April 21, 2011

The Greatest Reward

The most unique of Mormon beliefs is probably the notion that God is an exalted man.  This was the gist of a eulogy Joseph Smith gave at the funeral of a friend, which was subsequently recorded and is now referred to as the King Follett Discourse.  While many people outside the LDS church take a dim view of the doctrine, its corollary—that human beings, in turn, are capable of becoming Gods—elicits an even stronger knee-jerk reaction.  Antagonists of the church say the idea of aspiring to be God’s equal is a sacrilege. 

I won’t argue one way or another whether it’s truly within the grasp of humans to evolve into Gods, but I will question why anyone would want to do so.  My astonishment is especially understandable in light of an experiment I’ve been known to conduct with members of the LDS faithful.  Here’s how the experiment goes. 

After sidling up to a church member, I ask: “If given the opportunity, would you want to become the world’s supreme leader?“

After a quizzical look, the respondent typically says, “I don’t think so—no.” 

“Really?  Would you consider serving as president of the United States?”

“Nope, not that either.” 

“How about governor of a large state—California, for example—would you accept that position?” 

“With its budget problems?  No way.”  

“What about CEO of a multinational company—let’s say, Exxon Mobile—would you accept that responsibility?”

Even here the answer is invariably, “No.”

“Then, in that case,” I reply, “why would you ever want to achieve exaltation?” 

Now, Mormons are not without answers.  Typically they say something to the effect that only in the highest degree of glory are people able to live together with God and their families.  The basis for that belief is the LDS doctrine that there are multiple levels of reward in heaven, with exaltation being the highest.  (But in that regard it has always seemed odd to me that God won’t allow family members to see each other when they’re relegated to lower kingdoms).  Yet that’s not the end to the benefits of exaltation.  Mormons believe that as Gods they’ll be capable of eternal increase, which is to say, they’ll be able to create new worlds without end and populate them with their own children.

What I’m about to say may sound crass, but I have to be honest and describe the reaction to this doctrine at play in my head.  I’m not sure if the appeal of exaltation is in the infinite number of children a God can have, or if it’s the conclusion one might reach that only exalted beings can engage in the process—I think you know what I mean—of making children.  Putting that question aside, however, let’s consider the implication of this so-called blessing. 

Let’s say you perform admirably in life and for your reward you’re offered the greatest of all gifts: Exaltation.  Excited, you begin to create worlds and populate them with children whom you love dearly.  Then hoping for the best, you watch your children from afar, unable to direct their affairs except through sacred texts that many will misunderstand and some will misinterpret for gain.  You try to talk to them in prayer, but they find that means of communication difficult.  In ways that horrify you, your children begin to brutalize each other.  Many who are in positions to render assistant, ignore—and even prey upon—their less fortunate siblings.  War and devastation result.  If you accept the precedent of our Old Testament Father as morally correct, you become so upset, you consider eliminating your race of children altogether. 

Even if things do work out in the end, how can you watch for a moment while these acts go on?  As for me, I’d turn down the chance.  Give me instead the opportunity to build a small cabin, grow a garden, make a few good friends and occasionally write a perfect and true sentence.  I’m not sure if there is an afterlife, or if what I’ve just described is possible, but if our souls are eternal, I’d hope to live it simply. 

No comments: