As I understand the creedal view of the Fall, God’s Plan A for humanity was to live with him in eternal righteousness and bliss.
His creation was perfect, because he is perfect. Everything, including humanity, was exactly as it ought to be. But then Adam and Eve ate a fruit that they were specifically asked not to eat — so instead of paradise, we get murder and starvation and rape and smallpox, and then we all die, and everybody goes to hell forever (because it’s our fault too) unless we get right with Jesus.
Leave aside the question of why God cares so much about this particular rule. If God meant for us to live with him in paradise, and that plan was wholly contingent on humans staying away from a particular tree, then putting Adam and Eve and the snake in the garden, together, unsupervised, with the no-no tree dead in the middle, seems like a pretty glaring oversight.
I realize I’m oversimplifying this. Most Christians view the tree and the serpent as a deliberate test of obedience — but what possible purpose could such a test serve? He was omniscient, and they were only what he created them to be, so it isn’t as if they might surprise him. And they were created perfect — there’s nowhere to go from there but down — so it can’t have been for their benefit. The idea that this was all a “test” makes him sound like a kid who got bored of his ant farm and decided to smash it — but only a troubled kid would blame the ants.
This isn’t a doctrine that we can just lay aside as a “mystery”. It requires either a god who is pointlessly cruel, or a god whose mind is so incomprehensible that he can hardly be called good, or even sane by human standards. And sure, God’s ways are not our ways — but if your god’s morality is truly, bewilderingly alien, you should consider the possibility that you might be worshipping Azathoth by mistake.
The Mormon view of the Fall solves a lot of these problems; but it does so by relaxing some pretty important theological assumptions.
(Which is why the rest of Christendom doesn’t buy it, and furthermore won’t let us join in any reindeer games).
Plato starts from the idea that everything has a cause, and all causality must funnel down to an Absolute, an “uncaused cause” — and that’s what he calls “God”. Which means creation has to happen ex nihilo: God absolutely must be the very first thing that ever existed, and the cause of everything else, because that’s what Plato defined the word to mean. (The question of why all of Christendom decided to take so many theological premises from a pagan is an interesting one that I will leave to the reader — here’s a good place to start.)
But if you’ve committed to creation ex nihilo, you have to start with a flawless creation (because God is perfect and would not create anything imperfect), and explain how we got from there to the smoldering tire fire that is human mortality, without implicating God in any way. One really convenient way to do that is to assume that we had it coming — that Adam and Eve provoked God’s righteous wrath, and it’s all their fault.
Of course, then you’re stuck trying to explain why the punishment was so horrible, and why it’s still going on even though Adam and Eve have been dead a while. So then you have to come up with a concept of inherited guilt, and then you need a doctrine of depravity to explain why God’s idea of justice makes no damn sense to the rest of us, and then you’ve got a god whose morality is completely orthogonal to our own.
It’s a bit like the geocentric model (another iffy Greek idea that was official Christian doctrine for a while). When you start from flawed premises, your model can only go so far before it starts to need some serious hammering to make it fit the world as you observe it. In this case, insisting on God’s perfect omnipotence means relaxing your assumptions about his perfect justice and goodness — but you can’t do that, since that interferes with the Platonic ideal as well — so you have to come up with more and more expansive definitions of “perfect justice and goodness”, and you end up with something incomprehensible and kind of scary.
Mormons get around these difficulties by rejecting the assumption that everything necessarily has a cause.
In Mormon cosmology, God and matter and intelligence just are, and always have been. What God created was pattern, order, and meaning — and while he’s omnipotent, it still takes time and effort to get things done. But that’s true in either model: instead of snapping his fingers and resetting the server, he had to sacrifice his son to redeem us from the fall. Instead of saying “let there be earth”, he made it in six days (subject to some nebulous definition of “days”).
So God’s creation will be perfect, when it’s done — and it’s going exactly as he intended — but we aren’t wedded to the idea that Eden was the high point of human existence and we screwed it all up. It’s not as philosophically tidy as the creedal view, but fortunately God is not required to partake of the Platonic form of Philosophical Tidiness.
Why does any of this matter?
Because the most powerful engine of opposition to religion is people’s emotional disgust with this inscrutable Augustinian elder god. It isn’t that modern people are less likely to accept supernatural factual propositions: religiosity is down in the West, but belief in UFOs, ghosts, astrology, and ESP are as strong as they’ve ever been. It’s accepting moral nonsense that people find so distasteful — and rightly so.
A god who is perfectly omnipotent, but only questionably, theoretically “good”, is a basilisk — and it might claim your allegiance, but it doesn’t really deserve it. Of course, the gospel does require us to occasionally suspend moral judgment and trust that God knows better than we do (which is a bridge too far for some people) — but it’s because God has a broader view of the facts in question, not because God’s notion of morality is fundamentally alien to our own.
He is, in fact, good — and in a very homely, human sense that doesn’t take a lot of explaining. It’s only incomprehensible in its scope.
One of the worst memes to come out of the “Mormon Moment” was the perception that we want to blur the distinctions between ourselves and mainstream Christianity — that we just want to be included and accepted like everybody else. But the differences in our teachings really are quite profound. We place a lot of emphasis on playing nice — and we should! — but we should also admit that to accept the gospel is to reject some ideas that other Christians (at least theologically minded Christians) consider fundamental — with the obvious corollary that those ideas are false and ought to be rejected.
I just wish we were more okay with being different. We’re not weird. Azathoth is weird.