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Friday, February 3, 2012

Ask Mormon Girl: Do Mormons believe people can become gods?

I 've been holding on to this since the beginning of the year. Seems Joanna Brooks is kind of a hot commodity now as she explains some of the more controversial doctrines of the mainstream Mormon religion on her blog, in her recently published book, and in an interview with Huffington Post.


Happy 2012, friends!  May this be a healthy, happy, and prosperous year for you. It certainly looks to be a busy one, as Mitt Romney is steaming ahead if not to a win in Iowa then almost certainly to the GOP nomination.  And if he does, you can bet that questions about unfamiliar Mormon beliefs will claim a chunk of media attention.

A few weeks ago, this question arrived from an old friend now teaching at a liberal arts college in the Northwest.  She wrote:
A question came up in my class today:  do Mormons believe that people can become gods? 
Yes, I was raised to understand that this is Mormon doctrine.  But the way it’s taught on any given Sunday sounds more like this:

Mormons believe that we are the children of Heavenly Parents, that our spirits lived with our Heavenly Parents before our mortal lives, and that we came to earth on the plan that we should gain experience through mortality and prepare to return to our Heavenly Parents.  Like traditional Christians, Mormons believe that salvation from sin through Jesus Christ is what makes this return possible, but the kind of eternal experience the soul gets to share in and enjoy depends on his or her preparation.  And it is a Mormon teaching that souls continue to grow, progress, and experience throughout the eternities, and that part of that expansive experience is to become like our Heavenly Parents.

There is no lounging in the Mormon concept of heaven.  No clouds, no wings.  Nope.  We continue do the most important things that souls are capable of—learning, loving, creating—but on a more sanctified, spiritually generative level.  We have families and care for them.  Just as our own Heavenly Parents did.

So, yes, as I understand it, it is a traditional Mormon teaching that human beings can become gods, but in the same spirit that children can grow up and become parents without displacing the priority and sovereignty of their own parents.

This doctrine is viewed as heresy by the rest of the Christian world. It’s also one of the boldest claims Mormon doctrine makes, so it has been the subject of a great deal of sensationalism.  Anti-Mormon ministries that were most active in the 1980s (but continue to this day) love to sensationalize this idea. The most egregious of the anti-Mormon movies, The Godmakers, focused in on this idea, helping in part to promote the cartoonish sensationalization that Mormons believe in getting our own planets, which I’ve never heard anyone discuss seriously.

Perhaps in response to this sensationalization, LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley appeared to distance himself and the Church from this doctrine in interviews given in 1997 and 1998.  This and evidence that the concept of godhood is less frequently addressed in talks by LDS Church leaders than it was a few decades ago have led Mormonism’s most perceptive observers to wonder if the doctrine is being deemphasized.  Jana Riess recently wrote in the Christian Century:  “Does that mean that Mormons no longer believe that they can become gods? It is difficult to say. Many Mormons no longer think about the topic at all; it has become an insignificant aspect of contemporary theological expression. The idea may someday fade away, just as the church’s encouragement of plural marriage—once a cornerstone not just of Mormon practice but of its belief system—has faded away.”

But it also may be the case that this doctrine is just one that Mormons shy away from discussing openly.  I grew up hearing the phrase:  “As man is, God once was, as God is, man may become,” lines attributed to the nineteenth-century Mormon leader Lorenzo Snow.  And in preparing to write this blog entry, I read again the 1844 Joseph Smith sermon known as the “King Follett Discourse”:  “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! … It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another, and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did.” Smith continued:  “Intelligence is eternal and exists upon a self-existent principle. It is a spirit from age to age and there is no creation about it. All the minds and spirits that God ever sent into the world are susceptible of enlargement.”

Unorthodox Mormon though I may be, I am struck by the beauty of these lines and this idea.  It’s one of the most powerful and distinctive elements of traditional Mormon doctrine.  It’s one I’m glad to own.

Some of the comments left on this article were also interesting. Click on the link to read them:



  1. Very interesting. But what kind of "religion" lets it's very tenets fade away????? What does that say for the rest of their doctrine? Apparently, whatever suits the prophet at the time.

    What is read here is the concept of reincarnation with an added manmade caste system favoring males, and even then only certain males.

  2. I've read comparative stories in religions, many quite beautiful. Most are making the same point in different ways, accepted by their cultures. It is the literal interpretation that makes them sound silly, rather than the doctrine. Most religions teach the stories but are not literal in the doctrines. Most try to convey the same essential ideas. I'm good with that.

    I'm not good with literal interpretation or man-made rules acting like godly rules. All the popes together have made very few pronouncements as what you must believe. Doctrines and man-made rules can be changed. Eastern religions are quite beautiful when read and present an ideal. The ideal is never reached, but the longing for the ideal is what keeps people going, don't you think?

    I can't get into planet stuff and scientology at all. Nor satanism and witchcraft. That which uplifts the spirit seems to be a universal need.

  3. it's obvious that mormons can't even agree with each other on what their "plain and precious truths" are. it's true that most of them don't know their real history nor all their doctrinal tenets even. they're usually the ones who scream "anti-mormon" at you first when you try to factually inform them or question them about it. I know active mormons who claim that their beliefs are all literal as taught and i know active mormons who claim it's all metaphorical in spite of what their own prophets preach. whatever works for them. to each his own. etc. No different than all the other manmade religions w/some good and some bad thrown in.

    Joanna Brooks is seen as a feminist saint by some in her faith and a wolf in sheep's clothing by others. the church headquarters used to go after people like her but now, they leave them alone cause people like her become too public and the church doesn't like the bad PR. especially after Prop 8 debacle as well as one of their own spotlighted now in his presidential run.

  4. Thank you for posting something from her blog. I've been following her for a little bit now (curtesy of the Dargers) and she does answer a lot of the questions about weird Mormon traditions/beliefs/rules. She is a Democratic Mormon, the only one in her family, and actually seems to be pretty liberal and sensible. I actually just read a post that she did on polygamy and she nailed it. Apparently, the LDS church says that polygamy is no longer required in this world, but is generally expected in heaven. That post had A LOT of comments.

    I'm a born and raised Baptist but I happen to think that Mormonism is quite a bit interesting, if not weird at times. There is a great comparison chart between Mormonism and Mainstream Christianity that you can find on google and ainfind that I agree with more than I thought I would. Some things might be weird (i.e. undergarments, planets, god/goddesses) but every religion has their weird quirks. The thing that really got me about Mormonism was the Prophet; then I realized that a preacher/priest/pope/prophet are pretty much in the same category. The other thing that I don't like is that they keep certain things secret. On Joanna's blog, she frequently has comments from mormons that she is releasing too much information. I don't like that bit at all.

    "There is but one god; everything else is trifles". - Queen Elizabeth I