Among the most radical teachings of Joseph Smith was his flat rejection of creatio ex nihilo — the idea that a beginningless God created all else that exists out of nothing. By rejecting creatio ex nihilo Joseph opened a world of theological and cosmological possibilities that are precluded from the creedal Christians who accept creation out of nothing as a foundational believe. One of the the theoretical possibilities is an idea I am labeling “radical universalism”.
Here are some of the theological assumptions that would underlie a radically universalistic cosmology:
A. God is beginningless
The scriptures that support the idea of a beginningless God plentiful so one might think that this is an uncontroversial assumption. However in some of our past discussions Mark D. and others have argued that while the rudimentary parts of God are beginningless it is possible that there was a time before there was a fully formed God. While I entertained this idea in the past I currently believe the scriptural support for the claim there never was a time before God is stronger.
B. The One God is a union of multiple divine persons
This assumption is fairly universally accepted around these parts. The primary point of debate is whether there is a single divine person in charge of the One God (Godhead) or if the Godhead is a union of true equals. Blake argues for the single monarch model while I and others prefer a union of equals model. The other point of debate is how many divine persons actually make up the One God. The scriptures specifically mention only three but if more than three have always been possible then it is hard to logically argue against more than three being currently part of the One God.
C. The mind of man is beginningless and co-eternal with God
Joseph Smith expressly taught this idea. While most of the Mormon theological thinkers I know accept it there is some debate about how much of the “mind of man” is beginningless. The spirit atomism fans argue that in reality only the seeds of our minds are beginningless, not our minds in any sense we might recognize. While I leaned toward the spirit atomism idea in times past, I don’t any longer.
D. There is no ontological gap between God and humankind
This assumption is generally accepted in our past discussions on the topic here with the exception of the obscure theory that holds that there is a race of Gods separate from the race of man.
A rough sketch of a Radical Universalism model
First, I need to be clear that nobody I know of preaches this radical universalism model as if it were the truth. In fact I entirely invented the following version of the model as a logical extension of the assumptions above. Having said that, I do think there are some appealing things about the basic idea. Here are some components I envision in the model:
-A massive but finite number of discrete, indestructible, irreducible minds/intelligences/spirits exist and have always existed
-All of our minds/intelligences/spirits are among these
-These minds/intelligences/spirits have always been unified and constitute the One God
-Every spirit that comes here to become mortal condescends from the One God to do so and returns to the unity of the One God after this life (thus title “radical universalism”)
-The purpose of life on this world, like the purpose of life on the innumerable inhabited planets before this one, is to provide joy and variety to eternal minds/intelligences/spirits
-Eternal minds/intelligences/spirits voluntarily condescend to experience innumerable mortalities over the eternities
Some texts to consider through a radical universalism lens
Note: I am NOT suggesting any of these texts can be used as proof texts for this completely speculative model. I just point them out because when they are read more literally than normal they are at least compatible with the model.
33 The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.
34 Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? (John 10: 33-34)
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
• • •
45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. (Matt. 25: 40, 45)
17 And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God. (Mosiah 2: 17)
Reasons to completely reject this model
1. Even if it were true it may not be good theology.
2. Universalism and motivation to do good don’t always mix well. That is a problem.
3. If this cosmological model were true it would render massive amounts of our religion (like the whole “plan of salvation” thing) largely moot or at least mislabeled. That is a major problem.
4. Loads of scripture would have to be ignored or at least re-interpreted to accept such a cosmology.
5. You might find such a cosmological model depressing. As in: “This is it!??” (I don’t feel that way, but you might…)
6. If for some reason you completely reject one of the underlying assumptions it makes sense to also reject this model.
Reasons you might like this idea anyway
1. The model is internally consistent and coherent as far as I can tell. (Don’t underestimate that — it is not common)
2. With this model, I believe we might have a real fighting chance at really dealing with the problem of evil. (This point is extremely important I think and surely warrants some completely separate posts which I may get around to writing later)
3. While universalism might lack a certain “fear of God” motivational element, if we believe that following the instructions of God in this life will lead to joy and prosperity here we still could have ample incentive to obey God.
4. You know those people you love who have died? If this model were true you will be together forever for sure. Plus the whole “little children who die are automatically celestial” scripture would make a lot more sense.
5. It at least accounts for what we have been doing for all eternity in the past and what we might be doing in the eternities to come.
6. Such a worldview might help us slow down and really enjoy our lives and fellow beings here and now.
Anyhow, discuss away.