Thursday, February 11, 2016

Evolved Atonement

A Mind's Resting Place

It has been two and a half years since I wrote my most viewed personal post (almost 900 views as of today), Thermodynamics and Theories of Atonement. I want to write an update. I said then that each theory could be compared to an approximation of the reality of the atonement--some better, some worse, but many useful in their proper context. I am now ready to share my approximation of atonement. It is informed by my life of Mormonism. It is informed by my life of science. It is informed by my life in a family and a community. It is informed by chance and meaningful acquaintanceships, like the Indian Christian I met on a train into Baltimore who told me the saying, a sorrow shared is half the sorrow, a joy shared is twice the joy. It is informed by friendships and critiques that I have cultivated as I explored the meaning and hope of God and Goddesshood over the last three years. It is informed by Martin Buber, C. Terry Warner, Laura Buchak, Lee Smolin, Roberto Mangabeira Unger, Janna Levin, Alvin Plantinga, Nick Bostrom, Robin Hanson, Lincoln Cannon, and other thoughtful authors. It is informed by ideas of evolution, emergentism, technological optimism, and cosmology. Maybe I have arrived here by misunderstanding some or all of what these many people have written, maybe I have misunderstood my life and relationships, yet it is an understanding I have settled into--that gives me peace--that makes me desire to be more, and to live and love deeply. Maybe I can accept atonement. Maybe you will let me join you.

What Nature Requires

There is a particular class of possible universes I hope we live in. It is not the only possible class, but it is the only class that feels to me both plausible and hopeful. It requires that Gods:
  • create worlds
  • create children who create worlds
  • maximize creative rates
  • perpetually learn and explore
  • work with diverse communities of beings
  • eliminate behaviors that inhibit maximal creation including
    • destruction of creative potential
    • inefficient use of resources
These traits are very similar to traits that make a biological species successful, but something happens when you begin to extrapolate human potential into the vast reaches of space and time. Things that have small or local consequences begin to have global or universal consequences. Two tribes can fight a war. Two nuclear powers had better not. Two galactic civilizations with automated, self-reproducing weapons of mass destruction?

The Solution

How do Gods and Goddesses raise children who will meet all these criteria? Children who will create, who will explore, who will develop a diversity of knowledge and skills, who will get along with each other despite the diversity of knowledge, ability, needs and desires, who will not destroy one another or one another's creation, but will use the resources available to maximize creation?

These Gods and Goddesses will hurt one another. They will require resources that another desires, and have things required of them that they do not desire. There is no other way. They will know good and evil, but learn to choose the good. Not because it is required to exist, but because it is required to be a community of effective creators. It is required to keep mediocrity, selfishness, or cavalier unconcern from overrunning the cosmos. It is required to invite as much unorganized matter as possible into the fulfilling realms of creation, creativity, and love.


What is atonement? Thank you, English, for giving me such an inspiring word for it. It is a condition of being one with another. It is going forward in covenant relationships, whether formal or unspoken, where our actions show us committed to the requirements of belonging to the community of Gods. It is a forward looking process, not a backward looking correction of harm and errors restoring us and the cosmos to some perfect state. There is no perfect state of Godhood. No eternal freedom from pain or sorrow. Godhood is a process, and remember that ours is a God who weeps--who feels the pain of his creatures even while he dwells in peace and glory. Atonement is a state of eternal compromise, continually striving to lift up all of creation, including yourself and the other Gods.

Is there any part of this atonement that requires forgiveness of sins? Certainly, but as much for the forgiver as for the forgiven. It isn't possible to be an effective creator while you desire to destroy or otherwise limit another who could help with creation. Is there any part of this atonement that is about being freed from Satan? Maybe. While Lucifer's premortal plan would have made us all one, it would have made us one in sameness, without the diversity needed for effective creation. We must be free of that. We must be free of habits, patterns, and actions that harm or limit us and others. If this is Satan's realm, then this atonement is about being free from Satan. Is the moral influence of Jesus's sacrifice part of this atonement? Clearly. He entered a life--and death--long relationship with the poor, the outcast, the sinner, and all who wanted to follow him in ushering in the kingdom of heaven. He resisted oppression and shared new truths. Is this atonement about meeting the demands of justice? Not in some cosmic truth sense, no. But it is about treating one another justly as we move into eternity together. Is it about restoring something past? Perhaps, but that is more the purpose of resurrection and similar processes. While resurrection and restoration are not atonement, they enable greater atonement through allowing us to connect with other Gods through time and space.

And lastly, is this atonement magical? Was Jesus's suffering for us truly unique and necessary? It almost seems there could be this atonement without it. But no. Jesus had to atone with every being in the cosmos. He had to know their pain so he could lift them up, working together into a future of love and creation. That's magic. And it's magic we can do, too.

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