The comments in a recent post at BCC reminded me of all of the unsubstantiated beliefs that float around this church regarding the afterlife. In the following series of posts I will talk about some of them.
In this first post I want to discuss the following assumption that many Mormons make: The Kingdoms of Glory described in section 76 are separate physical places.
I have already dealt with this notion in a previous post call Planet of the Terrestrials – I recommend you check that post and discussion out. The basic idea is pretty simple. We are all going to have resurrected physical bodies. Those bodies need to live in this universe. That means they will either have to float through space or live on a planet. Yet the idea of billions of immortals living forever on a “Telestial” planet where they want to murder each other but can’t is like a bad episode of Star Trek of something. (And can you imagine the “outer darkness” Planet?) In other words, it is absurd. We’ll talk about where our resurrected bodies might live if not stuck eternally on immortal planets later. (In other words, in this post I’ll poke holes in the traditional model and in my next post I’ll talk about what I think is the only viable model.)
I think the notion that there are discreet holding places for those who attain various kingdoms of glory is an idea that we inherited from creedal Christianity. (You know, old traditions mingled with scripture…) Most Christians see the afterlife as dividing into two places – heaven and hell. A major problem with the classic heaven and hell model is that there must necessarily be a dividing line where the wickedest guy in heaven makes it by the skin of his teeth while next to him the most righteous guy in Hell just misses the cut. The injustice of it all makes it pretty clear that a just God would never stand for such a thing.
So along comes The Vision recorded in D&C section 76 showing that there is much more gradation in the afterlife than the classic heaven and hell model describes. Instead of two choices, now there are four. (Oh yeah, we even have pictures. See here, here, here, and here.) And further, the idea of temporary heaven and hell (sometime called paradise and prison) prior to the final judgment and resurrection allows for the wicked to pay for their sins themselves and end up in some kingdom of glory. So we then have a model with Celestial, Terrestrial, Telestial kingdoms of glory which anecdotally are prepared for all but a handful of people. That other handful gets Outer Darkness which we usually like to think of as creedal Christian eternal hell.
So everything is hunky dory, right?
Even with twice as many choices, we still have the classic creedal Christian problems as listed above (in addition to the Planet of the Terrestrials problem I already brought up). What I mean is that if there are only three discreet versions of heaven then the wickedest guy in the Terrestrial Kingdom makes it by the skin of his teeth while next to him the most righteous guy in the Telestial Kingdom just misses the cut. It is the same problem with injustice that the heaven/hell model has! That just won’t do.
A better solution
The evidence in the scriptures indicates to me that the just as the Heaven and Hell dichotomy is a simplified version of the afterlife, the section 76 model is a more nuanced but still simplified model of reality. I think our most nuanced version of the afterlife comes from Abraham chapter 3 where all intelligences are described as varying in glory from the dimmenst of glory to God who is “more intelligent than they all”. In other words, the oft repeated Sun, Moon, Stars designation in the scriptures is symbolic of a continuum of glory and intelligence – NOT a literal description of three discreet tiers of glory where people are thrust together.
Next time we’ll talk about the evidence showing that Celestial, Terrestrial, and Telestial people live together on the same planets and who the noble and great ones Abraham saw are…