Did President Hinckley downplay deification?

“Do Mormons believe they can become Gods” is a question that requires much more than a yes or no answer, to be sure. If members of the Church are reluctant to answer with a simple “yes” or “no”, they seem to be trying to hide something, or to be unversed on the subject. This circumstance is reflected in an oft-cited response President Hinckley gave to various public interviews. I’ve seen it on facebook, I’ve seen it on message boards, I’ve seen it on blogs and in various columns. Hopefully this post can help clarify.

Pres. Hinckley has been accused of being dishonest or evasive on the subject of deification–whether humans can become gods. He is depicted as saying something to the effect of “we don’t know anything about that.” I believe a closer look at the respective interviews suggests that Pres. Hinckley was more specifically saying Mormons don’t know much about God’s past, rather than humanity’s future. Here’s the selection from a 1997 interview in the San Francisco Chronicle, wherein Pres. Hinckley affirms the divine potential of women and men: 

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.1

Note that the question directly involved whether God was once a man. The topic also came up in a 2001 TIME article. The interview transcript and article itself makes it clear that Pres. Hinckley’s stumbling response was in regards to God’s past, not humanity’s future:

Q: Just another related question that comes up is the statements in the King Follet discourse by the Prophet.

A: Yeah.

Q: … about that, God the Father was once a man as we were. This is something that Christian writers are always addressing. Is this the teaching of the church today, that God the Father was once a man like we are?

A: I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it. I haven’t heard it discussed for a long time in public discourse. I don’t know. I don’t know all the circumstances under which that statement was made. I understand the philosophical background behind it. But I don’t know a lot about it and I don’t know that others know a lot about it.2

Of course, Joseph Smith clearly taught God “was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!”, a fact which appeared in the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church manual approved under Hinckley’s presidency.3 In his own public comments, though, Pres. Hinckley focused on the second, not the first, part of the couplet, that humans can become like God.4

I agree with Pres. Hinckley that Mormons don’t generally broach the topic of God once being a man, with all the sticky theological questions it raises. Divine embodiment, more than questions of sin, seems paramount. Aside from questions about the overall place of Lorenzo Snow’s famous couplet as a point of emphasis within Mormonism over time, it seems to me Pres. Hinckley himself was claiming Mormons don’t know/talk much about God’s past, rather than humanity’s future. As for that future, he directly affirmed the teaching that Mormons do believe they can become gods.

_____________________________

Footnotes:

1. Don Lattin, “Musings of the Main Mormon,San Francisco Chronicle, 13 April 1997.

2. Transcript from the interview of David van Biema, reported in “Kingdom Come,” TIME Magazine (4 August 1997): 56, ellipsis in original.

3. See “Chapter 2: God the Eternal Father,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (2007), 36–44.

4. For instance, see his “Don’t Drop the Ball,” Ensign, Nov 1994, 46.

Comments

  1. I am still baffled by Hinckley’s appeal to Snow’s couplet instead of the King Follett discourse where it is a bit more explicit, with his implicit claim that Snow’s couplet was all that there was concerning the teaching. Was this Hinckley’s (disingenuous?) attempt to exonerate Joseph Smith from the teaching? Was Hinckley oblivious to this being taught in one of the penultimate sermons of Joseph Smith? Or was this simply Hinkley being unprepared for such a question?

  2. I think it’s more a matter of the couplet having more of a memorable purchase, so I don’t see any implicit shifting of origin of claim or anything, distancing from JS, etc. From Pres. Hinckley’s 1994 “Don’t Drop the Ball” piece linked in the footnotes:

    On the other hand, the whole design of the gospel is to lead us onward and upward to greater achievement, even, eventually, to godhood. This great possibility was enunciated by the Prophet Joseph Smith in the King Follet sermon (see Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 342–62; and emphasized by President Lorenzo Snow. It is this grand and incomparable concept: As God now is, man may become! (See The Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, comp. Clyde J. Williams, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1984, p. 1.)

    Similar stuff was also part of the BY manual.

    Aside from quotes from the KFD and the general emphasis on God’s embodiment and humanity’s potential for godhood, can you point to any specific public discourses since the 19th century that dissect God’s previous mortality, etc.? After all, and this bears repeating, Pres. Hinckley himself here was pointing out a shift in “public discourse” on especially the first part of the couplet. In other words, acknowledging shifts in emphasis.

  3. Nothing to add right now, but nice post.

  4. I think he took a good approach. Most members and non-members will jump on anything a GA says as doctrine and then a dogma circus ensues as members start defending all sorts of things as doctrine and detractors start attacking those ideas, etc. The fact is that we don’t know very much about God having been a man or the details on how we can become Gods. Eternal progression is one of our most fundamental beliefs (if we don’t believe there is more coming, nothing about the way we live or the temple makes sense). But it is one of our most derided beliefs as well. And for that reason, we need to be careful how much we say to the public, especially because we don’t know much about the concept. It’s a wise man who recognizes what he doesn’t know and doesn’t pretend otherwise. Our Heavenly Father has a history of revealing just what we need to know at the moment (Moses 1:35).

  5. In reply to #1, I think the couplet does a decent job of compressing the KF discourse into a sentence, which is perfect for a media interview timeframe. He also never disclaims Joseph Smith’s involvement, never connects the couplet with Snow, and never attempts to foist it onto anybody else; I think you might be reading too much into this.

    I agree with the post. I always saw those statements as applying to the “God once was” part of the quote. I think deification is embedded so deeply in the doctrine, on so many levels, that it’s intractable at this point, which is good, in my opinion. The idea of eternal increase and creation of worlds without end as the final destiny of God’s children seems so much more profound and powerful than what alternative worldviews offer on this point.

  6. Steve Evans says:

    His answers were apt and perfectly sensible. I guess you could say that the President of the Church really should be the person who would know what’s up with such matters, and repeatedly saying “we don’t know” when there’s actually many decades of thought around the topic just doesn’t sit quite right. People look to the Prophet for definitive answers, not “we don’t know” responses that they could get from any astute bishop.

    But those are hypothetical quibbles, not mine. I think he took the right tack.

  7. “But it is one of our most derided beliefs as well. And for that reason, we need to be careful how much we say to the public, especially because we don’t know much about the concept.”

    Not saying something because we don’t get it is one thing, trying to hide it is another. I don’t think GBH was trying to hide it because it is derided, or say less about it for the same reason. We really don’t have grounded doctrines in a lot of ideas, and this seems to be one of them.

  8. In the Dan Peterson Mormon Stories interview recently, he cited a comment made by Elder Eyring, to the effect that many High Priests quorums demonstrate a far higher level of doctrinal certitude than the First Presidency. Given the instructions to teachers, it’s nice to see the President of the Church also saying, “I don’t know.” Joseph Smith did it as well.

  9. “It seems to me Pres. Hinckley himself was claiming Mormons don’t know/talk much about God’s past, rather than humanity’s future.”

    I agree.

    “Of course, Joseph Smith clearly taught God ‘was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!’

    While clearly he SAID this, it’s less clear to Mormons today what the teaching actually means. (ie: That God had a mortal experience the same as Jesus (sinless) or whether He was more like us (sinful)–making Jesus even more unique than His father.

    While I feel the former is the more likely, I would agree with President Hinckley that we really “don’t teach it” or know a lot about God’s past.

  10. Of course, Joseph Smith clearly taught God “was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!”

    I think that this is not correct. I think that Smith clearly taught that God was once a man as Jesus was. And that has implications which are radical for the average folk beliefs.

  11. It pays to be scrupulous in a post about being scrupulous, J., so fair enough. Joseph Smith himself seems to have been tying God’s once being a man to John 5:19 and John 10:17-18, that Jesus only did what he saw the Father do, and that like the Father he had the power to lay down his life and take it up again. Finer distinctions like this tend to further uphold the answer Pres. Hinckley gave in the interviews, IMO.

  12. Do Mormons believe humans can and should become God? Yes. If you don’t then you’re about as Mormon as a fundamentalist or an atheist.

  13. BHodges, I agree that the details uphold Hinckley’s wisdom.

    If you don’t then you’re about as Mormon as a fundamentalist or an atheist.

    Lincoln, that is just silly-talk.

  14. J Stapley, I’m quite serious — and all the more so when another self-identifying Mormon finds it amusing.

  15. #12 – and that comment misses entirely the point of the post – just like every single criticism of that kind I’ve ever read ad nauseum about Pres. Hinckley’s statement.

    I agree that his statement was exactly right. He didn’t addres the second part of the couplet (deification) at all, other than to say, “Well, as God is, man may become. We believe in eternal progression. Very strongly.” You can’t say it any more forcefully and directly than that. What he addressed was the first part of the couplet – and what he said is 100% correct.

    There is one element of the second quote that I believe is butchered almost always by people who aren’t used to hearing the phrase “I don’t know that . . .” I grew up hearing it from the older generations all around me, and I immediately understood Pres. Hinckley to be sayin exactly what I had heard said all my life with those words – “I wouldn’t say that . . .” My own father and grandfathers used that phrase all the time as a gentle way of disagreeing without having to day bluntly, “No, you’re wrong.”

    I wrote a full post about the second interview, if anyone is interested (and butchered the title in the process):

    http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2009/12/pres-hinckleys-interview-with-mike.html

  16. People should read Stephen Webb’s _Jesus Christ, Eternal God_ on this point. He basically makes a strong argument (as a Catholic theologian who appreciates many of the beauties of Mormonism) for precisely this decoupling of extreme divine anthropomorphism and human divinization.

  17. Doubling down on the silliness. Nice.

  18. We should be aware that there was a fairly strong tradition internally regarding the unreliability of King Follett. Pres. Hinckley may have been sensitive to that tradition in appealing to Snow. There is also a rather interesting background to the Snow statement for that matter.

  19. J Stapley, doubling down on appeals to ridicule? You’re smart enough to see the irony in this interaction.

  20. Ray, I’m responding to the initial question in the post, and I acknowledge that’s not the main point of the post. The tangent, suggested by the question and its rhetorical response, is important.

  21. observer fka eric s says:

    I like his response in the second exchange. He demonstrates that prophets do not know everything and are ordinary men who are Truth aggregators and messengers of information that is selectively provided to them. Prophetic critics form such attachments and expectations that prophets should know all. I think that’s because it makes such an individuals easier to dismiss.

    In today’s world, responding to anything in either a casual or a formal setting with, “I don’t know” is highly unsatisfying. There is an expectation that if someone asks you a question, you have a useful answer. People are supposed to know and have an opinion of everything. If you don’t you are assumed to be a) a naive simpleton, b) untrustworthy/suspect, and/or c) disinterested in the other person. I love the sincerity and confidence that comes with him saying “I don’t know” on such a large stage. So for him to say “I don’t know” actually lends to his credibility while, at the same time, causing introspection about how one views a prophet.

  22. Lincoln, your comment was a drive-by excommunication of many Mormons. It was silly. If you want to state your argument, be my guest; but I’ll bet your wrong.

  23. Is Lincoln a recipient of Steve’s amnesty? Just wondering.

  24. J Stapley, tripling down on the appeal to ridicule? Is there no end to the irony? That aside, I’m not interested in excommunicating anyone, as I’m not interested in the sterility and ultimate meaninglessness of anything like “Open Mormonism”. I AM interested in positions and reasons, and you’re right that my stated position merits more reasons than I’ve posted (or will post) here. You going to make an argument in defense of the disagreement implied by your ridicule? No. It’s just not worth it here and now, is it? I suppose we deserve each other today.

  25. Sonny, if the kind of statements I’ve made here have ever resulted in anyone being banned, please ban me.

  26. It’s more your attitude than your statements.

  27. Lincoln, my post wasn’t intended to start discussions about who should or shouldn’t be able to lay claim to the title “Mormon.” I certainly don’t want to use this space for declaring the in from the out. The post is intended to clear up any misconception regarding Pres. Hinckley and the topic of becoming gods, so please stick to that topic alone in any further comments you’d like to add.

  28. Will do, BHodges. For what it’s worth, I agree with your analysis of Hinckley’s statements, and I think the presentation of your analysis would be strengthened if you introduced it differently.

  29. Pinky, are you pondering what I’m pondering? We can become Gods!

  30. Lincoln, fwiw, this post was introduced perfectly – since the main criticism of Pres. Hinckley’s interviews by those who attack him and those who simply are ignorant is that he downplayed or denied deification. I literally have heard hundreds of people way it – so much that it’s become the interpretation de jour of many who don’t have the intellectual integrity to read or listen to the actual interviews with an open mind and a functioning brain AND those who assume those who complain are correct. Since that’s the main argument against what Pres. Hinckley said, starting with that question is a great way to introduce the post.

    Now, if you weren’t aware of that dominant criticism, I understand your point – but if you re-read the second paragraph of the post, I think you’ll see that the criticism is addressed upfront as the reason for the title and the introductory paragraph.

    Enough said about that, I think.

  31. #25, mission accomplished!

  32. I could see how Hinckley may have pointed to the couplet as an example of how little it has been discussed. However, it becomes abundantly clear that much more than Snow’s simple couplet has been taught by Church leaders concerning–such as the Follett discourse, which does not only provide more details than Snow’s “more of a couplet than anything else,” but also begins with a preface that this knowledge is essential to our own deification.

  33. Here are my thoughts accompanying Hinckley’s first response:

    “I wouldn’t say that”–But Joseph Smith explicitly said that.

    “There was a little couplet coined,’As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.’”–There was also an entire sermon where Joseph Smith said much more.

    “Now that’s more of a couplet than anything else.”–Sure, but there was that whole other sermon by Joseph Smith where he said much more.

    “That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don’t know very much about.”–We know virtually no particulars about most of our theology (how the resurrection works, how life was like in the preexistence, how the atonement works, how Jesus is the literal Son of God, etc, etc, etc, but that doesn’t prevent us from making generalized statements about those beliefs.

    And while BHodges is correct in pointing out that Hinckley said a little more about it in later years, and to Church members in earlier years, that does not show at all that he was downplaying it and even attempting to avoid it in his 1997 interview.

  34. Wow. He literally asked for it. (#25)

  35. narrator, I’ll admit that this is one of the things that bugs me; again, Joseph Smith most certainly did not say that. Reread the source material for both the KFD and June 16, 1844 Sermon in the Grove. I will give you that things got all sorts of interesting in Utah, but will also point out that we haven’t necessarily kept all that stuff.

  36. I love it when Stapley go-read-yer-source-material’s people. One day, when the conversation is about something meaningless and lame (likely sports-related), I will try it myself.

  37. #34, it’s like those Yosemite Sam cartoons where he runs to catch a bomb calling out, “I got it, I got it!” then the bomb explodes and there’s a little white flag that goes up and says, “he got it.”

  38. BHodges, I agree with the essence of your post. That is, Hinckley wanted to focus on mankind’s potential and not spend time trying to answer questions about God’s past.

    I agree with J. Stapley and Clean Cut and I would add even a few more nuances. The import of the King Follett Sermon is that God understands the sorrows his children suffer because of death because God had a mortal experience, laid down his life and took it up again. The problem with the phrase “God was once as we are now” is that it is open to unlimited interpretation. In what ways was God “as we are now”? Smith himself limited his topic to the fact that God is embodied as we are now. Smith also limited correspondence between the Father and the Son to the fact that the Father laid down his life and took it up again, and the Son did as well.

    But there is a long history of speculation beyond both of these points. As Clean Cut points out, there is line of speculation that “as we are now” means that God was once a sinner as we all are now, meaning that he was sinful and that he had to repent of his sins, because after all that’s exactly “as we are now.” This is the problem with saying that God is like mortal man in all aspects.

    In addition, once we say that the Son did only what he saw his Father do, then that could logically entail an exact replication of every lived human experience of the Father and Son. Joseph never argued this extreme. There is a whole history of speculation arguing that if the Son was a redeemer and a Savior, then the Father also was a redeemer and a Savior, and that it is the destiny of everyone who wants to be like God to do the same. So to say that Joseph is saying that the Father is like Jesus, while an improvement is still problematic, because it isn’t at all clear that Joseph meant that the Father as like Jesus in all aspects either.

    So when someone asks “Do Mormon still teach God was once a man?” or “Do Mormon still believe that God was once a man” how can you say “Yes” when people construe this to mean anything from God the Father was actually a Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified in some other alternate universe, or a sinful man on some other planet who needed to repent of his sordid acts? Merely saying yes or no to such a question would actually confuse more than enlighten.

    Once you say God has a past, naturally everyone wants to know what kind of past. They want details and answers to all of these questions. But notice that all of these questions lead us further away from mankind’s divine potential. If you only have a limited time with a journalist or reporter, do you want to put yourself in a situation where you end up squandering that time trying to respond to a whole line of questions most likely to be misinterpreted or given a gloss, or do you want to utilize the time to focus on a message of humanity’s divine potential?

  39. Never Baptized says:

    Unless Mormons are wrong and the Nicean Creed’ers are right in that Jesus is God incarnate (or whatever exactly that idea of the trinity means), then it’s highly unlikely God was ever a *homo sapien*. We all know homo sapiens are a hybrid between homo erectus and Annunaki.

    That’s a joke! Please don’t ban me, I love this site!!

    All kidding aside, even if humans are the products of evolution of some sort and our pre-mortal spirits began entering into homo sapien bodies when they were deemed ready (as suggested in “The Scholar of Moab”) then it is still unlikely God was ever a homo sapien as such.

    Okay, I realize that’s pure speculation and has little to do with the original topic of the article and thread.

  40. narrator, I think you’re missing the point of this post, which is to clarify what Pres. Hinckley did and didn’t distance himself from. (details on God’s particular mortality vs. humanity’s potential for godhood.)

  41. EXCELLENT comment, aquinas. Exactly.

  42. Pres.Hinckley clearly distanced himself from Joseph Smith’s view of God, as peached in the King Follett sermon. As an active member, I becoming less convinced that we are truly gods in embryo. We know that a perfect God came to earth and practiced godhood and that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. It seems more logical to me that we can become kings and queens under God, worshipping Him forever, and I still believe that I can be a faithful member and hold that belief.

  43. Left Field says:

    Gah! Ban him I say! It’s Homo sapiens, not “homo sapiens,” and certainly not “homo sapien.”

  44. I’m going to do this one more time, because what the heck.

    katie88, I imagine that if you read the original reports of the King Follet sermon and subsequent Sermon in the Grove (which was a direct follow-up) that you might be surprised.

  45. Katie88–I totally second Stapley’s advice to read the original reports of the King Follet sermon and subsequent Sermon in the Grove. Doing that was eye opening. Links to both the original reports and amalgamated version here:

    http://latterdayspence.blogspot.com/2009/07/my-take-on-joseph-smiths-king-follet.html

  46. Never Baptized says:

    #43,

    Nonsense, what about Del the Funky?

  47. “Sonny, if the kind of statements I’ve made here have ever resulted in anyone being banned, please ban me.”

    Steve, I think it’s unfortunate that you deliberately interpreted Lincoln’s comments in a way that they were clearly not intended. It seems pretty obvious to me that this sentence is just an ironic way of asserting the fairness of his comments and not an actual request for banning. And then you go ahead and ban him? That seems pretty low to me.

  48. The doctrine is one that I treasure, and I regret the change in emphasis.

  49. Never Baptized says:

    #43 (again),

    It just dawned on me that I misread your comment. Nevertheless, if spelling and grammar is something you want to ban people over you might like to consider a new religion. I’m not sure anyone in the church knew how to spell before the 1880s (except maybe Sidney Rigdon), thus most of your doctrine is most certainly in error.

    On the other hand, I’m sure you were just joking. Although that can get you excommunicated from BCC, too (although not by common consent, rather by one person’s executive decision).

  50. Never Baptized says:

    *assuming you’re a church member!

  51. There is a part of the King Follett discourse which I’ve always found fascinating but I’m not entirely sure why it was important to mention then or now – creation ex nihilo. Can someone briefly explain to me its importance in Mormon theology or why creation from nothing is viewed as repugnant? Thanks in advance for your help.

  52. Never Baptized says:

    Since I’m up I might as well give this a shot.

    During the development of LDS doctrine and theology the concepts of materialism prevailed in the world of science. In other words, everything in the universe, it was/is held, is made out of matter (there are arguments against absolute materialism but I’m no expert on them). Indeed, Joseph Smith posited (in a letter, not a revelation, but canonized nevertheless) that even spirit is matter, although of a more pure sort. From here it was reasoned (revealed?) that this meant that God has a physical body (whether a flesh and blood human-type body or a spiritual body in the shape of a human was debatable; Parley Pratt, for example, pushed for the former, I believe). Since God has a physical body He must exist in space and time in a definitive state. A God with this nature cannot reasonably be held to have created matter out of nothing if God himself is made of matter.

    On the other hand, it plays in to the whole concept of Godhood that is at the center of this post. What is Godhood in Mormon belief? In a nutshell, it is mastery over the elements and a complete (or near complete) intelligence and understanding of the universe. Whether or not God was ever a Homosapien (one word with a capital H!) cannot be known, as has been said above, but it is reasonable to assume (or wax hermeneutical) that God began in a lesser state and worked His way towards a higher state, and this is the path Mormons believe we can follow – eternal progression. The concept of creation ex nihilo has no place in this view since the path towards divinity involves working with things already in existence. What we as humans do as art, God, or Gods, do on a galactic scale, essentially, creating planets and whatnot. Taken to its extreme, this view runs the risk of asserting that there was a time before there was ever a God, however, I think for most people that is probably irrelevant.

    How did matter get here then? I suppose you’d have to ask a (God-in-the-making) scientist.

    I hope this helped. I’m sure others could explain it in even more detail.

  53. Left Field says:

    I had never heard of Mr. Del the Funky, but Google is my friend. Apparently he professes to be nonhuman, though “Homo sapien” is a “nomen nudum,” since a species by that name is yet to be described in the scientific literature. On the other hand, he renders it as “Homosapien” which, as a uninomial would have to be the name of a genus or higher taxon–but still an undescribed nomen nudum. We should learn more about this unique new form of life and see that it receives a proper biological description.

  54. J Stapley et al.: Hogwash. I have read the various accounts multiple times and just reread them again in case too much learning has made me mad. Did Joseph Teach that God was a man? Yes. Did he say that we must have a knowledge of this to progress? Yes. While there may be multiple ways of understanding this, to deny that he made these claims is just silly.

    And of course affirming this, while pointing out the nuances, makes us seem like oddballs to the rest of the Christian world. This is why Hinckley hedged on it and made it seem that such a teaching was limited to nothing more than a couplet.

  55. Steve Evans says:

    #47, it’s like rain on your wedding day.

  56. katie88, I like your approach. “We know that a perfect God came to earth and practiced godhood and that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. It seems more logical to me that we can become kings and queens under God, worshipping Him forever, and I still believe that I can be a faithful member and hold that belief.” Amen.

    I think President Hinckley was entirely right in his answer He was honest. He spoke with authority. There are too many Latter-day Saints who insist on re-creating God on man’s image. He acknowledged that this thread does exist in the tapestry of Mormon thought, and his answer was spot on — “I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it. I haven’t heard it discussed for a long time in public discourse. I don’t know. I don’t know all the circumstances under which that statement was made. I understand the philosophical background behind it. But I don’t know a lot about it and I don’t know that others know a lot about it.” Amen.

    I am far more comfortable with President’s Hinckley’s approach that the let’s re-create God in our image approach of some others among us. I don’t think he was disingenuous — I think he was honest.

    Regarding the King Follett discourse, it would be nice if we had a reliable record — but we don’t — we only have a few far-after-the-fact remembraces that, when combined, account for only a few minutes of a two- or three-hour sermon delivered in very difficult times. These notes aren’t enough for me to come to the same conclusions as others.

  57. Clark Goble says:

    It seems to me the big issue is how to take non-canonized revelations. There are many who downplay their role in theology extensively. Think Blake Ostler who ends up with a take on God the Father pretty similar to what many take Pres. Hinkley to be offering as a possibility. Now those who’ve read my discussions with Blake know I’m a big defender of the traditional reading of the King Follet Discourse. Yet it is a problematic text if only due to the passage on the resurrection of children. Even when the discourse was printed in manuals such as the PH/RS one from the 90′s there were parts deleted. Yet if we are appealing to that text but are willing to delete other passages what does that say about the authority of the text for what we like?

    Let’s be honest. The main reason we accept the traditional conception of an infinite regress of gods who passed through mortal probations has more to do with Utah theology rather than Nauvoo theology. Even though its origins go back at least to Nauvoo. Yet even with Utah theology we get rid of a lot of it as false. (Think the place of Adam) Once again though if we don’t trust Brigham Young’s teachings on this what grounds the theology?

    I suspect that’s more what Pres. Hinkley was getting at. I suspect he actually accepts the traditional doctrine but it’s true that justifying the doctrine is difficult in a non-question begging way. Further clearly one can be a devout Mormon and not accept the regress of gods. (Once again think Blake but there are plenty of others) As such I think Pres. Hinkley was simply pushing for theological neutrality on these more ambiguous issues.

  58. narrator, that is like saying, Joseph Smith taught that Jesus was a man. If you are willing to import all the context from this to your statement then fine; otherwise, you have gravely slandered porcine effluent.

  59. J. beat me to it, narrator. Jesus, as God, became a man. Joseph taught that God the Father was once a man too. But there’s a big difference between me as a man and Jesus (or the Father) as a man. I have no interest in re-creating God in our image, as ji said. Joseph seems to make it clear that BOTH Jesus/God as a man and the Father/God as a man both had the power to take up their life again–a power the rest of us do not have.

    Clark, as to the infinite regress of gods idea, I concede that it has been a part of the tradition, because I grew up with that. But that doesn’t make it true. I haven’t read Ostler’s books, but I’ve read the Sermon in the Grove and Joseph’s teaching about a “Head God” now convinces me that it infinite regression isn’t likely/logical, so I don’t accept it.

  60. Clark Goble says:

    Right. We have to distinguish between who believed what and whether their teachings can sufficiently ground the doctrine. Typically we give canon the benefit of doubt even while acknowledging it might be in error. But non-canonized stuff, no matter what the source, is more problematic. That said I personally think Joseph gets a little more weight simply because so much was revealed to him. So unless it just doesn’t make sense, is contradicted, or something else I tend to accept what Joseph says if he’s sufficiently clear. And arguably the KFD is much better sourced than even some of what made it into the D&C.

    My take on Blakes argument is that it requires the head god to be absolute and not just for a particular creation. i.e. there can be only one creation. I just don’t buy that for a variety of reasons.

  61. There is no question about it Clark. KFD is better sourced than much of what was added to D&C post 1844.

  62. I think you all are being to hard on narrator here. One can easily ready KFD and SiTG and other JS statements the way he does. After all, that’s how Bushman reads those arguments. (see Very Short intro to Mormonism)

    I think that only makes Blair’s point in the OP even more important. Hinckley said it exactly right. We don’t know much about that.

    The only difficulty for me comes from the fact that by not understanding the past (what made HF who he is) we also lose understanding of what we are going to become.

  63. Clean, Stapley, Clark: regardless of whether Joseph actually taught that God was a mortal, sinful, Christ, Krypton, Godman, or cyborg, the fact remains that Joseph explicitly stated that God was a man–whatever that may mean. I have stated nothing other than that. Don’t try to accuse me of claiming anything else as I have not claimed anything but that simple phrase.

    My point is simply that it seems to me that when asked about this teaching by Joseph Smith, Hinckley made it seem that the teaching is only found in Snow’s couplet, and that it could be largely disregarded.

    On a related note, Greg Kofford Books recently released a new biography of King Follett by Joann Follett Mortensen. http://www.gregkofford.com/products/the-man-behind-the-discourse

  64. Matt, I can’t speak for anyone else, but it’s certainly not my intent to be “hard” on anyone here. My intent was to clarify that my understanding is not “hogwash”. I, for one, love reading narrator’s thoughts and generally appreciate his comments–even the snarky ones. :) I appreciate the whole orchestra–it’s just that at times I can’t help trying to correct some wrong notes).

    With that said, I think your comment is exactly right. “I think that only makes Blair’s point in the OP even more important. Hinckley said it exactly right. We don’t know much about that. The only difficulty for me comes from the fact that by not understanding the past (what made HF who he is) we also lose understanding of what we are going to become.”

    Ditto. I’m resigned to live with a big degree of ambiguity. Like Ray once said, we see through a glass darkly, and “I kinda like it”.

  65. narrator–roger that.

  66. Never Baptized says:

    #53,

    Okay, Mr./Ms. Technical, I am all ears. What then is the official classification of modern humans? How should I go about describing a singular specimen?

    Google is also my friend, however,it seems to be a trickster today. Homo sapien, homo sapien, Homosapien, homosapien, Homo sapiens, homo sapiens, and Homo sapiens sapiens all show up in the search query as being used to describe human beings. I was merely trying to appeal to the popular perception of how we are described in biology. But again, in case you missed my other comment, getting picky about spelling and grammar on a site dealing with religion, particularly Mormon religion, seems self-defeating. Do you practice this religion? If so, don’t risk making yourself a hypocrite if you base your world view on the revelations of a man who was atrocious at spelling and then turn around and critique honest attempts at doctrinal DIALOGUE for simple mistakes!

    Perhaps I should have just said God was never a Homo. That would probably satisfy most LDS. Get it? hahaha

  67. Correction–like BLAIR once said:

    http://www.lifeongoldplates.com/2009/11/i-see-through-glass-darkly-and-i-kinda.html

    Although I know Ray likes to quote that verse too. :)

  68. Left Field says:

    I’m a biology teacher so stuff like that is like fingernails on the chalkboard to me (except that fingernails on the chalkboard don’t bother me at all, so I guess to me it’s like fingernails on the chalkboard to someone who doesn’t like fingernails on the chalkboard). Regardless of how many people write something else on the internet, the only correct name for the human species is Homo sapiens. (Really, that should be italicized or underlined, but I don’t know how to do that here.) The terminal “s” is part of the name, not a plural indicator, so no matter how many humans you’re talking about, each of us is still a Homo sapiens. Just like a singular bus is still a bus, not a bu.

    And don’t even get me started on “bicep.”

  69. Steve Evans says:

    left field, do you have to capitalize it each time?

  70. Never Baptized says:

    Left Field,

    Thank you for that explanation. I learned something today! :)

  71. Left Field says:

    The H is always capitalized; the s is always lower case. If the reference is clear, it is permissible to abbreviate the genus name: H. sapiens.

  72. John Mansfield says:

    Are those italicized names with the initial capitals only the names of species, or also the correct identifiers for members of species? If I write, “Hey, look at those two Homines sapientes,” would the the two individuals I’m indicating have to be members of different species, such as remains or H. sapiens sapiens and H. sapiens idaltu, or could they be two members of the same species, maybe even a brother and sister? Should I have declined the Latin to correspond with how I used it above (ablative?), or was it OK it stick with nominative case? Maybe it would be better to Englishfy the plural as H. sapiens‘s, but that apostrophe to pluralize a foreign word is a bit old-time (a favorite example being banana‘s) and could be confused with a possessive. “Englishfy” is a pretty ugly word and wrong even if on no other grounds than that.

  73. Please forgive my denseness, because I’m neither a theologian, historian, nor a philosopher. However, I am a lifelong member and an Institute teacher to boot, so I am quite interested in this discussion. If Joseph Smith was teaching us that God is not ontologically distinct from us, but that we’re the same “kind” of being, then isn’t the question of God’s origin the same question as that of our destiny? I’m having a hard time understanding why you are going to such great lengths separating the two clauses of the couplet or clarifying that Hinckley was speaking of one and not the other. The questions that people raise about where we think God came from, whether he sinned at some point, whether he lived in another universe, whether he was the Savior of a world like Jesus, etc. are the inevitable questions that immediately follow from our claim that God is our “literal” father and we are his “literal” children and we can become like him and have eternal increase with our families in the Celestial Kingdom. Our missionaries rightly go around and tell people that these things are what makes Mormonism unique and special and gives us purpose to our lives, but then to fence in the issue of God’s history as some kind of unknowable mystery (and acting huffy and elusive when people understandably press us about it) kind of misses the point, doesn’t it? It’s all the part of the same question – whether we are the same kind of being as God. If not, then what light does Mormonism shine on human nature that hasn’t already been taught, say, in Orthodox theosis or similar doctrines (that we can become little-g “gods” as we participate in God’s energies but there is an ontological divide between us and God that will never be bridged)?

    Thanks for entertaining my stupid questions. It’s just that, growing up, I was quite certain of the “traditional” (I guess “Utah theology”) reading of these questions – infinite regresses of Gods, Heavenly Mother, we will be like God, in our own Universe, etc. – and as I get older and qualify, bracket, and post-modernize most of these as speculation, doctrinal innovation, or hearsay, I am wondering what was the special and unique thing that Joseph Smith was called to bring to the world after 2000 years of mistaken Christian theology, if not this? If Gordon B. Hinckley, BCC commenters, and really smart Mormon philosophers like Ostler and Clark, in 2012, know less about God’s nature than it seems Joseph Smith felt he knew in the early 1800s, then how can we claim that our religion is here to bring “further light and knowledge” to the world?

  74. Oh and I do like that the discussion turned to Del tha Funky Homosapien, but I prefer Deltron 3030 by far.

  75. Syphax, a short response that might or might not help at all:

    “I’m having a hard time understanding why you are going to such great lengths separating the two clauses of the couplet or clarifying that Hinckley was speaking of one and not the other.”

    From one Institute teacher to another, mostly, for me, it’s because Pres. Hinckley separated the two in his comments. Most people who criticize him and what he said don’t realize that (or intentionally ignore it), so most responses to their criticism simply must parse what he actually said and make the clarification that is in this post.

    Also, “literally” can have different meanings in this case – and I mean that seriously. What does it mean to be our “literal” Father in Heaven? Must it include a sexual element as we know it in mortality – or can it mean that he was “literally” the creator of our spirits (from “intelligences” – whatever they are) with no sexual element involved? Either way, he “literally” is our “father” – and he “literally” could have created us in such a way that we can become like him.

    The following is something I wrote this summer about the possibilities of our spiritual creation. A commenter took great exception to my post, and the thread, while relatively short, adds some context to how I would answer your question:

    http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2011/07/who-gave-birth-to-gods-spirit-children.html

  76. I appreciate that post, Ray, and I also enjoyed your short exchange with that commenter. And I will admit that I especially think that the language we use here on Earth, in English, is ill-equipped to answer questions like what does it mean to be “born”? What is a “literal child”? Etc. Perhaps our usage of these terms is necessarily analogical in the sense that Aquinas used the word. That having been said, I still get the feeling that Joseph Smith came into the world not to solve mysteries, but to mix up the ingredients of previous mysteries and present them as new mysteries.

  77. “I still get the feeling that Joseph Smith came into the world not to solve mysteries, but to mix up the ingredients of previous mysteries and present them as new mysteries.”

    I like that, Syphax. Sometimes, the real growth and understanding comes more from unanswered questions and the paths to which they lead us than from answers.

  78. Ray pretty much summed it up nicely, Syphax.

    The questions that people raise about where we think God came from, whether he sinned at some point, whether he lived in another universe, whether he was the Savior of a world like Jesus, etc. are the inevitable questions that immediately follow from our claim that God is our “literal” father and we are his “literal” children and we can become like him and have eternal increase with our families in the Celestial Kingdom.

    Right, as I said in the post “it seems to me Pres. Hinckley himself was claiming Mormons don’t know/talk much about God’s past, rather than humanity’s future.” Can you find any discussions on the particular questions you raise in any official or semi-official context, especially in the past, say, 100 years? Pres. Hinckley said ” I don’t know that we emphasize it. I haven’t heard it discussed for a long time in public discourse. I don’t know,” and I tend to agree. That’s the purpose of this post in a nutshell, to point out the distinction he seems to imply.

  79. Nick Literski says:

    I think the fact that LDS apologists are still desperately trying to rationalize these statements, nearly eleven years after they were made to reporters, demonstrates just how much angst Hinckley’s prevarications truly caused. Hinckley knew he stepped in it, as evidenced by his specifically addressing the reactions in general conference with an attempt to laugh them off. I certainly don’t have objective survey data, but I long ago lost count of individuals who openly attribute their loss of faith in LDS-ism, at least in part, to these 2001 media comments by Hinckley. If they were as insignificant as some LDS would like to pretend, they wouldn’t still be prompting convoluted apologia.

  80. Nick, everyy single one of the conversations I have had with people like you describe who talk about losing their faith due to those comments misunderstodd the comments – every single one. Now, granted, I haven’t talked with every single person you describe, but I’ve talked to enough to believe anecdotally that they are very representative of the group as a whole.

    Anti-Mormons did a great job twisting his words, and many Mormons bought that twisting hook, line and sinker – and that is a solid reason for the “apologia” (which, in this case, is used as nothing more than a derogatory substitute for “explanation”). Seriously, you just did what so many others have done – totally ignore his actual words and continue the derision without serious explanation.

  81. and I didn’t edit before submitting my comment – sorry for the typos

  82. Nick, it seems to me you’ve dismissed my post based on your on-going war against what you pejoratively label “apologists.”

    “LDS apologists are still desperately trying to rationalize these statements, nearly eleven years after they were made to reporters, demonstrates just how much angst Hinckley’s prevarications truly caused.”

    The post was prompted by seeing this item continue to crop up in various exit narratives or lists of criticisms. As I noted in the post, people seem to conflate what exactly it was that Pres. Hinckley was distancing himself from (whether such distancing would disturb someone’s faith or not).

    Hinckley knew he stepped in it, as evidenced by his specifically addressing the reactions in general conference with an attempt to laugh them off.

    In General conference he said he had been “misquoted” and “misunderstood.” I don’t know what led to that statement directly. Do you? I assume it was in reference to the recent TIME article, the interview transcript is quoted above. As my post argues, looking at the respective interviews themselves suggests that Pres. Hinckley was more specifically saying Mormons don’t know much about God’s past, rather than humanity’s future. Do you disagree? If so, why? How do you read those quotes?

    I long ago lost count of individuals who openly attribute their loss of faith in LDS-ism, at least in part, to these 2001 media comments by Hinckley.

    Right. It has become a recurring theme in exit narratives. Hence my post making what I understand to be an important distinction.

    “If they were as insignificant as some LDS would like to pretend…”

    My post said nothing about insignificance. It directly engages the actual statements Pres. Hinckley made in the interviews. I have seen people say Pres. Hinckley was denying or downplaying the teaching that Mormons can “become gods.” If you read the actual interviews, though, it’s clear that Pres. Hinckley explicitly affirms “Well, as God is, man may become.” What he seems to have been uncomfortable about is the discussion about God once being like man. As noted above, this opens a pretty big can of worms regarding what exactly is meant by God’s being a man.

    So next time anyone hears the claim that President Hinckley denied the church teaches progression to godhood, deification, theosis, whatever term you want to call it, they can point them to this post. If people still want to include this in their exit narratives or criticisms of the Church, or if people worry that it indicates some sort of shift in Mormon beliefs or official teachings, or whatever else, that’s their prerogative. I think it’s worth being clear about what Pres. Hinckley was and wasn’t trying to say. Your comment seems to indicate you missed the whole point. Hopefully this clears it up.

  83. Left Field says:

    John (#72), Those are good questions. (Sorry everyone, for the continuing threadjack.)

    I think to be extremely precise, the names of species (and higher taxa) are names for the species themselves, and not for the individuals of the species. So it would be most proper to say “members of Homo sapiens” or “individuals of Canis familiaris,” rather than “those Homo sapiens” or “I keep three Canis familiaris as pets.” (Sorry, I still have no idea how to italicize.) However, in ordinary speech, and often in the scientific literature, biologists are not usually so precise. But if you do use a scientific name to refer to plural individuals, it is proper to use the name unmodified for both singular and plural.

    Homines sapientes might be correct in a Latin sentence referring to “wise men,” but that would have a different meaning than using the formal binomen “Homo sapiens” to refer to the human species. That is, homines sapientes would just be an ordinary Latin phrase, not a scientific name. There would be no reason to use homines sapientes in an English sentence because in that form, it’s not a scientific name. According to the provisions of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, Homo sapiens (or its abbreviation, with italics of course) is the only correct form for the human species in any language including Latin.

    Perhaps “anglicize” is the word you’re looking for?

  84. Clark Goble says:

    Narrator, I don’t think I was really disagreeing with you – more just trying to contextualize Pres. Hinkley’s comments. While I think it clear Joseph held to a fairly naive view of biology and thus didn’t see the problems inherent in God being the same I think Pres. Hinkley does see those issues. Something else further is that it’s just not clear from the King Follet Discourse how much of what Joseph is saying is coming from his interpretations of scripture. For instance his appeal to what I believe is John 10:17-18 is a pretty literalist approach. One might well suggest (and note this is not my view) that much of the discourse arises out of a fairly literalistic exegesis of John 10 and Genesis 1-2. That is if Adam is like God you push that a far as you can and if Jesus is like the Father you push that as far as you can. Thus not only is the society in heaven the same society but exactly like it. The logical extension of this literalism might be Brigham’s A/G theory where you literally become a savior, and Adam and a Father. Of course we reject that level of literalism of those passages but what does that say of how we ought read KFD?

    The problem in all this is that we just don’t know the source of the ideas. Unfortunately that’s true of a lot of Nauvoo theology – including texts that made it into the D&C. (i.e. some of the exegesis of revelation)

    Now I tend to buy into the traditional reading and value of the KFD but that’s just because I tend to assume a lot of people prayed about it and there’s sort of a broad yet vague level of inspiration that has let it keep the place it has. (As contrasted with many beliefs that have fallen by the wayside like A/G, less valiant souls in the war in heaven being cursed here, some aspects of the tripartite soul, etc.)

  85. Clark Goble says:

    BHodges it’s probably worth noting that Pres. Hinkley seemed pretty willing to teach on these things among Mormons.

    Interestingly Pres Hinkley, as I recall, always seemed reticent to talk doctrine in more public forums including general conference. (Maybe that’s a bad memory on my part) He seemed more apt to do it on a Saturday evening conference when those there were apt to be the more devout. I think I mentioned that when I was on my mission he spoke for an hour on having ones calling and election made sure. That’s certainly not the kind of talk he tended to given in General Conference.

    So I always took that Time interview as more him trying to avoid the topic in a public space because he felt it was somewhat speculative but also because it was sacred. Maybe I’m in error in that judgement but that’s how I took it back in the 90′s.

    We should note that it wasn’t that long ago this sort of thing was taught in our manuals. The 1984 PH manual quotes the Snow couplet and Joseph’s saying, “Brother Snow, that is true gospel doctrine, and it is a revelation from God to you. . .” (152) And the King Follet Discourse was printed in full in one of the manuals from I think the early 90′s. (I can’t find a place with all the older manuals online but I think it was the 1993 one) So it’s not as if Hinkley was hiding from these things.

  86. Nick Literski says:

    #80:
    Nick, everyy single one of the conversations I have had with people like you describe who talk about losing their faith due to those comments misunderstodd the comments – every single one.

    Ray, to say they “misunderstood those comments” is no more valid than me saying “every single person I talked to who didn’t think Hinckley was contradicting Joseph Smith practiced cognitive dissonance reductionism.” It’s fair to say that “every single one” understood those comments differently than you chose to understand them.

    Anti-Mormons did a great job twisting his words, and many Mormons bought that twisting hook, line and sinker

    Ray, while I can only speak for myself, I certainly didn’t need “anti-Mormons” to “twist” Hinckley’s words, in order to be disturbed by what he said. I was a devoted Mormon–even a bit of an extremist Mormon–when Hinckley made those comments, and I was frankly shocked upon hearing/reading them, long before I heard/read anyone else’s commentary thereon. To me, they appeared on their face to be a very intentional effort to distance the modern LDS church from a “unpopular with mainstream christianity” doctrine taught by Joseph Smith. I resented it, frankly, because I actually believed the doctrines taught by Joseph Smith. If your intent is to suggest that Hinckley’s words only caused controversy because “anti-Mormons did a great job twisting” them, then my example contradicts your theory.

    – and that is a solid reason for the “apologia” (which, in this case, is used as nothing more than a derogatory substitute for “explanation”).

    “Explanation” implies a degree of legitimate plausability which I personally cannot ascribe to the subject efforts, Ray. I did, however, use “apologia” in a derogatory sense, i.e., as a polite substitute for “bovine excrement.”

  87. “bovine excrement.”

    Take the insults someplace else, Nick.

  88. Nick Literski says:

    #82:
    I have seen people say Pres. Hinckley was denying or downplaying the teaching that Mormons can “become gods.” If you read the actual interviews, though, it’s clear that Pres. Hinckley explicitly affirms “Well, as God is, man may become.”

    I agree, aside from the fact that he dismissed the “little couplet.” He didn’t deny human deification, but he certainly downplayed it.

    What he seems to have been uncomfortable about is the discussion about God once being like man.

    Agreed! Since I was an LDS member who actually believed the teachings of Joseph Smith, as opposed to one desperate to dismiss the King Follett Discourse (including its contemporaneous note summaries, not “long after” as someone else suggested), I immediately noted that Hinckley was at least downplaying, if not outright denying, an important doctrine taught by Joseph Smith.

    As noted above, this opens a pretty big can of worms regarding what exactly is meant by God’s being a man.

    Personally, I think that “can of worms” is invented by modern LDS who are uncomfortable with beliefs that set them apart from so-called “mainstream christianity.” It’s entirely fair to disagree with Joseph Smith’s teaching regarding the history of this earth’s deity. I don’t think it’s fair to twist that statement in order to diminish its boldness and power.

    In reality, I think it opens an even bigger “can of worms” to suggest that Joseph only meant that this earth’s deity had a sinless/perfect/messianic mortal life just like that of Jesus. Mormon doctrine only has four “concrete” examples of exalted beings: (1) Father, (2) Mother, (3) Jesus, and (4) the Holy Ghost. Since very little detail is taught about Heavenly Mother, and the Holy Ghost explicitly has not (yet) experienced mortality, Mormons are really left with only two examples of exalted, previously-mortal, beings, i.e. the Father and the Son. If you accept the theory that the Father’s mortality was sinless/perfect/messianic like Jesus’, then you have exactly ZERO examples to substantiate that imperfect, sinful, screwed-up humans like you and me can ever obtain an exaltation. At best, you have a brief reference to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob having been exalted.

    I get that most in this country are raised with a revulsion for the idea that a deity actually had to repent and overcome sin before obtaining an exaltation. Personally, however, I think a deity that struggled and overcame is far more worthy of worship than one that never made a mistake to begin with. That’s part of the beauty of what Joseph Smith taught, and I personally find it sad that modern LDS-ism seems to determined to strip such doctrines away as fables and “folklore.”

  89. “If you accept the theory that the Father’s mortality was sinless/perfect/messianic like Jesus’”

    Nick, it’s not a “theory”. That’s what Joseph actually said. You just never read Joseph closely enough.

    “I think a deity that struggled and overcame is far more worthy of worship than one that never made a mistake to begin with.”

    In other words, you’re saying Jesus Christ isn’t really “worthy of worship”? Do you realize how crazy you sound? It’s as if you believe that the only value in the gospel is if you can have the SAME experience and the SAME future as God the Father. This just in–both His past and Jesus’ past are different than our past. The gospel is still amazing.

  90. I just want to chime in to register the complaint I always register in these conversations. There is no such thing as knowledge that “we” possess. “We don’t know” is a nonsensical statement. Knowledge is an individual matter. We are not privy to what another person may or may not know – especially in light of Alma, where we are informed that although “many” are in possession of knowledge concerning things that are otherwise “mysteries” they are commanded not to reveal more than ‘is given to the children of men. (This necessarily keeps these discussions, except perhaps among very trusted friends in private situations, a matter of speculation.) The fact that knowledge may or may not be held by the President of the Church, or anyone else, has no bearing on our ability to pursue that knowledge by looking directly into heaven ourselves. We might say there is no conclusive canonical statement, but so what. We can say that about most everything.

    Nick – I love your last paragraph #88.

  91. CC,

    As ever on this subject, you are placing an undo emphasis on a of couple sentences. Needless to say, many, including myself, read those same sentences without coming to your conclusions.

  92. “Needless to say, many, including myself, read those same sentences without coming to your conclusions.”

    Fair enough, Thomas. More than anything I just wanted to point out the absurdity of believing that a deity who lived a perfect sinful life, who also “overcame” (ie: Jesus Christ, who overcame quite a lot) is somehow less worthy of worship than if he had gone through fallen mortal life like us first.

    Assuming the view that God the Father was once a sinful mortal during His mortal experience would actually makes Christ superior to His father (if you think about it) because Christ would have done something the Father was not able to do. Does that make sense?

    I believe Joseph made sense by emphasizing that Christ only did what His Father also did, teaching that God the Father also had a past as a man (“the same as Jesus Christ”–Joseph’s words, not mine).

  93. PS: I respect others’ right to have their own opinion. I really do. I also respect our right to disagree. As Henry Eyring (the scientist) once said in a letter to Joseph F. Smith, “It will be a sad day for the Church and its members when the degree of disagreement you brethren expressed is not allowed.”

    Granted, they were talking about the age of the earth, but I think the principle also applies here between people like you and me:

    “I think it is fine to discuss these questions and for each individual to try to convert the other to what he thinks is right, but in matters where apparently equally reliable authorities disagree, I prefer to make haste slowly. Since we agree on so many things, I trust we can amicably disagree on a few.”

    http://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V15N03_89.pdf

  94. Nick Literski says:

    #89:
    Nick, it’s not a “theory”. That’s what Joseph actually said. You just never read Joseph closely enough.

    If by “closely” you mean “desperate to avoid criticism by so-called mainstream christians who won’t let you play in their sandbox if you believe what Joseph Smith actually taught,” then I suppose you’re right. I’ve never felt the need for Mormonism to be acceptable to those who proclaim themselves the arbiters of what is, or what is not, “christianity.”

    In other words, you’re saying Jesus Christ isn’t really “worthy of worship”? Do you realize how crazy you sound?

    Precisely as “crazy” as most Mormon leaders prior to Gordon B. Hinckley’s entrance into the LDS first presidency. Genuine Mormonism is not polytheistic, but rather henotheistic. Genuine Mormonism teaches worship of the Father in the name of the Son. Of course, when you’re trying to evangelize trinitarians who worship the Son as the Father, it sounds a lot more palatable to say “we worship Jesus.” Nevermind that if the New Testament is to be believed, Jesus directed worship/glory to the Father, not himself. (But let’s try not to launch an entire threadjack on this, okay?)

    It’s as if you believe that the only value in the gospel is if you can have the SAME experience and the SAME future as God the Father.

    CC, it seems axiomatic that no two beings have “the SAME” (dramatic, screaming capitalization in original) experience and/or future, so your analysis doesn’t make a great deal of sense to me. That said, I certainly believe that genuine Mormonism embraces the doctrine taught by Joseph Smith and those who knew him first hand. That doctrine was an uncompromising declaration that by virtue of the atonement of Jesus, mankind could progress to become gods and goddesses, just as all the gods and goddesse before them did, and that this would only add to the glory of the Father. Say what you will about these early leaders (including Joseph), but they had the real “vision” to see that mankind as more than a grovelling subspecies, never to really become like their Father. Fortunately, these earliest Mormon leaders didn’t particularly concern themselves with whether their doctrines would poll well with so-called “mainstream christians.” It wasn’t until the following generation that Joseph Smith’s doctrines began to become “embarassing” and subject to internal winnowing.

  95. Romney / Huntsman 2012 says:

    I think it boils down to one word: polytheism.

    It’s easy to see how anti-Mormons could describe us as polytheistic, so we have to be careful when talking about King Follett.

  96. Nick Literski says:

    #92:
    Assuming the view that God the Father was once a sinful mortal during His mortal experience would actually makes Christ superior to His father (if you think about it) because Christ would have done something the Father was not able to do. Does that make sense?

    I can see how you might view it that way, CC, but I’m not convinced that “never sinning” is superior to “repented of all his/her sins.”

    I believe Joseph made sense by emphasizing that Christ only did what His Father also did, teaching that God the Father also had a past as a man (“the same as Jesus Christ”–Joseph’s words, not mine).

    Joseph actually taught that Jesus did what he saw his Father had done, specifically by laying down his life and taking it up again. There’s nothing in Joseph’s words to indicate that the Father lived a sinless mortality, served as the messiah of his mortal world, etc. If we stretch what Joseph said in the way you suggest, then we end up with all sorts of absurd intergalactic coincidences of culture and custom, most of which you’d object to with, “Well, he didn’t mean that part was the same!”

  97. CC:

    “Assuming the view that God the Father was once a sinful mortal during His mortal experience would actually makes Christ superior to His father (if you think about it) because Christ would have done something the Father was not able to do. Does that make sense?”

    One could similarly argue that by virtue of being the Son of God that Jesus’s sinless life (if that even makes sense in itself) is less admirable than a /mere/ mortal who, despite being an imperfect person, lived a rather honorable life in overcoming his/her natural self.

    Furthermore, what if Jesus lived a superior life to the Father? What does that matter? I am quite sure that there are *superior* fathers out there than my own dad. Should that mean that I abandon my own dad and adopt some superior person as my father?

  98. “I’m not convinced that “never sinning” is superior to “repented of all his/her sins.””

    I’ve always been taught that the Atonement makes them one and the same.

  99. #95
    “It’s easy to see how anti-Mormons could describe us as polytheistic, so we have to be careful when talking about King Follett.”

    It’s easy for anti-Mormons to describe us as many things; downplaying things which make Mormonism different – in important ways – downplays reasons why one should become Mormon.

    People can call me a polytheist all they want. If they care to engage in discussion, it’s a great starting point. If they don’t, it matters very little what they call me.

  100. Never Baptized says:

    As regards monotheism, polytheism, and henotheism: it seems to me that very few people actually know the last word in the list (it’s showing as being misspelled as I’m writing this even though it’s not). I only recently learned it from reading a book about the development of the LDS Godhead (by Kurt Widmer, if I recall correctly). And that’s the only book on Mormonism I’ve ever read that mentions the word (my exploration of the religion is only about three years old but I would say I’ve read a fair share at this point).

    Maybe there should be a campaign to get this word out there? Not only because of it’s implications for Mormonism but also for it’s implications for Mosaic Judaism and, indeed, the 1st commandment. It’s a wonderful word that I think clarifies a lot of things. I’d hate to call it a compromise word but it is definitely a link word between strict mono- and polytheism, and one that captures the nuances of belief in deity far better than any other I’ve found. I’m finding the same is true for Mormonism in general and its relationship with *secular* science as I study for my master’s thesis – not a compromise between two extremes but rather a link that binds rather than simply being overlapping magisteria, or whatever that one guy calls it.

  101. Further to the original topic (but beyond President Hickley’s words), decoupling the couplet makes very little sense.

    If one takes the potential godhood of mankind seriously, than even the idea (criticism for some?) of a once sinful/now redeemed God is a necessary part of it.

    Each of us is a sinful mortal. If any of us becomes gods, as President Hinckly attested, then it will be able to be said that God was once a fallen, sinful mortal.

    If it will be able to be said in regards to our future, why have concern with saying it in regards to our past?

    And narrator, well said regarding “never sinned” versus “redeemed”. If we are justified and sanctified and made one with Christ and the Father,, if the atonement is infinite and eternal, then how could it be be other than “the same”?

  102. Nick, all other things aside, since I agree with much of what you’ve said, I repeat:

    Pres. Hinckley didn’t downplay deification; he affirmed it rather forcefully.

    It’s twisting his actual words (intentionally or not) to say otherwise.

    Look, I get that you believe the modern leaders of the LDS Church aren’t inspired apostles and prophets. I get that you want a return to the doctrines of Joseph – except those you reject, interestingly. You’ve made that crystal clear in many, many comments on many, many sites. I’m fine with that, and, as much as I can, I understand why and where you’re coming from. However, in this particular case, I really do think you are turning a mountain into a molehill.

    Let me repeat:

    Every single person with whom I have spoken personally who says they lost their faith because of what Pres. Hinckley said was under the impression that Pres. Hinckley had said we don’t believe we can become like God – that he denied the entire couplet. That wasn’t a tiny sample; I’ve talked with LOTS of them. Every sinlge one of them who was willing to converse with me was shocked (and I mean SHOCKED to the core) when they realized what he actually said – when they saw the words themselves.

    I know we have different views and experiences that color those views, but I can’t discount that one fact – that lots and lots of people have been crushed, in a way, by a lie – or, more charitably, by an unintentional, biases distortion. This post addresses that reality.

  103. “If one takes the potential godhood of mankind seriously, than even the idea (criticism for some?) of a once sinful/now redeemed God is a necessary part of it.”

    No, it isn’t. That’s been addrtessed ad nauseum in this thread.

    I’m not saying it’s wrong automatically, but it isn’t a necessary part by any stretch, either.

  104. Ray, I know it’s been said, but not in a way that addresses what I said.

    I.E. I know that is is not necessary that God the Father was a once sinful/now redeemed man. But the future deification of us – now sinful, to-be-redeemed men and women, means that the statement will one day be true.

    I.E. – it will one day be true that God was once a sinful, now redeemed man.

    Or put another way – if President Hickley, and Joseph Smith before him, and Paul before him, are correct that we will one day be the heirs of God, joint-heirs with Christ, and truly become like the Father, than the idea is necessary. The only way around it is to say that we will never become as God, and that God the Father, Christ, and (maybe?) the Holy Ghost will forever be different than us in fundamental ways, with only them worthy of the title “god”. But that’s not what our scriptures teach us.

    While I’m happy to concede that we have no way of knowing for certain if the single, solitary father of Jesus of Nazareth also lived a sinless, messianic mortal existence, it is beside the point. Either it will be meaningful, following our exaltation, to say that God was once a fallen, sinful, mortal, or we will never be God (and President Hinckly and Joseph Smith mistaken).

    Hence my final line that if we can say it about God in our future (i.e. – when we are exalted), we shouldn’t be afraid to havfe it said about God in our past (i.e. – when the beings who are now Gods were mortals).

  105. “If by “closely” you mean “desperate to avoid criticism by so-called mainstream christians who won’t let you play in their sandbox if you believe what Joseph Smith actually taught,” then I suppose you’re right.”

    Nick, there you go again. I’ve already told you before in good faith that “it has everything to do with good historical inquiry that’s faithful to Joseph’s explicit teachings (not to mention fitting in with own standard works) and absolutely NOTHING to do with fitting in with traditional Christianity nor some Christian ‘sandbox’.” Yet you continue to attribute a motive that couldn’t be further from the truth. Again, I’ll quote my own previous response to you at Wheat and Tares: “I attempt to figure out what Joseph taught by reading Joseph–not what other people say about Joseph. It’s quite unfair to say that my reading is based on trying to curry favor with Christians. My motivation is to be faithful to Joseph’s teachings.”

    Now, I actually agree with you that “Joseph actually taught that Jesus did what he saw his Father had done, specifically by laying down his life and taking it up again”. I already pointed that out. But you think I’m stretching what Joseph meant by it. I don’t accept that. I purposely refuse to make any further assumptions (such as that the Father was also a savior somewhere else) precisely because it can lead to extremes that aquinas’ addressed in comment in #38. So I guess we actually agree that we shouldn’t go beyond what Joseph actually said.

  106. Nick Literski says:

    #102:
    Pres. Hinckley didn’t downplay deification; he affirmed it rather forcefully.

    Again, the part he downplayed/disowned was that deity was once a man, as we are now. At least for me, that’s a vital component of the doctrine of human deification. I believe it’s so vital, that even the watered-down version of “Well then God must have been a sinless/perfect/messianic man then!” is tantamount to denying that imperfect, ordinary men and women can achieve exaltation and become as gods and godesses. If the only gods you know of with a mortal past went through that past sinless/perfect/messianic, then there’s not a shred of hope for the same reward for the rest of humanity.

  107. Romney Huntsman 2012–the doctrine of a plurality of gods is not polytheism. See:

    http://latterdayspence.blogspot.com/2009/08/doctrine-of-plurality-of-gods-is-not.html

    Leonard: “If one takes the potential godhood of mankind seriously, than even the idea (criticism for some?) of a once sinful/now redeemed God is a necessary part of it.”

    Not it’s not.

  108. “the watered-down version of “Well then God must have been a sinless/perfect/messianic man then!” is tantamount to denying that imperfect, ordinary men and women can achieve exaltation and become as gods and godesses.”

    No it’s not. It just means that your understanding of exaltation (the speculative idea of being on the same track as God and an independent God altogether) is different than my idea of exaltation (becoming one with God–a god through the grace of God–and Him sharing all that he has with us).

  109. Nick Literski says:

    #105:
    I attempt to figure out what Joseph taught by reading Joseph–not what other people say about Joseph.”

    Considering how little Joseph Smith actually wrote with his own hand, that's a very convenient way to discount any of his teachings that you don't personally appreciate. After all, nearly all the records we have of Joseph's sermons come from journal accounts (both contemporaneous and reminiscent) of those close associates who listened to him, such as Wilford Woodruff. Let me guess–when Woodruff isn't writing journal notes of Joseph's sermons that you don't like, you trust everything he says due to his eventual ecclesiastical office, right?

    Further, this is the second comment wherein you've not-so-subtly implied that you don't believe I've ever read primary sources on Joseph Smith's teachings. Nothing could be further from the truth, CC, as anyone who actually knows me could tell you. As a former somewhat "extremist" Mormon, I spent a good deal more time reading Joseph Smith than most LDS I've met.

  110. Henotheism 2012 says:

    Vote for it!

  111. Nick Literski says:

    #108:
    It just means that your understanding of exaltation (the speculative idea of being on the same track as God and an independent God altogether) is different than my idea of exaltation (becoming one with God–a god through the grace of God–and Him sharing all that he has with us).

    In other words, aside from using titles “exaltation” and “god,” you have a traditionally protestant understanding of the afterlife of the blessed. This is exactly my point, of course. Joseph Smith’s teachings about deity during the Nauvoo era were anything but what you’ve just described. Thanks for making it much more clear than I could.

  112. I’m not implying you haven’t read primary sources. I’m just going off the fact that you seemed to mention that you used to believe all the traditional speculation as if it were exactly what Joseph taught–maybe the implication I error in making.

    I suppose you and I could both read the Bullock report, the Woodruff journal, or the Times and Seasons minutes and understand something different because of different lenses. But that just goes back to my earlier comment (Henry Eyring’s actually) about agreeing to disagree.

  113. Clean Cut – rather than simple state that I’m wrong (as Ray already has), why not point out which part of what I said was wrong.

    If all goes as planned, will you not one day be exalted, be God? That’s what I mean by taking deification seriously.

    And if you or I one day become Gods, than one day it will be true that God was once a fallen, sinful man. If it will be true in future, why assume it’s not true now?

    Or by “gods” do the scriptures just mean “angels”?

  114. Romney / Huntsman 2012 says:

    @ Never Baptized

    For Evangelicals, being a henotheist is just as bad as being a polytheist.

  115. Clean Cut & Nick Literski (& Leonard & whoever else)–

    Let’s cool it down and move on now.

  116. Leonard, you can believe whatever you want, but it’s “wrong” to say that in order to believe in our future deification requires believing in a deity who was once lived a sinful but redeemed life. As I (and J. Stapley) pointed out above, that’s not what we believe Joseph taught at all.

    It’s abundantly clear from this very post that Mormons have various interpretations about the process of theosis/exaltation, but I believe there’s a difference between becoming LIKE God (or a god) or “becoming God”. There are huge ramifications here. I don’t think Mormons should believe that they will somehow supplant God as if we are on the same track as God and as though we’ll one day be independent Gods–independent from the Being we worship.

    While some might believe that (perhaps because of years of entrenched speculation now assumed to be doctrinal), I think goes way beyond what Joseph was teaching, not to mention goes beyond our own canon of scripture. There is not a well defined doctrine, but rather a wide spectrum of Mormon thought in regards to what it means to become “gods” (with a lowercase g–although I know Joseph’s scribes weren’t always so careful) because God (the one and only uppercase “G”) through his grace (and no, Nick, I’m not protestant because I use the word “grace”) has the power to exalt His children. Clearly, there is a difference between future exalted beings and the Exalted One we will always worship.

    I like the helpful clarification about the idea that we can become like God was given by the Church in response to an interview by Fox News during the last election season:

    “We believe that the apostle Peter’s biblical reference to partaking of the divine nature and the apostle Paul’s reference to being ‘joint heirs with Christ’ reflect the intent that children of God should strive to emulate their Heavenly Father in every way. Throughout the eternities, Mormons believe, they will reverence and worship God the Father and Jesus Christ. The goal is not to equal them or to achieve parity with them but to imitate and someday acquire their perfect goodness, love and other divine attributes.”

    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,317272,00.html

    I don’t mean to invest so much energy into this topic. I just want to defend against the accusation that the only good “Mormon” must believe a certain interpretation. Enough of my own thoughts. If you care to agree or disagree, I’ve shared more of my thoughts on my own blog, and perhaps we can talk there rather than hijack this thread: http://latterdayspence.blogspot.com/2009/01/becoming-like-god-some-things-i-know.html

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