I don't really understand what most Christians call "Original sin". If I misrepresent it, I apologize. I do understand what we call "the Fall", when Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit and were cast out of the Garden of Eden. I will try to explain the difference between the two. (For an in-depth explanation follow this link. It is worth your time!)
The Second Article of Faith says "We believe that man will be punished for their own sins and not for Adam's transgression." This is the shortest and easiest to remember. For a long time I didn't grasp the significance of this claim. My recent study has reminded me just how much this simple sentence really says.
As I said, I don't fully understand the idea of Original Sin. It seems to be that because of Adam and Eve we are all evil, wicked, sinful, etc, from birth. It seems that "fallen" and "wicked" are the same. I have struggled at times to find the line between our two perspectives. The best I can do is this: Being fallen is not a sin (we are not punished for it) but we sin because we are fallen. Let me explain further.
This belief that we are wicked from birth implies (at least to me) that a child who dies the day they are born will go to hell. Without ever making a choice or having knowledge or having a chance to repent.
I have friends who believe this, in theory anyway, but they also believe that God makes exceptions, that he doesn't actually send purely innocent children to hell. (Maybe to purgatory but not hell.) And that when they are old enough (one friend said by 2 years old!) to do something wrong they are then sinful and going to hell unless they are saved.
REALLY?!?!?! How can they become saved (in the since that most Christians view it) at this age? How can they understand what is right and wrong and accept the Atonement in their lives at this age? They can barely speak!
I find this very disturbing. But I had to ask myself why I find it so upsetting.
My initial response is that children are innocent until they are 8 years old. This is what Mormons know as "the age of accountability". Before this time children are considered innocent.
And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents.For this shall be a law unto the inhabitants of Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized. And their children shall be baptized for the remission of their sins when eight years old, and receive the laying on of the hands. (D&C 68:25-27)This might suggest that the children are sinful but they are not punished. This passage explains more.
But behold, I say unto you, that little children are redeemed from the foundation of the world through mine Only Begotten;Wherefore, they cannot sin, for power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they begin to become accountable before me; (D&C 29:46-47)This is quite a contradiction to the Original Sin concept. It says that little children can not be tempted or sin. But there is more going on here than just innocence.
D&C 29:46 says "little children are redeemed from the foundation of the world through mine Only Begotten". That means they are covered by the Atonement without repenting. They are saved from their fallen state. This passage also says "begin to become accountable" which suggests to me that at some point children can be tempted but are not yet accountable.
President Boyd K. Packer explained "They do not come into the world with any taint of impurity whatever. When our scriptures say that “children are conceived in sin,” they are using words in an entirely different way than when the same language is recited in the creeds of the world. The scriptural meaning is that they are born into a world of sin so that “when they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts, and they taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good.” (Moses 6:55.)" He went on to explain the age of accountability. "Accountability does not burst full-bloom upon a child at any given moment in his life. Children become accountable gradually, over a number of years. Becoming accountable is a process, not a goal to be attained when a specified number of years, days, and hours have elapsed....There comes a time, however, when accountability is real and actual and sin is attributed in the lives of those who develop normally. It is eight years of age, the age of baptism." (Ensign, April,1977)
Moroni explained this in great detail, specifically infant baptism. (I won't quote the whole passage here. I will give a few highlights. Go here to read the entire passage Moroni 8:8-26)
Listen to the words of Christ, your Redeemer, your Lord and your God. Behold, I came into the world not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; the whole need no physician, but they that are sick; wherefore, little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it hath no power over them;...
teach repentance and baptism unto those who are accountable and capable of committing sin; yea, teach parents that they must repent and be baptized, and humble themselves as their little children, and they shall all be saved with their little children. And their little children need no repentance, neither baptism.
Behold, baptism is unto repentance to the fulfilling the commandments unto the remission of sins. But little children are alive in Christ, even from the foundation of the world; if not so, God is a partial God, and also a changeable God, and a respecter to persons; for how many little children have died without baptism! Wherefore, if little children could not be saved without baptism, these must have gone to an endless hell....
And I am filled with charity, which is everlasting love; wherefore, all children are alike unto me; wherefore, I love little children with a perfect love; and they are all alike and partakers of salvation.... Little children cannot repent; wherefore, it is awful wickedness to deny the pure mercies of God unto them, for they are all alive in him because of his mercy....
But it is mockery before God, denying the mercies of Christ, and the power of his Holy Spirit, and putting trust in dead works. Behold, my son, this thing ought not to be; for repentance is unto them that are under condemnation and under the curse of a broken law.In summary, children who are too young to understand the law are not accountable and are innocent of breaking the law before God. We might compare this to our own parenting. We do not punish an infant for scratching us or a toddler for hitting. But we do correct them. We teach them that their behavior is wrong. Later, when the lessons have been repeated we might punish them because they now know better. Their actions are no longer innocent because they have knowledge and understanding.
Now I am going to go in a different direction.
In my first post I explained that we Latter-Day Saints have a different focus than most Christians. Since the issue of our sinful natures has come up, I would like to explain more about the Fall and how we view it. Hopefully you have read Part 2 of this series.
Moses5:9 And in that day the Holy Ghost fell upon Adam, which beareth record of the Father and the Son, saying: I am the Only Begotten of the Father from the beginning, henceforth and forever, that as thou hast fallen thou mayest be redeemed, and all mankind, even as many as will.
10 And in that day Adam blessed God and was filled, and began to prophesy concerning all the families of the earth, saying: Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God.
11 And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.
12 And Adam and Eve blessed the name of God, and they made all things known unto their sons and their daughters.
2 Nephi 2:22-26 And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.
23 And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.
24 But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.
25 Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.
26 And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.