Sunday, January 09, 2005

HUMAN LIFE: The Highest Value

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(The following is edited together from the creation accounts found in The Book of Abraham, The Book of Moses and The King Follett Discourse, as well as corresponding passages in the Doctrine & Covenants, Sections 93 and 130. Footnotes for all scripture quoted below can be found at the end of this lesson.)
And the Lord said: “Behold there are many worlds that have passed away, and there are many that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man. The heavens, they are many, and they cannot be numbered unto man. And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens, even so shall another come; and there is no end to my works, neither to my words. For behold this is my work and my glory--to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”

Behold, I will reveal unto you concerning this heaven and this earth:

In the beginning, the head of the Gods called a council of the Gods; and they concocted a plan to create the world and people it.

Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.

Now the Lord had shown unto me the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these were many of the great and noble ones. (You were also in the beginning with the Father.) And God saw these souls that they were good, for every spirit was innocent in the beginning.

God, himself, finding he was in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have the privilege to advance like himself.

(The relationship we have with God places us in a station to advance in knowledge. He has the power to institute laws to instruct weaker intelligences, that they may be exalted with himself, so that they might have one glory upon another, and the knowledge, power, glory and intelligence that is required to exalt them. Knowledge is what saves a man. Whatever principle of intelligence we attain in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection, for the glory of God is intelligence. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.)

And there stood one among the Gods that was like unto God, and he said to those that were with him: “We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth where on these may dwell.”

The Lord said: “Let us go down.” And they went down at the beginning, and the Gods organized and formed the heavens and the earth.
And the Gods took counsel among themselves and said: “Let us go down and form man in our image, after our likeness; and we will give them dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”

So the Gods went down to organize man in their own image, in the image of the Gods to form they him, male and female to form they them. And the Gods said: “We will bless them. Behold, we will give them life.”

What is of most value? What is that one value upon which all others rest? What is to be held sacred above all else?

Different religions have different answers. Few, however, would say that human life on earth is the highest value. In fact, most traditional religions have regarded human life on earth as something that is of transitory value only; the things of this earth are to be resisted and overcome.

Believers of most faiths have been taught to view their life as an object of sacrifice; one must be willing to put the well-being of others, the will of God or some other imagined “greater good” before their own survival. The implication is that we live in a fallen dog-eat-world in which there is just so much happiness, joy and life to go around; that if one person lives, it must be at the expense of another‘s life and well-being; that if one enjoys a happy life, it is always at the expense of someone else’s happiness.

Such a negative view of life on earth is grounded in the concept of Original Sin--the belief that human nature is corrupt, that life on earth (the natural world) is fallen and somehow out of synch with God; that “the natural man is an enemy to God.” (See Mosiah 3:19)
Reform Mormonism rejects Original Sin and all its sister doctrines and concepts. According to Reform Mormonism, human nature is not fallen or inherently sinful. In fact, Reform Mormons would tend to agree with Brigham Young who explicitly rejected this idea, declaring that if The Book of Mormon would have been written later, based on what we now know regarding the nature of human beings and sin, this scripture would declare, “The natural man is a friend of God.”

As for life on earth being dog-eat-dog, this is not the natural state of things for human beings. Humans, being born in the image of God, are rational beings and free agents who can think, imagine, create, project into the future and contemplate the possible outcome of their actions. They can enter into relationships with one another that are mutually loving and supportive; create alliances and covenants that benefit all individuals involved, without the need of sacrifice or pain on the part of any one. That this does not always happen does not imply that human nature is fallen or inherently sinful. The fact that most people recognize injustice and are repelled by it testifies that most people see such situations as being out of harmony with human nature. Indeed, we tend to label unjust actions as inhumane.


Given the negative view of human nature put forth by most religions, it is only logical that life on earth would be viewed negatively as a punishment for evil done in a previous life, as a painful separation from God, or a painful school or training ground for some future existence that we are assured will be superior to this one.
Given this negativity, it is understandable why some religious communities far outside the mainstream of society have ended tragically in communal suicides. (Jim Jones and the Peoples’ Temple is one modern example of this.) But even religions that are considered traditional and mainstream teach that one should view his/her life on earth as something which must be sacrificed or offered up to God; that to value life on earth above life in heaven is the root of sin.


Mormonism teaches that the human mind is eternal, that it existed with God before the genesis of earth. The purpose of human existence is to progress eternally and become like God.
For this to happen, each of us had to “come to earth” --to borrow a phrase used by many Mormons. In one’s eternal progression toward Godhood, life on earth is a step upward. We each become like God only as we immerse ourselves in the experience of being human, of experiencing fully life on earth, of thinking for ourselves, pursuing those things each of us honestly sees as good and as having the greater value. Human love, knowledge, science, beauty--all of these things that traditional religions have tended to view with suspicion--these, according to Reform Mormonism, are the very things that we should pursue. The knowledge and experience that we gain from these things are of eternal worth; they will exalt us.
According to the Mormon creation account, each of us was present with God before the beginning. Each of us accepted the divine plan to progress forward by embracing life on earth. Seeing the beauty of life on earth, the glory of being human, the potential for growth, progress and holiness inherent in all of this--when the foundations of the earth were laid, “the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God [meaning, all of us] shouted for joy.” (See Job 38:7)

Human life is God’s highest value; preserving it is the object of his work, for as God in Mormon scripture has declared, “This is my work and my glory: to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:37-38) Valuing human life is the foundation of morality and godliness.


1. How can viewing human nature are fallen and inherently sinful lead to a devaluing of human life itself?

2. Can you think of any example in today’s world of how traditional religion’s negative view of human nature has lead--or is leading--to abuse, injustice, the negation of human rights, oppression and other atrocities?

3. How can holding human life on earth as one’s highest value serve as the foundation for a rational and achievable code of morality and ethics?

(Scriptural text: Book of Mormon, II Nephi, Chapter 2)

Moses 1:35
Moses 1:37
Moses 1:37-38
Moses 2:1
Joseph Smith, The King Follett Discourse
Doctrine & Covenants 93:29
Abraham 3:22
Doctrine & Covenants 93:23
Abraham 3:22
Doctrine & Covenants 93:38
Joseph Smith, The King Follett Discourse
Doctrine & Covenants 130:18
Doctrine & Covenants 93:36
Doctrine & Covenants 130:19
Abraham 4:1
Abraham 4:26-28
Abraham 4:30