Reason #158: The whole becoming a god(ess) thing
This is an excerpt from my book, The Mormon Mirage 3rd Edition: A Former Member Looks at the Mormon Church Today(Zondervan, 2009). Also available as an audiobook and as an expanded-text E-book for Nook, Kindle and other reading devices.
Becoming a God
Once when I was speaking to a group of high school students on the subject of Mormonism, I outlined the central points of doctrine covered by Joseph Smith in his King Follett Address. One of the students raised his hand as I was talking. He seemed a little annoyed. “That was 1844,” he said. “Mormons don’t teach that stuff about becoming a god today, do they?”
Yes, they do. There is no doctrine, outside that of continuing revelation, that is more integral to the Mormonism of both the past and the present than that of a progressing God. Their tiny children are taught this from infancy; their adolescents learn “scriptures” to support it; and every faithful adult holds godhood as his or her ultimate and rightful destiny. For the last four years that I was a Mormon, I wore a silver charm of the Salt Lake City LDS Temple to remind myself of my commitment to get married in a temple so that I could eventually become a goddess myself. I believed what Spencer W. Kimball said: “We are gods in embryo, and the Lord demands perfection of us.”[i]
Recently, LDS apologists have begun to claim that their teaching about man’s ability to become a god is actually true, original Christian teaching: that is, what the first-century apostles and their successors themselves believed and taught.[ii] Mormons base their assertions on non-scriptural writings from the first centuries after Christ (specifically those of Iraneus of Lyons and Athanasius of Alexandria), and say that these writings of the early Christian age “sound” more like Mormonism than today’s mainstream Christianity. (I don’t know of a single Christian expert on that period who would agree with the contention that early Christian writers promoted what is now LDS doctrine.) Such writings (of Iraneus and Athanasius) are not in the Bible, and for the very reason a Christian must not rely upon them for doctrine: They were the opinions of men – some good, some bad, and some downright heretical. (One can just as easily “prove” some of the most grievous excesses and cultural superstitions of the Catholic Church, for instance, from those same writings.)
The primary Biblical passages that LDS missionaries and other apologists use to “prove” their teachings on multiple Gods and the potential godhood of humans are those scriptures which refer to “gods.” (In many cases both Mormons and Christians would agree that certain verses refer to idols or false gods.) However, the many verses that refer to the Lord as being above other (false) gods or being “God of gods” (Ps. 136:2), are used by Mormons to supposedly prove a multiplicity of gods.
But Mormons would go a step further. They say that when Jesus quoted Psalm 82:6 in John 10:34-35, He was saying that people were gods (at least, potential gods). The Psalm passage says, “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.” However, the context of both passages devastates this idea – nobody believed the unrighteous rulers (the Hebrew word from which “gods” is translated is translated as “judge” in Exodus 21:6, 22 and 22:8) of the Psalm passage were truly eternal deities. That is proved in verse 6 which says, “you will die like mere men.” Nor can anyone say that Jesus was in any way approving of the spiritual status of the people He was speaking to when He quoted that Psalm.[iii] (If Mormons want that kind of godhood, they may just get it.)
Other Bible passages that LDS people use to support the idea of people becoming gods in the future are the Transfiguration (in which former human beings are “glorified,”), the commands to “be holy” and “be perfect” like God (see Lev. 19:2 and Mt. 5:48), the idea of participating in the divine nature of God (2 Pet. 1:4), the dominion of man over the created order (Ps. 8:4-6), and all the many, many passages that speak of our adoption into the family of God and subsequent status as heirs. In them, God depicts Himself as being and having something completely unique. He is willing to share glory, and holiness, and perfection, and His divine nature, and all that He has with us. But everything in the rest of the Bible – the context for all these teachings – tells us that only God is God; and nobody or nothing else will ever be.
When I was a Mormon, I like all other LDS children memorized the couplet attributed to LDS prophet Lorenzo Snow: “As man now is, our God once was; as now God is, so man may be.”[iv] That couplet – and all the implications of it — were openly taught from the children’s organization, Primary Sunbeams, all the way up to the college course and Relief Society (women’s organization) classes in which I participated and taught. In the past few years I have been told by Mormons that this is not (or is no longer considered as) doctrine. I once had an LDS man challenge me on a live, call-in radio program to “prove” that the Church taught as doctrine what Lorenzo Snow stated. Here’s a test of that: Ask anyone who was a Mormon before 1970 if he or she was taught it — at church, by leadership — and if they all believed it.
Not only that, consider this quote from Kimball in 1975, after he became Prophet of the Church: “Brethren, 225,000 of you are here tonight. I suppose 225,000 of you may become gods. There seems to be plenty of space out there in the universe. And the Lord has proved that he knows how to do it. I think he could make, or probably have us help make, worlds for all of us, for every one of us 225,000.”[v]
[i] Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969), 286.
[ii] Several examples of LDS attempts to make the early Christian fathers “look Mormon” are delineated – and demolished – by Matthew A. Paulson, Breaking the Mormon Code (Livermore, Calif.: Wingspan Press, 2006).
[iii] His audience was, after all, people who wanted to stone Him for blasphemy.
[iv] The exact wording of this couplet was first attributed to LDS prophet Lorenzo Snow, and was reaffirmed in the LDS book The Gospel Through the Ages by Milton R. Hunter, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1958), 105-106. See also Heidi Swinton, In the Company of Prophets (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1993), 21. The quote is online at the official LDS website, LDS.org: http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=637e1b08f338c010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=
[v] Ensign, Nov. 1975, 80.