Sunday, May 30, 2010

Eight: The Age of Accountability

Toward the end of last week’s Gospel Principles class on “The Restored Church,” our teacher read in the manual from a list describing distinctive features of the restored Church of Jesus Christ, including the statement that “Children do not need to be baptized until they are accountable (eight years old)” (GP 99).

A non-member attending for the first time who had not spoken all class raised his hand and asked, “Where does the number eight come from?” Anyone who has ever seen a non-member ask a doctrinal question in a room full of relatively knowledgeable and experienced church members knows that we all began to respond at once.

The immediate consensus was that the answer to his question could be found in Moroni 8, and we quickly flipped to that chapter, where we read: “Listen to the words of Christ, your Redeemer, your Lord and your God. Behold, I came into the world not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; the whole need no physician, but they that are sick; wherefore, little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it hath no power over them; and the law of circumcision is done away in me. [9] And after this manner did the Holy Ghost manifest the word of God unto me; whereas, my beloved son, I know that it is solemn mockery before God, that ye should baptize little children. [10] Behold I say unto you that this thing shall ye teach—repentance and baptism unto those who are accountable and capable of committing sin; yea, teach parents that they must repent and be baptized, and humble themselves as their little children, and they shall be saved with their children” (Moroni 8:8-10).

While this passage clearly condemns infant baptism, there is little or no specific guidance as to when children cease to be “little” and begin to be “capable of committing sin.” But that this transition happens, and that it occurs in childhood, is made equally clear by revelation. The Lord speaks to Adam in Moses (in a passage lost from Genesis) to explain how his children would make the transition from innocence to experience that Adam himself experienced in the Fall: “And the Lord spake unto Adam, saying: Inasmuch as thy children are conceived in sin, even so when they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts, and they taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good. [56] And it is given unto them to know good from evil; wherefore they are agents unto themselves, and I have given unto you another law and commandment. [57] Wherefore teach it unto your children, that all men, everywhere, must repent, or they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God, for no unclean thing can dwell there” (Moses 6:55-57). At some point when children “begin to grow up,” but before they become adults, children sin and, therefore, must be taught to repent.

So why eight years old? Because the Lord commanded in the Doctrine and Covenants that “inasmuch as parents have children in Zion or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents. [26] For this shall be a law unto the inhabitants of Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized. [27] And their children shall be baptized for the remission of their sins when eight years old, and receive the laying on of the hands” (D&C 68:25-27). These verses clearly establish the ecclesiastical mandate for waiting until eight for baptism (and, interestingly, emphasizes that the baptism of eight year olds, like the baptism of adults, is for “the remission of sins”), but leaves the connection between age eight and sin implicit; they imply that “sin conceiveth in their hearts” by age eight but do not state this explicitly.

The answer to our nonmember class member’s question was in the Doctrine and Covenants, but what, he asked, was the rationale for this age; wasn’t it somewhat arbitrary? The 68th section of the D&C was received in 1831, and as far as I have been able to ascertain, there were no other religious communities that had identified the age eight as an age of accountability; several sects, most notably the Anabaptists and, later, the Baptists, had rejected paedobaptism and been popularly named for the practice, but these groups typically waited until somewhat later in life before administering baptism and had not, as far as I know, identified a minimum age for baptism by that time.

There does not seem to have been, in the nineteenth century, any compelling reason to identify age eight as the age of accountability, but contemporary scientific research has demonstrated the wisdom of marking that age as a point at which children begin to be accountable for their actions. As Dale Kunkel argues in the Handbook of Children and the Media, “most children younger than about age 7 or 8 do not typically recognize that the underlying goal of a commercial is to persuade the viewer” (381). This suggests, at least to me, that children under the age of eight often—consciously or unconsciously—act under the influence of outside sources, whether those sources are commercials (“PLEASE CAN I GO TO CHUCKY CHEESE?”) or friends (“But Bobby said that word . . . why is it wrong?”), and hence are not fully accountable for their actions.

A second way of making the same point is to note, as Brad Bushman and Rowell Huesmann did, that “the correlation between a boy’s exposure to TV violence at age 8 and his aggression at age 18 was .31, whereas the correlation from age 8 aggression to age 18 exposure to TV violence was about zero” (HCM 233). In other words, exposure to casual violence causes viewers younger than age eight to act violently (and not vice versa; violent behavior does not cause an increase in the viewing of violence). This is because “children younger than 8 years cannot discriminate between fantasy and reality, they are uniquely vulnerable to learning and adopting as reality the circumstances, attitudes, and behaviors portrayed by entertainment media” (American Academy of Pediatrics, Pediatrics 108.5, p. 1223).

Age seven or eight is the point at which many children begin to recognize their own ignorance—that “wishing does not make it so.” As Kathleen Berger notes, “Children under age 6 often think they know everything and are unaware of the mistakes they make or the failures of memory that are evident to adults. In other words, their metacognition is almost nonexistent. That makes it more difficult to teach them, except by discovery and example” (The Developing Person Through Childhood and Adolescence 346). Berger’s findings suggest that children are incapable of understanding the logic behind moral imperatives—such as divine commandments—unless they 1) experience the consequences of breaking those commandments for themselves or 2) see someone else experience them. After age eight, they can reason through the consequences of disobedience without experiencing them for themselves. Berger explains that “[t]his movement away from egocentrism toward a more flexible logic is illustrated by research on 5- to 9-year-olds who were asked about two hypothetical boys—David, who thought chocolate ice cream was yucky, and Daniel, who found chocolate ice cream yummy. Most 5-year-olds (63 percent) thought David was wrong, and many felt he was bad or stupid as well. By contrast, virtually all (94 percent) of the 9-year-olds thought both boys could be right, and only a few were critical of David” (DPTCA 340). Instead of relying solely on their own experience of ice cream, 9-year-olds are able to assess the moral consequences of disliking ice cream and recognize that there is nothing inherently immoral about David’s lack of good taste.

Perhaps most importantly, age eight is also the approximate age at which children “understand reversibility, the principle that after being changed, a thing may be returned to its original state” (DPTCA 339). Children must be accountable and able to evaluate the morality of potential action without experiencing it for themselves before they can be baptized, but they must also be able to exercise faith in the healing, restorative power of the Atonement. It is this ability which will make the baptism of an eight-year-old efficacious, as he or she recognizes the opportunity to repent even when their newly acquired agency and moral reason fail them.

All in all, I am astounded at the number of key cognitive developments that occur in adolescent brains at or around age eight; they are a further testament to me of the inspired guidance of the Restoration, which made the age of eight the age of accountability long before these scientific studies and experiments confirmed the appropriateness of that standard.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I Told You That . . .

. . . returned Mormon missionaries are like Israeli youth compelled to serve in the army. Dan Senor and Saul Singer's book, Start-Up Nation, points out that Israel is the country with the highest ratio of technology entrepreneurs per capita in the world. Senor and Singer attribute this to the leadership and international experience that Israeli youth gain while serving in the army; I suggested that their descriptions of Israeli youth sounded remarkably like returned missionaries. Now, BYU Magazine has provided evidence that my comparison has an empirical basis: "For 14 years BYU [and its legions of returned missionaries] has been ranked first in the nation for start-up companies per million dollars of research" (Spring 2010, 61).

Sunday, May 16, 2010

More Incentive to Choose a Good-Looking Spouse

In response to my latest offering on the ways in which love enlarges your soul (and mental capacity), the Monk's oldest sister asks the intelligent question, "Do you think any of this shared connection contributes to similar features as we age? Son to father, and husband to wife?" So glad you asked, Jo Jo.

“In a landmark study on the appearance of married couples, Robert Zajonc, a psychologist at Stanford University, and his colleagues asked twelve married couples to send two sets of individual portraits of themselves, one set taken in their first year of marriage (newlywed photos) and the other after twenty-five years of marriage (old-timer photos). The researchers put the newly-wed photos together in one pool and the old-timer photos in another, and recruited nearly eighty participants to guess which men and women were married and looked alike. It turned out that matching the newlywed couples was impossible—the raters were no more accurate than they’d be by dumb chance (the couples were all the same race, ethnicity, economic class, and approximate age). But when matching the old-timer photos, raters were shockingly spot-on. That’s because couples look more like each other one their silver wedding anniversaries than they do as newlyweds.

“Zajonc and his colleagues drew on emotional difference theory to explain what happens: in short, people who empathize with each other mimic each other’s facial expressions. Mimicry is an unconscious and involuntary process. When you mimic another person’s facial expressions, you subjectively feel that emotion or mood. Over time, with use, facial muscles either grow or atrophy, just like your biceps or calves. When facial expressions are repeated and habitual, like a ready smile or a constant grimace, they permanently etch a ‘look’ into [292] the face. Furrowed brows, puckered lips, stress lines, laugh lines, crow’s-feet, and lines between the eyes or around the mouth happen over the decades, just as running water contours rock.

“The happier the marriage, the more spouses grow to resemble each other. Zajonc surveyed the twelve couples in the study, asking them questions about their satisfaction in the relationship and the incidence of very happy or tragic experiences they had together over the decades. He found that the more they shared attitudes, the greater their mutual resemblance. That’s because they’d been laughing and crying and worrying together for so many years.” (Pincott DGRPB 291-92)

I don't have an MRI machine lying around, so I can't tell you whether or not the neuron networks that develop and make you smarter and increasingly connected to your partner when you're in love are the same as the ones that prompt you to mimic the facial expressions of those around you (mimicry or "mirroring" is something I recall reading more about in Malcolm Gladwell's Blink, but baby Monk's asleep in my office, so I can't confirm that recollection) but it wouldn't surprise me. I certainly believe that this process by which we grow to resemble those we love is an inevitable part of perfection.

Men and women are different, and they look different when they are first married. This is by divine design; as Elder David A. Bednar writes, "The natures of male and female spirits complete and perfect each other, and therefore men and women are intended to progress together toward exaltation. [. . .] For divine purposes, male and female spirits are different, distinctive, and complementary. [. . .] The man completes and perfects the woman and the woman completes and perfects the man as they learn from and mutually strengthen and bless each other" (Ensign 6/06, 83-84). Part of the process of complementing and perfecting that occurs in marriage involves willingly forsaking some of these differences and becoming "one flesh" (Gen. 2:24), something that Zajonc suggests we should think of more literally.

Hopefully this merging of visual identities will leave me a better looking man without dragging Mrs. Monk down too much. Thanks, as always, for the question!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

"Love Unfeigned . . . Shall Greatly Enlarge the Soul"

This is what the Doctrine & Covenants teaches--that "No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul" (D&C 121:41-42). I've argued elsewhere that this expansion of the soul (which Alma links to "redeeming love" [Alma 5:9]) is connected to the bridling of one's passions, but today I just want to briefly explore some of the science behind the ways in which love literally makes your soul (or at least your brain) expand.

"According to cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter, in his book I Am a Strange Loop, two people in love internalize each other and create a shared state of mind that overlaps and EXPANDS their individual personalities. In essence, you form a 'we'--a merger of your partner's attitudes, tastes, habits, experiences, knowledge, goals, and dreams with your own. You can think of this identity, the 'we,' as a pattern of neurons in your brain." (Jena Pincott DGRPB? 306)

Love stimulates a part of the brain known as the angular gyrus, which is "a bridge between your brain and the outside world" used in "internalizing the external" (Pincott 307). Women primed with subconscious reminders of their loved ones (names that flash too quickly to process consciously) experienced significantly higher activity in their angular gyrus and consequently performed much better in tests of mental comprehension; reminding these women of their loves stimulated a "love-related network" of neurons in the brain that significantly increased test scores--and "the more passionate a woman was about her partner, the higher she scored" (308).

When I talked earlier about bridling passions, I suggested that this process increased an individual's control over physical influences--your appetites--and thus represented a process of creation, as internal order is imposed on external matter. My point today is that love itself--not just the bridling of physical passions or sex and the physical act of procreation--is a form of creation, as two individuals form a "we" and their selves expand as each absorbs the "attitudes, tastes, habits, experiences, knowledge, goals, and dreams" of the other. As Pincott writes, "Think of love as self-expansion, an internalization of the external. By association, you and your partner, the 'we' you share and the world beyond, are all part of a network that grows with your love" (308).

This is the sense in which I now understand the statement of Elder James E. Talmage that "We believe in a God who is Himself progressive, whose majesty is intelligence; whose perfection consists in eternal advancement--a Being who has attained His exalted state by a path which now His children are permitted to follow, whose glory it is their heritage to share" (Articles of Faith 390). I used to wonder how a God who is omniscient and omnipotent could advance eternally. What is there to learn? What new capacity is there to achieve? Now I see that eternal advancement as an accumulation of vicarious experience and variegated personality as His love encompasses each of His children and they become "one: I [Christ] in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one" (John 17:22-23). Our great opportunity is to love--and to receive, as a natural consequence of that love, new perspectives and expanded understanding.

Love unfeigned truly does enlarge the soul.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Ordinance of Jesus Christ's Resurrection

The subject of Jesus Christ’s resurrection is one that has often caused me to wonder, especially at Easter time as I am reminded of his victory over the grave. It’s not that I wonder whether he was resurrected—I know he lives with a divine surety. Rather, I wonder about the process of that first resurrection.

My mind (as previously noted with regards to the issues of sanctification and justification) likes order, and the scriptures that describe Jesus Christ’s victory over the grave are not orderly; they seem to disagree with each other as to how the resurrection was accomplished. Take, for instance, the words of Paul: “And God hath both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by his own power” (1 Cor. 6:14). Elsewhere he writes, “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Cor. 15:57). The agency here is clear: Heavenly Father (God) resurrected Jesus Christ.

But the gospel of John presents an apparent contradiction; Christ teaches that “no man taketh [my life] from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” (John 10:18). Here Jesus Christ is an autonomous agent who brings about his own resurrection.

And just to muddle things up, let’s look at Lehi’s statement regarding the Christ’s death and resurrection: “[the Holy Messiah] layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise” (2 Ne. 2:8). Agency here is not nearly so clear as in the first two examples, but seems to involve two different members of the Godhead: the Son (who acts) and the Holy Ghost (who makes that act efficacious).

So which is it? The Father, Son, or Holy Ghost? Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, in his excellent book, Christ and the New Covenant, attributes this miracle to the Son: “The message [of Christianity] is that a man who was dead did, by his own power, infuse life back into his own body, never again to experience the separation of his spirit from that body in time or eternity. In so doing, he magnificently and magnanimously provided, by that same power, a similar experience for every other man, woman, and child who would ever live in this world” (238). So too, Elder Russell M. Nelson, who said of the Christ that “He brought about his own resurrection” (“Life after Life,” Ensign 5/87).

So if modern apostles are so clear on this point—that Jesus Christ resurrected himself—what are we to make of the numerous scriptural verses (and not all in the Bible, either) that suggest otherwise? These are only a few of the problematic verses:

“And thus God breaketh the bands of death, having gained the victory over death; giving the Son power to make intercession for the children of men” (Mosiah 15:8).

“This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses” (Acts 2:32).

“Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly” (Acts 10:40).

“...believe in Jesus Christ, that he is the Son of God, and that he was slain by the Jews, and by the power of the Father he hath risen again, whereby he hath gained the victory over the grave.” (Mormon 7:5)

“The God of our fathers raised up Jesus” (Acts 5:30).

These verses—scriptures that attest to the Father’s role in Jesus Christ’s resurrection—make sense and can be reconciled with scriptures that attribute Christ’s resurrection solely to his own power if we recognize the resurrection as an ordinance. The prophet Joseph Smith, describing the resurrection, said that,

“...the spirit is a substance; that it is material, but that it is more pure, elastic and refined matter than the body; that it existed before the body, can exist in the body; and will exist separate from the body, when the body will be mouldering in the dust; and will in the resurrection be again united with it.

“Without attempting to describe this mysterious connection, and the laws that govern the body and the spirit of man, their relationship to each other, and the design of God in relation to the human body and spirit, I would just remark that the spirits of men are eternal, that they are governed by the same Priesthood that Abraham, Melchizedek, and the Apostles were: that they are organized according to that Priesthood which is everlasting, ‘without beginning of days or end of years,’—that they all move in their respective spheres, and are governed by the law of God” (TPJS 163).

To summarize: the “mysterious connection” that binds matter and spirit together “in the resurrection” is “governed by the same Priesthood” that makes every other aspect of our salvation and exaltation possible. Brigham Young later confirmed what Joseph here intimates—that resurrection is a priesthood ordinance. He explains to the Saints that “[w]e have not, neither can we receive here [on earth], the ordinance and the keys of the resurrection” (JD 15:137).

And how does understanding that resurrection is an ordinance reconcile conflicting scriptures that alternately attribute Christ’s resurrection to his own agency, to that of the Father, to the power of the Spirit—or, as Brigham Young posits, to an angel? (BY: “Jesus Christ’s body was called from the tomb by the angel” [JD 8:260].) Recognizing that resurrection is an ordinance clarifies this conundrum because every ordinance presupposes the existence of a priesthood administrator and a patron who actively participates in the ordinance. In this case, Christ was the patron—or recipient—of the ordinance; he “received” resurrection in the same way that you or I “receive” baptism.

Brigham Young explained that the power to resurrect can only be held by those that themselves possess an immortal body of flesh and bone. Speaking of Joseph Smith, President Young said, “His spirit is waiting for the resurrection of the body, which will soon be. But has he the power to resurrect that body? He has not. Who has this power? Those that have already passed through the resurrection—who have been resurrected in their time and season by some person else, and have been appointed to that authority just as you Elders have with regard to your authority to baptize. You have not the power to baptize yourselves, neither have you power to resurrect yourselves; and you could not legally baptize a second person until some person first baptized you and ordained you to this authority. So with those that hold the keys of the resurrection” (JD 6.275). Thus “we cannot finish our work, while we live here” and resurrect ourselves, “no more than Jesus did while he was in the flesh” (JD 15.137). Even if Christ possessed the power to resurrect himself, he could not have held the keys as a spirit (remember that Moses and others had to be translated so that they could hold and pass keys on through the physical laying on of hands).

But if Jesus was the patron in the ordinance of resurrection—if he was resurrected by an immortal Father who then conferred the keys of resurrection on him—then how are we to understand the statements of Elders Holland and Nelson, of scriptures that attribute the resurrection to Christ’s own power and divine inheritance? Those scriptures make sense if we think of the resurrection as an ordinance analogous to the healing of the sick. President Spencer W. Kimball said that when priesthood holders anoint the sick with consecrated oil, “the major element is the faith of the individual when that person is conscious and accountable” (“Kimball Speaks Out,” New Era 10/81). In other words, the power of healing rests primarily with the individual being healed, with the patron and not the priesthood administrator. This is the same point made by Elder Dallin H. Oaks in his recent talk on priesthood blessings: blessings draw their power from the faith of the individual receiving the ordinance and are efficacious only when there is sufficient faith.

This, then, is the understanding of Christ’s resurrection that I now embrace (until I receive further light and knowledge): He received the ordinance of resurrection at the hands of the Father, as he received the ordinance of baptism at the hands of John the Baptist, in order to “fulfill all righteousness . . . humbleth himself before the Father . . . [and] set the example before [the children of men]” (2 Ne. 31:6-9). He received the ordinance as a patron and so could not be said to have resurrected himself—but his faith provided the power that made the ordinance efficacious. Perhaps, because of his divine nature and sinless life, he could have had the power to resurrect himself and conquer death without the Father’s intervention—but it seems consistent with gospel principles that the priesthood be used only to “bless others” (Eyring, “God Helps…” Ensign 11/07) and not to perfect his own salvation.

This is a hard thing for me to wrap my head around … insights welcome.