Mormons counter ‘cartoonish’ idea of planets in the afterlife

(RNS) Countering the notion that Mormons believe they will someday inherit their own planets, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has issued a new statement on “Becoming Like God” that tries to put distance between official church teaching and the age-old notion.

The article, which was posted on the church’s website last week (Feb. 25), attempts to explain complex theology that church officials believe has been overly simplified into inaccurate “caricatures.”

Just as heaven is often depicted as people sitting on clouds strumming harps, “Latter-day Saints’ doctrine of exaltation is often similarly reduced in media to a cartoonish image of people receiving their own planets,” the statement says.

One of the recent depictions occurs in the Tony-winning play “The Book of Mormon,” which includes a song, “I Believe,’’ that declares God’s “plan involves me getting my own planet” in the afterlife.

Video courtesy of Kevin price via YouTube

“While few Latter-day Saints would identify with caricatures of having their own planet, most would agree that the awe inspired by creation hints at our creative potential in the eternities,” the LDS church statement says.

This newest statement joins other recent church explanations of plural marriage and the ban on ordination of black men to the priesthood, two thorny issues that the church no longer upholds.

It’s not the first time the church has tried to distance itself from the planet notion, which is often used by critics of Mormonism to discredit the faith. “This idea is not taught in Latter-day Saint scripture, nor is it a doctrine of the Church,” according to the church’s online “Mormonism 101” feature. “This misunderstanding stems from speculative comments unreflective of scriptural doctrine.”

Mormons relate exaltation in the afterlife to their here-and-now experiences of family and community life, the statement says. “They see the seeds of godhood” through the joy of raising children, serving others and appreciating the universe’s beauty.

“Church members imagine exaltation less through images of what they will get and more through the relationships they have now and how those relationships might be purified and elevated,” it says.

Scholars have offered different interpretations of these Mormon beliefs.

Richard Bushman, author of “Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling,” told The Salt Lake Tribune that the statement was a “deft” explanation of an often-misunderstood faith.

“It sort of puts the caricature of the Mormons owning their own planet in perspective,” he said. “In a way, it dismisses it, but it goes on to say this is a respect for the mighty powers of God and creation, and suggests that we may have a part in it.”

But Matthew Bowman, author of “The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith,” told NBC News in a 2012 interview that the lyric of the musical’s song could ring true for some Mormons.

“That really depends on what Mormons you talk to,” he said. “To many Mormons, this means more or less attaining perfect communion with God. To many others, particularly Mormons who tend to be literal-minded, it does mean continuing to create universes in the future.”

The LDS church statement notes that Mormon beliefs about human divinity have long differed from traditional Christian views. But it points to several biblical verses that support its interpretation, such as Jesus’ command that his disciples should be “perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

“Latter-day Saints see these scriptures as straightforward expressions of humanity’s divine nature and potential,” says the statement, which includes 56 footnotes. “Many other Christians read the same passages far more metaphorically because they experience the Bible through the lens of doctrinal interpretations that developed over time after the period described in the New Testament.”


About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.


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  • So theyre sticking with the ancient Jews sailing to america and the Garden of Eden in Missouri thing? Also, The Book of Mormon has been out for quite some time. Why the sudden distancing from their tenets?

  • Well, this is classic Mormon backpedaling. Poor Brigham Young. Yet again, he is thrown under the bus. First over the now discredited banning of Blacks holding the Mormon priesthood–admittedly racism not revelation by the present day church. Despite Young’s critical link in the unbroken succession of “prophets” from 1830 ’til now, he had this to say on the exaltation-world-creating subject:

    “The Lord created you and me for the purpose of becoming Gods like Himself;…We are created, we are born for the express
    purpose of growing up from the low estate of manhood, to
    become Gods like unto our Father in heaven….The Lord has
    organized mankind for the express purpose of increasing in
    that intelligence and truth, which is with God, until he is
    capable of creating worlds on worlds, and becoming Gods…”
    Brigham Young, JD 3:93, August 8, l852

  • It is pretty ironically sad when people that have a religious belief say how unbelievable another religious belief is. Inherit your own planet, get passes to a place with pearly gates and streets made of gold, get 72 virgins, get reborn until you reach perfection; one is just as ridiculous as the next.

    Religion is poison!

  • One need not go back to Brigham Young. The doctrine is still taught in official LDS scripture:

    “Then shall they [temple-going Mormons] be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.” [Doctrine and Covenants, 132:20]

    Note that these are not minor gods, either. Mormons are promised they will be gods with “no end,” and with “all power.”

    The current essay is just part of a time-honored tradition in Mormonism where the church, in an effort to look less extreme and crazy, lies in public about doctrines they teach to the Saints.

  • I agree with your comments about irony, and about poison. But there’s no a priori reason to think all illogical/irrational systems of thought are equal — and no posteriori reason to think any given religion is “just as ridiculous as the next.” Seems to me that all religion can be irrational even if some religions are more crazy than others.

  • It is really strange how the media, Ken, and Duwayne are portraying the essay as a “renouncing of doctrine.” If you actually read the essay, it does no such thing, it embraces it – but puts things in perspective and takes on the childish caricature. The headline is correct in that the essay counters the “cartoonish” or caricatured portrayal of the doctrine of exaltation. It doesn’t backpedal or try to change anything. Duwayne is all over this story on web, dancing in ecstasy that the Mormons were caught changing their doctrine. Read the actual essay.

  • I guess Heavenly Father changed his mind about that too, just like he did about black people.

  • I guess the Mormons are the next church the NWO plans to infiltrate. They’ve already got all the Baptists via the proliferation of Calvinism, and they’ve got the Catholics now through Vatican II and especially pope Francis. So the Mormons are next, eh?

  • “Why the sudden distancing from their tenets?”

    NWO takeover of the hierarchy, just like what happened to the RCC in Vatican II.

  • In the essay, there is no backpedaling or distancing that I can see. The essay mentions the fact that it is “easy for images of salvation to become cartoonish when represented in popular culture,” with specific mention of the “receiving their own planets” idea. The article does not back down from the doctrine of the perfectibility of man, referred to as deification in the essay. This subject poses a serious challenge to mainstream Christian theologians, who have managed to construct an view of the afterlife so abstract and rarified that the ancient disciples of Christ would not have recognized it.

    Mainstream Christianity fails to grapple adequately with the very length of eternity, or to satisfactorily answer the question, “what does one do in heaven?” The poverty of mainstram views on the hereafter seems to result from a long-term process of doctrinal subtraction – a watering-down of the actual teachings of Christ and his Apostles. On the other hand, the Mormon afterlife is full of activity, purpose and real honor for the righteous. In the heaven of the Latter-day Saints, one worships our Heavenly Father by taking up His work, as Christ did.

    You will note that the essay presents the LDS doctrine of deification as a restoration of ancient Christian teaching, which it is. The vestiges of this doctrine may still be seen in Eastern Orthodoxy. Latter-day Saints recognize that the perfecting of his children is God’s true purpose. “This is my work and my glory – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Pearl of Great Price, Moses 1:39). That men may become heirs to all that the Father has is well attested in the New Testament, but apparently generally disbelieved. “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:16-17). In LDS doctrine there is no compromise about the meaning of these words.

  • All I am going to say with the whole religion thing on this planet……logic subdues idiocracy and nonsense. Lets get real here, every single religion on this planet has SEVERAL things wrong with it whether it is logically impossible, ridiculously far fetched, morally hanious, or totally contradicts Itself all together.
    Did anyone ever stop and think about what could if happened…that maybe these people (men) that wrote the holy scriptures or who claim to spoken to God could of been just hallucinating???? There are several plants and even some animals/insects that can cause powerful hallucinations when ingested. Maybe these prophets were just (excuse the expression) tripping their balls off.
    I think I’ll stick with common logic and sense.