Universalism, Mormonism, and the Paradox of Thrift

November 28, 2010    By: Geoff J @ 1:34 am   Category: Universalism

As we have discussed in the past, Mormonism embraces at least a quasi-universalism in its teaching that hardly any of the inhabitants of the earth face an eternal hell after this life. And if it turns out that there is progression between kingdoms (an idea that has had both detractors and supporters among Church leaders over the years) then an even more robust form of universalism exists.

But as we have also discussed, it is not clear that it is useful to Mormonism (or to God for that matter) for all Mormons to embrace a more robust universalism even if it turns out to accurately represent reality. That is because universalism tends to kill motivation to repent and to work hard in the church. Why? Well to use the old “carrot and stick” motivation analogy (where the stick = negative consequences for actions and the carrot = positive consequences) universalism completely removes the “stick” when it comes to religious motivations.

On an individual basis, no longer fearing damnation, or at least not fearing being stuck forever in a lower kingdom as a single person without your family, isn’t a bad deal. I mean, who wouldn’t want to fear a little less? In fact it seems to be that sincerely believing in a more robust Mormon universalism could do a world of good for some of the especially-angst-ridden folks in the bloggernacle. If we all can progress between kingdoms in the eternities to come some of the things people anguish over concerning feminism or church history or the way things are run in the church or whatever might not seem like such emotional burdens any more. Being a universalist makes it a lot easier to say “meh” and just roll with the punches sometimes.

But this all reminds me of the theory called The Paradox of Thrift:

The paradox of thrift (or paradox of saving) is a paradox of economics, popularized by John Maynard Keynes, … The paradox states that if everyone tries to save more money during times of recession, then aggregate demand will fall and will in turn lower total savings in the population because of the decrease in consumption and economic growth.

To put it another way, the theory is that while saving money is good for the individual, if everybody saved a lot more of their money it would hurt the overall economy. It seems to me that the same thing applies to believing in a robust universalism (if universalism were true). Being a universalist probably could be good for the emotional well being and happiness of some individual Mormons. But if we all became robust universalists it could be detrimental to the organization. That is because the fear of the judgment bar motivates Mormons in ways that just couldn’t be replaced. And in an all volunteer organizations motivation is at a premium.

Of course while there are benefits of being a universalist Mormon there are risks too. The primary risk is that there really is no progression between kingdoms and the universalist will be slothful. It seems to me that the way to hedge ones bet as a universalist Mormon is to continue to keep the commandments, stay temple worthy, and generally stay the course in terms of practices (orthopraxy).

But perhaps in Mormonism being motivated by the carrot of greater access to God here and now is not enough to help one stay the course in the absence of the stick that is the fear of eternal judgments. Who knows…


  1. I guess it really depends on how one views human nature and motivation. Can people be sufficiently motivated by the prospects of progression and improvement, or must people be motivated to avoid some negative consequences?

    Comment by Andrew S. — November 28, 2010 @ 2:03 am

  2. Befief in Universalism doesn’t remove the anguish and suffering that comes from sin – which suffering motivates us to come to the Savior. When it comes to the gospel maybe the paradox is that we can practice personal thrift and feed the economy at the same time.

    Comment by Hal — November 28, 2010 @ 5:32 am

  3. I understand the belief that it is helpful to have a healthy combination of carrot and stick, but my experiences in the church (particularly in Utah) have led me to believe we could probably use a smaller, less pointed stick. In fact, insofar as fear is the enemy of faith, it seems a little off to me that we should embrace fear as a motivation in matters of faith. When I go to church it should be a result of my desire to worship and to enjoy fellowship with other worshippers, not because I am afraid of going to hell if I don’t. Perhaps I misunderstand, though.

    Comment by Tristin — November 28, 2010 @ 8:14 am

  4. I tend to view Joseph’s teachings on damnation and degrees of glory as emphasizing the love and grace of God. In Joseph’s understanding, those who were traditionally condemned to experience neverending torment, still suffer, but that suffering ultimately has an end. In addition, insufficient beliefs or knowledge at death no longer becomes a reason for torment in Joseph’s view.

    While I think it is useful to analyze doctrines based on the functions they perform, or the implications that flow from them, I would suggest these teachings also serve the function of highlighting God’s love and justice, and his ability to bring to pass his work. In that way, I think these teachings can also motivate and inspire, albeit in a different sense.

    At the same time, I believe a religious ideas should be taken as part of a whole system. While it might be true to say that certain beliefs regarding the afterlife have less potency to motivate in some respect, it is also true that other religious ideas within the system are still alive and working in the minds of those who live it. I think we see some examples of those ideas in the comments above. Perhaps Mormonism’s reconceptualization of final judgment could also be seen as a reconfiguration of our basic motivations and desires, rather than erasing them completely.

    Comment by aquinas — November 28, 2010 @ 10:06 am

  5. Andrew,

    A lot depends on the version of universalism one believes in. For instance in a simple Mormon progression-between-kingdoms version of universalism there would still be some “stick” in the sense that people might assume that not keeping the commandments now would just mean a lot more work for them later. But if one believed a much more extreme version of universalism (like believing there is no punishment in the afterlife for atrocities here) then that could lead to atrocious behavior here. I think the latter is pretty much indefensible in a Mormon context though. Mormonism insists that justice will be served eventually.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 28, 2010 @ 11:40 am

  6. Hal,

    Yes, I think there is something to that. I can’t think of any variation of Mormon universalism that suspends the concept of justice entirely. However, the Paradox of Thrift in this case would be that the more universalistic people become the less motivation they have to go all out in church service. That would be a net negative for the organization.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 28, 2010 @ 11:43 am

  7. Tristin,

    Yes, another reason to appreciate the benefits of a more universalistic view on existence.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 28, 2010 @ 11:44 am

  8. aquinas,

    A lot hinges on the unsettled progression between kingdoms question. I think the leaders of the church prefer to leave that question unanswered. I would if I were them. By leaving it unanswered church members who need the stick of fearing they will be stuck forever in a lower kingdom to motivate them can look at McKonkie quotes and feel confident that they are right and there is no progression between kingdoms. But others who see such a universe are perverse and unjust can look at other GA quotes and feel confident that there is progression between kingdoms. If the church officially came down hard on one side or the other it would have massive and long lasting effects I think. So I think it is probably wise to leave that one alone.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 28, 2010 @ 11:50 am

  9. I like to think God has more options than the carrot and the stick, and, as a big fan of the five bases of social power, I’d like to think that he is primarily interested in getting us to a point where he only has referent power over us. (I posted on this here.). His means I think God’s ultimate goal is that our praxis is our of respect where we do not understand it’s purpose and out of self-motivation when we do understand it’s purpose.

    Also, while I am a open to the concept of progression between kingdoms, and definitely a believer in eternal progression, I think there are limits to God’s universalism. It reminds me of C.S. Lewis’s last Narnia book, where the unbelievers, rather than progress towards Aslan, sit in a circle with their heads down, not wanting to see what they do not believe in. While it is possible one of them will look up and turn towards Aslan, yet, they do not. My universalism requires being open to the idea their will be those who chose not to accept God’s gift and never progress.

    Back to referent power, I have recently been reading Stephen Finlan’s “Options on Atonement in Christian Thought” and I think he is on to something talking about how our religious understanding evolves over time. I think this makes sense, especially in Mormonism, and that as recepticals (sp?) of revelation, our religious praxis does change over time as our understanding does also. To me this is the only methodology that makes since, considering the church’s changing stances (for the better) throughout it’s history.

    Comment by Matt W. — November 28, 2010 @ 12:22 pm

  10. The paradox of thrift isn’t much of a paradox, except to those who think that it is better for the economy as a whole, in the long run, if people who are are on the verge on bankruptcy keep running up the tab. That is just stupidity, plain and simple.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 28, 2010 @ 2:14 pm

  11. So does that mean you think the church could preach a robust universalism and still remain strong, vibrant, and growing as an organization Mark?

    Comment by Geoff J — November 28, 2010 @ 3:41 pm

  12. Geoff J, I think that if we had a proper understanding of the principles governing the life to come that there would not be nearly as much problem preaching a robust sense of universalism as might otherwise appear.

    A lot of that we don’t know of course, but in other cases I think we are cherry-picking verses from D&C 76 and ignoring everything else in the scriptures on the subject. For universalism to be “robust” everyone salvation in a kingdom of glory must be worthy of the name. Salvation is only worthy of the name on condition of repentance:

    The dead who repent will be redeemed, through obedience to the ordinances of the house of God, and after they have paid the penalty of their transgressions, and are washed clean, shall receive a reward according to their works, for they are heirs of salvation. (D&C 138:58-59)

    In other words, no repentance, no redemption. So a true universalism has to be oriented around a plan to persuade everyone to come unto Christ. If people grow spiritually (in character, integrity, etc) on this earth they are making progress in that effort. Delaying repentance when you know you are doing something wrong just makes life more difficult later.

    In my opinion, there is no royal road to salvation, and all those who did not have the chance to progress in this life will need to take similar steps in some other sphere. In addition, the consequences of sin are real. Self-destructive behavior is self destructive. Injuries hurt, harm harms. There is no real profit in iniquity.

    So the primary risk, it seems to me, is in idleness and distraction. No doubt there is a viable explanation of why that isn’t such a great idea either.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 28, 2010 @ 4:06 pm

  13. universalism completely removes the “stick” when it comes to religious motivations

    By this same logic aren’t you arguing that there is basically no point in sentencing criminals to anything less than life in prison?

    Comment by Jeff G — November 28, 2010 @ 6:09 pm

  14. That’s a very good point Jeff.

    For Mormon universalists the problem migh become defining the still-existent stick. That is, figuring out what the non permanent punishment might be and why it would be bad enough to want to avoid.

    For instance in a what would be the punishment for being a slothful home teacher? I suppose one answer could be “something you won’t like more than you don’t like going home teaching”…

    Comment by Geoff J — November 28, 2010 @ 8:50 pm

  15. Mostly i think that we do good because of the fear of a bad consequence. But because of our lack of proper understanding we tend to do it for the wrong reasons. We will come to realize that as part of Gods work and glory, it very much is universalism in every sense. What we fail to realize is the fact that obedience leads to true happiness. It is false to really believe that beliefs in universalism allows for societies to procrastinate their repentance. I believe it is more proper to say that the devils idea that we can do whatever we want and in the end we will be beaten a little and then be saved is more in line. But, that is not universalism. Universalism, when properly understood is the mechanism in place that allows man to become like God slowly over the correct period of time. True universalism is the idea of always trying a little harder to become like God and that eventually we can become like him. It is a great incentive when viewed this proper way to see how it is possible to actually overcome our weaknesses.

    I know far too many people who have fallen away from the church because they have felt in their hearts that their feeble little sins are just too hard to overcome and that they will never really qualify for the kingdom and so they would rather end up in a lower eternal place if it means that they can get by with committing a few sins from time to time. But, this is not true universalism- God cannot save those who will always want to committ their dark little sins from time to time.

    Comment by Rob Osborn — November 28, 2010 @ 10:50 pm

  16. I don’t think there is any “punishment” (other than the natural consequences) for being a poor home teacher. It is contrary to any reasonable sense of divine justice to punish people for inaction, with a small handful of exceptions. As a rule, I don’t think God punishes people for doing anything that doesn’t harm others, and then only as a matter of deterrence.

    That doesn’t mean that God won’t call them to account, or ask that they redouble their efforts, etc, but the idea of punishment for (most) sins of omission in my opinion is untenable. The offender might lose blessings and suffer other natural consequences, but that is not the same thing as God adding a line item to the divine budget to inflict pain and misery upon you.

    People ultimately are only going to be saved when they realize that doing what is right is its own reward. Any honest and upright person can be saved in some degree of glory, the question is how much?

    These are they…who are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true. (D&C 76:53)

    Ultimately it is a person who decides to what degree of glory he will participate in, by virtue of what level of discipline he or she is willing to undertake. That is what D&C 88 says:

    And they who are not sanctified through the law which I have given unto you, even the law of Christ, must inherit another kingdom, even that of a terrestrial kingdom, or that of a telestial kingdom. For he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory.

    And he who cannot abide the law of a terrestrial kingdom cannot abide a terrestrial glory. And he who cannot abide the law of a telestial kingdom cannot abide a telestial glory; therefore he is not meet for a kingdom of glory. Therefore he must abide a kingdom which is not a kingdom of glory.(D&C 88:21-24)

    Joseph Smith said that the punishment of hell was having to abide the company of the sort of people who were there. That is a natural consequence. If people want misery and death it is not hard to achieve. God cannot force anyone to heaven. Salvation is ultimately a matter of persuasion.

    I don’t think there is any greater heresy than the idea that people can do whatever they want and not suffer the consequences. Lust, sin, death is the natural order of things. We are of all men most miserable…God doesn’t have to lift a finger for that to happen. That situation is the only reason why there is a plan of salvation in the first place. The good news is that we don’t have to be, on condition of repentance.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 29, 2010 @ 12:29 am

  17. The First Great Awakening seemed to be mostly about threats of Hell. Jonathan’s Edwards’ imagery about backsliders and hell is so vivid that it would make anyone with the slightest bit of sensibility shiver at the thought of not converting. If you can find a copy, check out his December 1740 sermon. Good grief. Here’s a bit:

    They [sinners] shall know that their torment shall never have an end. They shall know . . . their heads, their eyes, their tongues, their hands, their feet, their loins, and their vitals, shall for ever be full of glowing melting fire . . . they shall know that they shall never cease restlessly to plunge and roll in that mighty ocean of fire. They shall know that those billows of fire, which are greater than the greatest mountains, will never cease to roll over them, following one another for ever and ever.

    I like the Mormon view, whatever the details might be, compared to this kind of image.

    Comment by WVS — November 29, 2010 @ 12:40 am

  18. “That is, figuring out what the non permanent punishment might be and why it would be bad enough to want to avoid.”

    I agree with the latter part but disagree with the former. In other words, I think the most stable position, given what has and has not been said concerning the afterlife, is to affirm that the punishment is bad enough to want to avoid BUT there is no reason to figure out what exactly that punishment entails. Very much in line with the original post, I think our not knowing what a punishment entails is far more effective and motivating than knowing, no matter what that punishment actually turns out to be.

    In other words, it is our ignorance of WHAT the punishment is rather than an incorrect belief of HOW LONG our punishment is that should be embraced.

    Comment by Jeff G — November 29, 2010 @ 2:35 am

  19. I think I am having a major issue with this post mainly because I don’t think of God as punishing at all. Rather, in my conception of Mormonism, where law is eternal and uncreated, it is not God that gives out the punishment for an action, but the natural consequences of those actions which are the punishment in and of themselves. I see God as doing everything within his power to help us to avoid the natural punishments of the universe and to grow up in a way where we will, of our own volition, avoid these negative consequences on our own capacity.

    On the flip side, this does mean I am more skeptical of giving God credit for the good as well.

    I hope this clarifies my comment #9.

    Comment by Matt W. — November 29, 2010 @ 8:41 am

  20. I am with Matt W. on the question of punishment. When people come out of a theological heritage where God is responsible for everything that happens all sorts of strange ideas creep in.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 29, 2010 @ 10:03 am

  21. Rob #15 — I don’t disagree with the general point you are making. However you can’t just invent definitions for words. Universalism already means something in English so you would be better off coming up with some other name or at least a qualifying phrase for the type of quasi-universalism you are preaching. Changing the definition and then calling it “true universalism” muddies the waters I think.

    I do like your point about the dangers of non-universalism though. If people believe in a merit-based judgment they can become discouraged and just give up trying to improve or do good or be Christlike.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 29, 2010 @ 10:20 am

  22. Mark (#16): I don’t think there is any “punishment” (other than the natural consequences) for being a poor home teacher.

    I agree that natural consequences can be punishment enough. But what do you see the natural consequences of being a bad home teacher being? Are they consequences in mortality only? Or do they carry on past this life some how?

    Comment by Geoff J — November 29, 2010 @ 10:24 am

  23. Jeff (#18),

    Another good point. Keeping things vague allows the imagination to work to motivate us. And I also agree with your point about the quality vs. duration of a negative consequence or punishment.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 29, 2010 @ 10:26 am

  24. Matt W: I think I am having a major issue with this post mainly because I don’t think of God as punishing at all.

    That’s fine. I don’t think that is particularly relevant to the main issue I am getting at about motivation though. Whether sin leads to punishment or bad natural consequences is kind of moot.

    I think Jeff has really hit the nail on the head. A form of universalism that maintains that eventually virtually everyone will be exalted could still retain the a form of motivation if people believe sin will lead to awful consequences. It would be a focus on the quality of the negative consequence rather than the duration.

    Of course if those consequences are not seen in this life at all it seems to me that becomes a little harder sell…

    Getting back to the example we have been using: What is the consequence of not being a consistent home teacher? Is it bad enough that if people understood it we would all be 100% home teachers or are guys who blow it off never going to regret it?

    Comment by Geoff J — November 29, 2010 @ 10:33 am

  25. The only reason to do home teaching is that it helps the individuals and families concerned become better people. Better people means a happier society. The consequence isn’t so much individual as in what will happen if one person slacks off, but what will happen as a society if no one does home teaching or anything like it, at all.

    Salvation is ultimately a social, rather than an individual phenomenon. Heaven is a Zion society. Societies only work well if everyone does their part. So if no one does their home teaching or anything like it, you still have a society, it is just that is is a more a bunch of people who happen to share the same location than a group of people who love and care for each other. Something more like a telestial rather than celestial level of glory.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 29, 2010 @ 10:49 am

  26. Geoff: I believe it is relevant, in that the universe simply is, and thus is not consciously using a Carrot or a Stick, and as I mentioned previously, I don’t think God is that interested in the Carrot or the Stick approach either.

    Anyway, I think Universalism works in Mormonism without damaging motivation because:

    1.) like in Evangelism, we can look at God’s referent power and say “Look how much God loves you (by providing universalism), can you try to do these things out of love for him in return?”- It does mean those things lose some of their sacerdotal bite, but I don’t think members are avoiding beer and coffee because of fear of hellfire anyway.

    2.) We have the concept of eternal progression/eternal families coupled with the scriptural idea that “light cleaveth unto light, etc.” ie- if you and your loved ones end up in separate kingdoms, you will not cleave to one another due to your separateness.(This is purely hypothetical, of course. It also may destroy universalism to a certain extent depending on your conception of eternal families.)

    3.) We have the concept within Mormonism of things being harder to do outside of mortality. If somewhat vague, there is an idea I’ve seen from several general authorities (JFS II comes to mind) that progression is much more difficult outside of this life. (For some reason, the example of quitting smoking keeps popping into my head, but I have no idea where I read that.) Thus it’s a matter of choosing the easy path now or the (as Jeff G. points out)ambiguously hard path later.

    Comment by Matt W. — November 29, 2010 @ 10:53 am

  27. Mark: The only reason to do home teaching is that it helps the individuals and families concerned become better people.

    Well that’s certainly debatable. At least in many cases it is.

    But therein lies the problem. If you are right then it would make zero sense to home teach in cases where the visits didn’t make the visitor and visited “better people” (however that would be measured). That seems like a Pandora’s box when it comes to motivation.

    The consequence isn’t so much individual as in what will happen if one person slacks off, but what will happen as a society if no one does home teaching or anything like it, at all.

    I agree. Thus the reference to the Paradox of Thrift in the original post. You are describing the same basic idea.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 29, 2010 @ 12:39 pm

  28. Long-time lurker, first-time poster.

    As previous posts have pointed out, the most oft-heard criticism of Universalism is that it causes people to sit back, relax, and dial down greatly their commitment to gospel living. From my earliest exposures to Universalism right down to the greater insights I’ve obtained through perusing the Thang, this concern has always seemed strange to me.

    As someone who has long struggled with Dysthymia and occasional major depressive episodes, I have long passed the point at which fear has any motivating power over me. The only thing that fire and brimstone theology produces in me is a grim sense of resignation. Occasionally it will jumpstart in me a fitful spate of effort, but without any real staying power.

    My only hope is for a God who loves me, works with me, and really acts according to Joseph Smith’s statement that “The spirit is never too old to approach God.”

    Ask any parent: the very purpose of a punishment is to teach a lesson that prepares the recipient to abandon suboptimal behaviors and move on to something better. This is why the concept of never-ending final judgments imposed by God makes no sense to me. In a McConkie-esque universe, the dialogue seems to go as follows:

    God: “I am punishing you for your refusal to repent on Earth by leaving you forever in this lower kingdom.”

    I reply: “To what purpose?”

    God: “You have demonstrated by your own actions and inactions that you are not fit to abide the laws of the higher kingdoms.”

    I: “Well, it appears that much ministering is going on in this kingdom through the agency of beings from higher realms. Does that mean they are teaching me and helping me to eventually join them where they dwell?”

    God: “No, they are there to help you maximize your happiness and progession in the realm you have chosen.”

    I: “To what purpose? If progression between kingdoms is barred eternally, but there are other souls occupying states higher than mine then, by definition, I’m eventually going to hit a spiritual “glass ceiling” that forms the upper bound of this kingdom. What then?”

    God: “Then you spend the rest of eternity with your nose pressed up against that glass weeping, wailing, and gnashing your teeth (or at least sighing in regret) because of what you could have received.”

    I: “To what purpose? Since agency is eternal and, as the scriptures say, I have now “come to myself” and desire more light and knowledge, how does it serve your glory or my welfare to leave me here—eternally weighed down with infinite punishment in exchange for finite, transitory sins committed in that microsecond of eternal time we called “earth life?”

    God: ?

    I’m sure that McConkie devotees will be able to continue this conversation in a way that completely satisfies them. I cannot.

    Popular LDS writers like Stephen Robinson, Alonso Gaskill, and Robert Millet have produced comforting works that seek to highlight the availability of God’s grace in our lives. However, even those guys seem to cling to the majority McConkieite soteriology (Robisonson says in Believing Christ that the vast majority of God’s children will never see him again (except perhaps at the judgment bar).

    Despite the assurances of the Robinsons, Gaskills, and Millets of the world, long life experience has demonstrated to me that the level of “valiance in the testimony of Jesus” (whatever that means) required to coax from the Atonement a “Celestial” output of grace is not going to happen for me in a “fixed kingdom” universe.

    Universalism is the only thing that seems to keep me religiously sane. My thanks to this blog for expanding on it further (and sorry for the post length).

    Comment by BJohnson — November 29, 2010 @ 12:46 pm

  29. Matt W (#26): and thus is not consciously using a Carrot or a Stick

    I don’t the Carrot and Stick analogy requires conscious application. Natural consequences can fit the analogy too I think. Carrots and Sticks are just proxies for positive and negative consequences regardless of source.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 29, 2010 @ 12:59 pm

  30. BJohnson,

    Welcome and thanks for the good comment. As it turns out I completely agree with you. If we retain our free will eternally then it seems to me there must be progression between kingdoms. Nothing else makes sense.

    I think in this post the question isn’t about how things really are in the universe, the question is what are the most useful theological to teach people in the church. And specifically, are the theological ideas that most benefit the church organization necessarily the same theological ideas that are most beneficial to individuals. So in a sense this is an extension on my earlier post about “Good Theology“.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 29, 2010 @ 1:20 pm

  31. That’s cool Geoff. Any thoughts on how I think Mormonism can still be motivational and universal in #26?

    Comment by Matt W. — November 29, 2010 @ 1:21 pm

  32. Geoff(#30)

    Well, with human beings usually prone to maximize their own “proximate” self-interest, it seems that God does have a point in D&C 19 that allowing the doctrine of never-ending punishments to take hold works overall to his glory.

    If you tell most people that they will certainly have to repent but that they may do it at some unspecified time in the future, they will usually engage in the kind of calculus that enables them to put off the heavy lifting until later. We experience this life as our reality and the next life as only speculation. Maximizing self-interest in “reality” and leaving the repentance for “speculation” would probably be way too enabling to the natural man in most of us.

    That said, I still dream of having the opportunity to have an “unofficial” audience with a high-ranking GA in which I could get an authoritative-but-not-binding-on-the-church answer to this question. Who doesn’t?

    Comment by BJohnson — November 29, 2010 @ 1:34 pm

  33. Matt,

    I don’t think it is all that hard to remain a temple-worthy Mormon as a universalist. Especially if one is in the habit of being a temple worthy Mormon already. But I do think universalism tends to knock back the zeal of any religionist. Reduced zeal manifests itself in activities like missionary work, home teaching, volunteering for sucky jobs like showing up for move-ins/outs or welfare assignments or other activities that only the most eager Mormons show up at. In terms of eagerness (aka zeal), it seems to me that active Mormon universalists normally end up being in the active but less-eager or active but in-eager categories (as described in this post).

    But the church is really mostly run by active and eager Mormons. That is why I worry about the effects of widespread universalism in Mormonism. If we lost the eager Mormons the organization would be losing a lot.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 29, 2010 @ 1:39 pm

  34. Salvation is ultimately a social, rather than an individual phenomenon.

    And if everyone is putting off their efforts to build Zion until some unspecified future time, the whole plan here doesn’t work.

    Under universalism, the individual may have the opportunity to attend to himself at a later time, but the whole point of placing us here on earth as social beings who participate in one another’s salvation would be frustrated and we would basically be wasting our time here.

    Comment by BJohnson — November 29, 2010 @ 1:42 pm

  35. BJohnson: That said, I still dream of having the opportunity to have an “unofficial” audience with a high-ranking GA in which I could get an authoritative-but-not-binding-on-the-church answer to this question. Who doesn’t?

    Actually I don’t. That is because I am convinced the GA’s don’t have answers to the metaphysical questions I have. Not a single one of them.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 29, 2010 @ 3:17 pm

  36. Wow Geoff- that older Post contextually makes much more sense now. I wonder if, while there is correlation between universalism and eagerness, the causation does not lie in the universalism. I wonder if we come up with the universalism because either we are not eager or the eagerness is not getting any results for us, and thus we have to come up with a different approach. Or I wonder if the lack of eagerness and the universalism are caused by issues like blacks and the priesthood, etc. where the doctrine of the church has changed, and we have to adopt a post-modern stance which accepts that they will change again in the future.

    There’s a lot to think about here.

    Comment by Matt W. — November 29, 2010 @ 3:31 pm

  37. I doubt 99%+ of Mormons have even heard of universalism or give the general topic any thought at all. Yet there are tons of active but less-eager Mormons. So while universalism might cause people to become less eager, I’m pretty sure being less eager does not cause people to become universalists.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 29, 2010 @ 3:49 pm

  38. I also think that a lot of weight can be hung on the difference between reward and punishment. For instance, the consequence of not being as diligent of a home teacher should be thought of as a lack of reward rather than a punishment.

    In other words, the “stick” to lures us into good behavior isn’t a fear of punishment (no matter the substance or duration), but rather a desire for reward.

    Indeed, can’t one simply take the other side of Geoff’s universalist coin and claim that just as punishment need not be without end, nor need any reward be without end either. As long as it is reasonable to care about the consequences of one’s actions, and I don’t think this can be doubted, it is also reasonable to care about both rewards and punishments since these just are the consequences of our actions.

    Comment by Jeff G — November 29, 2010 @ 5:34 pm

  39. I don’t think Mormons need to be aware of the term universalism to believe in universalism. I was trying to think of a corollary and was wondering if you think more government entitledments disincentives people to work hard. After all, the don’t need to save for a rainy day, because the government is doing that for them.

    Comment by Matt W. — November 29, 2010 @ 10:16 pm

  40. This often reminds me of the general workplace and what motivates people to work. Is work a carrot and stick thing? You bet. Most jobs offer incentives for working hard- bonuses, extra vacation time, moving up the ladder, higher increases in salary, etc. It seems that people as a general principle like rewards and punishments as sole motivators. We do not generally speed when we a re in a hurry because of the fear of getting a ticket- punishment. Yet, when we are not in a hurry we reward ourselves by patting ourselves on the back for obeying the law and when that insurance policy comes due we are the first ones to remind the agent that we have a superb driving record and should be rewarded for obeying the law.

    God himself uses the carrot and stick thing because he knows that rewards or punishments are the best motivators. We may not realize it but we reward ourselves continually when we do good and also punish ourselves when we disobey.

    Rewards and punishments are thus a natural order of the fruitation of action. When we make decisions we weigh both sides of it in our minds and at some point we seek rewards for good decisions and also recognize at the same time that ultimate failure leading to a bad decision will attain some type of punishment.

    Comment by Rob Osborn — November 29, 2010 @ 10:47 pm

  41. I really worry about people whose primary basis for doing what is right is a “desire for reward”, individual reward in particular. One of the unique strengths of Mormonism is the idea of eternal families and societies preserved by working towards a common goal seems to be stronger than the idea of heaven as an undifferentiated mass, where family relationships are incidental if any.

    In our church or in others, surely the most sincere believers act out of a desire for the common good, and not just so they can benefit while the idle suffer and the wicked are condemned to hell.

    For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:3-4)

    Comment by Mark D. — November 29, 2010 @ 10:51 pm

  42. Rob O., while I hardly dispute the motivating influence of individual reward and recognition in the workplace, I don’t think any enterprise really succeeds unless the people who work there believe in what they are doing, and are willing to go the extra mile and apply an extra intensity to their responsibilities on that account. I certainly wouldn’t want to work anywhere where most of the people feel otherwise.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 29, 2010 @ 10:58 pm

  43. No time to read comments now (will later), but I think that commandments, generally speaking, are about living well temporally. I think quite a few commandments will be irrelevant in the eternities. So, while being a an almost total universalist in Mormonism, I argue that commandments are necessary for two reasons: 1) repentance is necessary to become like God and we won’t repent if we don’t sin and sin comes by way of the law; 2) if you do keep most of the commandments you will live, on average, a happier more prosperous life than you would otherwise live. The second motivates me to keep the commandments; the first keeps me from despair when I fail to.

    Comment by John C. — November 30, 2010 @ 5:34 am

  44. Matt W: wondering if you think more government entitledments disincentives people to work hard

    Sure — of course they can. Thus you have so many taxpayers railing about the welfare state and people living on the dole because they have no incentive to get a job.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 30, 2010 @ 12:30 pm

  45. John C,

    Yeah it is not too hard to be a temple-worthy universalist Mormon. But this post is about the seeming paradox that comes into play if too many Mormons become universalists. That is, while believing in a robust universalism might be beneficial to the individual universalists it might be bad for the whole church if a vast majority of church members believed in a robust form of universalism. See my comment #33 for more on that.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 30, 2010 @ 12:34 pm

  46. Geoff, you may recall this was one of the first issues we debated when I showed up at your blog. You were saying how the doctrine of progression between kingdoms is not good to teach (even if true) because it removes the incentive to repent. This post is a variation on the theme.

    I think what you’re arguing has some merit. Universalism could lead some people to a state of less eagerness. However, I still believe as I did then that the fear of eternal hellfire is much less of a factor in the average Mormon’s behavior than you seem to suppose. I think there are many bigger factors which motivate people to be anxiously engaged in a good cause. Thus, I conclude that if the kind of universalism embraced by Mormonism were to become widely accepted it would not be a detriment to the church. In fact, I think there would be many benefits which would solve some of the cultural problems we face as a people.

    Comment by Jacob J — November 30, 2010 @ 7:08 pm

  47. Yep, I remember that discussion Jacob.

    I think my views have changed slightly over time. I think you are right that a lot depends on the variation of universalism one adheres to.

    Nevertheless, if it became widely believed that whether one home teaches ever again makes no difference in ones eternal progression/status/rewards I suspect that home teaching would largely disappear from the earth.

    The thing about most popular variations of Mormon universalism is that in some ways they aren’t really universalism at all. For instance it is common for Mormons to assume a lot of eternal privileges are very tentative. Want to have your family be together forever? Well then you better obey every covenant/promise with exactness or you may not still be married in the next life (or not the parents of your children or whatever). This is even if you make the lower part of the Celestial kingdom depending on how one interprets the liturgy and revelations. Those sorts of ideas fly in the face of universalism I think.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 30, 2010 @ 7:20 pm

  48. Nevertheless, if it became widely believed that whether one home teaches ever again makes no difference in ones eternal progression/status/rewards I suspect that home teaching would largely disappear from the earth.

    I just don’t think this is true. I think you’d be right with one minor change:

    Nevertheless, if it became widely believed that whether one home teaches ever again makes no difference in another’s eternal progression/status/rewards I suspect that home teaching would largely disappear from the earth.

    I submit that this is the reason that home teaching is largely disappearing.

    Comment by Matt W. — November 30, 2010 @ 9:03 pm

  49. I agree that there are a lot of people who seem to be doing things for the reasons you say. I don’t think it would have the effect on home teaching that you suggest however. Before challenging your hypothetical, let me make sure we agree on the details.

    When people start believing that whether one home teaches has no bearing on one’s eternal progression/status/rewards, is it still true that whether one loves one’s neighbor *does* affect one’s progression/status/rewards? Do they still have a sense of responsibility/shame when someone from Elder’s quorum presidency calls them every month and ask them if they’ve done their home teaching? Do they still have a sense of obligation to do their part to uphold the program of the church and fulfill the calling they accepted? In other words, is everything else socially and ecclesiastically the same as before and all that has changed is they now believe home teaching doesn’t get them any points toward heaven?

    Comment by Jacob J — November 30, 2010 @ 9:10 pm

  50. Geoff, you made the point that hardly any mortal will face real hell. There is a thread in Mormonism that would suggest the not very many mortals get to the best place in the afterlife. I’m talking the early use of second anointing here and its present promise in the endowment. Does this prevent a true universalist view or do we still call Mormonism a kind of quasi-universalism? Also, I think it is useful to let the premortals into this equation. There are a lot of them who seem to be condemned to eternal hell too. Progression between kingdoms notwithstanding, Mormonism seems to allow for a kind of damnation even in that case. You’ll never catch up to your exalted father and mother if you fall behind. I’m only saying that this may play into the paradox of thrift in two ways: pals we knew who went bad in the PE, people we get separated from here in the economics of progression.

    Comment by WVS — November 30, 2010 @ 9:34 pm

  51. Yeah WVS, that was my point in #47. Most of Christianity assumes a basic binary heaven/hell split. So with that assumption a universalist assumes everyone will end up in heaven. And presumably heaven is equally awesome for all (despite some lip service to the many mansions idea I guess).

    Mormonism assumes gradation in eternal destinations based on a merit system. So any Mormon universalism is necessarily a quasi-universalism.

    Regarding the premortal naughty folk — if one assumes we all retain free will and there is progression between kingdoms I think a strong argument that they aren’t really stuck forever either.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 30, 2010 @ 10:19 pm

  52. Jacob J: is it still true that whether one loves one’s neighbor *does* affect one’s progression/status/rewards

    This is the key question for universalism. If we assume humans are trying to grow into something different and better than what they are then certainly Christian service (like home teaching) would help to that end. But then again, I can’t see how any merit system, or “becoming” system if you will, is really called universalism. Quasi-universalism at best.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 30, 2010 @ 10:23 pm

  53. Right, but I thought in the post you were arguing that even Mormonism’s quasi-universalism would be detrimental to the church organization if it became widely accepted. Did I misunderstand?

    Comment by Jacob J — December 1, 2010 @ 12:00 am

  54. Good point Jacob. I suppose the closer we got to real universalism the more detrimental it could be to the eagerness of members (if widely accepted).

    Comment by Geoff J — December 1, 2010 @ 12:05 am

  55. I don’t think the idea that hardly any will face real hell can be doctrinally sustained. The general idea is that hardly any will face an everlasting hell.

    A real (albeit generally time limited) hell for the truly wicked is well substantiated throughout the scriptures. A kingdom that is not a kingdom of glory, inhabited by the sort of folks who genuinely deserve to end up there for a considerable time (until they repent, etc.)

    Comment by Mark D. — December 1, 2010 @ 12:06 am

  56. I think the general Mormon position (or Joseph Smith’s at least) is that God has a plan that will eventually succeed in saving nearly all his children.

    Some people want to water down what that salvation amounts to, but I think Joseph Smith had the scriptural definition in mind. The scriptures clearly state that unless (until) you believe and be baptized you cannot be saved.

    If God has an effective plan to save nearly all his children in that sense (even if some of them have to pass through hell first) that is pretty universal to me. I don’t think the idea of eventual salvation, on condition of repentance is such a dangerous idea, but rather the idea that one can be saved in any degree of glory without it.

    Comment by Mark D. — December 1, 2010 @ 12:25 am

  57. The question, Mark, is if anything short of exaltation should count when we are talking about universalism. I suspect not.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 1, 2010 @ 12:36 am

  58. Geoff, If we want to compare on an apples to apples basis with other denominations’ conception of universalism, then exaltation should be considered a separate issue. Personally, I think it is a much more pressing issue to help the preponderance of humanity be saved (and avoid even a temporary hell) than to make sure that a relative minority are ready to be exalted. In part because salvation presumably paves the way for eventual exaltation.

    Even in the Church, I would say that ninety plus percent of what we do is salvation oriented. Exaltation comes into play only after that, and obviously on relatively strict terms and conditions. Service, sacrifice, sanctification…

    Comment by Mark D. — December 1, 2010 @ 1:04 am

  59. Nevertheless, if it became widely believed that whether one home teaches ever again makes no difference in ones eternal progression/status/rewards I suspect that home teaching would largely disappear from the earth.

    As near as I an tell, universalism implies nothing of the sort. Rather, it seems to say that if you ever plan on making it to a higher kingdom, you are gonna have to eventually be a good home teacher (or obey whatever other commandment you want to put in here), so you might as well do it now.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 1, 2010 @ 1:07 am

  60. Actually, Geoff, my point is that, as a universalist Mormon, I maintain motivation by focusing on the use of commandments in the here and now. I selfishly want to live a better life and I believe that following the commandments is the clearest means to doing that. While I agree that too much eternal abstraction can lead folks to be less zealous, I think that is the case whether you are multiplying heavens or hells. If we are serious about gospel principles leading to the abundant live, that should be plenty motivating.

    Comment by John C. — December 1, 2010 @ 6:01 am

  61. Ack, all the stuff I want to say has been said (always read comments). I should say that I think that the Telestial and Terrestrial kingdoms are metaphorical constructs designed to motivate those who would be motivated by hell-fire outside of Mormonism.

    I don’t know if I am motivated by punishment. I tend to think that I am motivated by a sense of duty, but I could be deluding myself. Duty comes from a sense of obligation, not a sense of impending punishment. So, as a fellow saint, I feel motivated to do my home teaching. Do I think that failing to do this affects my eternal progression? Yes, if I don’t repent of it. So I repent.

    Comment by John C. — December 1, 2010 @ 6:16 am

  62. There was considerable talk after the “vision” about the sops being let out of the closet eventually. JS put the kibosh on that very firmly. Was this a nod to a real permanent hell then and the opposite a manifestation of the universalists who were drawn into Mormonism? I don’t know, but now I want to go back and look.

    Comment by WVS — December 1, 2010 @ 9:12 am

  63. Mark #58: Personally, I think it is a much more pressing issue to help the preponderance of humanity be saved (and avoid even a temporary hell)

    Interesting point. In Mormon parlance aren’t terrestrial-kingdom-bound people “saved”? I mean they reportedly will be part of the first resurrection and thus won’t spend the millennium in hell right? One need not be baptized to be Terrestrial-bound though. Seems to me it was “honorable” but non-baptized people who fit that category according to section 76.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 1, 2010 @ 10:25 am

  64. Jeff: so you might as well do it now

    Yep, as I mentioned, if we assume a merit/”becoming” system then it probably is best described as quasi-universalism.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 1, 2010 @ 10:28 am

  65. John C (#60): If we are serious about gospel principles leading to the abundant live, that should be plenty motivating.

    Sure, I agree in principle. But if we doubt many of the extra credit volunteer activities will help us have an abundant life then we are not going to super eager to volunteer for them. See my #33. I think there is a different level of zeal/eagerness associated with just seeking the abundant life vs. having some anxiety in trying to prove ourselves.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 1, 2010 @ 10:32 am

  66. I think the church is only universalist in so far as anyone at anytime can do the things required to put them on the path of progression (which is, in Mormon parlance, the abundant life). I think clearly defining what those things are which make up being on the path are vague (perhaps of necessity). I think other universalism concepts, like Calvinism, where all are saved no matter what, definitely do not ring true. What of those who do not want to be saved? Does God love them enough to allow them to not be saved?

    Comment by Matt W. — December 1, 2010 @ 10:57 am

  67. I think a big issue here is that in Mormonism, the state of being (or glory) a person arrives at through mortal live is a state of eternal progression, so the destination of our spiritual journey is a spiritual journey in and of itself. And that hearkens back to 1 and 3 in my comment #26, where I (admittedly) speculate that the separation of kingdoms is more a separation of progression points, and thus a separation of individuals and/or capacity to progress.

    Comment by Matt W. — December 1, 2010 @ 11:08 am

  68. Geoff (#54), it sounds like we are pretty much on the same page. I do agree that belief in unconditional salvation could stimy eagerness in many cases.

    An interesting aspect of the whole discussion is the analysis of why people do the things they do. It is not infrequent that we hear someone make the mistake of thinking that without a belief in God there is no basis for morality so, ergo, becoming an atheist will lead a person to all sorts of decadence and depravity. If you ask believers, they think they are moral people because of their belief in God, etc. However, for those who lose their faith in God and become atheists, they generally find that there are much deeper reasons for their morality than even they has suposed.

    I think something like that is at work here as well. The assumption that people will just become lazy because they become full blown universalists strikes me as mistaken in the same way as the assumption that people will become depraved if they stop believing in God. Human motivation is much more complex than that and for the most part we are not even aware of our own motivations past a rather superficial level.

    Comment by Jacob J — December 1, 2010 @ 3:07 pm

  69. WVS (#62), please report back if you find anything on that topic, I’d be very intersted in that as well.

    Comment by Jacob J — December 1, 2010 @ 3:09 pm

  70. Good thoughts Jacob. (#68).

    I find your arguments there persuasive.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 1, 2010 @ 3:14 pm

  71. Don’t talks like Elder Oaks’ “Why Do We Serve?” go essentially to this point? We are told again and again the highest and noblest form of motivation is charity, and that motivations such as fear of punishment are “unworthy of Saints.” Obviously, Elder Oaks wasn’t trying to motivate quasi-universalists directly, the they do address the issue. In this way the church hits both notes: on the one hand it motivates non-universalists with the specter of eternally fixed consequences, while on the other hand motivating pro-universalists by rejecting motivation by desire for eternal reward as less worthy than charity.

    Comment by Jacob S — December 1, 2010 @ 4:30 pm

  72. Jacob S,

    I think that there is no difference between charity and fear as motivation in many cases. For instance if one believes that he must be uber-eager in the church in order to have his family be together forever and thus chooses to be a super eager Mormon you could say he does so out of loving his family AND out of fear of not being with them in the eternities.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 1, 2010 @ 4:52 pm

  73. Geoff J (#63), D&C 76 seems to be vague on a few points. It states more than once that everyone except the sons of perdition is “saved”. Without context from other scriptures though, that claim seems virtually meaningless. So I interpret “saved” and “salvation” in D&C 76 the way it is used in D&C 138 and hundreds of other places, i.e. no salvation without repentance.

    As far as baptism goes, D&C 76 indicates that people in the celestial kingdom are baptized, but does not indicate that the denizens of other kingdoms are not. D&C 138 almost implies that they are.

    D&C 76 refers to terrestrial as those “not valiant in the testimony of Jesus”. That doesn’t make a lot of sense unless the people concerned had a testimony of Jesus, which implies baptism.

    The apparent conflict between the D&C 76 description of the telestial and what D&C 138 states about salvation is more serious. If the telestial (after they are resurrected) are people who still reject the gospel, I would consider that a major failure of the plan of salvation, a failure so critical that much of this earth life and the period afterward would seem to be wasted.

    It would also make Mormonism not really universalist at all, unless progress from the telestial to the terrestrial or celestial was more the rule than the exception. Why go to the telestial to learn the gospel, when you apparently have ~1000 years to do the same (D&C 138 style) before you are resurrected in the first place.

    So I generally conclude that the descriptions of the three kingdoms in D&C 76 refer not so much to the way people will be when they get there, but the way people are now who are headed in that direction.

    The telestial are “thrust down to hell”, but not permanently. So what is the point, if not to have an opportunity to repent and receive the gospel?

    Comment by Mark D. — December 1, 2010 @ 11:43 pm

  74. I personally believe that it would be false to assume that salvation can be attained without repentance and baptism. Repentance by itself has no effect eternally if it is not coupled with baptism. Salavation is not attained without turning to Christ, repenting and being baptized.

    Pretty much the entirty of scripture states that man must be baptized to be saved. There is no verse in scripture that would state otherwise. Only a few vague scriptures in section 76 lead one to believe that salvation can come to the unrepentant. But why is all of mormon salvation viewed through the lens of section 76? Why not the temple?

    Comment by Rob Osborn — December 1, 2010 @ 11:57 pm

  75. Mark: If the telestial (after they are resurrected) are people who still reject the gospel

    I’m not even sure I can make sense of this sentence. Doesn’t “the gospel” mean “the good news”? And isn’t the majority of the good news that we persist after death and will be resurrected? It’s not even possible for resurrected people to reject that good news.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 2, 2010 @ 12:13 am

  76. Rob O., I believe that the predominant view is that D&C 76 is using the terms “saved” and “salvation” in a completely different sense than the rest of the scriptures, namely salvation from physical death alone.

    I think that is silly, and a proposition with enormous theological consequences. It leads people to believe that they can skate through eternity indefinitely as selfish and self-interested individuals and still receive blessings beyond comprehension.

    Alternatively, to believe that much of humanity is headed towards some sort of eternal limbo, condemned indefinitely to an unsaved condition that is neither heaven nor hell, and that all efforts in preaching, and teaching, and temple work in this life and the next won’t make much of a difference either way, because real salvation is reserved for the elite of the elite, plus a number of other incidental beneficiaries.

    The idea of salvation as salvation makes a lot more sense.

    Comment by Mark D. — December 2, 2010 @ 12:36 am

  77. Doesn’t “the gospel” mean “the good news”

    Etymologically speaking, yes. However, the term usually means much more than that, something much closer in meaning to “the word of God unto us”.

    And the chosen messengers went forth to declare the acceptable day of the Lord and proclaim liberty to the captives who were bound, even unto all who would repent of their sins and receive the gospel. (D&C 138:31)

    “Receiving the gospel” doesn’t mean saying that it is wonderful and proceeding to do nothing. Saying that the gospel is wonderful and proceeding to do nothing is generally counted as a form of “rejecting the gospel”, because it is clearly an example of rejecting what God asks of us.

    Comment by Mark D. — December 2, 2010 @ 12:51 am

  78. Geoff,
    Those extra-curricular activities should be the sort of thing that creates an abundant life. Let those with ears to hear, etc. Maybe what I am not getting is the distinction you are making between trying to prove yourself and having extra zeal. Those two things seem one and the same to me. And both seem like they could be equally motivated by positive or negative feedback.

    In my life, being “caught” has usually resulted in immediate contrition. But over time, I have often back-slid, so I am not convinced (in my own life) that negative consequences are as long-term motivating as people seem to be taking for granted in this discussion.

    Comment by John C. — December 2, 2010 @ 5:44 am

  79. John C: Those extra-curricular activities should be the sort of thing that creates an abundant life

    Sure, they “should be”. But they often are just wastes of time and energy and drains on the abundant life. Therein lies the problem.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 2, 2010 @ 8:34 am

  80. So pray for more charity. Sheesh. ;)

    Comment by John C. — December 2, 2010 @ 2:17 pm

  81. Well I don’t think even charity will make some of the fruits of uber-eagerness (like attending ever more meetings) contribute to the abundant life John.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 2, 2010 @ 2:33 pm

  82. Geoff,
    Frankly you are going to have a hard time convincing me that more meetings are necessary for exaltation or that attending them is a sign of zeal, in spite of what Nibley says on the subject. Do you have examples that might be actually relevant to living the Gospel?

    Comment by John C. — December 2, 2010 @ 9:04 pm

  83. John: Frankly you are going to have a hard time convincing me that more meetings are necessary for exaltation

    I’m not sure why I would try to convince you of that since I don’t think it is true. Did I somehow give you the impression otherwise?

    or that attending [meetings] is a sign of zeal

    You lost me here. Isn’t zealously attending every meeting by definition a form of zeal (aka eagerness) in the church?

    Do you have examples that might be actually relevant to living the Gospel?

    Again I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean here.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 2, 2010 @ 10:16 pm

  84. “{Concerning extra-curricular activities creating an abundant life} Sure, they ‘should be’. But they often are just wastes of time and energy and drains on the abundant life. Therein lies the problem.”

    I wrote this in the margin of my scriptures.

    Comment by Riley — December 2, 2010 @ 10:41 pm

  85. Geoff,
    perhaps I’ve misunderstood. I thought the point of the whole thread was that over-eagerness was necessary for exaltation and that universalism does little to motivate over-eagerness. Did I mistake your point?

    I think zealotry within the church should be defined as serving the needy, mourning with those that mourn, etc. Meeting attendance is a thing of absolute indifference to me. I may well be an outlier, though.

    Comment by John C. — December 3, 2010 @ 6:48 am

  86. John C.- I think Geoff is saying that over-eagerness is necessary not for exaltation, but for a volunteer church to function well.

    Somebody has to want to go to all these meetings, etc. I think that the meetings are a practical necessity in order to serve the needy, mourn with, etc. as a community. Ballard gave a talk on meetings a few years back I think is pretty relevant, but not fully realized in the church. I’ll see if I can dig it up.

    Comment by Matt W. — December 3, 2010 @ 7:39 am

  87. Here it is.

    Comment by Matt W. — December 3, 2010 @ 7:45 am

  88. Yep Matt has the basic idea right in #86. Thus the reference to the Paradox of Thrift — believing universalism might be good for the individual member but bad for the organization.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 3, 2010 @ 8:55 am

  89. Geoff – good post.

    A tangential note that is not at all relevant: the Paradox of Thrift works best a) in a vacuum or b) in an economy where people save by putting cash under their mattress.

    In the modern US economy, where banks are FDIC insured, people save money in a recession by putting it in a bank. Banks take this money and loan it out to businesses who use it to undertake new projects and investments.

    More money in the bank means that it is cheaper for the bank to loan it out. Meaning lower lending rates which has a tendency to increase profitability and lower costs for consumers.

    Macroeconomics shows that economies that invest instead of spend grow more and become more wealthy in the long run. The results are slower than people just going out and buying, but they are better too.


    At the same time, I think the paradox you’ve outlined makes a lot of sense. Finding some middle ground between universalism and eternal heaven/hell would probably solve some problems you’ve outlined in the third paragraph – “it seems to be that sincerely believing in a more robust Mormon universalism could do a world of good for some of the especially-angst-ridden folks in the bloggernacle.”

    Comment by B.Russ — December 7, 2010 @ 12:57 pm

  90. The quasi-universalism mentioned here is beautiful, just, and fair.

    The only “real hell”, i.e. Outer Darkness, is for those who knowingly choose it.

    The other kingdoms excel anything here currently on Earth in its fallen state, with movement between the kingdoms possible.

    We will simply go to the kingdom we are ready for.

    And in whatever kingdom you find yourself in, you’ll be happy in, yet realize, that there is something more to strive for. A higher level of happiness is available.

    Trying to work your way to the top, without love will not get you there. It is through love that the commandments need to done. Doing home teaching, tithing, or whatever other commandments out of fear profits you little. The change of heart and the doings out of that change of heart is the key.

    The Celestial kingdom will not be one full of fear, but one full of love.

    Being worried and fearful is counter to the Plan of Salvation. Loving God, yourself, and your fellow man: THAT should be the focus. The Two Greatest Commandments should be the focus, the rest, as they say is commentary.

    Some of us are not ready for that change yet. Some of us will be taken from the earth before that change can ever happen. Thankfully, for whatever reason we do not quite make the change of heart necessary before our time is over, we’ll have time in the next life to learn and move onward.

    Our motivation should be love.

    That some will take this quasi-universalism, and use it to falsely rationalize “a little sin” with plans on repenting later tells you about the heart and spiritual condition of those who think and do this.

    The bottom line: Sin is never happiness – EVER. This idea will not profit them to any degree.

    For those who think that by repentance they’ll skip out of consequences are thoroughly fooling themselves. When they finally go through repentance, they will feel a deep anguish over their sins.

    If Paul (Saul) had died before his great vision while persecuting the Saints, should he had deserved a lesser kingdom? Yes. His heart had not yet changed; he saw violence as a means to an end. But in God’s great wisdom, those who die before their heart can change should be allowed to continue to progress in the next life. So should Paul if he had died before that momentous event. And this is what I find so beautiful about God’s grace in this.

    Comment by Speaking Up — December 31, 2010 @ 11:54 pm

  91. Geoff,

    Check Speaking Up’s IP to see if Blake is procrastinating his finishing his latest book by sneaking back into the blog world incognito.

    Speaking Up,

    That was a compliment. Very well said.

    Comment by Riley — January 1, 2011 @ 12:30 pm

  92. The only “real hell”, i.e. Outer Darkness, is for those who knowingly choose it

    Allowing for nomenclature, I think this is backwards. No salvation without repentance:

    he who cannot abide the law of a telestial kingdom cannot abide a telestial glory; therefore he is not meet for a kingdom of glory. Therefore he must abide a kingdom which is not a kingdom of glory. (D&C 88:24)

    The dead who repent will be redeemed, through obedience to the ordinances of the house of God, and after they have paid the penalty of their transgressions, and are washed clean, shall receive a reward according to their works, for they are heirs of salvation. (D&C 138:58-59, emphasis added)

    Compare also D&C 88:34-35 and 3 Ne 11:33-34.

    Comment by Mark D. — January 2, 2011 @ 9:32 pm

  93. I don’t think one should underestimate the severity of the condition of spiritual death, whether here or in the spirit world, either. Hell doesn’t have to last forever to be worthy of the name.

    Comment by Mark D. — January 2, 2011 @ 9:40 pm

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