Having received more response to my blog post and email than I expected, I thought I'd write a brief follow up.
Several people have been surprised by my characterization of learning as repentance; some of these responses have been more coherent than others; I will respond to general thoughts, and let other arguments stand, or fall, as they may.
The Bible Dictionary in the LDS edition of the scriptures defines repentance as:
"Repentance. The Greek word of which this is the translation denotes a change of mind, i.e., a fresh view about God, about oneself, and about the world. Since we are born into conditions of mortality, repentance comes to mean a turning of the heart and will to God, and a renunciation of sin to which we are naturally inclined. Without this there can be no progress in the things of the soul’s salvation, for all accountable persons are stained by sin, and must be cleansed in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. Repentance is not optional for salvation; it is a commandment of God" (http://lds.org/scriptures/bd/repentance?lang=eng&letter=r)
Forming a fresh view about God, about oneself, and about the world is exactly what learning is. As someone studies chemistry, they form a fresh view of the world; as someone does math problems, as one of my detractors used as an example, one forms a fresh view of logic, or math, which is part of the world. In other words, any real learning is a portion of repentance. LDS doctrine teaches that God is the source of all truth. Thus, learning any truth is a means of coming closer to God. Joseph Smith taught that members of the Church should accept and act on all truth, from whatever source they could find it.
I suppose that one could learn something that is not true, and thus be deceived and not come closer to God; learning falsehood is not repentance. But with the positive connotations associated with learning, I believe that I can successfully call learning "discovering truth." If learning is a positive thing, it is repentance. Every good thing comes from God, from Christ.
One of the least coherent critiques I've received is the remark made by a commenter accusing me of not thinking of this is as a religious issue. On the contrary - my point is that EVERY instant of life is a religious issue, especially learning.
An important note here - some learning is more important, and brings us closer to God more powerfully, than others. A knowledge of the reality of the Atonement of Christ is necessary for our salvation and exaltation; a knowledge of particle physics is not. Or rather, is not initially; if we are to become like our Heavenly Father, a being who knows EVERYTHING, then yes, we do "come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23) by virtue of our ignorance. This is a possible explanation for Joseph Smith's statement: "No man may be saved in ignorance." Similarly, the scripture in Ephesians 4:18: "Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart".
Fortunately, we don't have to learn everything in mortality; since we are "born into conditions of mortality, repentance comes to mean a turning of the heart and will to God, and a renunciation of the sin to which we are naturally inclined" (Bible Dictionary). This repentance is not optional.
In direct response to a previous commenter, yes - we all do sin, and so yes, we all do need to repent. And until we are like our Heavenly Father, we need to turn to Him - through "religious" repentance, and by "seek[ing] learning by study, and also by faith" (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118). Original sin has nothing to do with it, nor do sins of omission. A failure to learn is an example of a sin of omission. We entered mortality, partly, because we didn't know everything our Heavenly Father did and we wanted to learn. The requirement to learn, and therefore, repent, does not only apply to errors we have made and want to correct. Repentance is much larger than that.
In my professor's response, he questioned whether running a mile and breaking down muscles so that they can be built up again could be classified as repentance. From either view of repentance, they can be. If one is living for God and striving to serve Him with all their might, mind, and strength, how can exercise not be part of learning to be like God? How can improving physically NOT be a part of His work? If one is exercising for selfish reasons or without an eye single to the glory of God, then yes, one is not repenting. But one also does not learn. If a person is not moving towards God, they are not discovering truth. Again, God is the source of all truth (interestingly, the devil the father of all lies or falsehoods); moving away from God is not learning.
From the perspective that any (true) learning is repentance, running also qualifies; I believe in an embodied, and perfectly embodied, God; physical learning brings my perspective closer to his in the same way that intellectual learning does - again, as long as I am uncovering truth.
Turning the heart and will to God is far more than simply saying one is sorry for every bad thing one does or has ever done. It is changing everything about ourselves to be more like our Heavenly Father. Hence, the enabling power of the Atonement: not only do we need the Christ's forgiveness and mediation, we also need His help to do anything. We need His help to improve. As Ammon stated, "Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things" (Alma 26:12).
One word in a comment stands out to me: sadistic. Someone called me sadistic for wanting to beat myself up about learning. Apart from the misuse of the word (masochistic would be more appropriate if I were beating myself up), and the misunderstanding concerning my intention (I was not beating myself up in the post at all, but objecting to institutionalized coercion), the emotional charge is clear and appropriate. I am preaching hard doctrine. Everything you do either brings you closer to God or takes you away from Him. There are decisions that we make upon which the Lord doesn't see fit to give us guidance: He doesn't direct me to buy a particular can of tuna, and most or all of the cans of tuna at store are probably acceptable choices. But I am accountable to Him even for that decision.
Nothing in life is free or unconnected to our spiritual growth. Not work, not recreation, not relaxation, not renewal, not sleep, not eating, not sex, not love. Not learning.
Luckily, just because things are connected to our relationship with God doesn't make them unpleasant. Generally speaking, quite the contrary. But that is another topic entirely.
As a side note, although I strongly disagreed with one of the responses I received, I am slightly surprised and rather pleased to find that I have a broader American audience. I knew that I had a few readers in Germany, Russia, Brussels, Israel, and other places around the world (thank you all, by the way); I didn't know the extent of the American response. It makes me glad to write - even if I disagree with someone, we can both learn ( :-) ) something from the exchange.