Monday, November 10, 2014

Alma 42: The Plan of Coercion

Alma has one more chapter of advice to give to his captive audience.

This Oughta Be Good
He begins:
And now, my son, I perceive there is somewhat more which doth worry your mind, which ye cannot understandwhich is concerning the justice of God in the punishment of the sinner; for ye do try to suppose that it is injustice that the sinner should be consigned to a state of misery.
To his credit, Alma finally manages to address an crucial topic (instead of the relatively unimportant minutiae of the Spirit World and the resurrection).  But he seems to be saying here that he's about to demonstrate how God casting sinners down to eternal misery is supposed to be acceptable.

I, for one, am paying very close attention to this explanation, because it covers one of the more barbaric aspects of the Mormon God (or, I should say, the original Book of Mormon God, before Joseph Smith came up with the various degrees of glory) and I'm quite interested to see how this kind of behavior is justified, especially for a benevolent, perfected being.

Reading ahead, I can see that Alma is about to disappoint me in a most monumental fashion.

So Much for Article of Faith Number Two
At several different points in this chapter, Alma pretty much tosses the later Second Article of Faith ("We believe that men will be punished for their own sins and not for Adam's transgression") out the window.  For example, verse 4:
And thus we see, that there was a time granted unto man to repent, yea, a probationary time, a time to repent and serve God.
Whoa.  No man other than Adam had actually done anything to repent of yet.  But God was so disappointed with Adam that you and I and everybody else was born into a system in which we're already assumed to be in debt.  We were born to repent.  I mean, obviously we'd have to sin first, but after what Adam did, that was a foregone conclusion in God's mind.  So much for not being punished for Adam's transgression.  Verse 12 drives home the point:
And now, there was no means to reclaim men from this fallen state, which man had brought upon himself because of his own disobedience;
Alma (on God's behalf) is extrapolating Adam's behavior to include the entirety of the human race.  We didn't bring this fallen state upon ourselves because of our own disobedience.  Only Adam did.  But again, if we weren't being punished for Adam's mistakes, why are we under the onus of repenting for a fallen state?

Primal Wickedness is a State Ripe for Preparation
Verse 10 explains the purpose of our mortal lives following the fall of Adam:
Therefore, as they had become carnal, sensual, and devilish, by nature, this probationary state became a state for them to prepare; it became a preparatory state.
So, because some jerk ate a piece of forbidden fruit and made us evil, it's now our responsibility to prepare ourselves to become perfect.  I don't know that being "carnal, sensual, and devilish, by nature" constitutes ideal conditions for that kind of preparation.  Innately wicked and cut off from the presence of he whose guiding had could do the most good, we're hopeless.

It's Justice Because I Just Called It Justice...Also, God.
Remember how Alma set out to demonstrate to Corianton how God condemning billions of people to a state of endless misery was actually an act of justice?  Well, here's a bunch of drivel about the balance between justice and mercy, which sadly constitutes the crux of his argument:
Therefore, according to justice, the plan of redemption could not be brought about, only on conditions of repentance of men in this probationary state, yea, this preparatory state; for except it were for these conditions, mercy could not take effect except it should destroy the work of justice.  Now the work of justice could not be destroyed; if so, God would cease to be God.
And thus we see that all mankind were fallen, and they were in the grasp of justice; yea, the justice of God, which consigned them forever to be cut off from his presence. 
So much is wrong with this line of reasoning.

First, Alma creates an arbitrary, faceless universal constant called "justice" and indicates that God, who's supposed to be all-powerful and loving, is forced to work inside of it.  But then he calls it "the justice of God," which makes it sound like something that God created rather than a rule he can't bend.  Is justice a construct of God or a constraint for God?  If it's a constraint, why is he not powerful enough to discard it?  If it's a construct, why is he so cruel as to think his children deserve eternal punishment, especially considering what he's put them through?

Second, if mercy is truly merciful, it shouldn't matter whether or not it destroys the work of justice.  The whole point of mercy is that it's offered despite the usual requirements of the situation.  If the mercy is conditional, it's not very merciful and it's definitely not the kind of behavior you should expect from an enlightened, loving god.

Third, Alma was trying to show that God's plan was just.  It sounds like he's trying to say that salvation is merciful and damnation is just.  But that doesn't explain why Corianton is supposed to believe that damnation is just.  If the kid doesn't believe it's right for God to consign some of his children to be eternally cut off from his presence, simply telling him, "it's the justice of God" isn't going to change his mind on the issue.  It certainly hasn't changed mine.  Alma's blundering through a sloppy explanation of the how, but he hasn't done much to allay his son's concerns about the why.

Corianton is probably sitting through this waiting for his dad to take a breath so that he can say, "Okay...and?"

Every Punishment is the ULTIMATE PUNISHMENT
Verse 16, quite simply, boggles my mind:
Now, repentance could not come unto men except there were a punishment, which also was eternal as the life of the soul should be, affixed opposite to the plan of happiness, which was as eternal also as the life of the soul.
The way I'm reading it, this is teaching two things.  First, that you can't repent unless a punishment for your crime exists.  And, second, the punishment should be eternal because that's how long a soul lasts and that's how long a reward for good works lasts.  To which I say, what the hell?

You can't repent of anything unless there's an eternal punishment?  Why should every punishment be eternal?  That's kind of saying that every sin is the worst possible sin.  When you get to Hell, the length of your sentence for breaking the Word of Wisdom will be identical to the sentence that the rapists and child molesters get:  forever.  How is that just?
I guess the point Alma is trying to make here is about balance.  There's a balance between justice and mercy.  And there's apparently a balance between the reward given to those who take advantage of the atonement and the punishment given to those who don't.  But still.  Eternity?  After a certain amount of torture, haven't you done your time for all that swearing and iced tea drinking and spaghetti strap wearing?

God Sells His Children Short
For being created in God's image, we sure don't get much credit.  Look at Alma reason his way through an explanation of our Father in Heaven's moral universe:
Now, how could a man repent except he should sin?  How could he sin if there was no law?  How could there be a law save there was a punishment?
How could a man repent except he should sin?  That's what I was saying earlier!  God's just assuming that we'll need to repent because Adam made us all look bad.  But Alma's kind of approaching the problem backwards.  Instead of saying, how can a man overcome his sin except he should repent, he's saying, how can he repent unless he sins?  Which is totally bizarre to me.
Now, there was a punishment affixed, and a just law given, which brought remorse of conscience unto man.
Oh, that's where remorse comes from?  Because when I do something bad, I don't think, "I'm so remorseful because I've broken the just law that God has given."  I think, "I hurt someone and I'm remorseful because that was a mean thing to do."  A lack of punishment doesn't preclude remorse.
Now, if there was no law givenif a man murdered he should diewould he be afraid he would die if he should murder?
And also, if there was no law given against sin men would not be afraid to sin.
Okay, this rationale works in the human legal system for two reasons.  One, because people are actually scum a lot of the time.  And two, because the laws and punishments are well-documented.  How many murderers are completely appalled that what they did was against the law?  How many don't realize that when you kill someone you run the risk of going to jail?  In contrast, though, God's punishment for murder is very poorly documented and a matter of debate.

Trying to create a fear of something that (thanks to Adam) we're naturally predisposed to do seems like a tactic that should be too barbaric and unsophisticated for an omniscient and loving Father in Heaven.
And if there was no law given, if men sinned what could justice do, or mercy either, for they would have no claim upon the creature?
Okay, maybe if there was no law, there could be no justice (in a criminal sense).  But mercy can exist in a legal vacuum.  You don't need laws to extend mercy.  Mercy could still have a perfectly valid "claim" upon "the creature."  And it's almost a moot point, considering that the "law" is sparingly "given" and most of those living under it have no clue.

God is One Sick Bastard
Verse 26 is supposed to be celebrating God, but it kind of makes him look bad:
And thus God bringeth about his great and eternal purposes, which were prepared from the foundation of the world.  And thus cometh about the salvation and the redemption of men, and also their destruction or misery.
So God's great and eternal purposes include sticking it to the jerks that didn't follow the plan that he erased their memory of.  Because all of this, as Alma says, was planned from the beginning.  So praise God for putting us into a situation in which the majority of us are going to fail and then suffer eternally for it.  Lucifer's plan, in case anyone's wondering, was more merciful.

Looks like we need to update Moses 1:39 to read:  "For behold, this is my work and my gloryto bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man, as well as their destruction and misery."

Participation Optional, Consequences Required
But speaking of us being thrust into a system that will doom many of us, verse 27 presents a kind of disingenuous depiction of that scenario:
Therefore, O my son, whosoever will may come and partake of the waters of life freely; and whosoever will not come the same is not compelled to come; but in the last day it shall be restored unto him according to his deeds. 
This makes it sound like God is issuing a cordial invitation to the Salvation Ball.  But even though it's apparently optional (because whosoever will not come is not compelled to come) the consequences are not optional.  If you don't want to play God's game, you still get to spend an eternity in misery.
There is no good way to opt out of this and there never has been.  Those who wanted to opt out before the plan actually went into action were cast out of Heaven with Lucifer.  If you didn't want to sign up for such a perilous endeavor, you could either suffer permanent punishment for it or go ahead with it anyway and still risk permanent punishment.

It's not "whosoever will come may come."  It's "whosoever hath a concern for self-preservation must come." God doesn't tolerate dissenters.

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