Sunday, February 13, 2005

THE QUEST FOR KNOWLEDGE: Exploring the story of Adam & Eve

(In this lesson we continue our exploration of the Mormon interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve. You’re encouraged to look at the accounts of the story found in Genesis and in the Book of Moses in “The Pearl of Great Price,” as well as the commentary found in II Nephi, chapter 2 in “The Book of Mormon.” An abridged version of the story--edited from these sources as well as from the dramatized portion of the LDS Mormon Endowment Ceremony--can be found in our last lesson )


Throughout most of recorded history there has been a tradition of Forbidden Knowledge--the idea that there were things which humanity should not know. The message of most religions has been that while it was the will of God (or the Gods) that humans be rational creatures, it is human curiosity and the desire for knowledge that is responsible for all misery; that if humans would remain humble and obedient to Deity, never venturing beyond Divinely appointed limits of what it was proper for them to know, all would be well.

Anciently there was the myth of Pandora, whose curiosity led her to disobey the command of the Gods that she not open a certain box. By opening the box, Pandora released all the evils, miseries and woes that have plagued the earth.

There is also the myth of Prometheus who tried to capture the Divine Fire of the Gods, bringing wisdom, light and knowledge to mankind. For this sin, the Gods chained him to a mountain top where he would be eternally tormented by birds of prey.

The Bible also has one such myth, found in the eleventh chapter of Genesis. Humans decide to “make a name” for themselves by building a tower, the top of which will reach to the heavens. When the Lord sees this, he says to the others in his heavenly court:

“Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.” (Genesis 11:6)

The only way that the Lord is able to put a stop to human ingenuity is to confuse their language so that the towers builders are unable to understand one another.

Notice that in each of these myths, the humans are able to do exactly what they set out to do: Pandora opens the box, Prometheus brings light to the world and the Tower of Babel is built. In all of these stories the borders dividing humans from Gods are being breeched. The Gods, in order to maintain their distance from humans (who They see as inferior beings), either have to punish humanity or undermine their natural abilities.

In the end it is humanity’s rational nature, their curiosity and--perhaps most importantly--their imagination (their ability to create), that threatens the Gods, who are depicted as jealous to preserve their sovereignty.


In short, religions have tended to preach variations on a single them: ignorance is not only bliss, it is blessed--the foundation of morality; know your place and don’t venture past it; turn off your mind, believe and obey; don’t trust your own understanding of things.

A quick glance at history shows that it has been traditional religion and its priests that have consistently protested nearly every important advancement in human knowledge--all in the name of God.

No where is this more clearly evident than in the debate between some fundamentalists and scientists over the theory of Evolution. A farmer in rural Georgia may protest that the public schools are teaching his children certain theories and biological facts as Evolution--which he sees as a denial of God’s sovereignty. Yet armed with most of these same theories and biological facts, this same farmer will work to breed a prize-winning hog--a better hog than would be born if nature ran its course without human intervention.

Currently there are debates on the morality of such things as nuclear energy, cloning and stem cell research. “We must not play God,” many say.

But what if “playing God” is exactly what God expects of His children? What if “playing God”--far from being a sin--is actually the basis of morality? What if there simply is no such thing as forbidden knowledge?


Orthodox Christianity has taken the notion of forbidden knowledge and imposed it on the Biblical story of Adam and Eve. Christianity has taught that it was pride, ambition and the sinful desire to become like God, that prompted Adam and Eve to eat the fruit. Because they did this, they sinned and fell from God’s grace. Their quest for knowledge corrupted human nature itself--so that everyone born since is worthy of nothing other than eternal damnation.

Original sin is the concept of inherited guilt; of guilt, not for what one does, but for what one is.
Most modern Christians reject such evils as racism and anti-Semitism; after all, one can’t help the race or ethnic group one into which one is born; they realize that racism is wrong because it is based on the concept of inherited guilt--a guilt based not on actions committed but on identity itself. Yet these same Christians accept this notion on a much broader scale. In fact, it is the basis of their world view. It is mankind’s inherited guilt--human identity itself--from which, Christians believe, Christ must save us.

And the root of this inherited guilt--this Original Sin? The human quest for knowledge and understanding.


Often when people discuss the story of Adam and Eve, they use certain words and phrases: the Forbidden Fruit, Original Sin, the Fall, pride, arrogance, sin, the devil, lies, Satan, Lucifer. But if one looks at the story in Genesis, one will see that not a single one of these words or phrases appear any where in the text itself.

It is often taught that the serpent lied to Adam and Eve when he told them that if they ate the fruit they “would be as gods, knowing good ands evil.” (Genesis 3:5)

But according to God Himself, the serpent told the truth. After Adam and Eve eat the fruit, God declares:

“Behold, the man is become as one of us to know good and evil.” (Genesis 3:22)


“The Book of Mormon” broke with 1800 years of Christian tradition by presenting an opposing (indeed, a completely contradictory) interpretation of the Adam and Eve story.

The so-called Fall was a good thing. Adam and Eve had to eat from the Tree of Knowledge in order that humans might exist and fulfill the object of their creation, which was to have joy.
Early Mormon leaders such a Brigham Young took great pride in the fact that Mormon theology did not view Adam and Eve as the world’s first sinners--as those responsible for all sin, misery and woe--but as the world’s first heroes who bravely ate from the Tree of Knowledge and left the Garden of Eden so that they and their descendents might progress.


Joseph Smith taught “Knowledge is what saves a man.”

Mormon scriptures declare:

It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.” (Doctrine & Covenants 131:6)

“The Glory of God is intelligence.” (Doctrine & Covenants 93:36)

Lest anyone suppose that this knowledge and intelligence only relates to “religious” or “spiritual” matters, Mormon scriptures admonish us to “seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” (Doctrine & Covenants 88:118)

When defining “Truth,” other religious traditions often lean toward mystical and vague definitions. In contrast, consider the Mormon definition:

“Truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come; and whatsoever is more or less that this is the spirit of the wicked one who was a liar from the beginning.” (Doctrine & Covenants 93:24)

What is the result of acquiring knowledge?

“Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. 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.” (Doctrine & Covenants 130:18-19)


Brigham Young taught that all truth is part of Mormonism--whether it be found in religion, science, philosophy. There is no contradiction between one “type of truth” and another. Indeed, the Masonic Compass (which is incorporated into Reform Mormonism’s logo) within Mormon tradition symbolizes that “all truth can be circumscribed into one great whole.”

Accepting these principles and building upon them Reform Mormonism embraces knowledge as the second of its four foundational principles--Faith, Knowledge, Revelation and Restoration.
Within Reform Mormonism, there is no such thing as forbidden knowledge. There is no conflict between religion and science, or religion and art. All fields of human endeavor may yield aspects of the truth; therefore, all are to be explored. There is no such thing as blind faith, as mindless obedience. Indeed, being a child of God with a mind capable of unlimited growth, it is up to each and every individual to think for him or herself.

In the end there is no area of knowledge so scared that it is off-limits to humankind; for Mormon scripture proclaims:

“…the day shall come when you shall comprehend even God..” (Doctrine & Covenants 88:49)


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February 16th is a Mormon Holiday

On February 16, 1832 Joseph Smith and Sydney Rigdon recorded the Vision of the Three Degrees of Glory--found in "The Doctrine & Covenants," Section 76. This Vision serves as the foundation for the Mormon belief in Universal Exalation--the belief that all people who have ever lived, regardless of their religion, will inherit some degree of glory and eternal happiness. This Vision is also important because it is the first place in Mormon scripture where the human potential for Godhood is mentioned. (D&C 76:58)

Because of the great importance of this Vision to Mormonism, REFORM MORMONS honor February 16th as a religious holiday--a day on which to mediate upon the principles laid out in this Vision, and to celebrate God's universal love and justice--as well as humanity's Divine potential.