“Not Even Once”?

Peggy Fletcher Stack, has an article here about the “Not Even Once” controversy.

I’m not going to comment on the article as a whole (though it’s interesting that in the last few year, Ms. Stack seems to be using the more liberal wing of the bloggernacle for unpaid R&D). I do want to comment on one theologically ignorant statement:

Mormons “give constant lip service to Christ’s atonement, but our highest aspiration is never to come within a hundred feet of it,” Jones writes. “If only we can prevent people from performing wrong actions, we think, they can return safely to heaven, untouched by the world and I would add, untouched by Christ’s grace.”

This is wrong on many, many levels – but I’ll focus on just one.

Alma 7:11 – And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.

The grace of Christ covers more than our sins. We could go through life sinless and still have the grace of Christ touch us as we suffer pains and afflictions.

While we will all fall short of the Glory of God, we shouldn’t have the attitude that “nevertheless God will justify in committing a little sin.” The truly repentant will wish they had never committed the sin in the first place (while still recognizing that the atonement washes away the sin as though it had never happened, at least in the eyes of God).

I think the “Not even once” idea is a great one. Of course we should teach that the atonement is available and infinite, but sin should still be seen as something bad, not something to be expected.

The Gospel has paradoxes: To save ourselves, we must first lose ourselves. The greatest of all must first serve all. Salvation is individual, but we cannot be saved in isolation. We will sin and thus need the atonement, yet at the same time it actually is possible to live a sinless life.

The grace of Christ covers more than sin. It’s a narrow view that would limit it to only covering for our sins. I’ve seen people cruelly abandoned, and the grace of Christ covered them even though there was no sin on their parts.

65 thoughts on ““Not Even Once”?

  1. I don’t like the connotations of the “not even once” approach. I absolutely think that people/children need to be taught to do their best, to strive to live as good of a life as they can. But to teach that perfection in this life is not only the goal, but that it is the expected *standard*, may simply set people up for excessive guilt and failure when reality intrudes. Once they recognize that they have sinned they may (falsely) believe that they can’t get back to where they need to be. And that attitude can become an excuse to continue the offending behavior because they’ve “already messed up”.

    I think the Gospel’s teaching of “ye are saved after all you can do” is the attitude we need to cultivate. I remember a wonderful talk be Elder Groberg where he stated (approximately) we each need to do our best given what we know and what our abilities and challenges are (whatever and however little or much that is) and then the grace of Christ makes up whatever the needed difference is to bring us back to the Father.

    Just my opinion.

  2. The problem is that perfection *is* the expected standard. It’s one we constantly fall short of, but it’s the standard nonetheless. Pretending it isn’t just means we’re telling people it’s okay to sin, really.

  3. There are a couple things I think we forget. First, the “be ye therefore perfect” is a poor translation for what should say, “be ye therefore complete”. We aren’t expected to be perfect, but complete – which many people can do.

    Second, the concept of being saved by grace “after all we can do” is misinterpreted in our day. In translating the German Bible, Elder John Taylor wrote it, “in spite of all we can do”. Besides, what is “all we can do”? According to the Lamanite king Anti-Nephi-Lehi, all we can do is repent.

    According to King Benjamin, it isn’t an issue of we do our best and Christ makes up the rest. It is an issue of we have a giant debt, that if we attempt to pay it God blesses us and so we remain in debt. There is nothing we can do to repay God. All we can do is recognize we are less than the dust, yet can be the children of God if we repent and follow him as best we can.

    Finally, we are not saved by obedience. “Not everyone that saith Lord Lord shall enter into his kingdom. Christ condemned the Pharisees and others, who followed every little particle of the law, but did not do the will of God. We can keep all the commandments, but if we have not received a mighty change in our hearts via the Holy Ghost, we are not clean. King Benjamin’s people repented, and the Holy Ghost fell upon them, cleansing them and preparing them to covenant with God because they no longer had a desire to do evil, but to do good continually (Mosiah 4:1-5, 5:1-5).

    God’s will is for people to be converted, to repent and change so that the Holy Spirit can dwell within them and fill them with the desire to follow Christ. Commandments become a natural outcome of this change, and not a bargaining chip to earn salvation.

    Not having read the book “Not Even Once” or what it teaches inside, I cannot judge it by its cover. If it only focuses on keeping commandments without first seeking repentance and the gift of the Holy Ghost as a guide, then it fails immediately in its overall purpose. For if a child does make the commitment and then falters, he will be without the support structure that Christ himself put into place.

  4. Oh brother. I think a LOT of people are way over-thinking this issue. Of course people – including children – will make mistakes. But you still teach them to try not to, and the concept of Not Even Once is a healthy way to do it (based on the description above – I haven’t actually read the book, but I think it’s safe to assume it’s children-friendly).

    Look, you don’t teach you kids to do whatever they want and then repent because everything will be OK and Jesus loves you just the way you are. Nobody does this. You teach them to try to follow certain reasonable rules that you set up in the household. Those rules include: “don’t do certain things, even once.” Will the children occasionally break the rules? Of course. Hopefully you will calmly explain to them that this is wrong and then they won’t do it anymore.

    I asked my six-year-old to brush his teeth before school. He went upstairs and fooled around for 10 minutes while we frantically got ready for school. As he came down the stairs (knowing all kids sometimes forget instructions), I asked him “did you brush your teeth like I asked?” He said, “yes.” “Are you sure?” “Yes.” I said, “let me smell your breath.” He turned red and admitted he had not, and ran upstairs to brush his teeth. The problem was not failing to brush his teeth — it was lying about it. And I made that clear to him and gave him a punishment. Then as he was leaving for school I told him I loved him (he was still upset about the punishment).

    The message to this wonderful child of mine is: “don’t do something wrong. Even once.” But everybody, including him, knows that he will do things wrong. This is the standard we should all strive for, but it is obvious to us all that we will all fall short. But there is simply nothing wrong about teaching the standard. Kids understand it.

    As kids get older they begin to understand the fine points of the Atonement, but we should still teach our kids to try not to do things wrong.

  5. I like how Clayton Christensen in his most recent book explains that the best way to teach investigators to keep the commandments is explain that it is easier to keep the commandments 100% of the time, rather than 99 or 98% of the time. I think that is what ‘Not even Once’ is trying to convey. I don’t think that book is going to do any ‘harm’. Kids will get the message without getting some complex when they get older when they screw up. I’m trust that Wendy Watson was able to write a psychologically-safe children’s book!

  6. Ivan’s point that the Atonement covers more than just sin is very, very important. This book doesn’t teach that point either.

    Of course we should teach that the atonement is available and infinite, but sin should still be seen as something bad, not something to be expected.

    The story doesn’t teach that the Atonement is available and infinite. The approach suggested by people distressed about the story does not suggest that sin is not something bad or that it is to be expected.

    I find that the “never make a mistake” approach in the book really does ignore the Atonement. We definitely need to teach our children about sin and that they need to “choose the right” when faced with choices to break commandments that represent God’s will. But I agree with the various criticisms of this book that point out that it sets our children up for a very early sense of failure, discouragement, shame, and guilt. This is only exacerbated by the fact that the story doesn’t mention the Atonement (or repentance or forgiveness as more granular concepts) at all. Reference to the Atonement comes at the very end of the book in a “guide for parents.” And despite what the Deseret Book PR response said, that reference really is just in passing, a perfunctory nod at best.

    rameumpton’s comment is insightful. We reveal ourselves as Christians to the extent that we put faith in Christ and repentance first, trusting in the saving power of the Atonement. No lesson should replace that, eclipse it, or cover it up. It is a frustrating aspect of Mormon culture in this day and age that the Atonement often stands in the background, pushed off of center stage by “teachings” relating to life lessons and, essentially, micro-managed instructions on how to live the right kind of life (implying that there is only one right way to go about doing anything when, in truth, I believe that the scriptures show that God is comfortable with a multiplicity of righteous choices made by people who have chosen to be disciples of Jesus Christ and live their lives accordingly).

    Creedal Christians accuse us of not being Christian, and this is one of the reasons why — we dilute our doctrine of the Atonement with peripheral things. Their accusation is based on even more fundamental philosophical disagreements, primarily (in my opinion) the theory known as ex nihilo creation and the extra-biblical philosophical abstraction known as the One Substance Trinity. But — and this is important — although I believe that the Mormon understanding of the Plan of Salvation and the nature of God is doctrinally correct, to the extent that we do not put the Atonement of Jesus Christ front and center in every teaching of our doctrines, we perhaps have to concede that the Creedal Christians are right in their accusation that we are not Christians. To clarify, we prove them right by glossing over the Atonement and failing to display it front and center in situations like this.

    As I mentioned in a previous discussion about this, I think it likely that the concept of the “Not Even Once” Club suggested by the book, if actually used, will inadvertently make it impossible for our children to understand the sound folk wisdom that Church is not a country club for the perfect but a hospital for the sick, dejected, weak, weary, i.e. sinners.

    I would think that the “not even once” approach would produce a remarkably brittle faith, shattered by mere mistakes that on their own do not necessarily even transgress God’s law but rather breach one of many well-intended hedges around the law.

    On the other hand, if we teach our children first and foremost about Jesus Christ, who he was, what he did, why he did it, and how we can and should orient our lives to relate to that sacrifice and to the Savior personally, then “obedience” of the kind that has become so important in our current Church culture will be part and parcel with the whole package. Do we have enough faith to believe that if we teach our children about Christ and his Atonement that they will then naturally choose to obey God’s will in all aspects of their lives? Our culture suffers as we drift farther from this confidence in God’s willingness both to convey the gift of faith to us and to lift us up and heal us through his grace so that our hearts are changed and we begin to “sing the song of redeeming love” (Alma 5:26). But I believe that if we raise our children this way — to learn early on and then sing the song of redeeming love by turning their hearts over to God so that Christ’s grace can effect the mighty change of heart described by Alma — they will actually be stronger in their faith than through the “not even once” approach.

    Deep down, the approach in this book is not very different from President Kimball’s old teaching about making up your mind in advance how you will act if faced with a choice, like breaking the Word of Wisdom, so that it will be easy to act accordingly in the “heat of the moment” when the choice is presented. That is really good advice. The criticisms of this book that I have seen so far focus on the problematic approach of how this is being taught through the specific story used in the book. I have not seen criticisms of the book that deny that sin is real, should be avoided, or that God’s commandments should be obeyed. It is curious that people are rushing to the defense of the book and claiming that the books’ critics are making such a case when they are not. The problem is the invisibility of what should be our central construct: the Atonement and its teachings about faith, repentance, and trusting in Christ’s grace.

    I hope each of us will not only teach our children not to do drugs, bully, or look at pornography but also to value all people equally, never to use others as a means to an end, never oppress the laborer. As with the specific items on the list of the “Not Even Once” Club, these latter, higher teachings will also be impossible to comply with in every instance simply because of our fallen nature, our constant inner dialogue with the natural man, who seeks a bargain or advantage at the expense of fairness or justice.

    It will be the work of a lifetime to teach our children to reject the profit motive or zero-sum-game competition as the driving motivating factor in their lives, helping them instead to place Christ’s love and mission at the center of their motivations so that they can begin to contribute to building Zion by “seeking the interest of [their] neighbor,” rather than their own profit, “and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God” (D&C 82:19). Let’s also teach them to reject racism, sexism, nationalism, or discrimination of any form so that the lives they lead as they grow up can truly reflect the Truth that the Lord “inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile” (2 Nephi 26:33). If they learn these lessons, people will view them as the disciples of Jesus Christ that they profess to be.

    Christian discipleship is a lifelong journey full of ups and downs, successes and failures, trials and tribulations. As children of Christ (having become such through baptism), the Atonement accompanies us every step of the way and makes us whole, not only from sin but from all of our suffering during mortality. What a shame to relegate such an amazing act of God’s grace to a supporting role, pushing it off of center stage!

  7. One more point: I think teaching anything besides “Not Even Once” makes a mockery of the Atonement. The inference is “do whatever you want and you will be forgiven,” which is the exact opposite of what the Savior taught, i.e. “go and sin no more.”

  8. Ardis E. Parshall made a comment on facebook that she’s given me permission to post here:

    “Pretending it isn’t just means we’re telling people it’s okay to sin, really.” That’s it, that’s what I’ve complained of in the fuss both on blogs and in Peggy’s FB thread. I’m not defending the book particularly — haven’t seen it, haven’t read it entirely, don’t know whether it’s any good or not — but the chief opposition to the book seems to be the idea that since we’ll all fall short anyway, it’s wrong to tell anybody “not even once” for all sorts of nonsensical “reasons.” We *have* to teach that sin is wrong, that it’s wrong even once — if we don’t do that, then we’re teaching that sin really isn’t all that bad. Go ahead and do as you please, knowing that the atonement is there — the “lord will beat us with a few stripes” and all will be well. *That* — not “not even once” — is the demonic doctrine.

  9. The inference is “do whatever you want and you will be forgiven,” which is the exact opposite of what the Savior taught, i.e. “go and sin no more.”

    Since no one is saying that, I think we’re in the clear. Now, why doesn’t the story mention repentance, forgiveness, or the Atonement?

  10. Generally, books aimed at young children tend to aim at teaching on particular concept. Criticizing it for not covering everything related to the topic is missing the mark.

    I might as well start criticizing every post on the ‘Nacle (ever) for not completely covering every related topic.

    Of course, I haven’t read the book. I may not like it at all. I was just bothered by the claim that a life without sin would be a life free of the atonement, which is false.

    But I’m rather pleased with the discussion so far. I find very little to disagree with in most of what has been said (even when people think they are disagreeing).

  11. “very early sense of failure, discouragement, shame, and guilt.”

    I would hope it does, as that is the essence of a broken heart and contrite spirit. Like the Book of Mormon teaches, the atonement isn’t a get out of sin free card. In fact it is the exact opposite, because it requires us to recognize that sin is death and only Christ can bring us from the moral and physical grave. Today’s problems are based on *not* having a sense of failure, discouragement, and especially shame and guilt. We are a repentant-less society and so the atonement (as defined by the book’s critics) isn’t going to be of much use anyway in this life.

  12. I am at a bit of a loss here never having read the book, but here is a link:


    This is the description:

    “The Not Even Once Club is an adorable and appealing way to engage children in a story that will help them choose for themselves to keep the commandments and to never break them. Not even once.

    Children will meet Tyler, an energetic boy who is excited to make new friends in his Primary class. They have invited Tyler to join their special club, but first he has to pass the test and keep the club promise.

    With illustrations from bestselling illustrator Brandon Dorman, The Not Even Once Club is a fun and engaging way for parents to help teach their children the importance of keeping the commandments. Included in the back of the book are additional teaching helps for parents and leaders.”

    John F writes:

    “Now, why doesn’t the story mention repentance, forgiveness, or the Atonement?”

    No book can be about everything. I would imagine the author got an idea and ran with it as a way to teach children not to break the commandments. Jesus taught in parables, and I am sure the author saw this as an engaging parable that would help teach a lesson. I have no problem with a book teaching one parable on one subject.

  13. “I would hope it does, as that is the essence of a broken heart and contrite spirit.”

    Discouragement, shame, and guilt seem, to me, more the symptoms of worldly sorrow, not godly sorrow. It is godly sorrow and godly sorrow alone that is “the essence of a broken heart and contrite spirit.”

  14. Yes, it’s true Satan will tell us a little bit can not hurt. And it’s always better not to sin than to sin and repent later. But that “little bit” might cover things – even in childhood – that the “Not Even Once” pledge might not. Too often, I think, we look at the commandments (both of what to do and what not to do) as a checklist and figure if we’re doing everything on one side, and not doing everything on the other side, we’re good to go. That’s never the case. There are some things everyone has to work on, on both sides.

    At the same time, the trap Satan tries to set for us is that once we slip up that we’re doomed, that there’s no way to come back. I don’t buy the argument that Heavenly Father expects us to sin, per se. But I do recognize (and I need to reflect on this more as I take the sacrament) that through the Atonement, Christ will help pick us up and dust us off if we trip and fall. That’s the problem I have with the pledge, and what I’ve seen in the book: If someone does slip – and only in the specific ways mentioned – he or she seems to be out of the “club” for life.

    I can understand the need not to look at “pornographic billboards”, or at least not to keep looking at them or for them. The first city on my mission, it seemed every newsstand had a magazine with a nude on the cover in prominent display. And I felt a loss of the Spirit as a result – I noticed the difference in my next area where that wasn’t the case. But I couldn’t simply not go out and work in that first city because of those obstacles, and I’ve realized since that there are other obstacles out there and they might not be as obvious.

  15. No book can be about everything.

    I think it is problematic to teach a concept like “not even once” to children if not placed in the broader context of the Gospel’s path of faith, repentance, and forgiveness through the Atonement, as taught in 3 Nephi 11.

    What happens if a child in the club bullies his little sister later that afternoon. Is he out of the club?

    What happens if I commit a sin later in life. Am I out of salvation, despite the fact that I am baptized and have strived all these years to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ, including through the litany of works and rules that we as Mormons set out as required for such discipleship?

  16. John Taber:

    “That’s the problem I have with the pledge, and what I’ve seen in the book: If someone does slip – and only in the specific ways mentioned – he or she seems to be out of the “club” for life.”

    If this is a message in the book, I would definitely have a problem with it, but I would bet you a Spanish language Book of Mormon that this not the message in the book. This may be the source of the controversy, i.e. that people who have never read the book are assuming (incorrectly) what is in it.

  17. Can you define “godly sorrow” that doesn’t include those things?

    Yes, King Benjamin and Alma both described it. It’s not about shame or guilt, though those are also associated with sin. Putting those forward as functionally “desirable” because they lead to a broken heart and contrite spirit definitely seems like a lower law.

    To put it into terms more familiar to King Benjamin and Alma, a broken heart and contrite spirit are gifts of God that accompany our recognition that we are less than the dust of the earth, that we desire no more to do evil but to do good continually, that we’ve had a mighty change of heart and have felt to sing the song of redeeming love.

    And all that is a result of the Atonement. The natural man would never come to such desires.

  18. I wonder if this controversy has actually helped with the sale. Might actually become a “taboo” book that “wicked” orthodox Mormons buy just to be rebellious. 😉

  19. Well, let’s look at the pledge then:

    “From this moment on: I will never break the Word of Wisdom, lie, cheat, steal, do drugs, bully, dress immodestly, or break the law of chastity. I will never intentionally look at anything pornographic on TV, the Internet, a cell phone, billboards, magazines, or movies. Not Even Once.”

    That to me doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for those who might slip – and we all will at one point or another. It also doesn’t include many things that aren’t exactly good to be doing. I’m not going to go back and forth with you or anyone else on this, but that’s how I see things here.

  20. Oh please, lighten up people!

    Wendy Nelson wrote “Not Even Once” as a children’s story book adventure, not a doctoral dissertation. She probably never anticipated such critical scrutiny. And I’m almost certain that she never intended for it to replace the canon of scripture, or to supplant the Doctrine of Christ.

    Perhaps Peggy is just expressing her professional envy – her own attempts at children’s books were generally ignored. 😉

  21. john f. I see what you described as the end result of godly sorrow. The stories I read lead me to believe its a state of absolute and complete hopelessness, mental pain, and in extreme cases near death. This must then be accompanied by a realization we are living the opposite of happiness and righteousness and not just that our lives aren’t going the way we expect it to go.

  22. I think it is a huge mistake to imply there are things in a book when you haven’t read it.

    John Taber, have you read the book in context and seen the context of the pledge? (Personally, I have no problem with the pledge, but I would imagine the context would make it even more innocuous).

    John F, are you 100 percent sure that the book never mentions or alludes to the Savior, repentance or the Atonement? (Personally, I don’t see it as a problem if these things are not mentioned in a children’s book, but I would like the claims being made to be backed up with factual information).

  23. John T., as Emily Jensen has pointed out, the pledge itself could have been fixed by adding a simple sentence to the effect of the following:

    “But if I do I will use the beautiful power of the atonement to repent and seek forgiveness.”

    I attribute it to our Mormon culture that this wasn’t part of the pledge, and not to the author’s bad faith or misunderstanding of the Gospel or anything like that. I mean, it’s so typically Mormon, you know — a certain tone deafness to the problem of exalting obedience without an accompanying reference to the saving power of the Atonement.

    Now, even with that sentence added to the pledge, thereby fixing the pledge itself to be in harmony with the Gospel, the story is still left wanting. You have the creepiness of the Church supplying a club house with candy and all kinds of treats more commonly associated with “Pleasure Island” in Pinnochio as a bribe for kids to sign this pledge and become part of this club where no one makes a mistake. Doesn’t that run contrary to the folk wisdom that Church is not a country club for the sinless?

    Also, can children younger than 8 years of age sin?

  24. “Also, can children younger than 8 years of age sin?” No, but they can transgress or the atonement wouldn’t be necessary to cover their innocent mistakes.

  25. John F, are you 100 percent sure that the book never mentions or alludes to the Savior, repentance or the Atonement?

    Yes, Geoff, “not even once,” as they say.

    “Repentance” is the title of the last paragraph in the “Parent’s Guide” Section on page 17, and the paragraph refers to the Atonement in passing. It is the last paragraph in the book (following fourteen paragraphs on “Modesty and Pornography” and two paragraphs on “Obedience” in that “Parent’s Guide.”)

  26. So, the story does not refer a single time to faith, repentance, forgiveness, Jesus Christ, or the Atonement. The only reference to any of these things is in that last paragraph of the Parent’s Guide section, not the story itself. It concedes that “mortals make mistakes,” truly, an afterthought, on any literary analysis.

  27. John F, your comment appears to contradict itself, or perhaps I am not understanding.

    First, you say “not even once.” Then you list references to repentance and the atonement in the Parent’s Guide section. Which is it?

    In any case, I would agree with your general point that it would be better to make more references to the atonement and repentance, so point taken. But it is a children’s book, after all, and if all children’s books were perfect, their authors wouldn’t need the Atonement! 🙂

  28. Geoff, as I mentioned, the story itself does not refer, even once, to faith, repentance, Christ, or the Atonement.

    In a separate section at the end of the book which is not part of the story (which I referred to as the “Parent’s Guide section” but its actual title is “Guide for Parents and Children”), there is a reference to repentance and the Atonement.

  29. So, the book, in explaining itself to parents, does mention the Atonement and Repentance, but the story, which is meant to be a parable aimed at children, does not.

    You are probably correct (based on the description) that the story itself should mention repentance and the Atonement. That would have been a nice way to really bring the story home, I agree. I wonder why an editor never mentioned this. Anyway, I still think it is a bit of a tempest in a teapot. Authors are not perfect.

  30. Woah. Guilt is most CERTAINLY a divine gift, and most CERTAINLY a part of godly sorrow. Alma the Younger felt guilt. The Anti-Nephi-Lehi’s felt guilt. Guilt is what you feel when you realize that you did something wrong.

    It’s bizarre to me that people are claiming that we shouldn’t feel guilt when we sin.

  31. The corollary to the “not even once” club is the “10 billion times club,” right?

    Teenager: “I caved to peer pressure from my football team and drank a beer at the after game party. I’m out of the ‘not even once’ club and can’t ever be back in it because it’s only for people who keep the ‘not even once’ pledge. Why did Elder Nelson’s wife write that and my parents teach it to me? Is it because the Church is the ‘not even once’ club? I can’t be part of the Church. I am heartbroken but seeing as how I’m out of the club, there’s another club I can join, the ’10 billion times’ club. No sense trying to resist the temptation to drink alcohol with friends now, or resist the temptation to do any of the other things that are pleasurable or that will profit me.”

  32. It’s bizarre to me that people are claiming that we shouldn’t feel guilt when we sin.

    Too bad no one (that I’ve seen) is claiming that. Why would you say that they are? What do you have to gain from that mischaracterization?

    My own contribution has been to challenge jettboy’s implied endorsement of shame, guilt etc. as the substance of godly sorrow. It is not.

  33. “Or otherwise, can ye imagine yourselves brought before the tribunal of God with your souls filled with guilt and remorse, having a remembrance of all your guilt, yea, a perfect remembrance of all your wickedness, yea, a remembrance that ye have set at defiance the commandments of God?”

    “Then will ye longer deny the Christ, or can ye behold the Lamb of God? Do ye suppose that ye shall dwell with him under a consciousness of your guilt? Do ye suppose that ye could be happy to dwell with that holy Being, when your souls are racked with a consciousness of guilt that ye have ever abused his laws?”

    “Know ye not that if ye will do these things, that the power of the redemption and the resurrection, which is in Christ, will bring you to stand with shame and awful guilt before the bar of God?”

    “Now Alma, seeing that the words of Amulek had silenced Zeezrom, for he beheld that Amulek had caught him in his lying and deceiving to destroy him, and seeing that he began to tremble under a consciousness of his guilt, he opened his mouth and began to speak unto him, and to establish the words of Amulek, and to explain things beyond, or to unfold the scriptures beyond that which Amulek had done.”

    “And it came to pass that Zeezrom was astonished at the words which had been spoken; and he also knew concerning the blindness of the minds, which he had caused among the people by his lying words; and his soul began to be harrowed up under a consciousness of his own guilt; yea, he began to be encircled about by the pains of hell.”

    “And I also thank my God, yea, my great God, that he hath granted unto us that we might repent of these things, and also that he hath forgiven us of those our many sins and murders which we have committed, and taken away the guilt from our hearts, through the merits of his Son.”

  34. Guilt is most definitely a part of godly sorrow. We feel truly guilty when we do something wrong — and it is a guilt that haunts us until we seek redemption through Christ. That guilt is what brings us to our knees before Christ, seeking His grace and salvation. Guilt is the natural consequence of sin, and is at the very heart of Godly sorrow.

  35. The Atonement means nothing to us unless we have a real consciousness of our guilt and sin. And it is hard to have a really consciousness of our guilt and sin in a society that doesn’t take sin very seriously.

  36. The corollary to the “not even once” club is the “10 billion times club,” right?

    I should clarify that to say “Absent appropriate context about faith, repentance, the Atonement and God’s unconditional love, the corollary to the ‘not even once’ club is the ’10 billion times’ club.”

  37. And it is hard to have a really consciousness of our guilt and sin in a society that doesn’t take sin very seriously.

    So this is all about the Culture Wars, as usual. And you continue to hold to the position that people who are criticizing this approach are doing so because they take sin less seriously or don’t want to teach their kids not to sin?

  38. Second, the concept of being saved by grace “after all we can do” is misinterpreted in our day. In translating the German Bible, Elder John Taylor wrote it, “in spite of all we can do”. Besides, what is “all we can do”? According to the Lamanite king Anti-Nephi-Lehi, all we can do is repent.

    To what biblical passage are you referring? It looks to me like you are referring to 2 Nephi 25:23, “It is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” In that verse, “after” was, at one point, translated into German (by whom, I don’t know) as “trotz,” meaning “in spite of.” But it isn’t any more–now it is “nach”, which means “after”. So I’m not buying that as an argument that we are misinterpreting the scripture.

  39. re 11:28 am, yes, guilt attends sin, which I clearly acknowledged in my comment challenging jettboy’s perspective.

    If you think guilt is a good thing, more power to you. I am going to teach my kids that the Atonement will heal them from the guilt that attends sin and that God will grant them a mighty change of heart if they recognize that they are less than the dust of the earth and express a desire not to do evil but to do good continually. Hopefully, in our household, we will be able to sing the song of redeeming love, not the cacophony of excruciating guilt.

  40. There is a cultural element that wants to protect and isolate our youth from the feelings of guilt that happen through sin. The “self-esteem” movement has led us to believe that any feelings of guilt, of having wronged other or God, are inimical to the “self-worth” that we want to cultivate in our children. And teaching sternly the wrongness of sin is a surefire way to make our youth feel guilty when they sin, so that’s something that should be avoided.

    But that’s the thing: THEY SHOULD feel guilty when they sin. It’s only then that they will ever fell the need for Christ. It’s only then that they’ll understand the true grace and graciousness of the Atonement. It’s only then that the Atonement takes on life and personal meaning. Absent the guilt of sin, the Atonement is only ever meaningful in the abstract.

    I do interpret many of these criticisms as coming from the group I described above. It’s a children’s book, it’s not designed to address every topic, but it is designed to teach children the wrongness of sin. And if it succeeds at that, great! Saying that, “We don’t want them to experience too much guilt if they sin” is ludicrous, because it is that very guilt that will give the Atonement meaning. Perhaps the author will write another book about the Atonement.

    We all have individual consciences that will make us feel guilt when we sin. But those consciences are also molded in part by social, cultural, familial, and religious mores. Our pristine conscience can be deadened by a society and community that keeps telling us not to feel too bad when we sin.

  41. I share some of the concerns expressed by John Fowles and others. There are some cultural approaches to the Gospel that seem to under-emphasize the power of the atonement and create an environment where some members feel that falling short of perfection is the end of their chance at salvation. That is certainly a problem in some circles.

    On the other hand there is a Mormon counter-culture that tends to under-emphasize the seriousness of sin that has often lead to a culture of “sin isn’t really a big deal because I can always repent later.” In reality this is just as much a denigration of the Atonement, showing little sorrow or appreciation for the pain and suffering to which Jesus submitted. The Atonement is not a get-out-of-jail-card vending machine. So I share Geoff B.’s and Ivan’s concern that the attacks on Sister Nelson’s book are based upon an equally problematic Mormon cultural idea that teaches that sin is okay.

    Ideally we need to find a balance that both emphasizes the deadly seriousness and damning nature of sin (yes, even “minor” sins), while still holding out the Good News of a Savior. Strict obedience should be the ideal. Falling short of perfection should in fact be something that inspires lamentation and grief. To whatever degree we minimize the seriousness of sin, we minimize the seriousness of the Atonement as well. One does not really appreciate a savior until they understand the reality of the dire situation in which they have, through their own fault, fallen.

    At the same time, I think getting overly worked up about a children’s book like this one is a bit silly. It is, in fact, the job of the parents to teach their children about the atonement as well as the seriousness of sin. A book like this is the starting point for parent/child discussions about these matters, not the end point. Any parent who outsources their responsibility to teach the gospel to a children’s book [not to mention Sunday School teachers, Seminary Teachers, church videos, public schools, and television] is going to have a lot more to worry about than this book.

  42. That song of redeeming love loses its beauty as we fail to feel guilt for sin.

    If you think teaching kids that sin is wrong, and that they should feel guilty for sin, is denying the Atonement, I think you are dead wrong. I think that teaching them that they shouldn’t feel guilt for sin because of the Atonement is denying the Atonement.

    Yes, the Atonement removes that guilt, but the guilt has to first be there. Alma the Younger’s would never have gained his understanding of grace and mercy had he not first experienced the torments of hell for having violated God’s laws.

  43. There’s a big difference between, “We shouldn’t feel guilty because of the Atonement,” and “We should feel guilty because of sin, but Christ in His redeeming love can save us and free us of that guilt.”

  44. If you think teaching kids that sin is wrong, and that they should feel guilty for sin, is denying the Atonement, I think you are dead wrong.

    Too bad for your impassioned objections that no one is arguing this. What purpose does it serve you to mischaracterize in this way my position or the position of others who are criticizing the book?

  45. I think that teaching them that they shouldn’t feel guilt for sin because of the Atonement is denying the Atonement.

    Also, I haven’t seen anyone arguing this either.

  46. “Hopefully, in our household, we will be able to sing the song of redeeming love, not the cacophony of excruciating guilt.”

    Well, no one has suggested a “cacophony of excruciating guilt” to drown out the Atonement, either, so perhaps your objections are equally founded on mischaracterizations.

  47. (except, without context about repentance and the Atonement, perhaps children will come away from reading this book with something sort of like that)

  48. Many of the objections seem to be the book might cultivate too deeply a sense of guilt regarding sin (because it doesn’t mention the Atonement) — and it just seems to me that such an objection implies that if we took the Atonement seriously, we wouldn’t feel guilt for sin.

  49. And no, I don’t think that’s the case. I can teach my child, for example, not to lie — even once — and not even mention the Atonement in that conversation. The child isn’t going to walk away from that conversation forever ignorant of the Savior’s redeeming grace.

  50. Likewise, I can teach my child not to steal — not even once! — and never mention the Atonement in that particular conversation.

    Again, the child isn’t going to be left without a robust understanding of the Atonement. Why? Because I’ll teach them about the Atonement. It just doesn’t always have to be in the exact same conversation about why stealing is so wrong.

  51. Christ taught many parables about the wrongness of sin, without (in the same parable, at least) talking about Divine forgiveness.

  52. The criticism is that the book falls into the age-old mold of Mormon neglectfulness about the Atonement in discussions of “working our own way to heaven.”

    If the “not even once” pledge had included a line to the effect of “But if I do I will use the beautiful power of the atonement to repent and seek forgiveness” then I would bet that none of this discussion would have occurred. To be sure, there is still plenty that is distasteful about the story but those are merely irritating and absent this major oversight about leaving the Atonement out of the equation would not have merited discussion. People for whom the story is otherwise distasteful simply wouldn’t buy the book or perhaps roll their eyes. I certainly would never have wasted time speaking out about doctrinal issues if that were the case.

  53. John F.,

    LDSPhilosopher is responding to certain Mormon counter-cultural trends that tend to excuse sin which he has observed for himself. I have seen similar trends, and they are a serious concern. He may have incorrectly lumped your criticisms of this book in with these trends. But instead of taking it personally, why not just clarify that that is not your position and explain the difference.


    John F. is responding to certain Mormon cultural trends that he has observed for himself. I have seen similar trends and they are a serious concern. He may have incorrectly lumped your views in with these trends. Don’t take it personally. Just clarify that you do not subscribe to the trends that he sees.


  54. I tend to lean towards John F.’s perspective (not that I see this thread as a competition, Ivan! 🙂 due to my own experience in my ward. However, I see the issue as being based on human nature regarding faith as a concept and real power. In my opinion, again based on observation and 40+ years of mortality and the experience this life brings, I think it is easier to adhere to concrete principles, such as “keeping commandments” than to exercise faith in such things that are generally nebulous as the Atonement. When I describe the Atonement as “nebulous” I do not mean to denigrate the effects of or the Pure Love that went into the Plan of Salvation or minimize in the least the Atonement of the Savior but in describing our extremely limited understanding of the Atonement.

    I remember coining a phrase when teaching EQ about LDS culture (generally speaking) that we subscribe to the “idolatry of keeping the commandments”.

    I hope this makes sense. I do not have the talent of eloquence.

  55. After reading my above statement let me clarify that I recognize that weakness (adherence to the concrete, human nature, etc.) in myself and don’t mean to sound hypocritical.

    J Max, blessed are the cheesemakers…ahem, peacemakers! Love you, brother!

  56. I myself haven’t read the book, but based on the threads in various blogs covering this very topic, and I think there is little harm in a book that teaches children to avoid sin. It evidently teaches some right and wrong behaviors, not all of course (that would make for an extremely heavy book), and there is an internal satisfaction/peace as well as confidence that comes from exact obedience.

    I am guessing the target audience are pre-teens or primary age children age 6-11, right? The fact is children are exposed to the dangers at ever-earlier ages than ever before. The dangers are absolutely real! In my profession I’ve encountered many adults who were addicted to certain behaviors because they were exposed between ages 9-13. I believe Sister Nelson is attempting to address these dangers in a way that children can comprehend the seriousness of engaging in “experimental behaviors,” which our culture embraces. If the target audience is primary age children, then I agree with the approach. When Christ taught in parables did he delve into or specify certain Gospel concepts to his listeners? Not even his apostles understood every parable. Understanding came much later.

    At that age, I know I didn’t have a strong grasp of the Atonement (but frankly, how many adults do?) but I wasn’t thinking, “Oh, if I do so-and-so, I can repent of it later. God will beat me with a few stripes.” Children’s thinking are much more black and white–between what is right and wrong. Ultimately, it is the parents’ responsibility to address the gray areas and ensure their children understand Christ’s role and have a testimony of His divinity. Obedience is the key to obtaining that knowledge.

    For instance, although I never signed such a pact, I decided very early to never smoked, taken drugs, or tea/coffee. When temptation knocked at my door, it was easy to decline or turn away. From this obedience, my confidence and testimony grew. Thus obedience comes first and understanding emerges later. (Just ask Adam or Abraham…). As Louis said, “It is easier [for children] to adhere to concrete principles.”

    I don’t agree with the criticisms that the book is psychologically unhealthy and/or kids will get a complex if they get involved in something just once. Children should have an awareness that when they trip up, the Lord still loves them, but does not approve of their sins. They should know that repentance is not a one-time event, but something we do every single week.

  57. I could be wrong, but it seems to me the focus of the book is not on the negative aspects of sin (guilt, shame, separation from God), but rather on the positive effects of exact obedience (confidence, spiritual strength, and faith in…).

    Wait a minute! If the above premise is true, then why doesn’t the book mention anything about faith in Christ, the very basis for our righteous actions? Ah, here we go again…. But wait, I don’t hear anyone making that argument. (See? It kind of goes both ways.)

  58. then why doesn’t the book mention anything about faith in Christ, the very basis for our righteous actions?

    My comments above and elsewhere also take this into consideration.

  59. I’ve worked with children and teens for about eight years now, and I find that books like this for young, young children are par for the course when teaching these very abstract concepts.
    “Not Even Once” is a perfect example of a moral/spiritual book that makes plain and simplified an often difficult, abstract idea. The target audience here is, I’m assuming, primary aged children. Just based off of my experience, I would consider this book as more of a tool for illustrating an abstract idea (such as repentance, forgiveness, and the Atonement of Jesus Christ) more concretely. Young children, even up to their early teens, are concrete thinkers. Their insight, especially with spiritual things and spirituality itself, is very limited because of their levels of understanding.
    I don’t think this book is a…how do I put this…? I don’t think that we should perceive this book as a marker of where we are collectively, as a Church, with our understanding of, and method of teaching, the Atonement. I believe that this book was well intentioned and that it speaks to the minds of children.
    I remember when I was around eight, nine years old that I was a member of “The God and Jesus Club”, which consisted of three people and honestly, wasn’t that popular. Now, as I reflect on that, once of the reasons why our playground club wasn’t successful was because first, it consisted of those of us who always followed the rules in school, and second because admission required that you avoid breaking the rules, “commandments” and that you “not even once”, to a certain extent. So, when one of our “members” “sinned” we were heartbroken of course, but it changed out eight-nine year old perception of the “goodness” of that person, but we knew that Jesus loved us and would forgive us.
    Children learn how to self-regulate, and self-monitor when they are taught the difference between right and wrong both in the home, and outside of the home environment. In their perception, all they know is that good choices bring good things (rewards, praise, treats) and that bad choices bring bad things (exclusion, scorn, and punishment). For those children who grow up in a household with a spiritual foundation, they recognize the parallels in the religious teachings of their parents, but again, things like the Atonement are abstract concepts that will take years for them to understand and apply in a practical way.
    I don’t think that the message of the Atonement is muddled by “Not Even Once” in spite of my having never read it. I see books like this all the time, with similar concepts and morals. The overall message isn’t muddled because they are merely a tool for teaching and helping these concepts grow and take root in our youngest Saints.
    A revelatory understanding of the Atonement and how we apply it in our own lives comes over time. I didn’t really have that happen to me until I was in my late teens, and then again after I joined the Church. The Atonement is healing and restorative, and it is also gives me providence and grace. The Atonement allows me to resist temptation as much as it allows me to repent of it when I do fall.
    Books like “Not Even Once” should be considered and used as a tool, rather than a summation of our status of understanding of our doctrine.

  60. Just my addendum to post a brief impression, after actually READING the N.E.O. book.

    I find the story to be entertaining and funny enough to pique the interest of young children. Colorful and fun artwork complement the story. The message is clear and brief. There’s really not that much to it – the whole book encompasses little more than a dozen pages, mostly cartoon pictures, and those even containing words have at most a couple of short paragraphs of print at a time. I fail to understand all the seemingly sanctimonious moralizing that this trivial work has provoked here and in the popular media. If it was Dr. Seuss, everyone would be charmed. Why does anyone expect Wendy Nelson to necessarily adhere to and never deviate from some hypothetical Christ-centric theme, one that we apparently just invented for especially for this occasion, all for a charming little children’s book?

    If I didn’t know better and think better of the body of Latter-day Saints, I might find just a bit of hypocrisy reflected in many of the critical reviews and remarks I have read. Collectively, all the ponderous reviews weigh several hundred times more than the little book itself. As it is, I will just have a good laugh, at much ado about nothing.

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