The Mormon doctrine of eternal families is incoherent. It makes no sense at all, once you get past how good it sounds on the surface.
The doctrine of eternal families was one of the hardest things for me to let go of when leaving the Church. I grew up secure in the knowledge that I would be with my family forever. It was soothing and reassuring, especially since I had a basically decent family. Then, when I married my lovely, sexy wife in the temple, it was wonderful to be able to be confident that I would be with her for ever.
So leaving the Church meant leaving that behind- that certainty and confidence that I would be together with the ones I love For Time And All Eternity. It was a hard thing to leave, even once I figured out that it was, well, total bunk.
‘Cause here’s the thing- what does an “Eternal Family” even mean? Supposedly only family relationships sealed in the temple will be eternal, and all others will dissolve upon death, just like aall other earthly contracts and relationships. But what does it look like?
Many Mormons I know imagine their eternal family as an eternal nuclear family- husband, wife, kids, all together. That’s preposterous. Will we all live in one house in the Celestial Kingdom? What about the kids’ spouses? And the kids’s kids? what about the parents’ parents, and siblings? Will we all live otgether in one big house? If everyone lives together in one big house because we’re all one big eternal family, then what makes that different that just everyone living in the Celestial Kingdom? Certainly one big house would be impractical, and if everyone lived in it, it wouldn’t be fundamentally different than everyone living in small houses, scattered a little bit. The one big house would be like a huge city-arcology anyway.
So, what makes two people who go to the Celestial Kingdom as “family” (say my brother and me) any different from two people who go to the Celestial Kingdom as “not-family?” And if everyone is related in the celestial Kingdom, then being related is meaningless, because there’d be no difference between “everyone is related” and “nobody is related.” We’d all live together happy in the Celestial Kingdom either way.
I’ve always assumed that this meant that “eternal family” in the Church realy just had to mean “eternal marriage.” Yes, I will still have a relationship with other assorted members of my earthly family, but given that it’ll be a paradise anyway, what difference will the arbitrary “related” label make? None at all.
So eternal family has to mean eternal marriage. But eternal marriage is just as incoherent, and I’ll tell you why.
Supposedly, marriages sealed in the temple last beyond death, and other marriages are severed. Okay, let’s assume that persons A and B have an eternal temple marriage, and persons C and D got married at the courthouse. Then they all die in a horrible car accident. Let’s assume that Mormonism is true: what happens to them then?
Argably, A and B go to the Celestial Kingdom (or its highest level at least), and C and D do not, but that’s irrelevant to the issue at hand, unless it isn’t- but wait until the end of this post for that.
The question is, what makes A and B different from C and D after death? A and B are married, and C and D are not. A and B get to continue in a marriage relationship for Time And All Eternity and C and D do not. That’s usually where the Church leaves things- happily ever after for A and B, and sadly ever after for C and D. But let’s folow C and D past “sadly ever after.”
C and D are resurrected with perfect bodies, and gender doesn’t go away because according to the Church, it is a part of one’s eternal identity that actually predates the creation of our spirit bodies.
C and D go to the Terrestrial Kingdom, and they are Not Married. What makes them different from A and B, who are married? C and D will not forget each other, so they will reember their relationship. What’s to stop them from continuing their relationship after death? What’s to stop them from buying or bulding a Terrrestrial Kingdom house and living in it happy as clams for just as much Time And All Eternity as A and B? Will it be against the rules, because cohabitation is wrong? Who cares? They’ve already gotten their meagre eternal reward anyway, and they have already lost the possibility of eternal increase, so why not live together? They have perfect bodies, so they can have sex and everything. No they won’t officially be married, but neither will anyone else in the Terrestrial Kingdom, so what’s the difference? What’s to stop them from saying “oh well, screw this, we’re married because we say we are?” What would the difference even be? It’s heaven, so there’s no death or injury so there’s no worry about inheritance, survivorship, or hospital visitation. There’s no immigration problem or anything, because i seriously doubt that there’s different countries in the Terrestrial Kingdom. In fact, all of the things that make “married” different from “not married” are earthly legal stuff, and the principle of the thing, and neither of those could possibly matter in paradise where nobody else is officially married either. The only difference is the arbitrary “married” label.
It’s possible that non-Celestial bodies get neutered or something, but that won’t stop them from living together or being together, just from having sex. and probably if you have no sex organs, then you won’t care about not getting any anyway. And if you do, then the problem is not that you can;t be Together Forever, just that you’re horny forever with no way to get off. That would arguably be really sucky, but the premise seems a bit far out, and it still wouldn’t stop you from eternal cohabitation.
Unless their separation is somehow forced, by mean angels or something. That would suck, too. You wouldn’t be able to ever even see your earthly sweetie, because the mean angels block you from going to her GTerrestrial Kingdom district or whatever. It would be really sad for a long time, but we’re talking about eternity here. Eventually, you’d move on and develop relationships with the people you were allowed to be with. Eventually you’d find a new sweetheart, and so would your earthly spouse, and then you’d just move in with your new sweetheart and be with her forever.
Unless the mena angels move in and separate the two of you. Every time you get close to someone, the mean angels come and put you in different corners. Oh well, you’d just get close to the next person, and the separating would continue for a really long time until everyone was separated by mean angels and everyone was alone. To keep people from developing intimate personal relationships that were basically the same as marriage, God would have to somehow enforce utter alone-ness. And He’d have to do it at every degree of glory except for the highest.
Then, either being al laone will bother us, or it won’t. If being eternally alone won’t bother us, then who cares? We certainly won’t; that’s the whole point. It’s hard to imagine now, but we’d have to be pretty different anyway. Alternately, if we do care, then every degree of glory becomes absolute hell, and really, every degree of glory but the highest one becomes the same thing as Outer Darkness (what’s more outer and dark than total loneliness? Total loneliness with the lights off?), and given that we’re not all Sons of Perdition, that makes no sense.
None of that makes sense. Unless we’re totally alone, we’re going to develop intimate personal relationships with whomever we’re allowed to be with, and ultimately it will be every bit as fulfilling as marriage. What is marriage but intimacy, and what’s to stop you from being intimate with the people you’re with? Nothing!
And if you’re going to have marriage-like intimacy with whomever you’re with anyway, why impose the arbitrary punishment of not being with the person you were married to in your earthly life? Especially since in all honesty you’d eventually get over it and move on, given all eternity.
What if God separates everyone by gender? Equally meaningless. You’d just develop intimate relationships with the people you were around. If you have a sex drive, you’d eventually (given all eternity) turn to fulfilling yourselves with each other, and if you have no sex drive then you wouldn’t care anyway. Again, rules against homosexuality and/orunmarried sex wouldbe totally meaningless–you’ve already gotten your eternal reward! So why not do what makes you happy, damn the rules?
I’m not saying we’ll all go crazy and everything in the Terrestrial Kingdom will tur to chaos because nobody needs to follow the rules. That’s not it at all, but we will want to have relationships with each other in order to be happy, so what’s to stop us? Arbitrary rules? Ha! And if we won’t want relationships in order to make us happy, then who cares if we can’t have them? Not us! That’s the whole point.
To sum up: unless we are totally alone, which is unlikely since that would pretty much be the same as Outer Darkness with the lights on, we will form intimate relationships with the people around us. If we are allowed to be with the people who were our friends and family on earth, we will probably continue those relationships. Even if we are not officially “family” anymore, what would the difference even be? All family is is genetics, relationships developed over time, and legal considerations. Even if the genetics are somehow erased, the relationships we’ve built won’t just go away, and the legal considerations are arbitrary and meanigless anyway (they only make a difference by contrast, and if nobody has legal family connections to each other, then it’s the same as if everybody did). If we are not allowed to be with the people who were our friends and family on earth, then we will develop intimate relationships with whomever we are allowed to be around, and given all eternity, these new reltionships will ultimately be much more intimate and fulfilling anyway.
Given that, there’s no reason to not let us be with our friends and family in the afterlife other than as a totally arbitrary punishment that will ultimately lose its bite anyway.
And if we can be with each other, and perpetuate a relatonship, what the heck differenc does it even make if we get to officially call ourself family or not? And who’s to stop us from continuing to call each other family anyway, and to keep acting like family? And if we keep acting like family, what makes that any different from actually being family?
What will we have lost?
The only thing I can think of is the possibility that “Eternal Marriage” is something qualitatively more than just earthly marriage perpetuated for all time. Maybe “Eternal Marriage” just means “marriage with the ability to make spirit children and populate new worlds with them.” And that would be cool and all, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I couldn’t do it, as long as I got to spend eternity with my sweetheart (either the one I’ve got now or the new one I’ll meet in the afterlife) doing whatever it is we do get to do.
And that certainly isn’t what we talk about in the Church. I mean, we do talk about being like God and making new spirit children and everything, but nobody ever says “don’t you want an eternal marriage so you can make spirit children?” because that might not even be interesting to everybody. They always say “don’t you want to be Together Forever with your family?”
And to that I say “yes, of course,” but I don’t see why Mormonism, the temple, and the Celestial Kingdom are requirements for being together forever. Sorry; it’s poppycock.