What Was Satan’s Plan?

There’s an article in this month’s Ensign that makes two interesting moves. (There are also a few really unpleasant aspects of this article, but that’s a topic for a different post.)

1. It suggests, following President Clark, that Satan’s plan may have actually been to permit people to do whatever they want without suffering any consequences for it. I first encountered this idea in this post and it very much resonated with me. (I believe Terryl Givens has also explored this theory, but I can’t put my finger on where at the moment.) This view of Satan’s plan solves a huge problem with the traditional Mormon interpretation (namely, that Satan’s plan was to force everyone to do right): why did Satan do a 180 on tactics between the premortal and mortal life? It makes more sense to me to see Satan’s perpetual message to be “do whatever you want–there’s no consequence” than to see him advocate for force in the premortal realm but choice on earth. However, I’ve been hesitant to broach this topic in church settings because, save the one President Clark quote, there wasn’t much by way of official teachings to point to in defense of the idea and, on the other hand, quite a bit advocating for the view that Satan’s plan was to force everyone to choose the right.

2. You’ll note the way that the author presents two possibilities for Satan’s plan without settling on one. I so wish there were more of this in Mormon discourse! Frankly, there is a lot that we simply don’t know and I think we sell ourselves short (and sometimes end up in a bind) when we advocate strongly for a position for which there is a reasonable alternative. I think it a grand thing indeed that this article models an approach to thinking about doctrine where we might say “This could be A or it could be B. We don’t know.”

68 comments for “What Was Satan’s Plan?

  1. I think the President Clark theory makes more sense. My own personal theory is sort of a hybrid of the two. I understand it not so much as Satan offering to save us in sin, but Satan offering to take away the agency that we had been given, so that we would not be accountable. Not that he would force us to choose right, but that he would take away our agency, including the understanding that God had given us between right and wrong so that even we chose wrong, sin would not be justly imputed to us. So we would no longer be “as the Gods, knowing good and evil,” but would be more like the elements, that just obey without consciousness, as per King Benjamin’s comments on the “dust of the earth.”

    This has a lot to do with my personal thought that the process of spirit birth, whatever that really means, was important because it made us capable of choice–that is, it gave us agency. So under this theory, Satan’s plan was basically to reverse the process of spirit birth and render us incapable of choice–not that we would be forced to choose, but that we simply wouldn’t be able to choose one way or the other, so we could not justly be held to sin.

    Of course, the problem with his proposal was that the whole point of the plan of salvation was to make a like God, and one of his chief characteristics is that he has the power to choose and to act. That is the thing that makes us his spirit children–that, like him, we have the power to choose and to act. We gained the power to choose when we became his spirit children (whatever that really means) and we gained the power to physically act on our choices when we were physically born, bringing us one step closer to him. But without the power to choose, we can’t really act, and can only be acted upon.

    But how cool that there is an Ensign article that recognizes doctrinal ambiguity.

  2. In addition to President Clark, there is a quote from Brigham Young in the Journal of Discourses where he pretty much explicitly states that Satan’s plan to destroy agency was to remove consequences for our actions. You will forgive me for not providing a direct quote or citation as I do not have them off the top of my head. I actually had no idea about President Clark’s statements on it. I’ve always argued for this point of view based on what Brigham Young said.

  3. I agree with JKC’s take. The way I boil it down is that under Satan’s plan, everybody would be saved (in the sense that nobody would have to suffer for their sins), but nobody would be exalted (because they would not have the critical god-like attribute of agency).

    On a different tangent, has it now become kosher again to acknowledge that there were two plans? The party line for many years was that there was only one. (See http://thefairestgem.com/speeches-and-talks-by-church-leaders/there-was-only-one-plan-in-heaven/ .)

  4. I tend to personally believe that Satan’s plan was simply not feasible. For us to reject it was not just a matter of difference in philosophy, but that we looked at and said, “dude, this can’t work.”

    But, I could be wrong.

  5. I think we have no better source than 2 Nephi 2, in which Lehi points this out (not in so many words). In v. 10, he begins to talk about the necessity of opposition. The pertinent points begin in v. 12, where he explains the results of what happens if there is no “compound in one”. He says, “Wherefore, it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation. Wherefore, this thing must needs destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God.” V. 13 directly applies the “Clark Theory”, “And if ye shall say there is not law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore all things must have vanished away.”

    There are a few ways to view this, but let’s set aside the main idea that if there aren’t “these things” there isn’t a God, so we don’t exist. The point I see ([and Korihor expands this with his moral relativism, “every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength; and whatsoever a man did was no crime.” (Alma 30:17)] is that Satan’s idea was to redefine the notion of sin. As President Clark said,he [Satan] wouldn’t necessarily “force” us to “choose right” but that he would take away our agency (or better yet, make it so whatever we do it is “no crime”.)

    Lehi goes on after v. 13 to talk about agency and Satan as well as Adam and Eve. This is one of the most important chapters in the Book of Mormon (or any other scripture for that matter). It is our agency that God celebrates for us most (even when we choose against His commandments and our best interests).

  6. last lemmming: I think my view of the “party line” still exists. There is only one plan THAT WORKS. Without it, we do not fulfill our destiny as God’s children.

  7. @ 6: That, and I doubt the heavenly counsel even seriously considered it. It would be like, two hundred years from now, someone looking back at the April 2015 Conference and concluding, from the presence of the “All Opposed” gang, that there were actually two slates of candidates up for the Church’s sustaining vote.

    The Plan of Salvation was not presented in competition with some other plan, and was not up for amendment: it was a take-it-or-leave-it deal, as future events in fact demonstrated.

  8. I’ve favored that interpretation as well. It’s Satan keeping us spiritual children forever–never able to be punished for our sins because we never are made accountable. We may glorify childhood, but the goal isn’t to remain children–the goal is rather to become adults and preserve the humility of childhood while leaving behind the childishness. Couldn’t the Savior have enacted this plan? Can’t he save whomever he chooses to save, as the atonement gives him all power to save? I think he could, except that it would mar that all-important agency–though we would still have full freedom to choose, those choices would teach us nothing about good and evil because there would be no potential eternal consequences of our choices. No deity taking a stand for goodness.

    This may be the Brigham Young quote on the topic that partridge110 was referring to:

    “…the voice went forth: ‘Who will redeem the earth, who will go forth and make the sacrifice for the earth and all things it contains?’ The eldest son said: ‘Here am I;’ but he did not say ‘send me.’ But the second one, which was ‘Lucifer, son of the morning,’ said, ‘Lord, here am I, send me, I will redeem every son and daughter of Adam and Eve that lives on the earth, or that ever goes on the earth.’ ‘But,’ says the Father, ‘that will not answer at all. I give each and every individual his agency; all must use that in order to gain exaltation in my kingdom; inasmuch as they have the power of choice they must exercise that power. They are my children; the attributes which you see in me are in my children and they must use their agency. If you undertake to save all, you must save them in unrighteousness and corruption.'” Brigham Young in JD 13:282

  9. I’ll be giving a presentation at MHA this year on the history of the various interpretations of Satan’s Plan and how they’ve been used in Mormon political rhetoric over time. If you’d like, I could send you a copy of the working paper!

  10. I always saw Lucifer’s plan as putting our spirits in chimpanzee bodies–or some sort of body that isn’t smart enough to be accountable.

  11. @the other Marie: That is what I was looking for. The quote continues from where you ended it: “You will be the man that will say to the thief on the cross, to the murderer on the gallows, and to him who has killed his father, mother, brothers, and sisters and little ones, ‘Now, if you will say, I repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, or on the Savior of the world, you shall be saved.’”

    Thank you!

  12. LastLemming: as far as I know there’s still a “one plan” understanding. I’ve heard Bednar preach several times about the “false doctrine of two plans.” There was one plan, and one question, “whom shall I send?” Two men volunteered and one guaranteed all would be saved with him and he would get all honor and glory. I think that’s how I remember Bednar’s talk at the time.

    p.s. not a fan of that ensign article

  13. If opposition and satan were necessary to god’s plan (because without opposition and satan the good would not exist according to 2 Nephi 2) then wouldn’t the smart move be to not play along?

  14. I generally (though I’ve never given it a lot of thought) believed that since Satan was “a liar from the beginning” (D&C 93:25), his plan was a lie. His real plan was to get God’s glory/power. What happened after that wasn’t important.

  15. The whole premise of the Ensign article is that Satan had a “plan.” The quotes from J. Reuben Clark explicitly refer to “Satan’s plan” (although those quotes are from 1949, while the “one plan” rhetoric appears to date from McConkie’s 1953 talk). And although the author makes a valiant effort to call it a “proposal” as often as possible, ultimately he has to characterize it as a “plan” to keep from tying himself in knots. Because there were, in fact, two plans. That one was unsolicited is irrelevant. That one did not lead to exaltation is also irrelevant. There were two competing plans, and one-third chose Satan’s plan. And it may have been entirely rational for them to do so. Considering that Hitler, Mao, and Stalin all numbered themselves among the two-thirds, and the one-third were likely worse than them, it is not hard to understand why they would forgo a zillion-to-one shot at exaltation in exchange for never having to suffer for the horrific sins they would have committed given the chance. Sounds like a plan to me. I really don’t get the reluctance to acknowledge that.

  16. Council in Heaven doesn’t really make sense–that is, as a literal narrative it doesn’t make sense.

    God has plan: God’s Plan.
    God’s Plan has prerequisite: participants must be able to make choices.
    Choices require opposition.
    (D’oh! Where do we get opposition?)
    Satan presents alternative plan.
    (Whew. Now we have Satan. God’s plan moves forward.)
    Everyone chooses sides and God’s Plan goes into effect.

    Now couldn’t Satan have gained a lot more traction in fouling up God’s Plan by keeping his mouth shut? That is, as I understand it, God’s Plan needs Satan, no? If Satan just refused to be Satan …

    In short, I don’t think we get too far dissecting Satan’s actual plan. As I see it (and I could certainly be wrong) Satan only enters the narrative to explain one thing: The Origin of Satan. That’s it. It doesn’t matter what he said. It just matters that he comes into existence.

  17. Glenstorm. I’d love to get a copy of your paper for myself. Julie has my information.

  18. The idea that “opposition in all things” requires Satan is false. Opposition exists and is available without him. He obviously had opposition before he rebelled.

  19. Martin (#24) –and really anyone else who want to chime in as well …

    Re: Plan of Salvation Without Satan

    I think Mormon theology requires Satan. But, I can probably be persuaded. I’m an open minded fellow.

    How would you write Mormon theology without Satan?

  20. Eric, I am interested in the links. If you repost them I will read them.

    If not, I just reread my comment and realized I may have completely changed the topic on this thread and that was not my intention. So, if better, please ignore my post and continue on with the thread. Sorry all.

  21. Oh yes. Two vs. One plan.

    The doctrine here is clearly explained in two key points:

    1. Everyone knows there were two plans.
    2. Nobody is allowed to say so.
    3. If anyone ever did claim there were two plans, refer to (1) and (2).

    Thanks to the recently introduced Doctrine of Unchanging Doctrine, I think we will retain such clarity for a long time to come.

  22. I didn’t think the article was about different plans, that was just a way to say that people who support Gay Marriage (I assume this is the moral issue in Utah) are being led by Satan. It very much defines the line between the obedient followers of God, and the wicked followers of Satan, by your attitude to Gay marriage

    I think the logic that allowing one party equal rights attacks the rights of everyone else is a uniquely US piece of logic, and seems like a way to convince the majority they are actually the victims here. And have God on your side of course. Is this the same logic that was used to support slavery, and every other civil rights effort in US history?

    I find it pretty offensive that it is in the Ensign, the official magazine of the church that goes to most of the English speaking world, much of which has already been sold out to the devil apparently. Have we just been told we can have either view as members of the Church?

  23. According to imaginary LDS historian Mae Derhup:

    “The controversy of the number of plans presented at the council in heaven was thought to be put to rest in the nineteen seventies, when correlation and official manuals finally put the number as one consistently. Splinter groups such as the Dual-planites, and the smaller group of Pi-ites (who believed the number of plans presented was not rational) faded away. Rumors that Bruce R. McConkie initially intended to list the second plan as the eigth deadly heresy cannot be substantiated.

    However in the nineteen eighties the doctrine of two plans resurfaced at rogue conferences and symposia as academics began to claim that the Single-Planners had misread scripture. The correlation committees, they claimed, with their background in business and law, had treated the Pearl of Great Price as the meeting minutes to the council in heaven. But it wasn’t written that way. The scriptures don’t say that Satan presented a plan; that doesn’t mean he didn’t have one.”

  24. I believe Satan’s plan consists, in part, of getting impressionable humans and ecclesiastical organizations to squander a portion of their finite time on earth trying to figure out whether or not he had a plan in the first place. Damn! This guy is good.

  25. Maybe satan’s plan was to make God act like satan. Opposition is necessary to god’s plan, satan knows this so he/she doesn’t play along … or maybe satan takes god’s position in promoting “righteousness” thereby forcing God to take the opposite position and act like the devil or satan. So, logically God is the devil?? Does this mean satan runs the church? Is this why people are leaving? Maybe satan’s plan is to create organized religion and keep the members in an infantile dependent state? So God is against the church because he wants us to use the brains he gave us?

  26. Which of these plans was supported in Saturday’s Warriors? That must be the only right and true one.

  27. Did Satan have a plan? Of course he did! He wasn’t just throwing out opposing ideas. Not only did he have a plan but he had an organized opposition. That’s why he and his followers were excommunicated – it was an organized opposition, not just ideas.

    How many other plans were there? We don’t know. There could have been other plans or other ideas that were discussed but nothing like that has been revealed.

    The contrast between those who followed Satan and those who followed Christ is not so black and white as many members are want to believe. It wasn’t strictly good verses bad. Many who followed Satan did so because they were deceived, not because they were bad. The same is true today. Some who followed Christ were bad but they were smart enough to pick the winning side.

    Agency does not just mean the freedom to act for ourselves which is how it’s usually and erroneously defined in the church. That’s only half of it. It also means to be accountable for our actions. These two parts are inseparable and the limiting or removal of either one will equally limit or remove the other.

    Satan’s plan included the destruction of agency and there are many ways, not just the one or two discussed here, that could have been accomplished. And these ideas can easily be introduced in Sunday School, Relief Society, or Priesthood meetings because they’re in the scriptures. Agency requires five elements – opposition, laws, temptation, freedom to choose, and capacity to choose. Remove any of those and bingo, no agency.

  28. 19, 34, even 36: you want to get into fun mysterious territory, how about this–what if “Satan” is merely a calling, the Adversary of the Book of Job, whose job is to create opposition and temptation as a counterpart to the Savior’s calling?

  29. The text in Moses never refers to what Satan did as a plan. The standard works do, however, refer to a plan of Satan. Consider D&C 10:22-23 which states that Satan’s plan is to “destroy the work of God,” “lead souls to destruction,” and to stir up people’s hearts to “anger against” the work of the restoration, and more specifically in 1829 when this revelation was given, the translation of the Book of Mormon. 2 Nephi 9:28 also refers to a plan of Satan, but doesn’t give specifics. In a 1972 conference talk, Harold B. Lee talked of people who “presumed to know no law but their own” as echoing the “plan of Satan.” The Ensign article is correct that people often misuse the term “Satan’s plan” to challenge any instance of perceived force. There is not enough information in the standard works to establish that Satan sought to use force as a means of saving people. “Destroying agency” could mean other things. Although, the article is critical of organizations that do use coercion, and I imagine that the author would be critical of any church policies that were clearly coercive. So force and coercion are still wrong, according to the author, even if Satan’s supposed plan was inclusive of a larger range of ungodly ideas.

    A side note as well. The article never mentions gay marriage, but merely criticizes “political activists who seek to limit religious freedom and compel society to accept sinful behavior.” For all we know, this could be a veiled criticism of LDS church leaders for acting as political activists in 2008 by seeking to push legislation that ended up temporarily limiting the religious freedoms of gay people to marry (freedom from the expectations and doctrines of religious organization being a key part of freedom of religion) thus forcing society to accept the sinful behavior of religious demagogues trying to impose their religious views on people via the state. Subtle guy. Perhaps Kelly, Dehlin, and others should have taken notes from him.

  30. Rockwell (#32): Very, very funny.

    Bro. Jones (#38):

    Interesting thought, but I don’t think Satan-as-a-calling has the muscle that Mormon theology needs. Mormon theology needs a genuine, pathologically narcissistic, rebellious Satan.

    I actually took time to read the original article that Julie linked above.

    If you read what the author was really saying, he seemed less interested in really figuring out “plans” and more interested in associating ideas and groups with badness. The author was desperate to establish a foil for what he understood to be goodness. The rhetorical framework the author needed was a cosmic Good v. Evil, Right v. Wrong. Once the author set the table, it was small potatoes for him to align all kinds of “others” as being on Satan’s side. That’s a common rhetorical tool that you see throughout Mormon theology, throughout Mormon hymns. Mormons need a bad Satan.

  31. @Geof – Aus THANK YOU. I felt the same way about the article. It disturbed me profoundly. I wrote a letter to the Ensign about how inappropriate it was for a Church publication. It was combative, judgmental and was largely opinion. Most of it wasn’t even supported by scripture! It was a thinly veiled attack on members that support gay marriage. It would’ve fit as a nasty blog post rather than an article published in a Church magazine.

  32. Steve Smith – 39. Nah, the author still loves force as long as it suits his ideas.

    “However, the Lord also explained that power and influence can be used to encourage righteousness by loving persuasion, righteous reproof, and appropriate consequences (see D&C 121:41–43). This important clarification shows that carrying out proper Church and parental discipline, enforcing rules and standards in missions and Church schools, and establishing righteous laws in society are all practices approved of the Lord and not part of “Satan’s plan.” Honoring agency does not mean embracing anarchy.”

    The article reminds me of this quote from President Faust:

    “Let us not become so intense in our zeal to do good by winning arguments or by our pure intention in disputing doctrine that we go beyond good sense and manners, thereby promoting contention, or say and do imprudent things, invoke cynicism, or ridicule with flippancy. In this manner, our good motives become so misdirected that we lose friends and, even more serious, we come under the influence of the devil. I recently heard in a special place, ‘Your criticism may be worse than the conduct you are trying to correct.'”

    See what I did there? This ARTICLE is Satan’s Plan! haha!

  33. Martin (24), this has actually been a big question mark in most of the theologies of Satan. We want to say that Satan is necessary for the plan so that we have more than just options but also are templed. That is this reading of the plan really requires active enticement.

    On the other hand looking at our life when you look at a lot of the evil choices people make they tend to be tied to our bodily inclinations and the structures of society. This is why when societies become better off with jobs, running water, sanitation, reasonable housing and food, the level of violence and other horrible actions we’d call grievous sins decrease. This suggests that a lot of evil happens simply because people are pushed that direction by their environment somewhat independent of Satan.

    Note this isn’t to say that people in rich countries don’t have sins. We do and perhaps are even more responsible for them since we’re missing those environmental pushes towards violence and selfishness. It’s simply easier to be good today than even 100 years ago let alone 500. So we should distinguish between accountability and the acts themselves.

    My sense is that agency is always moral agency and is wrapped up with that notion of accountability. Perhaps it is that accountability that requires Satan in opposition to the enticements of the spirit.

    Yet, again, even recognizing the different environments it seems that the real problem is the “natural man” to use Paul or Benjamin’s imagery. Given the inclinations of our body, even if muted considerably by a more favorable environment, why is Satan needed? You’d think just overcoming our impulses would be enough. But apparently not. It’s not clear why.

  34. I quite disagree with Clark and Smith’s take on this. Rather than saying that Satan misunderstood agency, I would say that Satan misunderstood the purpose of God’s plan–the very same misunderstanding that some authors of scripture and some leaders of the Church continue to make today (which makes the council just as timely today as ever). Satan’s misunderstanding was the belief that the purpose of God’s plan was an end goal of rewards determined by whether or not persons obeyed a collection of divine commands. Based on this misunderstanding, Satan’s plan was to coerce persons to obey those commandments by emphasizing those rewards and punishments. Assuming Satan realized that agency was inherent and could not be removed, the best way to remove agency is to make* persons to do what you want them to do through a coersion by rewards and punishments. Satan (and the many who try to coerce through consequences) failed to realize that God’s plan was about learning to love others, something that has to come from the heart and is opposite of the selfishness of acts done to gain or avoid consequences.

    I like to use the following examples with my students of me coming upon my brother eating a pecan:
    1. In the first example, I ask him for a slice and tell him that I’ll give him $100 if he does or beat him with a stick if he doesn’t.
    2. In the second example I ask him for a slice but tell him there are no consequences if he does or doesn’t.
    In which example does my brother have more agency? Seems rather obvious to me that in the latter my brother is able to have more agency, is able to be more moral, and is better able to learn to love than in the former.

    *yes, a person could choose opposite of that which the greatest of rewards and cruelest of punishments might wish to encourage/threaten, but we would generally be less inclined to say that persons who follow the encouragement (such as a rape victim being threatened with death) are acting with agency.

  35. Loyd, I don’t think I gave an answer for what Satan’s purpose is. Rather I just noted that in terms of choosing evil it seems we’re able to explain much of that without Satan thus Satan’s purpose must be more than just enticement towards evil acts.

  36. God’s plan involves persons growing by choosing to love regardless of consequences.

    Satan’s plan involves persons being rewarded for choosing to follow a set of rules under the pressure of eternal rewards and punishments.

  37. Going off of Loyd Isao Ericson’s idea “Satan misunderstood the purpose of God’s plan” . . . brings me to 1 Nephi 2:12, referencing Laman and Lemuel: “And thus Laman and Lemuel, … did murmur … because they knew not the dealings of that God who had created them.” Even though this talk doesn’t make specific mention of Satan, I think Neil A. Maxwell’s treatment of Laman and Lemuel can be likened to Satan: https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1999/10/lessons-from-laman-and-lemuel?lang=eng

    The fundamental error (that we obviously want to avoid) is misunderstanding, or not knowing God and what his plan is for us.

  38. Whoops. Sorry Loyd. LOL.

    I should add that I think that you’re onto the right idea that we err when we see the test of choosing good or evil as merely choosing good or bad acts. It seems like it must be something more than that. It has to be choosing God or not. That’s the only way I think to make sense of this. It’s good as something more than merely good acts.

  39. Clark: “Given the inclinations of our body, even if muted considerably by a more favorable environment, why is Satan needed? You’d think just overcoming our impulses would be enough. But apparently not. It’s not clear why.”

    One thing that comes to (my) mind would be the adversary’s ability to deceive us with regard to moral justification. It isn’t just that we have a deficiency to overcome, but, also our reasoning that might cause us to doubt why we should overcome it in the first place.

  40. Right, but again I think our bodies do a pretty good job of that already. It’s not like our tendency to rationalize pre-existing biases applies only to ethical issues. Rather it seems a general comportment with our surroundings that our brain uses.

  41. It is also possible that Satan would just limit the choices. Rather than Baskin Robbins 31 Flavors, we only can choose between chocolate and vanilla. There is still a choice, but given limitations where we do not know there are other options, allows Satan to control us even as parents limit little children: “You can have this cereal or that one.”

  42. The way most people portray Satan’s plan is as some sort of Orwellian totalitarian government. Yet it would seem if he just wants people to choose good he could just design a biological system that only desires the good. People speaking on this subject often assume free will is absolute or something. Yet our biological system severely limits what we think about, our inclination and impulses and a lot more. It would be fairly easy were Satan in charge for him to design a biological system that does what he wanted. Limiting available external choices isn’t even necessary.

    So the debate about what the war in heaven was about (and it’s really not clear what it really was about other than Satan not wanting to follow God’s plan) seems to make a lot of assumptions that just aren’t warranted.

    The question of Satan’s plan is also wrapped up with questions of God’s plan. It’s fine to say that we came here to be tested and to develop in a way we couldn’t in God’s presence. Yet why does it take this particular form? Why do we, in the west, live in nations where it’s so easy to be ethical? Why did people in the 19th century live in a civilization where slavery was by and large seen as OK? Why is our biology the way it is with apparently quite a lot of randomness in its development? (I often joke that Satan’s plan was simply to ensure a designed body rather than an evolved one) Effectively the question of God’s plan and Satan’s plan is, for Mormons, really the question of what do we experience these particular kinds of evil?

  43. Here is a link to an article in Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture that discusses this issue in some depth. The section entitled “The Original Lie” focuses on issues Julie raises. The article cites a book by Greg Wright and an Article by Terryl Givens and a number of Book of Mormon figures: Nephi, Nehor, Samuel the Lamanite. It also notes that what Julie takes to be a new idea was prominently discussed by W.W. Phelps in the Nauvoo days.


  44. “what Julie takes to be a new idea” — I don’t consider Pres. Clark “new”!

  45. Who is this Satan everybody is talking about?

    JK. Here’s something to think about. I’ve pulled together an estimate of earth’s population based on Mormon assumptions and some statistics from two reputable research institutes. My VERY conservative estimate puts earth’s total population between being booted out of the Garden and the end of the Millennium at over 200 billion. If we use the common Mormon assumption that 1/3 of the hosts of heaven were cast down to earth to tempt the rest of us, that is over 100 billion tempters. That means each of us today has over 10 of Satan’s lackeys whispering to us. Maybe they take shifts, each tempting for a couple of hours, then running off to do their laundry or go grocery shopping or whatever evil spirits do in their spare time.

    Sometimes Mormon theology doesn’t make much sense when looked at mathematically.

    And imagine Satan trying to organize and motivate his massive evil army. Remember, these are spirits who were cast out because they were disobedient. You really think they are going to obey Satan and follow him like a bunch of robots? If there is such a group of evil spirits, my guess is that they live in self-imposed chaos. These are not armies of highly disciplined Nazi goose-steppers.

  46. Can one still be Mormon and not believe in Satan? (To believe that Satan is simply the absence of good or God.) Can one still be Mormon and believe the “War in Heaven” is an allegory or a fable? Does the reality of Satan or the “War in Heaven” really matter? I don’t think either affect my life one bit.

  47. Eric Nelson (#57): Thanks for the links, though I don’t think they really went to my question. The heart of my question is whether Mormon theology falls apart with an apathetic Satan. You know, if instead of tempting he sat around eating generic Cheeto Puffs and watching “Law and Order” reruns. Maybe on Fridays he and his minions line dance. If someone had to rewrite the narrative with a lazy Satan, what would it look like?

    rogerdhansen (#61):

    “Can one still be Mormon and not believe in Satan?”

    Probably. But brace yourself. Awhile back in Sunday School we were discussing Jesus’ healing of the demon possessed boy. I raised my hand and said something benign about Jesus and loving those with mental illness. Woo doggy. Hands shot up all over the place with all manner of thoughts about demons possessing bodies and Satan’s lust for flesh. I sheepishly looked at my wife. “What just happened?”

    Another thought … what are you going to do when you sing the war-with-Satan-and-his-minions songs? There is a metaphor deep within our Mormon psyche: the faith as battle metaphor. I bet this next week you’ll sing a hymn in sacrament meeting linking faith to violence against Satan and his minions. It’s everywhere once you start looking for it. If you don’t believe in Satan, …

  48. Charles Harrell’s book “This Is My Doctrine” has a very clear explanation on Satan’s plan and how it evolved in Mormon theology over time.

  49. “I like to use the following examples with my students of me coming upon my brother eating a pecan:
    1. In the first example, I ask him for a slice and tell him that I’ll give him $100 if he does or beat him with a stick if he doesn’t.
    2. In the second example I ask him for a slice but tell him there are no consequences if he does or doesn’t.
    In which example does my brother have more agency? Seems rather obvious to me that in the latter my brother is able to have more agency, is able to be more moral, and is better able to learn to love than in the former.”

    It seems rather obvious to me that both examples reduce or even eliminate agency. Your second example, where magically there are no consequences at all, manages to eliminate agency even more comprehensively then the first.

  50. It reduces moral agency with regards to the question itself merely because there now are no moral consequences. I think this is where moral agency and free will get conflated by many. As I read it the issue is choice between two choices with moral consequences and a kind of moral attraction for us. But I recognize not everyone sees it that way.

  51. This plan vs that plan. Did it have to do with our agency or did it thwart the very essence of the need for a “Savior”. I don’t see a lot of merit in challenging the discourses of what Lucifer’s plan was or wasn’t. He was making a play of the very Throne of God.
    Did you catch that. He wanted a short-cut and to be placed where Elohim was sitting. Lucifer wanted to circumvent the “plan” of Eternal Life — to go from one Exaltation to Exaltation. He wanted to replace Elohim. Instead of “earning” his reward — as had eons of Gods before him — he wanted to go from his current stature to the stature of Our Great God. For God had progressed from Eternity to Eternity, He had followed the “Plan” from the beginning. Lucifer wanted to take away from Elohim what He (Elohim) had rightfully earned and inherited. Lucifer wanted to supplant Heavenly Father and take what was not rightfully his to take. The “plan” was a tool to accomplish his selfish designs from the beginning.

  52. Um, Calling Michael 2050, I don’t think anyone earns exaltation. Otherwise we wouldn’t need the Atonement. That’s what grace is all about.

    Julie, besides some prominent quotes by priesthood leaders, I think the main reason most people believe Satan wanted to force everyone to do right was verse 3 of Moses 4, where God tells Moses “Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man.” To the average reader, having his or her agency destroyed, but still obtaining salvation, invokes an image of being forced to do what’s right.

    I think it’s interesting, though, that in verse 1, Satan is quoted as saying ” I will redeem all mankind.” I normally don’t like to quibble over individual words because of how complicated translation and revelation can be, but I do find it interesting that Satan uses the word “redeem,” which is about restoring something that was lost. If he was simply forcing everyone to do right, “preserve” or “maintain” seem like better words to use. So if Satan is taking away choice in his plan, I think it is more natural to assume he isn’t forcing everyone to do what’s right, but is having the Atonement apply to everyone without them having to choose to accept it. That might take many forms, including the one you suggest, where it simply doesn’t matter what people do, since Satan’s atonement will save them from their sins with no choice or action on their part.

    It’s essentially taking grace to a drastic extreme.

    I feel it’s also important that Satan wanted for God to give him His power—in Satan’s plan, instead of everyone being elevated to Godhood, it seems that he would be the sole possessor of it, with it being something that is apparently transferred, not shared. So it may be that Satan saw no reason for Godhood to be given to all of God’s followers. If that is so, it’s interesting to think about what else the point of Satan’s plan for mortality was.

  53. This hasn’t been a new idea for me. Our seminary teachers in rural southeastern Idaho taught us this for years over 20 years ago. we had to choose between three schools, Force, Freedom and Fun. In Force, all students took the same classes and had ‘tutors’ who made sure they all got the work done. Everyone was equal and got the same grades because they all did the same work. Freedom U had a variety of majors, with students grades and graduation dependent upon the work they put in. Fun College was for those students who wanted to whatever they wished. Whether on not you showed up to class, did any work, everyone graduated with perfect grades. Then we talked about how the different schools were analogous to the pre-mortal councils. For a group of teenagers, this was heady discussion and new ideas that we hadn’t heard before. It was presented as “We know what God’s plan was, but the scriptures only say that ‘Satan sought to destroy the agency of man’ and we don’t have specifics, so here are two possible ways that Lucifer could destroy agency.”
    Since then, when lessons on agency appear, I make sure to either make a comment or if I am teaching, to make sure that those options are discussed as equally valid, although i lean more to the removal of consequences as most likely.
    For one EQ lesson, I used a variety of a magic trick. I had a number of cups on the table when the quorum entered the room, each cup with a different amount of money in it, from a penny to 100 dollar bill. Then I had one member of the class start to choose cups, with the knowledge that they could have the money left in the last cup after all the choices had been made. First they chose three cups. I then had them continue to choose a number of cups until there were only two, then choose one of the remaining. Now depending on which cups were chosen, I either removed the choices or removed the ones not selected, but the class member did not know which was going to happen. Whatever choices they made, they were going to end up with the nickel. That led to some great discussions aobut agency and what are the components necessary for agency to actually be present. We had four components instead of the five DB talked about, but very similar theme to that list – Different choices of action, no coercion for any action, separate consequences for each action and knowledge about the likely consequences of those choices.
    Looking at it in economic terms, if Satan destroys our agency by removing consequences, then there is now opportunity cost associated with choices, because there is no next best choice on the list. You are not giving up anything in that world.
    As MIrrorrorrim stated, most people only associate agency with the freedom/ability to choose, and not with anything else.

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