If you saw “The Book of Mormon” on Broadway, then you’ll undoubtedly remember when the main character sings, “I believe that God has a plan for all of us. I believe that plan involves me getting my own planet.” That idea is so obviously ridiculous that you can’t help but mock it when anyone mentions it. But according to some media reports, a new explanation of that idea by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints says that’s not actually how it works.
It’s part of the same series of responses in which the church admitted last December that it was racist when it said black people couldn’t be priests until 1978, but they’re not racist anymore. (Just homophobic.)
Here’s what the explanation about the planets says:
Since human conceptions of reality are necessarily limited in mortality, religions struggle to adequately articulate their visions of eternal glory. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” These limitations make it easy for images of salvation to become cartoonish when represented in popular culture. For example, scriptural expressions of the deep peace and overwhelming joy of salvation are often reproduced in the well-known image of humans sitting on their own clouds and playing harps after death. Latter-day Saints’ doctrine of exaltation is often similarly reduced in media to a cartoonish image of people receiving their own planets.
A cloud and harp are hardly a satisfying image for eternal joy, although most Christians would agree that inspired music can be a tiny foretaste of the joy of eternal salvation. 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.
Keep in mind that the statement is not doctrinal. It’s anonymously written and, for all most Mormons know, it’s just part of the church’s PR campaign.
What I don’t get from that article is an articulate explanation of what Mormons are supposed to believe instead. If owning your own planet is “cartoonish,” then what’s not? Sure, some Christians may take issue with a simplified idea of Heaven that involves harps and clouds, but my problem is with the idea of Heaven altogether.
The LDS article only specifies:
Church members imagine exaltation less through images of what they will get and more through the relationships they have now and how those relationships might be purified and elevated.
That’s not quite the repudiation of planet-owning that they could have made… and there’s a reason for that. Mormons still believe they can become God-like (or God, period), and if God can populate a planet as He did Earth, then what’s stopping the rest of us?
In other words, it’s not that Mormons don’t believe you get your own planet after you die. It’s that it’s not central to their concept of the afterlife. But the idea is still there. They didn’t dismiss it; they just downplayed it. Because it’s embarrassing.
I spoke with Sarah, one of the readers of this site and a former Mormon (for 25 years) herself, and she was adamant that she was taught by church elders that you could literally get your own planet after you die:
I was most definitely taught in Sunday School, during the Endowment (temple) ceremony, in talks by the leaders, and in high school seminary that the righteous would inherit a planet and become “like gods.” In the temple ceremony, they repeatedly said “a world like unto the other worlds we have hereunto formed,” meaning that Jesus, God, Satan, Adam and Eve, the whole thing, happened on other planets previously.
Carol, another Mormon I spoke with, told me,
This is something that was definitely taught when I was growing up (’70’s and ’80’s) — it was an important component of the Mormon “Plan of Salvation.” The biggest flaw in the line from the Book of Mormon musical is that it was at least a planet. The doctrine was that you create multiple worlds, perhaps your own galaxy or universe. So, for example, when I was a Mormon teen, I remember it was a serious theological question for my fellow Mormon sci-fi fans whether various life forms on different planets had the same God as each other.
Need more evidence that Mormons have been pushing this “You get a world” and “You get a world” and “You get a world” idea?
Here’s Brigham Young in the Journal of Discourses 17:143:
We shall go on from one step to another, reaching forth into the eternities until we become like the Gods, and shall be able to frame for ourselves, by the behest and command of the Almighty. All those who are counted worthy to be exalted and to become Gods, even the sons of God, will go forth and have earths and worlds like those who framed this and millions on millions of others.
No, it’s not from the Book of Mormon, but you can understand why this idea would spread. That’s not the only mention of the belief either.
So none of this is a clarification by the Mormon Church; it appears to be an attempt at backtracking and making Mormonism a little more palatable.
Not that it’ll help. The LDS Church holds a slew of beliefs that could easily be described as “cartoony.” Even if planet-owning is taken out of the mix, there’s still Jesus visiting America, multiple heavens, the golden plates, and the magical underwear.
But let’s be clear: The Mormons didn’t deny the idea of owning your own planet because, in their theology, it’s still something that could happen.
(Image via Shutterstock)