and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret.
There is no debate over whether or not God is a person. On that point everyone agrees. The trouble begins when we try to pin down what it means to be a person and whether or not God can have all the characteristics we attribute to him and still be personal.
The “otherness” of God so commonly stressed in traditional Christian theology creates problems in this regard. Our notions of what it means to be a person are derived from our experiences with other people. If God is radically unlike us, it becomes difficult to explain how he is still a person. It is no good demoting ourselves from personhood to say that God is the only true person and we are all sub-personal. This maneuver has certainly been tried, but it is an abuse of language. It is impossible to divorce the word “person” from the source of its meaning, which is quite clearly our experiences with one another. Thus, I contend that we (you and I) are indisputably people; if God is a person too, then we must have some things in common with God. Namely, the things that make us all people.
The debate over God’s personhood is old and complicated and frequently involves attempts to “boil down” personhood into a list of must-haves. So, we end up with lists that try to capture the essence of personhood:
(1) rational consciousness
(4) the capacity to have relationships with other persons.
Given such a list, we argue about whether or not God, as we’ve described him, can have all of these things. As an example, one such question which comes up frequently is: Can a being who lives outside of time form relationships with other persons?
Many questions like this have been asked and they have all received a fair amount of attention–all except those which are unique to Mormon theology. The idea that man can become like God greatly complicates the problem of God’s personhood and this gets almost no attention in Mormon theological discourse, as far as I can tell.
The Uniquely Mormon Angle
With that in mind I would like to propose an additional requirement for personhood:
(5) distinguishing characteristics (i.e. personality) which allow for each individual person to be distinguished from all others
In traditional Christian thought, this requirement poses no difficulty whatsoever. There is only one God, and everything about him is unique. Nothing threatens his individuality because there can be, by definition, only one such being. By contrast, Mormon theology must accommodate many gods. Traditional Christianity, bound to a God of absolutes, are left to argue about the definition of a “person.” They have the difficult task of formulating a definition of “person” that is compatible with a timeless, passionless, immutable God in which three persons share one substance. The result is typically a redefinition and/or pairing down of the word “person” to conform to a pre-existing concept of God.
In my view, Mormon theology must take the opposite approach. If we are serious about our doctrine of deification, we must redefine God, as necessary, to accomodate his personhood. If God is an exalted man, then he must be a person in essentially the same way that we are persons. Most importantly, he must be a person in all the ways I expect to be a person if I am exalted. (Pause for added emphasis.)
If God’s existence is the kind I aspire to, then it must promise nothing short of a full manifestation of personality. I feel justified demanding the preservation of my individuality and personality because I’ve been taught to prize them by Mormon theology itself. As Joseph Smith said, “that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy” (D&C 130:2). The sociality we now enjoy cannot exist without differences between individuals.
I’m guessing there is not too much disagreement yet. The controversial part comes when we start checking to see if individuality and personality are compatible with the God we have accepted. But I’d better leave some controversy for a follow-up post.
Do we agree so far? What are your thoughts on my proposed (5)? What kinds of differences do you imagine existing between deified people?
 Incidentally, it is equally useless to try to get around the problem by saying that God is super-personal, because we can think of nothing for “super-personal” to mean that “personal” does not already mean. As Blake Ostler said: “Personality, however illusive its definition, is the highest attribute we know.” (Blake Ostler, The Mormon Concept of God, Dialogue Vol 17 no. 2) Blake used a nearly identical line in his first book, but I can’t recall the page number.
 From http://allanturner.com/ss01.html, quoting Jack Cottrell, What The Bible Says About God The Creator pg. 237.