This is the fourth in our current series of lessons exploring the Reform Mormon approach to morality, ethics and values. In previous lessons we explored how the Mormon doctrine that God was once human and that humans may progress to Godhood, undermines the traditional belief that God or some other supreme authority decrees what is moral or immoral. We also explored how Mormonism’s radical doctrine of Free Agency (Free Will) undermines the popular concept that we are free merely to obey or disobey the commandments of God; that Free Agency means that each individual--not God--must decided what his or her values will be.
In this lesson, we will explore what conditions are required for us to chose our values. We will do this by referring to he Mormon concept of Pre-existence as well as the Mormon story of Adam and Eve as contained in Mormon scripture and in the Reform Mormon Endowment Ceremony.
IF YOU HAD FOREVER
Imagine a world without pain, discomfort, sickness, injury or death. Imagine not only that these things are no more, but also imagine that they never existed; that the very concepts are unknown to you. Imagine eternity stretching out before you.
If you had forever to do whatever you wanted, what would you want to do now? What would you value today?
Is there a book you want to read? Would you read it today, or would you wait until tomorrow, next week, next year or a thousand years from now? Since you are eternal and have forever, what is the rush? What difference would it make?
What about travel? Would you take off today or wait until some point in the future when perhaps you felt more like traveling?
Consider any human endeavor. If one had forever to live, what would be the hurry--or even the point--in doing it? Everything could be put off indefinitely with absolutely no negative results. If you had forever, the concept of time would be meaningless because for you time would never run out.
PRE-EXISTENCE & PROGRESS
Mormon doctrine holds that some aspect of the individual is eternal and co-equal with God; some aspect of the individual existed “before the foundation of the world.” Before our existence in this world, there was a Pre-existence.
In the Mormon story of the Pre-existence, our Heavenly Parents saw that this eternal aspect of each of us was capable of progressing eternally; of growing in knowledge until we might become like God. In short, we might become Gods ourselves and continue to progress ever onward.
But in order to obtain knowledge, we had to progress onward to the next stage of things--which meant “coming to earth and obtaining a body”--to use a popular LDS Mormon phrase.
ADAM & EVE IN TIME
In Mormon tradition, the story of Adam and Eve is symbolic of the individual’s life on earth.
In the beginning, Adam and Eve were placed on earth as eternal beings; they had physical bodies but were not subject to pain, injury, disease or death. Living under the watchful eye of God in the Garden of Eden, they were innocent (and ignorant) like children. “The Book of Mormon,” in II Nephi, chapter 2, teaches that as long as Adam and Eve continued in this condition, they were unable to change or progress. In fact, were they to continue in this condition forever, the very purpose for their being on earth would be frustrated.
In the Reform Mormon Endowment Ceremony, Adam and Eve see that while they are in the Garden (where all of their needs seem to be immediately met), one day is much the same as the next. With no variation in their situation, with no end in sight, they merely exist.
When they ask God about this, they are shown the Tree of Knowledge. When they eat the fruit, they’re eyes are opened and they begin to see the garden and the world quite differently. They realize that they are subject to disease, injury and eventually death.
With this new understanding, the concept of time has meaning to them. One day is suddenly different from the next. Because they no longer “have forever,” they must use their Free Agency to decide how they will use their time. Because they must now see to their own needs, how they chose to use heir time--what they will value--becomes the crucial issue they face and the defining aspect of their moral development.
“ADAM FELL THAT MEN MIGHT BE”
“The Book of Mormon” teaches that “Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy.”
Our humanity is manifested when we realize that we do not live in a Garden of Eden where all of our needs and wants are instantly satisfied; when our eyes are opened and we see the nature of relationship with the world in which we live; when we realize that one day we will die; that we survive and prosper by our own efforts; that our emotional state (be it joyous or not) is the result of what we think, say and do--in short, that our joy is dependent upon our values.
Knowing that we are mortal, that we will one day die is what gives this day meaning and value. Because our survival is not guaranteed, each of us must determine which resources and endeavors have the greater value as far as survival is concerned. Since we don’t have forever, we must decided for ourselves which talents and abilities we will develop at a given time. Because we are bound by the limitations of time and space, we must decide upon which endeavors and relationships we will focus.
In short, it is only by realizing that we are subject to the conditions of time and place, that any thing can have value to us. It is through this realization that our true humanity is manifested; it is through our response to our own mortality, that our morality (our values) is revealed.
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