When someone asks you if you’re a *God*, you say “YES”!

“As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.” “Gods in embryo.” “God himself. was Once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret.”

Has President Gordon B. Hinckley implicitly vetoed the use of these phrases by virtue of his famous Larry King interview?

The answer, superficially at least, is “no.” Here’s the transcript I had in mind, from several years ago:

Q: There are some significant differences in your beliefs. For instance, don’t Mormons believe that God was once a man?

A: I wouldn’t say that. There was a little couplet coined, “As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.” Now that’s more of a couplet than anything else. That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don’t know very much about.

Q: So you’re saying the church is still struggling to understand this?

A: Well, as God is, man may become. We believe in eternal progression. Very strongly. We believe that the glory of God is intelligence and whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the Resurrection. Knowledge, learning, is an eternal thing. And for that reason, we stress education. We’re trying to do all we can to make of our people the ablest, best, brightest people that we can.

Note the use of half of the famous couplet in Pres. Hinckley’s second answer, which would seem to denote that at least saying “as God is, man may become” is permissible. The problem is not regarding man’s upside potential; rather, it is regarding God’s history. Do Mormons believe that God was once a regular human being like us?

First, I think we need to consider the circumstance in which the response was given — a televised interview with a secular news agency. I don’t think we can look to that circumstance as one particularly hospitable to pronouncements of deep doctrine, although much of our early presidents put forward tough doctrines precisely in such settings (witness the Wentworth Letter, for example). I see President Hinckley’s remarks as more geared towards public relations than bona fide doctrinal exposition.

Second, I think this may be a circumstance in which we need to ask ourselves whether a prophet is acting as such. Mormons don’t believe that every single utterance by the Brethren constitutes the will of the Lord; rather, we understand that pronouncements made under the influence of the Spirit by prophets acting as such are to be taken as true doctrine. Should the Larry King Interview be canonized? Is it entitled to the claims of scripture? In particular, do we dare afford it such weight that we excise much of the King Follett Discourse, etc.? These are open questions, folks.

Finally, it’s important to read President Hinckley’s words. Note that he does not rebut the couplet, nor does he debate its doctrinal explanations; rather, he summarizes the current status of our knowledge on God’s history: “that gets into some pretty deep theology that we don’t know very much about.” It is hard to argue otherwise. President Hinckley could have taken a bolder stance one way or the other, to embrace or refuse the concept of God as an exalted man, but instead of explicating the doctrine he has described its status quo as part of the LDS belief system.

Nothing really new here, folks — this happened several years ago, but the doctrinal questions and the fundamental issue of “when is a prophet a prophet” are unresolved. Mostly, I wanted a chance to refer to Ghostbusters.

Comments

  1. When someone asks you if you’re a *God*, you say “YES”!

    well duh! I know I don’t want to be blasted by Gozer the Gozarian…

  2. Dan, agreed. That’s in the old white handbook under “less effective methods.”

  3. I see President Hinckley’s remarks as more geared towards public relations than bona fide doctrinal exposition.

    Amen.

    Further, the term “God” is equivocal to begin with. Sometimes “God” denotes a single divine person and sometimes “God” denotes a unity of divine persons and it is not easy to tell which the scriptures and other revelations mean in many cases. So his demurring on the question of whether “God” used to be like us makes sense on all sorts of levels.

  4. Amen, Brother, Amen.
    I have to say this is kind of old news, although the outrage at the Larry King interview in some circles has a life cycle that defies belief.

  5. Larry King: But what about those who rebelled and followed Satan in the pre-existence?

    Hinkley: Many Shuvs and Zuuls knew what it was to be roasted in the depths of the Slor that day, I can tell you!

  6. Don’t forget what the white manual says about the proper words for the ordinance of banishing Gozer or any other Sumerian god.

    Gozer the Gozerian… good evening. As a duly designated representative of the [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints], I order you to cease any and all supernatural activity and return forthwith to your place of origin or to the nearest convenient parallel dimension.

  7. Geoff, that’s a fair point about “God” meaning multiple things, but I am not sure that multiple interpretation is really an obstacle to interpreting the couplet. In any event you’re right, it’s just another layer of complexity that we should be thankful to avoid.

  8. Matt W. says:

    In an odd twist of fate, my wife has insisted on renting both of these films within the past week. We actually have Ghostbusters 2 sitting on top of our TV stand, wating to be watched right after my daughter watches Scooby Doo 2. (Which surprised me with the missionary reference.)

  9. Steve Evans says:

    Wow Matt, Ghostbusters 2 is a genuinely bad movie. Like, really bad.

  10. Steve,

    I mostly made that point as a response to the “I wouldn’t say that” response. We would have to first define “God” as a single divine person before we could safely say God was once a man (in the sense that God the Son was once a man at the very least) but in that brief interview there was no time to established nuanced defnitions.

  11. I love Ghostbusters II.

  12. I second Susan. Ghostbusters II is a good movie, too.

    How can you not like that cute little kid?

  13. Whenever I think about the GBH/LK interview and “I don’t know that we teach that,” I think of the movie Groundhog Day.

    “I’m *a* god. I’m not *the* God.”

  14. Matt W. says:

    Steve, if Ghostbusters 2 is genuinely bad, then Scooby Doo 2 is genuinely awful. Nevertheless, my 3 year old loves it and cuddles up to me while she watches, so suddenly it’s great. And besides, I think the Pirate Movie is high art, so who am I to say?

  15. I JUST WATCHED THE CONCLUSION OF “THE MORMONS” WHERE MARGARET TOOK A PRO WOMEN STAND. I BEING WOMAN AND NOT ACTIVE IN THE MORMON CHURCH. I DON’T AGREE. MEN HAVE THERE ROLE AS PRIESTHOOD HOLDERS AND WOMEN HAVE THERE ROLE AS EVERYTHING ELSE. I CAN NOT DENY THAT THE MOST AWESOME, GOODHEARTED AND SUCCESSFUL DADS ARE THOSE THAT PUT THERE FAMILIES FIRST AND AREN’T AT THE BARS WHERE A LOT OF MEN HANG.MEN WHO ARE AT CHURCH EVERY SUNDAY NOT JUST CHRISTMAS AND EASTER BUT EVERY SUNDAY THEY STAND APART AND ABOVE MOST MEN, AND THEY CAN BE FOUND AT EVERY MORMON CHURCH ON ANY GIVEN SUNDAY! THEY ARE ACTIVE IN CHANGING DIAPERS,ROCKING CRYING BABIES TO SLEEP AND HAVE THE PATIENCE THAT MOST PRIESTHOOD HOLDERS STAND ABOVE THE AVERAGE DAD AND HUSBAND.;

  16. Ruthann,
    Please calm down and comment on one of the “Mormon” threads. This thread is about working Ghostbusters quotes into the commitment pattern.

  17. Tom Manney says:

    I see President Hinckley’s remarks as more geared towards public relations than bona fide doctrinal exposition.

    Who needs the commitment plan when you have “public relations”? This approach would have made my mission a lot easier:

    “I wouldn’t say the Trinity is wrong, per se.”
    “Well of course we don’t need another Bible, Silly. I haven’t even finished reading the first one.”
    “It’s more of a guideline than a commandment.”

  18. Should the Larry King Interview be canonized? Is it entitled to the claims of scripture? In particular, do we dare afford it such weight that we excise much of the King Follett Discourse, etc.?

    Interesting questions. Of course, neither the Larry King Interview nor the King Follett Discourse are canonized. Their formal status within our religious universe is seemingly similar: statements by church presidents without canonical force. On the other hand, the Larry King statements exist in some tension with actually canonized Mormon texts, as well — which is probably an easier dilemma for most of us to resolve…

  19. Mark Ashurst-McGee says:

    If you compare PR to a Twinkie, and you were to try to digest all of the PR before reconstructing a Mormon theology for the late 20th Century. That’s one big Twinkie.

  20. JNS,

    Surely you aren’t actually saying the Larry King interview holds the same theological weight as the KFD… The King Follett Discourse was a theological exposition by the prophet Joseph to the gathered saints in Nauvoo. It consisted of many of Joseph’s heartfelt views on the mysteries of God in the last months of his life. The Larry King interview was a short TV interview in which President Hinckley was mostly deflecting a theological question that he didn’t feel comfortable answering in that setting. The two could hardly be more dissimilar.

    Look, I know some Mormons don’t like what Joseph believed in the Spring of 1844, but implying the KFD and the Larry King interview hold similar weight in Mormon theological thought is just silly in my opinion.

  21. Steve Evans says:

    Geoff, they’re the same in that they are not-canon. And while your characterization of the KFD is touching, shouldn’t the words of a living prophet hold more weight?

    You see, these are the unresolved questions.

  22. Matt W.
    the Pirate Movie IS high art!

    Anyone who says otherwise is a fool and a felon (steve).

  23. shouldn’t the words of a living prophet hold more weight?

    my point is that the context in which those words are given matters a great deal. If President Hinckley weren’t seemingly trying to avoid the question I think his “I wouldn’t say that” would have more weight. But he was so it doesn’t in my opinion. Having said that, I do think his comment “That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don’t know very much about” does hold a lot of weight because I think it was very sincere — there are still plenty details about the mysteries of God that remain great mysteries to us even after the KFD.

  24. Steve Evans says:

    Geoff, one of the big differences in my mind is the contemporary quality of Pres. Hinckley’s interview. We were there to see it, this is our prophet and we see the near-total context. In the case of the KFD we have a largely romanticized notion of what Joseph was thinking, feeling and trying to accomplish.

  25. Steve,

    You have me curious now. What do you suspect the specifics that we don’t know about the context of the KFD would reveal? I mean we know where it was given and to whom, and we know the basic circumstances surrounding the sermon… Are you implying that his voice inflections or something might have revealed he was only kidding about some parts or something? I don’t understand what you are thinking the might be revealed sans our “romanticized notion” of the context.

  26. Steve Evans says:

    Geoff, that’s precisely it — we don’t know what it is about the KFD that we don’t know.

    I mean, if you want to say the KFD is more doctrinally important than an interview with Larry King, I’m not going to argue that one. But since neither is canonized and we only have a relatively complete sense of context for one, I hate to go too far with the KFD.

  27. Well we all know that during the rectification of the Vuldronaii, the Traveler came as a large, moving Torb. Then, during the third reconciliation of the last of the Meketrex supplicants, they chose a new form for him – that of a giant Sloar. Many Shubs and Zuuls knew what it was to be roasted in the depths of the Sloar that day, I can tell you.

  28. Steve Evans says:

    somehow the juxtaposition of Ghostbusters and the KFD works. This is good blogging — it tastes good. You say honey is sweet, and so do I. And don’t cross the streams.

  29. I hate to go too far with the KFD

    I would hate to go too far with it too. Likewise, I would hate to treat it too lightly.

  30. Matt W. says:

    You know what happens when you cross the streams right? You end up with pee all over the floor. stupid brothers…

  31. I am witnessing symmetrical comment stacking. Just like the Philadelphia mass turbulence of 1947.

  32. No you don’t end up with pee on the floor because even pee is subject to total plutonic reversal (TPR). Just as GBH, when asked about God having been a man, kind of under the table, if you watch real close you can see it, caused a small almost undetected and prophet size TPR. Watch the tape. . .it’s there brothers.

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