Wednesday, September 5, 2012

FAQ: Do Mormons Really Believe They Can Become Gods?

Short answer: 


Unpacking the question: 

This question has been coming up lately from two groups who might be surprised how much they have in common with each other. Religious conservatives often bring up the belief to show that Mormons are unorthodox and blasphemous and shouldn't be listened to.  Secular cultural liberals don't see "unorthodox" or "blasphemous" as negative labels, so they bring up the belief to cast Mormons as weird (secular for "unorthodox") and arrogant (secular for "blasphemous") and not worth listening to (no translation necessary).

Now, someone who is trying to say Latter-day Saints aren't worth listening to is probably not going to listen to an answer to this question. Which is too bad, because it's actually a question that gets at some of our most fundamental beliefs.

And while I will freely admit that this particular LDS belief is far outside the cultural mainstream, I think it is a greater influence for good on us than most observers realize. 

Long answer:

Most Western religions teach that we are primarily God's creations: beings he made (in his image, no less!) to find joy and to help complete the beauty of the universe. Most Eastern religions teach that we are actually a part of God: that a portion of him is manifest in every being and that we will eventually merge back into God as a drop returns to the sea.

Latter-day Saints join Western religions in treating humans as beings who exist separate from God, but join Eastern religions in interpreting our true natures as radically divine. In our view, the soul is the seed that contains the tree. Or the tiny atom whose mass quietly contains incredible quantities of energy. God, as a distinct and separate individual, is with us, watching over us, and communicating with us--but his full Divinity is also in us, waiting to be allowed to unfold.

This view is not an obscure Mormon teaching--it's a basic assumption for many Latter-day Saints. And it informs the way we look at several issues. For example:

Parenting. One reason family matters so much to Latter-day Saints is that we believe so fully in parent-child relationships as a manifestation of the divine. We believe our souls are still children even as our bodies become parents, but that in earthly parenting we can experience a portion of God's identity and unlock our own divinity in the process. Learning to be a good parent is, in Mormon terms, the most direct route toward learning to be like God.

Facing Adversity. For most Western religions, God created the universe. For most Eastern religions, God is the universe. And either of those views raises a significant question: if God is good, why do bad things happen? In a Latter-day Saint view, the cores of our souls (called "intelligences") are eternal in both directions: they have always existed and will always exist. God didn't create himself and he didn't create the innermost core of us--he is a God partly because he so fully understands us and processes by which we can grow into our divinity. And so for Latter-day Saints, adversity is not a flaw in the universe so much as an opportunity for growth. Our reputation for rising to face difficulty comes in part from the example of our history, but also from our beliefs about the nature of our own souls.

Sin. There are numerous reasons to believe sin is bad. There may be consequences. It's against the rules. It will disappoint someone you care about. It can hurt people. But our belief in the endless potential within every human being allows us to focus on another reason sin is bad: sin damages us, it dams our eternal progression. And so after we sin, we don't just seek forgiveness--we are looking for healing, asking Christ to help mend and nourish our damaged divinity. And when we live good lives, we can feel how much more they're in harmony with the impulse of growth within us.

So do Mormons believe we can become Gods in the afterlife? Absolutely. But it's not like we sit around all day and dream about that future in cartoon terms. For most Latter-day Saints, our divine potential matters now: as we watch our children grow, when we face trials and adversity, when we seek healing through Jesus Christ's Atonement.

And if anything, I wish we would talk about this controversial part of our doctrine a little bit more. One thing I think Latter-day Saints have to offer to our neighbors and friends of other faiths is just a little sense of wonder about whether our most sacred humans traits--our interest in creating and organizing, our capacity for empathy and imagination, our longing to nurture and to serve, our innate abhorrence for cruelty and evil--are really signs of a radical godliness that is already part of every human soul.


  1. I agree that we need to talk more about this, and even embrace it--it isn't weird, but, as you said, it is radical. . . and, quite frankly, everywhere in the scriptures (why keep commanding people to be like god, to be "godly," if we can't actually be like God!)

    I think many people who hear the doctrine that humanity has a divine destiny--that we can literally become Gods--picture something along the lines of Olympus and the classical myths when they picture multiple, embodied Gods. What they don't picture is a great group of perfect beings working together to perfect the universe, unified in the goodness, in their mercy, and in their dedication to that ultimate goal of salvation and exaltation of life.

    If you are not one, you are not mine, Christ says. that's because, in order to achieve our divine potential, we must be unified, united. . .one. Because God is one.

  2. I like that when I read "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" in the Sermon on the Mount, it has such a rich meaning to it because of this LDS belief.

  3. Great post and perspective. It is amazing the deep and meaningful thoughts and insights one can come too when we look beyond just the "short answer".

  4. One other way this is important is as a motivator for charity towards others. If everyone around us has the potential to become godly, we have even greater reason to try to see the good in them, and help them reach that potential.

  5. I think where LDS people get into trouble with this question is when they DO, as you put it, sit around and think about it in cartoon terms rather than acknowledging how little they know about what will come after they die. I cringe every time someone talks about "their planet" or things like that, because to me it almost always smacks of a certain arrogance. Maybe that's not the best way to say it. I feel we (maybe I'm just speaking for myself here) have so little comprehension of the magnitude of God's works as they are that it seems untoward and even irreverent to talk about becoming creators in trivializing ways, almost as if its something we are entitled to. Perhaps that's a little harsh.

    1. I don't think you're being too harsh. I think members of the LDS faith sometimes take for granted principles that seem so fundamental and basic to them/us that they forget for a few minutes how enormous and sacred those things are. When it becomes common, it's easy to trivialize and turn into a game. I agree with you.

    2. If you live in a ward where people actually say things like "when I'm the god of my own planet," my condolences! :)

      I have to respectfully disagree that saying such things smacks of arrogance. It is unequivocally arrogant in that it implies you've already mastered everything you need to learn here. "Drawing ever nearer to God in this Earth life? Been there, done that. Let's talk about the exciting things like being in charge of creating new worlds."

      I agree that focusing on caricatures of exaltation trivializes it. Until their ancestors, their spouses, their children, their grandchildren, their neighbors (in the Christlike sense) and they themselves are all perfected, people like that have missed the whole point of faith they profess and have no business anticipating their own exaltation.

  6. After reading this I by chance happened to listen to Tad R. Callister's BYU devotional on this topic. I found it interesting and a nice segue way if you're interested:

  7. I am always uplifted and edified by what I read here. Thank you for your perspectives.

  8. Great insights (as always). I especially liked the reminder that the Master is truly a healer of our souls, not just a Redeemer. He doesn't just ransom and rescue us, He heals the wounds of our captivity. Beautiful!



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