Monday, December 2, 2019

Plot Holes in the Mormon Cosmological Narrative

I have long maintained that the Plan of Salvation is a mess of contradictions and slapdash compensations for its own weaknesses, but I don't believe I've ever tried to lay it out in detail. Contained within our Heavenly Father's road map to exaltation are a few apparent contradictions, several significant gaps, and many things that I think reasonably require more thorough explanations.  I'll start with a few that I know I've mentioned before and move on to some other ideas that I've been mulling over more recently.

This list is far from exhaustive.  Like most things in Mormonism, more and more avenues of questions open up the further you dive into the subject.

The Logistics of Temple Work
Since estimates of the number of people who have ever lived on this planet are approaching 110 billion, temple-goers clearly have their work cut out for them.  Even after all the culling of genealogical records and all the indexing to find names to take to the temple, a lot is going to fall through the cracks—especially considering that, during the Great Apostasy, every single person on the planet went without their requisite ordinances (with a few notable exceptions who had been given extended lifespans by Jesus).  Tens of billions will need to have their work done by proxy.

How many of those serfs from feudal France do you think we'll be able to find names for using our impressive genealogical resources?  How many riders in Genghis Khan's horde left a paper trail of their lives?  How many settlers of Rapa Nui have had their names and birth dates preserved in written records?

I assume the answer to this is that God will make sure those lost names will be given to us in the Millennium so that everyone can have temple work done.  But if that's the case, what's the point of having us do so much genealogy now?  And if God can simply provide us the names of all the people we need to baptize, isn't he equally able of granting his children the blessings of baptism without requiring completely different people to perform rituals on their behalf?

The Complexities of Sealings
This is an issue acknowledged by Dallin H. Oaks in the most recent general conference:
My dear brothers and sisters, a letter I received some time ago introduces the subject of my talk. The writer was contemplating a temple marriage to a man whose eternal companion had died. She would be a second wife. She asked this question: would she be able to have her own house in the next life, or would she have to live with her husband and his first wife? [audience laughter] I just told her to trust the Lord.
The concept of eternal sealings is designed for straightforward, uncomplicated, generically nuclear families.  As your own family structure deviates from that model, your eternal living arrangements become increasingly messy and increasingly vague.  And there isn't any punitive moralistic angle to try to hang this on, since—as Oaks's example illustrates—it's not just the much-stigmatized divorce that can cause this kind of thing.

When an arrangement is understood to be eternal, it's completely fair to want to know exactly how it's going to work, especially if you have personal concerns about how the company you'll keep may affect your happiness.  "Trust in the Lord" is fine for those who don't have serious qualms, but considering that God has revealed in scripture and through his modern-day prophets how some of this is going to work, those for whom the revealed structure implies something untenable deservedly want to know how these vague rules may be applied to their own situations.  If God can't reveal it in detail, it shouldn't be too much to ask him to provide some kind of personal revelation to those in less formulaic circumstances so that people aren't sweating out their mortal lives wondering if their eternal existence is gonna suck.

Perfunctory platitudes and dismissive punchlines from the Lord's anointed are unacceptable when it comes to untangling complicated matters of such impactful personal importance.

The Origins of Gods
Mormonism teaches the doctrine of eternal progression—the concept that, in the Celestial Kingdom, we will be exalted just as God is now.  Additionally, this means that even God once slogged his way through an unexalted mortal life.  That means that God had his own divine creator who, ostensibly, proved himself to his own god during his mortal existence.

Mormonism is relatively quick to discuss the future reaches of eternity, but it doesn't tend to address the eternity that preceded our spirit births.  Other than that one weird line in that one weird hymn, we don't get a lot of hints that point us toward the generation where gods began to be.

Where did it all start?  How did it all start?  Our god was not born ex nihilo, and we might assume that his was not either.  But if we were to do a spiritual genealogical study to trace the lineage of gods back, then somebody had to have been created from nothing.  Either that, or gods have always existed, which is a mindbender.  Perhaps it's because the nature of the question is complete nonsense to human understanding, but Mormonism only tells us where we started, not how everything started.  It's kind of a disappointing limitation for a religion that boasts of such a broad theological scope.

The Necessity of Rebellion
It seems difficult to deny how crucial Lucifer is to the Plan of Salvation.  Let's say that, in the War in Heaven, Lucifer had taken things in stride.  Let's say he got voted down but he sat on his hands and allowed God to put Jesus's plan into effect and didn't stage any kind of dramatic rebellion.  What would God's plan have been then?

If Lucifer had been cool with God's plan, what would the narrative have been?  How would God have introduced the influence of evil to test us based on our faith and our works?  2 Nephi chapter 2 frames our existence as a choice between eternal life through Jesus and "captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil."  The same chapter explains that there must be "an opposition in all things." Those concepts don't exist if Lucifer and his campaign of evil are removed from the story.  How was this perfect Plan of Happiness supposed to work if the devil were never created, if Lucifer were not miserable, and if he threatened no captivity?  How would our eternal road map have been designed without that crucial personification of evil to oppose to the power of God?

And, to take it a step further, doesn't this mean that Jesus's plan wouldn't have worked without Lucifer's rejection of it?  Does it mean that God picked a losing plan and that Lucifer, by virtue of his rebellion, was the one who made the flawed strategy viable?

The Necessity of Temptation
Not to make Satan's evil influence even more crucial, but there are some troubling angles from which we can asses his role in the Garden of Eden.  2 Nephi chapter 2 also teaches that "if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen" and he would have "remained in the garden of a state of innocence, having no joy" forever.  It also famously states that "Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy."  So that means that, if Satan had not convinced these first two humans to gain the knowledge of good and evil, they would never have left the garden, they would never have had children, and they would never have had joy.

If they'll never have joy, then they'll fail to achieve the stated purpose of their existence.  Had Satan chosen to steer clear of the Garden of Eden, he would have utterly defeated God's brilliant plan.  How would God have provided all his children with the physical bodies they needed if Adam and Eve had remained innocent and naked and childless?  And why would a benevolent God design a master plan that hinged on the corrupting, evil influence of one of his formerly valiant children?

The Value of Free Agency
The importance God places on free agency throughout the various things we've been taught about the Plan of Redemption seem inconsistent and sometimes arbitrary.  The entire objective of our mortal estate is for us to make choices that can lead us back to him, but a third of the host of heaven had their eternal progression permanently halted for exercising that most precious of God-given abilities.  They are no longer given the ability to choose to return.

And, of course, the Second Anointing swings too far in the opposite direction—the ability to choose is made mostly moot by the assurance that, barring any extraordinarily grievous transgressions, one's choices have no deleterious effects on one's eternal trajectory.

But back to pre-judgment punishments for using agency, it's also worth mentioning some of the now-disavowed teachings that can be tough to find primary sources for:

By extension, this means that, based on one decision to support Jesus in the premortal life, people who were born in certain countries or in certain races or without certain physical disabilities have been given a huge leg up during the test of their agency.  I mean, obviously it's sleazy to teach that someone like me is inherently a better person because I was born a white American with four working limbs, but even disregarding that this is a problematic teaching.  Why is one decision that I have no memory of making in the premortal world given so much more weight than any of the millions of decisions I will make during my mortal life?  What's the logic behind this?

Three years after the above quotation, the Ensign advised us that persons with mental disabilities may go their entire lives without reaching a level of accountability for their actions.  This would mean that, effectively, those people would not be tested based on their free agency in this life.  While it's certainly nicer to teach that a severely autistic child won't be punished for their mortal behavior than to teach that a palsied child is being punished for their premortal behavior, it still doesn't assign consistent, reasonable value to the concept of free agency.

How important is our freedom of choice anyway if there are so many heavy restrictions placed on it and so much conditional leniency applied to it?  It's like God was making chocolate chip pancakes and he measured too much flower, so he tried to correct it by putting in more milk.  But he measured the milk wrong and tried to fix it with more flour.  Once he's made this mistake too many times, each pancake will have only one chocolate chip in it.  Even though chocolate chips were used in the recipe, that's not really a chocolate chip pancake anymore, then, is it?

Our Own Plans of Salvation
Since we'll become like God in the Celestial Kingdom, does that mean we'll need to implement our own paths to exaltation for the countless spirit children we'll produce?  Just like Elohim did, will we need to send one of our spirit children through agony and torture in order to absolve the sins of the billions of other less righteous souls we've spawned?  I'd imagine most parents wouldn't dream of subjecting their oldest child to Jesus's fate.  But if God truly is perfect, he'd have found a better way to accomplish his goals if a better way existed.  That makes me really glad I'm not anybody's firstborn spirit son.

It also makes me glad I won't be having any spirit children to toy with.

The Source of Power and Perfection
What mechanism made Jesus perfect?  He is described not as a previously exalted being (like we might assume Elohim's physical offspring from his mortal life could be) but as the first spirit child of our heavenly parents.  He did not receive a body until he was born of Mary.  So if he's just like us, how was he perfect?  What made him better than the rest of us?  And if he was just inherently more righteous and innately immune to temptation, doesn't that sound a lot like predestination?  Like the choices we make are less a result of our learning and growth and more a result of our predisposition toward righteousness or wickedness?  And doesn't that circle back to the dubious importance of free agency?

Also, if Jesus was just a spirit child of Elohim like the rest of us grunts, how did he have the power to create the heavens and the earth?  Why was he given the ability to be the Old Testament Jehovah, to rule and dictate despite not having gone through the necessary steps to achieve exaltation?

If the only stated difference between Jesus and the rest of us that accounts for his special status is that he was born first, does that mean that if the ordering of spiritual siblings had been different, we'd have had a different savior?  Could it have been me?  Could it have been Matt Groening?  Could it have been—gasp!—a woman?

The questions multiply as we sink deeper and deeper into an analysis of the cosmological narratives underpinning the Plan of Salvation and the mechanisms that drive them.  It feels less and less like the beautiful craft of a perfected god and more and more like a time travel B-movie dreamed up by scriptwriters who didn't have the patience to flesh out the ramifications of the rules they'd devised for their science fiction world. 

Because that's what we all want in a god, right?  Someone who's basically phoning it in?


  1. PaulTHElatter-dayApostleDecember 3, 2019 at 12:50 PM

    I like your line of rational reasoning as to the many, many, many problems with LDS theology. While historical issues already put some nails in the coffin of mormonism, the biggest concerns I have with the faith are the theological problems that your post points out. I may have posted this already, but here are some thoughts that I had along some of these lines:

    God was once a man, who lived on an earth, and obviously followed the “Eternal Gospel” on that earth, where he was baptized, obtained the priesthood, and was married in a temple. This allowed him to enter the Celestial Kingdom of His father. All of his children born were born in the covenant, so that they are already his! Extending the logic, all children born to sealed parents (both physically and spiritually, since we also believe that we are spiritual children of HF).
    Therefore, “sealing” all the children of the earth together in order to have them all “sealed” back to God is unnecessary! They are already “sealed” to God. They were BIC, in heaven! Temple sealings of families are entirely unnecessary.

    My list is easily as long as yours, showing the multitude of problems with LDS theology. Another item that you didn't mention was, If a single act by a God (in this case Jesus) can atone for all sins of all mankind (and some argue for those even living on other planets), why couldn't a single baptism in the temple by a God or some other person work as baptism for all mankind? As you point out, there are billions of people that have lived and not left a paper trail.

    The other crazy doctrine that is full of holes is the idea that we have come to earth to prove that we can choose correctly and follow God. This is a problem, since we already proved this once (in a Yuge way!) in the pre-mortal life. I mean, we were living with God, knew him, were cognizant of our situation, and chose between Good and Evil in the grand council! Unlike us now, where we don't have our memory of anything, and God is going to punish us eternally/infinitely for decisions we make in a finite existence! How does any of this make any sense?

    Anyway, keep up the great posts.

    1. I'd definitely never considered your point about us being spiritually born in the covenant before. It involves some of those weird little gray areas that we just don't talk about in Sunday School, so a lot of us have kind of conditioned ourselves not to notice that even a cursory glance at it brings up some confusing issues. Your points really support the idea that God is making us all jump through completely unnecessary hoops for our exaltation.

      What I find fascinating about the comments I receive on this blog is that, after 500-plus posts of me analyzing and criticizing Mormon doctrine, Mormon leadership, and Mormon culture, you guys STILL point out so many things I haven't covered or haven't even thought of. There are so many flaws in Mormonism that I could blog for a hundred years and still not scrape the bottom of the barrel!