Ever since I was a philosophy/religious studies major in college exploring Christian theologies (don’t worry, I am merely an amateur, and therefore not a terribly deep thinker) and reading Sterling McMurrin’s The Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion, I have appreciated the clean, simple lines of Mormon theology. Our anthropomorphic, positivistic approach is easy to relate to (by definition) and, well, fun to explore. I find consonance in our doctrines of salvation, eternal progress, the atonement, and the fall (if you can even call the Mormon version of it that). We have a wonderfully progressive view of our human relationship with and access to the divine. We even, at least as the party line, encourage our members to ponder, reach for and believe in God on our own terms. But there is something I don’t relate to and lately have concluded I just don’t believe in.
After 2 1/2 years of working with my boss and never discussing my religion with him except to the extent that he frequently voices his belief that I am a health nut for not drinking beers with the rest of the crew, he launched us into a long conversation on Mormonism during the course of a client dinner this week (don’t ask me why, it must have been the expensive port). We covered some of the basics, but then he really wanted to dig into what motivates Mormons to live the way we do. I assured him that, as in any religion, there are many Mormons motivated by fear, guilt and lack of knowledge and confidence. However, I said to him, and I do believe, that our theology forms a sturdy basis for believing in living the Mormon way for positive reasons. We are immortal beings with free will who are loved by our Creator and look forward to progressing eternally so long as we work at being like God. In fact, we really have very little that is negative in our theology in terms of the afterlife. Isn’t the line supposed to be that even the Telestial Kingdom is better than this life could ever be? So, I hope, we live the commandments and do all the Mormon activities so that we can become better creatures-on-our-way-to-being-godlike-or-gods-and living-with-God-type creatures, not because we fear that we will go to hell for not doing so. Hell, after all, does not exist in our theology, unless you count outer darkness, and frankly, even I don’t think I’m headed for that, despite my ways.
Nonetheless, despite the fact that generally our theology resonates with me on many counts, including – and especially – the ideas of eternal progression and lack of fire and brimstone, I don’t believe this Celestial/Terrestrial/Telestial set up. And I don’t like it, because it presumes to answer all the questions without really answering any at all. Whenever I see the missionaries/Gospel Essentials teacher/Primary President pop up those little icons of sun, moon and star and start to map out our lives for the next billion years, I balk. Do these distinctions mean anything to anyone? What do you believe happens in the Celestial Kingdom? On a more fundamental level, does anyone think that these are representative or analogical in any way, or are they just our human way of trying to impose a structure on something we know nothing about?