Heaven, hell, and carrot stick people

You’ve heard it spoken (or read it written) that there are Iron Rods and Liahonas. In the spirit of oversimplifying the differences among believers, I submit that there are two types of religious people: those who are motivated to righteousness by hope for a better world to come, and those who are motivated by fear of a worse one. In other words, those who are looking forward to a better life in heaven, and those who are just doing their best to stay out of hell. I call these folks “Carrot People” and “Stick People.” I am a Stick Person.

I’d like to think that I do good because good is its own reward–which it is–but the fact is, most often I do good because when I don’t, I feel guilty. I don’t like feeling guilty. It’s uncomfortable, and I hate being uncomfortable. Also, there’s always hell. Hell is a bad place. I don’t want to go there.

Mormons don’t talk much of hell. Maybe this is a good thing, overall. I don’t know. I did a quick search of General Conference talks at lds.org, and there just isn’t much there. In fact, one of the search results was actually referencing the word “he’ll.” We Mormons are very pleased with our three-degrees-of-glory cosmology and tend to disdain the heaven/hell dichotomy found in traditional Christianity. For us, this life is no pass/fail endeavor. You get actual grades. Star students go to the Celestial Kingdom, average students to the Terrestrial, and layabouts to the Telestial. Those who do fail go to Outer Darkness, i.e. Hell, but you have to get up pretty early in the morning to fail your Second Estate, aka Mortality. You have to acquire the greater light and then sin against it; really, who has the time for that? So I imagine most people who grow up Mormon don’t spend a lot of time worrying that they’ll end up in Outer Darkness because to stay safe, you just have to not deny the Holy Ghost. It’s easy; all you do is nothing.

On the other hand, when you consider that only those who make it to the Celestial Kingdom get to have personal communion with God and enjoy the same sociality that they do in mortality and inherit worlds without end, etc., anything less than the highest tier of the highest kingdom seems like a kind of hell in comparison. There is, of course, that old Mormon legend about the Telestial kingdom being so wonderful that you’d kill yourself to get there, but I always thought that sounded too good to be true. Even if it were true, though, with the grass always being greener and suicidal folks unlikely to be stripped of envy, wouldn’t the Telestial kingdom eventually look pretty shabby next to the others? You’d be kicking yourself for drinking that hemlock then.

So I’m a simple girl. I tend to think of just heaven and hell. I don’t care what you call your version of the afterlife. I just want to be happy—or more specifically, I don’t want to be unhappy–and to me, heaven=happy, hell=unhappy. Therefore, I don’t want to go to hell. Everything good that I do in life, and especially all the bad stuff I don’t do, it’s all motivated by this strong desire to not go to hell. Hopefully I become a better person in the process, but that’s secondary; Not-Hell is always the primary goal. That’s why I’m a stick person.

I’m continually amazed by the number of Mormons who believe that a loving God couldn’t suffer his children to be condemned to hell (or a hell-like existence) for eternity—that no matter what you do or what kingdom you inherit after the Final Judgment, God must allow for you to eventually repent and continue to progress in your eternal journey. I suppose if you imagine God as a loving parent, it’s hard to imagine a parent ever giving up on a wayward child. I know I would never give up on a wayward child. (Unless the child turned evil. I’m talking Hitler-evil. I have no idea what I’d do then. Hopefully I don’t raise any Hitlers. That might land me in hell.)

But back to the subject (before I got distracted by the fate of my immortal soul). This idea that it is never too late—even after this life is over and the Final Judgment’s been judged and we’re all moving in to our respective rooms in our Father’s many mansions—I have a bit of a problem with it. I have no problem whatsoever with the idea that God is actually pretty lenient, or that he grades on a curve, as it were. I mean, I try to live my life on the assumption that God has set the bar pretty darn high, but if I turn out to be mistaken, no one will be more pleased than I. It’s just that when the scriptures say that the wicked will suffer everlasting torment, I don’t see a lot of room for interpretation. If the Final Judgment isn’t Final, why do we call it the Final Judgment? Is this one of those deals where we make up a new meaning for a word just for the pleasure of still using it (*cough*”preside”*cough*)? If it’s just a temporary judgment, shouldn’t we call it something that doesn’t mean the opposite of “temporary”? The “Post-Mortal Judgment,” perhaps? I’d be cool with that. I just want us all to be on the same dictionary page. Same dictionary, anyway.

But I admit I do have another problem. It’s this idea that God is too nice to send people to hell forever. I am inordinately annoyed by Sunday School discussions that try to explain away the use of the word “fear” in the Bible, as in “fear of God”—that to fear God doesn’t mean what it says, that “fear” in this context really means more like “respect.” Well, yes. Nothing commands respect quite like the power to condemn you to an eternity of hellfire. That’s what I always say. I’m sure someone can tell me that the original Hebrew and Greek are some wonderful words that mean something much nicer than “fear”—something like “I love Daddy so much that I’d do anything to please him”—but the fact is, I myself have no problem with the word “fear,” nor with its traditional meaning. I do fear God. He’s all-powerful: that’s not a cat I want to mess with. As the proverb says, “Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.” I like that proverb. It makes sense to me.

I said that I am a stick person. My children are apparently stick people, too. You could promise them a one-way trip to Disneyland and all the ice cream in the world if they cleaned their rooms and refrained from punching each other in the guts, but it wouldn’t do any good. I understand that enlightened parents don’t punish; they provide “consequences.” Well, in our house Consequence is applied with a big (metaphorical) Stick, and it is the font of all goodness. Carrots tend to be useless at best. They sure don’t inspire “respect.”

It is easier for me to understand grace in the context of hell and fear. How meaningful is grace when hell isn’t real and fear is unwarranted? God will forgive whom he will forgive; far be it for me to tell him his business. But I have to believe there are some he won’t forgive. If not so, this life seems rather pointless, a sort of sick joke. When I think of the evil in the world and of all the suffering in evil’s wake, I want God to apply a Consequence. I want him to apply it with a Big Stick. I don’t want the evil to suffer the way they made others to suffer; I want them to suffer the perfect knowledge of their own guilt. That’s the only misery that could possibly surpass the misery they caused in life. Would it be enough if the misery only seemed like forever, without actually being forever? I think not. To me it seems that pain is largely about perspective. Nothing’s quite so bad when you know it’s going to end. But then, I’m a stick person. Who’s probably going to hell, for all she knows.

EDIT: Sometimes I don’t know where I’m going with a post or why I’m going anywhere with it until I get people’s reactions to it. I’m still not sure what this post is all about, but while I was writing it I kept thinking of Jonathan Edwards’ sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” I read it in high school, and my idealistic teenage self, nurtured by years of kinder, gentler Mormon cosmology, was just scandalized that people would go to church to be abused this way. This is what a lot of people have against Christianity (stepping outside the Mormon world and into the world at large): this idea that we’re only good because we hope for a reward, or alternatively, that we fear a punishment. They argue specifically that a belief in hell (and any accompanying fear thereof) renders us a) not truly good and b) not truly free to choose. They don’t consider that perhaps it isn’t the motivation that really matters, that the motivation isn’t an end in itself. Carrots and sticks aside, what matters is where it leads us. And personally, as I’ve gotten older and matured (ugh, that word) spiritually (ugh, that other word), I’m not hating on the stick so much.

Comments

  1. Hmm, this post went in a different direction than I had expected. I would say that if I were a carrot or a stick, I’d be a carrot, but I wouldn’t say that this means I believe (hypothetically) that “hope for a better world to come” necessarily means a belief in progression through the glories. And I don’t think “hope for a better world to come” necessarily means “^_^ there is no real firey/brimstoney hell and because an incredibly few people will go to Outer Darkness, there’s no reason to worry ^_^!”

    I take it to mean what it says: I act for hope of a better world to come as opposed to acting out of fear of a worse one.

    To secularize it back up and reuse (and abuse, sorry) your exam analogy, when I prepare for a test, I don’t prepare because I fear an F. No, I prepare because I care about learning and improving myself. This does not mean that I believe that if I fail, I will eventually be bailed out by my teacher (although if the government is administering my tests…who knows?) And this doesn’t mean that I believe that a loving teacher would give a tremendous curve and fail *no one* (or practically no one). Not, it simply means what motivates me is a chance at better opportunities, blessings, a better life, etc.,

    But I hope this dichotomy becomes standard culture. I like looking at things in terms of sticks and carrots, perhaps even more than looking in terms of liahonas and iron rods!

  2. Steve Evans says:

    For some of us masochists and guilt-ridden Mormons, the carrot is the stick. We crave immediate drastic consequences for sin as a means of validating a peculiar world-view pertaining to guilt and wickedness. People can become addicts to punishment*.

    *Insert joke about Bloggernacle participation here

  3. On the whole suicide-to-get-to-telestial myth…

    Robert Millet and Kent P. Jackson write,

    “Regarding ‘surpasses all understanding': A rather common notion in connection with this verse is that Joseph Smith had taught that if we knew what the telestial kingdom was like, we would commit suicide to get there. What the Prophet said was not in reference to the telestial kingdom, but to life ‘behind the veil,’ which may mean a number of things.The Prophet’s statement (Charles Walker quoting Wilford Woodruff quoting Joseph Smith) is as follows:

    “Br. Woodruff spoke. . . . He refered to a saying of Joseph Smith which he heard him utter (like this) That if the People knew what was behind the vail, they would try by every means to commit suicide that they might get there, but the Lord in his wisdom had implanted the fear of death in every person that they might cling to life and thus accomplish the designs of their creator. (Diary of Charles Lowell Walker, ed. by A. Karl Larson and Katherine M. Larson [Logan, Ut.: Utah State University Press, 1980], vol. 1, pp. 465-66.)” (Robert L. Millet and Kent P. Jackson, eds., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 1: The Doctrine and Covenants, pp. 305-8)

    Truman G. Madsen writes on the belief as well:

    “Many of us have heard the statement made—and ascribed to either Joseph Smith or Brigham Young—to the effect that if a person could see the glory of the telestial kingdom he would commit suicide to get there. If only we could get the fundamental doctrines across to Church members as rapidly as we get across rumors, everyone would be saved. Am I saying that’s a rumor? Well, I am saying this, that over a period of many years I have combed everything Joseph Smith said and wrote, and I can’t find it. Hugh Nibley has done the same with Brigham Young’s words, and he can’t find it. It is hard to prove a negative, of course. What I can say is that we have found a statement from Joseph via Wilford Woodruff that says something else that is close, and I suspect it is the origin of the alleged statement (see Diary of Charles C. Walker, August 1837, in Church Historical Department). Elder Woodruff said the Prophet taught this, roughly: that if we could see what is beyond the veil we couldn’t stand to stay here in mortality for five minutes. And I suggest from the context that he was not talking about the telestial kingdom. He was talking about what it was like to be in the presence of God and the family.” (The Radiant Life, p. 91)

    Far from describing it as a place that you’d commit suicide to get to, John Widtsoe wrote:

    “Now, it may be contended that a judgment, with some degree of salvation for all, encourages the sinner to pursue his dark ways. Not so. However generous the judgment, it is measured by our works. Our punishment will be the heavy regret that we might have received a greater reward, a higher kingdom, had our lives conformed more nearly to truth. Such remorse may yield keener pain than physical torture.” (Understandable Religion, p. 89)

  4. Rebecca, I agree with your stance about Final Judgement being final and with this:

    I don’t want the evil to suffer the way they made others to suffer; I want them to suffer the perfect knowledge of their own guilt.

    I hate my guilt now; I can’t imagine the guilt later. Thus my hope in progressively doing better here.

    I also loved how you said that it would be a sick joke if God continued to forgive into the eternities. Your point is totally valid, all the more so by this scripture: 2 Nephi 28:8

    I really don’t think some people understand the severity of what the Prophets and Scriptures are talking about. At the same time, though, I don’t think enough people focus on the positive side, either. I think there’s a reason Gen. Conference doesn’t take the time to preach hell-fire and damnation; most children are led by example and through positive reinforcement. It’s easier to teach correct principles when the student isn’t scared out of their wits. That’s not to discount the way people (like you, Rebecca) gauge worthiness or assuage guilt. A little fear of God would do us all a little good, I would think.

    (Did that come off all hypocritical? Ah, well. I’m the queen of moderation; I like my ideas to balance. :) )

  5. Isn’t it hard to separate the carrot and the stick: that sinlessness helps us avoid eternal damnation (stick) and gives us the reward of greater spiritual gifts (carrot) which it turn makes the us more sinless. In theory, at least.

    I’m a shtick person: I do the right thing to avoid being the butt of jokes.

  6. Clay Whipkey says:

    Hmmm. Honestly my testimony has gotten to a place where I don’t have enough confidence in the details of an afterlife that neither the carrot or the stick motivate me. Lately I’ve been much more compelled by the Emergent Christian argument, which is similar to a Humanist argument, that what is good for my neighbor is good for me too in that unselfishness raises the whole planet to a higher level. A major difference with EC is that they suggest that Jesus commanded us to make this world into the Kingdom of Heaven. (Thy Kingdom come on Earth as it is in Heaven.)

    Maybe that is carrot motivation, just with a different kind of carrot. But I definitely don’t worry about the stick. I’m not totally sure who God is, but if He is a stick-wielder then I think I don’t really want to give him the satisfaction of control.

  7. Perhaps, instead of studying for a test, we should just learn the material contemplated by the class syllabus. We could learn the material because we want to learn the material, that we find it exciting. Act as though thoughts of grades or degrees or employment are not relevant.

    So, to with life. We can be good because we’ll get a reward in heaven. We can be good because, if not, we’ll burn in hell. We can be good “for goodness’ sake,” as the current humanist advertising on the Washington DC Metro service suggests. We can be good because that is what makes us happy and excited NOW, and not at some future time. Man is that he might have joy can be a mortal blessing, as well as an immortal reward.

  8. I think this is a very well thought-out post, even though I don’t know if I agree with the larger point. It’s possible that we should think about God’s judgment in an “either-or” way, but I still tend to think more about progression than anything else. Is it possible we are supposed to think that way (about progress, rather than somebody either going to heaven or hell) because we weak human beings would start putting people in categories, and God does not want us to do that?

  9. The Right Trousers says:

    #7: That’s exactly where we’re supposed to get, and the only reason I don’t like the stick/carrot analogy: it’s incomplete. There’s a reason that the Christian virtues of faith, hope and charity are always presented in that order. Maybe stick/carrot/I-care-about-others-more-than-either would be better.

    That’s not to say anyone should lose hope after discovering charity. Saints are securly saved in the Celestial Kingdom as long as we “press forward,” and that’s meant to be a comfort to us; to free us from the chains of sin, which enables us to pursue perfection. Heck, the most charitable of us have our callings and elections made sure, precisely for that comfort but at a greater level.

    I’m convinced that most of the “sticks” are as they are because they don’t understand or won’t accept the strength of the security we have in Christ. That described me until I became a “carrot,” anyway, and it describes all of the “sticks” I’ve discussed it with.

  10. Geoff, isn’t it more likely that we’re supposed to think that way because it is an accurate reflection of what’s to come?

  11. Depends on the day, (or hour or minute) whether it I am a carrot or stick man.

  12. Geoff B – I didn’t mean to imply that carrot people necessarily believe in a progression through the glories, or in any particular theological point. I was just musing on my own stick-personhood and how much more prominently hell figures in my personal cosmology, as a stick person. Some of this is a tad over the top. It’s a grotesque representation of my spiritual temperament.

    And certainly I’m being facetious whenever I say there are two kinds of people. I’m sure most of us are on a carrot-stick continuum–maybe even me. My next post will be about people who love Neil Diamond vs. everyone else. :)

  13. Scratch that smiley. I’m completely serious.

  14. The Right Trousers says:

    Is “everyone else” a code-phrase for “people who love Barry Manilow?”

  15. Rebecca,

    Thanks for posting this. It helped me crystallize some of my own thinking about these questions. For a different cultural perspective on the heaven-reward/hell-punishment motivation, you might take a look at Buddhist teachings regarding grasping and aversion.

  16. Larry the cable guy says:

    What about just being a carrotstick kind of guy?

    Especially if you extend the carrotstick in dip = Provo temple metaphor, it’s kind of ennobling.

  17. Of course, you could always hit someone with the carrot…

  18. Jeremy Jensen says:

    Our beliefs about the afterlife are fairly straightforward, when you don’t focus on semantics and minutiae. After the final judgment all but the sons of perdition will receive a place in one of three degrees of glory. Any of these three degrees of glory are far better than Earth life. Now, it doesn’t make sense to me to simultaneously describe something as both a “degree of glory that’s better than Earth” and as “hell” but I’m not sure it’s all that important what you call it.

    This removal of the threat of an eternal torture chamber run with the implicit approval of God (i.e., the orthodox Christian concept of Hell) is what puts us worlds away, theologically, from most other Christian sects. I think this is the reason you don’t hear much about hellfire in the Mormon church. It’s a fairly foreign concept to us. Our “stick” is being apart from God and our eternal family, not the threat of being tortured forever by God.

    It is also fairly clear that we don’t get to keep working at it in the next life until eventually everyone ends up in the Celestial Kingdowm. I’ve never heard that taught in church. The only thing that’s even remotely close to that idea in our theology is that before final judgment many people will receive the gospel that didn’t have the chance to in this life.

    I also don’t understand the desire, almost the yearning, on the part of this writer, for God to apply infinite painful punishment on people who clearly can only have committed finite transgressions. The Mormon rejection of this idea is one of the things I love about this church. This writer seems to want to be an evangelical, at least when it comes to this issue.

  19. I’m having trouble with the carrot/stick theory. I know I’m not the stick. But I’m not sure I’m the carrot either.
    Why do kids practice the piano? Sometimes its because you offer a reward, sometimes because they are punished if they don’t. However, sometimes they practice the piano because they enjoy it, or because it is habit, or because they have set their own goal, etc.
    I prefer try to do God’s will and live the commandments (the ones I am actually living) because I think it makes me happier now and don’t wish to do anything else. I would like to actually live more commandments and be more in tune with what God wants for me, so every day I try to do that without complete success but enough for today. Why? Why wouldn’t I want to do his will? I pretty much want to be the best person, wife, mother, friend, ward member, citizen I can be. I can’t imagine not wanting to give it my all.
    I admit to being in the camp that the telestial world will be better than this, and that everyone will be happier with where they end up than they are now (except Outer Darkness).

  20. John Mansfield says:

    We can think about things however we have a mind to, but those things that are and will be, such as punishments or rewards, don’t care how we think about them.

  21. but I’m not sure it’s all that important what you call it.

    Yes, thank you for grasping that.

    an eternal torture chamber run with the implicit approval of God (i.e., the orthodox Christian concept of Hell)

    Well, it’s Dante’s concept of Hell, but I’m not sure it’s a mainstream Christian view.

    It is also fairly clear that we don’t get to keep working at it in the next life until eventually everyone ends up in the Celestial Kingdowm. I’ve never heard that taught in church.

    It’s not taught in church, nor in the scriptures. It’s mostly on Mormon discussion boards.

    I also don’t understand the desire, almost the yearning, on the part of this writer, for God to apply infinite painful punishment on people who clearly can only have committed finite transgressions.

    If we’re talking about the same kind of “finite transgressions,” then this is where we are worlds apart, and perhaps I don’t belong in the Mormon world. I don’t envision a Terrestrial Kingdom torture chamber for people who took drugs, committed adultery, embezzled money, and neglected to plant a garden. I don’t know where every individual sinner is going to end up because so far as I know, there isn’t a pamphlet detailing all the pre-requisites for each degree of glory. I do have a desire for people who have committed despicable, atrocious acts of evil (don’t make me mention Hitler again) to suffer the ultimate penalty which the scriptures promise for the wicked. And I’ve explained why it’s important to me that the judgment is final. It’s how I get through life without becoming so depressed by the evil in the world that I lose the ability to function.

    If this life doesn’t have eternal consequences, then to me this life has no transcendent meaning. And if this life has no transcendent meaning, there’s no reason for it to be this difficult or this hard. (Not that my life is so difficult and hard, but I’m aware that many mortals have it much worse than I do.) That would mean that God was cruel. Now, I’m open to the idea that God is cruel, but it’s not what I’d prefer to believe.

  22. We can think about things however we have a mind to, but those things that are and will be, such as punishments or rewards, don’t care how we think about them.

    Absolutely true.

  23. JKS, you are a carrot person. Everyone who is definitely not a stick is automatically a carrot person.

    I don’t know why it’s so difficult for people to grasp this concept. I mean, there’s cat people and there’s dog people, right? You don’t see people out there owning both dogs and cats, do you? Oh, wait.

    Seriously, people, when I said I was oversimplifying, I wasn’t kidding.

  24. The Catholics have a similar concept; that of perfect vs. imperfect contrition. From the Catholic Encyclopedia:

    Catholic teaching distinguishes a twofold hatred of sin; one, perfect contrition, rises from the love of God Who has been grievously offended; the other, imperfect contrition, arises principally from some other motives, such as loss of heaven, fear of hell, the heinousness of sin, etc. (Council of Trent, Sess. XIV, ch. iv de Contritione).

  25. Motivation is complicated. I think there are often multiple motives involved in things that we do. I might go home teaching partly because I truly care about the families I’m assigned to, partly because I know I should, partly because I want to report that I did it rather than that I didn’t, etc., etc.

    Obviously the ideal is to do the right things for the right reasons- to obey and serve God and others out of love with no expectation of reward. And although some of us do this some of the time, I would venture to guess that few if any have pure motives all of the time.

    We do know that we cannot obtain perfection in mortality, so we will need the opportunity to continue learning and progressing after this life.

  26. I like to think of myself not as a carrot or a stick, which are only two of the five bases of motivating power. I hope that I am motivated by referent power. I decided a long time ago that I didn’t care if I went to outer darkness or the celestial kingdom, I loved the Lord and wanted to help his children. The big challenge now is figuring out the best way to help. For now I am satisfied to make little ripples in my little pond here and to follow the Gospel because I trust that God’s way is best.

  27. This all reminded me of a This American Life episode:

    The story of Reverend Carlton Pearson, a renowned evangelical pastor in Tulsa, Oklahoma, who cast aside the idea of Hell, and with it everything he’d worked for over his entire life.

    It’s really interesting, check it out.

    Also I believe the recent an issue of Element has an article that bears on this. See “The Hope for Universal Salvation” by Sheila Taylor.

  28. It also called to mind a zone conference [MISSION STORY ALERT] when we focused on the concept of serving and the motivations of serving. The levels were presented as:

    1. Fear
    2. Duty
    3. Love

    And the greatest of these was said to be love.

  29. Chuck- thanks for the nod to catholicism, I like it.

  30. Rebecca,

    First, a disclaimer. Being an incurable optimist even in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence, I suspect that I am much more of a carrot person, although I am no big fan of real carrots. My metaphorical carrot would be pumpkin pie with whipped cream, all year long (for the eternities).

    I was fascinated by this passage from your last paragraph:

    When I think of the evil in the world and of all the suffering in evil’s wake, I want God to apply a Consequence. I want him to apply it with a Big Stick. I don’t want the evil to suffer the way they made others to suffer; I want them to suffer the perfect knowledge of their own guilt.

    Especially so, because you also mentioned grace. As I understand grace, it not only is the ability for a forgiving God to grade us on the curve, but also to help us have compassion on the unrepentant losers who cause all this pain. The distinction between the Lord and us, as in “I the Lord will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men (and women)” D&C64:10 is that for us to go to the head of the class and the curve, we really have to become big carrot people. So much so, that we forgive even the most awful amongst us. I find that we are usually not capable of doing that on our own, and require grace to put us there.

    The stick motivates us to start moving. The carrot (or pumpkin pie) is out there when the stick is no longer sufficient. I myself am somewhere in that continuum, as I have not yet obtained the proper compassion for Neal Diamond, Barry Manilow, or Celine Dion.

  31. StillConfused says:

    My children and I are carrot people. The stick does not affect us at all. I find most Mormons I know are stick people and it is hard for us to get along.

  32. Jeremy Jensen says:

    “If this life doesn’t have eternal consequences, then to me this life has no transcendent meaning. And if this life has no transcendent meaning, there’s no reason for it to be this difficult or this hard. (Not that my life is so difficult and hard, but I’m aware that many mortals have it much worse than I do.) That would mean that God was cruel. Now, I’m open to the idea that God is cruel, but it’s not what I’d prefer to believe.”

    Yes, this life has eternal consequences. Those consequences come in the form of which degree of glory you earn.

    I’m glad to see you only want the orthodox Christian hell for Hitlerian evil.

    Also, the orthodox Christian conception of Hell is still a torture chamber. It’s not where Satan is literally chopping people up, but where people go through unimaginable anguish for eternity. I think that fits the idea of what a torture chamber is, regardless of the method used.

  33. BHodges, that mission story is actually a talk by Dallin Oaks

  34. Those dirty AP’s. Either they arrived at it themselves or plagiarized without citation.

  35. Jeremy Jensen (32) – I tend to think of the Telestial Kingdom as suffering from perpetual ennui. Torture, not so much.

  36. So far, I have some of the desires of a carrot person, but I don’t have enough self-discipline to be a good stick person yet, let alone a good carrot person. From my mortal, human perspective, it seems important to me to believe that our choices have real consequences, and at the same time, it seems important to believe that God will not give up on us if we fail him along the way. At least in this life, most of us are not at the top of the heap, and even though the prospects of progressing to a higher station are limited, that doesn’t make our lives meaningless.

    I may see it differently if I ever gain an eternal perspective, but the way I see it now, if it turns out that there is no progression between kingdoms and that falling short of the highest kingdom will bring an eternity of regret, it will prove that God was never a good enough parent to be worthy of our respect and love. I don’t expect it to be that way. Either there will be ample opportunities for happiness and progress in the lower kingdoms, because people don’t all need to have the same role to be happy, or we will find that progress between kingdoms is possible after all. Doctrine and Covenants 130:10 seems to suggest that there are higher kingdoms than the celestial kingdom, and maybe some of us someday will progress into one of them.

    Another possibility is that this is already the telestial kingdom, blessed with the influence of the Holy Ghost but not the continual presence of the Son, that the coming millennial rein of the Savior will give us an opportunity to live and progress through the terrestrial kingdom which the renewed earth will become, and that the celestial kingdom will be ready for us when we have changed enough to be ready to enter it.

  37. Consistent with later Mormon Universalist tendencies, The Bible of Reason (an American atheist work published shortly before the Book of Mormon) commented on traditional views of “ETERNAL TORMENTS.” The author Benjamin F. Powell quoted from Jonathan Edwards on sinners burning endlessly throughout “millions of ages” without any hope of release. He then responded:

    . . . Explain to any unprejudiced understanding the doctrine of eternal punishment in a hell of torture; let the idea only stand forward in its native deformity, wrapped in no deceitful veil, and seen through no deceiving medium—and human ingenuity is impotent to gain belief in it. . . . The orthodox god, the hidden, mysterious, Christian monster, shall rack and torture countless myriads of us sentient beings, without any object except to prolong eternally our capacity to know and to suffer infinite and excruciating misery! . . . Such a god is worthy of those hearts that first leaped in exultation at the device of consuming the body in the flaming faggot for the good of the soul. ‘Tis a horrible thing that the human mind should be reduced to such a state of prejudice and weakness . . .

    —B[enjamin]. F. Powell, The Bible of Reason: Or, Scriptures of Modern Authors. Selected and Written by B. F. Powell. (New York: George H. Evans, 1828), 240-41.

  38. Rebecca: It’s just that when the scriptures say that the wicked will suffer everlasting torment, I don’t see a lot of room for interpretation. If the Final Judgment isn’t Final, why do we call it the Final Judgment? Is this one of those deals where we make up a new meaning for a word just for the pleasure of still using it (*cough*”preside”*cough*)? If it’s just a temporary judgment, shouldn’t we call it something that doesn’t mean the opposite of “temporary”? The “Post-Mortal Judgment,” perhaps? I’d be cool with that. I just want us all to be on the same dictionary page. Same dictionary, anyway.

    I’m coming in late so I was really surprised that no one pointed out the problem with this part of you post. That problem is D&C 19 where God basically says “yeah I know I let those guys say punishment is eternal and endless but frankly they were wrong. I just let you believe that because it helped motivate some people”. Here is the passage:

    6 Nevertheless, it is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment.
    7 Again, it is written eternal damnation; wherefore it is more express than other scriptures, that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men, altogether for my name’s glory.
    8 Wherefore, I will explain unto you this mystery, for it is meet unto you to know even as mine apostles.
    9 I speak unto you that are chosen in this thing, even as one, that you may enter into my rest.
    10 For, behold, the mystery of godliness, how great is it! For, behold, I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name. Wherefore—
    11 Eternal punishment is God’s punishment.
    12 Endless punishment is God’s punishment.

    So we have something better than a dictionary on this subject — we have trumping modern revelation.

  39. Steve Evans says:

    Geoff, that section of the D&C is extremely problematic, isn’t it?

  40. Hey Steve S, could you consider choosing a different handle? It’s too close to my own, and I claim dibs. Cheers!

  41. I wish people in general would quit worrying about the next life and live for this one.

    I try to be a good person so that my life NOW will be good, so that the world we have NOW (and leave behind to future generations) will be a better place. I think one of the major failings of religion in general is all the focus on after we die. It gives us inquisitions, suicide bombers, and kool-aid distributing cult leaders. Or just earth-wasting self-absorbed religious followers who care more for their place in a theoretical heaven than the world they leave behind.

    Someone said earlier that they live a certain way because it makes their current life happier/more peaceful…I think thats a much better reason…and even though I am no longer mormon, that was/is one of the things in the mormon worldview that I thought was a bit better than mainstream christianity.

  42. The Right Trousers says:

    We worry because if there’s nothing after – if our descendants are doomed to being swallowed up by the sun or succombing to the slow cold of total heat dissipation in the universe – if there’s an eventual end to both our identities and humanity – then there’s no point at all to any of it. Go paaaartay! That empathy you feel for people you hurt is just an evolutionary trick to tie your personal happiness to the welfare of your tribe.

    Even the weakest belief in something after, even close to none but not zero, is enough. A small chance that something of what you did survives forever is enough. I would guess that your own goodness toward others is motivated partially by belief that there’s something permanent about it.

  43. Rameumptom says:

    As a teen, one of my sons once suggested to me that he wouldn’t have to try, and would still obtain the Telestial Kingdom, which surpasses all understanding. This said with a know-it-all dare-to-try-and-top-my-logic look.

    I told him that while that was probably true, he would first end up having to spend time in Spirit Prison hell, perhaps a millennium or more, paying for all the unrepented sins he would have committed to merit a Telestial glory. I did mention that the pain was described by the Lord and Alma as exquisite (Alma 36, D&C 19) for those who do not repent.

    Suddenly, his teen-smart look disappeared, and he quietly walked away to rethink his theory…

  44. Re: 42. I dislike this idea that if there’s no afterlife, then there’s no “point to any of it all.”

    If there’s no afterlife, this life is utterly critical. It is so rare and precious because it’s the only one you have. If you waste your life partying, you will not accomplish any of the higher pleasures.

    If you live for an afterlife, in a way, you reject life. You reject life for death. Because you’re living for something that happens after you die. It’s quite sad.

  45. StillConfused says:

    #41, That is how my Jewish friends live their lives. When I asked them what their heaven was, they said “What difference does heaven make? We live to be the best we can now. We will worry about heaven when we get there.”

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