Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

Is Torture Good?

June 09th, 2015 by G.

A friend of the JG and a friend of the Mormons has sent us the following for discussion:
I was speaking with a local CJCLDS member, who strikes me as an intelligent and informed man, but nevertheless his conclusions struck me as possibly incorrect and I was hoping to confer with another intelligent and informed member.
He argued that 1) God is omniscient, 2) He knew before creating the world that Adam & Eve would fall. 3) God, before creating the world, knew that His Son would be crucified (I phrased it “tortured”).
That’s straightforward enough, but it had a couple “twists” that made it difficult for me. That the fall was good, and God’s will, and that the crucifixion was also a good (that is planned, before the world’s creation, that God specifically created this version as opposed to even trying to make a “fixed” or better version).

This was also applied to the plane of speculation and other worlds, wherein the man seemed to imagine an innumerable number of crucifixions and falls as necessary and fundamental to every possible planet.

My impression is that the crucifixion was primarily a terrible and contingent event, but made good, rather than in some sense an essential planned good from before creation

-thus Andrew.

Anyone is invited to respond, Andrew is invited to comment also, and anyone is welcome to disagree with any of my own views on the subject. But as best as I can, there they are.

First, some groundwork, on just how detailed official Mormon doctrine really is.

There is considerable grey area between those beliefs that are clearly doctrines of the Church and those beliefs that are clearly folklore.
. . .
Think of Mormon doctrine as a spectrum. At one end you have doctrine that is found repeatedly and expressly in the scriptures, has been repeatedly and expressly preached by the prophets from Joseph Smith to the present, is a frequent subject of exhortation from the pulpit or in Sunday School classes and other church settings, is part of the general understanding that Mormons have of the gospel, and is an integral part of current Mormonism as it is actually lived. Anything that meets all those criteria is clearly official doctrine by any standard. So, for example, there is no question that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior of mankind, who died to save us from sin. Something that isn’t expressly stated in scripture, hasn’t been preached by any of the prophets, isn’t taught over the pulpit and in other church settings, isn’t part of the sensus communis of the Mormon people, and isn’t an integral part of their lived experience, isn’t official doctrine by any standard. In between you have considerable grey area and have to exercise judgment.

-from the post Mormons Get Their Own Planet When They Die. There is much more at the link on this topic that is worth reading.

Is God omniscient? There is a respectable minority of LDS thinkers in good standing (actually in good standing, not “in good standing”) who argue that God can’t foreknow how we’ll exercise our free will. Blake Ostler chief among them. But my impression is that even with these guys, they concede that God foreknew the Fall and the Atonement (including the necessity for Christ to die and suffer, if not specifically torture by crucifixion). Granted, there are no specific scriptures that I can think of offhand that state this, although the reference in Revelations to ‘the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” implies it. But if fits with the tenor of LDS thought, which is that fallen mortal life and therefore the atonement are both necessary. We generally reject the idea that Eden was what we were meant for, and that mortal life and the atonement are plan B. For that, there is a pretty solid LDS consensus. My own view is that God didn’t try to come up with a better system, because there is no better system. To the extent most Mormons and Mormon authorities have considered the matter, I think they would agree with me that there was no better alternative. Explanations why probably differ and/or are incomplete. I have advanced one possible explanation, that something like the Fall and the atonement are inherent in the idea of agency (i.e, “free will”), here and here respectively.  See also the post Damnation is Inevitable.

So Fall and Atonement are necessary for great ends.  Does that mean they are good?  The distinction is probably rhetorical.  Is death good?  I would say know, not in itself, but many Mormons would say it is, in a way, because of what it leads to.  It’s a semi-arbitrary choice to treat death itself as the unit of analysis or death+results as the unit of analysis.  I haven’t found a practical or doctrinal difference that results from the distinction.  It’s largely a matter of personality and emphasis.

The stuff about multiple Christs is very speculative. It’s something Mormons can and do believe, some of them, but I have never seen a reason too.  An ‘infinite and eternal’ atonement can surely stretch to cover any number of folks, is the way I see it.

 

Comments (22)
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June 09th, 2015 11:16:31
22 comments

Bruce Charlton
June 9, 2015

Everything you say sounds fine.

I cannot help thinking, however – to refer to other Christian traditions, that a focus on the torments of Christ on the cross can be, and often has been, overdone – and leads to a distorted theology.


Vader
June 9, 2015

Bruce,

You may find it interesting that about thirty years ago, an LDS writer came out with a book that focused on the torments of Christ to an extent I found almost gruesome.

The writer was gently but firmly rebuked by a member of the Twelve, choosing as his forum a BYU devotional. The rebuke was more on theological grounds than taste, but … hmm. That actually reinforces your point further, doesn’t it?


Zen
June 9, 2015

Maybe necessary for good; that might be a better way to explain it. It was certainly necessary for Christ, and is certainly necessary for all of us.

Then there is that verse in the Joseph Smith Translation

JST Heb. 11:40 God having provided some better things for them through their sufferings, for without sufferings they could not be made perfect.


Andrew
June 9, 2015

Thank you for the answer. I’m still struggling with this idea though, and maybe further explanation would help:

When on the subject, and me raising the “torture” argument, he suggested that God was omnipotent in the sense that all intelligences (such as in matter, animals, etc.) obey him, and that he is entirely capable of stopping this or that evil at any time, but instead actively chooses to let us engage in those acts (e.g. evil man X torturing innocent people Y). Though he had a contingency that if God forced the will of the intelligences they would stop obeying, but that would never happen.

He seemed pretty straightforward, but it’s possible I misunderstood. Could you elaborate or is it a common belief?


el oso
June 9, 2015

General doctrinal answers to the first questions:
1) Yes. God the Father is omniscient. Exactly how that is defined is very nebulous.
2) Definitely yes. The fall was always part of God’s plan.
3) Yes. The redemption that comes through the Son of God was also always part of the plan. Suffering which is incident to #2 and the agency of man is clearly part of this.

I may add some further explanation re: torture. The parts of our doctrine that differ from most other Christians include the willing submission of Jesus to his torments and tormentors. He was powerful enough to escape His pain/torture/death at any time through divine means. He chose to submit and suffer because it was His Father’s will that He do so.

About other worlds, there is little consistent preaching other than the verse from the Book of Moses: “Worlds without number have I created…”


MC
June 10, 2015

I’m on the record as not being a hardliner on God’s omnipotence: http://www.jrganymede.com/2015/01/15/disparate-impact-and-the-plenipotent-god/

Thus, it makes sense to me that both the Fall and the Crucifixion would be absolutely essential for salvation and theosis. If God must exist within certain limits of the universe, then it makes sense that he cannot simply decide to avoid all evil.

And evil probably has to exist anyway:

” 11 For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.”

2 Nephi 2:11

Jesus himself said that “it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!”
Matthew 18:7


bruce charlton
June 10, 2015

It is worth remembering that for Mormons all these sufferings are undergone by volunteers. An analogy might be the sufferings and risks from training for an elite military force such as the Royal Marines or the Navy Seals.


Andrew
June 10, 2015

Bruce – is this correct? I thought the pre-mortal spirits only had the option of choosing between Satan or God, but no third option to not participate.


G.
June 10, 2015

**When on the subject, and me raising the “torture” argument, he suggested that God was omnipotent in the sense that all intelligences (such as in matter, animals, etc.) obey him, and that He is entirely capable of stopping this or that evil at any time, but instead actively chooses to let us engage in those acts (e.g. evil man X torturing innocent people Y). Though he had a contingency that if God forced the will of the intelligences they would stop obeying, but that would never happen.**

Andrew, most Mormons accept that God could short-circuit human action and natural evils any time He wished. Certainly the scriptures suggest that God is a being who can do those things. Whether that is because of His inherent power or because everything naturally obeys Him or what.

So why doesn’t He? Because He can’t short-circuit agency. That is, because He can’t force someone to freely do what is right. As a corollary, He probably can’t just download knowledge and experience into the human soul either. Mormon thinkers have a range of opinions on what exactly God’s omnipotence/plenipotence entails, but if there is a consensus its that the tragic vision is right: God cannot just will contradictions and there are some minimal core aspects of reality that He cannot wish away. Even me, who am probably more sympathetic to classical Christianity then 99% of the Mormons who care about this stuff, believe that the tragic vision is right.
***
Your interlocutor’s contingency makes no sense to me.
***
Before your dialogue with Bruce, I had never considered the possibility of neutrality in the War in Heaven. There is no particular basis in the revealed gospel for saying that there couldn’t have been neutrals, though its not in scripture and its not something I’ve ever heard the prophets say or even fellow Mormons speculate. Still possible for a Mormon to believe, though, based on what we already know. If its hardly ever mentioned, my guess is because a similar speculation was one of the post-hoc rationalizations for barring blacks from the priesthood.

But if there isn’t neutrality, I don’t think that takes away from Bruce’s point. Sure, if God could have let people exist in a neutral state but refused to, then we’d have a reason to say the choice between God and Satan wasn’t a free choice. But if there isn’t neutrality, it isn’t because God said so. It’s because permanent neutrality is intrinsically unstable. Impossible, in other words. If that is correct, which would certainly fit with the scriptural data, C.S. Lewis the Great Divorce may explain why a little. There is a long essay here which discusses that theme in the book:
http://www.jrganymede.com/2011/02/04/death-is-lighter-than-a-feather-c-s-lewis-the-great-divorce/


Bruce Charlton
June 10, 2015

In my comment earlier today I was meaning only that it is (I think) standard Mormon teaching that every mortal human chose/ volunteered to become an incarnate mortal on earth.

Some pre-mortal spirit men and women, who did not choose this, remain in Heaven as God’s spirit children – being one of the types of angel.

I can’t remember where exactly I read this, assuming I did; but I thought it was a standard part of the Plan of Salvation narrative, and the LDS understanding of the nature/s of angels.


G.
June 10, 2015

That is certainly possible and even makes a lot of sense in a way, but I have never seen anybody clarify whether unembodied angels were pre-mortal spirits who just haven’t been born yet or pre-mortal spirits who have chosen to remain so.


Bruce Charlton
June 10, 2015

@G ” pre-mortal spirits who have chosen to remain so.”

I imagine that such a decision would take the form of ‘not yet’; i.e. to postpone mortal incarnation; and this delay might go on and on indefinitely; but would (I presume) always be open to revision.


Andrew
June 10, 2015

I like Bruce’s vision because it makes sense of a lot of potentially problematic areas, namely earthly suffering. My impression from the missionaries was that we chose to come here, but those who didn’t essentially sided with Satan and remain disembodied as demons. (Unfortunately this is a bit problematic wrt earthly suffering and how free the choice really was.)


Vader
June 10, 2015

My impression is that those who became demons were those who supported an attempted coup d’etat in Heaven.

I suspect that those to whom the Plan was presented in the first place had already chosen to be embodied. Whether that is a one-time decision or something that an intelligence works towards is unrevealed.


Andrew
June 10, 2015

Thanks for the further elaborations Vader & G.

I think Bruce’s idea *must* be true. It is essential the the Mormon metaphysic that angels too are intelligences, created by God. So we know for some reason that God chose to make some intelligences angels, while others chose to go to earth, and others rebelled and became demons…


Andrew
June 10, 2015

Because every step seems contingent on free will & agency, therefore we must conclude that, to some extent, whatever state (angel, embodied man, etc.) was chosen, what?


G.
June 10, 2015

Andrew,
makes sense. My only real hesitation is I’m not sure whether its possible for a soul to forever ‘halt between two opinions.’ Although it probably is possible after life. so it may be possible before too.


Bruce Charlton
June 10, 2015

@G – ” I’m not sure whether its possible for a soul to forever ‘halt between two opinions.’ ”

The beauty of Mormon metaphysics is that it does not have to be forever; just ‘not yet’.

Classical Theology gets very tied-up and fine-spun about the fall of angels – the idea is (more or less) that the exact instant that an angel is created he decides between God and Satan, and that decision is irrevocable.

(This is trying to square the various imperatives of free will and out-of-time eternity and destiny and whatnot.)


el oso
June 10, 2015

Great discussion all. I think that premortal spirits all choose to come to earth. It seems to me that our theology makes clear that we all knew that progress relies on this choice. Everyone eventually accepts this based upon the evidence that they can see.
Now, how much exactly is known before this life is not clear. Do they see and interact with the resurrected saints who are long dead, but now reborn? We all must have figured out that it was worth the trip.


Zen
June 11, 2015

There is a danger in being too dogmatic when so very little has been revealed. We spend years in school to understand the rudiments of mathematics. I know I spent about a dozen classes in college just looking at the 4 little equations for electromagnetism to just learn some of the applications, calculations, meanings, laws, rules, exceptions, etc.

Sometimes, I think, there is the idea that ‘we understand it all’ when there is likely to be a world more detail than just the broad outlines given us.

A more complicated world in the hereafter (herebefore?) should not surprise us.

Just saying.


Man SL
June 11, 2015

Hear, hear.


Vader
June 11, 2015

I have heard it suggested that math and physics will be vastly easier to learn in the hereafter, while faith and charity will be vastly harder.

I find this thought terrifying, particularly when voiced by people who are much worse at math and physics and much better at faith and charity than I am.

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