I used to be somewhat obsessed with perfection. Perfection is the stated goal of members of the church for the eternities and it is often thought of in terms that are measurable and achievable through everything done as taught by the church. For some reason I never really gave much thought to what this really means. So now I wonder, can perfection ever be really achieved?
What I have realized is that perfection has multiple meanings. There is the meaning that is used to define when a principle, or set of parameters, has been fully realized (such as describing what a perfect circle is and then being able to create a perfect circle on paper according to all the known definitions of what a perfect circle would be) and the other means without flaw or defect. Yet another meaning for perfection is the constant striving for a target. Many people combine the idea of being without flaw or defect and moving towards a target. I think when people do that they find that the target will probably move as one get's closer to the ideal. Which causes me to wonder, if we get closer to being god-like, will our idea of what being god-like is then expand? It seems to me that it should and that the possibility exists that this expansion would occur until the possibilities for growth literally become infinite. Perfection is often thought of as a state of being that can someday be achieved, not something that can never be fully understood, let alone realized.
I don't think we as human beings are capable of achieving perfection in our current state. What is a perfect human being anyway? Does such a person exist? I would say that people can only be perfect in very limited ways. Even the people we might identify as the most perfect today will still have physical, emotional or mental flaws that will forever keep them from being perfect in one area or another. It is funny to watch Hollywood or Madison Avenue place people on a pedestal as being very nearly perfect only to later find out they have some addiction, some relationship problem or physical flaw that would indicate they are not really perfect at all.
I think we want to have perfection, but we can never really achieve it, so we pretend that there are perfect people out there and we imagine that people are perfect when the reality is they are usually very far from it.
In thinking about this I tried to imagine what would happen if I could alter something about myself and there were no boundaries on what I could do. I would definitely want to fly, but what would be the perfect flying instrument? I guess it would depend on the kind of flying I wanted to do. Would flapping wings serve my purpose or would rockets built in to my feet? I would also want my flying mechanism to be extremely portable and not make me look like a freak. Would a suit like Iron Man fit the bill? If so, could perfection in the suit ever be achieved? I guess in one very specific and limited way, perfection could be achieved according to the desired parameters, but can it be achieved in more than one area without compromising perfection in some other area?
If I could alter my appearance, what would I change to become perfect? Can God change his/her/its appearance at will? Actually changing physical characteristics, personality or strength/agility? Is God a perfect arm wrestler? Does that mean He always wins or always loses? Does the very definition of God restrict God in his/her/its ability to be what God wants to be, in order to be considered perfect, or will God always be everything we are not? Does perfection have an apex when it comes to humanity? Does being perfect at some point mean you give up on those things you can't ever change?
I know Christians (probably Mormons more than anyone else) are very fond of calling Christ perfect. He was the perfect example, they say. But what, exactly, was he perfect in? Was He perfectly good looking? That would require that He was a shape shifter so no matter who beheld him, he would morph into the perfect looking person. That would mean in some cases He was a woman and other times He was a man. Then perfection becomes simply a matter of each individual's tastes and there is no universal rule of what a perfect being looks like. Can perfection be subjective like that? Is it perfection if it is according to my tastes but not according to yours?
Was Christ perfectly obedient in all things known as commandments from God? No. Unless, of course, you make excuses and rationalize Jesus' behavior in all the recorded instances of the New Testament. Supposedly, Jesus was the author of the 10 commandments. One of which says, "Thou shalt not kill", but Jesus cursed and killed the barren fig tree. LDS like to cite very limited examples of obedience and they call it "perfect" obedience. However, who do we have to confirm that Jesus was "actually" obedient as claimed? Where is it written all the ways that Jesus was perfectly obedient and how can we corroborate those statements with the historical record? Where was the clear standard of obedience Jesus had to fulfill, that was written prior to his appearance on the scene? If it wasn't written in clearly spelled out guidelines, aren't people just making stuff up after the fact? If I say, "Ooh look I discovered a perfect fundangle!" and then went on to describe the item I discovered in great detail, how could anyone know what a perfect fundangle was except what I made up, there on the spot, to describe the item I had in my possession?
I guess in a very limited way Jesus was possibly perfect, but they never say, "Jesus was perfect in this one thing", they like to apply his perfection universally without giving thought to the implications that such a state of perfection is impossible to achieve in a universal way.
So then there is the standard of "perfection" those in the church believe they are striving towards. What does this mean exactly? I asked my co-worker (devout LDS) what achieving perfection means and he said, "I don't know, but I am a perfect tithe payer." Is he, though, really? I mean what is the definition of a perfect tithe payer? Does that mean he pays 10% of his gross or net income? Does that mean he pays tithing right at the time he gets paid or at the end of the year? The problem is, nobody in the leadership of the church will claim any of these parameters to be at all important. They usually say this is all left up to the payer of the tithe. How convenient! People are supposed to be striving for perfection in living the gospel as they understand it, but the parameters are not even clearly defined!
I hope all members of the church realize that they could say they are perfect in paying their tithing if they only pay $1 per year. Anyone could do some fancy math to show that $1 is 10% of their income (or increase) if they throw in all their expenses, money set aside for retirement and savings, etc., etc., etc. Why don't members of the church do that? Maybe many do, but most of the folks I used to talk to about such things in the church had very strong feelings that it was on their gross income paid regularly. Why? Well, because the impression is given that they are being perfectly obedient by doing that. So what does being a perfect tithe payer mean again? Apparently they can't say for anyone but themselves. What kind of answer is that? It causes my reason to stare.
LDS like to talk about the idea of them becoming perfect at some point, like God is perfect. How is it they expect to ever be able to achieve perfection? What does that even mean? Perfectly obedient? If that is the case, how can one possibly be perfectly obedient when commandments come into conflict with each other? For example, was Nephi perfectly obedient when he killed Laban? No way. He broke one commandment (thou shalt not kill) so he could attempt to keep another (honoring his father - and mother). Is that a rule we can use as a guide to perfection? When the commandments come into conflict with each other will one always trump the other or does it depend? If so, what does it depend on? If God is perfect would he be capable of giving a commandment that He later advocated should be broken to serve a higher purpose? Shouldn't people be made aware of the higher purposes of the laws up front? Shouldn't we have a priority assigned to each commandment?
It seems like Jesus came up with the answer, that we love everyone (or just our neighbor, I guess) the way we love ourselves. But then I am left to wonder how one can ever possibly perfect in this rule? Jesus was asked who is considered to be our neighbor by giving the parable of the good Samaritan. So, I guess our neighbor is our social outcast or enemy, then? Will mankind ever be perfect in treating their social enemies like themselves? Well, good luck on that one. I think the chances are slim to none that this ideal is ever achieved in any time period. It certainly hasn't happened anywhere since Jesus made this proclamation.
I want to think that LDS could claim that while there is no way they can ever be perfect in this life, that striving for perfection is all that can be expected. But, if striving for perfection is all that is needed, then the very minimal effort will be rewarded just the same as the extraordinary effort. In those terms, why would anyone put forth anything close to an extraordinary effort?
This post is full of questions and, therefore I am pretty sure, very far from being anywhere near perfect. I guess I still have a long way to go.