On Agency and Accountability: An Inter-dependent View

Aaron R. aka Ricoaccountability, book of mormon, Mormon, theology 68 Comments

Jeff Spector wrote a post on Agency a few months ago which I enjoyed alot.  The discussion led me down a slightly different path and I wanted to write a supplement to his ideas in light of some of my own thoughts on agency and how they relate to accountability.  My major contention is that the notion of individual accountability is a fallacy, or, perhaps more accurately, it is not the whole story.

The story of Adam and Eve is the primary narrative when discussions of agency and accountability arise.  How we interpret the events of the Garden has a big impact on the way we frame this debate.  A standard statement is the second Article of Faith: ‘We believe that [individuals] will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression’.  Notions of Individual accountability are often rooted in this declaration because it apparently denounces ‘Original Sin’.

However I feel that this is actually contrary to what is being stated.  What the second Article of Faith acknowledges is that Adam and Eve’s action in the Garden has influenced the choices that are currently available to us now.  We are taught that people are conceived in sin and that we begin to desire sin in our earliest years, even before we are aware of it (see Mos 6:55).  We are born into a world where sin pre-dominates and this will inevitably impact the choices that we will make [1].  Therefore my capacity to choose is influenced by the choice of another.  This article of faith teaches that I will not be punished for Adam and Eve’s transgression, but my sins are a direct consequence of the world they created.  So is this really saying to us that there is a reduced accountability for what we do wrong in this life.  Certainly, at the very least, the choices I make now are impacted by what Adam and Eve did.

To put it another way, Lehi, when speaking to the Children of Laman and Lemuel, promsies them that they will not be held accountable for not believing and following the gospel if their parents continue to rebel.  In other words, Lehi suggests that the patterns of belief and action are set early in life and may be difficult to change, but these children will have a ‘reduced’ accountability because of the reduced likelihood that they will accept the gospel because of the actions of their parents.  From a different perspective, Boyd K. Packer has said that children are influenced by their environment and that the degree to which the society accepts a set of morals which are mis-directed is an important factor on the values we have.  Elder Packer therefore believes that the extent of such cultural ‘wickedness’ will be factored into our Final Judgment[2].

All this suggests that accountability and agency are actually a matter of being inter-dependent.  Our actions are invariably linked to a multitude of other people.  We are tied to this multitude, by the ripples of influence that reverberate out from every action.  If we fall, others will fall with us; but if we are lifted up to God, others will come with us as well.

Thinking this way helps me understanding a little the more the statement that ‘we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect’ (D&C 128:18).  I see this as not only applying to the salvation of the dead but also to each of those people who are around us; those who are tied to us by love or even by association.

I am not suggesting that we are merely puppets who are controlled by those around us.  We can choose to return evil for good, or good for evil.  However, we cannot make these choices, develop our values or live our lives separate from others.  It seems to me that our very nature indicates that we are social beings, that we are not alone in making choices and are therefore not wholly alone when speaking of our accountability.  Our choices and our accountability are reciprocal.


1. Robert L. Millet, The Regeneration of Fallen Man in Selected Writings of Robert L. Millet: Gospel Scholars Series [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2000], 172.

2. Boyd K. Packer, Our Moral Environment in Ensign, May 1992.

Comments 68

  1. It’s also interesting to think about how knowledge comes into play. We can’t be held responsible for what we don’t know, and yet what we don’t know DOES affect others.

    All of this also gives an appreciation for the breadth and depth of the Atonement. For the law still demands a punishment, does it not? And yet, sometimes law is broken without intent.

    One last thought — is the definition of sin in AoF 2 really a broken law, or when we deliberately go against knowledge? I also mull over what it means to be judged according to men in the flesh…part of the teaching in the spirit world is to give knowledge. So then, is the concept of sin retroactive?…in other words, once I know that something I did was wrong, I’m obligated under eternal law to repent, or I will have to suffer, no?

    I dunno…just mulling before I go to bed….

  2. Rico – This is purely for argument sake and I hope I have presented a counter argument that stands up to your well thought out and written article. Are you stating that the sins that we commit can be answerable upon the heads of those around us IE, Parents? are our sins justifiable and our responsibility for them diminished.

    What social influences justify which sins? is a habitual smoker justified because their parents smoked in the house, or an alcoholic, or someone who is idle ? – in this light you might argue yes! that is someone’s parents are idle, lazy and refuse to work then the offspring can hardly be held responsible for their own actions. What about a child who is conceived in premarital sex, is the offspring justified to perpetuate the cycle? what about a child who is raised without a priesthood holder in the home are they justified in committing a whole host of sins due to not having sufficient parental and spiritual guidance? Or for that matter a Unrighteous example, is the offspring justified in committing spousel abuse. For that matter is the responsibility for Rape, Murder or Paedophilia diminished and justifiable?

  3. Rico:

    I’m not quite sure if I understand your premise or what you are suggesting.
    There most likely is a connection between an individual’s weaknesses and the environment they grew up in. But there does come a time when an individual is 100% accountable for their actions.

    The question would be: At which point in time, is one 100% accountable for their own actions? If the children of Laman and Lemuel were informed that their accountability was diminished because of the sins of their Fathers – there still will come a time when the children will be 100% accountable, – but probably only when they are exposed to the true principles of the Gospel.

    Likewise, today – one can say and be justified that they have certain weaknesses that can have a genetic or environmental cause – thus they are not 100% respnsible for their actions. Perhaps so, but they still go to prison.

    On the day of Judgement – everything will be taken into account, and the intent of one’s heart, will be an important factor.

    In my rambling here, I’ll bring up one unconfortable issue that may be directly connected with the theme of this post:

    In this “free thinking” internet environment, where LDS adults question almost anything and everything pertaining to the LDS Church – how many are creating an environment for their children – where skeptism is increased and faith is decreased?
    One current popular wave is to openly question the ‘literacy’ of stories written in the LDS standard works.
    Will the children of such parents be 100% accountable for their beliefs and actions? What are the consequences of such beliefs? What would be the percentage of responsibility assigned to the skeptical parents?

  4. “Lehi suggests that the patterns of belief and action are set early in life and may be difficult to change, but these children will have a ‘reduced’ accountability because of the reduced likelihood that they will accept the gospel because of the actions of their parents.”

    I absolutely believe that those who have been given much will have much expected of them as well. I think that is why the Lord makes it very clear that judgment is His and we are to trust Him to do so justly. I feel that our Mormon culture involves more judgment of each other than the Lord desires and that this lack of tolerance and compassion will eventually have to be rid of. I don’t know how, but I would think there is only so much the Lord can take before He does something about it. We try too hard to put accountability on one another when we have no business doing it and I think it will be nothing less than surprising when we really “see” what is going on with each other and how our thoughts and judgments were wrong many times.

  5. As far as the 2nd AoF is concerned, I would suspect that this was included as a denouncement of the concepts of other religions that profess that unless one is baptized, he/she shares the “sin” or “transgression” of Adam and Eve. In order to “sin” one must be accountable and violate the law. That is why the partaking of the fruit was not considered a sin by Adam and Eve because that did not have full “accountability.” What is not revealed to us is that ability to progress between mortal death and the final judgment. While some teachings in the BoM suggest that the same spirit that is with us as we die, will yet rise with us in the resurrection, we also know of the promises made to those who are raised in righteous LDS homes, born in the covenant, yet who in mortality turn from the truth. Somehow for them, there is yet an opportunity to repent. I suspect that this phase is kept from us so as to not encourage use to procrastinate the day of our repentance, which would be the normal human tendency. We do know that even in the celestial kingdom there are at least three degrees of status, we don’t know if there is progression over the eons of eternity from one to another. In the mean time, we such each exercise our agency to the maximum righteousness that we are able to achieve while in this sphere.

  6. Jen:

    Could you clarify #6? For it appears in your 2nd para. – when you state: “….this lack of tolerance and compassion will eventually have to be rid of.” – may refer to the parents [Laman and Lemuel] of the children, Lehi is refering to.

    I don’t think you or anyone else supports Laman and Lemuel for leading their children down the wrong path. But you also appear to be advising that: “We try too hard to put accountability on one another when we have no business doing it…”

    But can we all discuss the ramifications that LDS parents have on their children today? – and could some parents, today, be in the same boat as Laman and Lemuel are in? Of course, it really is up to the Bishop to decide if one is going down the wrong path or not. But, at the risk of being labled judgmental, I feel the questions at the end of #5 are relevant.

  7. sxark-

    To clarify, I believe that too many members are quick to judge others when they don’t have enough information. I know that I don’t have enough information to even judge Laman and Lemuel. I think a lot of us would like to think we would all respond like Nephi if we had lived back then, but I believe many more of us would respond more like Laman and Lemuel. I love the fact that the Lord knows everyone thing about us, He is familiar with the intents or our hearts and every thought that goes through our mind is known to Him, so I try to remember that when I find myself thinking judgmental thoughts about others. What do I really know? Not much. It’s not my job, and as far as the bishop deciding if one is going down the wrong path or not….well, I don’t agree that a bishop is always right about people. They are human just like us and they make mistakes too. I don’t believe they make the perfect judgments every time, nor do they always give the best counsel to everyone. I will always be willing to pray about counsel given to me from a bishop, but if I feel differently after praying about it, I will put my trust in the Lord and go with what I feel is best.


  8. Jen:

    Well, – The Bishop/Mission President has been given a mandate from Heaven to judge and be responsible for everyone, regardless of religion, within the ward/mission boundaries. And should they judge wrong – they are responsible.

    As for the rest of us – it could be said that we are responsible for our families. My concern/question is do we, in this present day, act like Laman and Lemmuel to different degrees, thus lessoning the accountablity of our children – should our children follow or be tainted by our example. – as stated in #5.

    I believe you are partly correct that “too many members are quick to judge others when they don’t have enough information”. For I have been impressed, lately, that this unwarrented judgement seems to be on the decreese. – at least, for me that is. Perhaps that’s due to old age. I think younger members still encounter this problem.

    And then there those who don’t want to attend Church for the wrong reason: Because, to them, the Church is full of hypocrites.

  9. #2 – Where you musing as well… I think your point is interesting. Sometimes we are unaware of the reasons for why we do certain things. Moreover, sometimes these patterns are linked with past situations that we are not cognisant of and that were the result of others. I think this is part of the idea I was trying to express.

    #3 – I think I am arguing that we are not fully accountable for all we do. How we separate this is not something I can decide at present. I do not believe that any action is purely individual, primarily because the notion of free will for me is not adequate if we think of an autonomous self. I think all our thoughts and actions are tied to our cultural context. However, for me this increases the responsibility for us to think about how we respond to these surroundings. I do not want to abdicate responsbility for my sins but I also believe that it helps me see that I am responsible for how I respond to others and also how I treat other people. I believe that in some context paedophilia could be diminished if that person was also abused, for example.

    #5 – Thanks for your response. I do not believe there is ever a time when we are 100% accountable. I guess that is where we would depart. However, I like your thoughts about children. I agree there is a danger with increasing skepticism, however I think that it is as long as it applies to everything and not just the Church. At the moment I believe that I will provide my children with the stories of the Church as they taught in the Church for the most part, until they start to raise questions themselves.

    #7 – I agree that there is more than one reading of this article. In fact I would agree that what I interpret was not even what is originally intended.

    #6, 9 – Jen, I agree. Maybe I did not frame it very well. But one of the ideas I hoped would come out of this idea is that we should not judge other people because we cannot know the influences that have affcted their lives. Moreover, it suggests to me that we should be careful about how we treat other people because it can influence them. Thanks for good comments.

  10. When did you become Rico? Did I miss something.

    I enjoyed this post and it certainly speaks to the issue of the influence of environment. Both good and bad. Certainly, as children, we do learn how to sin, but are not held accountable until age eight. Experience with small children will show that. They are innocent but can quickly learn to manipulate, and other “bad” traits.

    Once we are exposed to the Gospel and understand that the transgression of Adam and Eve is responsible for our fallen nature and that we must overcome that through the process of being “Born Again” as a new creature in Christ Jesus, we are still in that fallen state even as good members of the Church. We still commit sin.

    The key is that overcoming of our nature and changing permanently. Not an easy task for a human.

    BTW, that is probably the meanest picture of Bro. Millet I’ve ever seen!

  11. I love Brother Millett. I’m pretty sure he considers me a stalker.

    But frankly, I think it’s all going to wash out a lot nicer and more merciful than we Mormons like to imagine. I sure hope so.

  12. #12 – Thanks Jeff. BTW, I only just saw that… I wish I had chosen a better picture. Two reasons, one is related to hopes for my career and the other and more current is that I am Bishop and some people have expressed some concern about things I might have said or written. Not that what I have said is bad but that it might affect others. I therefore have decided to reduce personal details a little.

    I really like what you are saying about being born again and its relation to these ideas. I whole-heatedly agree. Perhaps there is a sense that we reduce our susceptible to the influence of others. Ostler speaks of how God is both fully acted upon and also being a fully independent agent. I like the idea that as we are born again we become empowered to be fully aware of our decisions and that we do not respond negatively to the actions of others.

    #13 – I believe the same thing.

  13. Sxark, you said:

    “In this “free thinking” internet environment, where LDS adults question almost anything and everything pertaining to the LDS Church – how many are creating an environment for their children – where skeptism is increased and faith is decreased?
    One current popular wave is to openly question the ‘literacy’ of stories written in the LDS standard works.
    Will the children of such parents be 100% accountable for their beliefs and actions? What are the consequences of such beliefs? What would be the percentage of responsibility assigned to the skeptical parents?”

    Are you saying it is wrong for parents to question the literacy of stories written in the LDS standard works? If so, why?

  14. Sxark #5 – Your question prompted me to think of the other end of the spectrum, what if we don’t teach our children to question what they are told? Will we be responsible for not giving them all the facts and not teaching them to decide for themselves? In my mind, that is the greater sin.

  15. Dexter and A.Dave:

    I’m suggesting that Heaven would prefer that we teach others, especially children, the concept of believing/faith/truth – in the light of D&C 8:3 – “Now behold, this is the spirit of revelation; behold, this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground.”

    This has become a favored scripture to me because it says and proclaims so much.

  16. We are taught that people are conceived in sin and that we begin to desire sin in our earliest years, even before we are aware of it (see Mos 6:55).

    I am not sure what you meant, Rico, by saying that children are “conceived in sin”. My understanding of that statement comes from my Roman Catholic background, where it was taught that sex by nature is carnal and therefore “sinful” (ie, not as holy as abstinence). This had further basis in the teaching that the fall was not related to fruit, but to carnal (i.e., sexual) knowledge.

    Clearly, we as Mormons do not believe that.

  17. Concerning the question of whether it is better to teach truth without questioning, Elder Ballard in his July, 2008 Ensign message indicated the following:

    Every disciple of Christ will be most effective and do the most good by adopting a demeanor worthy of a follower of the Savior. Discussions focused on questioning, debating, and doubting gospel principles do little to build the kingdom of God. The Apostle Paul has admonished us to not be “ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16). Let us all stand firmly and speak with faith in sharing our message with the world. Many of you are returned missionaries and can carry on a meaningful conversation in the language you learned on your mission. Your outreach can be international.

    The implication being that in teaching anyone the Gospel, we should avoid debate or questioning.

    Personally, I am in deep disagreement with this idea. However, I raised it to indicate that I don’t think Sxark is unfounded in his assertions that “I’m suggesting that Heaven would prefer that we teach others, especially children, the concept of believing/faith/truth”. At least some of the brethren would likewise appear to agree that teaching the Gospel is no place for discussion.

  18. Madam Curie:

    Madam, you have hit a nail upon the head. Thank you for bringing up that quote from Elder Ballard, – for is this not what many of us do on the internet? – focus “…on questioning, debating, and [possibly] doubting gospel principles…”

    I did bring up D&C 8:3 on purpose, for I fear there are many who doubt the Red Sea crossing on dry land. And if they doubt that – what else do they doubt?. And how are children affected when they perceive doubts such as these?

    Despite who may be responsible for what,- I feel we all reach that fork in the road, where one is offered a 50/50 chance to choose the right course – where they will no longer be under the yoke of their parents doubts – that they can gain their own testimony and then be 100% accountable for their actions.

  19. #14- Rico,

    That’s what I figured caused the change.

    The process of being Born again begins at Baptism and continues throughout one’s life until “…that we have no more disposition to do bevil, but to do good continually.” (Mosiah 5:2) I suspect, for most of us, that process will continue into the next life. It is a rare person, who can achieve it in this life, I think. I’ve known folks who I thought we close, but……

  20. thanks for the quote madam curie

    sxark #20 – While your comments are very one sided, i see what you’re trying to convey. I wouldn’t say we should teach our children to disbelieve everything they hear, but I don’t think we should fill them with happy fuzzy church thoughts only. I think we can find some middle ground here.
    If our children aren’t given the complete story, they don’t have full agency, based on the idea that others can influence our choices (satan’s plan, anyone?). Our children could discover negative church history, etc. for themselves and lose their testimony because they got it from an anti mormon source. Or come to resent you for feeling lied to.
    If we don’t question something, I don’t see how you could totally gain a testimony of it. Again, I’m not saying everyone should show their kids the godmakers, just teach them how to make informed decisions and let them know what’s out there.

  21. Sxark,

    You didn’t answer my question.

    Are you saying it is wrong for parents to question the literacy of stories written in the LDS standard works? If so, why?

  22. Has anyone read the book “The uses of Adversity” by Carlfred Broderick? I just read it and I liked how it deals with the realities of life. One quote I really like from it is this: “The gospel of Jesus Christ is not insurance against pain. It is resource in event of pain.”

    I think it is important to teach our children the truths of the gospel and to focus on that, but I also feel that we need to prepare them for life and teach them that things don’t always go like we might expect, even if we are doing what is right. We don’t need to focus on doubt, but we do need to build resilence in our children and help them to have the strength to weather the storms when they hit.

  23. One of the things I’m trying to convey is how some folks go to Church “to be seen” and/or act as if they are “believers” – they are silent in Sunday School, Relief Society, and Priesthood meetings. The last thing they want to do is be confrontational.

    Madam Curie was right on target for bringing up Romans 1:16. Chidren and young people can see this discrepency and have a difficult time telling the difference between a hypocrite and one who is trying to overcome their weaknesses.

    Many – or rather, some – will loose their testimonies for several reasons. All are constantly challenged by new Church history info as well as scientific discoveries etc.

    Parents are, more than ever, responsible to teach their children that they [the parents] have the potential to have the power to flatten mountains and turn water into mud that it is the child’s destiny to have this same power. This is a little tough to do – should one be skeptical and/or possibly doubting some gospel principles.

    I know that I’m coming across a little “preachy” and “holier than thou”. – But so what? Who here wants to be ‘labled’ from On High, as being accountable for your children’s religious actions when their children are past the age of accountability? Parents being parents feel guilty anyway, should their grown children make religious mistakes – I’m just bringing up some issues that can be dealt with now.

  24. Jen:

    Good point in #25.


    See #20. The inference of D&C 8:3 – is to, partly show, a quality required to flatten mountains and turn water into mud, – to do the impossible – as Moses did when the Red Sea was parted and the chidren of Israel crossed on dry land. – a feat that science cannot explain.

    For should one doubt this Exodus story then they will probably doubt Joshua 4:23,24 “For the Lord your God dried up the waters of Jordan from before you, until ye were passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which He dried up from before us, until we were gone over; That all the people of the Earth might know the Hand of the Lord, that it is mighty; that ye might fear the lord your God for ever.”

    You are well past the age of accountability, Dexter, and you have been to many ‘forks in the road’ as described in #20. – So, if you don’t know the answer by now – then ask someone else – because I’m not going to tell you. And I will suggest that – that someone else to ask – is not of this world.

  25. I dont understand all the hoopla. You made a point that it is wrong to teach your children that the scriptures are not literally true. So, I presume, you believe the scriptures are literally true? But I don’t like assuming so I asked. But you didn’t want to answer, that is fine. I merely wanted to point out that the LDS church doesn’t necessarily believe the bible to be literally true. I am not trying to trap anyone or say that that makes the church wrong. It was something I recently learned. I thought the church’s stance was that it is literally true. Im not saying it is good or bad that they won’t say it is literally true. Sheesh. I feel I am being attacked for no reason. Here is an article explaining the church’s position, or lack thereof, from the church itself.


  26. Dexter:

    When you state: ” I merely wanted to point out that the LDS Church doesn’t necessarily believe the Bible to be literally true.” – is taking the interpretation of the article, you quoted, way to far towards left field. As the article states:
    “The Bible – is the Word of God” – according to Joseph Smith.

    The ‘experts’ agree that there are 100+ ‘errors’ in the Bible. The official LDS position remains with the 8th Article of Faith. – “…as long as it is translated correctly.”

    There is nothing in the article you brought forth, that conflicts with anything I have said. The Bible stories still require Faith to believe. And they have not been discounted by the General Authorities of the LDS Church.

    A very powerfull piece of evidence remains with D&C 8;3. It just appears to me that if we do not teach our children the meaning of D&C 8:3 – that we may be held accountable. – And that should answer your #28.

  27. For me, Mormon Matters has been a good place to be for about the last year. Lately, however, it seems as though we’ve traded Ray for Sxark. That’s not a good trade for MM. Checking out for a while.

  28. “The inference of D&C 8:3 – is to, partly show, a quality required to flatten mountains and turn water into mud, – to do the impossible – as Moses did when the Red Sea was parted and the chidren of Israel crossed on dry land. – a feat that science cannot explain.”

    You might be interested in James Talmage’s interpretation of the nature of miracles, as set forth in “Jesus The Christ.”. He argues that natural law is immutable and cannot be overriden, even by deity. Therefore, miracles are merely the application of natural law in a way that is not yet understood by science or human understanding. But I think the notion that science cannot explain the parting of the red sea is the opposite of what Talmage would argue. If it really happened, then science can absolutely explain it (according to Talmage), although it may not be advanced enough yet to do so.

  29. Holden, don’t go. The answer is to post more comments and raise the level of the dialogue. It seems like recently the majority of threads devolve into an argument between me, Sxark, Dexter and Awesome Dave. Even I’m sick of my comments, but there’s a vacuum lately for some reason, and I must have more time on my hands than most. If you post more, I promise to post less.

  30. I think this is irrelevant, sxark. Science is the learning of natural law, and is, I think, as immutable as those laws themselves. Many scientific principles have been discovered without the accompaniment of god or religion, and they are nonetheless true and absolute. Obviously the findings of science may not be acknowledged as anything to do with god in many cases, which you would no doubt disagree with. But again, that has little bearing on the objective truthfulness of those principles.

  31. brjones:

    In the debate of science vs. religion, I have maintained that science is but a mere tool of religion. That may not be the case today, but it certainly will be tomorrow – during the Millenium.

    As for today, – we remain responsible to teach our children those principles of the Gospel, in a manner, in which we will not be held accountable. – which, again, brings up the questions at the end of #5. – Only one of which, has been addressed.

  32. Dexter:

    I put forth a position – and defend it – against all who attack or question the position put forth. I don’t believe I have expressed anger at anyone.

    However, there may have been times when I could have been more humble – consider it a weakness, – that I should work on.

  33. But you are missing the point. I am telling you the church had every opportunity to say that the church believes the bible to be literally true. The church chose not to label itself in that way. Your position seems to be that the bible is literally true and anyone who says otherwise is apostate. From the church’s own statement, perhaps parts of the bible are not literally true and that is ok. Im just saying that MAYBE even the prophet doesn’t believe it is literally true and maybe that is helpful information to people. Of course, that doesn’t mean the church is lost or anything. Just thought you might want to know for when your kids ask you about it bc you seemed to be saying earlier that it is shameful for a parent to teach that the bible is not literally true. Just maybe. Just a helpful sharing of information. That is all.

  34. Dexter:

    Your talking in circles again. Your “point” was answered very well in #31. One can see that even the article you brought up in #30 does not support the narrow definition you may wish the Church to address.

    The Church knows that there are 100+ errors in the Bible. The Church has stated, in it’s 8th Article of Faith, what it believes about the Bible.

    I do not believe the Church will refute D&C 8:3 – which, even you can infer, – supports the truthfullness of all things in the LDS standard works, that science says today – as being impossible.

    Your interpretation of my position: “…that it is shameful for a parent to teach that the Bible is not literally true.” – is placing me in a position of judgement – When, all that I infer, is that parents run the risk of being accountable for their children – as I state at the end of #5.

    These concepts will take time to ponder. I feel good about my position and the examples used – and I’ll sleep on it. Good nite. – Tomorrow – is another day.

  35. For what it’s worth, the following excerpt is from an official LDS Church press release dated January 25, 2008. The article discusses various philosophical and religious schools of thought with respect to the bible as follows:

    “There is a broad range of approaches within the vast mosaic of biblical interpretation. For example, biblical inerrancy maintains that the Bible is without error and contradiction; biblical infallibility holds that the Bible is free from errors regarding faith and practice but not necessarily science or history; biblical literalism requires a literal interpretation of events and teachings in the Bible and generally discounts allegory and metaphor; and the “Bible as literature” educational approach extols the literary qualities of the Bible but disregards its miraculous elements.”

    The next line of the article reads:

    “The Church does not strictly subscribe to any of these interpretive approaches.”

    This does not mean that your interpretation is wrong, sxark, but it pretty clearly indicates that you are wrong to ascribe your interpretation to the church, as the church has explicitly disclaimed such an exclusive interpretation of the bible.

    The entire piece can be found here:


  36. Due to living in England the debate moves on a great deal while I sleep. So I know it is late so I will try as best i can.

    #18 – Conceived in sin is actually a quote from that verse of scripture. ‘Inasmuch as thy children are conceived in sin, even so when they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts’. I take it to mean that we are born into a sinful world by default and that we will adopt sinful behaviours or thoughts before we are even aware of what we are doing. We are not tainted with original sin, but Adam’s transgression provides a context that makes it impossible not to sin at least once.

    On the ongoing debate about how we approach our children. I don’t accept the scriptures as literally true in all instances. However, I am not sure that i find that a significant reason not to consider them as literal when I read them. Therefore when I teach the scriptures to people, even my children when they become old enough to understand them, I will share them in a light that probably reflects a literal interpretation. I believe that providing moral stories is of value to young people. I believe that when they raise questions of doubt then those discussions can be had. Moreover, I think it is unrealistic and impractical to try and give our children all the information because then their agency is complete. None of us can do that. Moreover, it misses the point that some kids just won’t care. I remember Blake Ostler talking about his daughter coming home one day and saying I am leaving the church because I have been lied to, he asked about what, she listed some reasons. he replied that he had taught her those things in FHE at various different stages. I think that is fairly typical.

  37. A good example of “non-literal” is the representation of the creation found in the OT and PoGP. Many of the prophets have made statements (do your own research) related to the fact the multiple steps in the creative process are not to be taken “literally” (ie woman created from the excision of a rib and cloning another fully developed being). One concept is that both A/E were born and raised on other spheres and then transplanted into the garden. Christ used allegory to protect those who having eyes “don’t see” from being condemned by not harkening to his teachings. The deeper one delves into the mysteries, one must have “spiritual” not “literal” receptors engaged. The admonition from the GA on such discussions is that only authorized servants have the authority to teach and the musings of others has the power to discourage rather than to convince to salvation. We should clearly be careful of what we assert to be real vs. our own speculation.

  38. “One concept is that both A/E were born and raised on other spheres and then transplanted into the garden.”

    I thought the movie “Knowing” seemed inspired.

  39. #11 – Rico, I understand your position more fully now, However I would argue that there is little scriptural evidence. we are all aware of the O/T accounts of punishment these events are akin to Brigham’s teachings on the Blood Atonement, In my understanding there is no reference to an individuals past upbringing, Christ rebuked those who believed the false teaching of there ancestors, cast those out of the temple, taught parables of those being cast out due to not wearing the wedding garment, even though they were only invited as a fill in and given little notice, in the parable of the talents the one that buried his talent was cast out and striped of what his talent, no reference was made to his previous understanding of the banking industry but chose to reject it.

    God is not unjust in this, we are all given differing challenges however “God can’t look upon sin with the least degree of allowance” the Spirit of Christ is given to all men to sufficiently judge Good from Evil, that is the result of the fall a knowledge of good and evil. life is a test to see if we will do ALL THE things that God has commanded. this leaves no room for our conduct to be diminished, and in fact Satan would want us to justify away our sinful behaviour. Our previous history will not negate our need to accept Christ as our savior – it is though Christ only that our sins can be forgiven – I agree that children are born into sin “original sin” but Christ’s Atonement has already covered that. From what I gather from Spencer W Kimball’s Miracle of Forgiveness each and every sin must be repented of eventually this could be a very painful and personal process.

    My Point is; Our past might provide influence on our decisions but in the Lords eyes we are fully accountable, sin is sin and must be repented of none the less.

  40. RE – The Debate about how we rear our children; In Erikson’s Stages of Development he specks of points of “Crisis” these are valuables stages of development it is natural and healthy for children to hold even an unrealistic idealistic view of the world this brings feelings of security, and adherence to authority (important when you teach that if you jump off there you will die). according to Erikson at the fifth stage of development titled Fidelity this is normally the adolescent period here the individual begins the building blocks for the “who am I” they begin to battle between an attitude of self – certainty and self doubt, IMO: at this stage it is perhaps essential to have some absolutes ie the existence of God, value of certain Morals, the ability to find Truth and reason. in the eighth stage Erikson theories “Integrity versus Despair” he proposes that this happens in later life, At this eighth stage individuals review what they have created and are either content and satisfied at what they have achieved or have pangs despair at knowing they could have done more in there mortality. My point is that we each experience these stages differently and at different points in our development my supposed grain of wisdom might not be so wise to offer someone else. ie I know JS is a Prophet of God, I also know he lied at times, If I learnt he Lied before I knew he was a Prophet I might be in a very different position in life now.

  41. Brjones, thanks for repasting the article I already posted.

    Sxark, do you realize that you alienate believers and non-believers alike?

    You fail to understand and you fail to explain yourself in a coherent way. It seems to me that when you can’t understand what someone is saying, you accuse them of talking in circles. Your inability to comprehend does not mean the incomprehensible poster is talking in circles. And by the way, if you do want to accuse one of that, you should say, “you’re talking in circles” instead of “your talking in circles.”

    Did you ever stop to think that maybe translated correctly does not mean literal? The original authors may have known it was not literal. It could still be translated correctly without meaning that the stories in it are literal. Job doesn’t have to be literally true for it to have meaning. And it could have been translated from the original language into English perfectly without making it literally true.

  42. To all:

    As I stated in #5 – The issue I brought up is an uncomfortable one because many on the internet are such ‘free thinkers’.
    And as an example of literacy of the Bible, I used the Exodus story – because it appears to be a favorite for those not to believe in.

    And Joshua 4: 22,23,24 and D&c 8:3 – will have to be adjusted for those who do not take a literal approach to Exodus. – As well as all the other scriptures that reference the Red Sea crossing on dry land.

    So far, none of you has made a comment on D&C 8:3 – which I infer, [#42] That this scripture explains a great deal concerning the literacy of stories contained in the LDS standard works. [also,look at the beauty of Joshua 4:22,23,24]

    Therefore, the question remains: If one deviates from a literal approach to ‘Bible stories’ – are they held accountable for their children’s actions? To what degree?

    I still believe that eveyrone comes to their ‘forks in the road’ and then, they will have a 50/50 chance to make the right decision concerning their beliefs – despite the misguidance/teachings of their parents.

    You really hurt my feelings, Dexter, when you claim that I alienate believers and non-believers alike. Will you go further and state that I might be held accountable for those I alienate?

  43. Sxark #50 – Your changing this into a discussion about the literacy of the bible. Not every Mormon feels the bible is a literal translation, like you. I think this is what Dexter is saying when he said you “alienate believers and non-believers alike”.

    The question is whether or not teaching children only positive things about the church, versus a complete picture will bring condemnation on our heads (and vice versa).

    As a side note, I find it hard to believe you have truly had your feelings hurt when you just said in post #26: “I know that I’m coming across a little “preachy” and “holier than thou”. – But so what?”

  44. Awesome Dave:

    Its true.- my feelings were not hurt – but Dexter did give me complexes by pointing out my typo errors.

    I don’t think I was changing the discussion, as you suggest, – I was just adding to it – and it appears, I have touched a soft nerve in some. – and, as you brought up in #51, – if “Not every Mormon feels the Bible is a literal translation…” then does this position have an impact on the accountability of parents – as suggested in the preamble of this post?

    No one has Commented on D&C 8:3. Why is this? This label of “alienating believers and non-believers alike” is just a smoke screen for those who do not want to confront issues that they believe in – like Bible stories are just false.

    How is it, that these people will believe when science says that the entire Earth was covered with at least 1 mile of ice – but they cannot believe the Bible, which states the entire Earth was covered with [probably alot less than 1 mile] of water?

    However, I maintain in #50, that these type of unbelieving parents are ‘off the hook’ – because everyone will come to that fork in the road where they will have a 50/50 chance to break away and become 100% accountable for their actions.

  45. Sxark #52 – you said “does this position have an impact on the accountability of parents?” That depends on whether or not the parent believes they are wrong in not taking the bible literally. Lets face it, you are pretty far to the right in your beliefs, which not everyone hear is. My suggestion is to speak in more general terms (hell, I’m an atheist, but I was raised mormon and I know the doctrine).

    As for D & C 8:3, what type of comment are you looking for? It sounds to me like your saying it proves we should take the red sea parting literally. Which, again, is off topic. But since it’s obviously something you want to discuss, what do you think will happen to parents that teach their daughters it is ok to speak in church and ask questions when 1 Cor 14:34 clearly states: “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.”

  46. Awesome Dave:

    It is obvious that D&C 8:3 goes beyond The parting of the Red Sea and can explain a great many Bible stories.

    I don’t have a good answer for 1 Cor.14:34. It is obvious that the living Prophet of the LDS Church does not have a problem with women speaking in Churches, either do I.

    If your an Atheist, as you claim, then ‘accountability’ as described in the preamble should mean nothing to you. You say you were raised Mormon and you know the Doctrine. But of what value is that, if the Spirit is not with you?

  47. Sxark, so the spirit is not with Awesome Dave for being an atheist. But you think it is with you for being an arrogant ass? I don’t think so my friend.

  48. No one likes your question, or they would have answered it. And any attempt anyone has made to answer it, you just dismiss. So come up with a better question, or let it go.

  49. The questions stand as they are. They are good – relevant questions, and as stated in #5, uncomfortable for some to answer.

    But as uncomfortable as they may be, – I maintain that it really doesn’t matter, for everyone will come to that ‘fork in the road’ where they will have a 50/50 chance to break away – and become 100% accountable themselves. – So they don’t have to blame their parents, anymore.

    However, – what will happen to the parents, who hold such incorrect viewpoints? I gather that there are some here who say: “Hey…wait a minute MY viewpoints aren’t incorrect – who does this ‘sxark’ think he is – making such an allegation?”

    Well…then give an honest explanation of D&C 8:3, as referenced in #50,#29, and #31.

  50. A swift right by sxark, who called Awesome Dave out for atheism, and then WHAM! out of center field, Dexter steals the game, calling sxark an arrogant ass! Its going… going….

    Hold on, I need to get the popcorn…

  51. #47 – Thanks for your response. I believe there is scriptural support, but it may be wrongly interpreted. I should be clear that what I am proposing is not intended to provide people with a ‘I could not help it argument’, although that may be one downside to it; but it is intended to help us think carefully about judging others and also about thinking carefully about what we believe is right. As I read about those who ‘die without the law’ and how they will be judged, I believe the same is true for those in the Church. It seems to me that the judgment is based on a continuum of accountability that is measured by the degree of light and knowledge we have. My point is that where we start on this continuum and how we move about on it are determined in part by others and how we respond to them. Further I would disgaree with President Kimball’s idea about repenting for every individual sin. I believe repentance is about being in a covenant; it is an attitude rather than a specific action. But that is definately a discussion for another time.

  52. I have found it more difficult to provide another oposing argument without falling into rhetoric, as I have agreed with you since the beginning but I was looking to exercise my debating skills.

    The Milgram Experiment shows the lengths that some will go due to social influences, I Completely agree that we are influenced by those around us, and I like the personal application that you give as to our potential to have a positive effect on others ( Especially the entire article not mentioning the cliché word “EXAMPLE”.

    ” it is an attitude rather than a specific action” I agree that this is worth it’s own post, but the difficulty is that many cultures including the Mormon culture focus strongly on “what you do” rather than what you become, someone highlighted to me that this is a relatively modern in the UK since a stronger focus on the Temple.

  53. I like your theory on the Continuum of Accountability, as I said earlier I believe there is some substance to this. How would this theory relate to those who become completely disaffected and leave the church. (SP’s or BP’s who according to the majority of opinion “should know better” and have “backtracked”. once we have come to a certain knowledge are we accountable from that point on, or does this continuum track with each individual decision and social influence. ie, former alcoholic going to a pub, or looking at anti – literature ?

  54. I appreciate your questions and thoughts and I hope that I do not come across as dismissing them. You raise valid points. Relating it those who become disaffected (esp. those who have ‘important’ Church callings) and leave the Church is a personal issue for me and one that I had not previously considered in this context. So I will try and provide a brief and initial response here…

    I should re-affirm at the outset that I do think we are individually accountable and that we cannot pass the blame onto others but in order to consider your question from this perspective. There are some issues that are morally repugnant to a culture, like polyandry or magic, that might be so deeply ingrained that when we encounter them we cannot withstand the effect that has. I am sure that if this is the case that this will be fcatored into a person’s accountability. They grew up with those values and they may well be difficult to overcome. While those who do leave the Church for other reasons, like ‘sin’, may live in certain contexts that increase the likelihood of sin. Perhaps a women is in an abusive and love-less marriage when she has an affair. I am not saying that these things do not ahve any accountability for the individual decision I am merely trying to show that we are not always fully aware of why we do certain things and cannot perceive the influence that certain external factors may have on us; and to that extent cannot be held fully accountable. Although I believe some are more accountable than others, and can only even get close to assessing my own and should therefore only be concerned about that. It is for this reason tha I believe that a Bishop’s job is not to judge the ‘sinner’ but to help them judge themselves etc…

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