Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Mormon Encounters: Part 7 - Adam & Free Agency?

My Mormon Encounters saga continues...
Part 1: First Meeting
Part 2: Reading the Book of Mormon 
Part 3: Going to Mormon Church
Part 4: Mormon Battalion & General Conference
Part 5: The Missionary Sisters
Part 6: A Talk Among Friends
Part 7: Adam and Free Agency
Part 8: To the Investigators
Part 9: To the Missionaries

I meant to write a few post this past month but time flies whether one is having fun or not, I found. I had resettled closer to downtown San Diego with a friend, a dog, and a lot of projects. My work keeps me on the computer most of the time, though every now and then I also get to do something a bit more calorie-chewing... And we all need that especially after all the holiday feasts of November and December!

Relocating, of course, means no more Mormon visit to the Smorgabode, though I still keep in touch with a few favorite missionaries (I know I'll get into trouble with this, but then a trouble-free life would be so boring!). A couple of weeks ago Sister Begeistert and her new companion Sister Blondchen gave me another tour of the Mormon Battalion Museum when I dropped by to dump some farmers' market bounty off on them (missionaries are dead useful in helping destroying evidence when you succumbed to a bout of gluttony and bought too much food to fit in the fridge!). We got to talking religion again, of course (that's the downside of hanging with active misshies... they're always on the church's clock!).

Mormon Battalion Memorial on top of Presidio Hill

I'm afraid we didn't progress much. They were trying to tell me about the Mormon interpretation of the Adam & Eve story, and how god is evidently more merciful than Satan because 'he knew what Adam would do before hand but allowed him the 'free agency' to do it (disobeying and eating the forbidden fruit), whereas Satan would have forced Adam (and the rest of us) to only obey, and also in fixing it so that the result of Adam's disobedience was that man became mortal and could now 'learn' and 'progress''. It sounded rather nice and cheery (it helped that the sisters seemed genuinely uplifted by it), but being a killjoy that I can often be, I thought it over and decided that the story didn't seem to say what my patient missionaries thought it said at all.

First off, how can there be any free agency (Mormonese for 'free will') if god can unerringly know everyone's future action? If god knew that I would bring the sisters some blackberries that day, then instead I decided to live up to my moniker and smorg up all the blackberries myself, then I would have retroactively proven god wrong now, wouldn't I? So you really can't have it both way; either there is free will/agency and god doesn't know our future decisions, or there is no free will and god knows the future. The way the sisters interpreted the story didn't support the concept of free will at all, but predestination.

I find it more comforting that these kids chose, of their own free will, to donate their blood to help others rather than that their action was predestined. After all, the implication of predestination is that one is not accountable for one's action... since one couldn't have chosen to do otherwise.

Sister Blondchen tried to posit that god only knows what would happen but he didn't necessarily plan the event out, so somehow free will could still be operating (Ah! The stance softens... She was now not so certain and was doing more damage control than aggressive assertion. Progress!). The question that begged, of course, was who or what, then, controls our destiny now that god isn't so in charge but is more of a bystander??? Luckily the sisters then realized that they had found themselves in a hole and prudently stopped digging... and changed the subject.

My second problem had to do with this idea that god showed wisdom and mercy in penalizing Adam's disobedience by doing him and mankind the great favor of allowing us to die and suffer (in so doing enabling us to 'learn' new things... this little nugget comes from the Book of Moses in The Pearl of Great Price, I think). I would agree that being mortal is a major plus. I shouldn't wish to live so long that I become tired and bored with living! The setting up of this so that Adam had to do a 'bad' thing of disobeying in order for good thing (mortality and spiritual progress) to become available for man bugged me, however. Why would a god purposefully set Adam up to fail and then deigned to chastise him for fulfilling god's plan when he did? And why reward bad behavior? Wouldn't it have been more moral-building to set this up so that good thing can happen only if Adam had chosen to do 'the right thing'?

Don't get me wrong, I have very little tolerance for obedience just for obedience's sake, but the way this story is told to me made it quite clear that obedience is the desirable virtue and that Adam had goofed when he ate the fruit. So... I had a hard time understanding why the Mormons should find this tale so faith-building (even though I am, by now, quite familiar with this religion's running theme of 'the end justifying the means'). It seemed to me that the morals of the story go against both the notion of free agency and the idea of a just god or the virtue of obedience!

Needless to say, this meeting didn't lead me any closer to accepting the Mormons' idea of god. Ultimately, after having asked oneself the questions 'what is god and what, if it exist, is god like?' one also has to ask, 'if there is a god but it is immoral, would I still submit myself to it?'. Do people worship an idea of god because they are afraid of what god can and will do to them if they refuse, or do they worship a god because it is worth worshiping?

A good sport as she always is, Sister Begeistert actually thanked me as we parted for 'making her think again'. Sister Blondchen was harder to read, though I thought she became more a Constanze than a Blond as our meeting came to a close. Was that an improvement? I don't know. Have a look/listen to a marvelous Constanze and see! 


bereweber said...

oh mister Smorg, downtown now huh? nice! i am enjoying life in North Park, planning to walk this weekend to Balboa Park from home

the Presidio park, what a lovely park, eh? my favorite in San Diego, i've seen that sculptor before and the Mormon battalion but plaque but never acknowledged before the Mormonism of it ;)

and the Bloodmobile photos, nice!!! my first job when I arrived in San Diego was at the "Bloody Bank" as we used to call it, at the old Upas St. location in Hillcrest, now they have moved, but I remember designing graphics for the bloodmobiles

your post is full of memories!

enjoy downtown, the dog, the work, and our lovely weather mister Smorg

C. L. Hanson said...

Your "Mormon Encounters" series is in the running for a Brodie award in the category of "Best Chat with the Bishop, Mishies, or Other Church Leaders" (and is currently in the lead). Please go here if you'd like to vote (or campaign) for yourself. :D

stray said...

The Mozartean response to this particular problem of Genesis is rather excellent.

Anonymous said...

Oh my! I wonder what a Brodie looks like!
Blogger insists I become anonymous again: Eyes

Smorg said...

Hola bella Bere: Sorry I'm so tardy answering comments these days! I'm actually closer to you than to downtown proper. One of these days we must have a walking date! :oD I'm solidly preoccupied until later next week, tho, but then I think I'll get a few days off before the next batch of work comes in.

I love Presidio Park, too! Would love it more if I won't have to hike up the hill to get to it (tho the trail is quite lovely). And I didn't know that the Hillcrest blood bank had moved! I went inside it a few times to donate blood when I lived in downtown (many many moons ago). Did you design the interior, too? I remember it being quite nice. :oD

Gruezzi Chanson: Thanks a bunch for the selection and for the heads up, too! :oD I'm having a good time reading up on the other entries there while waiting for my work files to load. That must have been some job reading and compiling them all!

Hiya Stray: Isn't she marvelous! And I don't usually even like her voice type. I have the Salzburg DVD of Entfuehrung with Schaefer as Konstanze, but probably love Malin Hartelius' Blondchen a bit more. :oD And there's no beating Franz Hawtala as Osmin, too!

Hiya Eyes: I'm curious, too. Have never seen a Brodie before. I'm stoked... and I'm not even an ex-Mormon! ;o) Sorry the blogger commenter is being so glitchy! Hopefully the techies will have it sorted out soon. Hope your leg is coming along well, too!

Georg said...

Hello Smorgy,

The dilemma of the free will (agency as the M call it) seems to be a question hundreds of years old.

Maybe you know this one: ask god to create a stone so huge he cannot jump over it. If he does it, he is not allmmighty because now he cannot do everything. And if he creates one big enough, he is not allmighty because precisely he is unable to make the big jump.

Did you ever told those girls of your blog??

I wonder sometimes if people interesed in astronomy can be believers in one of our Planet Earth religion or gods.

Ask them this question in case you seem those gals again.


Smorg said...

Hallo Georgy,

Indeed! :oD And it seems that after all these centuries Epicurus is still the champ for me.

I've heard a similar riddle of asking if god can do something so well that it prevents him from being able to do something else indeed. I think it was when I was reading Kurt Goedel's essay on his Incompleteness Theorem... and how there is a limit logical constructs like mathematics.

A while ago someone sent me an IQ quiz that has an interesting question on the same line: if you find yourself before a murderous king who is bent on murdering you, and who allows you to say one last sentence under the condition that if what you say proves true then you'd be shot and if what you say proves false then you'd be hanged; what would your last sentence be? Of course, if you are a cheeky jerk like me, the only way to go is to say that 'I'll be hanged,' since that automatically rules out hanging and shooting as your future fate (tho the king might just decide to electrocute you instead out of pure spite). :o)

I told the sisters about the blog indeed. I even told them what names they appear under. Unfortunately their mission rules don't allow them to access non-LDS sites while they are on mission. I sent them the blog's address, though, so they can look it up after they are done with this nunhood thingy. Don't know if they will. :o) We might see!

I don't know if interest and/or knowledge of astronomy would affect religious folks' belief much... After all, the Mormons think that 'God the Father' lives in a planet near the star Kolob (whose light is reflected onto us via the sun)... A totally and obviously false idea to anyone who knows that stars do not reflect other stars' light... and that's like 5th grade level of knowledge, I think. :oP

But there are other religions with even more preposterous ideas about astronomy. I mean, look at the Scienthologists and Xenu... It is unbelievable how so many sane people actually believe things like that! And the bigger rub yet... they all recognize the idiocy of the other religions' beliefs, but none of their own!

But there I go preaching to the choir again. Sorry about that, my friend! :oD Thanks very much for stopping by. Hope you are having a good Februar!