Does the thought make reason stare?

I am strictly a Star Trek dilettante, but one of the episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation that I’ve seen all the way through is one called “The Outcast,” in which Riker falls in love with a member of an androgynous humanoid society called the J’naii. It is forbidden love because the J’naii have evolved beyond gender and consider male-female sexual-relating as primitive and an abomination.

Riker thinks this particular J’naii, named Soren, is really a woman because she (um, they? Xe? I don’t recall the Enterprise addressing the pronoun issue) just seems like a woman–i.e. she has fine features and a high voice and also, she’s played by a female actor–that helps a lot–but Soren is all like, “That’s not how we J’naii roll,” and Riker’s like, “Oh no, baby, I think that is how you roll,” and she/xe’s all like, “Yeah, you’re right, that’s how I roll”–and so they fall in love and maybe get it on or at least kiss the way men and women sometimes do. (I don’t really remember. How it was on the show, I mean.) Anyway, the rest of the J’naii get wind of this disgusting display of heterosexuality and they are not cool with it because–I bet you can guess why, but I’ll tell you anyway–gender dichotomy will lead to the breakdown of their society. Every J’naii knows this. Only sicko pervs like Riker would dare question it.

Long story short, after Soren bravely comes out of the closet as a flaming female, declaring her love for that manliest of primitive men, Commander Riker, her fellow, er, comrade J’naii force her to undergo some kind of therapy to get straightened out (if you’ll pardon the expression). When Riker next sees her, she’s gone back to being a xe, and xe has to give the “I was confused about my sexual identity but I’m happy now, sorry I misled you and everything” speech. Riker doesn’t buy it. In fact, he’s pretty broken up about the whole thing.  It just ain’t right. Roll credits.

It’s a reasonably straightforward analogy to the plight of homosexuals in our heteronormative society. But I’ve thought about this particular episode a lot over the years, for different reasons. It’s difficult for me to imagine a world where there are no men and no women, just people. I’m well aware that there are people whose gender identities don’t match their biological sex and that there are people who identify as neither male nor female. They should live well and be happy, but I can’t imagine a world where there is no concept of male and female. I know the Proclamation on the Family is all bourgeois and crap, but to me the existence of transgendered people has always seemed a proof that gender is not merely a societal construct; it strikes me as perfectly reasonable that one’s maleness or femaleness could be a spiritual as well as a biological reality. I don’t know that it’s true, of course. It just feels true to me. And to be perfectly honest, no offense to the non-binary among us, a world where everyone is gender-neutral—like the J’naii—seems like it would be kind of boring and quite possibly a bummer. (Judging from the Star Trek wardrobe department, it would most likely be the death of fashion.) That’s probably my social and religious conditioning talking, but there it is.

I attended a Baptist college, and while there I took a philosophy class in which we discussed the existence of God and the nature of God, and at one point the professor asked, “Why do we refer to God as ‘He’? Is God a man? Does God have…genitalia?” Most of the class tittered at this because of course God is not anthropomorphic, of course God doesn’t have genitalia, what a silly idea. As a Mormon, who’d been taught all her life that of course God has a physical body, my reaction was different—more along the lines of what it would have been if someone asked me about the existence of my dad’s genitalia. I WOULD RATHER NOT SAY. But this is the problem with an (eternally) embodied God: if God is a physical being, of course God has genitalia (ALTHOUGH I WOULD REALLY RATHER NOT DISCUSS IT), and of course God is a man or a woman. Unless God is intersex, of course. I suppose that’s possible. But what’s it to us?

There was a time when I thought Mormonism made a great deal of sense in this department. We have a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother; it’s only logical. Genesis says we were made in the image of God, male and female, which seems to suggest that God is both male and female. As noted in Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s The Women’s Bible, the Holy Trinity of Father, Mother, and Son makes more sense than Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Some Mormons theorize that the Holy Ghost is Heavenly Mother, but the Doctrine and Covenants says the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit, not flesh and bone, which would suggest that the Holy Ghost is not Heavenly Mother, because if Heavenly Father is a personage of flesh and bone, wouldn’t his eternal companion also be flesh and bone? (Unless Heavenly Mother is Satan. I mean, Satan’s Plan–it’s just like a woman to try to be controlling like that.) But whatever. As I was saying, in a world where you need males and females to reproduce, in a world where, generally speaking, there must be men and women, it makes sense to imagine God as two complementary beings. It’s not necessarily factually correct (like anyone can even know that, Napoleon), but it’s not illogical.

However, as Mormons we haven’t fully realized this theology. (We haven’t fleshed it out, as it were. Ha ha.) Heavenly Mother is a mystery, one that we’re expected not to be too curious about. The same people who expound endlessly on the importance of earthly families having both mothers and fathers also insist that Heavenly Father alone should be quite enough for anyone. I guess I don’t disagree. Not anymore, anyway. I used to, back when I was emotionally and intellectually invested in the idea of God as Father and Mother—two Gods, in fact, not one. But years of wondering what ever happened to Heavenly Mother—why shouldn’t we pray to Her? Was she having a Mom’s Day Out (where a day is as ten thousand years)? Was she too busy tidying up Kolob? What did she do all day that was so important she couldn’t be bothered by the children? Why was she so, you know, un-maternal?—I began to find the whole concept of Her depressing.

If you’ll bear with the sci-fi anecdotes a little longer, Whoopi Goldberg once said that she loved Star Trek as a kid because it was the only TV program that showed black people in the future. Mormonism may be the only Christian religion that allows for a female deity, but Mormonism does not show women in the future. The eternal fate of women would not concern me if I hadn’t been taught all my life that my femaleness was an essential and eternal characteristic, that I was formed in the image of God literally because God was literally a personage of flesh and bone. If I’m going to be a woman forever—and I kind of hope I will be—I can’t help but be curious about what a woman inherits in the next life. But the church has told me often enough that this question is not pertinent to my salvation, so perhaps it’s time I believed it.

I’ve decided I’m not married to the idea of Heavenly Mother anymore. I’d rather believe she doesn’t exist than believe that she doesn’t matter. And that’s the only conclusion I can reach regarding Mormon teachings about God: Heavenly Mother doesn’t matter. I mean, neither the man without the woman nor the woman without the man, etc., but what about life eternal being to know the only true God? If Heavenly Mother mattered, knowing Her would in fact be pertinent to our salvation. But we don’t and it isn’t.

I know that I don’t need the church’s permission to know Heavenly Mother. There are people who believe in Heavenly Mother because they’ve had personal spiritual experiences that make them certain She is there. I’m not one of those people. Granted, I’m not a very spiritual person. My own experience has led me to an undeniable knowledge of God, but it consists of two things only: 1) God exists. 2) God loves us (even me). Beyond that, I really don’t know anything for certain. I don’t have the sort of relationship with God that feels personal in the same sense that my relationships on earth are personal. I don’t know what God looks like. I don’t know God’s personality. I don’t know if God has a sense of humor (although I hope for my own sake God does). I don’t know if God is male or female (or intersex). I don’t know if God is actually embodied, or if that’s just the only way Joseph Smith could understand God as a reality. Whatever. My days of angst over what the nature of God says about my own alleged divine nature are over. I just don’t have the energy for it anymore. The questions are too frustrating.

This does throw a wrench in doctrine of the Family—for me, anyway. I can only buy the necessity of a man and a woman sealed together for eternity if Heavenly Mother exists and serves an eternal purpose, and I’m no longer convinced that she must. As far as I know, God could very well be a single Father (no offense to Eliza R. Snow). Maybe there’s an Aunt God in a neighboring universe who occasionally visits Kolob to provide Heavenly Father’s spirit offspring with a positive female role model. Or maybe there’s no need for that because God is both male and female in one personage, embodied or otherwise. Maybe when we’re resurrected we’ll all be like the J’naii, neither male nor female. (Though I hope we’re issued robes, not jumpsuits.) Maybe God is two spinsters who have decided to combine their eternal households and share custody of each other’s cats. (Nothing funny, they just like cats.) I really don’t care anymore, because it is whatever it is. There’s no point getting upset about it. Certainly if I get to the other side and find out there is a Heavenly Mother, she was just really tired the day Joseph Smith had his First Vision, I won’t try to argue with her about it. (“You’ll understand when you’re a goddess.” “When I’M a goddess, I won’t ignore my children for thousands of years!!”) But because I don’t know, because I’ve been told so many times in so many different ways that it’s not important for me to know, I’m just going to enjoy my earthly illusions while I can and believe things about God that make me the least angry and confused.

I no longer yearn for a relationship with my Heavenly Mother because my experience has taught me that I can make do without one. I lost my earthly mother almost 20 years ago, and to be honest, I long more for her than I possibly could for a Woman I’ve never met (or at least have no memory of). I suppose when I cross the proverbial bar, I’ll learn all kinds of things I never knew before. Maybe I’ll find out there is a Heavenly Mother. Maybe I’ll find out there are two or seventeen (and they’re all just lovely). Maybe I’ll meet Aunt God. Who knows who I’ll meet? It could be anybody. If I find out there is no Heavenly Mother, never has been, I’ll probably just say, “Okay, then. Well, where’s my real Mom?” Which is probably just as well, since if I am introduced to Heavenly Mother, my first words will probably be something like, “Where the hell have you been?” (And then I will probably want to see my real Mom.)


  1. There is another episode that is similar, about Beverly Crusher. She falls in love with an alien who presents as humanoid male. Turns out that the consciousness with which she is in love is actually a sort of parasitic space slug that serially inhabits other bodies, and it drops the male humanoid body and then inhabits a female humanoid body. And then tries to pick right back up with Bev, saying approximately, “Why does the form of my body matter?” (For what it’s worth, it was a conventionally attractive humanoid female form). And Beverly says, “Yeah, I get that a lot of people think that, but I ain’t one of them. Buh-bye!” Roll credits.

    So, +1 Bednar, I guess. There are no gay people in Star Fleet.

  2. Sorry, I just realized that I stole your “roll credits” line. Apologies.

    BTW, I’m glad that Dr. Crusher’s retrograde prejudices about parasitic space slugs are no longer common, otherwise I’d never get a date.

  3. Clark Goble says:

    Just imagine what that story would have been like with Kirk and not Ryker.

    The whole range of speculations in Mormon history on the Holy Ghost is interesting. There is a tradition that sees in it the feminine. There’s also a tradition that sees in it a kind of progression such that an individual goes through a kind of transformation of human → resurrected → fall → Holy Ghost → mortal son → Father. Other variants change the ordering around. That’s why some breakoffs from the Utah church in the late 19th/early 20th century see Joseph Smith as the Holy Ghost. (Yeah weird to me too – and I don’t buy this whole Adam/God stuff in that form at all) There’s then the Pratt view of the Spirit as some sort of interpenetrating fluid and is what divine beings share in common rather than being a distinct personage as such.

    Ultimately we just don’t know. I’m pretty skeptical of most of the theories.

    As for heavenly mother, I confess I just don’t see our theology making much sense without here. But again that gets wrapped up people’s views of what exaltation includes. The thing I frequently bring up is that while we pray to the father, most of our knowledge of God comes by way of Jesus or messengers he sends. So it’s indirect. We know little about the father or our heavenly mother. When we pray, we get answers, but the theology seems to suggest it too is mediated and is the Holy Ghost. While we can get information by personal revelation, outside of that we know very little about our heavenly parents. Most of what we know are pretty vague generalities we impute to them more because we see them as good qualities they must have rather than any direct knowledge. In that regard I tend to see them both as pretty interchangeable, at least in terms of knowledge we have of them.

    Given that while I completely understand those who earnestly need to imagine their heavenly mother watching over them, I also can completely understand those who don’t feel that and for whom God is much more vague and mediated. I think our discussions of the father and the mother are often as much a projection of our wishes and fears as anything.

  4. J. Stapley says:

    RJ, you really are brilliant.

  5. *applause*

    “I’d rather believe she doesn’t exist than believe that she doesn’t matter. ”

    Heartbreaking, and true.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    Interesting illustration that there are costs to the Church so drastically downpllaying the importance of a belief in HM.. Without reinforcement, over time that belief can siimply slip away. And if HM doesn’t exist, our gendered pairs image of celestial life begins to lose some of its commonsense appeal. Maybe we’re all really nongendered space slugs after all.

  7. Kathleen Petty says:

    Ditto J. Stapley’s comment. And it has become a sort of non-issue for me too.

  8. Clark Goble says:

    Kevin, why do you think the Church is downplaying it? Compared to what period? If anything it seems like the Church has been talking about it a lot more the past 10 years or so compared to the era from when I was a kid. Admittedly that’s subjective and perhaps as much a function of where I live. That said, I think if there was a period when such things were downplayed it was the era when Pres. Hinkley was running things. (Although how he dealt with such subjects in public versus private were quite different)

  9. Clark, there’s a difference between mentioning a topic and downplaying it. We talk about Heavenly Parents all day long but the ramifications have been absolutely gutted.

  10. This is perfect. And terribly sad. And true. Thanks for writing. And I’m gonna carry the Heavenly Mother flag until I die.

    But, (in a way, like you) for me it’s no longer a banner of freedom or truth or feminism or what-have-you. It’s simply a flag with Her image on it. Sometimes I march, sometimes I stroll, and most of the time I just plant it in the ground next to the blanket while my grandkids and I picnic under the trees.

    I still miss Her.

  11. I lied. This whole thing makes me feel Primal Rage.

    No, I didn’t lie. Both of my comments are true.

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    When is the last time anyone heard a church leader utter the words “Heavenly Mother” or “Mother in Heaven” over the pulpit? My impression is that it is taboo to mention her specifically, but only via the blandly generic “heavenly parents.”

  13. Imagine a religious doctrine that was limited to a discourse and understanding surrounding pregnancy and giving birth. It might sound a little bit like, “long ago before existing in this sphere, we were held in the bosom of Mother, whose body gathered together the elements that would become our bodies, whose blood and sacrifice and pain and water brought us into the world and into life, whose breast fed us the milk of life. Whose love sustained us”… etc etc. And the role of Father might be something like “and Father was there to love and support Mother, to be her partner, to hold her hand and fetch her ice chips, to serve her and love her and stand by her side as she brought forth such a miracle.” Do not discount the equalizing powers of eternity. The true role and importance of Father is not understood from the limited perspective of just pregnancy/birth. Likewise, the effects of our mortal limitations and perspective with regard to Heavenly Mother can not be fully understood. Knowing the saving power of faith, I always found it comforting to think that our Heavenly Mother may have eschewed our mortal reverence toward her and her sacrifices on our behalf, in exchange for inciting the reaching and longing of our souls into the realm of faith. A faith essential for our salvation.

  14. “Heavenly Mother is a mystery, one that we’re expected not to be too curious about. ”

    I guess I am curious because of all that “becoming like Gods” Mormon theology (that I know that also isn’t fully fleshed out).

    Course President Joseph F. Smith told Susa Young Gates: “God is a man. His wife is queen but is not and can never be God. Yet without the woman, he could not be God either. No man can attain to the godhead alone or without the woman. No woman can attain to the godhead but can and will share the dignity, honor and exaltation of that matchless climax of power and glory with her husband.” In a later letter he asks “Is it not sufficient honor the woman that the man is dependent upon her for a fulness of exaltation and that he cannot attain to it without her?”

  15. Left Field says:

    Kevin: Brother Holland did last conference.

  16. tophat8855 says:

    Fun fact: the first vision doesn’t specify the sex or gender of the personage who introduces Christ. The versions of the first vision that describe that personage say only that the personages looked similar. I know I look a lot like my son, though I am female. I like to think we’ve got all those first vision paintings wrong and it’s Heavenly Mother all along,

  17. The cynic might say Brigham Young presented exactly what you’d hope for in the culmination of the endowment, as he said was given to him from Joseph; but the close minded traditional Christendom thinkers eventually rejected it in his (and our) day, while the more liberal contemporary ones are too wrapped up in confusion over polygamy and racism to see it as inspiration.

    Brigham’s lecture at the veil and the recursive nature of Godhood ushering in morality meshes perfectly with our doctrine, but we don’t have the faith for God to be *that* familiar. Strange when we believe that “the least” can be exalted — but we proudly insist that surely our Father was never so low. One of the undeveloped contradictions of Mormonism.

  18. Angela C says:

    I agree about the jumpsuits. Also, Riker is such a man-ho.

    I’m kind of with you on not caring that much about Heavenly Mother. When I mentioned her a few years ago my kids astutely said, “Wait–we have a Heavenly Mother?? Well, I’ve never heard of her!”

  19. Clark Goble says:

    Steve, I’m not sure I agree with that. It seems the primary implications of heavenly parents – that they are the ideal of our relationships – is constantly emphasized. I’m not sure what other big implications there are. As I said, I think God is dealt with very vaguely in our religion. We thankfully avoid the God of the philosophers but outside of embodiment and a few other things it seems we know little beyond they are very good.

    Compared to say the pre-Hinkley era, what’s been gutted? Even if you go to the pre-McConkie era, outside of speculations about Eve, what is gutted now from then? Really sincere. Not trying to argue for argument’s sake. I think under Hinkley things without a lot of revelatory basis were (at least in public) cast aside with a “I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it … I understand the philosophical background behind it, but I don’t know a lot about it, and I don’t think others know a lot about it.”

    But once you go beyond Hinkley what’s said more in the past than now? Even going back to Brigham Young who was most speculative (ignoring uncomfortable views on polygamy) it seems about as much today gets discussed. At least now there are official writ ups on it which is far more than I believe was in any formal church publication the last 70 years.

    I get wanting more information. I want more information too. But it seems like you’re asserting something stronger than that. Admittedly I’ve not read all the old manuals from the 20’s through the 50’s. So maybe there’s more there that I’m just not aware of.

  20. Clark Goble says:

    EmJen, what’s the reference for that? I don’t think I’ve ever seen that quote and I was unable to find a reference searching for it. (Not doubting you – just I’ve never seen that before and really did look. However I’ll be the first to admit limited resources on my computer) Certainly I’m not aware of any revelation that would lead to that conclusion so I wonder why Smith thought that unless it was part of his attempts to stamp out Adam/God.

    Rrow, I think if we think of the terms as titles it makes more sense. However as Brigham taught it I confess it doesn’t make much sense to me. Especially in terms of the endowment (either late 19th century or contemporary)

    Kevin, admittedly I can’t recall hearing it for a while. But then again with young kids I don’t listen as well as I used to in my single days. In those days I heard it fairly regularly often from apostles. Hinkley certainly used to talk about it a lot. Both in smaller settings as well as in conference such as his famous talk “Daughters of God.” I went to search but unfortunately appears to have removed the ability to search by date. Ugh.

    Jeffrey Holland said it in October. But the more typical use is to speak of them together as “heavenly parents.” There’s a ton for that.

    I will say that I think the idea of keeping ones marriage in heaven and God being like that seems pretty key if not foundational for contemporary Mormonism. The idea of our relationship with God being that sort of familial relationship rather than God as Other seems to distinguish us from most other religions.

  21. Ms. Reynolds says:

    “Where the hell have you been?” Yeah, sometimes I pray to Heavenly Mother and that’s what I say to her. I feel like an abandoned child with anger issues. I have friends who have fostered relationships with Her but when I try, I am too angry. I take my prayers back to Jesus and sometimes Father God, but I tell Him also I am angry She is absent. Good thing, like you, my earthly mother is pretty awesome and I have her at least.

  22. First, I’ve never found the whole “Well, church leaders say this/leave this out, so that must mean this about God” approach to be very helpful or healthy. When I took that approach with the temple ceremony (or at least what I was able to read from it), I ended up with the horrifying, sometimes debilitating conclusion that, to God, I was inferior to my husband. From there, it became easy for me to see that my inherent inferiority as a woman is why God only gave the priesthood to men; why He had commanded polygamy; why Heavenly Mother was hidden away or nonexistent; and on and on until I was on the brink of not only giving up on Mormonism but God. The thought of worshipping a male being who privileged and preferred men terrified and disgusted me. Given that option or no God at all, I was very happy to bet my life on the latter. And, like you, I was much happier to accept the idea that Heavenly Mother was nonexistent than that she was simply unimportant.

    It’s a long story and I’m not good at writing succinctly (obv), but what changed everything for me was the realization that in all of this, I had given up my claim on my own moral agency and disregarded everything I’d ever felt in my interactions with God; which, foremost, had ALWAYS been absolute love and awareness and esteem that wasn’t in any way diminished (or increased) because of my gender.

    And more specific to this essay, I had to recognize that I’ve come to know God not through what other people have told me about what God is and is not through talks or testimonies or paintings or poorly acted film depictions of the Fall but as I have reached heavenward in MY weariness and confusion and sin, as I have loved deeply and vulnerably and had kindness and strength come into my life when I didn’t deserve it, when I gave birth to my daughter, and a hundred other personal ways. Holding off on instantly attributing these experiences to a male-only deity and allowing space for the possibility of a Mother in my life has, sometimes, been quite profound and beautiful for me. At the very least, it has allowed me to accept a concept of God that is far more whole and capable than, like, a clean-shaven fatherly God with a suit and tie and briefcase. For now, my perspective is that Mother very much matters to our salvation and to our here and now; that She has been there the whole time, just as powerfully and lovingly; and that it is my own narrowmindedness, my willingness to allow others to set the parameters and dictate what I will and will not allow for in God that keeps me from seeing that She’s been there, teaching me of Her the whole time, too.

  23. EmJen’s quote was given by Dr Lisa Olsen Tait in her recent Dialogue podcast on Susa Young Gates.

    Similar things have been said elsewhere- notably by Marion G Romney, when compling a list of errors in McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine, he included ‘women to become goddesses’ to the list or errors. Is this what “unto your husband” means?

    I used to hope that maybe Heavenly Mother had a super time consuming job, like a dentist or something, and she was just gone all the time, or maybe she had a demanding calling, like Bishop, that kept her from being home with us kids.

    But this quote from January’s Ensign, by Elder Holland, struck me: “We are to know these Divine Beings (the Godhead) in every way we can. We are to love Them, draw near to Them, obey Them, and try to be like Them.” And the ensuing article was full of how important it was to develop a close, personal relationship with every member of the Godhead. Breaks my heart to see how little she matters.

  24. Aly H, that was beautiful. Thank you.

  25. Clark, the revelation of heavenly mother and father would seem to fit into the endowment pretty well. The details can be nitpicked sure, but no more confusing than talking snakes or flaming swords.

    “Adam was an immortal being when he came on this earth…And Eve our common mother who is the mother of all living bore those spirits in the celestial world. And when this earth was organized by Elohim, Jehovah and Michael, who is Adam our common father, Adam and Eve had the privilege to continue the work of progression, consequently came to this earth and commenced the great work of forming tabernacles for those spirits to dwell in, and when Adam and those that assisted him had completed this kingdom our earth…”

    In the recursive construct of the generations of God, Adam had his own Father & Savior (and naturally a Mother), and after they helped him (and others) fashion this world, he and his eternal companion ushered in morality for their spirit children.

    Interestingly, the above quote completely ignores any possibility of heavenly mothers, which would cause the obvious discomfort, but allows for heavenly mother to stare you in the face every time you go to the temple.

    A fact which would be much much more poignant in a live act of the endowment when the future role of the participants as Adam and Eve are considered.

  26. RJ, this is bright and dark at the same time. I don’t know what else to say about. Actually, I don’t want to say anything more about it. Except, thank you for writing it.

  27. I don’t understand your idea that spirits must be gendered. What exactly do you think that is inherently male about a person that could not also be argued as a human condition that was forced upon us as a result of the fall?

    Further, why do you think we need to have male and female spiritual qualities? what benefit does it provide to us in an eternal sense that could not be provided through the diversity of characteristics that have no gender property?

    I think it would be perfectly natural for my husband and I to continue our relationship devoid of the taint of human social structures and be perfectly happy spending eternity together- developing and growing, raising children and sending them on their way (as we will also do on the earth here, although the removal of social expectations is particularly difficult). Further, I think any earthly homosexual couple could also dwell in that state as equally happy. Its not like in heaven we will have the same teachings where men are pushed to bring home the bacon and make all religious decisions and women are to care for the children and home. This definitely doesn’t happen in Heavenly Father’s household by your own admission as the children have no platform to interaction with their mother.

  28. “I don’t understand your idea that spirits must be gendered”

    Bring it up with the Proclamation on the Family.

  29. John Mansfield says:

    Perhaps it isn’t the Heavenly Mother that doesn’t much matter, but instead the mortal probation of her children that doesn’t much matter, and only our myopia and narcissism makes us think otherwise. Perhaps the nurture of her children in the pre-mortal realm and society with them after mortality are where the action is. As Clark Goble points out repeatedly, the Heavenly Father’s interaction with us in mortality is only a fraction greater than the Heavenly Mother’s non-interaction.

  30. “As Clark Goble points out repeatedly, the Heavenly Father’s interaction with us in mortality is only a fraction greater than the Heavenly Mother’s non-interaction.”

    But that’s not how we are told to interact with our Heavenly Father. We are told repeatedly to foster a strong relationship with Him, sometimes specified to that being our most important job in this lifetime. To come to know Him. To know that He loves us and we love Him. That is not a fraction greater than the practically silent admonitions to interact with our Heavenly Mother, it’s magnitudes greater.

  31. Well, spatty, to me the idea that I won’t be female in the next life is a tad like what it must be for a gay person to imagine not being gay in the next life. If we are still going to have our bodies, which include our brains, and we are not going to get “celestial lobotomies,” as Angela C. so aptly puts it, I’m not sure how to divorce my femaleness from my identity. I certainly hope that bringing home the bacon and changing diapers will not be eternal concerns. I’m not sure what to say beyond that, since we apparently have fundamentally different ideas of what constitutes maleness or femaleness. This is why I try to avoid the term “gender” in the first place because when I talk about someone being male or female, I’m not referring to prescribed roles or societal expectations, but if I use the word “sex,” then everyone goes straight to genitalia. I suppose I don’t really understand what being transgendered means if it doesn’t go a little deeper than what sort of clothes you wear or how you do your hair. As I said in the OP, I’m not particularly invested in God’s gender anymore. I’m reasonably invested in my own, but that’s probably because it’s all I know (or remember). Incidentally, I never said that I believe spirits must be gendered, just that I don’t think it’s unreasonable to believe they are. If we get to the other side and nobody’s male or female, well, there it is. I’m certainly not planning to file a complaint in the celestial comments box or something.

  32. I don’t think the fact that we know little about Heavenly Mother implies she doesn’t matter. A huge portion of the earth’s inhabitants knew little or nothing about Christ, yet we believe He matters, even to those who never heard of Him.

    Historically, church leaders have gotten in trouble extrapolating too far from what little revelation we have. I suspect that makes them circumspect about saying too much about Heavenly Mother, though it’s clear that several (if not all) of them believe in Her. We’re taught to pray to our Heavenly Father in the scriptures, but maybe that’s just culturally appropriate way people in those eras were taught to approach their Heavenly Parents — “Mr. and Mrs. God the Father” sort of thing.

  33. I noticed that at both the Payson and Provo City Center Temple open houses recently, the video they played before touring the temple showed same clip of Elder Holland, saying, “I just can’t imagine heaven without my dear wife”. I on the other hand, actually had no problem imagining it, because immediately afterwards we toured “Heavenly Father’s” house, with nary a wife or mother to be seen or mentioned anywhere. Is that because He’s got a lot of wives, and they don’t know which one to talk about on the tour? Or are the temples on our planet where God comes alone, to get away from all his wives and family stress for a little while? Sometimes I feel alone in being bothered by the fact that women are erased in the eternities, including in our holiest houses of worship. Thanks for your voice. I agree with you!

  34. Clark Goble says:

    Abby, what do you mean? I’m not aware of any temple with art of heavenly father or mother.

    EmJem, while we’re to have a relationship with God, that relationship seems extremely vague. That was my point. If you mean we pray to the Father but not the Mother, I’d agree. However that doesn’t really tell us anything.

    Consider among the range of speculations about Mormon cosmology a rather popular one in the 20th century. Exaltation is a community effort and all our children together go to new creations (instead of the other popular view where each of us get our own independent universe). In that scheme heavenly father may not even be a single being.

  35. Martin, I realize that not knowing about her doesn’t mean she doesn’t matter, but there’s a big difference between Heavenly Mother and Christ–namely, that we (as a church that claims to have the fullness of the gospel) affirm that Christ lives and has a role in our salvation and we also claim that his existence and nature were revealed to Joseph Smith. This revelation was essential to the restoration of church. Christ is essential to the gospel. Heavenly Mother is not. There is really no disputing that. Christ and Heavenly Father are “one.” Heavenly Mother doesn’t even enter the equation. It doesn’t follow that therefore she must not exist, but it’s equally possible that Jesus isn’t really the son of God because anything’s possible. What we teach is not necessarily what’s real–I get that–but according to what we teach, I’m not obligated to believe in Heavenly Mother, and when it comes right down to it, although I’m open (theoretically) to the idea (because anything’s possible), I’m not buying it.

  36. “I suppose when I cross the proverbial bar, I’ll learn all kinds of things I never knew before.”

    I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that, for me, this applies to everything. Including your numbers 1) and 2), above.

  37. Rebecca, I still don’t see it. There’s not a lot about “God the Father” in the restoration of the gospel, either. Mostly, He’s a place-holder that could just as easily be replaced with Father and Mother. The gospel is about Christ/Jehovah, and almost everything revealed is about him, or at least that’s how it seems to me. That means that Heavenly Mother could be just as important as Heavenly Father.

    That said, I’m also one of those who wants revelation, and and am cautious that Heavenly Mother worship could be a type of idolatry — setting up gods to ourselves after our own images.

  38. Gah. This is hitting all the feels. Your last paragraph in particular. I don’t have an awesome earthly mom. I long for one. But in accepting that I can’t change her, I so desperately want a Mother somewhere to care for me. And that is why I cling to the idea and hope for a Heavenly Mother. Even though the heternormativity of it bothers me. And even though I have never had spiritual experiences that tell me I’ve a Mother there. I want it. And I won’t stop wanting it.

  39. Well, not to over-play my ovary card, but it’s very easy to consider Heavenly Father a mere “placeholder” when you yourself are a man. I’m not asking for more revelation. I’m explaining my belief or lack thereof. I don’t care anymore if Heavenly Father is a placeholder for two parents or for a giant space slug; it’s irrelevant to me at this point. God is whatever God is, regardless of what I think, but given that “Heavenly Mother” is completely irrelevant to our discourse and “Heavenly Father” is merely a placeholder, I think I’m at liberty to believe what I like.

  40. I realize that last comment came off a little hostile. I confess I have some residual hostility after years of caring very deeply about this issue. I actually feel very much at peace with not caring anymore. It’s a great burden lifted from my soul. It means I may still get annoyed by gender issues at church, but I don’t assign them eternal consequences. I don’t believe I’ll be punished for not believing in a hypothetical goddess my church explicitly told me not to worry about.

  41. Clark Goble says:

    Rebecca, I fully understand. This is an issue I care about as well. However we only have the information we’ve been given. And it appears that the information we’ve been given in this dispensation is far more than others have been given.

  42. Great post. How can such a simple desire–to know our Heavenly Mother–be so complex? I find it interesting when you wrote “I no longer yearn for a relationship with my Heavenly Mother because my experience has taught me that I can make do without one.” That is pretty much how I’ve felt about God in general. I felt abandoned in my darkest hour. I made it through my darkest hour. I figure God was absent because He/She figured I could do it on my own, trusted in my capabilities and so forth. It’s not that I’m not interested in God, I just don’t expect God to be involved in the minutia (or even big things) in my life and I’ve accepted that. I think God trusts me to figure it out on my own, to be independent. I don’t pray and ask for things, I just let God know what I’m grateful for and what I hope for. That way I can’t be disappointed for not getting answer because I just don’t ask.

    The other day I was reading on BCC a post (Maternal Nature of Divinity, by Steve Evans. Very good, by the way) and a comment was made by “Searching” that still has both me laughing hysterically and is also very profound. Searching says: “I often feel that I am a part of a dysfunctional eternal family: Dad loves us and sent our older brother to help, and without his help, he won’t let us back in the house.. We have another brother who literally wants to kill us and make us miserable, and we have a mom… but… we’re not supposed to talk to her right now…” Right on! Maybe Heavenly life ain’t so perfect. No wonder earthly families are so screwed up, we can’t even get it right in the eternities! I’d add “we have a mom, but we don’t talk about her” kind of like the crazy aunt no one mentions.

    Rebecca J, thank you for your honesty and humor while writing this. “Searching,” if you ever read this I would love to talk with you more at length. Your comment was brilliant.

  43. Leonard R says:

    This really is a brilliant piece. Great use of memorable Star Trek episodes.

    As for me, Mother is still vital.

    Clark, for me Kevin’s comment was not so much “downplaying it” vis another time period. Rather, downplaying it vis it own clear potential.

    I.e. – within a context that almost obsessively focuses on male-female marriage as the be-all, end-all of existence, and following God’s plan, and families being the whole point… I can’t think of a better word than “downplaying” to acknowledge the existence of Mother in Heaven but next to never mention Her. And when rarely doing so, using the term “heavenly parent” (with a clear non-capitalization). Yet Father is used repeated, frequently, without concern or consideration.

    We are perfectly content with God=Father.

    We clearly downplay the idea of a Mother in Heaven in ever possible way short of saying She doesn’t exist.

    Until the phrase “God the Mother” can roll of our tongues, I think “downplaying” will remain the appropriate polite euphemism.

  44. Leonard R says:

    Just to add, great additional episode reference by gst.

    And echo Steve Evans comment of “Heartbreaking, and true.”

  45. Refreshing, to the point. This is one more article on this site written with intelligence and the precious gift of agency.

  46. You very eloquently stated why I’m not big on the Heavenly Mother doctrine. I’m privileged white male, so I doubt myself wondering if it’s because I have latent sexism, but I just can’t get behind it. I’m not big on any of the late Joseph Smith era doctrine, like theosis and the cosmos, either. I prefer more simple doctrine of God.

  47. “And to be perfectly honest, no offense to the non-binary among us, a world where everyone is gender-neutral—like the J’naii—seems like it would be kind of boring and quite possibly a bummer.”

    Have you ever read “The Left Hand of Darkness” by Ursula K. Le Guin? Because if not, you should :)

  48. MDearest says:

    I love me some Star Trek. Riker was such a dude. Good times.

    I agree with your conclusions 1. God exists and 2. God loves us.
    I would add a 3. God does indeed have a sense of humor. And he laughed out loud when you wrote “When I’M a goddess, *I* won’t ignore my children for thousands of years!!” (I swear I heard it)

    I think often we can be too focused on what we can know about God — what are the attributes (including gender) like we can really know that from furiously studying up on [flawed, mortal] theology, and kind of gloss over the fact that He (She) is not here. Like, we are seriously separated from God and all His (and/or Her) wonderful theoretical attributes of goodness in this life. They may as well be in another galaxy, presumably watching us on their devices. Or not; how can we know that? (Faith notwithstanding; none of us knows anything beyond this existence with a sure knowledge.) I suspect that may be a large part of the point of this life, and why it’s important to not only learn what are the godly attributes, but also to put them into practice as well, because if we don’t do it, no one will, and this will be a dark place indeed.

    Even though we pretty much suck at being God’s agents in this world. There’s some battle fatigue in that too.

  49. Saying that our Mother must not love us because we are taught to build a relationship with our Father is a faulty conclusion. It is common for humans to have strong bonds to their mothers and their mothers say to them, “Go spend time with your father.” As has been pointed out the time here on earth is very short, so why not try thinking of it as an extended weekend getaway where we are supposed to bond with dad/Dad?

    Once we get Home we will renew our relationship with our Mother and will have the added benefit of loving our Father and Brother as well.

    Obviously we have male/female spirits. Our teachings tell us all things were created spiritually before they were created physically. That does not mean an amorphous blob of spirit was created and then fitted into which ever shape came next on the assembly line. WE were who we are once we were given spirit bodies. A cat was a male or female cat and a tree was a pine and not an oak. I think sometimes people let their imaginations roam to wildly without using much common sense.I mean using the sense we should have after having been taught such doctrines as we were created male and female, we were spiritually created, we have spiritual parents, we are destined to be come gods and godesses… all these teachings confirm what is being questioned. BUT there is no question!!!

    As for ancient times…I once read a FARMS article which can no longer beaccessed…but the gist of the article showed that in Nephi’s day it was common to worship the Heavenly Mother and she was associated with the Tree of Life…okay I just found another article using the same concepts

    It shows that one name for Heavenly Mother was Asherah… who in ancient times became despoiled as Ashtoreth worshipped in groves with perverse sexual rituals…I had always been taught in my youth that the reason we do not discuss Heavenly Mother is to keep her holy because as soon as she is known to mankind they begin to do this same thing… make fun, use names as swear words etcetera…you can see what they do to Christ and Mary… God is a protective husband and while He allowed Her to be known He obviously has limits and was tired of it…that is of course opinion :P

    Anyway be happy you have a Mother and she is well aware of you and me and all of us ^_^
    …and really google those articles they are cool reading

  50. I can’t get behind the idea that Heavenly Mother is kept from us to keep her holy. No mother worth her salt would permit herself to be hidden from her children just because they might be rude to her. And, quite frankly, if she does truly exist, I doubt SHE needs or wants God to protect her from her rude kids. “while He allowed Her to be known, He obviously has limits and was tired of it…” just reflects even more the secondary position of females in our culture. Good grief, does she not have a say? It’s just up to him because he’s God and she’s just his queen?
    The OP is heartbreakingly true.

  51. Searching says:

    Tara, thanks for your reply to MKari. I’m just too darn tired to respond to that post and I’m glad someone did.

  52. “It is common for humans to have strong bonds to their mothers and their mothers say to them, ‘Go spend time with your father.’ As has been pointed out the time here on earth is very short, so why not try thinking of it as an extended weekend getaway where we are supposed to bond with dad/Dad?”

    Sure, it’s a short time. But this isn’t a fun little outing without Mom where Dad takes us out for pizza and frisbee golf and lets us have the soda Mom doesn’t like us to have. This “short time” is the time in which our eternal fate is decided. We don’t all get to come home after this. The idea that we have a mother who is cool with stepping back for this short, crucial moment and NOT actively trying to help her children make it back is deeply, deeply disturbing. Better to believe she doesn’t exist than to believe she doesn’t care.

  53. Heather V. says:

    Might Heavenly Mother desperately wish for a personal relationship with each of us and to be part of our lives here on earth but Heavenly Father forbids this? Maybe Heavenly Mother cares a very great deal about us but Heavenly Father doesn’t allow her access to us or us access to her. Maybe she hasn’t ignored us or turned her back on us at all but instead has been forbidden from having any kind of relationship with us. It’s impossible for me to believe she doesn’t care about us. It seems more likely to me that she’s not been allowed to be present in our lives for whatever reason.

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