If I want to know what Mormonism teaches about human beings becoming Gods and creating worlds, should I ask a Mormon? Last month (October 2011) New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd asked the planet question of two Mormons: Richard Bushman, the Visiting Professor in Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University, and Kent P. Jackson, associate dean of religion at Brigham Young University.
Dr. Bushman called the idea of devout Mormons having their own planets in eternity “Mormon lore” that stems from the Mormon belief that humans can become like God. He suggested that if Mormons can become like God, they might then be able to run a bit of God’s universe. Tagging the belief as “lore,” Dr. Bushman relegated the idea to the arena of mere tradition passed from person to person within the Mormon community by word of mouth.
Dr. Jackson went a step further. He said the idea of faithful Mormons being rewarded with their own planets in eternity is a “canard”; that is, “an unfounded rumor or story.” Nothing further needs to be said. End of discussion.
Maureen Dowd asked her question of two prominent Mormons in-the-know about LDS doctrine. She did exactly what most Mormons say non-Mormons need to do if they want to learn the truth about Mormonism. I’m not sure what Maureen Dowd learned the truth about, but it wasn’t the truth about Mormonism.
In a 2007 blog I provided teachings from LDS authorities on this topic (“…prophets, apostles, a Church-produced student manual and a doctrinal exposition by the First Presidency and the Twelve of the LDS Church all teaching ‘that those who attain exaltation become gods of their own planets and give birth to spirit children who pass from preexistence through corporeal life to the afterlife’”); I won’t repeat them here. Some Mormons like to apply the that-was-then-this-is-now disclaimer to that list of historic LDS teachings, but what of the current authoritative LDS teachings on the topic?
As is pointed out in an article at mrm.org, while serving as Prophet and President of the LDS Church, Spencer W. Kimball taught,
“Each one of you has it within the realm of his possibility to develop a kingdom over which you will preside as its king and god. You will need to develop yourself and grow in ability and power and worthiness, to govern such a world with all of its people.” (“’…the Matter of Marriage’” [address delivered at University of Utah Institute of Religion, 22 Oct. 1976], 2).
That was then–35 years ago. But this is now: President Kimball’s statement is quoted in three current LDS manuals. The manuals are produced by the Mormon Church for the purpose of teaching children (Chapter 4: Teaching Children: from Four to Eleven Years,” A Parent’s Guide), high schoolers (Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Resource Manual – Introduction), and college students (Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual 430 and 431, 29 [Chapter 10]).
Shortly before his death in 1901, fifth LDS Prophet and President Lorenzo Snow watched kindergarten children forming clay into spheres. President Snow turned to his companion and observed,
“…these children are now at play, making mud worlds, the time will come when some of these boys, through their faithfulness to the gospel, will progress and develop in knowledge, intelligence and power, in future eternities, until they shall be able to go out into space where there is unorganized matter and call together the necessary elements, and through their knowledge of and control over the laws and powers of nature, to organize matter into worlds on which their posterity may dwell, and over which they shall rule as gods.’” (Improvement Era, June 1919, 658–59)
That was then—110 years ago. But this is now: President Snow’s comment is included in a current LDS manual prepared by the Church Educational System to be used in teaching Mormon college students (Presidents of the Church: Student Manual Religion 345, p.90).
In his 1981 book, President Kimball Speaks Out, then-prophet Spencer W. Kimball wrote,
“Peter and John had little secular learning, being termed ignorant. But they knew the vital things of life, that God lives and that the crucified, resurrected Lord is the Son of God. They knew the path to eternal life. This they learned in a few decades of their mortal life. Their righteous lives opened the door to godhood for them and creation of worlds with eternal increase.” (91)
That was then—30 years ago. But this is now: President Kimball’s words are found quoted by Mormon Apostle Tom L. Perry in the August 2011 Ensign magazine (“The Tradition of a Balanced, Righteous Life,” 51). Additionally, though it was 14 years ago, Mr. Perry cited this same quote in his October 1997 General Conference address titled “Receive Truth” (Ensign, November 1997, 60).
So back to my original question: If I want to know what Mormonism teaches about human beings becoming Gods and creating worlds, should I ask a Mormon? Should I ask LDS professors? Or should I consult the teachings of LDS prophets and apostles? Mormon professor Kent Jackson says the doctrine is nothing but a canard — an unfounded rumor — while Mormon prophets and apostles continue to proclaim the doctrine with clarity via official Church venues and publications. Which source is the best and most trustworthy source for learning the truth about Mormonism? And just as importantly, why don’t these sources agree?