Jul 27, 2008

The Age Of (Un)accountability

Growing up with younger siblings, I always had a hard time believing that Satan couldn't possess kids under the age of eight. And that goes for myself too, since if what my parents have said is true, I was a bit of a devil child.

But let's look at this a little more seriously because there are some things that I have questions about and I wonder if anyone has any insights they would like to share regarding the Age of Accountability and the role of Satan.

"From latter-day revelation, we know that little children are redeemed through the mercy of Jesus Christ. The Lord said, "They cannot sin, for power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they begin to become accountable before me" (see D&C 29:46–47). They are not to be baptized until they reach the age of accountability, which the Lord has revealed to be eight years of age (see D&C 68:27; Joseph Smith Translation, Genesis 17:11). Anyone who claims that little children need baptism "denieth the mercies of Christ, and setteth at naught the atonement of him and the power of his redemption" (Moroni 8:20; see also verses 8–19, 21–24)." (LDS.org, Topic Definition, Little Children And Baptism)

I've always wondered, then, why some kids under the age of eight can do bad things -- really bad things -- like murder, sexual assault, etc. Although such occurrences are rare, they have happened and I wonder how the doctrine of The Age of Accountability and the power of Satan can explain it.

We believe that God can only influence to do good and Satan can only influence us to do bad. But since "power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they begin to become accountable before (God)," how are they even capable of doing bad things? That children are influenced by adults and the world around them is certain. Those children under the age of eight who do commit crimes are clearly under the influence of something or someone, but I'm not exactly sure what it is.

A seven year-old who stabs his playmate or sodomizes the little girl next door is not accountable for what he has done and is not guilty of sin in the eyes of God. I understand that. But what is the power driving a child to commit such a crime? If someone is not forcing him to do it, what is influencing him, if not Satan?

Satan's power, or lack thereof where small children are concerned, has made me wonder about something else. I was recently having a discussion with another Mormon about homosexuality. My personal belief is that most homosexuals are born with their orientation, just as I believe I was born with my heterosexual orientation, and that while they can and should obey the Law of Chastity, they shouldn't think that they are doing something wrong if they are living the Gospel and aren't "cured" of their gayness. He was of the opinion that most homosexuals choose their orientation and that most can change it if they try hard enough and should have heterosexual, eternal marriage as their goal. He believed that anyone can be convinced to change their sexual orientation (gay to straight or straight to gay) if they put enough effort into it.

From as far as I can remember (which is about age 4 or 5), I have known that I was attracted to boys. I was too young to know what a heterosexual was or that I was one. I simply knew that I wanted to chase boys. Many homosexuals and transgenders report much the same thing: that they knew from a very young age that they were either attracted to the same sex, or perhaps felt that their physical gender was in conflict with their mental/emotional gender. Even if they were too young to understand the technicalities or significance of these feelings, they were at least able to recognize the feelings in themselves.

So, getting back to how this applies to children under eight and how Satan cannot influence them, it seems to me that in order for this doctrine of the Age of Accountability to be true, my theory makes more sense than the person I was talking to. I'm not proclaiming this as doctrine, I am merely stating my opinion based on how I see it after giving it a lot of thought. If the homosexual feelings or gender confusion (not acts, but feelings) are evil temptations coming from Satan, coaxing them to engage in homosexual behaviour or going through a sex change operation (both of which are potentially grounds for excommunication), then how could a little child under the age of eight ever be capable of experiencing them? If Satan has no power over them, then they can't come from him. But to say they come from God would be blasphemous in the eyes of many. That leaves us with the mental illness theory, which is hard for many to accept.

So, to summarize, I have two questions:

1.) How are some children under the age of eight capable of committing heinous crimes, without being forced into it by anyone, if Satan has no power over them?

2.) How can a child under the age of eight experience homosexual feelings and/or gender conflict if such temptations stem from Satan?


Cliff (Soy) said...

First off, I don't necessarily believe that the night of a kids seventh birthday some mystical change takes place where all of the sudden they understand right from wrong. To me, age 8 is a administrative convenience. By then, most kids have a rudimentary understanding of right versus wrong so it was selected. Some kids "get it" sooner, some later.

But a four year old still hits his little sister.

I think kids are a explosive mixture of environment and their imperfect mortal bodies. A tired body makes the mind cranky which causes a kid to take a swing. The little guys are also behavior Xerox machines, repeating words and actions like you wouldn't believe. A kid who sexually assaults another kid may be acting out what happened to him or something he saw on tv. Murder can be simply playing with a gun like a policeman. The difference with a kid who is accountable is one who shoots the neighbor knowing that they aren't going to get back up, which is something little kids lack.

And then their are those cases where it seems like the kid is literally possessed by the devil or something - their actions so cold and calculating. For those, I have no idea, but they are definitely the exception and not the rule.

Side note...I didn't realize I was attracted to men until much later. I assumed I was straight like everyone else and acted as much, but I did notice that it didn't seem to work for me like everyone else. I laugh at it, because to me now I was so obviously gay, but at the time, (in my mid-teens) it was truely a revelation, "oh...I'm gay. :-)

Anonymous said...

Interesting Thoughts, FD. I am a Kindergarden/Elementary Teacher right now, and I've been an uncle since I was 4 years old (in fact, my sister-in-law just had my 43rd nephew). I've been around kids alot, and I can tell two things
1) I really do think there is a change that takes place around 7-9 - it's a pre-puberty thing - they stop being a todler and start becoming more aware of the world around them. They start realizing that there is right and wrong. before that, they are capable of committing acts that we know are wrong, but they dont know that they are - thus not accountable.
2) The whole concept of Satan having influence over us - the devil made me do it mindset - is not supported by doctrine - The devil - that is the influence and allure of evil in our lives - is only present when we open ourselves to it - and that is only when we become aware of the "world" - when we are at home in the "world" we become, "the natural man." Therefore, the devil doesn't posess us, but we start to conceptualize posessions - things, wants, desires - and we start to put our own wants above others. We start to "dig a pit for our neighbors" - that is where sin and the devil start entering into our lives. Kids don't have to deal with that. Sure they have wants, but the aren't that kind of premeditated self-exaltation. I also don't buy for a second that some mystical happening happens at 8 years old - just at that age we start to understand more.

In the concept of depth psychology, C.G. Jung stated that he doesn't believe people have a psychological awareness (that would be our definition of real "accountability") until Puberty - I'd tend to agree with him. prior to that, kids are a big bundle of moods and emotions and images and processes that they haven't been able to figure out - in a normal development, children develop their own psychological identity (ego) around Puberty - it's then that they are really "accountable"

I think you hit the nail on the head with Homosexuality - it has nothing to do with evil. It's an ingrown chemical/psychological make-up. In children, everyone is homo-curious to some degree - that degree varies, and as kids enter puberty, that variation makes itself known. Evil doesn't show up, nor does Satan. Not part of the equation. Lets say Nature made them that way, instead of saying God did. That way people won't get so pissed.