Out to create some controversy in Sunday School? Allow me to suggest bringing up the idea that circumstances (i.e. advantages) in this life are predicated on faithfulness in the pre-existence. Though few would disagree that men are not created equal, the Declaration of Independence notwithstanding (Jefferson was speaking in terms of civic equality, not homogeneity, obviously), attributing natural inequalities or differences, be they social, economic, ethnic, racial, political, etc., to pre-mortal righteousness (or lack thereof) is becoming taboo.

For one, it is a terribly politically incorrect concept. I do not need to get into why it is a bad idea to allege that anyone is rich or poor, Icelandic or Czech, intelligent or otherwise due to unremembered demerits from the other side of the veil. Further complicating matters is the fact that personal responsibility for anything we do in this life is already somewhat out-of-fashion — I can just imagine how popular extending it to a previous life would be. In addition, looking to our own unique circumstances as evidence of forgotten sins or good works strikes me as a little narcissistic. (After all, don’t we have enough on our hands just thinking about the sins we can remember?) It also makes for an odd, paradoxically Calvinistic version of Mormonism (or vice versa): “The fact that I am rich, successful, genetically superior, spiritual, and worthy is a manifestation of grace that indicates my divine calling and election… which I worked out for myself in a previous existence.”

Nevertheless, there is undeniable evidence that the pre-existence does affect this life. First and foremost, there was a distinction made between followers of Satan and followers of Christ. We all know that the former did not end up with bodies, so there is at least one documented advantage that we can ascribe to “worthiness.” Besides, given LDS theology’s rejection of polarized, binary eternal destinations after death, why should life after birth be any different? Come to that, if we are so comfortable — zealously so — with the idea that righteousness in this life affects our place in the eternities, why should the idea that pre-mortal faithfulness gives us a better start here be so controversial?

I suppose a large part of the problem lies in how one classifies an advantage or disadvantage. There are all kinds of offensive ways to do this — plenty of which, most unfortunately, have been used in the Church over the years, usually to make people feel better about themselves by attributing unknowable sins to others — I need not enumerate these. A good friend recently suggested a more positive take. He muses that any extra credit is possibly paid in terms of greater access and / or receptivity to the gospel. (It does have the added advantage of including everyone currently in the church, all future converts, and anyone baptized by proxy… it’s hard to offend someone with such an inclusive list. Anyone you know left off? No problem, just have them over for dinner with the missionaries: instant access!).

Seriously, however, though I concede that there may be some truth in my friend’s take on things, perhaps the heart of the problem is that the Lord’s ways are mysterious and he doubtless administers everything on a case-by-case basis — and we simply cannot always fathom his reasons. An advantage to one looks like a curse to another. We all know that you do not necessarily have to be righteous to find good fortune nor transgress to find the opposite: “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” I do not think the Savior meant “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents… in this life, anyway.”

My point is that we just never know. Who are we to speculate about whose trials are deserved because they might have stolen our spiritual lunch money and who gets a summer home because they never ran with pre-embodied scissors? So why give ourselves airs for being so pre-mortally righteous when we may have just been given all of our blessings (whatever form they may take) to make sure that we do a good and thorough job of condemning ourselves so that we can’t argue with the sentence handed down on judgment day. Whatever the reason for my situation in life, I just try to take comfort in the fact that, whether I am being punished or rewarded for my pre-earth report card, at least I didn’t get held back… this time.