“The murder discussion will be a lengthy one to pursue at the moment. But suffice it to say—again, for the moment—that our conscience is God-given. The first time you do something that is even minutely wrong, you can feel it, but if you ignore that feeling and continue to sin more and more, that feeling will become numb to you.”
I’m thinking of cultures with human sacrifice as a part of their religious rituals. The Aztecs, for instance. By all accounts, even the sacrificial humans themselves were honored to be chosen as a sacrifice. A person born into this culture and trained in the priesthood (or whatever they called it) would have no compuctions against taking a human life under the right circumstances. And I don’t think the concept requires that extreme an example. Take, instead, the Hashashin (the organization from who’s name the modern word “assassin” is derived). These assassins were trained from childhood into an ideological belief system wherein killing specific people for specific reasons was considered a god-mandated assignment. Having not been raised in such a way, I can only take a guess, but it seems to me that if one were trained to murder by professional murderers, that one wouldn’t have the usual hesitations about taking human life.
In my Psychology 101 class oh-so-many years ago, we learned about an illegal study that was done by an self-proclaimed scientist who raised his own child from infancy in his attic without ever allowing the child any human contact at all. I Googled for the specific case, but there were a shocking number of similar stories and, without being able to recall names, dates, or locations, I had no idea which one was the one we were told about in my class. Anyway, by the time he was arrested and the then-adolescent child rescued, the poor kid was irreparably psychologically damaged. He was no different from a wild animal, but without the benefit of the more advanced instincts most animals are born with. So, the point is, very much of what we take for granted about our human nature is actually learned from those around us. If those around us are teaching us that typically taboo things are not just okay but even encouraged, it would be almost certain that we would not have any inner-turmoil over doing those things.
You know, nobody around here wants to talk theology with me because they assume I’m implacably opposed to it just because I dare to ask questions that cast doubt. And if they can’t save my soul, they figure there’s no point talking to me about it. Well, how’s “because it’s fascinating” for a reason? So, thank you again for taking the time to actually write to me about things others dare not approach. It’s been fun! Why don’t we continue our discussion around the theology of the creation? That one there’s a tricky one to approach without finding loop holes at every turn of God’s thinking.
For example, I saw a humorous meme recently that depicted God as a cartoonish caricature with the caption: “Create the entire universe out of nothing; need Adam’s rib to make one more thing.” That made me wonder, how can God get away with that one? Can’t exactly say that Genesis had a typo there.
I like that Smith quote, I’ve never heard that before.
We have a lot to cover here, and it would be perhaps better to split the content I have in mind into two letters, but I really cannot wait to broach the subject of the creation, so I might just touch upon it at the end of this letter.
“[There was an] ideological belief system wherein killing specific people for specific reasons was considered a god-mandated assignment…. If one were trained to murder by professional murderers… one wouldn’t have the usual hesitations about taking human life.”
This may be true, but I am sure that the first murder committed by an apprentice of such a society would still be accompanied by instinctual remorse. This is the light of Christ being extinguished by the mind raised to ignore it. In The Book of Mormon, the entire society of the Nephites (the people who once considered themselves to be the people of God) descends into a pitiful shadow of its former self. In their wickedness, these Nephites become a murderous and blood-thirsty people. The prophets of God, who once could preach with great efficacy to call the people to repent from their sins, found themselves unable to even stir the hearts of their audiences, who naturally proceed to try and kill these holy men. The term one prophet uses to describe the state of these people is “past feeling,” in other words, they collectively extinguished the Light of Christ.
I guess that the point I want to bring up here is that the topics of judgement—as in final judgement—and wickedness may be two slightly different topics. Let me elaborate: are the criteria by which God will finally judge our hearts the same as the criteria by which His standards and commandments are measured? The answer is actually yes, so far as one is aware of the criteria. This means that though a man may not be held accountable for the laws he did not receive in his life, those laws still exist to define happiness and wickedness; and wickedness never was happiness.
With this understanding, a society of murderers that raises little murderers is truly a wicked society if murder is a sin, but at the judgement bar they will not be judged for that wickedness like those who knew murder was sin. In this assassin society’s case, the greatest condemnation will be heaped upon the heads of those who started the society since they made the decision to break away from a standard of righteousness (assuming they were exposed to such, as these kinds of societies often are [again, this kind of thing is in The Book of Mormon]).
But there’s a another issue at hand:
When the judgement is passed and the time to return to God’s presence has come, will the society of murderers feel very comfortable in the Celestial Kingdom, where no unclean thing can bear to remain? Not unless they repent—and I don’t mean in an accountability kind of way, but in a change of heart kind of way. This re-emphasizes the need to be taught God’s principles and laws during this life when it is easiest to prepare for the lifestyle of Heaven (you can repent after this life, but it is much harder to do without your body as it turns out).
The subject here then becomes one of paradisiacal culture shock. A quote from the famous writer C. S. Lewis may serve to explain this idea further:
“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
It is easier to be lustful and appetite-satisfying than it is to reign in those passions. Those passions are part of what makes our bodies powerful tools to the soul, when harnessed appropriately. As I wrote to you a while ago, part of what separated us before this life, as spirit children, from our Heavenly Father was the fact that He had a body and we did not. He has perfect control of His body, and if we are to have the ‘infinite joy’ He experiences, we are required to learn how to control our bodies like He does.
Unfortunately, God’s enemy, the devil, knows all too well what we are capable of experiencing, and he seeks (as he has ever sought) to use the tool of our very exaltation to bring about our damnation. Simply put, his strategy is to keep us out of Celestial glory by getting us to let loose of the reigns of the body, to go from being ‘half-hearted creatures’ to full-hearted wild beasts. The devil’s secret weapon is the fact that he can easily confuse us to recognize all pleasure as happiness. This is Hollywood’s message: letting loose the reigns feels good; wickedness is happiness.
“… Very much of what we take for granted about our human nature is actually learned from those around us. If those around us are teaching us that typically taboo things are not just okay but even encouraged, it would be almost certain that we would not have any inner-turmoil over doing those things.”
Inner-turmoil aside, you’ve hit the nail on the head here. The question to consider then is this: if our environment can totally affect our lives, what can save us from becoming ‘full-hearted wild beasts’ that are ‘past feeling’? What can save us from becoming finer society for the devil and his angels than for gods?
I have heard of cases of total child neglect similar to the one you mentioned in your letter. I can recall a case or two of children who wandered into the forest as toddlers and wandered back out as adolescents but, like you said, almost “no different than a wild animal.” It is absolutely true that an environment can dictate, to a great degree, who someone may become as a person. I don’t think it will affect every part of a human’s nature, but the evidence is there to show us that environment is pivotal to human development.
What comprises environment then? Among many things, and perhaps foremost among them, is parenting. You may recall my words at the end of my last letter, but now add to it the emphasis of the evidence you bring to witness here: “The responsibility to raise children in righteousness is one of the most important charges God has put into the hands of mankind” for without it mankind would descend into a savage state. A state where murder becomes acceptable, as also, like you said of the Aztecs, offering human sacrifices to idols (which the Nephites in their depraved and wicked condition did also).
Though a man in such society may somehow avoid all contact with truth and God’s laws all of his life, it cannot be said that in the end he is righteous according to Heaven. He will not be judged for breaking a rule he didn’t know, but he will still have to set aside his ‘mud pies’ if he is to go on to that great ‘holiday at the sea’ with God. And he will have the opportunity to do so if he desires it. That decision may look like a no-brainer from here, but approaching God requires sacrifice (not the Aztec kind), and it’s much easier and much more appealing to stay in the mud when faced with true, sanctifying sacrifice (a great topic for a future missive).
“You know, nobody around here wants to talk theology with me because they assume I’m implacably opposed to it just because I dare to ask questions that cast doubt. And if they can’t save my soul, they figure there’s no point talking to me about it. Well, how’s ‘because it’s fascinating’ for a reason?”
That’s as worthy a reason as any if you ask me. Lucky for you, I do like to ‘talk theology,’ as you know.
“Why don’t we continue our discussion around the theology of the creation? That one there’s a tricky one to approach without finding loop holes at every turn of God’s thinking.”
As I said at the start of this letter, I will only dip into this subject for the length and the heaviness of the topic so far. Nevertheless, let’s take a short peak at the beginning (if there is one…):
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1)
Mormon theology correctly recalls the seldom recognized fact that the original Hebrew word for ‘created,’ as found in the verse above, does not actually mean “to make” as we often assume it does. It means “to organize” (see the Wikipedia article for Genesis 1:1 and look under “bara”). As such, it is important to first recognize that there is no such thing as a creation “ex nihilo” but that such a notion is a man-made concept, and that it is not true to say that God ever made something from nothing.