man's agency and force everyone to do good. That way, Lucifer claimed, every spirit would return to live with God and none would be lost. It is written that a "third part" of God's children sided with Lucifer. They lost the conflict, however, and were subsequently cast out of heaven into the Earth.

The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is symbolic; it's not a literal history of the beginning of mankind. It is meant to convey to us the truths we need to believe to understand our place in the world and how we relate to God. According to that allegory, God created the Earth and the Garden of Eden and put Adam in the Garden. God gave Adam certain commandments that had to do with what to eat and not to eat (tree of life: good; tree of knowledge of good and evil: bad) and then created Eve. Adam and Eve were both innocent in the beginning, like little children, and didn't know the difference between good and evil. Adam relayed God's commandments to Eve, but Satan (or "adversary", as Lucifer was now known after his fall) tempted Eve and convinced her to take the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. After partaking of the fruit, she convinced Adam to partake as well and they both learned the difference between right and wrong.

As a result of transgressing God's command not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden. They began to have children and, after a time, angels appeared to Adam and taught him the Gospel of Jesus Christ: that Jesus Christ would be born into mortality, at some point, and live and die as a propitiation for Adam's transgression and the sins of all mankind.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is simple, and is explained, by Christ, in 3 Nephi 27:13-21:

13 [T]his is the gospel which I have given unto you—that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me.
 14 And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil—

 15 And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works.

 16 And it shall come to pass, that whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world.

 17 And he that endureth not unto the end, the same is he that is also hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence they can no more return, because of the justice of the Father.

 18 And this is the word which he hath given unto the children of men. And for this cause he fulfilleth the words which he hath given, and he lieth not, but fulfilleth all his words.

 19 And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end.

 20 Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.
 21 Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel[.]

That, in a nutshell, is the plan of happiness: despite our sins, personal failures, and sadness in life we can be forgiven and healed through the mercy of God. That healing and forgiveness comes through following the commandments of Jesus Christ, who is our advocate with God.