A “wildly popular folk belief”

The most recent edition of the Journal of Mormon History contains an article by Brian Hales entitled “’A Continuation of the Seeds’: Joseph Smith and Spirit Birth,” in which he argues that Joseph Smith taught that God and his wife created spirits through a viviparous process. Hales has done a lot of good work in bringing new sources to discussions like polygamy, but I think that this article is fundamentally flawed. I think the best thing to do is wait for W. V. Smith’s magnum opus on JS’s funeral sermons as the standard to which this article should be compared. I will say, however, that I view one of the most important flaws to be Hales’ jettisoning statements of JS’s that were consistently taught over years, and that were foundational and completely integral to his theological message when delivered (see WVS), labeling them instead as prevarications calculated to minimize controversy. Odd.

Here, I would like to discuss a small section of the article which quotes (by permission) some correspondence between Hales and I. On page 109, Hales wrote:

Stapley asserts even more strongly that Joseph Smith did not teach of spirit birth. Calling “viviparous spirit birth” a “wildly popular folk belief,” he explains, “Regarding a ‘continuation of the seeds,’ I think Joseph Smith is talking about retaining kinship, as opposed to being separate and single.”

While I do assert that JS did not teach the idea of viviparous spirit birth or spirit creationism (because I don’t think that there is any good evidence that he did, and that there is demonstrable evidence that he believed otherwise), I want to clarify something that may not be clear from this short excerpt. I think that the idea of viviparous spirit birth is a wildly popular folk belief today; but I am not calling it a folk belief as a means of denigration. I have used terms like “folk liturgy” to describe very important and legitimate trends in Mormon history.

I realize that viviparous spirit birth was at one time taught by church leaders—in the case of Brigham Young, in association with his Adam-God beliefs, and in the case of Orson Pratt, in association with his intelligent atomism. By folk belief I mean to clarify that viviparous spirit birth is not taught by the current church leaders. So while it is currently a folk belief, it was not in 1869 when Brigham Young lectured the Salt Lake School of the Prophets on the details of it in relation to Adam-God. [n1] To add a measure of complexity, while it wasn’t a “folk belief” at that time, it was generally disseminated through folk channels of communication, because that is all there was.

I should also point out that I really have no solid data about the popularity of the belief today. It may be that non-viviparous spirit creation is more dominant in the current church. I will also say that I have heard Joseph Smith’s teachings on uncreated spirits being quoted over the Sunday pulpit, so that may be more popular than some might think as well.


  1. See the accounts and minutes of the December 11, 1869 Salt Lake City School of the Prophets. Frederick Kesler’s and Wilford Woodruff’s diaries are probably the most accessible.


  1. Um… can you explain what viviparous spirit birth actually IS?

  2. J. Stapley says:

    Heh. Fair enough, NotRachel. Viviparous birth is a biological term literally meaning living birth. It describes reproduction where the new organism develops within the body of the female and is born living as opposed to laying eggs.

  3. I think it was the only way lots of people back in the day, including many leaders, could imagine creating children, so I understand why people would believe it. Brigham said more than once that he wasn’t a visionary man, and envisioning something so counter-intuitive as non-viviparous birth back then probably was in the realm of Joseph and a few others like him.

    We aren’t in that situation now, since we can envision other methods of creation. So, while I understand that belief, I don’t share it – and I also don’t believe Joseph taught it.

  4. I also think it’s one of the most onerous folk beliefs in the history of the Church when viewed from the female standpoint – and I think it explains part of why gender roles and self-worth tied to marriage and children is so omnipresent in our culture. I know my wife has no desire whatsoever to be pregnant eternally, and I share that lack of desire.

  5. NotRachel says:

    Oh, I see. I suppose I could have googled that– thanks for indulging my laziness.
    I don’t think I’ve ever heard any specific teachings, over the pulpit or not, about the actual process of creating spirit children. It’s not something I really want to think about, because as a woman it’s sort of depressing to think about being pregnant and giving birth in the afterlife. I’m sure there would be no pain involved, but it seems like the implications of a viviparous spirit birth is that there is also spirit child-rearing. Which begs the question… Where is my reward of Eternal Rest?
    Maybe that’s selfish and short-sighted of me, but… there it is.

  6. I think I can claim credit for coining the term “viviparous spirit birth”. I am glad to see others have taken it up as well.

    Viviparous means “giving birth to living offspring that develop within the mother’s body”. A [heavenly] mother’s spirit body in this case, giving birth to a spirit child with a spirit body.

  7. J. Stapley says:

    I’d thumb wrestle you for it, Mark. Perhaps in a comment at T&S back in 2005, November 2004. Also I can’t guarantee that any of my comments older than two days aren’t dumb (in fact they predominantly seem to be so), so if you go looking, I apologize in advance.

  8. #6 – Which is why the concept makes no sense whatsoever to me intellectually, on top of my emotional reaction against it.

  9. I second NotRachel. If viviparous spirit birth refers to the gestation of our spirit’s within our Heavenly Mother—as opposed to creation of our spirits from preexisting intelligence through some other process—I am of two minds.

    On the one hand, I feel a very strong connection to Heavenly Mother. I sometimes feel that She moves in me, and I wonder if I may have moved in Her for many eons of time before this earth life. As Janice Allred writes, “Before I was born / You were the One / In whom I lived / And moved / And had my being.” Sunstone 166 (March 2012), 68.

    On the other hand, nonviviparous spirit creation is better suited to Taylor Petrey’s thesis that a heterosexual relationship may not be essential to godhood, as is widely supposed among Mormons. https://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Dialogue_V44N04_110.pdf As a gay man who has recently returned to activity in the church and is looking for a place to hang his hat theologically, this has an obvious appeal.

    I look forward to others’ comments and insights.

  10. (Wow, seven people commented in the time it took me to type my comment! Turtle express here.)

  11. J. Stapley, I yield my claim. I don’t think I used the term until June 2006, in a comment at NewCoolThang. You appear to have beaten me by over a year, with a reference in a comment at Mormons and Evolution:

  12. As long as I get all the good side-effects of pregnancy and none of the bad ones, I’m cool with eternal gestation. BUT BUT BUT, if by some unimaginable miracle I actually do qualify for Celestialism, don’t I get an actual body of flesh & blood & bone? So if I’m a Heavenly Mother (whether or not I’m part of a repellent multi-wife celestial harem, a discussion for another time) with a genuine body, how then do I gestate spirit children?

  13. “viviparous spirit birth is not taught by the current church leaders.” – although I would bet most take the repeated and strong statements that God is “literally” our heavenly Father in the same way we are children of our parents to mean just that. I know some recently visiting Seventy just doubled down on that concept to our Missionaries in the area. Of course, with me being someone who plans to adopt a child and be sealed to them, I don’t take the term ‘literally’ to be synonymous to ‘biologically’. However, it has been my experience that for many people, ‘literally’, when spoken of our child-relationship to Heavenly Parents, does indeed mean for them ‘biologically’, and all that implies. Add in some familiarity with JFS and BRM, and that’s all they’d need to believe that current leaders, in saying ‘literally’, are speaking code for VSB.

  14. in primary, I was taught that the resurrected Jesus didn’t need to eat, but He could if He wanted to. That must be why He had teeth. If you get resurrected with a uterus, maybe that means you can use it if you want to. And spiritual babies are probably much easier on the body to gestate!

    Every time I’ve thought about the resurrection, the only thing I’ve gotten out of it is entertainment, because no matter how I try to direct my thoughts toward the profound, they always end up at the ridiculous. Go ahead — make a case for any of the body’s organs in the CK. Besides the eye, of course — how else would you get light? And maybe the ear. Nose? I hope not. Liver? I hope so — I’ve been dry my whole life. Feet? Personally, I intend to float. Fingernails? no. Hair? Sure — purely aesthetic (no ear or nose hair, though). Prostate? Hmm… necessary, or not necessary…hard to say.

    I can’t help it. Celestial physical resurrection, although I believe in it whole-heartedly, is ridiculous.

  15. J. Stapley says:

    Melissa, I’m not sure that anyone has resolved that.

    David T, I tend to agree, which leads me to think that it is indeed a wildly popular folk belief (though again, that is still just a guess on my part). That leaders don’t go beyond “literal,” I think shows an unwillingness to codify viviparous spirit birth as formal doctrine of the Church. Church leaders certainly participate in folk belief and its propagation.

  16. If anyone is interested, I wrote the following post last summer in response to a question from a non-Mormon friend:

    “Who Gave Birth to God’s Spirit Children?” (http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2011/07/who-gave-birth-to-gods-spirit-children.html)

    The use of the word “literal” comes up in the comment exchange with a well-known anti-evolution advocate.

    I have no idea if the concept is “true” or not, but it’s how I think about it right now.

  17. Kevin Barney says:

    My impression is that viviparous spirit birth is probably the most wiedespead assumption in the Church today. It”s the old Roberts tripartite scheme of uncreated intelligence —> incorporated into a spirti via a divine spirit birthing process —> born into a physical body to mortal parents. (This probably originated as an attempt to harmonize various and conflicting thoughts over time on the origins of our spirits).) FWIW my guess is that when adults sing “I Am a Child of God,” this is the schema they have in mind.

  18. Important clarification, J. And I agree with your assessment that, while Hales has done great leg work, his argument is unconvincing.

    Ready makes a very important point about gender ramifications from this belief, which is the most practical and relevant implication today. Once divorced from that idea, lots of possibilities arise.

    Fiona and Terryl have a very moving section in their new book on the power of an adoptive framework, and the compelling framework of love and choice it enables.

  19. I also find this post to be a bit validating. I read Hales’ paper with strong interest, and very much prepared and willing to accept new evidence and change my paradigm of how I understood Joseph’s expressions of theology, but I did not find anything particularly new, or convincing.

    I am still very much looking forward to his 3 volume series on Joseph Smith’s Polygamy from Kofford Books – although I’m now even more interested on how he handles the ‘theology’ part.

    While it appears to me that in-this-life reproduction was indeed a part of Joseph’s kingdom-building exaltation model, it is my current understanding that adoption of co-eternal spirits is a second complimentary fork/path in his conceptual practical expansion of the Divine Kingdom. That the introduction of VSP into the theological mix was actually an incredibly important part in the conceptual collapsing and converging of those two kingdom-building works into one single biological program.

  20. I agree wholly with J. here. There is no evidence that Joseph Smith taught this idea. It is certainly non-scriptural. However, I don’t think it would be hard to find current talks by GAs that assume it. The idea is expressed in a few First Presidency statements — as are statements that appear to state that actual spirit birth is literal.

    I would put belief in a Mother in Heaven in the same category. It was also part of BY’s Adam God doctrine. There are a few differences. The idea of Mother in Heaven of course has consistent express support from GAs — but so does literal spiritual birth (they go hand in hand in the earlier statements). See here: http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2011/09/statements-on-heavenly-mother/. However, some claim that belief in a Mother in Heaven is supported by OT scriptures, but I suggest that it is also unscriptural and I would be willing to argue that those who purport to find scriptural support for such a view e.g. in the Old Testament are reading more into the view than can be supported by the extant texts (as opposed to archaeological finds). I think such arguments are both reaching and overreaching. In addition, the idea of Mother in Heaven is wildly popular among feminists — but that of course does not make it true or better supported. I know such a view isn’t popular, but the issue of whether a belief is a folk-belief is not a popularity contest.

  21. J. Stapley says:

    Kevin, I tend to agree (though I would love some solid random survey data on this). Sort of fascinating considering how much pushback Roberts’ tripartite cosmology got from other church leaders.

    Okay Ben, that did it. I am going to go buy the book right away.

    Blake, I see JS’s temple theology, comprising queens and kings, as almost necessitating a Queen of Heaven, as our buddy WW Phelps stated shortly after JS was killed. The idea is, I think, at least consistent with what JS taught. But, I agree that there is no direct contemporaneous evidence for mother-in-heaven during JS’s life.

    Also, Ray, I missed your comments above, but I agree that analogical reasoning is a key to understanding a lot of nineteenth century innovation.

  22. J., Does viviparous spirit birth include, or require, physical sexual intercourse?

  23. D&C 132- Abraham received promises regarding his seed in this world and promises regarding his seed out of this world. You could assume it’s just referring to the same posterity, except for the revelation talks about eternal lives, and eternal worlds. I realize you can attempt to limit the scope of this interpretation, but I don’t agree that JS never taught spirit birth as a part of exaltation.

    I do get the impression than more than a few intellectuals wish it to be so, for other reasons regarding their doctrinal hopes and preferences.

  24. Here’s how it plays out in some Mormons’ minds: Gods and goddesses have sexual intercourse. Presumably, God has about three million wives. The wives are pregnant most of the time and deliver spirit children.
    Do you think that sounds a bit misogynistic? My grandparents were already naming their spirit children at the ends of their lives.
    So then, J, if this is folk doctrine, how do we imagine a pre-mortal existence in which we are capable of understanding God’s plan for our progression and wherein we shout for joy? In my youth, I imagined (because Primary led me to it) God presenting His plan and demonstrating everything he could do with his physical body, while we spirit children looked on in envy, wishing that we had more substance. Then we were told that we could get bodies.
    Explained that way, it sounds like a child’s imagination. And yet I do believe in spirits. I do believe my children lived in some way before they were my children. I recall the midwife saying to me as my daughter was about to crown, “I think it’s a girl. She has a sweet and tinkly spirit.”
    I believe it, but I can’t explain it in a way that doesn’t sound silly.

  25. Ray–I just read your post. Thank you. Good things.

  26. JennyP1969 says:

    I had a dream as a child that Heavenly Father and Mother created a spirit Adam and Eve, and they began having spirit children, who grew up and had spirit children, and so on. Then when the time was right, HF & M had Adam and Eve as immortal babies who grew up to be married, eat the forbidden fruit, become mortal and have children who grew up to have children. I had the dream several times over the years. The first time I had no clue what it was about. Each time I understood more as I grew in the gospel. I don’t have it anymore, but I’ve always felt I had a clue or two about the Someday, Someway of my Hereafter.

    So I wonder if we make spirit kids the same way we do hereEvA most everyone on this earth populates the earth. Yet we remain the children of God. Why couldn’t we all help populate a planet together? If we make it to Godhood, we can each create an Adam and Eve after the pattern of our Heavenly Parents. Then these spirit A’s and E’s can take it from there. But their spirit offspring would still be the children of us, their Heavenly Parent, who are the children of Heavenly Parents. Such would be eternal lives.It will be very cool to see (or remember) how it all plays out.

  27. I find the idea meaningful where the “creation of Spirit Children” is in the act of choosing to be part of a covenant family relationship. When it is the relationship that is Created, not the existence of the individuals. The idea that we became God’s Covenant Children when we chose to accept his guidance, and his love. We love God, because God first loved us. That God sought out (or found himself among) those he could love and teach, and that we accepted and were grateful for God’s guidance and selflessness – his grace.

  28. Just wondering what content is left in “Mother” if it doesn’t involve any of the indicia of the word in standard use or within the semantic field of that term. I suggest it is vacuous once the idea of being a Mother in any generative sense is abandoned. if it merely means “one who provides care,” then a heavenly Father is also logically a heavenly Mother.

    J. we’ve had these discussion before, but there is no logical entailment between the idea of a couples who are sealed for eternity where the wife is a heavenly Queen and the idea of a heavenly Mother. I don’t know what kind of “necessity” or “almost necessity” you have in mind, but it ain’t logical. Is the idea of Heavenly Mother logically consistent with the view of eternal marriage. Yes, but vacuous. Is it consistent with the view that Mother merely means that one takes care or or cares for others? Yes. But I suggest that given that kind of watered down view of what “Mother” means, the classical God fits the bill of a Heavenly Mother as much as a real Heavenly female who does nothing like give birth as we know it. I just wonder what cognitive content is left in this notion once it is recognized that “Mother” does mean anything more than “some who cares for us.”

  29. J. Stapley says:

    Gary, I think that Margaret outlines a very popular narrative. I can’t say for certain, but I believe that is the general assumption by those who have taken the position. You have folks like Pratt who were willing to describe the celestial womb, and I believe that there were some twentieth-century church leaders who privately discussed opinions on the matter, but there isn’t a lot to go with. I think (and here again this is just my current opinion) that the strong analogical impulse by those who championed viviparous birth ideas, also resulted in a belief in a procreative process analogical to earthly procreation.

    kaphor, why do you say that?

    Margaret, the two main narratives JS offered were in the Book of Abraham and his King Follett Sermon. In one of the best attested sections of the sermon, he stated (Clayton account):

    God never did have power to create the spirit of man at all. He could not create himself–Intelligence exists upon a selfexistent principle–is a spirit from age to age & no creation about it–All the spirits that God ever sent into this world are susceptible of enlargement. That God himself–find himself in the midst of spirit and glory because he was greater saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself. I know that when I tell you those words of eternal life that are given to me

    The Bullock report (courtesy WVS’s Parallel JS) of the latter portion states:

    God himself finds himself in the midst of Sp & bec he saw proper to institute laws for those who were in less intelligence that they mit. have one glory upon another in all that knowledge power & glory & so took in hand to save the world of Sp

  30. J. Stapley says:

    Blake, I think that, like David T above, an adoptive framework satisfies many of the questions of role you outline; but I concede that it is extra-canonical and analogical.

  31. Blake, I don’t see why a Heavenly Mother can’t play a role in a generative process that doesn’t involve a vagina, but that’s what you seem to be saying.

  32. KerBearRN says:

    Sigh. All of a sudden I am just very very tired. Eternal motherhood…

  33. We now live in a time when we can imagine, without any stretch of the imagination (and even without couching it in terms of imagination), creating children completely outside of any sexual intercourse and internal gestation. We, as humans, are at that point in our own progression.

    What’s so illogical or misguided about the possibility that God’s ways aren’t our ways and that God can do things we can’t do – or even imagine?

    As I said, I understand the inability of people many years ago to conceive of “being born” in terms of anything except physical intercourse and internal gestation, but that inability has vanished with the “further light and knowledge” we have gained in the last 100 years. If we are that much more advanced in terms of this particular imagination, I’m not comfortable envisioning an eternally pregnant Mother in Heaven – just because that’s what birth and human creation meant centuries and decades ago, in this tiny, veiled moment in the eternities.

    Blake, I don’t envision a Mother in Heaven being someone who merely cares for others. I see a Mother in Heaven as being an active, co-producer of life. I just don’t see why sexual intercourse, internal gestation, vaginal delivery, viviparous birth, etc. has to be the way spirit life is created – especially since we don’t talk of Heavenly Parents being spirits. The way we talk of eternal progression is much more like taking one species and re-forming it into another species than of “giving birth to spirits” in the same we give birth to mortal babies. It’s much more an evolutionary process involving very different physical stages than a constant movement within one type of existence. It’s much more descriptive of “bringing into existence in a particular state” (like baptism is called being born again) than of a mortal “birthing” process.

    At least, that’s how I see it right now. I’ll probably see it differently in a few more decades, if I live that long.

  34. Blake, if you talk to mothers of adopted children, I suspect they might feel differently.

  35. Since our Heavenly Parents have bodies of flesh, then they would not logically produce spirit children through sexual relations. Instead, their offspring would be eternal in nature, ie. Gods. However, a loving Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother could use their infinite powers to create of spiritual beings.

  36. When I was younger (and maybe even now) the best motivation for me to strive to be fit for exaltation was the eternal continuation of seed. Really, if there is now sexual intercourse in Celestial Kingdom, who want’s to be a god anyway. We know so little about afterlife, we don’t really know how the everyday life differs in different kingdoms.

    Despite this, I am not sure if I believe in spirit birth.

    BTW, spirit birth doesn’t require that goddesses are pregnant most of the time, as is sometimes thought. There is plenty of time in eternities. As there is infinite amount of integers in a real line, there is time to make infinitely many babies and still have most of the time as a free time. (Didn’t WVS write about continuum hypothesis some time ago?)

  37. I meant to say no sexual intercourse, not now. That is the reason why being a god sounds fun. Although this whole corporeal resurrection is a weird thing as noted by Martin earlier. What do we do with those bodyparts we don’t need anymore? After resurrection I wont die even if I stop breathing, so do I really still have lungs? And if reproduction is possibly only for exalted couples, do all the people in lower kingdoms still have their genitals?

  38. Re:#3

    “Brigham said more than once that he wasn’t a visionary man.”

    Sorry, I can no longer resist the “Brigham said” game, so have to jump in regarding the above line. Regarding the Adam-God doctrine, from which the relic of “viviparous spirit birth” or sexual reproduction of celestial beings yielding spirit children in the same fashion mortal humans yield offspring, Brigham said the following:

    “How much unbelief exists in the minds of the Latter-day Saints in regard to one particular doctrine which is revealed to them, and which God revealed to me — namely that Adam is our father and God…Our Father Adam is the man who stands at the gate and holds the keys of everlasting life and salvation to all his children who have or ever will come upon the earth” (Deseret Weekly News, June 18, 1873.)

    “Some years ago, I advanced a doctrine with regard to Adam being our father and God, that will be a curse to many of the Elders of Israel because of their folly. With regard to it they yet grovel in darkness and will. It is one of the most glorious revealments of the economy of heaven, yet the world hold derision. Had I revealed the doctrine of baptism from [sic.] the dead instead Joseph Smith there are men around me who would have ridiculed the idea until dooms day. But they are ignorant and stupid like the dumb ass.” ( Manuscript Addresses of Brigham Young. Watt, G.D., transcriber, October 8, 1861)

    Therefore, not really an optional doctrine at the time of Brigham Young, and while he may have stated he was no visionary, he stated the doctrine was “revealed” to him by “God.” He also alluded that it was as good of a teaching as if it was from Joseph Smith, but that some men who seem to be fine with Joseph teaching deep doctrines, somehow did not see Brigham fit to teach at the same level. He called these men ignorant and stupid like the “dumb ass.”

    I believe “viviparous spirit births” is a deductive doctrine kept as a relic of the Adam-God doctrine that has remained in spite of the actual Adam-God doctrine having been removed. And I say it has remained, since I too, was taught during both seminary and institute that Heavenly father begets his spirit children with His eternal companion (Heavenly Mother) the same way humans do their own children. They copulate and the male deposits his seed in the female who in turn gets pregnant with spirit children.

    In seminary, this was in the context of “we are the literal spirit children of Heavenly Father.”

    In institute it was in the context of “thus this is why the Law of Chasity is so important, for that is the very attribute that allows us to be gods when we gain our exaltation, the ability to have spirit children. As many children as the Abrahamic covenant mentions (endless amounts of posterity), thus that is why it says in the D&C that eternal marriage in the celestial kingdom translates to Godhood and that we have to be married in order to enter the highest degree of glory in the celestial kingdom, namely, exaltation.”

    My teachers were very generous with interpretive insights and thus they added this is precisely what gives meaning and importance to the scripture in Genesis where Eve’s “consequence” (punishment) for partaking of the fruit is explained; namely that she would give birth in “pain” due to the change in her body, which would no longer give birth to spirit children (a joyous and painless event) but mortal temples for the bodies of the spirit children of God (the regular birth process we now know). See, before partaking of the fruit, Eve could give birth to Spirit Children. But without knowledge of good and evil, and with no physical bodies, their children would remain damned in ignorance, with a stalled knowledge and with no physical bodies so they would become as the devil (as stated in the Book of Mormon) and thus every loose tie is now connected.

    That is how I was taught in the Church Education System. I attended seminary in the late 80s and institute in the 90s. I attended both seminary and institute from a famous CES school, Juarez Stake Academy in Colonia Juarez Mexico, where the seminary and institute teachers receive a salary for teaching. I am in my 30s, so, I am not exactly from the “older generation” of members of the Church, and I was taught this very thing.

    Therefore, now let’s go to the very source of the relics, shall we?

    Brigham also said this:

    “After men have got their exaltations and their crowns — have become Gods, even the sons of God — are made Kings of kings and Lords of lords, they have the power then of propagating their species in spirit; and that is the first of their operations with regard to organizing a world. Power is then given to them to organize the elements, and then commence the organization of tabernacles. How can they do it? Have they to go to that earth? Yes, an Adam will have to go there, and he cannot do without Eve; he must have Eve to commence the work of generation, and they will go into the garden, and continue to eat and drink of the fruits of the corporeal world, until this grosser matter is diffused sufficiently through their celestial bodies to enable them, according to the established laws, to produce mortal tabernacles for their spiritual children.” (Journal of Discourses Volume 6 page 275)

    It is made more complex (and perhaps more supportive of the case for copulation among celestial beings to reproduce) when Brigham explains that Adam (Heavenly Father in Brigham’s mind) came back and impregnated Mary so that Jesus could be born. But that is a quote for another day.

    Therefore, I applaud this post for trying to clarify “folk doctrine,” except, I am not sure I can count this as truly “folk” as I was taught in my day, by professionals appointed by the Church, in a Church building, in a CES school, the very same thing… and as usual, this (viviparous spirit children) has not been officially dismissed in any way, shape or form, then I guess, that is another case of clarification for the GA’s, thus, let us all keep wondering and decide ourselves…

  39. thanks J. for such a wonderful post.
    @Manuel, I really think VSB has always been our way of making sense of eternal progression. Well (to me) our gradual departure from such “folk” teachings makes us more aligned & welcomed to traditional christianity (but of-course our uniqueness is history).

  40. “…our gradual departure from such “folk” teachings makes us more aligned & welcomed to traditional christianity…”

    I believe so. I guess the current lack of leadership involvement and teaching materials (guide) regarding these subjects that were once openly discussed in church are leading some Mormons to become Protestants when it comes to their deeper doctrinal beliefs. I am a Mexican and I do not have much respect for American Protestantism (I consider it a vile, inferior, cheapened form of Christianity with oversimplified doctrines and enhanced self-righteousness that has been used to justify and teach all things un-Christian).

    I don’t lean toward the demonization of sexual activity (like puritans and Catholics), and I strongly reject the Platonization of the soul. I believe in a God with a physical body, with all that it entitles. We are his children, and our body possesses those same basic faculties of the physical body of God. Our bodies were created in the very image of God (therefore, to me Heavenly Father does have a penis and testicles, and Heavenly Mother does have a vagina, a uterus and ovaries; and they are not mere ornaments or vestiges of a previous bodily function that no longer exists for them).

  41. Any doctrine that cannot be strongly derived from the scriptures, that doesn’t occur in contemporary, official manuals for church teaching and instruction, and that does not have a prominent place in the teachings of the living prophets and apostles, is a “folk doctrine”, practically by definition. That is not to such that such propositions are necessarily false, but rather that they are simply not doctrines of the church. No one should pretend otherwise.

    That said, for all the problems that it has, including explicit rejection by church authorities, the Adam-God Theory has the benefit of making everyone a lineal child of God without any such thing as viviparous spirit birth.

    Or, more coherently, since we believe that many, including Abraham. Isaac, and Jacob, have “entered into their exaltation” (D&C 132:37) and that we are “Abraham’s seed” (Gal 3:29) and “gods” (Ps 82:6), it seems reasonably easy to conclude that we are all “children of gods”, both on a lineal and an adoptive basis. And since “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one God, infinite and eternal, without end” (D&C 20:28), we might take one further step as well.

    This viviparous spirit birth thing is in many ways a solution in search of a problem. That is not the scriptural tradition. The scriptural tradition is that we are “the offspring of God” (Acts 17:29) and “children of the Most High” (Ps 82:6). Since when must that be a single generation viviparous relationship? The term “offspring” implies that it is a multi-generational, transitive relationship, physically, and a more direct relationship adoptively.

    Or using Abraham and Sarah as prototypes, we are the “seed of Abraham” and “heirs according to the promise”. Presumably we seal ourselves and our progenitors in a unbroken chain going back as far as we can for a reason. “God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.” (Heb 11:40).

  42. J. Stapley says:

    I like to make the distinction between “folk belief” and “formal teachings,” as the Mormon usage of the term “doctrine” has rendered it analytically useless.

    Manuel, CES is perhaps the greatest outlet for the propagation of folk belief.

  43. J., This has been a particularly interesting, throught-provoing discussion. When I first heard of your work on “spirit birth,” I admit freely to being thrown for a loop. Quickly approaching fifty-eight, I realize that all my life I’d understood that the “continuation of the seed” through the “normal” means of reproduction and parenting was a part of the exaltation awaiting those who inherited the highest glory in the Celestial Kingdom–Kings and Queens, etc.,–eternal parents of their own literal offspring. Now, I find myself confronted with a compelling case that this doctrine/teaching (much like the teaching that today’s North and South American native inhabitants are the literal descendants of Father Lehi) may be more wishful folklore than official doctrine. I feel as though I’m a passenger on a breath-taking rollercoaster ride.

  44. I believe the notion that we are creations of God by other means than by the natural way that results of bodies created in His image is also a doctrine/belief that cannot be strongly derived by from the scriptures and does not occur in contemporary or official manuals. In fact, it renders genders unnecessary and purposeless in the afterlife.

    “ALL HUMAN BEINGS—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.”

    I think this is rather clear as to what current leaders believe, especially with the ending word “purpose” of the above paragraph from the Declaration. In a statement intended to be “solemn” and produced by elderly conservatives, it would be naive to expect words such as “sex,” “sexual reproduction,” “viviparous spirit children,” etc to be fully spelled out. Nevertheless, the insistence that there must be “a different way” not ever mentioned by anyone nor clearly explained but different from the purpose of gender as reflected in the human body, is as folk of a doctrine as can exist. It simply is convenient because it seems to align with the rest of Christianity, but not really supported by any current LDS material.

  45. “Manuel, CES is perhaps the greatest outlet for the propagation of folk belief.”

    Agreed. I stated my CES experience just to ratify that I was also taught and in extremely specific terms and that at the time, it was even made to fit with other scriptures (as seemingly anything can be).

    My hesitation about it being folk is because of the lack of clarification by the leadership. I’ve always struggled with the way the church handles doctrinal changes… and the arbitrary decision by scholars to simply state that anything that has not been addressed as explicitly as they wish, in as definite of a period of time as they seem proper becomes history and folk doctrines of the past. But I have to admit I line myself up to the consensus that this is how leaders “make doctrinal changes.” It is a deplorable, confusing and dark system that has chameleonic benefits since they can make it appear as if we support anything or nothing to conform to acceptable current PR statuses for the purposes of fitting in and pushing political agendas. Sigh…..

  46. J. Stapley says:

    Manuel, I don’t think it is a bad system at all. I think that it works very well. And I want to make clear, that I am not in this post trying to get at what is True (with a capital T). I can tell that you have very strong beliefs on this topic, and I am not trying to marginalize them. I am trying to describe the evolution of beliefs and teaching in the church.

    Gary, I have to admit that I didn’t think I would every be able to surprise someone with your background! I think perhaps I will put up another post on an analytical framework to clarify the interactions of folk belief and formal teaching.

  47. Lew Craig says:

    I have enough to worry about in this life without worrying about the next. I’m all for gospel discussion but this is over the top for me. No intent here to criticize the author or any who post. Just my opinion.

  48. J., The older I get, the more I find myself being continually surprised …

  49. it's a series of tubes says:

    the notion that we are creations of God by other means than by the natural way that results of bodies created in His image is also a doctrine/belief that cannot be strongly derived by from the scriptures and does not occur in contemporary or official manuals

    Manuel, this is a good point. Neither the one position nor the other can be strongly derived from the scriptures, nor are they the subject of clear, contemporaneous teaching.

    Thus, it’s a topic that I don’t sweat over. Interesting to ponder, but I don’t get hung up on the lack of clarity; through a glass darkly and all that.

    Not a solution that works for everyone, but it works for me.

  50. Oh, no, I never felt you were trying to marginalize my beliefs. I was sharing my stance to add insight and information regarding your closing paragraph: “I should also point out that I really have no solid data about the popularity of the belief today. It may be that non-viviparous spirit creation is more dominant in the current church.” So, I was counting myself (and my school generation where I attended) as part of the wildly popular folk belief.

    I of course, felt compelled to also explain why in my head it is not necessarily “folk” but rather makes sense given the current positions on human gender and fatherhood of God.

    I do disagree the system is good though. I think it is the system that has allowed for a lot of confusion to remain in the Church, for a lot of vagueness and for silent or vocal members (uncluding Randy Bott) to remain in the congregation in a state of navigation through an ocean of cuasi-doctrines, folk doctrines, false doctrines, inconvenient doctrines, deductive doctrines, speculative doctrines among few solid doctrines. I find their inability address and clarify past beliefs to be simply incompetent and given their nature of their calling, inexcusable to some extent.

    I do agree with your post that crediting Joseph Smith for viviparous spirit births is definitely questionable and unsupported. But I also believe the notion that God creates spirits by some unknown and undefined means that for sure differs from what was divinely instituted for us is also unsupported and folk.

  51. I’ve been thinking of the change from intelligence to ‘spirit’ being a matter of emerging into self-consciousness. That God, Father and Mother, played some kind of role in this emergence. Maybe this requires a male female duality, maybe not. Possibly you could think of this process as an adoption. Possibly it is a matter of simply being brought into proximity with them. But it does mean that there is no difference between a spirit body and an intelligence other than the spirit’s self-awareness. It seems to me that if intelligence has no starting point (a very different thing from being ‘eternal’), that all intelligences will have ‘progressed’, or, say, developed, to the maximum point of which they are capable. Unless intelligence does not progress. (Either way, one must move on eventually – this seems to me the Mormon point.) One reason they may not progress is that they lack self-awareness.

    As long as we’re speculating. *laugh*

  52. One thing that has kept me from being tied to eternal reproduction is that, in my understanding we have two perfected bodies creating a spirit-not as you would expect with reproduction, a perfected body.

    Can it truly be said to be viviparous when we con side life to involve a spirit AND a body?

  53. Regarding the prevalence of belief in the tri-partite model–i.e., individual inteligences becoming clothed in spirit bodies through a birth process becoming clothed in physical bodies–I once took a poll in my high priest group about it. All but one believed in the tri-partite model. The other took the JFS/BRM position that there were no individual intelligences before spirit birth–that we had no separate existence until spirit birth created us out of pre-existing matter (that matter being “intelligence”).

  54. I can never get over how strange Adam-God is given the endowment drama.

  55. “I do not have much respect for American Protestantism (I consider it a vile, inferior, cheapened form of Christianity with oversimplified doctrines and enhanced self-righteousness that has been used to justify and teach all things un-Christian”

    Tell us how you really feel Manuel. (grin)

  56. Latter-day Guy says:

    RE 54: Well, Name, the Adam-God doctrine seems to have evolved and existed in several versions before it was totally abrogated. Similarly, the endowment had it’s own process of development. So it seems not unlikely that some version of the endowment drama might have matched up well with some version of the Adam-God doctrine (to say nothing of the long-abandoned ‘Lecture at the Veil’). In any case, it seems Brother Brigham didn’t seem to find it difficult.

  57. Maybe Brigham didn’t feel compelled to accept the ritual drama as a historical presentation.

  58. Does anyone else feel like “folk doctrine” = “doctrine I don’t agree with”?

    I mean if you’re going off of ‘nothing except what’s taught by current living apostles and prophets’ you’ll wind up with the missionary lessons and not much more. The emphasis is mostly on Gospel-living these days for a number of seasons.

    Just because it hasn’t been repeated in X years doesn’t make it not a doctrine of the Church. Of course you don’t have to have the exact same interpretation of (most) doctrine and still be a member in good standing.

    I believe that aversion to this particular doctrine is to leave room for other future doctrinal changes related to the subject.

  59. J. Stapley says:

    jpv, check out the post I put up today. I think that will give you a better idea of what I am getting at.

  60. Wow. I am speechless. I am a “greenie” at blogging, I’ve never participated before so here it goes….forgive me if I am too candid. Yes President Young taught a handful of colorful inspired concepts, and yes he has humbly admitted to not being as “visionary” as some others, and sure these days we don’t hear too much on things like, “Adam-God” beliefs and the “origin of spiritual birth” and such….but why be so quick to dismiss them? Just because they’re not preached in a Gospel Doctrine class does not mean they don’t hold their weight in truth, reason and (my personal favorite)…logic. It just means that perhaps Gospel Doctrine class bears less sustenance than some would hope. If we are not hearing more about the “meatier” topics of yesterday perhaps it is solely because the modern prophets would rather the world as a whole concentrate on personal salvation.
    I do declare that, yes, I happen to believe in “viviparous spirit birth” as you call it. It’s not crazy, it’s logical. It’s true that the world has come light-years ahead in science and we can now scientifically create life…but is that what we’ve been taught from the dawn of time? No. Six thousand years ago we were not using petri dishes to make babies and I do not believe our Heavenly Parents did in the Pre-Existence either. These are our parents and we are not bringing honor to them by discrediting the production of our first estate.
    I am a young woman, and if there is anything I know about men it’s that they tend to affiliate with more rational, reasonable and logical order of proceedings. Now, I am not aiming to stigmatize women, but as a whole it’s obvious that out of the two genders women tend to me more emotional, detailed and analytical about business. My point: Heavenly Father is not going to have kept this big secret of how we were born in heaven for thousands of years just so that only the people of the 21st century could know about it, it’s not what a loving parent would do and it wouldn’t benefit us that way. He’s also shown to be a man of patterns, and the pattern that has proved time and time again is that: There is a basic and natural formula to creating life. That is what He has taught us, this is what He wants us to know, and I believe there is a reason for that.
    Our Heavenly Parents do not strike me as people who play a game of Charades with there children. The proof is in the pudding. Also, food for thought: The Lord has said, “I am the same yesterday, today and forever”, “On Earth as it is in Heaven” etc…now, with that in mind lets remember that The Church “strongly discourages in vitro fertilization using seman from anyone but the husband or an egg from anyone but the wife.” so if we are not to create life any way except by natural conception, then are the rules different in heaven? Are those who are exalted an exception to the rules and what all the scriptures say? Doubtfully so. Otherwise Christ would have been telling less than the truth when He declared that He, “was the same yesterday, today and FOREVER”. Just sayin.
    I believe that when we get to the point in our lives where we begin to doubt and discredit what a Prophet of God says (whether it be revelation or inspiration-makes no difference), we need to step back and realize we need more fresh milk and less rotten meat.

  61. J. Stapley says:

    Welcome aboard, C. Greene. I think Young’s anecdotes about not being a “natural seer” and the popularizations of his organizational prowess (with only secondary prophetic attributes) are highly misleading. I would check out Turner’s recent bio of Brigham Young if you are interested. And Young’s Adam-God teachings were most certainly cohesive, and also later categorized as heresy by President Kimball. All that said, I think that you may be misunderstanding what I am saying in the post, namely, that if the church doesn’t teach something, that thing is consequently not a teaching of the church. And I think that you will have hearty agreement here that the gospel doctrine manual doesn’t have a monopoly on truth. That would be silly. However, I would like to point out that what you characterize as absolutely logical is actually analogical, and there is an enormous difference between those two. As to your argument about male and female characteristics and claims of endless unchangeability, I must confess that I simply don’t understand what you are saying.

  62. So, I grew up in the church (I’m 30 now, if that helps establish the time period during which I’ve been collecting Gospel Knowledge). And the idea of viviparous birth or a Heavenly Mother who is eternally pregnant – I honestly don’t think I ever came into contact that concept until I started reading blogs like this one or Times and Seasons (maybe a year or two ago), and then I’ve only ever heard it in terms of, “Well, a lot of Mormons believe this, but I don’t.” So based on my own experience, I would say that it isn’t currently a commonly-held belief. I was definitely taught the tri-partite model (intelligence -> spirit -> human -> god)

    Beyond having just not heard it, it also doesn’t make any sense to me at all. If Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother both have bodies of flesh and bone why would sexual intercourse between them produce children who do not have bodies? I guess I think of pregnancy as being a condition of mortality, and I think of the creation of spirits out of intelligences to be more akin to adoption than to birth.

  63. J. Stapley says:

    Thanks, Carole. I think having such accounts to validate or contradict our perspectives is important.

  64. “It is Gospel Doctrine 101 that we are the children of God. Our spirits are the children of a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother in the most literal sense possible. We have within us the genes of Godhood, the potential to develop and grow into the glorious, exalted beings they are. We lived with them before coming to earth to gain physical bodies in their likeness, male and female.”

    Interesting possible nod to VSB. From the following article at Meridian:

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