Pinocchio, Spirit Birth and Being a ‘Real Boy’

As I am sure a few of you have noticed, I have had something of a one-track mind lately with my upcoming presentation at the SMPT conference (schedule announced here).  I was recently considering why I felt so strongly about this idea of spirit birth, when others don’t share this feeling – and even go to great length to dismiss the idea in spite of current church teachings on the subject.  This brings me to the story of Pinocchio which may bring some interesting discussion on the topic.

Geppetto was a wood carver who apparently had no family.  He had a cat and a fish, which was better than nothing, but they were not satisfying.  Geppetto wanted a real boy.

Geppetto eventually carved a beautiful boy puppet, and named him Pinocchio.  But this was not satisfying either.  Geppetto prayed for a real boy.

In partial answer to his prayer, some magic ferry came down, waved her wand, and changed Pinocchio.  He now could move and talk, and seemed to have a personality and a will of his own.  This was a great improvement, but was still not satisfying.  He was not ‘real’.  Geppetto wanted a real boy, and Pinocchio wanted to be a real boy.

This illustrates my feelings about spirit birth.  Without this idea I would not feel like a ‘real boy’ with respect to God.  The idea about being adopted would potentially put me in the place of the cat or the goldfish.  This may be better than nothing, but in comparison to being a real boy it would be fundamentally unsatisfying.  Similarly the idea of being ‘constructed’ out of spirit materials would put me in a position of the magically animated puppet.  Sure this would be better than a puppet on a string, but it would not be as ‘real’ as I would want.

This brings us to realness, and what that is.  At the end of the movie, Pinocchio was ‘real’ in terms of being the same type of being that Geppetto was, with the same type of potential.  This is what finally made Pinocchio’s life and situation satisfying.

Of course the problem for me in this is the method.  I am left a little unsatisfied by the magic wand waving.  It makes me wonder if in later years Pinocchio would begin to wonder just how ‘real’ he really was.  Was this just some magic trick?  Who was his ‘real’ mother and father?  Did he just have the sensation and image of realness?

Bottom line, the desire for being a ‘real boy’ with respect to God is an important part of my motivation behind defending this religious idea.

18 Responses to “Pinocchio, Spirit Birth and Being a ‘Real Boy’”

  1. 1 J. Stapley March 12, 2010 at 11:21 am

    Part of what this analogy suffers from, I think, is the projection of a dichotomy. In Pinochio’s world there are “real boys” everywhere and he is constantly being confronted with what he is not.

    In the cosmology that Joseph Smith outlined there is no analogical parallel. There all beings share the same existence and the only difference is the choices that the beings can and do make. There is no separate special existence to wish to be.

  2. 2 Eric Nielson March 12, 2010 at 11:31 am

    The potential difference here is the difference between God and man, paralleling the difference between Geppetto and Pinocchio.

  3. 3 Geoff J March 12, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    Eric, I think the world of you but I’m afraid this a case of analogy FAIL.

    The Geppetto analogy works pretty nicely those who believe that God created our minds/spirits. But Joseph Smith taught that God didn’t create our minds. (Joseph Smith also said God never created our spirits but I will leave that alone since the idea that God did create our spirits is your central argument.)

    The other problem with your analogy is that as I understand it you hold that God the Father created our spirits by somehow procreating with God the Mother. So in your analogy with Geppetto where would God the Mother have come from? Was she always in existence like God the Father? If so doesn’t that point to a two track model where the race of Gods are beginningless be we aren’t? (Also, in the Pinocchio story there was no Pinocchio eternal mind floating around waiting for a puppet to make it a body)

    In other words, this argument/analogy probably doesn’t help your cause much at all.

  4. 4 Geoff J March 12, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    It dawns on me that maybe you are directing this analogy to the creatio ex nihilo crowd and showing why being created is less desirable that being a child. If that is your only point I completely agree.

  5. 5 Eric Nielson March 12, 2010 at 3:40 pm


    At times it seems like you want to misunderstand and disagree with me on principle or out of spite – this is fine. Especially in this case where my analogy is half baked at best. One thing that may help is that I favor the trpartite view of intelligence/spirit/body.

    In this analogy (that I was not very thorough with) has to do with spirit body ‘creation’. Thus this personality and will that the ferry puts into the wooden puppet would be something like an intelligence that was never created and was placed into a spirit body.

    I mentioned in the original post that this analogy fails ultimately. Again, with the tripartite model, we all were always in existence – Father, Mother, children, everybody is a necessary being. So no – this does not suggest a 2 track model in the least. You seem to constanty forget or dismiss this tripartite view which is strange because it seems to be the dominant view in Mormonism.

    So to restate my motivation in this analogy:

    – The cat and the goldfish are unsatisfying as adopted beings who are ‘other’ than Gepetto – or God. They are not real boys.

    – The animated wooden puppet is unsatisfying as a ‘constructed’ being. It is not a real boy.

    – You don’t have a sense of being a real boy unless you are the same type/kind of being as Geppetto – or God. This is best realized with a spirit birth model (combined with an eternal intelligence.

    Not 2-track.

    Better child than created, better begotten than adopted. These are my points.

  6. 6 Ron Hubscher March 12, 2010 at 5:49 pm


    I completely understand and see where you are coming from. The concept of “spirit birth” is a very real thing, I think no matter the view of how the body came into being… To quote… And, then God breathed the Spirit of Life into Adam. I like the analogy to Pinocchio.

    – ron

  7. 8 anon March 12, 2010 at 7:06 pm

    Pinocchio is only ‘real’ if he has a belly-button. Snarkiness aside, what is real? Must a child be conceived and grown within a womb to be real? Must a child grow to be real? Must a child experience death to be real?

  8. 9 J. Stapley March 12, 2010 at 8:18 pm

    Let me write a follow up analogy to demonstrate an alternate perspective:

    There is a planet full of sensient puppets, made of wood. When a male puppet and a female puppet decide to go into the shed and fabricate a new puppet together (they each have the capacity to only use certain tools, so both are needed). Most puppets believe in an all powerful being who created the universe. They call him the maker, because they believe he created their souls in the same way their own parents make them, except with different materials. A prophet arose one day and said that their souls were never made, but people didn’t believe him.

  9. 10 Geoff J March 12, 2010 at 8:40 pm

    Eric — I was hoping you weren’t trying to use this analogy to defend viviparous spirit birth. It fails to defend VSB at all.

    The problem is that Geppetto represents God in your analogy. So if Geppetto = God who does the fairy represent? And if we are going to go with the tripartite assumption why would it matter what kind of body the eternal mind of Pinocchio inhabited? In your example what makes Pinocchio’s spirit more or less “real” based on the body his spirit is piloting?

    I’m afraid this analogy isn’t doing what you hope it will do.

    A better analogy would be that Geppetto adopted a baby boy and raised him. The end. (It turns out that adopted sons are “real boys” too.)

  10. 11 Eric Nielson March 12, 2010 at 8:45 pm


    In this context, real would mean of the same type/kind as their father. And I am using this to explain my take on the relationship between God and man.


    Some people misinterpreted what the prophet said. The proper interpretation was that the essence of what they were, what made them ‘sensient’ was never made. Not that their bodies were never made. This misinterpretation lead some to believe that the maker was ontologically different from them, which had a negative impact on their theology.

  11. 12 Eric Nielson March 12, 2010 at 8:59 pm


    Your stubbornness if admirable I suppose.

    This analogy defends a sense of realness which is best maintained by spirit birth. I admitted in the original post that this analogy had its problems as all analogies do.

    The ferry is the worst part of this analogy. She might represent the method of an eternal intelligence combining with a begotten spirit body.

    The body is important in the intelligence becoming like God. The spirit and the body (and the intelligence) inseparably connected bring a fullness of joy. Without this step important progress could simply not be made. The spirit is just as real either way, but any other body would be inadequate. It could not become like God with some other kind of body. Could not eventually be resurrect and exalted. Could not have children of its own.

    Real boys that are adopted in the real world have biological parents somewhere. But there is a whole world out there that already believes in a huge ontological gap between God and man. Something adopted by God could very well be something ontologically different from God. That is how much of the world would interpret it. Spirit birth is the best method of removing such a gap.

  12. 13 Geoff J March 12, 2010 at 10:33 pm

    It might seem like stubbornness to you Eric. It seems like pointing out the obvious to me…

    Anyway, yes, real boys have biological parents. And real biological parents also have biological parents. So are you in the camp that assumes that God has heavenly parents and grandparents and great grandparents etc? If so, do you believe there is a first set of heavenly parents? If Geppetto = Our God in the analogy who is the Adam and Eve in the analogy?

    Don’t get me wrong, I know VSB has a prominent place in Mormon thought. My main point here is that the Pinocchio analogy works to attack creatio ex nihilo but doesn’t do anything for you to VSB against the idea of uncreated and adopted spirits within Mormonism.

  13. 14 Eric Nielson March 13, 2010 at 10:45 am


    I am currently leaning the infinite regress route.

    It all comes down to ontological gap. Adoption leaves that possibility wide open and even makes it likely. Spirit birth is the only idea that keeps that gap closed. Thus I agree that the analogy does nothing directly for spirit birth, but it motivates the idea of spirit birth indirectly in the desire to be a real boy with respect to God. What better way to maintain this realness?

  14. 15 shematwater March 13, 2010 at 1:33 pm


    I think it is silly to demand that any analogy be perfect for the purpose it was intended. No mortal mind has the capacity to create a perfect analogy, not even yours. So let us simply agree that there are certain failing in the analogy made, but that the primary point was accurate, because it was. The failing truly mean very little as this is not being used as a basis for doctrine, by as a way of explaining doctrine through a flawed mortal mind.

    I like this analogy because it shows that not only is Pinnochio unsatisfied without being real, but also that God is also unsatisfied. He had the cat and fish, and as Eric said, these adopted family members did not fill the need for children, because they were so different in being from Geppetto. The wooden Pinnochio was also unsatisfying, not only to himself, but to Geppetto, because he was not of the same kind. It was when he became of the same race, or species, that both found the ultimate fulfillment of their desires.

    As to the fair, I would say that she would represent the natural laws of progression that all must follow, not any particular being. Nothing else needs to be represented in this because it is speaking to us as individuals, not as a collective race.

  15. 16 Eric Nielson March 13, 2010 at 1:54 pm


    Thanks. I think you understand the message I was trying to send. One of the reasons I prefer the spirit birth explanation is that it makes me feel more real with respect to God.

  16. 17 Ana Sastrías November 8, 2015 at 6:46 am

    Tonight, before checking your blog, I had a conversation about Pinocchio and the relationsip with Gepetto, his creator. My thoughts were more in relation to Gepetto himself as being in analogy to God, and Pinocchio personalising Humanity, as a created matter that eventually received the “anima” or Spirit to become like God with Free Will, but with punishment if disobeying the rules of Human Morality.

    Gepetto feels extremely satisfied with Pinocchio as a boy and funally can rest thinking that now there will be a boy that can help him in many chores. This means Gepetto enslaves his own creation.

    Pinocchio is a good dool, who became a good boy. But as a real boy, he had friends, good and bad, but all were boys. The story is quite dramatic in terms of the reprecautions if disobeying. For the first time, Pinocchio disobeys, not going to school and instead going to have fun and not taking responsibility for himself and Gepetto, his creator. The magic ferry and his little cricket try very hard to warnhim of the consequences if disobeying. This in Christian Theology put Humanity as Adam and Eve, for the first time having to disobey God and then being Expelled from Paradise to then experience suffering. In the story of Pinocchio, the naughty boy who is his friend becomes a dunkey and Pinocchio almost become too, but the magic ferry takes pitty of him and convince Pinocchio that Disobedience is not going to do any goid and should go back to school and Gepetto.

    Another part of Pinocchio’s story has a very close connection with the Biblical story of Jonas and the whale. Here in Pinocchio’s, gepetto and Pinnochio end up living indide a whale and eventualy they get expelled from his mouth ending up in a beach.
    It is very sad to learn that the good friend, who was naughty did not have that luck and after becoming a dunkey was killed. It is the sddest part of the whole story.

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