Posts Tagged ‘Exaltation’


[After posting this, my beautiful and sexy wife pointed out the huge hole in my thesis, so I am going to re-tool the post and re-post it in the near future, but I am leaving it up for now even though it is massively flawed.]

So, in light of some frustrating discussions lately with Mormons about the nature of the Atonement (most particularly this one), I think I have managed to nail down two competing Mormon Atonement narratives or models:

1. Heavenly Father requires your perfect obedience in order for you to qualify for exaltation (“There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—-and when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.D&C 130:20-21). Mortals are born innocent and fully able to obey Heavenly Father’s commandments, but we have free will and we are subjected to temptation, and so each of us will inevitably, sometimes, break the commandments. Jesus came to earth and suffered in Gethsemane to pay the price for all of our sins and transgressions, and because of his sacrifice, we are able to go through the repentance process and have our sins effectively erased, so that we are counted in Heavenly Father’s eyes as if you had kept the perfect standard (so mercy satisfies the irrevocably decreed demand of justice). However, over time, in the eternities, we will stumble and fall short less and less, and eventually progress to where we, like Heavenly Father, no longer need repentance.

Put simply, we qualify for exaltation by never deviating from the standard of perfection. If and when we do deviate, the Atonement erases the deviation so that it is as if we had never sinned. So our exaltation is something that we earn by perfect obedience, and to the extent we are unable to be perfectly obedient, Jesus takes up the shortfall if we have faith in him, repent and have our sins washed away by baptism (and regularly renew our baptism through taking the sacrament).

I think that this model is internally consistent, and generally more supportable from Mormon sources across the standard works and the words of latter-day prophets and apostles. I think that it reflects a Mormonism that can be found in Kimball’s Miracle of Forgiveness. I suspect that older Mormons, Mormons who live in more homogenous Mormon communities and more traditionally-minded Mormons are more likely to espouse this first model. If you had asked me to explain the Atonement as an adolescent or early on my mission, I would have explained it in terms of this first model.

I also think that this first model is thoroughly Pelagian.

2. Heavenly Father wants to bring about our exaltation, which is a thing of infinite worth and so it comes with an infinite price. We have no means of paying an infinite price, so justice demands that we can’t be given an infinite gift that we did not earn. Jesus came to earth and suffered in Gethsemane, paying an infinite price on our behalf, essentially purchasing our exaltation for us. We can then take part in the exaltation that Jesus has bought with his sacrifice when we fulfill the requirements that he has set: faith, repentance, baptism, the gift of the holy ghost and enduring to the end.

In this model, we do not directly qualify for exaltation. We qualify for it only indirectly through Jesus, who pays the entire price to obtain it, and then grants it to us (or gives us access to it) if we, in a separate transaction, meet the requirements he sets out. Mercy thus satisfies justice twice: once when Jesus pays an infinite price for our exaltation that we cannot pay, and once when he gives it to us for a price we can.

I also think that this second model is generally internally consistent, but I do not think it is as consistent with historical Mormon sources. We could probably have an argument about the degree of tension it has with other Mormon ideas, doctrines and texts. I think that it reflects a contemporary, PR-conscious and interfaith-dialogue-minded Mormonism that emphasizes the role of Jesus Christ and the Atonement, minimizes historic Momronism, and is influenced by Stephen E. Robinson’s Believing Christ. I suspect that younger Mormons and Mormons who live in diverse, pluralist urban centers and Mormons who are more engaged with postmodern culture are more likely to espouse this second model. I would not be surprised if, in a generation or two, this second model becomes overwhelmingly the norm among Mormons and will be taught consistently from the pulpit as if it had always been the norm. I would have explained the Atonement in terms of this second model towards the end of my mission and as a Mormon adult.

I’m not sure if the second model is Pelagian or not (kinda doesn’t matter since it’s still based on a completely and thoroughly heretical Christology). I suspect that Mormons who espouse the second model would assert that it is consistent with Protestant ideas about salvation by faith through grace, but I think you would have to look hard to find a Protestant who would agree.

Given the Mormon tendency to eschew systematic theology, I think that many Mormons probably hold oth models without giving it a lot of thought and without thinking about whether the models are consistent (not that Mormons lack the intellectual rigor to do so; I think they are just more likely to approach the atonement devotionally instead of theologically, and be satisfied* with any illustration or explanation of the Atonement that is sufficiently moving, reverent, and not obviously inconsistent with other Mormon doctrine).

To my Mormon readers: Do either of these models fairly represent your beliefs about the Atonement? Which one do you think is the most consistent with scripture and the teachings of latter-day prophets and apostles? Do you think that these models are mutually exclusive? If not, why not?

To everyone else, let me know your thoughts and observations. Let’s discuss.

*Did you see what I did there?

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I had a great discussion with my mother a few days ago (she’s a true believing Mormon) about the difference between faith and testimony in Mormon theology, and I’ve been mulling around some thoughts about it ever since.

“Testimony,” as commonly used by Mormons, is an unfortunate term. It’s an umbrella term, a thought-construct composed of several different distinct but related concepts, but they’re all blurred together into one conglomerate noun in the Mormon vernacular. When the Holy Ghost bears witness of the truth of x, a Mormon calls that your testimony. When you tell others the religious things you believe or “know,” that’s also your testimony. Those two I can handle, but the third main use is the most vague and elusive, and the one least based in (even Mormon) scripture and theology. It’s this idea that a testiony is a thing, a noun, an intangible object that you actually have and need to nurture and work on so it grows.

It’s not the same thing as Faith, which is given some pretty clear and basically consistent definitions in the New Testament and the Book of Mormon. Paul (or whoever wrote Hebrews) said “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (NIV). In the Book of Mormon, Alma said faith “is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true,” and Moroni said faith is “things which are hoped for and not seen.” None of those are really the same thing that Mormons are talking about when they talk about their testimony. Testimony is the assurance of the truth of Mormonism via mystical experiences.

Faith is consistently couched in terms like “hope.” Your testimony is the things you know. You might talk about faith in terms of certainty, but you would never describe a testimony using the word “hope.” Sure, the terms are similar, but they’re not identical.

In Mormon theology, such as it is, the requirments for salvation are faith, repentance, baptism, the gift of the holy ghost, and enduring to the end (which includes getting the necessary ordinances and priesthood, and continuing to develop faith, repent of sins, and renew your baptismal covenant by taking the sacrament). Testimony per se is not a requirement for the Celestial Kingdom. There’s not testimony checker at the pearly gates. Nevertheless, Mormons constantly talk about the necessity of having a testimony, as if it is basically the most important thing in Mormonism.

It has no real connected place in Mormon theology, so why is it necessary? All of the critical steps (the principles and ordinances of the gospel) for salvation are obtainable without ever once feeling the Holy Ghost, much less Getting a Testimony.

There’s a weird inconsistency yhere that bothers me. Basically, what it boils down to is that Mormonism in practice focuses almost obsessively on the need for the individual to experience successive, ongoing conversion experiences. No wonder Mormons are able to simply ignore their doubts and criticisms of the church that they hear! They are spending their time and effort constantly converting themselves. Why? I think it’s because without constant conversion-as-reinforcement, Mormonism doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny. Testimony may not actually be a requirement for salvation in Mormonism, but if you aren’t constantly cultivating mystical confirmations of the Church’s truth, you’re far less likely to stay a member of a Church that is heavy-handed, authoritarian, wildly implausible, and extremely demanding.

I don’t really believe there is such a thing as “having a testimony.” I think that you can experience God through the Holy Spirit, and I think you can yourself bear witness to things you believe are true, but as far as this nebulous thing that you have, I think it’s a mental and cultural construct with no real existence. It’s a doublespeak term tat obscures what’s going on. Faith is something that you have. Testimony is something you hear or give.

Given that opinion, why then does it bother me when people say I must not have ever really had a testimony, seeing as how I left the Church. I mean, if I don;t believe that testimony exists, at least the way they’re talking about it, why do I care if they say I never had one? Again, it comes down to the nebulous doublespeak use of the term. When someone says I never had a testimony, they’re actually questioning whether I ever was really ommitted to the Church, and that pisses me off. I was raised in the Church, and I was a faithful member. I scrupulously tried to keep the commandments. I graduated from early morning seminary. I served an honorable mission and I worked incredibly hard, both physically and spiritually. I read the Book of Mormon again and again, not as a skeptic, but as an earnest believer. I married in the temple, which took great personal sacrifices on my part and on my wife’s part. I always paid a full tithe, and I gave generous fast offerings. I magnified my callings. I prayed daily. When doubts came, I did my best to resolve them. I tried to me a member-missionary, and I even tried my best to do my home teaching. I did everything I was supposed to do to “get a testimony,” and I did it with pure intentions, because I honestly thought it was all the right thing to do.

The Church promises that if you do this stuff, you’ll Get A Testimony. Thus, when people say I must not have had a testimony, they are insinuating that I never did the things that were required to get one, and that impugns my integrity and my earnestness, and that bothers me a lot.

I have to say that I believe that the Church is simply not true, at least it is not true the way it claims to be. It may be a fine place for some people, but it is certainly not God’s one true church, restored in these latter days in preparation for the second coming, led by living prophets, etc. I have no problem with people disagreeing with me, but I do have a problem with people assuming that the only reason I came to the conclusion I did is that I wasn’t really genuinely committed and faithful in the first place. That’s just insulting.

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More on the argument from evil. Another way that God can escape the argument is by not being actually omnipotent or omniscient in the tautological sense. Mormonism’s God is like this. He is not in fact all-powerful, but is subject to underlying rules of the cosmos. Because of the nature of the universe, he doesn’t have the power/ability to make other gods like him with a wave of his hand, and he can’t take away our free will because free will is the characteristic that fundamentally defines us as Intelligences which existed before we had anything to do with God (i.e., before he created spirits and bodies for us).

One could also imagine that a God could exist who was otherwise deficient. Polytheist’s gods are generally neither omnipotent, omniscient, nor morally perfect.

While God’s omnipotence and omniscience are inferred by believers, they are never stated directly in a tautological sense in the Bible at least.

In any case, I thought of a final possibility. What if God’s existence is a paradox? What if the argument from evil is totally solid, and nevertheless there exists an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent God. You might say such a thing is proven logically impossible. You might be right. But what if God exists despite logical impossibility? What if God exists somewhere logic can’t penetrate?

Again, I don’t know what that would mean, but since we’re hypothetically dealing with a supreme being here, there’s no reason to necessarily assume that logic even applies. Maybe the closer you get to God, the more things like logic break down, sumberging into one glorious incomprehensible whole?

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“Whether or not the Church is true” is unquestionably important for my salvation.  If the Mormon church is what it claims to be, then I need to know it so that I can participate and follow its teachings so I can go to the Celestial Kingdom and be exalted.  If the Church is not what it claims to be, then I need to know exactly what it is, so that I can decide to stay or leave.

Even the Church teaches the scriptural warning that “by their fruits ye shall know them.”  If the Church teaches false garbage, then that’s a part of its fruits, no?  If the Church claims to be a consistent rock of objective truth, but yet it’s doctrines change with the opinions of its leaders and the circumstances of time, then its claim is bunk, right?
If the Church teaches doctrines that are impossibly false, then that’s important for my salvation, because it means the Church is not true.  Maybe the individual, specific doctrine is arguably not relevant, but if that’s the case then Brigham Young or whoever shouldn’t have taught it in the first place.

If the Church can only give unsatisfactory answers to the questions that I have, and instead tries to tell me what questions I should be asking instead, then that’s obfuscation and evasiveness, and to me that’s not the mark of bold truth.  “Not important to my salvation” just doesn’t work for me anymore.

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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.

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