Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Alma 40: Afterlife Guesswork

Poor, wayward Corianton is still being lectured by his father, Alma the Younger, who greatly desires to explain some of the more esoteric aspects of the gospel to put his son's mind at ease.

What's the Deal with that Resurrection?
Alma has perceptively discovered that one of Corianton's main problems is a poor understanding of how the resurrection will work.  This makes perfect sense, because when I gained a sexual appetite and began to lose interest in the church just like Corianton did, I too was baffled by the details of the resurrection more than anything else.

Seriously?  "Son, you don't care about church anymore and I've noticed you like women.  Obviously I need to clear up some details of the resurrection to rekindle your testimony."  Alma might as well have said, "Son, your breathing is shallow and I've noticed you have a gunshot wound to the chest.  Obviously I need to put your big toe in a splint so you'll get better."

But, awkward parenting aside, let's see what important information Alma shares:
  • There won't be a resurrection until after the coming of Christ (verse 2)
  • We don't know when the resurrection will happen (verse 4)
  • We don't know how many resurrections there will be, but it's okay because God knows (verse 5)
  • After death, good people's spirits will dwell in a paradise until they are resurrected (verse 12)
  • After death, bad people's spirits will dwell in outer darkness until they are resurrected (verse 13)
  • At some point in time, souls will be reunited with their bodies and be judged by God (verse 21)
  • In the resurrection, everything will be perfectly restored to the way it was (verse 23)
  • The wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God (verse 26)
Okay, how much of this crap does Corianton need to know?  Almost none of it.  By Alma's own admission, a lot of this stuff doesn't really matter because God's steady hand is at the helm. But somehow, he thinks it's important to break down all these logistics (which he admits he doesn't fully know) to help his disinterested son decide to reclaim his ministry.  All Corianton really needed to hear (the stuff that's essential to salvation, to borrow a phrase) is the last bit:  "no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of God."

But yeah, keep talking in circles about the resurrection.

Binary:  Fun for Counting, Bad for Judging
So let's take a closer look at the explanation of the so-called Spirit World, which is described (but not named) in this chapter:
And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.
And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of the wicked, yea, who are evilfor behold, they have no part nor portion of the Spirit of the Lord; for behold, they chose evil works rather than good; therefore the spirit of the devil did enter into them, and take possession of their houseand these shall be cast out into outer darkness; there shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth, and this because of their own iniquity, being led captive by the will of the devil.
I used to think that Mormonism had the only concept of an afterlife that made any kind of sense or had any semblance of fairness.  It's not just a Heaven and Hell thing, there are degrees of glory and people don't have to fall into black-and-white categories.  Silly Catholic friends, thinking the afterlife is all-or-nothing.  Right?

Wrong.  Somehow I was overlooking my own hypocrisy by overlooking the Spirit World.  What happens to people who aren't exactly righteous but who still have a portion of the Spirit of the Lord?  You know, like, normal people who screw up a lot but are basically decent?  The Spirit World has no Limbo.  It's either righteous or wicked.  No in between.  Just like the other religions I used to criticize.  Sure, this all happens before we actually get judged and sent to our final destinations, but we still have to get sorted into two oversimplified, generalized categories that cannot accurately reflect the breadth of the spectrum of human moral conduct.

And even with the three degrees of glory and the three subdivisions of the Celestial Kingdom, it's only marginally fairer than a simple Heaven-or-Hell scenario.  Or less fair, if you look at it as God imposing a caste system on the afterlife.

Alma Speaks as a Man
Verse 20 is good for a scoff and an eye roll:
Now, my son, I do not say that their resurrection cometh at the resurrection of Christ; but behold, I give it as my opinion, that the souls and the bodies are reunited, of the righteous, at the resurrection of Christ, and his ascension into heaven.
This chapter is rife with weirdly parsed sentences and awkward commas and bizarre repetitions.  It seems like it's filled with intentionally impressive phrases that have intentionally obfuscated meanings.  All this, somehow, is supposed to educate Corianton rather than confuse him further.  And I'm sure it helps that when Alma doesn't know some of this purportedly essential doctrine, he just fills in the blanks with his opinions.  If this is simply his opinion and he knows it, why is he preaching it to his doubting child?  If he's not actually prophesying and he's just blowing smoke, why is it included in the painstakingly compiled scripture for the modern day?

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