Saturday, July 28, 2007

Review of "Mere Christianity" Part III

Book III: Christian Behaviour

The section on Christian morality reflects C.S. Lewis at his best. He is not a very good theologian, but he is credible as a social critic and moral apologist. A person of any faith can accept what he says about behavior. Not that he ignores the underlying theological framework he set up earlier and will continue exploring. Instead, there are arguments about moral actions that don’t have to have those pre-conceived religious notions to have a powerful impact. They work independently from the Christian life.

His biggest problem is the bias against particular forms of religious observance that even some of his co-religionists would disagree with. This bias goes beyond simple formality and extends to stereotyping and possible blatant bigotry. It also has political implications that may or may not be properly termed as Christian based. He believes that Christians should not force through law or any other means the morality they hold as important. In fact, he says, “One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting everyone else to give it up” (pg. 78). Despite what C.S. Lewis says, It can just as easily be argued that the whole point of laws is to decide what kind of moral and ethical behavior should shape society.

What make his argument more than a simple political position that could be acceptable is the borderline bigotry based on his non-interference theory. He says that Islam rather than Christianity is a “tee-totaller” religion. In other words, a religion that expects abstaining from certain things for its followers. For him, a Christian is someone who can eat, drink, and otherwise do whatever they want in moderation and moral judgement. Why he singled out Islam is unclear. He could easily have included Jews, Hindus, and probably Mormons without hesitation.

Continuing on, he discusses three levels of moral choices. There is the way we feel about the inner self. There is how we interact with others. Finally, and most important to him, there is for what purpose the other two exist. He compares them all to a fleet of ships. A ship alone might not do any damage, but it doesnt' do much good. A fleet of ships can encourage, strengthen and help each other, but they might still always remain at sea. Only ships that have someowhere they are going can truely realize their full potential. Of course, it is religion that gives purpose to life. He does acknowledge that the third moral way causes the most disagreement, and he chooses Christianity as the destination.

Seven "virtues" are listed in his explanation of Christian morality. Four are called "Cardinal" and three are called "Theological" virtues. The first set can be accepted by non-Christians as applicable, and the second set are representative of religious devotion. He lists the Cardinal virtues as Prudence, Temperance, Justice, and Fortitude. The three Theological virtues are Faith, Hope, and Charity. Although he lists these as the main subject of Christian moral principles, he also discusses Chasitity and Fidelity, and Forgiveness.

The discussion about Chastity and Marriage are perhaps among the best defenses of the subject. Continuing on with his idea that no standards should be forced on people, he argues that sexual activity should be kept in moderation rather than the abandonment of the current generation:

They tell you sex has become a mess because it was hushed up . . . If hushing up had been the cause of the trouble, ventilation would have set it right. But it has not. I think that it is the other way round. I think the human race originally hushed it up because it had become such a mess. (pg. 98).

He argues that Christianity has a positive outlook on the human body, with God taking one born to Mary and the promise of the resurrection. The problem is that modern society has gone from accepting sex as a healthy natural expression to an obsession. He compares this to bad eating habits that make the body fat and unhealthy. This makes something that could be positive a complete negative. For people who think that only those who give into sin really understand life's challenges, he states, "those who are seriously attempting chastity are more conscious, and soon know a great deal more about their own sexuality than anyone else" (pg. 102). You come to know your desires by the resistance of them like a warrior understands the enemy they battle.

The message about marrige for a Christian is simple. Those who take a vow of marriage must do everything they can to stay together. If they do not, then they are nothing more than liars and decievers; at worst imposters. It is for that reason marriage should be for love of the whole person and not just romantic feelings. Making promises as Christians is serious business, "A promise must be about things that I can do, about actions; no one can promise to go on feeling in a certain way" (pg. 107). Reasons for staying married after falling out of love, besides keeping a promise, includes a deep respect for the person you married. In other words, a higher love than romantic attraction.

Of the virtues mentioned, perhaps the most interesting is his discussion of Faith. He sees Faith as a stronger form of Hope. This is based on experience as much as spiritual emotion. Faith is keeping hold of things you once held as true despite your changing moods. In connection with this, he rejects the idea in Mormon doctrine that this mortal life is a type of test. Instead, the point of mortality is to gain humility and accept that God is in control rather than yourself. Regardless of agreeing or disagreeing with this, his ideas on "works vs. faith" are worth careful reading. He states:

You see, we are now trying to understand, and to seperate into water-tight compartments, what exactly God does and what man does when God and man are working together . . . He is inside you as well as outside: even if we could understand who did what, I do not think human language could properly express it. In the attempt to express it different Churches say different things. But you will find that even those who insist most strongy on the importance of good actions tell you you need Faith; and even those who insist most strongly on Faith tell you to do good actions.

It is a fallacy to seperate the two in importance. Ultimately, it is God who saves and gives Christians the spirit of goodness. Those who pick one over the other, if they follow the logical conclusions, will either not follow God or follow without true devotion.

There are many other things talked about in the section that are of interest to Mormons. This includes a chapter devoted to "The Great Sin" Pride that LDS Pres. Ezra Taft Benson has become famous for speaking out against. It is a sin that is not easy to overcome, because it blinds the person to their spiritual weaknesses. They put themselves before God and think they are capable of salvation without help. It is, to C.S. Lewis, what brought Satan and all the fallen angels to the bitterest of damnations. Unlike Pres. Benson, he explains what the sin of Pride is not (pg. 125-128). It doesn't include acceptance of other people's congratulations of well earned respect (until you delight in it and seek it out). It doesn't include a warm hearted admiration for family, friends, and others. It doesn't mean disliking yourself or telling others you are a humble nobody. The sin of Pride is self-importance.

Finally, even though he doesn't by implication like the idea of making laws in accordance with morality, he does explain what he sees as a society built on Christian principles. It would have no one who doesn't work or want, and it would have nothing made or done for economic frivolity. On the other hand, it would be full of obedience (defined as outward respect) to government, parents, wives and husbands. He says the outcome would be:

We should feel that its economic life was very socialistic and, in that sense, "advanced", but that its family life and its code of manners were rather old-fashioned - perhaps even ceremonious and aristocratic. Each of us would like some bits of it, but I am afraid very few of us would like the whole thing. (pg. 84).

It would seem early Mormon history has proven this all too well. What Joseph Smith and Brigham Young tried to do was finally put aside as curious novelties. Part of this was because of strong outside pressures, but other reasons include the difficulties of living such high ideals as a group. Believing in theology is the easy part. Living the Christian virtues takes Faith enough to let go of ourselves and accepting God as our Savior. Again, C.S. Lewis has taught despite some religious issues that Mormons have some spiritual growing up to do.

*Next time some final thoughts*

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Review of "Mere Christianity" Part II

Book II: What Christians Believe

This second section is really the heart of his writing, although there is so much more to go. He gets right to the point of what sets a Christian apart from other religions. In many ways it is the closest a Mormon could agree with his theological musings. This is only natural since Mormons are Christians in many of the ways that C.S. Lewis perceives of what makes the religion important. There is, of course, points where he both goes against or merely anticipates Mormon doctrine or fails logical conclusions.

His idea of Christian theology hinges on the familiar Mormon concept of free will. The whole point of Salvation for a Christian is that humanity is free to choose faith in God and Christ. Although the subject of the end times when Christ will return is at the end of the section, it represents most of what he is saying. With all the evil in the world there is an objection of why God simply doesn't "invade" earth to make things better. If God were to do that, there wouldn't be a point to living. All the hard choices that lead to freely accepting or rejecting God would be over. It might end the horror in the world, but it would also end personal and human progress:

When the author walks on to the stage the play is over. God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else - something it never entered your head to conceive - comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left? (pg. 65).

Of course, this begs the question of what the free will is choosing. The answer is simple; good and evil. C.S. Lewis had already touched on what good and evil is in the first section. He will go into more detail in the third section when he talks about Christian morality.

His first argument is that those who don't believe in good and evil, but everything depends on your point of view, are wrong. He especially doesn't believe the idea that everything is good because God made everything. This is ironic, considering later on he states that, "All the things which enable a bad man to be effectively bad are in themselves good things - resolution, cleverness, good looks, existence itself" (pg. 45). He gets around what he had previously disregarded by saying how one uses the good is what makes things bad. God did create everything good, but it was perverted and twisted to a point where it became bad.

All of this is based on assumptions he never explains in detail. It is as if he is counting on the first section when he says there is "The Law of Human Nature" and humans must recognize what those are. For instance, he states, "But existence, intelligence and will are in themselves good" (pg. 45). This is a statement that Mormons would completely agree with theologically, adding that they are also eternal. Logically, however, there is no explanation of why they are good. It goes back to a circular logic that was earlier rejected; it is good because it came from God.

What he does say, that Mormons recognize as important to the theology of choice, is that there must be two different moral forces. To know that there is bad, you had to know there was good, "if there were no light . . . we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning (pg. 39). He puts Lehi's opposition on its head. Just as Lehi said you can't know the good unless you know the bad, C.S. Lewis says you can't know the bad unless you know the good.

The reason for this difference is his conflating God with good. There is no separating the two. The context of this is in his rejection of Dualism; where one god is good and another is bad. He doesn't believe such a thing is possible because they would both believe they were good. The idea that bad actions would be chosen for the sake of "badness" is impossible for him to believe. He states:

But since the two powers are judged by this standard [conformity to rule of good], then this standard, or the Being who made this standard, is farther back and higher up than either of them, and He will be the real God. In fact, what we meant by calling them good and bad turns out to be that one of them is in a right relationship to the real ultimate God and the other in a wrong relation to Him." (pg. 43)

In some ways it intersects with the Mormon concept that God can be called God because He conforms to certain standards. Beyond that, the idea would be completely rejected that the standards are in any way a separate existence. God either makes the standards or is the standards of goodness. What C.S. Lewis seems to be saying is that there is no such thing as good and evil, only good and mistaken.

This is where Christ comes in. The great sin of Satan and the Fall of Adam and Eve is not because they had gone against goodness - something impossible to do. It is that they had set themselves as individuals outside of and apart from God as their own creation. Although the underlying assumptions are not the same, Mormonism does agree with this concept. Sin sets us apart from God and it is only through Christ's atonement that we can be forgiven, or set right again. In some ways, C.S. Lewis answers the question of how wickedness never was happiness that confuses so many people. It turns out to be a theological rather than emotional statement. The happiness based on human energy and actions is temporary and unfulfilling. Only by turning to God, the source, can true Love and Happiness be obtained.

What he teaches about Christ's Atonement can easily agree with Mormon beliefs. In fact, much of what he says echoes Abinadi's words to King Noah who didn't belief in Christ's first coming. Because humans had fallen, they were not perfect and therefore could not save themselves. We basically lost our ability to save ourselves by separating from the God of power and goodness. The only one who can save humanity was God because He had not gotten into trouble. He states, "Only a bad person needs to repent: only a good person can repent perfectly. The worse you are the more you need it and the less you can do it. The only person who could do it perfectly would be a perfect person - and he would not need it" (pg. 57). There is still a huge gulf that would need to be crossed. Humanity doesn't have the power to save and God doesn't have the nature to surrender, suffer, submit, and die that is crucial to repentance.

Then God comes down as Jesus Christ in the form of a man, although perfect in all other respects. Similar to Abinadi, he says, "The perfect surrender and humiliation were undergone by Christ: perfect because He was God, surrender and humiliation because He was man" (pg. 60). With the suffering and death of God who didn't need any saving, He pays a debt to get humanity out of a bind. In the process Christ does more than bring humanity out of a bad spot, but changes them into a new creation. The Atonement makes it possible to have the Christ-life within. Some might call it "born again" and Abinadi would say we become "the seed of Christ" because of what happened. The "Christ-life" is spread by baptism, belief, and Holy Communion/Mass/the Lords Supper/Sacrament. There is nothing in this description of Christ's Atonement that is against Mormon doctrine on the subject. He does wonder if there might be more or less than the above to spread the Christ-like nature, and Mormons would say the Temple ordinances are part of the process to a full spiritual development.

There are some minor problems with this section, but they don't fit in with the overall arguments he makes. For instance, He states that the idea of a person claiming to be God in the full sense of the word was shocking and never heard of before. Absolutely not true. It might be they never fully believed it themselves, but many ancient rulers said they were a Son of God much like Jesus Christ is represented. This idea can be traced from Egypt to the latter half of the Roman Empire. He even said in the previous paragraph that there were ancient stories about gods that died and came back to life to change humanity (pg. 50-51). Perhaps the shock would come from the claim by an ordinary Jew. Even then he shows a lack of imagination by arguing what Jesus said proves he is "the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse" (pg. 52). He ignores critics that say the writers of the Gospels were adding those words to Jesus in order to bolster religious ideology. Of course, other Christian apologists have argued against them.

If there is one thing that Mormons should learn from C.S. Lewis, it would be not to take our own goodness as giving us Salvation. To quote a very important point:

They hope, by being good, to please God if there is one . . . But the Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ-life inside him. He does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us; just as the roof of a greenhouse does not attract the sun because it is bright, but becomes bright because the sun shines on it (pg. 63).

This is, perhaps, related to "faith unto repentance" described often in the Book of Mormon. Recently the idea of "Grace" has had a comeback among Mormons - not a new addition. It is something that other Christians have used as a criticism for some time, but really is a straw man. Mormons perpetuate a lack of proper perspective on the role of good works without understanding their own Atonement theology. That should no longer be the case.

*next time Book III: Christian Behaviour*

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Review of "Mere Christianity" Part I

One of the most quoted non-Mormons by LDS General Authorities is C.S. Lewis, the famous Christian apologist. Considering how much he is quoted by them, it seemed a good idea to compare his ideas to Mormon thought and beliefs. Reading his introduction to Christian faith "Mere Christianity" was frustrating. His theology was at best problematic and the arguments sometimes contradictory. There ended up very little common ground.

Book I: Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe

The first book (or section) starts out discussing the introduction of sin into the world. From the start any mention of the Bible is a few quick quotes and a lot of allusions. It wasn't hard to understand he was talking about the Fall of Adam and Eve, and therefore humanity.

The key to understanding Christianity, he insists, is to understand ourselves. Science is the study of what can be sensed with our own natural bodies. Because God is outside of nature as a spiritual force, there is no way to study God unless humanity is like God in moral attributes:

We want to know whether the Universe simply happens to be what it is for no reason or whether there is power behind it that makes it what it is. Since that power, if it exists, would be not one of the observed facts but a reality which makes them, no mere observation of the facts can find it. There is only one case in which we can know whether there is anything more, namely our own case. (pg 24).

What he finds is called "Law of Nature," although he doesn't mean what it does in science. Instead, he is talking about a kind of rules of behavior that anyone can know. A person will know, for instance, that you shouldn't lie or kill. That doesn't mean they won't do either one of them, as most people will at least tell a lie to another. What it means is, regardless of what people do, they know they should be unselfish, courageous, honest, and fair.

In many ways his ideas about the "Law of Human Nature," to expand the term, is similar to the Mormon belief in the "Spirit of Christ" where everyone can know right from wrong. As Moroni states in Moroni 7:16, "For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God."

The similarity breaks down when looking at the source of the law. Like most orthodox Christians, he feels there is no substantial difference between God and morality, as they are one and the same. He states humans were created by God, "in order to produce creatures like itself - I mean, like itself to the extent of having minds" (22). He would never agree with Mormons that righeousness was an outside set of laws that God must have, but was seperate from divinity. He also, in the same sentence, rejects any physical similarities between us and God.

Of course, he is trying to convince a non-Christian audience that his faith is the true one. His idea that the Universe and humans are the two evidences of God is hard to believe. If he had stuck with the idea they can help us understand God there would be no problem. He doesn't do that, but instists that because everyone understands the "Law of Nature" it follows they should realize the existance of God by looking at themselves. This isn't brought up to compare his ideas to Mormonism, but to show the kind of circular logic that he uses throughout.

The results of this kind of circular reasoning is that some ideas are never fleshed out, but assumed:

Christianity tells people to repent and promises them forgiveness. It therefore has nothing (as far as I know) to say to people who do not know they have done anything to repent of and who do not feel that they need any forgiveness . . . when you know you are sick, you will listen to the doctor. (pg. 32).

The implications are mostly ignored. Because Christianity is a call for everyone to repent and we all know the "Laws of Human Nature" even when not paying attention, then there isn't anyone who doesn't know they have sinned. It seems his point is more about those who don't know anything about Christianity and its saving power. Of course, Mormons believe Christ's atonement has something to say about that, as it covers innocent guilt. He does explain later in the book that the salvation for those never hearing of Christ is (although he says it differently) more missionary work in this life (pg. 64). That will be covered in the next section.

Perhaps his best summation of the necessity of the atonement is his statement, "They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the Universe we live in" (pg. 8). It is also the two facts that bring into focus the faith in Jesus Christ as Savior shared by Mormons and himself.

*next time Book II: What Christians Believe*

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Place of Apologia in Mormon Faith

This is my response to a question about What Mormons Believe when defending the Book of Mormon, or any other part of the religion. I have already stated in Apologetics: Vacuous Study of Minutiae how they seem to be lacking in spiritual benefits. The reason for my response is to try and place Mormonism in the proper context of the question it asks.

Starting with a quote:

on the other hand, if you are a mormon who believes that the BoM captures a genuine revolution the priors change. if you presuppose the the genuine core of mormon belief one could construct a scenario where such a contact could occur so that the extant remains would be difficult to discern. . . so depending on the parameters you can make a plausible case in the light of your priors.

I think this needs to be stated more than once. The answer to why Mormons believe as they do can be traced to what Tim Bulter said, "When I read the Book of Mormon, I feel a palpable glow. I believe it's the word of God." This is a unsophisticated description of the spiritual witness, but a good example of the Mormon priority of religious understanding over apologetics. For Mormons, their experience with God is the ultimate proof they have of Mormon claims. It is a personal and not an academic exercise. To quote Richard L. Bushman, the current go to person:

Mormonism has always been an embarrassment to Christianity. It goes back to the 1830s when, on their own left, Christians had to face the Deists, who said the Christian miracles were ridiculous. To defend themselves, Christians had to find some kind of rational support. William Paley, of course, is the archetypical character, but there were scores of books written trying to mobilize evidence that you could believe the resurrection, that those witnesses were authentic.

While they were fighting that battle, the Mormons on the right came up with these ridiculous stories of angels and gold plates and claimed the same right to believe in miracles, mobilizing the same kind of evidence that Christians used for the resurrection. This required Christians to repel Mormons to prevent the Deists from grouping them with the lunatic fringe.

Christian groups have been as forceful as any in trying to put down the Mormons, I think, partly to protect their position as respectable philosophically. I once in a meeting asked a group of evangelical Christians – a small group; Mark Noll was there, Richard Mouw, various other distinguished people – why don't we join forces in making a case that there are grounds for believing in the existence of God simply because the spiritual life confirms it? People believe there is a God because it's manifest to them spiritually.

They really didn't want any of that. They wanted to maintain their philosophical, rational claims, defending their miracles on sort of a quasi-scientific basis. They did not want to get in bed with the Mormons and their strictly subjective view of things. So there is kind of a gap intellectually. Mormonism has never embraced philosophy; it is not particularly interested in philosophy. I would say our most natural ally among the philosophers, frankly, is William James whose view of God is very close to the Mormon view of God. . . Because the emphasis is on experience and belief in a God.

This isn't to say there isn't any "comprehensive defense/explanation" of Mormonism. There is a surprising amount of such if you will actually take the time to look. And these are not just from amateur (although there is that) writers trying to be persuasive, but Phd's in fields from Law to Anthropology. Almost none of the articles they write will ever be in peer reviewed journals, but that is the nature of any religious apologist work. What is sad is that there is such a large volume of relatively good quality apologia that is virtually ignored. Even those who should engage it don't as if it doesn't exist.

And here is where Ross Douthat and others miss the boat entirely. They seem to argue against Mormonism without having at least a cursory understanding of Mormonism and its contemporary defenders. What is amazing is all this talk about Mormons as "literalists" is only partly true.

Unlike the most hardened Bible believers, Mormon theology about Prophets, Scriptures, History, and etc. is extremly flexable and nuanced. For instance, the whole talk above about how "The Pearl of Great Price" doesn't match with the current "Book of the Dead" we clearly have is not very troubling to Mormons who understand their own theology. It brings uncomfortable questions, but ultimately doesn't put "The Pearl of Great Price" into question so much as the process and meaning of Revelation itself. Too many people (even LDS members themselves) try to shoehorn Mormonism into the same category as Scriptural Inerrantists, when that is actually not the case. This is one example of too many where outside perceptions of the way Mormons think and believe are thrust upon them out of caricature rather than reality.

That is the real tragedy here. Arguments against Mormonism from the Right and the Left have been, from the point of view of Mormons, mostly strawmen bolstered by centuries of tradition that Mormons half-heartedly care about participating in because of fashion.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Animals in Mormon Theology

There is an essay at the web site Journal "First Things" that talks about defending human exceptionalism, arguing take that away and there is no such thing as human rights. After listing a series of what is considered attacks to the specialness of humans, they add to it the newest weapon; animals having souls. A story in "The New York Times" discusses the idea that cognition between humans and animals are not very different. Nancey Murphy, a philosopher at Fuller Theological Seminary, argues that all processes attributed to the mind or souls are now studied in animals. The conclusion is that there is no special creation.

The counter argument of the "First Things" writer is, "the existence or nonexistence of the soul isn’t a matter that science can measure, test, or duplicate (as a believing scientist asserts at the end of Dean’s piece)." Although this is true to a point, many of the studies that Nancey Murphy is using as a test for the soul were for centuries attributed to the the actions of the soul. This includes the ability to think; as thought was considered (and to many still is) the theological equivalant of the soul's manifestation. Pure thought (or the Word/Logos) was often considered beyond materialism, and therefore Spirit. In fact, it was God.

Humans were supposed to be made in the moral image of God, with Animals as simply food or helping to make the world beautiful. To bridge that gap between animals and humans is to put the special creation into question. Although the article opened up the possibility that the existance of the soul "whether uniquely human or present in all life" wasn't a problem, the argument mostly stands on the idea that only humans can have souls. They insist a danger in accepting animal souls.

Contrasted to this is the Mormon view that all life, especially animals, have souls of one kind or another. This is because in Mormon theology each creation is a special one, with human kind as the most special of all. From Moses 3, the spiritual creation is described:

7 And I, the Lord God, formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul, the first flesh upon the earth, the first man also; nevertheless, all things were before created; but spiritually were they created and made according to my word.

8 And I, the Lord God, planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there I put the man whom I had formed.

9 And out of the ground made I, the Lord God, to grow every tree, naturally, that is pleasant to the sight of man; and man could behold it. And it became also a living soul. For it was spiritual in the day that I created it; for it remaineth in the sphere in which I, God, created it, yea, even all things which I prepared for the use of man; and man saw that it was good for food. And I, the Lord God, planted the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and also the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Even though this mentions the spiritual soul of humans, plants, and animals, there is still a seperate "sphere" for each of them. Therefore, what makes humans exceptional is God's classification:

He made the tadpole and the ape, the lion and the elephant but He did not make them in His own image, nor endow them with Godlike reason and intelligence. Nevertheless, the whole animal creation will be perfected and perpetuated in the Hereafter, each class in its 'distinct order or sphere,' and will enjoy 'eternal felicity.' That fact has been made plain in this dispensation (D&C 77:3). - Church First Presidency Message, Christmas greetings, Dec. 18, 1909

For God, humans are special because we are His children. The other creations, although worthy of salvation, are not given the same exalted promises. They will give Him glory as His creations, but not to the extent that humans will by giving Him a kind of posterity. There is a gulf between humans and animals that has been divinely set. No amount of philosophy can challenge that against revelations demanding it as fact.

The idea of animals having souls is continually referenced by Joseph Smith, both in revelations and sermons. The importance of this might not be very well understood, but it shows up in many places. In one sermon Joseph Smith finds the concept of animals not having souls as a minor rejection of the glory of God by limiting His ability to save:

I suppose John saw beings there of a thousand forms, that had been saved from ten thousand times ten thousand earths like this, - strange beastes of which we have no conception: all might be seen in heaven. The grand secret was to show John what there was in heaven. John learned that God glorified Himself by saving all that His hands had made, whether beasts, fowls, fishes or rament; and He will glorify Himself with them.

Says one, "I cannot believe in the salvation of beasts." Any man who would tell you that this could not be, would tell you that the revelations are not true. John heard the words of the beasts giving glory to God, and understood them. God who made the beasts could understand every language spoken by them. The four beasts were four of the most noble animals that had filled the measure of their creation, and had been saved from other worlds, because they were perfect: they were like angels in their sphere. We are not told where they came from, and I do not know; but they were seen and heard by John praising and glorifying God.
Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 291

This is not to say that Mormons believe equating humans to animals is perfectly acceptable. Often times human depravity is compared to the natural lawlessness of the animal kingdom. Humans are special because they have been given a higher law to follow, and greater capacity to understand the moral implications of their thoughts and actions. To act like animals is still a sign of great sin:

Little do we realize what we have brought upon ourselves when we have allowed our children to be taught that man is only an advanced animal. We have compounded the mistake by neglecting to teach moral and spiritual values. Moral laws do not apply to animals for they have no agency. Where there is agency, where there is choice, moral laws must apply. We cannot, absolutely cannot, have it both ways.

When our youth are taught that they are but animals, they feel free, even compelled, to respond to every urge and impulse. We should not be so puzzled at what is happening to society. We have sown the wind, and now we inherit the whirlwind. The chickens, so the saying goes, are now coming home to roost.
Boyd K. Packer, “Covenants,” Ensign, Nov 1990, 84

Perhaps one of the implications to come out of the idea of animals having souls is how we are to treat them. It is well known in the revelation called "The Word of Wisdom" that meat should be eaten only in times of winter or famine. Some have speculated this was meant at the time as protection against food going bad to keep the body healthy. True as that might be, there is a companion revelation in D&C 49: 19-21 that warns against taking life and flesh wantonly. Killing of animals should not be taken lightly without spiritual condemnation.

Many prophets of the LDS Church, from Joseph Smith on, have spoken out against both cruelty to animals and over hunting. Every year the generations of warning have gone unheaded. Thousands of Latter-day Saints go into the hills and mountains to kill for sport. This isn't to say hunting is evil and should be avoided. Rather, most of the time these hunters don't take the time to respect what they kill. They don't try to protect animals from over harvest or preserve the habitat. It comes off as gluttony and violence against God's creation.

Perhaps this is the great irony of a religion that believes in both the soul of Animals and the Exalted sphere of humans. When humans don't use their higher moral capacities, all creation suffers. What seperates humans from animals is conscious choice between right and wrong. Thinking doesn't make it so, but actions do.