Your own planet

Last week, a friend posted on facebook that the Gospel Topic Essay “Becoming Like God” was no longer live on the church’s website (though the Gospel Library App still had it). The link was broken or forwarded to a different page. I could tell by the subsequent discussion that people were talking about this elsewhere, as various screen shots of the sort that one copies and shares instead of getting your own were circulating. In particular people were pointing to a church newsroom piece that talked about how the church doesn’t teach that we get our own planet. Cue handwringing that the church is abandoning its cherished beliefs, or that retrenchment has led to ditching that particular essay, or that we are trying to appease Protestants by ditching the essay. Sometimes, however, a broken link is a just a broken link. But even if it weren’t, sometimes our beliefs change, and sometimes they should.

First some background. Joseph Smith taught four concepts as part of his Nauvoo cosmology: (1) spirits were never created; (2) God wanted to help these uncreated spirits advance; (3) God the Father was once a man on a planet as Jesus was a man on our planet; and (4) humans are exalted to be kings and queens, priests and priestesses to God. These teachings are widely documented. Check out my recent article, “Brigham Young’s Garden Cosmology” for all the sources. In Utah Brigham Young abandoned a lot of these teachings and created a cosmology based on biological reproduction (spirit birth!). A lot of what Young taught was discarded, but there was a lot that also had a significant imprint on subsequent beliefs. In particular, many Saints have had robust perspectives on exaltation. Instead of kings and queens, they looked forward to exaltation as being a God the Father and Heavenly Mother.

The late 1970s brought us the rise of the professional counter-cult movement that made a point to denigrate, caricaturize, and otherwise mock distinctive Mormon beliefs and practices. Decker and his God Makers film popularized the “they get their own planet,” shtick. When Parker, Lopez, and Stone wrote the Book of Mormon Musical a couple of decades later, getting your own planet was low hanging fruit, so it got a lyric.

Back in 2012, a year after the musical was released, the church published a Q&A on the then Mormon Newsroom. Among other things it asked “Do Latter-day Saints believe that they will ‘get their own planet’?” It responded: “No. This idea is not taught in Latter-day Saint scripture, nor is it a doctrine of the Church.” This document is still live, and was the document that people were wringing their hands over last week, or that they got others to wring their hands over.

In 2014 when the church released the Gospel Topic Essay “Becoming Like God” they included a similar response to the cartoonish accusations: “Likewise, while few Latter-day Saints would identify with caricatures of having their own planet, most would agree that the awe inspired by creation hints at our creative potential in the eternities.” So we had a broken link and people getting excited over a separate ten-year-old document that basically anteceded and agreed with the Essay, but which they thought didn’t—largely a social media storm for storm’s sake.

But I do want to make a couple of confessions and observations. First, theologically, I find Joseph Smith’s cosmology much more satisfying than Brigham Young’s. I personally find spirit birth and strong conceptions of deification sort of…untenable. At the same time I very much appreciate that they are cherished beliefs of some coreligionists and people that I love. I also recognize that change is hard. For example, I appreciate that the church has changed on its caffeine policy, and that people who were all in on the old policy have experienced discomfort as the church backed away from it. So While the church hasn’t really changed on the becoming like God thing over the last couple of decades, it wouldn’t break my heart if they did in some ways, even though it would cause some discomfort elsewhere.

Anyway, turns out it was just a broken link.

Comments

  1. I’ve always found the whole “being rewarded with their own planet” to be odd. I’ve tried to think of examples to explain how wrong it is. It’s like mocking those who are employed that they will be rewarded with a dollar, or something like that.
    From a really skewed angle, if you squint hard enough, it’s kind of true. But it’s way off the mark.

  2. Thomas Parkin says:

    My guess, Jonathan, is that you continue to place an uncessary weight on the way the Father was human like Jesus in number three, based on a single sentence said by Joseph, and a desire for God to be a different kind if creature than we are. And you also do not mention the Lorenzo Snow couplet, which seems to me closer to the crux of the matter.

    In any case, you may not be surprised to discover that I am one of the people who will resist this to the teeth, since without the Snow couplet I’m left without a God I believe in or care to believe in, and am left with atheism.

    The church collectively stopped learning about the nature of God decades ago, and where their isn’t learning we are left with forgetting. Before too much longer we will be left with some kind of higher-powerism, combined with accidently glib Jesus talk, at which point we may not even be the equal if Protestants, at least some of whom still take their theology seriously.

  3. J. Stapley says:

    That is cool, Thomas. But it is far more than a single sentence.

  4. This isn’t news to you, but planetary expectations show up before Brigham. Buckeye’s Lamentation from February 1844 memorably mocks Joseph’s teachings: “There you may reign””like mighty Gods, Creating worlds so fair;- At least a world for every wife; That you take with you there.” Phelps moves this in the direction of what becomes Brigham’s theology on Adam as Sam Brown shows in his Paracletes article. I think your four points are great, but I wonder if there are more: does God having a Father make a fifth point. (This rules out a sorts of self-incarnation approach to God the Father to resolve point 3 as some have been apt to do since KFD.)

  5. J. Stapley says:

    Yeah, in some ways planet(s) go back to the Book of Abraham. I’m not so hip to antagonistic renderings of Smith’s cosmology; for the most part, they are wildly skewed, and consequently not particularly useful in illuminating what JS was thinking (IMO). Phelps on the other hand is a riot. On the one hand proclaiming uncreated spirits to the C50, on the other writing speculative theological fiction.

  6. Thomas Parkin says:

    Brother Stapely, I have zero doubts in your ability to make a exhaustive, strong, and wrong case. ;)

  7. I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.

  8. 10/10 I was taught this and many others were too. It bothers me that the Church just quietly shelves controversial or untrue teachings without coming clean about it. They don’t ever want to admit to having been wrong or changing.

  9. “When Parker, Lopez, and Stone wrote the Book of Mormon Musical a couple of decades later, getting your own planet was low hanging fruit, so it got a lyric.”

    Brilliant. As is the rest. Thanks, J.

  10. J. Stapley says:

    Changes in belief have generally always been an evolution, with no one standing up and announcing a break. This is what happened during JS’s lifetime, BY’s lifetime, and all the time since. Most church members with ancestors in the church have very different beliefs than their grandparents. And if our grandchildren are church members, they will most likely believe differently than we do. That is, I think, a feature not a bug.

  11. I think I might have come up with a working analogy. The idea that Mormons believe that if they are righteous they will be rewarded with a planet is akin to saying that for someone learning quilting if they practice they will be rewarded with a quilt. Yes the quilter will have quilts, but not because someone is giving them quilts, it’s because they know how to create their own.
    The doctrine being skewed here comes from the LDS belief that we are children of God and that we can become like Him. So if we were to be given planets in exchange for obedience that would mean that a higher power is creating planets and handing them out. So if we were in that situation, and we were as God is, that means that there is a higher power than God, who rewarded God with Earth. Which is something that we very much do not believe.

  12. I don’t care about any of the 4 points listed in the OP. To me, the important doctrine is eternal progression. Moving to a more godlike state. That we can take the knowledge gained in this life into the next. Whether it’s a planet, or some other goal, along an evolutionary path, doesn’t matter to me. This doctrine separates us from conservative Christians. If the Church wants to back off these ideas (for whatever reason), it is problematic for me. Eternal life isn’t static.

    In his last days, JS started to work out a revolutionary cosmology. Think King Follett funeral discourse. Too bad he died prematurely. Too bad that BRM had the doctrinal influence he had. Reference his “The Seven Deadly Apostasies” talk at BYU.

    I believe that God is progressing. He is none of the omnis (except omni-benevolent) in an absolute sense. But He is omni-everything is a comparative sense. I think this is consistent with the teachings of JS, BY, and WW.

  13. Matthew says:

    I’ve heard it framed well elsewhere that this is an example of gaslighting us into believing this was never really a thing. And as mentioned above, yet another way to sap our theology of what makes it unique so we come off as less “peculiar.” One not need to believe in a spirit “birth” or the caricature of a planet for every exalted soul to believe that progression is eternal and God wasn’t just God from the beginning. If we aren’t progressing eternally then I don’t see what is so special about what the Church has to offer.

  14. The LDS church and its apologists are masters at gaslighting. They do change doctrines without admitting the changes, and then claim it has always been so, or even that God continues to reveal his will through evolving truths. But it doesn’t take much thinking at all to see the evolution is really a revolution. Rather than progression, the teachings become contradictions. So many people are leaving the church exactly because they have lost all confidence in the prophets and apostles. I think many members would invite and embrace progression, but it is the backflips and contortions that destroy the faith.

    1. Many of us remember all too well years and years of General Conference talks, Ensign articles, and officially published class manuals and priesthood manuals which officially taught that we can be exalted to become as Gods, to rule and reign forever, to inherit kingdoms, and have eternal increase on worlds without end. We wouldn’t just get a planet, we would be creating planets and ruling over them for the eternities.

    2. Black people were cursed. It says so in the Book of Mormon and was taught by numerous apostles over the pulpit and in published documents. The gaslighters now try to tell us we are interpreting the Book of Mormon incorrectly. Yep, that which was taught was never really taught.

    (This pattern goes on and on and on…..)

    3. In the future when women are ordained to priesthood offices, when gays and lesbians are sealed in the temple, when the Word of Wisdom is redacted, when garments get smaller or become only ceremonial, when signs and tokens are removed from the temple, and when the Book of Mormon is downgraded from literal history to a moral metaphor we will all be told that it is the ongoing restoration and continued revelation from God and that the old ways were never known for certain, or official, or absolute, or required, but were merely the practice of the day.

    The church has the power to be and do much good. In many ways it should change. But, it is also because of the changes in teachings and practices that so many people are losing confidence in the leadership and are leaving.

  15. Left Field says:

    As far as I can tell based on my memory and my not-particularly-thorough search on the church website, I am not aware that getting our own planet has come up frequently in general conference or church magazines. In fact I’m not aware of a single instance, though as always I am subject to being corrected on that.

    So if that’s the case, I don’t really see the need for the church to do a lot of arm-flapping about how we used to teach something different.

    And if people are arm-flapping about all the planet talk we used to hear in conference, who’s doing the gaslighting?

  16. President Nelson, 2018: But eternal life is so much more than a designation of time. Eternal life is the kind and quality of life that Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son live. When the Father offers us everlasting life, He is saying in essence, “If you choose to follow my Son—if your desire is really to become more like Him—then in time you may live as we live and preside over worlds and kingdoms as we do.”

    https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/broadcasts/article/christmas-devotional/2018/12/four-gifts-that-jesus-christ-offers-to-you?lang=eng

    Hmm, preside over worlds as God does! Ok, technically didn’t use the phrase Get Your Own Planet…

  17. Thanks, J. As always a useful overview and perspective. The story of the broken link is (also) an interesting window onto what’s important and not about Mormonism and Joseph Smith, and to whom it’ is important.

  18. Wondering says:

    Yes, Christian. As to what’s important to whom, I’ve known and known of a number of the faithful who counted on “kings and queens” meaning powerful, autocratic bosses and boss-ladies. They didn’t “get it” from the NT scriptures on servant leadership. Maybe C.S. Lewis’ Narnia stories could have suggested another meaning of “kings and queens” to them if only it hadn’t been too late for some and if only others had read and thought. Oh, well.
    Sorry about the digression — sort of.

  19. Rockwell says:

    “Cue hand wringing”

    Rather dismissive, but thanks for the historical perspective anyway.

    The church doesn’t make a big announcement when doctrine changes because there is no doctorinal baseline. There is no catechism to memorize, no test to pass. There is only the standard works and every single word spoken by a prophet, which carry different degrees of weight and which sometimes contradict each other.

    Today, when the church wants to eliminate a teaching or tradition, the first step is to just stop talking about it hope it will go away. That. Doesn’t. Work. Because the church is made up of a lot of individuals who don’t all know that they need to stop talking about getting a planet, avoiding birth control, behavior in the pre-earth life relating to skin color, etc.

    The planet thing is a bit weird. It’s also weird to say that members don’t believe it when almost every single member was taught it. Cue eye roll.

  20. Stephen Hardy says:

    Here’s how I see it. We teach “eternal progression” which taken to its extreme could mean that we may eventually evolve to become God-like or even to become Gods with creative powers. Those who don’t like us choose to warp this teaching to say that we are promised our own world if we pay our 10% to the church coffers. And don’t smoke. And discriminate against gays. This is a warped and inaccurate version of something that may be “true” according to church teachings.

    It’s kinda like those who say that we wear “magic underwear”. That also is a warped version of something we teach. . But in fact it isn’t really true. It’s a twist of our beliefs.

    Those who make such statement (gifted worlds and magic underwear) generally aren’t seeking to understand but are seeking to ridicule.

  21. Jack Hughes says:

    Being promised a planet as a reward for righteousness is a lot like the familiar trope of the missionary who’s primary motivation for serving is that his parents promised him a car upon his honorable return. Both appeal to self-interest, and both result in unproductive self-centered douchebags.

  22. I don’t understand why there is any shying away from the teaching of getting your own planet. The fundamental, core, and pervasive teaching is much more profound and expansive. It makes the idea of getting your own planet quite small in comparison. Mormon theology through the generations has been that if you are worthy, follow all the commandments, receive the endowment and sealing in the temple, and endure to the end, that you with your spouse(s) will become exalted beings in the highest degree of celestial glory, inheriting all the power and glory with the Father, and that you will jointly create worlds without end, with eternal increase. You will rule and reign for all eternities.
    So if someone asks, do you get your own planet? The more honest and complete answer (according to Mormon teachings), is a loud YES! But wait, there’s more! Not only do you get your own planet, you get your own galaxy, and more galaxies, and on and on and on. You get to spend eternity creating worlds and populating those worlds with people you create. There is no end to the number of planets and children you will get to create and govern! You are exalted! You are a god! And you create and rule, create and rule, create and rule forever!

  23. Oh, my! says:

    Just came across this hymn and prayer to be sung and prayed from the rameumptom:

    If you could hie to Kolob
    In the twinkling of an eye,
    And then continue onward
    With that same speed to fly,
    Do you think that you could ever,
    Through all eternity,
    Find out the generation
    Where Gods began to be?

    The works of gods continue,
    And worlds and lives abound;
    And kings and queens, all bosses!,
    Have one eternal round.
    There is no end to hubris;
    There is no end to greed,
    And nothing could induce us
    Lower status to concede.

    We all love adulation;
    We want to be in charge
    Of our own new creation,
    Our egos to enlarge.
    We need folks down below us
    So we can wield pow’r,
    Be feared by all who know us
    And be worshiped every hour.

    There is no end to glory;
    There’s no end to our need.
    There’s no end to the story
    Of our increasing “seed.”
    There is no end to reigning;
    No end to what we want
    No end nor any waning
    Of the hubris that we flaunt.

    We thank thee for our great glory and for our so richly deserving our own planets over which to rule and reign forever. Amen.

    I don’t think it will make it into the new hymnal.

  24. rastlefo says:

    rogerdhansen summed up my thoughts pretty perfectly. Eternal progression is, for me, the best doctrine that we teach. If Heaven were just us laying around at the feet of God telling him how great he is all day for forever, I’m not sure I’d enjoy that. I guess it would be better than a lake of fire and brimstone but not by much.

  25. Bookish says:

    Great perspectives. A lot of exclusionary folk beliefs rest on dismissing Abraham’s (and Smith’s) scriptural teachings on the uncreated externality of spirits. It’d be a better world (or at least church) to not have to sit through another pre/post mortality lesson sans “intelegences are unbegotten spirits organized by Gods hooking up” and “you’re only really saved by getting into Best Heaven™”.

    Is there a link to your paper about Young’s procreative developments and sources for Smith’s teachings without a paywall?

  26. Bookish says:

    …not trying to avoid you getting your share, but Jstor rarely gets the money back to the author.

  27. Maybe I missed the memo, but I always thought “you get your own planet” was a low bar. I was once told that we could become “gods of our own universes”, but I don’t think that has theological underpinnings either, though to me it seems just a bit more likely than the planet stuff.

  28. I think it’s mistake to look at this sort of thing as “the church” monolithically changing doctrine, rather than as the latest iteration of a long-running intra-church debate over the precise meaning of the doctrine of eternal progression that JS sketched out in broad terms, and that BY picked up on and put his own spin on. The debate about whether God is still progressing in knowledge and power, or just glory, for example, goes all the way back to Hyrum Smith vs. BY.

  29. Steve LHJ says:

    “I personally find spirit birth and strong conceptions of deification sort of…untenable”

    I’m with you on the first, especially if we take Joseph Smith seriously. The second seems to be one of the most beautiful ideas we have, and it’s not a stretch to read Joseph Smith teaching this as well.

  30. All I want to know: who washes the dishes and takes out the garbage? So, I get a planet? Do I have labor problems? Do I have slaves chained by bonds of love? Or do the telestialites serve for time off for good behavior? Can I continue their servitude by threat of outer darkness?

    If there are mindless robots who take out the garbage, how close are they to the perception of their servitude?

    In this infinitude of time and space, knowing that big bangs are free, what is a planet? A speck. I want a UNIVERSE.

  31. Brent P says:

    That we get our own planet (“worlds without end”, “we can become like God”) can easily be derived from what is taught. It isn’t emphasized in common discourse, at all. When I first heard that we get our own planets from an evangelical critic, it caused me to pause and think, “is that even true?” And I had grown up in the church, heard three Nephite stories, and been on a mission. I believed we could become gods. But I never dwelt much on the topic. Same with the “Jesus is Satan’s brother” matter that evangelicals like to commonly point out. “Is that taught?” Is what first comes to mind. It isn’t something that immediately comes to mind when reflecting on my experiences in the church.

  32. J. Stapley says:

    Jared, I think that is a very constructive approach to the issue. Thanks.

    Bookish, I think the JMH makes things free after a year or two. I’m happy to send you a copy if you want to read it.

  33. Offspring grow up to become like their parents.

  34. Nancy Roche says:

    I think the point was well made above that “getting a planet” is too glib, and in our richer theology, the ownership (which I question) is merely a consequence of creation. And I can tell you, as a creative, that nothing appeals to me more than the opportunity to learn how to create things.

    This is going to sound weird, but I think it’s frighteningly parallel to some mormon folk-ideas of marriage, of earning and possessing a spouse as a key to the highest heaven. If you’re thinking about marriage as ownership, you’re doing it wrong (looking at you, OT). I think at its best, it’s a rewarding co-creation. Like this planet. And others, maybe.

    But as always, I could be wrong. Maybe the universe is horrifically capitalist and I’m just an object nobody wants. *shrug* I will believe what there is evidence of, not what flatters or pleases me most.

  35. If I can’t have my own planet, then I’m going to jump ship and find a religion that will give me one.

  36. Geoff - Aus says:

    I drive a car I built, i live in a hous my wife and I designed and built, i was looking forward to designing and building a world. If this is no longer the plan, there is not much on offer.
    I think after 100 years, I will have seen what there is to see and do in the CK. Perhaps if it gets too boring we can offer to be recycled to our basic intellenges?

    Or perhaps Gos plan is different?

  37. Just mystified by the “What good is LDS belief without divinization???” takes here. I mean, I like this part of our theology as well, but really? Christ’s gospel has nothing else that appeals to you if we de-emphasize the King Follett Discourse? You’re just here for THAT? I’ve been a member my whole life and have always considered that a pretty fringe-y, speculative part of my religious identity.

    I’m just imagining someone reading through the gospels or Book of Mormon thinking, “What is this mealy-mouthed pablum? This Jesus guy better say something quick about me getting my own planet or I’m DONE.”

  38. I have the same reaction, Kenzo.

    I feel like I’m just starting to figure out faith, repentance, and my marriage covenants, and that that’s more than enough to keep me busy for a lifetime. I love our ideas and doctrines about eternal progression, but they have never provided me with the kind of burning faith that the atonement and the gospel of repentance does. Whatever our final state/reward in the eternities is, I have faith that it will more than satisfy us, and I’m okay with not knowing all the details.

  39. Nothing at all new, but as I typed just now a 1967 letter written by Joseph Fielding Smith Jr. to a woman in Richland, Washington, answering her questions about whether the progression of God, I ran across this line and thought of this post:

    “If we are faithful and true in this life and keep all of the commandments and a man and a woman are married for time and for all eternity, they will preside over their posterity through all eternity and they too may be eventually exalted to be gods, and have a world of their own.”

    I mean, he just says it right out loud.

    Joseph Fielding Smith Jr. to LaBarbara Stanfield, 6 February 1967

Trackbacks

  1. […] Jonathan Stapley briefly explores the evolution of Latter-day Saint cosmology in a recent By Common Consent blog post and what some see as shifting theological […]

  2. […] Jonathan Stapley briefly explores the evolution of Latter-day Saint cosmology in a recent By Common Consent blog post and what some see as shifting theological […]

  3. […] Jonathan Stapley briefly explores the evolution of Latter-day Saint cosmology in a recent By Common Consent blog post and what some see as shifting theological […]

  4. […] Jonathan Stapley briefly explores the evolution of Latter-day Saint cosmology in a recent By Common Consent blog post and what some see as shifting theological […]

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