Thanks for some good suggestions, objections, discussion re. my first post. Let me try to kick the can down the road just a bit further with a few more reflections:
First, the Fortunate Fall — that the Fall is good news, is extremely well attested in quite authoritative (or at least, to me, impressive) statements by LDS authorities. To put it simply: to be fallen and then redeemed is better than never to have fallen. I don’t have my sources here to document this – feel free to help me here if you wish – but I have little doubt of this. Beyond Eve’s beautiful celebratory statement in Moses, which seems to me without any very close parallel in any other Christian tradition, there are many statements that go further, affirming even that Eve knew perfectly well what she was doing in “transgressing” and that it was all for the best. Of course there are traces, and perhaps more, of the felix culpa idea before Milton in the Christian tradition. In Benjamin Britton’s Ceremony of Carols, for example, there is a beautiful text from some middle-English (I think) source celebrating Eve’s partaking of the apple. But the Augustinian association of the original sin of pride and sexuality as a disorder limit severely the theological development of any such notion. So it does seem to me that LDS resources are quite distinctive in this respect – thus, for example, the deep connection I think I see between agency and bodily fecundity.
That said, I must add, or confess, that I have never been quite satisfied with the move from “sin” to “transgression,” which seems to make things just a little too easy, a little too rational in an instrumental sense — as if the choice to “fall” could be reduced to a quasi-economic calculation of the outcomes. The opening up of a new field for agency and redemption must involve some kind of qualitative leap, including a separation from God, a step away from the comfort of simple, immediate, unequivocal obedience to God’s commands. This is risky territory, and you can see that I don’t quite know what I’m talking about, but it does seem to me that we miss something by making the Fall to straightforwardly rational and good and thus turning away from the pathos and the depth and, yes the mystery that connects Fall with agency.
Dave sees no problem in the meaning of agency, whereas Nate and Mark D invite me to try to explain myself a little further on agency/ontology. Dave, you in fact exemplify the problem when you reduce agency to survival or to some other instrumental-scientific explanation. What I am trying to get at through a reflection on agency goes to the heart, I think, of the question of meaning. How is human existence meaningful? How does meaning happen? How does this happening in our practical, active existence relate to our cognitive apprehension of what is, of the Being of beings? If survival or some causal necessity fulfilled the question of meaning, we wouldn’t have anything to talk about, and language could be reduced to some technical communication of ends and means. But that cannot account for our humanity, or for the meaning of things in a meaningful world.
Now Nate raises a very good question about Kant. Can’t we say that Kant’s making practice prior to theory (both in the epistemological doctrine that we know only what we make in the theoretical-scientific realm, and in practical philosophy proper, where moral meaning is rooted in a self-prescribed law, autonomy) is an adequate account in the philosophical tradition of agency? Well, I think not, precisely because Kant can never recover from the neat separation between the theoretical and the practical, and between the phenomena available to knowledge and the realm of the thing-in-itself from which practical, moral reason is supposed to operate. This gets technical, and I’m no master of Kant, but I am convinced that these separations are disastrous and can never be overcome. To “limit reason to make room for faith” (from preface to 2nd edition of 1st Critique, I think) produces a disconnect that tends to denature both sides of the dichotomy. To say that we are free but that our freedom is not somehow part of or connected with the way things are is untenable, and finally we end up trying to rebuild the connection, from one direction or another. Hegel of course sees this and tries to put things back together, but then Freedom or Spirit must be the Absolute that somehow generates all and comprehends all in itself. But it follows, then, as Marx saw, that freedom is interpreted as sheer rational, disinterested comprehension, whereby Hegel falls back into a kind of Platonic-Aristotelian privileging of contemplation, but without the subtle relation to actual moral practice that the ancients, I believe, retained. Of course, Marx’s science of history cannot really account for agency, but merely unleashes a mad, revolutionary, totalizing agency that thinks it is authorized by science to transform reality.
But I digress. My main point, if I have one, must be something like this: Aristotle is right, as Heidegger sees, to look for the meaning of human action… well, practically, in some way that cannot be reduced to a unified theory of Being as available to technical mastery. Both these authors, in my view, end up subordinating agency to something else: Aristotle to disinterested, impersonal contemplation, and Heidegger to … well, this is harder to explain – I would say to the a kind of pure openness to Being that despises as “anthropological” or “humanist” the meaning of actual human action. But whatever you think of Aristotle or of Heidegger, my point is finally a kind of postmodern point that intersects with Jim Faulconer’s reflections on the non-theological character of Mormonism. To understand agency as redeemed, and to understand redeemed agency ontologically, as seems to me suggested by 2 Ne 2, is to say that there is no theoretical comprehension of finalities (in terms of classical contemplation – a model that hovers over all traditional, medieval theology, or in terms of eternal “laws” understood on the model of scientific “laws of nature,” for example) that can get us deeper than redemption or atonement itself. There is nothing freer and nothing more real than the sacrifice that draws beings out of the closed circle of instrumentality and of knowledge-as-power and into the fecundity of meaning. Atonement is not instrumental to agency-fecundity; atonement lies at the heart of agency.
So my attempted reading of 2 Ne 2 does not lead to some comprehensive theory or theology, but perhaps, on the one hand, back to an appreciation of covenants and practices available to the simplest saints (and thus away from the authority of intellectuals), and, on the other hand, to literary and poetic responses to the meaning of these covenants and practices. But I, you will have noticed, am not a poet.