Dates: March 25 – 30
2 Nephi 2: 22-25
22And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed, he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden, and all things which were created must have remained in the same state which they were after they were created, and they must have remained forever and had no end. 23And they would have had no children. Wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence—having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin. 24But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things. 25Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy.
This passage has always struck me theologically for its deterministic leanings. I have never been sure how widely to apply verse 24—what do we mean by “all things”? This comes back to Joe’s discussion of verses 11 ff, how far do we carry the opposition in all things? In verse 24, do we apply the phrase “all things” to the situation of Adam and Eve in the Garden and the felicitous Fall, or do we apply it in a Hegelian sense, to the totality of world history in a theodical way?
Bracketing that question, I want to think about the opposition and the Fall and rise of Adam, the Fall and resultant joy of Adam in terms of Victor Turner’s anthropological theory of social advancement through the ritual process known as structure/anti-structure.
Victor Turner posits that social life is a “dialectical process that involves successive experience of high and low, communitas and structure, homogeneity and differentiation, equality and inequality” (The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure (Ithaca, NY: Cornell, 1977), 97). Turner states that liminality in cultural rites is what characterizes “rituals of status elevation,” in which the ritual subject is transferred irreversibly from a lower to a higher position in an institutionalized system of hierarchical positions. (Turner, 167). The imagery of a naked Adam in the prelapsarian Garden clothing is analogous to neophytes, or “liminal entities,” which may go naked to symbolize that they have “no status, property… [or] position in a kinship system” (Turner, 95). Turner describes the behavior of neophytes as “normally passive or humble; they must obey their instructors implicitly, and accept arbitrary punishment without complaint” (Turner, 95).
Turner elucidates why this humiliation and abuse gives dynamic thrust to a new relation: the subjugation of the one being initiated into a new social status is part of a process of being “ground down…to be fashioned anew and endowed with additional powers to enable them to cope with their new station in life” (Turner, 95). Under this lens, Adam’s new relationship to God and status of joy after the fall as a reliant on his abasement, rather than a mere manifestation of grace. Adam and Eve must be abased and reduced to nothing before they can be exalted.
As all social relations are dynamic and dialectic, there must be a shift in the position of the one in the dominant role as well as the one in the subordinate role. In liminality, according to Turner, “the underling comes uppermost” and the authority is humbled, almost as a slave (Turner, 102). In the ritual process, the subordinate is elevated while the superior is made weaker (Turner, 168). As Turner observes, liminality “implies that the high could not be high unless the low existed, and he who is high must experience what it is like to be low” (Turner, 97).
Turner asseverates that religious institutions mimic this ritual process and that, though debasement is not the final goal of these groups, it is an essential liminal phase through which individuals must pass to reach a state (Turner, 94). Turner justifies the humiliation those preparing for rites of passage endure on the grounds that while they are “often of a grossly physiological character” which dually serves to “represent partly a destruction of the previous status and partly a tempering of their essence” so that they can be prepared to deal with the responsibilities of their new social status and to “restrain them in advance from abusing their new privileges. They have to be shown that in themselves they are clay or dust, mere matter, whose form is impressed upon them by society” (Turner, 103). Turner ultimately concludes that the humiliation of the rite of passage may be intended to humble the neophyte precisely because he will be exalted when the rite is terminated. The humiliation simultaneously punishes the initiand for “rejoicing in liminal freedom” and prepares her for a higher office (Turner, 201).
Through the expulsion from the Garden, Adam is simultaneously being punished for the disloyalty to God inherent in his transgression, the betrayal of his identity as belonging to God, and is being prepared for a new understanding of identity. The joy and exalted status of Adam in 2 Nephi 2 follows the Fall and abasement as a necessary, ritual process rather than incidentally. God does not save or exalt Adam despite his abasement, but because of it. The anti-structure of liminal chaos that follows the expulsion from the Garden—the loss of one’s identity and understanding of one’s primary relation—necessarily precedes the structure of the clearer and more exalted identity that follows. In this light, the transgression of Adam and Eve proves necessary for new creation.
Humiliation, the Fall, is a necessary part of progression. This brings me to an earlier point made in response to Joe’s posts on opposition. He wrote about the worldview of Ecclesiastes that creation is in motion but going nowhere. I responded by citing Doctrine and Covenants 121:33 “How long can rolling waters remain impure? What power shall stay the heavens?” to argue that creation is in a process of purification and sanctification. What I want to highlight here is that it seems—again somewhat deterministically—that creation is in this process even despite itself. That through transgression, progress is made and purification occurs. I want to connect this idea back to a recent discussion I was privy to about Nephite and the Jaredite voyages to the promised land. The point is this: Nephi obediently constructs a ship according to God’s commandment, not after the manner of the world (1 Nephi 18:2), but “after the manner which I shall show thee, that I may carry thy people across the waters” (1 Nephi 17:8). Now, the passage implies to me that Nephi will construct the ship and it will be smooth sailing after that—the Lord will carry His people across the waters. Similarly, the Jaredites construct ships that are “tight like unto a dish” (Ether 2:17) complete with means for light and air. Again, it seems like they have done what they were supposed to do to make traversing the ocean to the promised land possible and they will get their without incident. Of course, we know that this does not prove to be the case. They are, to borrow the turn of phrase employed by Lucy Mack Smith to describe Emma, “Tossed about on the ocean of uncertainty.” In both cases the journey proves tumultuous, unpredictable, and precarious. This brings us to another interesting point—though God is intimately involved in both cases in the construction of the vessels that will carry each party to their promised land, in each instance God points to God’s own (at least partial) absence during the journey and his final reappearance: God covenants with the Jaredites that he will “meet [them]” and “go before [them] into a land which is choice above all the lands of the earth” (Ether 1:42). Likewise, God tells Lehi that God will be their light and they will know that God is leading them to the promised land, yet God implies that they will have greater knowledge of this fact after they have arrived: “After ye have arrived in the promised land, ye shall know that I the Lord, am God; and that I, the Lord, did deliver you from destruction; yea, that I did bring you out of the land of Jerusalem” (1 Nephi 17: 13-14). There is no shortage of opposition as Nephi seeks to construct the ship or when they begin the journey; Nephi describes that “there arose a great storm, yea, a great and terrible tempest, and we were driven back upon the waters for three days” (1 Nephi 18:13). What is especially significant given the context of 2 Nephi 2, the discussion of opposition, and the idea that transgression and humiliation are necessary for progression and joy, is that these set backs are the consequence of the sin and rebellion of Nephi’s brothers (v. 15). Both the Nephites and the Jaredites arrive at their promised land. What I want to point out is that it is not so much in spite of, but because of the opposition, the sin, the transgression, that they are able to move—that turbulence is generated and propulsive progress is made. Opposition, even being stymied by opposition, ultimately generates the necessary energy to move us forward, to allow impure waters to keep rolling until they become pure and sanctified. Adam’s progression is only possible through transgression and falling—it is only through abasement that he can become exalted, only through being stripped by sin that exiled that he can become clothed with righteousness and inherit a promised land, only through misery in a fallen world that he can know joy. And God is with him on the journey—even when God cannot be seen—and God, in God’s wisdom, carries Adam and Eve, and the whole human family, forward “through this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise” (Alma 37:45) in which God reappears: God’s presence and guiding hand throughout the journey of world history becomes retroactively apparent.