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Mormon Doctrine in the Daily Beast

A recent article in the Daily Beast criticized the recent post in the lds.org topics section “Becoming Like God.” The author of the Daily Beast piece claimed the church is abandoning its doctrine, while still refusing to be forthcoming about its uncommon views on humankind’s relation to God. The author’s criticism is unfounded.

The author first claims, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently backpedaled on a key tenet of Mormon theology: that after death, righteous Mormons will become gods, with the capacity to create planets of their own.” The “planet” charge has been often mocked by those who wish to portray Mormons as eccentric, with sci-fi and cultish leanings. A good example is the Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon,” where one of the characters sings, “I believe that plan involves me getting my own planet.”

The author supports the “planet” claim by citing Brigham Young: “We shall go on from one step to another, reaching forth into the eternities until we become like the Gods, and shall be able to frame for ourselves, by the behest and command of the Almighty. All those who are counted worthy to be exalted and to become Gods, even the sons of God, will go forth and have earths and worlds like those who framed this and millions on millions of others.” The author notes the literal nature of such a belief, and indeed Brigham Young presents the doctrine in very concrete terms.

What the author misses is that the church is not abandoning the concreteness of its belief, but instead is trying to help people understand it in less cartoonish terms. A statement by a prophet does carry weight, but ultimately represents only that prophet’s best understanding and not the official doctrine of the church. The doctrine can only be concretely, non-speculatively understood as: in a way that we cannot yet understand, God offers women and men the opportunity to fully join Him in His mission of bringing yet more individuals into His exalted family. It makes sense, to some, that this might involve creating additional planets. But focus on the speculation obscures the fundamental.

The author rightly observes that this belief as to humankind’s potential is different from other Christian denominations. As the author points out, “Indeed, the church doubled down on the core Mormon teaching that God had a physical/human body, and that, in turn, we will have spiritual/divine ones. In other words, that we are just like God and will later be “exalted” to God’s divine state.” Though unfamiliar to many modern Christians, the Mormon belief in the potential of humankind was also held by many early Christians. What the author proclaims bizarre is, in fact, a hallmark of authenticity.

Which leaves hollow a final charge: “[Mormon clarifications of church doctrine have now been written] despite a half-century of attempting to become more and more Christian, and less and less weird.” As shown above, one’s author’s “weird” is another Christian’s authentic belief, grounded in ancient practice. Additionally, the author assumes that Mormons are fundamentally un-Christian and have tried to become more so; he is wrong. Mormons are Christian and have always been.

And so, on closer examination, the Daily Beast has published an attempt to stir a tempest that really isn’t even big enough for a teapot. Mormons are not retreating from doctrine, only clarifying it in order that others may see it for what it is: a continuation of an ancient belief in theosis, not a silly showtune gag.

 

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