We’ll Be Gods Of Our Own Planets? What Mormons Really Believe

As our society’s “Mormon moment” continues, with the award-winning Book of Mormon musical selling out shows and a second Latter-day Saint announcing a run for the presidency, I think we’ll see more attempts by some to “expose” what they see as embarrassing or bizarre aspects of the church.  Perhaps chief among their targets will be our doctrine of exaltation.  But the descriptions given of this belief will likely be grossly warped, as they usually are.

Case in point: not only was exaltation mocked as a weird, scary secret in an anti-Mormon CNN blog post a couple of weeks ago, but an article in The American Conservative this week garnered two consecutive comments that depicted exaltation in an erroneous light:

They believe that their destiny is to become a god on another planet.

and then:

Furthermore, they claim that we are all potential gods (if we are good little Mormons) with our own universes to rule one day.

Neither of these remarks is accurate.  My goal here is to define what Mormons do and don’t believe about exaltation, as best as I can.

This is actually pretty easy, because there isn’t much to say about it.  What we call exaltation is what theologians call deification, the idea that human beings can become gods.  This might stem logically from the LDS belief that humans are the literal spirit children of God—members of the same species—and that God is at an infinitely more advanced state of development, similar to an embryo and an adult. 

Our goal in existence is to worship and obey Him, but in what Mormons believe to be scripture newly revealed in modern times, God has shared His long-term goal for us: “This is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).  Our Heavenly Father, like any good parent, wants us to eventually grow up to become like Him. 

As I said, that all might be logically extrapolated from basic Mormon doctrine, but what exactly do we say we believe about it?  The facts are very few.  From our scriptures and statements of church leaders, we know that:

1. Even after anyone is blessed with this gift in the future, they will always be subordinate to the authority of God the Father and Jesus Christ.  (Doctrine and Covenants 76:58-59)

2. In addition to other basic ordinances, such as baptism, and obedience to gospel law (relying on the merciful grace of Christ to atone for our shortcomings—2 Nephi 25:23), marriage for eternity in an LDS temple is a prerequisite for exaltation.  (Doctrine and Covenants 132:19-20)

3.  Part of being exalted means that we will be able to have spirit children of our own in the highest degree of Heaven.  (Doctrine and Covenants 132:19-20)

4.  Our Heavenly Father was once Himself at the stage of existence where we are now.  (Quotes from the King Follett discourse of Joseph Smith and a couplet by church president Lorenzo Snow—cited and discussed in an official church magazine here—second half of page)

5.  Exaltation is a far distant goal, even in the perspective of eternity—we can’t expect it anytime soon. (Quote from same Joseph Smith sermon as previous point—footnote 4 here)

It might be helpful here to add two things: the vast majority of scriptures mentioning exaltation are in the Bible—where most Christians might interpret the promises of becoming like God differently, we take them literally.  Also, exaltation was a well-documented belief of many early Christian leaders.  (see here)

And that’s pretty much it.  Nothing else of substance seems to be known about exaltation. 

Mormons do not claim to know how spirit children are produced, and do NOT teach that it is done by some kind of “celestial sex” in Heaven.

Mormons do NOT teach that exalted women will be “eternally pregnant.”

And Mormons most certainly do NOT teach that exalted people will “rule their own planets.”  In fact, on this very subject, Brigham Young said:

But the truth is, you are not going to have a separate kingdom; I am not going to have a separate kingdom; it is not our prerogative to have it on this earth. If you have a kingdom and a dominion here, it must be concentrated in the head; if we are ever prepared for an eternal exaltation, we must be concentrated in the head of the eternal Godhead…If we fancy that we have an independent interest here and in the world to come, we shall fail in getting any of it.  Journal of Discourses 4:26-28.  (more here)

When would-be critics try to exploit and sensationalize this belief, they also often imply that we hide it, or that we’re dishonest about it.  Sometimes they’ll cite former church president Gordon B. Hinckley from a 1997 interview where, when asked about it, he replied:

I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it. I haven’t heard it discussed for a long time in public discourse. I don’t know. I don’t know all the circumstances under which that statement was made. I understand the philosophical background behind it. But I don’t know a lot about it and I don’t know that others know a lot about it.

But this isn’t dissembling; it’s merely being honest.  We don’t know much about it, and therefore we don’t discuss it very often.  This isn’t even because it’s a sacred idea to be kept personal, like things in the temple.  I think we rarely bring up exaltation for two reasons:

1.  Everything we know about it would fit comfortably on a post-it note.

2.  This doctrine has very little bearing on practical, daily living. 

So what’s the point of laboring in conversations over something when there’s almost nothing substantial that can be said about it?  Don’t we have far more pressing things to teach and study, like the saving doctrines of the gospel, the commandments, and counsel from scriptures and prophets that help us in our lives every day? 

If anyone knows of more detailed information from authorized church sources about exaltation, or if I’ve made any errors here, I’m open to hearing about it.  What I’d really like to see, though, is for people to stop perpetuating fallacies without even trying to give decent documentation.

UPDATE: After writing this, I thought to check the church’s current doctrinal manual for group study, Gospel Principles, and sure enough, the very last chapter is about exaltation.  So much for Mormons keeping this doctrine hidden.  I read that chapter, and the essence of it is very similar to what I’ve written here.  As this edition of the manual is only two years old and is in current use, it should probably be considered the most complete and authoritative statement of LDS belief on the subject of exaltation. 

 

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14 comments on “We’ll Be Gods Of Our Own Planets? What Mormons Really Believe

  1. I understand that the Catholic tradition calls this Theosis, and it can be found in the texts of Ancient Church Fathers.

    Not so long ago, a Catholic (Dominican) Priest completed a dissertation in theology on Theosis. I have forgotten his name for now, but it’ll come back to me.

    And if my memory serves, Augustine and Origen agreed on this point, that through the Grace of Christ, man can be made a partaker of godly nature. Or something like that; I’m just pulling this stuff out of my hat at 5 AM, so my brain is not functioning at full capacity.

    Really, to an uninformed public, who just get the standard bromide sermons on Sundays, almost any Christian tradition can be made to sound ridiculous with a little distortion thrown in. When people don’t know even the Bible, which they claim to so strongly believe in, you really can’t even have a reasoned discussion. Sorry. Didn’t mean to rant.

  2. And, besides, we can start expounding on what Exaltation consists of, when we start to understand what God is like. I guess that’s what Joseph Smith meant, that the first thing is to understand the basic things about God (meaning what we call “Godhead” these days). And I believe our human minds can only understand some very basic principles, because perfection is just such a difficult thing for our minds to imagine.

    Classically, in the Monty Python movie Meaning of Life, there was Christmas in Heaven every day, and that meant the Disney Christmas, naturally. To some of us that would be more like what we’d imagine Hell to be like, so I guess we’re still in square one, even with D&C 130 (actually that IS square one). And Dante sure made Hell much more interesting than Heaven, as did Milton.

    I mean, many people claim to know what God is like, but I’m not buying. We just don’t know much about God, really. But then there are, of course, those who see Jesus’ face in the oil puddle in the parking lot or a grilled cheese sandwich in the diner. I don’t know about that…

  3. Velska, good points. We may not think that Heaven consists of sitting on clouds and playing harps, but we don’t know very much about what exactly it WILL look like. I suppose some of these critics merely find it necessary to fill in these blanks.

    Mrmandias, I call Mars!

  4. If you want to know what God is like, go to the temple and pay attention to the covenants made there and then try to keep them. Living the law of consecration and living a consecrated life and striving to literally consecrate ourselves (make ourselves holy) is how we know what God is like. We’ll no doubt fail a bunch of times at it, but that’s where the atonement comes in.

    All the talk about planets is definitely doctrine (they were created for a reason), but no one will rule over a planet anymore than we rule over our families or bishops rule over their wards. The Most High God rules over all, and invites us to become like him and furthermore invites us to take part in his work both in this life, in the spirit world, and into the eternities.

  5. Chris, thanks for some good thoughts, but I’m very hesitant to declare something to be doctrinal unless that’s been clearly explained by a recent, authoritative church source.

    What the sources I’m familiar with say is that exalted persons become like Heavenly Father, not necessarily that we do all the things that He has done. See the difference?

    As I get older, my appearance and personality are becoming more like my dad’s, but that doesn’t mean that I’m also going to be an insurance adjuster.

    Now, for all I know, an exalted person might very well do all the things God has done, but that’s only one of any number of options someone could speculate about–maybe we’d do some things that He’s done but not others?–but my point is that our sources simply aren’t detailed on these issues. And why should they be? The exact nature of how exalted persons spend their time hardly adds to what we need to know and do to apply the grace of Christ to our lives and be blessed with salvation.

    Jettboy, I’ve liked a lot of your stuff that I’ve seen over at M*, so I’m much obliged!

  6. The part about being gods of one’s own universe is a logical extension of the beliefs that a) Heavenly Father is the God of this universe, b) there are other generations of Gods (from King Follet Discourse, ie, Heavenly Grandparents, Heavenly Aunts/Uncles, etc.), therefore there must be other universes, c) we eventually “grow up” to be like our Heavenly Father (from Gospel Principles chapter on exaltation). Therefore, string those together, and the children of Heavenly Father who _eventually_ go on to exaltation will have their own universe, just like Heavenly Father does.

    Is that last conclustion actively taught on its own? No. But it is the logical extension or extrapolation of things we _do_ teach.

    Granted, we don’t know nuthin’ ’bout no other universes, just some speculation by Stephen Hawking. But I find it interesting that Hawking’s theory of a multiverse of universes meshes in an interesting manner with Mormon cosmology.

    The problem with the “gods of their own planet” quote is that it does come from somewhere in Journal of Discourses.

    So the proper rejoinder may be that while we do believe in deification or theosis, the Journal of Discourses contains much speculation and little prophetic or doctrinal pronouncements which we don’t hold as doctrine. And as Bruce R. McConkie once replied to someone who tried to reconcile some off the wall comments by Brigham Young, “Even Brigham Young contradicted Brigham Young.”

    The King Follet discourse is not canon either It has not entered into official doctrine, regardless of whether or not its concepts are true, no matter how much we like to speculate on the significance of the concepts stated in it.

  7. Bookslinger, you raise very good ideas here, and I can’t disagree, mostly because there’s still no definitive answer on the subject, which gets back to my standard that doctrine should be unequivocally decalred by recent authorities, not merely the product of ad hoc inference.

    I need to read the KFD again to see about the “generations” comment, which I don’t remember, but you also bring up something which I have mixed feelings about–yes, the JoD is not up to what we consider acceptable journalistic standards, but it bugs me that when someone sees something there they don’t like, they just say, “Well, it’s only the Journal of Discourses, so it doesn’t count.” Such convenient, selective dismissal hardly seems up to par, either.

    Still, we seem to agree that there’s not much “official” doctrine here at any rate, or it would be settled by now.

  8. As far as the Mormons, in other words representatives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are concerned, they can also be seen in Finland from time to time. They are usually young American men who are dressed neatly, behave well, and visit homes. Furthermore, when visiting, the most important subjects of conversation to them are normally the Book of Mormon and the life of prophet Joseph Smith. They usually bring these views forth as the first and most important when talking to people. These issues cannot be overlooked when discussing the issues that Mormons consider as the most important.
    But what should we think about the teachings of the Mormons and do they generally deviate from the common Christian doctrine? Are the teachings in line with the doctrine of the Bible in any way or are they completely different? We are going to make an effort to try to study and clarify the following issues below, for example. If you are a Mormon, it is worth your while to study these issues in detail.

    http://www.jariiivanainen.net/Mormons.html

  9. telson, if anything, Mrmandias is being too kind. The site you link to is full of accusations so brief, arrogant, and inaccurate that I wonder if it was written at the last minute by a seventh grader who had to do a report called “Why Mormons Are Dumb.”

    After a quick perusal, most if not all of the objections given at your link are explained–in far greater depth and quality than the objections themselves warrant–at sites such as this and this.

  10. Bookslinger comments July 25th:
    “Is that last conclustion actively taught on its own? No. But it is the logical extension or extrapolation of things we _do_ teach.”

    That which is a “logical extension” provides no assistance in God’s answers of this subject, nor on supposed LDS extrapolated doctrines. God is omnipotent and omniscient. This means He can do the illogical and know absolutely how to do it. So, sorry. Your logical extensions no more follow what God has in mind than a purely chance guess about it.

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