Mormon Heaven is Just Hell by Another Name

I read “9 Reasons to Stop Being Afraid of Mormons” a few days ago, more out of curiosity than anything else and, honestly, I didn’t think much of it. Its author, Brittany Mullen, attempts to explain some of the “weird things” that people have heard about Mormons and why those things shouldn’t prevent people from thinking that Mormons are “cool”. She attempts to placate and inform non-Mormons without saying much at all, telling half-truths and skirting around issues so as to avoid too many questions that would no doubt expose her as being the last person on earth who should be explaining Mormon doctrine. Judging by the comments at the end of her blog entry the only people she really impresses are Mormons themselves. This is understandable because Mormons like hearing other Mormons mirroring their own beliefs, as it somehow miraculously validates them.

1. We Don’t Think You’re Going to Hell

Now I had initially intended to address all 9 of Brittany’s reasons, and I may well do so eventually, but I found that I had a lot to say about her first reason to stop being afraid of Mormons, more than enough to create a satisfactory blog entry.

She actually says very little about Mormon hell, choosing instead to link to an article by Elder B. Renato Maldonado that explains the three degrees of glory, but what she does say caused an emotional reaction in me, which I put down to my strong dislike for the topic, built up over years as an active Mormon. She writes:

…unlike many other churches, we don’t think that means that everyone who doesn’t believe the things we do is going to Hell.

This is one of my very favorite elements of the LDS church, actually. Our view of heaven is one of the most inclusive, merciful concepts of the afterlife I’ve ever come across. …

Amazingly, this is all she says. I’m not sure why, but I can hazard a guess that the sum total of her inner-most ponderings on the subject are just as few as the words she’s using to explain why certain individuals who don’t believe as she does are not going to end up in hell. I invite her to correct me on this. It’s staggering that she thinks that her few words – oh, and an article! – will explain what she views as simply a misunderstanding of doctrine and will make her look cool. It’s actually insulting that she thinks such an important topic warrants so little, and she does herself few favours by linking to Maldonado’s article because all that says to me is she doesn’t have a mind of her own – this is what a male LDS leader says, so she happily concurs. I would have preferred to read her thoughts and reasoning on the subject. After all, she claims in her entry that she is able to “unequivocally dispel” incorrect ideas about Mormons, but, in this instance, she lets somebody else try to do it.

I couldn’t disagree with her statement that the Mormon “view of heaven is one of the most inclusive, merciful concepts of the afterlife” more strongly if I tried. Her declaration irked me a lot, as it touched on a nerve. I spent quite a bit of time thinking about the afterlife as a Mormon and I ended up concluding that spending an eternity in any of the three kingdoms of glory would be a hellish nightmare. Of course, I tried to ignore my dissident thoughts, but it was very difficult to do so. On the surface I can understand why she would view Mormon heaven as “most inclusive” and “merciful” but it’s evident that she hasn’t thought much about it. In typical Mormon fashion she instead chooses to enthusiastically receive the sales jargon that silkily spills from the mouths of LDS prophets and apostles without question. There are ramifications to Brittany’s beliefs that I’m confident she hasn’t thought about. I seriously think that my own complete annihilation is preferable to inheriting any kingdom of glory. Let me try and explain my line of reasoning, and why I would think such an awful thing.

Mormons conveniently believe that humankind is under a God-given veil of forgetfulness that blocks people’s memories of their pre-mortal existence. This veil enables people to exercise faith in Heavenly Father because it takes away any and all memories of Him and Heavenly Mother. If people had memories of their lives with their Heavenly Parents before they came to earth, there would be no test or trial in the here and now. But eventually, this temporary veil will be lifted and our memories will come flooding back, and we will find that we can perfectly remember our pre-earth life and everything that entailed. Including the great love and devotion that we, as eternal sons and daughters, had for our Heavenly Parents and each other, and there’s the rub that would turn an inheritance of a lesser unimaginable glory into a living hell.

Most people won’t be able to return to live in the presence of the Father and Mother, because they will have done something while on earth that negates them from ever living in Their presence again. Drinking coffee, maybe. They will be judged as undeserving and cast out of the celestial kingdom and so will be assigned to live forever in a lower kingdom, which appears mightily ironic to me. Because while God demands that we treat each other with love and respect in mortality, at His judgement seat He is willing to forgo love, forgiveness and mercy, preferring to damn and crush His own spirit offspring with an eternal weight of punishment for something they did or didn’t do while in mortality. Nothing, absolutely nothing, we could ever do while on the earth could justifiably merit an eternal punishment. This is not justice, this is monstrosity.

He is the one who put the God-damned veil of forgetfulness over us in the first place, so surely He has to take the blame for us not believing in Him, choosing the wrong church, being sceptical about His very existence because of a lack of evidence and even forsaking Him when trials come and He offers no obvious support or relief, etc. The veil is a mitigating circumstance that demands that we be found not guilty. If He truly wanted us to return to His presence then He shouldn’t have placed such a huge impediment in our way, and to make matters even worse, He’s blessed us with brains that are designed to use reason and logic and not faith as a tool for understanding. Yet faith is how we supposedly find Him. None of this makes any sense whatsoever. Is it any wonder that I’m now an atheist?

Anyway, I can’t help but wonder how glorious it will be for those who are condemned to live forever in the terrestrial and telestial worlds, especially whilst remembering again the deep love they had for Father and Mother only to be rejected by Them outright. It’s difficult to imagine anything more painful and heart-wrenching, and even if you manage to find yourself in the second lowest kingdom your Heavenly Parents will never, ever visit you there. But Jesus will. Also, you haven’t just lost your Parents but many, many close familial relationships. Now where is the glory in this? Is the Mormon view of heaven still “the most inclusive, merciful concepts of the afterlife”, Brittany? Or is this actually hell? This is all hugely ironic considering the LDS Church touts the concept of forever families.

I really detest all of this talk about how glorious the lower kingdoms will be. Seriously, I doubt any amount of glory will counterbalance the colossal amount of loss that lower kingdom individuals will be feeling now that the veil of forgetfulness is gone, nor the huge regret of not doing things differently while on earth. I’m sorry, but I find it immensely difficult to see the glory here, neither the mercy of an all-loving Father. I see cruelty in its worst form. There is no glory where Parents and children are completely separated for all eternity.

I said earlier that I thought that all three kingdoms of glory would be a hellish nightmare, so I just want to clarify this statement. Obviously, I don’t like the idea of ending up in the celestial kingdom either, where everybody will eventually be a perfect clone of everybody else. Mormons are taught that they need to be on the road that will eventually lead to being as perfect as their Heavenly Parents. Perfection is a destination that I would never want to arrive at. Give me the journey any day. Perfection in heaven seems to be nothing more than the discontinuation of challenges, learning, individuality, progress, fun, wonder and amazement, discovery, excitement, among many, many other things. In short, being perfect would bring to an end everything that makes me feel truly alive. In my opinion, Mormon heaven – all three degrees of it! – is just hell by another name.

Mo’ Bugger

Being an Individual in “the Lord’s Only True Church”

As a serious convert to Mormonism I consumed every bit of information about the beliefs and practices of the LDS Church that I could lay my hands on. I thoroughly believed that I had become a member of God’s only true church on the earth and, after considering the amount of churches there are in the world, this was something that I found amazing. I was actually humbled by this realisation. So I wanted to know everything I could about the Church and understand how my newly-found faith would impact on my life. I was a brand, spanking new “golden” convert, an empty vessel, and I needed filling. Also, feeling somewhat inferior to other church members in my ward, I wanted to attain the same level of gospel knowledge and understanding that they had. I guess I thought that that would somehow cause me to feel less ignorant when I was around them. I wanted to fit in, and increasing in gospel knowledge was a good way of achieving that, I believed. It was very exciting and somewhat daunting all at the same time.

This is what I would later think of as my honeymoon period. It seemed to last for quite a while. I was as happy as I thought I could be. I was serving in callings, got married in the temple and served in more callings. But, somewhere inside me, I knew that my relationship with the Church couldn’t feel new and exciting forever. It had to end sometime. So the monotony of church life finally got the better of me, and I was suddenly in quite a predicament.

I was like everybody else in my ward, entirely consumed by life within the Church. But I didn’t like it. I had no idea that my efforts to harmonise with other members would come with unwanted consequences. It was not at all what I had expected. Though, if I’m honest, I’m not sure what I was expecting. Perhaps I thought that it would just feel right, considering I was trying to fit in and be an active part of God’s church.

But it appeared that the Church resembled a huge black hole that swallowed up any and all individual enterprise. I felt utterly oppressed by the “follow the prophet” meme because I resented being bulldozed into capitulation. The immense pressure to conform was suffocating. No one had a voice of their own, but repeated what they’d been told in the correlated lesson materials and at General Conference, or in the Ensign. I found myself pondering, more and more, whether or not God wanted lemmings for followers and, if so, I wasn’t at all comfortable with it. It was very disconcerting, and I began using my testimony of the Church to bolster my allegiance to it. For a time my feelings and thoughts of dissension ceased. But my testimony had gone from being a peaceful confirmation of a divine truth to being an irritant that imposed a combination of rewards and punishments to extort customary church-behaviour from me.

I again immersed myself in church living, but the one-size-fits-all model that the Church provided continued to be hugely problematic. I still found it very difficult to match my attitudes, my beliefs, and my behaviour to group norms. But I was convinced that the Church was true and so I began to constantly berate myself for valuing my individualism more than giving up my whole self for something that just didn’t sit well with my personality. Uncomfortably, I admitted to myself that I needed to follow the President of the Church as he was God’s mouthpiece and be obedient to my local leaders. I concluded that obedience was the key.

So I made a concerted effort to homogenise, telling myself firmly that it was for the greater good. But as soon as I felt my individuality slipping and literally being lost in religion, I would retreat and resist. It seemed that I had issues with fully committing to the Church. I became increasingly annoyed with myself. Looking for a reason to explain my attitude, I became convinced that it was all the devil’s doing, so I sought God’s help through prayer and repented of what I believed was my prideful nature. I thrust myself back into church work, magnifying callings, regularly visiting the temple, researching my family history and so on. It was a very difficult and emotional time for me, but I was committed to getting through it. I wasn’t going to be beaten by a trial of faith.

But, deep down, I did feel like I was being beaten. Well and truly. The frustration that I felt because of my unwillingness to entirely commit to group dynamics soon turned to bouts of depression. I was at a low point. I became moody and short-tempered, which affected my relationship with my wife. For a time, it seemed like we were arguing constantly. Before long I hated myself for what I had become and for what I wasn’t. I couldn’t measure up and be a model Mormon, someone my wife could look up to. I was making her unhappy, and I despised myself for it.

I think she told me at one point that I was being excessively serious about the Church. I gave that a lot of thought, concluding that she was probably correct. But I couldn’t shake the thought that where I’d be in the afterlife and who I would share that with depended on what I did with my church membership in the here and now. That seemed pretty serious to me.

Because I completely believed that the LDS Church was the only church on the face of the earth with which the Lord was “well pleased”, you’d think that that would be enough of a reason to completely give in to Mormonism, sacrificing all and anything that held me back, but no. I honestly didn’t want to give up on what made me unique as a person, namely the totality of qualities and traits that make me who I am, and become identical to other members at church. I sometimes wondered how the truth could possibly set me free when I wasn’t free to be my true self. The Church wanted to expunge me and replace me with a member-clone. I couldn’t help but think that the Church wanted too much of me and thus began the cognitive dissonance that would plague me for the rest of my church life.

I eventually faced up to what I think I knew all along, I truly didn’t want to become another cookie-cutter Mormon. I thought that I would be much the poorer for it, even though I felt that I was going against an important tenet of the Church – becoming one with the Saints. I would often reason with myself and say that I could get by with a semblance of balance, but, in all honesty, I couldn’t. Without the real thing I would forever be conflicted within and faced with choices that I didn’t want to make.

When I think back on my church life, it’s easy for me to see that it consisted of a lot of yo-yoing between blind faith and reason. It was a battle, and reason appeared to be winning. I was certain that I was on the losing side because my “natural man” was unwilling to meet the demands of the Church. Consequently, I had become an enemy to God, and the thought of damnation in the afterlife was very real in my mind. So was the thought of losing my wife. There seemed to be no escaping the tremendous guilt-trip that was always before me.

Despite all of this I stuck with the Church and the dull repetitiousness that characterises the LDS lifestyle. I hadn’t lost my thirst for learning or my awe that I was a member of the True Church. Incredibly, I still believed. My testimony of the truthfulness of the Church wasn’t something I had a problem with. The only thing that had changed since my conversion was my wish to be like my fellow ward members. I just didn’t have it in me to sacrifice my personality for a lemming mentality. I hoped that God would have mercy on me in the hereafter.

My determination to remain an individual was the first rung on the ladder that would eventually lead to my apostasy. It highlighted a part of me that refused to get in step with accepted church standards or norms. It gave emphasis to a lingering niggle in my head that even though I was on the inside of the Church, and appeared to be in every way a member, I felt like an outsider.

Mo’ Bugger

The Bishop’s Visit

As my wife hadn’t been active at church for a few weeks (something very much out of character), she’d received a letter from a sister in our ward enquiring after her welfare. I will add here that this is more than I got when I went inactive.

Anyway, she decided to reply to the letter, not realising the hell-hole that she was about suck us into. She wrote about some concerns that she had after reading aspects of church history, namely contradictions that she had found between original doctrines and the Church’s teachings today. She tried to reconcile the contradictions in her mind, but it was like trying to put a square block through a round hole.

Along with her concerns she included her belief that the Book of Mormon was true and that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, despite her troubling findings. But I guess, at the time, she was trying her damnedest to hold onto her beliefs. So she was salvageable, and could be returned into the bosom of the Saints. But she, like me, was suffering from immense cognitive dissonance that was almost too much to deal with.

Of course the sister in question took the letter to our bishop. And you would have thought that all hell had suddenly broken loose. The bishop called our home and asked if he could schedule a meeting with us. We obliged, thinking that this would be a good time to have a heart to heart with him. We had a lot of issues bottled up inside of us that we needed to let out.

We talked about what we would discuss with him and we even began to feel positive about the meeting. I think we were seeing a glimmer of hope, something that we’d not felt for a while. We intended to be open and honest with him. And we would let him know that we still believed in the LDS Church and everything that that meant. But we needed help.

The bishop arrived, with one of his counsellors, and the meeting did not go as we had envisioned. It was a complete and utter shambles. Right at the start, our feeling of hopefulness was replaced with feelings of hurt and anger. The bishop had refused my wife’s suggestion that we begin the meeting with a prayer. Something that’s standard in the Church. We should have realised how things would turn out after this rebuff.

According to our “good” bishop (somebody who was known in our ward as being the kind of person who would do anything for anybody), after reading only a small part of the letter, he screwed it up and threw it in the bin. Apparently, what he had read had so troubled him that he couldn’t go on without losing the Spirit. Therefore he didn’t get to the bit where my wife had borne a sincere and honest testimony. I think, with hindsight, she should have put her testimony at the beginning of the letter. But she didn’t know that it would actually be seen by the bishop or that he would react as he did.

The meeting became a blur after he told us about his experience with the letter. Of course we tried to reason with him but he would have none of it. He wouldn’t engage us in discussion at all. We decided that this was down to his ignorance. He appeared completely out of his depth with the kind of questions that we were asking. For him the appeal to faith was enough, but for us it was far from being satisfactory.

I don’t think I had ever felt so frustrated in all my life. Our concerns were potentially of the kind that could damn us in the next life if we didn’t make sense of them. That’s how seriously we viewed them with the eye of faith. Yes, we still thought the Church was true, but we had doubts. We weren’t totally sure. We had convictions, but cracks had started to appear. It seemed that cognitive dissonance had become more of a constant companion than the Holy Ghost.

The bishop continued by accusing us of out and out apostasy. This didn’t make sense to me. Since when did having concerns constitute apostasy? I hadn’t tried to lead other Mormons astray with apostate ideas.  I genuinely believed in the LDS Church and I honestly felt that I had a testimony of Joseph Smith’s divine calling, but I was in a very difficult place and needed help in understanding some issues relating to church history. I wanted to return to activity, but couldn’t at that moment in time, as I needed to step away from Mormonism in order to view it in proper perspective. Get a bird’s eye view. How does any of that constitute apostasy? More confusion ensued.

Though we were no different to other Mormons who thoughtlessly acquiesced to the opinions of religious leaders who knew better than us by virtue of their positions within the Mormon Church, we both knew that the bishop was wrong on this, so very wrong. We knew ourselves better than he could ever know us. This meeting would become a pivotal event in my life as it would lead me to question whether God does in fact give people stewardships, and if he actually has priesthood on the earth today.

Anyway, along with his condemnation, the bishop said that we shouldn’t make any more contact with our fellow ward members, and neither would we receive home and visiting teachers. I was now completely gobsmacked, so much so that I think I lost the power to close my mouth. We were both hurting by this point, and more confused than ever. We both felt betrayed, and I felt like I was now an object of ridicule and a target for open mockery – in my own home! – simply for having issues with the Church.

I had considered the bishop a friend. Even so, theologically, he should have had our backs. A bishop leaves his flock of ninety-nine sheep in order to find the one sheep that is lost. My wife and I were well and truly lost. That was evident enough. I guess we were naive to think that he would show compassion to us. I was shocked at how easily he could sacrifice two ward members. And Mormons vehemently deny that they participate in acts of shunning.

Never, until the bishop’s visit and his display of unrighteous dominion, had it entered into my mind that the Church might actually be false. It was the catalyst that caused me to view it for what it truly was – namely, a big fat ‘effin’ lie! Silly really, considering that it was probably the most logical conclusion to everything I had read about the history of the Church and the character of its prophets. With hindsight I can say that he did my wife and me a huge favour.

Yes, being treated in such a way had increased our dissonance ten-fold, but our feelings of utter abandonment had enabled us to reach conclusions that we might never have arrived at otherwise

Mo’ Bugger

Joseph Smith: Fallen Hero

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I’ve always appreciated my wife’s writing, so I thought I’d post something that she wrote in 2008:

As a Mormon, the church’s early mythology was an important element in my initial acceptance of, and continuing loyalty to, the church. It cemented my sense of being part of a living, growing movement, one with heroism and pathos in its past, divine power and approval in its present and glory in its future.

The “official” history of Mormonism involves the selective retelling of the life of its founding prophet, Joseph Smith, and of the early church that he created. It’s the story of a poor, ill-educated farm boy who has a spiritual epiphany, receives a long-hidden book of significant religious and historical importance, is visited by God and by angels, restores the true church and priesthood of Jesus Christ which had been lost for centuries, withstands serious persecution, triumphs in the face of adversity, becomes an inspirational leader of his people, founds a city, commands an army, and is finally martyred for the cause of the gospel. Along the way, Smith is portrayed as an heroic character, a man’s man, strong, handsome, honest, loyal, brave, a loving husband and father. He is permitted a few minor flaws which do nothing to diminish the picture of his overall character – allowing himself to be taken advantage of by others because of his trusting nature or becoming overly-competitive in games of strength with his friends.

This is a figure that church members can be proud of and inspired by – someone who overcame the disadvantages of his situation in a spectacular way, a role model for the ideal patriarch and leader. Down-to-earth, yet blessed with extraordinary spiritual gifts of prophecy, revelation and seership. A character to aspire to, yet a personage to stand in awe of at the same time. In common with the mythologies of other religious founders, Smith is painted as larger-than-life, yet comfortably accessible too.

It’s not surprising that Smith plays such a central role in church history. His influence on the fledgling church and its continued progress since his demise at the relatively young age of 38, is immense and, indeed, provides the foundation for all of the most significant doctrines and activities of the church today. Everything that I believed and held sacred as a Mormon originated in the ideas of this one charismatic figure.

Because Smith’s life and teachings provide the backdrop to the church’s most sacred beliefs, they have necessarily been airbrushed by the religion’s leaders to provide an appropriately spiritual canvas upon which to build faith and testimony in both converts and long-time church members. As Mormon Apostle Boyd K Packer once famously commented: “There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not … Some things that are true are not very useful” (The Mantle is Far Far Greater Than The Intellect). In other words, prevarication in the presentation of church history is sometimes essential to maintain the faith of its members. If the truth does not promote faith, then church members need protecting from it.

This approach has proved very fruitful, as once the “approved” version of Mormonism’s early mythology is ingrained into its membership, it’s difficult to dislodge. For a start, the leaders of the faith do all in their power to ensure that the “official” history is widely taught, while seeking to dissuade members from accessing a more accurate, and potentially uncomfortable version. They often dismiss more accurate histories as “intellectual” rather than spiritual, as though using the intellect to assess and report historical events is shameful and unprofessional. Basically, they insist that maintaining a faith-promoting mythology is essential, even if the censorship of truth is required to achieve it. Often they do their job so effectively that most faithful members are unwilling to accept a more sceptical view of their church’s origins, no matter how much evidence there is for its veracity.

As I had only ever known the church-sanctioned version of Mormon history, realising that there was more to the stories of Smith and his exploits than I had suspected came as a nasty shock. Revering the man as God’s chosen vessel through which to restore his true church and priesthood certainly elevated my expectations of his behaviour above the ordinary. Of course I was aware that he had flaws, but I assumed that the uniqueness and responsibility of his calling required a certain level of integrity and honour. I had bought into the faith-promoting mythology so thoroughly that I was totally unprepared to discover the more unsavoury aspects of Smith’s character and actions.

It was his attitude towards women, and more especially his wife Emma, that first shook the foundations of my testimony regarding Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling. I read a couple of books on one of his most controversial doctrines – plural marriage. One book in particular – Mormon Polygamy: A History by Richard van Wagoner – detailed how Smith went behind his wife’s back numerous times to “marry” other girls and women. In one particularly poignant incident Emma, as president of the newly formed Relief Society (the organisation for women of the church), gave an address designed to quash the rumours that she believed to be wholly false regarding the institution and practice of polygamy within the church, while embarrassingly unaware that her two counsellors and her secretary were all secretly “married” to her own husband. Other stories of Smith propositioning the wives of his friends who had been sent away on missions at his direction, and reacting with venom towards the women who rejected him, cast serious doubt in my mind as to the likelihood that God would choose such a man to restore his true gospel to the earth in preparation for the eventual return of Jesus Christ, as I had always been taught.

No mention is made in “official” church history of Smith’s infidelity and deceitfulness, nor the way he used his position of authority to coerce married women into acquiescing to his demands that they enter into a polygamous relationship with him behind their husbands’ backs. Nor are members told about the malicious way in which he publicly destroyed the reputations of the women who refused his overtures. I’m sure these incidents would come under Boyd K Packer’s category of that which is true but not very useful in promoting faith.

Learning of these and other distasteful but verified and documented aspects of church history made me realise just how much my testimony had relied on the truthfulness of what I had been taught about the church’s beginnings and Smith’s career as an instrument of the Lord. I found it very hard to reconcile what I was now discovering with what I had always believed. Realising that the “faithful history” could not be trusted to give an accurate picture of what really happened, I was left with a dilemma. Did my new and growing knowledge of Smith’s character and actions mean that he may not have been a prophet of God after all?

But in my heart of hearts I already knew the answer. After 27 years of indoctrination, the church had done a wonderful job of convincing me to listen to my feelings, to treat my gut instinct as a communication from the Holy Spirit. My distaste for some of Smith’s more obnoxious activities felt too much like a confirmation that he wasn’t the man I had always believed him to be. With Joseph Smith gone, there was nothing left to support my belief in the uniqueness of the church. My hero had fallen – and taken my testimony with him.

Mo’ Bugger

“For they have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant”

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At the height of my cognitive dissonance, church ordinances topped my list of concerns with the LDS Church. I had been taught that ordinances are of the utmost importance because they’re necessary for salvation and exaltation in the celestial kingdom. For example, baptism by immersion, performed by a person having the proper priesthood authority, is the gateway that everyone must pass through if they wish to get onto the path that leads to the celestial kingdom (see 2 Nephi 31:17–18), and there is no other way. As a consequence of such teachings, and as a faithful member of the Church, I felt that I had no choice but to view ordinances as being of inestimable value.

Before I get into the meat of this posting, I want to show that ordinances are more than just a door into another room, or a permission slip, if you will. They’re full of necessary symbolism and have wording that must be spoken precisely by the person officiating. To show what I mean, I have two examples:

  1. Baptism by immersion: If for any reason the person being baptised isn’t completely immersed in the water, then the ordinance must be performed again. So the symbolism of the death, burial, and resurrection of the Saviour is vital and needs to be correctly represented. Not even a strand of hair can be above the waterline.
  2. Sacrament prayer: A priesthood holder blesses the bread and the water using words that are specific to that ordinance (see D&C 20:79). There should be no deviation from the script. In the background, carefully listening, is a presiding authority to see that every word spoken is correct and, if an error is made, he will indicate that the prayer should be repeated.

In the first example, it’s clear that symbolism is an important and necessary part of an ordinance. It’s not something that can be dismissed and overlooked. Something is being taught which needs to be observed if important knowledge and understanding is to be passed on to the baptismal candidate. The symbolism in this example should be obvious to almost anyone. The person being baptised is to put off the old man, to paraphrase Paul the Apostle (Eph. 4:22), and be raised up a new man in the likeness of the Saviour. This symbolism is lost if it’s not strictly adhered to, and so is the efficacy of the ordinance. Or why else would it have to be performed so precisely?

In the second example, the fact that the priesthood holder has to say the prayer exactly indicates that, for the ordinance to produce the intended result, the words are mightily significant. They’re not to be spoken lightly. A word out of place, or a misspoken word, would mean that the blessing is null and void.

So, in some degree, this is how I viewed church ordinances as a devoted Mormon, and despite having a large list of questions relating to doctrinal inconsistencies that I wanted answers to, nothing seemed more vital to understand and gain a perspective on, than the issues I had with the ordinances of the Church.

To Mormons, there is no more sacred part of their faith than the ordinances of the temple. But these ordinances, in particular, have been subject to massive changes over the years. As a believing Latter-day Saint, this was something that weighed heavily on my mind because of what Joseph Smith had taught about ordinances:

“Ordinances instituted in the heavens before the foundation of the world, in the priesthood, for the salvation of men, are not to be altered or changed.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 308)

This teaching contributed significantly to my cognitive dissonance. I was troubled by its implications. Smith appeared to be unequivocal on the issue. Despite having what I considered to be a strong testimony of the truthfulness of the Church, I couldn’t ignore what Mormonism’s foundational prophet was saying – that the ordinances “are not to be altered or changed.” The truth of the matter was that the ordinances had been changed, and greatly so. Some ordinances, like the law of adoption, had completely vanished from Mormon temples. It was all very disconcerting.

After wondering if I should just accept the alterations made to the ordinances without question, which would definitely have been the easier option, I somewhat begrudgingly reasoned to myself that if anyone knew the truth of the matter, then it would be Joseph Smith. So, I continued studying what he had to say on the issue, and I found that he definitely had more to say!

“Now the purpose in Himself in the winding up scene of the last dispensation is that all things pertaining to that dispensation should be conducted precisely in accordance with the preceding dispensations… He set the temple ordinances to be the same forever and ever and set Adam to watch over them, to reveal them from heaven to man, or to send angels to reveal them.” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, vol.4, p. 208)

I read this, and the words “conducted precisely” and “the same forever and ever” jumped out at me. It corresponded very well with what Smith said in the other quote. It seemed that he envisioned such uniformity in church ordinances that any ordinance performed in this dispensation should precisely imitate ordinances performed in other dispensations. In the same way that genealogical records of ancestors are connected to other ancestors, there should be an uninterrupted line of unmodified ordinances all the way back to when ordinances were first instituted in the heavens, before the foundation of the world. Any alteration or change would, of course, make such a thing impossible. Even the slightest modification would negate precision.

Smith also said:

“If there is no change of ordinances, there is no change of Priesthood.” (TPJS, p. 158)

“Where there is no change of priesthood, there is no change of ordinances….” (TPJS, p. 308)

“It signifies, then, that the ordinances must be kept in the very way God has appointed; otherwise their Priesthood will prove a cursing instead of a blessing.” (TPJS, p. 169)

Reading these quotes brought about an even greater confusion in my mind. It appeared that any changes made to the ordinances, and there were many, were indicative of a “change of priesthood”. I wasn’t totally sure what that meant, though I had learned by attending the temple that Satan had false priesthoods. Anyway, I knew that it was serious, and it forced me to question the validity of the Church. Consequently, I was faced with more questions, but very few answers.

Eventually I came across church teachings, like this one from Brigham Young, which seemed pertinent:

“It is said the Priesthood was taken from the Church, but it is not so, the Church went from the Priesthood, and continued to travel in the wilderness, turned from the commandments of the Lord, and instituted other ordinances.” (Brigham Young, J.D. 12:69)

I started to wonder if the LDS Church had fallen away from the truth. It had apparently happened in the past, hence the need for a restoration of all things, so why couldn’t it happen today? This seemed to me to be a perfectly reasonable question to ask. Therefore I began to consider this a possibility, more so than accept that the Church was an out and out lie made up by Joseph Smith. I wasn’t ready to lose my faith, so I studied church ordinances in this light in order to keep a modicum of faith. I thought if I could find changes of a “serious” nature, then it would surely add weight to my suspicion that the Church had apostatised.

I looked into church ordinances in more depth, to ascertain what had been changed and if it mattered at all. In my reading of Joseph Smith’s teachings, I learnt that every person “must be saved on the same principles” (TPJS, p. 308). So I used this teaching as a benchmark to measure against any changes I found, and I discovered that there had been a lot of alterations of a serious nature made to the ordinances, more than I initially realised when I started out on this journey.

It was all deeply troubling to me. I didn’t like what I was finding, as it chafed against the can-do-no-wrong image I had of the Church. I wondered if the present-day church thought that Smith had got some parts of the ordinances wrong, and so were rectifying his mistakes. This didn’t sit well with me, though. I was really surprised to find that there are even ordinances that are completely obsolete in the modern-day church, namely, re-baptism (for healing the sick), the law of adoption, the mother’s blessing and prayer circles in the homes of church members. Why? The fact that the Church had done away with some ordinances completely undermined the need for them to be restored in the first place.

One of the reasons that I shared the two examples at the beginning of this post was so that I could show the antithetical messages that the Church puts out to its membership, and why it’s not surprising at all that some members suffer from bouts of cognitive dissonance. Bearing in mind what I said about the absolute need for correct symbolism and wording, consider the following:

  1. Temple initiatory ordinances: In the Nauvoo Temple there were big baths into which patrons would bathe naked and have consecrated oil poured over their heads from a horn and the oil would run down and cover their bodies. Afterwards they would be given a special garment to wear. At some point, this was changed. The baths were removed and the patrons would instead be touched with water and anointed with oil on parts of their body mentioned in the wording of the ordinance – the forehead, ear, eye, nose, lips, neck, shoulders, back, breast, stomach, arm, hand, hip, leg and foot. Then an officiator would help them into a garment representing the coat of skins given to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. In 2005, this ordinance was changed yet again. Now the officiator touches the patron’s forehead and pours a small amount of oil on their head. Twice in the process, the person officiating puts his/her hands on the patron’s head and says the words specific to that ordinance, and it’s interesting to note that before any of this happens the patron is already wearing the symbolic garment. It’s not put on later, as it was previously.
  2. Endowment ceremony: There’s a lot of wording in this ordinance that has changed or been completely removed altogether, far too much to cover in detail here, though I may write about it in another post. Anyway, here’s a few examples of how the wording of the ceremony has changed:
  • No longer do women covenant to obey their husband as he obeys God.

  • No longer are the Saints required to “covenant and promise that you will pray, and never cease to pray, Almighty God to avenge the blood of the prophets upon this nation, and that you will teach the same to your children and your children’s children unto the third and fourth generations.” This was referred to as the Oath of Vengeance.

  • No longer do temple patrons covenant to have their throats slit, their hearts ripped out, or their bellies torn open for revealing the signs and tokens.

There’s a huge irony in the Church’s removal of so much of the symbolism associated with the initiatory ordinances. Such a loss of symbolism is absolutely comparable to changing baptism from total immersion to a light sprinkling; a thing that the LDS Church frowns upon and says is a tell-tale sign of apostasy. LeGrand Richards commented that churches “have changed many of the ordinances. For instance, they no longer baptize as Jesus was baptized when he went to John to be baptized of him” (“The Things of God and Man,” Ensign, Nov. 1977, p. 21).

Well, there is no doubt in my mind that the LDS Church has changed many of the ordinances too. For starters, they no longer perform initiatory ordinances in the way that the early Mormon Church did, instead they dab recipients with a little water and oil as opposed to washing their whole bodies with water and pouring oil over their heads and allowing it to run down and cover their bodies. The Church today is guilty of the same things it accuses the early Christian church of doing and, as far as I was concerned, the alterations made to this particular ordinance were damning evidence that the Church has lost its way. At least, that’s what I told myself when I was struggling to keep hold of my faith. Now I know different.

With regards to the script of an ordinance, the Church is sending out a mixed message to the Saints. On the one hand, it’s essential to get the wording of an ordinance right or efficacy is lost, while on the other hand, the wording can be changed – multiple times in the case of the endowment ceremony! – or removed altogether, and the efficacy apparently remains. This made no sense to me when I was trying to cling onto my belief-system. If anything, I was becoming more and more confused. You’d think that a temple ordinance would be just as unlikely to change as the sacrament blessing, if not more so due to its sacred nature.

On the topic of script change, something that caused me even more cognitive dissonance was the 1921 change to priesthood conferrals. It seemed that under Heber J. Grant’s administration there had been some debate among the authorities of the Church on the issue of conferring the priesthood. Specifically, how it should be done. Charles W. Penrose commented:

“We have been making a mistake in ordinations. We have been conferring the Priesthood, and it ought not to be done. If we confer the Priesthood on a man, we give him all the offices and callings in the church. We should ordain directly to the office in the priesthood. There is only one man that holds the Priesthood.” (1st counsellor to H. J. Grant, Stake Quarterly Conference, Provo, Utah Stake, 1921)

So it was decided that conferring the priesthood and then an office was unnecessary. All that needed to be conferred on a person was an office within the priesthood, and that’s what happened. But 36 years later, David O. McKay reversed the change, without explanation, and once again the priesthood was conferred upon an individual and then he was ordained to an office in the priesthood.

Discovering this, I wondered if anyone who had been ordained to an office in the priesthood in those 36 years actually had the priesthood at all. This caused me much consternation, because the ramifications of such a mistake are huge. I imagined thousands of men conferring the priesthood on other men while not having the authority to do so, and those newly ordained, thinking they had the priesthood, conferring the priesthood on yet more men. The implications are staggering.

These are just some of the issues I had as a questioning, but faithful, Latter-day Saint. I laugh now, when I think about how much all of this stuff bothered me. It was really difficult losing my religion, but with hindsight I can see how ridiculous it all was.

Anyway, I wrote this post because of a quote I came across recently. I’d read it before, but it was many years ago. Joseph Smith comments that the “order of the house of God has been, and ever will be, the same, even after Christ comes…“ (TPJS, p. 91), and this caused me to think about how untrue his statement is. There is absolutely no order in the House of the Lord. The so-called sacred ordinances are subject to change at any given time, often due to nothing more than social pressure. Mormons conveniently call such changes “continuing revelation” to help smooth the transition from old ways to new ways. So whatever the authorities of the Church come up with, the members are going to feel good about it. But really, the Church is nothing more than a product of its time, and has shown that it will continue to change because of expediency.

Mo’ Bugger