Cleon Skousen’s “Intelligence Theory” of Atonement

One well known Atonement theory is that of Cleon Skousen. The best known explanation of his theory is a talk he gave to a meeting of missionaries in Dallas, TX in 1980. The audio and video of that talk can be purchased from his official website here. Someone somewhere made a transcript of the talk. I read it here.

The main points of Skousen’s theory are:

    • The universe is composed of two basic building blocks: “intelligences” and “elements”.
    • “Intelligences” are self-aware entities that are self-existent and at various levels of complexity and progression. They are independent and act voluntarily, and cannot be compelled. God is the greatest of the intelligences, and every human is an intelligence at his core and we rank relatively high on the scale of complexity and greatness.
    • “Element” is matter, and there are two types of matter: spiritual and physical. They are fundamentally the same but exist on two different planes. Element is not voluntary nor even “alive”, but it is self-existent.
    • God pairs together every intelligence with a portion of element. They are paired in complex but orderly ways, and they are assigned functions and roles and must abide by the physical laws of the universe. Some intelligences are paired with plant life, others with animal life, and every human is an intelligence which is paired with human “element(s)”. Other intelligences are paired with non-organic element(s).
    • By pairing intelligences with element God is able to command these intelligence/element unions and accomplish the creation of the universe.
    • God is “God” only because he is respected and loved by the intelligences of the universe. He derives his authority and power because the intelligences, who are paired with element/matter, decide to obey him. He is just and constant and they trust him. If God loses their trust they may no longer respect and obey him, and he would lose his ability to govern them and would essentially cease to be “God”.
    • God created this Earth and populated it with humans (intelligences paired with element/matter). But these intelligences (humans) broke laws and became undeserving of eternal joy in God’s presence. God cannot simply ignore the laws of justice and bring humans back to his presence because if he did he would lose the trust of the eternal intelligences of the universe, and without that he would cease to be God.
    • One of the intelligences, Jesus, is infinitely loved and respected by the intelligences of the universe. Jesus is God’s first counselor and advisor, and God works through Jesus in his dealings with the intelligences.
    • Jesus came to Earth and suffered indescribable pain and torture in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross. He did this to soften the hearts of the intelligences of the universe and to gain their approval to allow God to extend mercy to man.
    • The intelligences of the universe were so moved by Christ’s suffering, which was a display of love and compassion for man, that they choose to allow God to extend mercy to man. Even though God extends undeserved mercy to man, the intelligences remain loyal to and trusting of God which allows God to retain his position as God and also to save mankind.

Within the Mormon tradition there are very few well defined and uniquely Mormon theories about Atonement. This is one of them, and it is one that has managed to gain some traction. If Atonement theory is ever going to mature in Mormon thought we ought to have a better name for this theory than just “Skousen’s theory”. Maybe we could call it the “Intelligence Theory”.

I find this to be a remarkably fascinating theory, partly because it is uniquely “Mormon” and partly because it appeals to my interest in science. It links the atonement to the creation and remains fundamentally naturalistic in scope. By “naturalistic” I mean that it doesn’t appeal to mystery or the supernatural. God is a great and respected scientist who must convince the intelligence-elements to obey him. I like this theory because of its universal scope, unabashedly going beyond atonement theory and explaining so much more, and yet keeping atonement right at the center. Another reason I like this theory is because it provides a reason for why the universal law of justice must be fulfilled. Other theories I think don’t really do that. At least in this one you actually have individuals demanding it and for a good reason, instead of it simply being required just because.

There are also some things about this theory that I think could be improved. It almost has a sci-fi flavor to it, which simultaneously piques my interest and throws up a red flag. One aspect of it that I’m not favorable to is the idea that “justice” is enforced by the multitudes of lesser intelligences. I’d prefer that Christ not suffer because of the demands of these lesser beings. Also, if the concept of “justice” being satisfied is important, I’m not really sure that this theory accomplishes that. In this theory Christ’s suffering doesn’t appear to actually satisfy justice, but instead acts as a mechanism for subverting justice. Another thing I’m not sure I agree with is Skousen’s “atomistic” view of intelligences, which is clearly modeled off of Orson Pratt’s ideas. Finally, I think this theory isn’t clearly found in the scriptures. Instead, this theory acts as a lens for interpreting the scriptures. In his talk he does that somewhat extensively, interpreting passages to fit his theory which could easily be read a different way. Having a theory serve as a lens for reading the scriptures isn’t in itself a bad thing, but if the theory itself isn’t rooted in scripture it will always be suspect.

I’m sure there is much more to say on this theory. In the end, it is a creative twist on the Moral Influence Theory. In this theory Christ’s suffering serves the purpose of moving the intelligences to compassion. His suffering does not pay any sort of legal debt, or pay a ransom, so it doesn’t really fit the other traditional models. I don’t know how much I agree with the theory, but it certainly is worth discussing and thinking about.

Finally, I’ve just become aware of a rebuttal to this theory by Clyde Williams. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but here it is.


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41 comments on “Cleon Skousen’s “Intelligence Theory” of Atonement

  1. Jeremy says:

    “If God loses their trust they may no longer respect and obey him, and he would lose his ability to govern them and would essentially cease to be “God.”

    This concept troubles me and mirrors, at least in part, what Joseph Smith (or maybe Sidney Rigdon) taught in “Lectures on Faith”:

    “Had it not been for the principle of faith the worlds would never have been framed, neither woul dman have been formed from the dust. It is the principle by which Jehovah works, and through which he exercises power over all temporal as well as eternal things. Take this principle or attribute – for it is an attribute – from the Diety, and he would cease to exist” (Lecture 1, verse 16).

    The faith spoken of here may have more to do with the principle of power than with the principle of action (see Lecture 1, verse 13), but it nonetheless appears that Skousen’s “trust” can be equated with our faith in Diety, without either of which, God would cease to be God.

    Again, this concept troubles me, since it sounds like we can undo what God has become simply by not accepting him or recognizing him. I guess this is true to some extent, at least individually, when one refuses to accept the concept of an all-powerful being – to them, God does not exist.

    • john says:

      Dear Author,

      This could be call John A Widtsoe’s theory. Skousen would tell you it’s not his.

      And if we could talk to John A Widtsoe, I wouldn’t be surprised if he said the same thing. It’s not mine. I wouldn’t hold too fast to whatever conclusions have led you to have problems with the theory. Keep testing it and see if you can break it.

      For me, the “theory” as presented by Skousen is a powerful construct for not just understanding the Atonement, but physical science, social science and political science and the world. Skousen doesn’t spell out all the details, but instead only provides a framework. The real value is pondering within the framework and not trying to guess or assume what Skousen was saying. Try to make it make sense by pondering what he said in terms of all the other truths you have discovered. This is what I have done and I can’t get the theory to break, I can’t get any scripture or talk or teaching (scientific or religious) to contradict it, and I am extremely satisfied with how well it explains so much that the world is unable to explain.

      I’m all ears if you have found a more enlightened theory.

      Also, to set the record straight – Skousen provides dozens of scriptures to back the insights he shared. For you to say he wasn’t rooted in scripture is not even in the slightest true. He gave dozens of scriptures backing the ideas he shared. It would have been more accurate to say you disagree with his interpretation of all the scriptures he used.

      By the way, Skousen was extremely genuine and immensely respectful of others. And without hyperbole I’m not sure I have ever felt more excitement and joy from anybody when it came to discussing scripture than I did from Cleon Skousen. In his old age he was very much like a little kid. Fun to be around and pure to the core. I also think it would have hurt him to the core if you were to tell him he wasn’t rooted in scripture, but would have loved to get in a discussion with you about why you would say such a thing.

    • I always read that part in Lectures on Faith as God operating through faith–As in God has faith. If he had no faith, he would have no power, etc. I never took it that he derives his power from our faith.

  2. Rameumptom says:

    I’m not a believer in Skousen’s theory, either. For one, I believe that intelligence and element/matter is the same thing. There are “organized intelligences” or matter that have individuality and prescience.

    Second, God would not cease to be God, simply because we do not believe in him. Otherwise, to have 1/3 of his children reject him outright would deliver a huge blow to his Godhood. Mankind’s immortality and exaltation may be God’s work and glory, but it has nothing to do with him being God.

    Third, as I’ve studied, I’m more inclined to accept something similar to Blake Ostler’s Compassion theory of atonement, or perhaps Jacob Morgan’s Infusion theory (

    Skousen had a theory for everything, but was really out of his league in philosophy. His concepts show major flaws regarding what we learn in scripture, which other theories readily answer.

    • Mick says:

      “God would not cease to be God, simply because we do not believe in him.”

      That’s not what he said, go back and read or listen to the talk.

    • john says:

      I agree with Mick. It sounds like you disagree with your own version of Skousen’s theory, not his theory itself.

    • john says:

      I said “Skousen’s theory,” but I don’t think it’s his. It’s either John A. Widtsoe’s or somebody else’s

    • Felimon Mallari says:

      All kingdoms have a law given. And there are many kingdoms…..either a greater or a lesser kingdom. And unto every kingdom in given a law, and unto every law there are certain bounds and conditions. All beings who abide not in those conditions are not justified (DC 88) All of God’s creations honor him for he is just and they trust him and love him so much that they would obey his every command willingly. (This honor is what Lucifer coveted of the Father.) By Jehovah, God created (organized) all things …. both things to act and things to be acted upon. Everything is subject unto God. Skousen said that Heavenly Father must keep celestial laws (in his vast kingdom) or his subjects (all intelligences in the heavens and the earth) would lose confidence in him, and would cease to follow him. and hence God’s power would disintegrate, and he would cease to be God.

      In a lesser kingdom, if the King is a just and righteous one, his subjects would follow him, but not all, for there must be opposition in all things.

    • Felimon Mallari says:

      A king has as much power as he has subjects and resources in his kingdom. Somewhere in the D&C, God is also bound by conditions. “All kingdoms have a law given….unto every law there are certain bounds and conditions. All beings who abide not in those conditions are not justified.” There was freedom of choice. The 1/3 simply rebelled and were cast out. They were no match for Jehova’s 2/3 and all the countless intelligences in Heavenly Father’s kingdom that honor him and sustain him as the great arbiter ih the heavens. Should God lose the support of the inlelligences (that remained), Skousen said that God’s power would disintegrate and he would cease to be God.

  3. DougT says:

    I found one statement of Brigham Young’s to be news to me. He stated that God actually put the intelligneces into the matter particles. I had assumed they were there eternally. So that is an interesting new thought for me to consider.

    His quotes where the word “honor” is used I believe to be taken out of context. The word seems to be more all encompassing than how he is taking it. As is noted in the first comment in regard to faith. Faith is one principle required to get those particles to move. But faith only motivates the person requesting the action. It is love that motivates the particles to act. They feel the great love of the Savior or those who follow him, and they respond to that love. This is why Satan can’t move them, as he has no love.

    As I’ve stated before Mosiah 2:38 declares that it is us who demand justice and a suffering to occur. It is us who put ourselves in hell. It is for our conscience that the Savior suffered. While the Scriptures give us many statements about judgement, such as that only Christ will judge, and that the saints will judge, that the Father needs to be appeased (thus making him the judge instead), Christ tells the full matter when he states that he will judge no man (Jn 8:15, Jn 12:47-48). Judgement is therefore automatically done by the “book” in our head that shall be “opened.” D&c 76 makes it plain that consignment in the final judgement will be according to the individuals ability to live laws of a kingdom. So both judgements are automatic. No need to appease those particles.

    I admit, james, that it isn’t as Star Wars an explanation as Cleon’s. But then truth generally isn’t.

    I should add my testimony that I have seen these particles on two occassions and know this principle to be true. They are intelligent and they live in communities. Believe it or don’t, as you wish.

  4. James says:

    Blake Ostler offers a fair critique of this theory which I tend to agree with. He states it better than I could. It is a small part of a larger paper:

    Click to access AtonementInMormonThought.pdf

  5. DougT says:

    Blake’s ideas present the following things for consideration _

    “It seems to me that a theory of atonement ought to answer – or at least cast some light upon – at least
    the following questions:
    1. How is Christ’s life, death and resurrection either necessary or uniquely beneficial to expiate or
    eradicate the effects of sin in our lives so that we are reconciled to God here and now?
    2. Why can’t we just be forgiven without someone suffering?
    3. Why does Christ’s suffering and experience atone for our sins in a way that the Father and the Holy
    Ghost do not?
    4. How could Christ “bear our sins” or “take our sins upon him” that we commit in the here and now
    in a way that caused him to suffer?.
    5. How do the ordinances of sacrament and baptism (among others) signify what occurs in atonement?”

    I would pose that I can answer all these questions. And while the result may pose difficulty in regard people’s ability to comprehend the circle of eternity, it otherwise makes perfect sense.

    1. Christ’s reason for living is the same as all of ours. He came to get a body and learn to do good with it, as we all must. Christ’s death was necessary to perform the resurrection. He had grown and learnt, done a mission, performed the atonement, and now it was time to bring resurrection to such as Adam, who had waited so long for it. As I don’t have a resurrected body I can’t explain anything in that area.

    Yet the reason why we needed an atonement rather than having to pay for our own sins eventually, is so that we can become sanctified now. This is imperative for people such as Abraham and us to acheive spiritual growth during this life particularly.

    2. God doesn’t hold grudges. He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good equally. But we demand justice. We have to feel an equal pain to the pain we have caused.

    3. Christ not only suffered it spirit but in body, which a glorified being and the Holy Ghost couldn’t.

    4. His mind went into eternity and throughout time to have our spirits sense his pain and anguish. He sufferred for real, performed sin.

    5. They don’t directly. The things that directly demonstrate the atonement and resurrection were the symbols performed before it occurred. Each person would bring in their sacrifice once a year and place their hands on its head to have their sins go onto the sacrifice. This was performed outside the temple yet inside the camp (Jerusalem). This was done in the garden when he paid the price for each person’s sins individually. Then there was the main sacrifice done outside Jerusalem where one sacrifice covered all people. This symbolised when he died on the cross.

    Baptism symbolises the death of the old man and the raising of the new ready to obey all that Father commands. Sacrament symbolises the taking into ourselves of Christ that we live as he lives as he is in us. By doing this we have the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost.

  6. Dermot Eric Sheils says:

    A theory is just what it is, A THEORY
    Inspired scripture ancient and modern with the necessary addition of the Holy Ghost
    convey the importance of accepting and acting to benifit from.
    However, resurrection to some degree of glory is assured for all which would not be possible without the atonement.

  7. I agree that Skousen’s theory is intriguing, and for the same reason—it’s the only one I’ve encountered that is uniquely Mormon (I haven’t read Ostler’s stuff yet, though). I also have several reservations.

    One think I like about it, though, is that it avoids what I call “Cosmic currency,” or the idea that there are sin “units” out there that must be paid for in pain “units.” That comes from reifiying financial metaphors. Yes, sin is like debt, and forgiveness is like having your debts paid off, but I think it’s a mistake to take that overly literally and assume that God’s justice is governed by an eternal bank account of sin that has to stay in the black. Skousen avoids this entirely with his focus on pain evoking compassion. That said, I don’t swallow it entirely, but I’m glad you’re starting a conversation about it.

    Could I suggest an alternate title for Skousen’s theory? “Common consent theory.” “Intelligence theory” is too vague, and could easily apply to several different theories since I imagine many distinct theories would involve intelligence in their explanation at some point. “Common consent” is a little more descriptive of the key idea in Skousen’s theory—that the principles of justice and mercy are a function of several intelligences deciding something as a group.

  8. Rameumptom says:

    Ostler’s Compassion theory also avoids the sin/pain units. Basically he states that we sin, which causes us pain. When we repent, we enter into a loving relationship with Christ. As Christ embraces us, he absorbs the pain of our sin, while we absorb his love. That’s very basic, but hits the gist of it, I think.

    Another decent, and related theory, is Jacob Morgan’s Divine Infusion Theory that is in the Spring 2006 Dialogue. I discussed it in my blog, and added some personal thoughts as well:

  9. James says:

    I like the phrase “Cosmic currency.”

    I think the prevailing idea among average returned missionaries in an average Elders Quorum in the U.S. is that Christ had to satisfy the demands of Justice, which demands have to be met….thought it isn’t clear exactly why those demands have to be met or what would happen if they weren’t. Those are major holes.

  10. DougT says:


    The demands of justice in us force us to suffer. And if we don’t have Christ suffer for us we have to suffer ourselves until we are satisfied (Mos 2:38). We are in that constant state of hell until we repent. I remember it beginning when I was 7. I was not a member at the time, so I had no idea why this was happening.

    Yet it is an interesting question why our eternal being feels we need to make amends? Eternal laws. No one made them. But they are interesting.

    It is like the question of why were some of us doing the right thing during eternity and others not so much? How is it that those intelligences chosen to be plants hadn’t developed as much as us intelligences chosen to be human had?

    When you think of the enormity of the number of intelligences that have and do exist upon this earth, and consider that only so few will actually get eternal life, the mind is boggled by the question of our own position. Why me?

  11. James says:


    The demands of justice come from within us? We are the source for this law? It is our demand for justice that causes Christ to suffer? Also, if the demand is that I suffer for my choices, it isn’t clear how Christ’s suffering (or anyone else’s) can substitute my own suffering.

    You seem to presuppose that intelligences are “chosen” by something (God?) to be what they are, as in, a plant or a human. I wonder if we know that.

    Thanks for your thoughts!

  12. lrwhitney says:

    Skousen is a rambling intermountain hick who’s contaminated Mormonism worldwide with paranoid political connections he’s pull out of his backside, and like this asinine “Atonement” notion it’s sophistry at its lowest level. It’s “can God make a rock so big He can’t move it” or “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin” nonsense. Satan doesn’t trust God or love HIm or serve Him. He’s still Statan’s God. A third of the hosts followed Satan, God is still God and His power isn’t diminished in the least. Most of us don’t love God much and it matters Him nothing. The sources cited post a hypothetical “If” you removed God’s Godness from God He’s no longer be God. If God stopped being fair and Godly and just, then He’d fire Himself. It’s childish. Likewise, nothing in any authoritative work by anyone in the history of the church ever suggested we could take a vote on it. That’s all crazy Cleon–the man who never had a single book published either by BYU or any authoritative LDS instructional body. What Cleon Skousen thinks about Atonement isn’t any more valid than anything I can pull out of my own backside, and I trust my own instincts far better than that of a lying lunatic who thought every administration from Ike to Obama was working directly for the KGB. If you want to spend the time you can waste a day reading just what I’ve written debunking Willy Skousen, and you can surf the net for a week and not run out of sources, LDS and otherwise, including official and current BYU authorities.

  13. James says:


    I prefer to separate Skousen’s theology from Skousen’s politics. Let’s not let our opinions of his politics taint our opinions of his theology. That would be a rather unobjective thing to do.

    While I don’t agree with Skousen’s atonement theory, I applaud him for his creativity in tackling a problem that few LDS have dared to touch.

    • lrwhitney says:

      Maybe I’m just coming from this at the wrong angle. I wouldn’t know how to separate Skousen’s politics from his religion because they are produced by the same process of “secret inside” information his political “facts” repeatedly proved he never really had. Likewise, I inherently resent discussions about “Skousen’s” theory this or even “Joseph Smith’s” theory that, and particularly “Brigham Young’s” theory this other. Every random thought Brigham Young every let loose with has been recorded, sometimes accurately, and preserved. But it essenttially has little to do with LDS or “Mormon” doctrine unless it has been advanced beyond this stage and canonized in a process that frankly has been rather casual if not cavalier. So you could piece all these bits of mostly related hypothesising and extrapolating from a dozen or more early LDS “authorities,” one of which Skousen was not by the way, and their observations and conclusions wouldn’t be any more binding on the general body of the church than mine. The implication that Parley P Pratt or any other “high ranking” Saint then or now believed in UFO’s or whatever else, doesn’t in any way imply that these are official LDS viewpoints, much less doctrine.

      But try this: Jehovah took on the responsibility for anything we did, as the Creator of our physical universe. As a result, it was necessary for bad things and dumb thoughts and mean people to bring about evil and suffering and sin, because it was given that they would screw up and do so repeatedly as part of the learning process. Therefore Christ is innocent of sin, but the responsible party, the “authority” and the only authority capable of accepting responsibility other than ourselves. Atonement is about crime and punishment and law and order and it is primarily an intellectual concept that is eternal. All this talk about intelligences, and how matter is arranged around them well, that’s what it’s about. It’s an intellectual matter. The physics of it are irrelevant. You either accept the gift of your Creator to take responsibility for your mistakes and disobedience, or you take that responsibility yourself–the latter of which would not be very pleasant for you. Either way the law, the principle, the incurred intellectual debt is paid.

      The physics are as irrelevant as Skousen and his disciples trying to figure out the mechanics of celestial procreation. What the mechanism was in eating of the forbidden fruit–did that itself corrupt the flesh and produce death? I’d say not, no again it’s was an intellectual principle, a choice. The mechanism God uses to change flesh or any other matter is a mystery, but Cleon Skousen doesn’t have to take wild guesses that God is just a cosmic chemist and put magical scientific-sounding elements in an apple.There is not, and will not likely be enough clean and authoritative information to even draft an “official” LDS position on most of this stuff, these “mysteries” that we keep being told not to waste time pondering, but do anyway. The whole approach is like a group of spiritual monkeys gathered ’round a Celestial nuclear power plant, who think from the top of a nearby hill and with their extremely limited insight, they can deduce just how to build one themselves. They tend to come up with propositions like, there’s a giant squirrel in there running on a big wheel…comparatively speaking. They can understand a big squirrel. So it makes sense to them that God would run his powerplants with them.

      And then they go around telling other Saints, vulnerable, new converts for instance, that God has a corps of giant rodents that keep the Sun burning and gibberish like that. The Bible says God spoke the universe into existence. That’s canon. Sorry if it isn’t any more specific than that. If he can speak stuff into existence, he doesn’t need Cleon Skousen or any of us to explain how Atonement works. You repent. Accept Christ. You’re Atoned. What else is missing? Nothing. So that’s what we’re stuck with till the Correlation Committee publishes a complete manual on how matter is made up of micro-Squirrel particles that God inserts into Atonement units and when you get enough of them earned you get your own Giant Squirrel Powerplant.

      In any case, it’s hard enough selling investigators Joseph Smith, gold plates, Heavenly visitors and explaining Mountain Meadows, that to have them easily and frequently exposed to this sort of entirely peripheral and totally unauthoritative speculation.

      Just my take on it.

  14. mormonismo says:

    La teoría de Skousen sobre la expiación es una buena forma de llamar a sus ideas sobre esta doctrina. Sé que algunas autoridades Generales comparten ese pensamiento. Personalmente me inclino a pensar que sus argumentos son sólidos sólo cuando usa las escrituras de una forma clara e irrefutable.

  15. ACA says:

    I came across this article talking about Skousen’s paper. I have to admit that I read this on my mission and also believed it. But now as a more mature adult, I’ve learned to research any LDS discourses outside of official church leadership. I am appreciative of this blog to discuss the topic and would encourage reading the below link. It brings us back to the simple restored truths that matter to our salvation at this point.

    Click to access Skousen-Williams.pdf

    • Macy says:

      Thank you for the link to this article. I was researching Bro. Skousen’s definition of “honor” to possibly use in teaching a Relief Society lesson. Reading this linked article reiterated what I should have already known: to stick with authorized lesson materials and not venture out into theories, no matter how “interesting” they may seem. I agree implicitly with ACA’s comment above.

  16. Linda says:

    Who says it is a theory? It was given at a missionary conference. It was printed in booklet form and given out by the church. How does this become a theory?

    • rameumptom says:

      Because it is just a theory. During Pres Kimball’s time, it was perhaps one of the better theories offered. It is/was not the one used by most GAs, such as Pres Packer tends to the concept of God paying a ransom for us (another theory) and has taught it in General Conference.

      There is a process to establish doctrine, and Skousen’s theory (nor any theory) has ever been established as a doctrine. The Church does not do much theology, although we have had some theologians and also wannabe theologians over the years.

      Skousen was never trained as a theologian, and did his best with what he had to work with: a Church with a few core doctrines, a bunch of theories, and not much else.

      That there are better theories out there today, is simply because we have some actual theologians who are taking this from a scriptural study, and not via some secret or closet sources that Skousen claimed to have. He was a great LDS, with a lot of theories. Today, we find that there are better theories from better theorists, whether one studies him from the political or religious side of things. While I see big holes in many of the theories he espoused, I applaud him for trying to do something that really had not been done before in the Church: to establish a theology behind the doctrine.

  17. William E. Harris says:

    The analogy of the atonement and the slothful man, unable to pay the mortgage on his farm, is not valid. If the man had not been slothful, there would have been no need of a “redeemer.” Someone, along time ago, said that he couldn’t understand the atonement; it was a mystery. So, we give up trying to undrstand it. Yet, if it is the most basic principle of the gospel, we ought to understand it most of all. The hardest part for me is to understand Christ’s suffering. It must have to do with redemption from sin, not justification. Pain is no excuse to sin and therefore Christ’s pain could have nothing to do with forgiveness only to overcome the ravages of personal sin that we still have to overcome. William E.

    Question: Did Leah bearing upon Rachel’s knees mean that she was in that position while giving birth?

    • DougT says:

      William E. Harris

      It sounds like you have agreed with my comment that the pain being suffered is relative to the fact that we demand justice. Have I misunderstood you?

      In regard your question, it certainly sounds like it, doesn’t it?

  18. Bro.Kohutek says:

    The problem with all of these theories is that while the Atonement is central to the Gospel, we must recognize that it is an instrumental means to achieving the purpose of the plan of salvation. In other words, the atonement and theories about it lose meaning and become insular without the context of what full salvation actually looks like. Although the Lord told Moses that his work and glory derive from the immortality and eternal life of man, it is not obvious what that means. The Lord is clearer when he commands his apostles, “That which ye have seen me do, do ye also.” He is more clear when he states that we should perfect like God, The Father. However, he is most clear when he declares to the Nephites that they should be perfect as both God and he are–note the variation from the commandment given to the apostles. Through the prophet Lorenzo Snow, the central purpose of the plan is made explicit, “As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.” Although members are often criticized as being pretentious for this belief, it was revealed to this generation in order to fully restore the Gospel. When this doctrine becomes our lens, our understanding of the both the meaning and power of the Atonement, as well as all Gospel principles, become clear.

    God the Father expects us to become as He is. This life provides us with the opportunities to choose to develop God-like attributes such as love, charity, compassion, kindness, and humility. His commandments are a literal guide to becoming like Him. It is becoming through doing. Sin is not objectively wrong, it is the failure to fulfill God’s commandments. Sinning impedes our progress toward becoming like God. Persistent and willful sinning demonstrates to God, and his fellow gods, that we cannot be entrusted with the responsibilities that come with godhood. It would be unconscionable to place the powers of creation and the sheparding of men’s souls in the hands of someone who is cruel, selfish, prideful, and resentful–the consequnces would be a travesty.

    The atonement is both payment and compassion and is therefore synonymous with charity. Charity is the very essence of godhood and is the defining prerequisite. The atonement more than balances the scales of justice because the value of a sacrifice given in unconditional love is incalculable. Christ did not just pay the price of sin, he took upon himself the actual sins of all men. By taking upon himself all the sins of men, Christ in effect sacrificed his own godhood for the sake of us, his brethren. However, the act of charitably sacrificing one’s own godhood for the sake of one’s brethern is so paradoxically god-like that it would be an injustice for all the other gods to not acknowledge the atoneme as being an infinite sacrifice as they would fail to exhibit the charity at the core of their own godliness.

    The atonement should be our model of for repentance. Through repentance, we receive a remission of our sins. While remission of our sins is a necessary step toward redemption, it also fulfills a vital function in working out our salvation. Through repentance we model christ-like attributes. We acknowlege the harm the sin causes, both to others and ourselves. We feel remorse because sin hinders our progress, and it caused Christ to suffer. We repair the damage and seek forgiveness to prevent others from sinning as a result of our sins, which would hinder their progression, and to foster opportunities of charity. We forsake the sin permanent to demonstrate that we are worthy of God’s trust and Christ’s atonement. We then learn to be charitable toward others as we understand their pain and want to be as Christ is.

  19. dewdad7 says:

    Discussions of atonement and creation are far more edifying if kept simple as in the above entry. We live in a time that has made available an understanding of the real “physical” world and the principles by which it exists at a level of clarity available to everyone. Please read Biocentrism by Robert Lanza and reviews of Biocentrism by Richard Conn Henry. I put physical in quotation marks because of what I learned from Robert Lanza in Biocentrism.
    Joseph Smith encouraged the saints to embrace truth wherever they find it. Any religion must at least be aware of these new expansive truths and be prepared to include them in any helpful analogies aimed at blessing us with better thinking tools and belief models. Lanza gives his opinion of the major religions relative to his Biocentric theory but missed the boat by not considering LDS doctrine. Section 88 and 93 alone should settle some issues in light of Biocentrism. I am amazed at how quickly even the greatest fallen minds repel any notion of a personal, loving, real creator worth emulating and all set to make us equal to all He is. Accountability and obedience are hard pills to swallow in our generation of free thinkers.

  20. JoeH says:

    This isn’t even skousen’s theory. He was taught it over a period of years by Dr John A. Widtsoe, an appostle of the lamb of god and one of the worlds leading experts on atomic energy or something. So people who say this theory has no authority erm are wrong. Sorry. Also some guy went on a skousen rant about how terrible he was. I think that’s funny since a prophet told members to read two of his books lol n00b.

    • DougT says:

      I find it interesting how the words of apostles and prophets are suddenly authoritative when a person agrees with them; and are just obscure statements when not agreed with.

      In addition to that his title of Dr., rather than Elder, is quoted to suggest a great knowledge by education standard rather than religious knowledge.

      I’d ask, do you accept that Elder Paul, Elder Peter and President Moses were correct in stating that man should rule over their wives? Or do you accept the last prophet telling us it is some indefinable partnership where the woman has at least equal say?

      Regardless of all the attempts I have read by members on this subject of atonement all of them come out as being illogical. This one included. This proposes that these intelligences are so stupid that they can’t accept to forgive a person for being truly repentant and changing their lives; but that someone else must suffer pain for them. That is just truly absurd! It is just a desparate attempt to try and explain why Jesus could suffer for others sins. But just because you can’t find a better explanation doesn’t mean you give up and just accept the nearest thing you can find.

  21. Hello, I am Michael Schulze from Germany and I am a member for over 50 years now. I like all your comments, because I was thinking in many ways in my life about the atonemen and why it was nessessary. I have many thoughts about it -here are some:
    I liked Brother Skousens Ideas, when I heard it the first time. It was a big help for mr to explain( at least a little bit) my cousin, who is catholic, why christ had to suffer because she and my Uncle and many christians think that God must be very hard, if he needs to see his Son to suffer, to be satisfied. My Islamic friends tell me, God is almighty, he can forgive as he wants an has no need of a suffering “Son” and my budhist friends say, there is our own “Karma”( The sum of our deeds, Thoughts etc) we are responsible for our own life and have to overcome it by our self by rebirth as long as we learned it to make it to the “nirvana”. No other one is needed.-
    I think the atonement is unique, wonderful and true and I have a spiritual confirmation about this truth, but it is still hard to explain it in words. I think it is the only way to live in the Kingdom of God with its Godly Laws after we had lived on this earth a mortal, sinful live(“necessary”, because we needed to learn by own decisions). Satan was not willing to pay the price for our agency. He offered a Plan where alle would be saved and I think, where nobody has to suffer, especially he. When Christ offered his willingness, to fullfill Gods will( Thy will be done) he knew or at least had a shadow of knowledge, what will come apon him in the Garden Gethsemane when he will repeat this words:Thy will be done.( see D&C 19:17-19 and Mose 4:1-4 and Mose 3:7-and Luke 22: 39ff
    So far for today. Thank you for your Insights. Michael

  22. JoeH says:

    You should read my comment properly DougT. I actually mentioned that brother Widtsoe was an apostle of the lamb of god in addition to his title of Dr.

    His educational credentials give his opinion in this field more weight as he was a biochemist from Harvard and received his P.h.d in Chemistry. Biochemistry is the study of chemical processes in living organisms and since the atonement was an actual physical thing that occurred in the body of our lord its right up his street and means he has one up on understanding the phyisical atonement because of his educational training and the fact hes an apostle automatically gives his opinion on doctrines weight.

    I just thought id clarify the main point of my comment as you didn’t understand or read it properly.

    • DougT says:


      Let me first say that I meant no attack upon the sincerity of Brother Widtsoe. I am aware of who Brother Widtsoe is. And I understand the theory being presented.

      However I don’t accept your philosophy that chemists understand or know anything about the basic particles that make up matter. Knowing how to separate chemicals and understanding the results of mixing those chemicals is a long way from the basic particles themselves. If we were to believe that chemists manipulate basic matter particles then we would have matter changing its mind as to what it would be, with the same compositions.

      It requires spiritual principles and the application of those principles in our lives to see and manipulate that matter – not a degree.

      In regard to taking his opinion as ultimate by his rank within the church structure, we all know that apostles and prophets down through the ages have had varying opinions to each other. If it were as simple as you are presenting then the article would need no more qualification than to say an apostle said so. But we are left to pray and learn about these things. :-)

  23. BradyC says:

    I believe that Christ has explained the atonement sufficiently in His own words. See 3 Nephi 27:13-16.

    Why did the Father send the Savior? Jesus explains: “My Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross.”

    Why did the Savior need to suffer (i.e., be lifted up upon the cross)? Again, in Jesus’ own words: “that I might draw all men unto me.” Christ’s suffering and atonement give His words the moral strength to turn men into gods. He didn’t just teach infinite love, he demonstrated it. Without the atonement, man would not understand the type of love needed to become like Him.

    If we want to return to live with the Father, we must strive to become like the Savior: “that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil.” Thus, because man first judged God, God is justified in judging man. The justice of God is not simply punishment for sin, but the natural law of our choice to reject our Father’s love.

    When we sin, we ignore the suffering of the Savior and reject our Father’s love. On the other hand, when we choose good and strive to follow the Savior’s teachings, we show our respect for His suffering and accept our Father’s love. Our Father’s love is great enough to save all, but not all accept it. Mercy is only given to those to accept our Father’s love, not because our Father needs more love, but because they have learned how to love like our Father has. Our Father can only rejoice when he knows that man has felt His love, and developed a capacity to share His love with others.

  24. […] if the keys were not exercised; their obedience would not be insured, and we would have no order. (Intelligence Theory of the Atonement from Cleon Skousen).  This is a very speculative theory, but I like it.  It rings true and it […]

  25. Terry Sackett says:

    I had never heard of this theory before today. One of the full-time missionarionaries serving in my ward asked me to look it up for him.
    As you pointed out, it’s interesting, but based on Skousen’s interpretations of scripture. I’m not qualified to refute any of it, but I certainly would take it with a grain of salt, or many. I’m not on board at all with the idea of God being required to convince other intelligences to allow Him to be God. In my uneducated opinion, that kind of reduces Heavenly Father to mortal terms that can be understood by mankind, when so much is intentionally kept beyond our understanding while we our on this planet in our imperfect state.

    • Michael Schulze says:

      Hello, Terry, I liked your comment. Aim a convert fro Germany and fulfilled 2 missions in Austria. I agree with you totally with your last sentence. As I am getting older I humbly admit how little I know. When I read Scousens talk the first time, it electrified me. Many questions were answered, for example: I had found in the scriptures: how can God command and the elements obey(Jacob 4:6; Helaman 10: 5-10; 12:7-17; Mose 7: 13,48; Abraham 4:12,18,21,25 etc.) How can they obey, when there is no alternative ( not to obey)? Why do they obey? And what obeys in a tree, a mountain, a river, sun etc?
      But most important, why was the atonement nessecary? I know many official statements of Protestant leaders in Germany, who say, God does not need a cruzified son to forgive us. He is almighty an can do it without all this. It was more to show us empathy. We have a lot discussions with our muslim friends, who do not understand the idea of the atonement, as many Christians do not understand. I remember that my Catholic and Lutheran relatives could not understand the cruel death of Jesus. Is God a Sadist, does he need such offers before he will forgive us? Of course not, as we know. But then, why this sacrifice ? As we can read in Alma 42 : 13-23 the principle about justice and mercy and the wonderful unique explanation, how they work together. But there is a disturbing sentence in the BM and only there:( I did not find any sentence like these in the other scriptures) “God would cease to be God” (2. Nephi 2:13; Alma 42: 13,22,23,;Moroni 9:19). Is that only a phrase without meaning or is it the uncomprehendable never mentioned idea, that there is something, that could end the godliness of God( or the other way round, that made God to God). I found that Brother Scousen gave a very conclusion for this Questions. Of course only in our limited language and understanding, but it was the best I could find in simple words: there is a loving God , who respects the free will of every intelligence and obidience is never forced but a decision by the individual intelligence. The trust in God must be 100% in his justice( if you ask any person in this world how he thinks God must be, if there is one, mostly the first characteristic would be : totally just, not like mankind or the world leaders ) so the consquences of any broken law must follow without any exception. Could it be enough, that I am sorry and pityfull? No, because I never can turn the time back and make the action undone. So what? Here is the wonderful principle of mercy, after the price is payed, the consequences suffered by one who was blameless himself Jesus Christ.
      Now all the universe not only jubilated but where sure that God never will be and has to be unjust, but still can be merciful.
      I found that my friends from different faith found this possible explanation very helpful. I do not offer it as the final explanation, but it is a small step to understand the nessecaty of the depth of the atonement a little better.
      Michael Schulze
      Ps. In modern Physiks something about the string theory points in the direction of independent unpredictable decision in an Atom/molecules – (intelligence?). A famous scientist and philosopher of Hannover, my hometown in Germany, Leibniz, had a very interesting theory about ” Monaden”, that also points in that direction.

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