Mormons often comment that there is almost no hell in our eschatology, that even the telestial glory is so wonderful suicide might seem a reasonable path thither. In this respect, we are accused of being unwitting Universalists. Outer Darkness, Perdition, lurks, however, outside the kingdoms that encompass the holiest saints and the lowliest murderers and thieves. In this hell, there is no corporeal existence, no access to the eternal human family, no connection to any member of the Godhead. I suspect that most current Latter-day Saints would have a very short list of the residents of Outer Darkness, the Sons (no daughters, sorry) of Perdition. Sometimes it seems like little more than Dante’s lowest level of the Inferno: a lone Judas Iscariot suffering forever. There is some textual evidence that Joseph Smith had a significantly longer list.In his April 1844 church conference address devoted to King Follett’s eulogy, Joseph preached, “after a man has sinned the sin against the Holy Ghost, there is no repentance for him…like many of the apostates of Christ’of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They go too far, and the Spirit leaves them…You can’t renew them to repentanc–you cannot save them.”
Earlier, Joseph had approved publication (over his signature) of William Phelps’s poetic rendition of D&C 76. After characterizing the “Sons of Perdition” as those who are “ever lost, and can never return to the presence of God,” the poem declared that such is “the torment apostates receive.”
In this view apostates from the LDS inner circle qualified. Smith would have included George Hinkle, John C. Bennett, the Law brothers (and possibly Jane Law, the sole Daughter of Perdition), Joseph Jackson, Robert Foster, perhaps “Doctor” Philastus Hurlbut. Would Sylvester Emmons, a Jack Mormon (this originally meant Mormon sympathizer) who joined the Expositor group but never joined the church, qualify? What about people like William Godbe of Utah who did not contribute to the death of a prophet? What about George Lee, who apostatized from the Seventy in the twentieth century over the treatment of Native Americans?
Notably, Phelps had met criteria for Perdition after his 1838 betrayal of the Prophet. Phelps was blamed for Smith’s incarceration in the Liberty Jail. Yet Smith rehabilitated him when he returned in contrition two years later. Some authors (me, mainly) see Smith’s approving publication of Phelps’s poem cited above as Smith’s exclusion of Phelps from the general unredeemable status of the apostate, hence this specific extension of the actual revelation in D&C 76. Phelps was proving by his return that he was not among the unregenerate.
So, what’s the story? How big is Perdition? Who resides there, drinking acorporeal cappucinos with single malt Scotch spritzers? Does it matter how we construct the list? Does it affect our relationships with each other, with dissidents and outsiders?
 Stan Larson, “The King Follett Discourse: a Newly Amalgamated Text,” BYU Studies 18 (Winter 1978) 2: 193-208.
 Joseph Smith, “The Answer to W.W. Phelps, Esq. A Vision,” Times and Seasons 4 (1 Feb 1843) 6:82-5. See Michael Hicks, “Joseph Smith, W.W. Phelps, and the Poetic Paraphrase of ‘The Vision,’” Journal of Mormon History 20 (Fall 1994) 2: 63-84 for discussion of authorship of this poem.