Friday, August 10, 2018

LDS writer Carter’s essays exploit the tension between right and wrong


There’s a furtive thrill in reading honest Mormon writing because we encounter characters, or better yet, real people — who aren’t cliches or caricatures — wrestling with the same doubts that everyone experiences but is so rarely talked about in the three-hour block called church on Sunday. Part of the thrill is realizing that honest LDS writing is still frowned on by many who should know better.
Stephen Carter, the editor of Sunstone, has a book of essays published by Provo’s Zarahemla Books. “What of the Night” deals with many subjects, including death, Carter’s relationship with an inactive brother, non-member neighbors and fishing, mission experiences, and trying to come to terms with what having the priesthood means. The essays are effective because Carter doesn’t telegraph his intentions in advance. He’s not preaching to readers. He’s relating experiences to Mormonism, telling us how it went with him. Although readers will likely not have equal experiences, they will have had similar experiences that provided the same emotions. If an honest reader can stand honest writing, writer and readers can share empathy from the experiences.
I was particularly moved by Carter’s two-essay tribute on the final years of Mormon academic Eugene England’s life. My communication with England was not even as an acquaintance. As BYU newspaper editor, I used to get a lot of feedback from him and his family. The England that Carter knew well — intelligent, liberal, motivated, impulsive and with an eager knowledge of studying the Gospel — fits what I recall of the man.
Carter captures a lesson I learned from England’s example perfectly when he talks of “Gene’s commitment to Joseph Smith’s concept of ‘proving contraries.’ When one proves contraries, Gene always argued, you aren’t doing so to identify what is right and what is wrong but to experience the tension between them. It is the experience of dwelling in this tension that makes you wiser.”
The “tension” that Gospel questions provides my mind is what keeps me a believing member of the LDS Church. I fear that if I had avoided confronting the endless arguments against God or the LDS Church I would have left spirituality long ago. From England’s example, I realize that my outspoken atheist friends, or scholars such as Fawn Brodie or Will Bagley, are as important to my relationship with God and my spirituality, as The Book of Mormon, the Holy Bible, or the works of Parley P. Pratt. There’s a certain irony that a late friend of mine who spurned any independent LDS publications and took a special interest in vilifying England left the church while England himself died a faithful member. If tensions are not explored, little of value is learned, and whatever faith exists is soft.
It hurt to reads from Carter about England’s slow demise due to brain cancer, or the hateful comments he received from men he revered as representatives of Jesus Christ, but I’m glad he and many others provide us material to enrich our lives.
All of Carter’s essays are thought-provoking. I particularly enjoyed “The Weight of Priesthood,” that explores his feelings of doubt that he could provide power and testimony to others during his youth, mission, and post-mission life. Any priesthood holder who has been given the task of blessing a seriously ill person can understand the doubts and weight associated with such responsibility.
-- Doug Gibson
-- Originally published in 2010 on StandardBlogs

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Mark Twain got the credit, but Artemus Ward got closer to the polygamists


One hundred and fifty-plus years ago, the Mormons, those peculiar polygamists in the mountains, were foil for toilers in wit and satire. Mark Twain’s portrayal of Brigham Young, polygamists, the Book of Mormon and Mormon wives is archived forever in the classic novel, “Roughing It.” Twain deserves his fame. In a non-digital world, he was more popular than Jon Stewart, Bill Maher or Dennis Miller combined. And Mormons were ready comic foil. In the winter 1974 BYU Studies, then-BYU professor Richard H. Cracroft wrote, “Mormonism and its ‘peculiar institutions,’ … were excellent targets for reform and expose, as well as all types of humor.”
As mentioned, Twain gets the credit today for being the “Mormon expert” of the late-middle 19th century, but truth is, there was another humorist of Twain’s era who knew the Mormons far better than Twain. As Cracroft points out in his article, “Distorting Polygamy for Fun and Profit: Artemus Ward and Mark Twain Among the Mormons,” the almost forgotten lecturer/writer humorist, Ward, owed his life to a polygamist Mormon doctor and the nursing of plural Relief Society wives after he contracted a form of typhoid fever while visiting Salt Lake City in 1864.
Ward, an acclaimed lecturer who preferred talking to writing, effusively thanked the Saints after recovering. In a letter to Twain, Ward wrote “the saints have been wonderfully kind to me. I could not have been better or more tenderly nursed at home. God bless them all.”
That gratitude, though, didn’t stop Ward as describing Mormonism as “Petticoatism and plunder” a few months later during a tour of lectures on Mormonism. The temptation to ridicule, demonize and find humor in a culture that most Americans loathed was too great for ward, who like any comedian, needed fresh material.
Ward, whose real name was Charles Farrer Browne, was a frail man who eventually succumbed to tuberculosis in 1867 at the young age of 33. His early death, followed by Twain’s, or Samuel Clemens’, long life, is likely the reason he is unknown today.
In the BYU Studies article, Cracroft points out that Twain’s well-known anecdotes about life with the Mormons were written a decade or so after he had visited Salt Lake City. In fact, Cracroft relates that before he wrote chapters about Mormon life, Twain asked his brother for anecdotes of that time, “for I remember next to nothing about the matter,” Twain said to his brother, Orion.
Now, writing is s skill, and there’s no shortage of great writers who put others’ memories on page, Boswell and Rick Bragg come to mind … but Twain’s very witty accounts of The Book of Mormon and the generosity of Mormon men marrying many homely Mormon women owe a lot to Twain’s careful reading of Ward’s accounts among the Utahns. I am not excusing Twain of plagiarism, although perhaps more than a little journalistic license was practiced.
“Roughing It” remains a great book, but more of us should read the book that inspired Twain’s chapters, “Artemus Ward (his) travels among the Mormons.” Published in 1865, it’s available to read for free at Google Books. Don’t expect the early Mormons to be treated with any respect; the religion was still too strange at the end of the Civil War, but it still remains a fascinating read.
--- Doug Gibson
-- Originally published at StandardBlogs

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Polygamy opponents were swept aside in Nauvoo turmoil after Joseph Smith’s death


The months in Nauvoo following the murder of the LDS Church founder Joseph Smith were not surprisingly, filled with turmoil and political intrigue. The publication of “The Nauvoo City and High Council Minutes” by Signature Books provides detailed accounts of the Nauvoo Stake’s high council meetings. It’s very interesting reading. The High Council was also a political body used to cast out prominent church members who did not support Brigham Young’s claim of leadership, or the church’s still-secret embrace of polygamy.
The purge of those who did not support Young in the months following Smith’s murder is an important part of LDS Church history. The Machiavellian tactics, while ruthless and arbitrary, ultimately underscored why the Mormons survived the Nauvoo disaster and thrived. They needed a “dictator,” — Young — not afraid to seize control and exercise it.
The Sept. 7, 1844 high council case of Leonard Soby, who publicly opposed polygamy in 1843 and helped publish The Nauvoo Expositor a year later, is a typical example of 1844 post-Martyrdom. Despite his past dissident status, which included an association with the anti-Smiths Nauvoo Expositor newspaper, Soby retained an uneasy status among the Nauvoo LDS religious hierarchy.
However, his support for Sidney Rigdon as church leader, and an altercation between Soby, Rigdon, Young and Orson Hyde on Sept. 3 over ordination authority for Rigdon, led to high council members “surprising” Soby with a motion that he be disfellowshipped. Soby protested vigorously, arguing that he was not a sinner, such as an adulterer or a moonshiner, but simply had honest differences with his high council colleagues.
It didn’t help. Soby may have been a bit naive, or disingenuous. By September 1844, among the Nauvoo High Council, any hesitancy to damn Rigdon as a false prophet trying to usurp authority was a one-way ticket out of the LDS Church. By the end of the night, Soby was effectively disfellowshipped. He followed Rigdon to his church in Pennsylvania, which eventually failed. Soby, 34 when drummed out of the LDS Church, died in 1891 in New Jersey. He remains a footnote in early LDS Church history.
For Young’s majority in the Mormon leadership, there was a far bigger fish to fry than Soby, or even Nauvoo Stake President William Marks, whose support for Rigdon and opposition to polygamy also ended his tenure later in 1844. On Sept. 8, 1844, in a public meeting, Rigdon would be kicked out of the church he had worked with Smith to build, with a litany of LDS Church apostles offering evidence against him.
As Brigham Young mentioned, Rigdon and Soby has been caught by Young and allies ordaining persons as “prophets” and “kings” etc. It was clear that Rigdon, who had already lost popular support in a contest with Young for church leadership, was attempting to take what members he could from Nauvoo with him to set up a rival church.
According to Young ally Orson Hyde, Rigdon, when asked that he surrender his license, threatened to publish “the history of this people since they came to Nauvoo of all their iniquity and midnight abominations.” Rigdon was referring to polygamy, and it was personal to him. His daughter, Nancy Rigdon, when 19, had resisted Joseph Smith’s efforts to make her a plural wife.
The stress of the Nauvoo polygamy battle caused Rigdon further deterioration of a long-taxed body and mind. By late 1844, he was a feeble adversary for Young and his allies. Young, who had long lost patience with Rigdon, chastised Rigdon with contempt. Other apostles provided anti-Rigdon rhetoric similar to what apostle John Taylor, future prophet, offered. He said “… he (Rigdon) is in possession of the same spirit which hurled the devil & those who we{r}e with him from heave(n) down to perdition(.)”
Only Marks offered support for Rigdon. To what must have been a very hostile audience, the Nauvoo Stake president pointed out that over the course of years, allegations against Sidney Rigdon had always been unfounded. Marks also argued in favor of a first presidency-directed church, rather than one — as Young and others argued for — directed by the Quorum of the 12 Apostles.
Marks added, “… I do not know of any other man this day that has the same power to receive revelations as Sidney Rigdon(,) as he has been ordained to be a prophet unto this people, & if he is cut off from the body this day I wish to the man if there is any that has the same power as he (Elder Rigdon).”
Young caustically responded that “Sidney had done as much (as was needed to show his unworthiness) when he arrived from Missouri(;) he had done as much as would sever any man from the priesthood …” Various Young allies also began to charge that the late Joseph Smith had had very little regard for Rigdon, and that his reputation within the church had been overstated. This is not an uncommmon tactic to use, in war, business or religion, when a longtime member of a group is being deposed by a new generation.
As mentioned, the removal of Rigdon and allies such as Soby and Marks were needed if the Mormons were to survive as a religion. Rigdon was an ill man by 1844, both physically and emotionally. He had suffered great physical hardships due to persecution in the 1830s and severe depression and anguish brought on by the introduction of polygamy and attempts by Smith to marry his daughter. Had Rigdon somehow defeated Young as Smith’s successor the LDS Church would have withered away. Rigdon’s efforts to build his own church was a miserable failure, and he spent his later years as an obscure, almost iconic curio who few paid attention to. His eccentricities included long, rambling denunciations mailed to Brigham Young that were ignored or perhaps considered with bemusement by the Utah leader.
In fact, I suspect that support for Rigdon from Marks, Soby and others (several were excommunicated the same day that Rigdon was cast out) had more to do with disgust for polygamy and the knowledge that Young intended to continue the practice.
There’s no way to know if Joseph Smith — had he lived — would have abandoned his polygamy experiment.
Under Young’s leadership, however, it was here to stay, and opposition to “the principle” would not be tolerated.
-- Doug Gibson
-- Originally published at StandardBlogs

Friday, July 6, 2018

On the deadly LDS handcart treks


As an active Mormon, I am accustomed to the romantic tales I hear in church of the wonderful “faith-inspiring” teams of pioneers who traveled to the Salt Lake valley with all their possessions in a handcart, presumably whistling as they trudged along.
Every year many faithful Latter-day Saints take pilgrimages as “handcart” pioneers, trudging along trails. We sometimes see pictures in the media of the happy, 21st century re-creators of the pioneer treks. I imagine a few may recount their experiences in Sacrament meeting.  Here’s a link to a re-enactment
It’s a pleasant modern-day fantasy, but if someone wanted to accurately recreate a handcart trek, they would need to do it half-starved, with bloody feet and blistered hands, with few supplies and noisy handcarts prone to breaking. And if winter crept up, the re-creators would have to stop every so often to bury children and other pioneers killed by disease and the elements.

The hard fact is, the LDS handcart experiment was a disaster. Any money saved did not come close to to suffering endured by new Latter-day Saints who had to trek across a country carrying heavier loads than any rickshaw carrier was forced to endure. In fact, the fourth and fifth handcart groups, the Willie and Martin teams of 1856, were so badly mismanaged that at least a quarter (250-plus) of the handcart pioneers perished on the trail.
Historian Will Bagley recounts the LDS handcart fiasco in the Winter 2009 edition of the Journal of Mormon History. It is must reading for LDS history enthusiasts. The genesis for the handcart idea was money. The Perpetual Immigration Fund was badly in debt and early church leaders wanted to cut costs. Leaders rationalized that new Latter-day Saints would be glad to make a few sacrifices and carry their supplies across the plains to get to Zion.
The first three handcart groups made it through by early fall in 1856. Only about 30 pioneers of 600 died, an average number for the times. However, the handcarts made loud noises that caused discomfort and food supplies were woefully inadequate. Bagley recounts that the Mormon prophet Brigham Young was badly shaken by the emaciated, starved state of many of the handcart pioneers. A key problem that was never adequately handled by Mormon leaders was setting up food and other supplies posts along the trail.
The biggest, most deadly mistake made by Mormon leaders was to allow the Willie and Martin teams to leave for Salt Lake City in mid and late July of 1856. Neither group had a realistic chance of making it to the Salt Lake Valley before the cold and snow set in and the latter parts of the trip were horrifying for the LDS pioneers. As mentioned, about 25 percent died and Bagley opines that many others died after arriving in Salt Lake City. Despite October efforts by church leaders to send out relief wagons, the weakest in the parties continued to die at alarming rates.
Given the horror of the early handcarts, it’s ironic we celebrate them today. Despite cheerily false 1850s reports of the handcart treks in the church-owned Deseret News, LDS leaders did not hide the grim facts. Church leaders hurled accusations, claiming that some leaders should not have sent out the parties so late in the summer. Later, church leaders launched a counterattack from the pulpits against those who criticized them for the deadly handcart  fiascos.
Martin’s Cove was a place where many perished. Here is an account from Bagley’s piece: “We stayed in the ravine for five or six days on reduced rations,” Samuel Jones continued. “One night a windstorm blew down almost every tent. Many perished of cold and hunger at this place.”
Now that would be an experience that would likely bring some empathy and understanding to all the modern-day trekkers to Martin’s Cove.
There’s no doubt that transporting thousands of saints across the plains to Utah was an impressive accomplishment by Brigham Young and other church leaders. But the handcart scheme, which staggered on for five more treks before being stopped, was a big mistake. Far too many suffered for whatever savings were intended.
-- Doug Gibson
-- Originally published at StandardBlogs

Friday, June 22, 2018

Letter to a Doubter important essay from Mormon scholar Givens


LDS author and scholar Terryl Givens’ “Letter to a Doubter” has been widely circulated since he presented the essay/lecture in a speech to a Mormon fireside. The push to acknowledge doubt in one’s spiritual life, indeed to regard the “absence of certainty” as a component of true faith, has gained traction. In LDS General Conference, Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland told those that believe, but do not know, that they are following Christ’s counsel, who said, “Be not afraid, only believe.” (Read)
Givens’ essay is fascinating, and ideally suitable for this era, which is seeing apostasies that result from intense, appropriate scrutiny to long-held assumptions. He begins by pointing out that some “doubts … are predicated on misbegotten premises.” As an example he relates the doubt that troubled late LDS leader B.H. Roberts, who fretted over the many languages of the American Indians. Roberts’ error, which he shared with many church leaders, was assuming that the Book of Mormon spanned the entire Americas. Givens writes, “Nothing in the Book of Mormon suggests that Lehi’s colony expanded to fill the hemisphere. In fact, … the entire history of the Book of Mormon takes place within an area of Nephite and Lamanite habitation some 500 miles long and perhaps 200 miles wide.
The money quote from Givens is this: “You see, even brilliant individuals and ordained Seventies can buy into careless assumptions that lead them astray. That Joseph Smith at some point entertained similar notions about Book of Mormon geography only makes it more imperative for members not to take every utterance of any leader as inspired doctrine.” For longstanding Mormons, that is not necessarily an easy transition. Authority is big in the church, and the words of a general authority, let alone an apostle or prophet, can be a debate-finisher.
But understanding that all people are fallible, as well as a realization that doubt is a component of true faith, are main themes of Givens’ advice. It’s well-needed, because, the LDS Church is losing young adults who are confronted, in an Internet-archived world, with contradictions that can easily dent weak faith that relies on claims of certainty.
Givens offers five components of belief that can lead to doubt. In The Prophetic Mantle, he reminds readers that the Scriptures, including The Bible, are full of prophets who err. They include Abraham. Moses, Jonah, and Paul. Givens writes, citing LDS Prophet Spencer W. Kimball’s repudiation of Brigham Young’s Adam-God heresy as an example, “… when Pres. Woodruff said the Lord would never suffer his servants to lead the people astray, we can only reasonably interpret that to mean the prophet will not teach us any soul destroying doctrine—not that they will never err.” Again, this addresses the incorrect assumption that whenever a prophet speaks, he is absolutely correct. This weak idea is easily disproved — just read many of Brigham Young’s discourses — but it can do damage to persons who demand no errors in their belief.
Another issue Givens addresses is the mistaken idea that God was silent on issues of theology, and that the Christian church was inactive, for centuries prior to 1820, when Joseph Smith received the First Vision. Instead, Givens urges those with doubts to see Smith’s mission not as starting over, but “that of bringing it all into one coherent whole, not reintroducing the gospel ex nihilo.”
The third part of Givens’ essay addresses the idea of “Mormon Exclusivity,” or the assumption that in a world of several billion, a few million Mormons have a “monopoly on salvation.” Givens then points out something that I deeply appreciate about my religion, that it offers salvation to virtually all of God’s children. He writes, “… the most generous, liberal, and universalist conception of salvation in all Christendom is Joseph Smith’s view.” Givens stresses the theology that “here and hereafter, a multitude of non-Mormons will participate in the Church of the Firstborn.”
The final two points of Givens’ essay are a rebuttal to the idea that organized religion is unnecessary and the misbegotten assumption that belief automatically brings personal satisfaction and personal revelations of truth. He explains that the gospel of Christ is a message that invites inclusion, and sharing, and spiritual sociality that exists on the earth, will exist in the afterlife. He writes, “In this light, the project of perfection, or purification and sanctification, is not a scheme for personal advancement, but a process of better filling — and rejoicing in — our role in what Paul called the body of Christ …
As for the personal feelings of failure, disappointment, despair, and general unhappiness, traits that do not go away even when we profess a belief, Givens advises “three simple ideas: be patient, remember and take solace in the fellowship of the desolate.”
As Givens continues, “Patience does not mean to wait apathetically and dejectedly, but to anticipate actively on the basis of what we know; and what we know we must remember.”
Memory is a powerful component of faith and belief. One reason we are taught to gather in organized churches is to participate in the Sacrament, where we remember what Christ’s sacrifice has done for us.
And, as Givens relates, membership in the Society of the Desolate is something to be proud of. Its members include Mother Teresa, whom Givens quotes, said “I am told God loves me — and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. … Heaven from every side is closed.”
If we take nothing else from “Letter to a Doubter,” please understand that even the most spiritual feel spiritually alone, not rarely but often. That too, is a test of faith.
In his conclusion, Givens urges that we be “grateful” for our doubts. He adds, “I am grateful for a propensity to doubt because it gives me the capacity to freely believe. … An overwhelming preponderance of evidence on either side would make our choice as meaningless as would a loaded gun pointed at our heads.”
I lack the talents Givens possesses to do justice to his discourse/essay, so I urge readers, again, to read it carefully. It’s important that we not allow our doubt to be exploited by others, but use it as an advantage designed to strengthen our spiritual beliefs.
(Letter to a Doubter can be purchased for 99 cents on Kindle.)
-- Doug Gibson
-- Originally published at StandardBlogs

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Decanonization has occurred in Mormon scriptures



Remember the Lectures on Faith sections in the Mormon scripture, “Doctrine and Covenants?” No? But they were there for 86 years? I’m reading an 1918 “Doctrine and Covenants” and sure enough, there’s Lectures on Faith.” What about “Section 101″ in early D&C editions, the “Article on Marriage” that says men and women should only have one spouse? No, haven’t heard of that one either? It was eventually deleted by church leaders and replaced by Section 132, which details celestial marriage and having multiple wives. Decanonization of scripture is not talked about much in the LDS church, and it’s certainly far less frequent than examples of added scripture in Mormon canon, but it does happen.
In the fall 1987 issue of “Dialogue,” historians Richard S. Van Wagoner, Steven C. Walker and Allen D. Roberts explore “The ‘Lectures on Faith’: A Case Study in Decanonization.” (Read) The lectures, comprised of seven chapters and totaling 70-plus pages, were part of the “School of the Elders” that Joseph Smith had in Kirtland, Ohio. Most scholars believe church leader Sidney Rigdon wrote most of them, with Smith and another leader, W.W. Phelps, writing one each. According to the Dialogue article, Smith “accepted responsibility for ‘every principle advanced.’” However, in 1921, via a committee of church leaders, the Lectures on Faith were deleted from the D&C. The explanation given, the Dialogue authors explain, underscores the LDS Church’s muddled explanations for why canon is deleted. The committee wrote, “… Those lessons were prepared for use in the School of Elders … but they were never presented nor accepted by the Church as being otherwise than theological lectures or lessons.
Related to this issue is confusion from LDS authorities over what constitutes revelations. In testimony before a court and later before Congress, church presidents Wilford Woodruff and Joseph F. Smith stated that church members have the right to reject revelation and that true revelation needs to be accepted by the church. It’s likely those statements were part of efforts to avoid secular pressure on the LDS faith, which was dealing with the unpopularity of polygamy. Most other church leaders, including George Q. Cannon and Bruce R. McConkie, strongly reject the idea that a prophet’s revelations from God need to be approved by members. Even the D&C has conflicting advice on revelations. As the Dialogue article points out, Section 68:4 seems to indicate that once a prophet declares revelation, it is revelation. However, Section: 28:13 says that common consent is needed for church doctrine. (On a personal note, I’ve always been taught that when the LDS prophet claims revelation, debate ends.)
One reason the Lectures on Faith may have been decanonized, the Dialogue authors posit, is that its teaching as to the character of Heavenly Father — as taught by Smith in the 1830s — differ from later teachings. As the Dialogue authors explain, the Lectures on Faith read, “There are two personages who constitute the great matchless, governing and supreme power over all things, by whom all things were created, and made. … They are the Father and the Son — the Father being a personage of spirit, glory, and power … the son … a personage of tabernacle, made or fashioned like unto man.”
What the Lectures on Faith and its subsequent decanonization teach observers is that Mormon doctrine was in a constant evolution in the 1830s. It was not until 1841, more than a score of years after the First Vision, that Smith taught that God had a body of flesh and bone. This doctrine would later be expanded in Smith’s 1844 King Follett sermon, where, the authors point out, Smith taught: “God, who sits enthroned in yonder heavens is a man like unto one of yourselves,” and “You have got to learn how to be Gods yourself.”
Perhaps the most important thing to learn from the Lectures on Faith’s history, as well as the deletion of “Section 101″ of the early D&C, is that Joseph Smith’s understanding of the doctrine of the church he started grew over time. Yet, the majority of Latter-day Saints today, as the Dialogue authors concede, are quite unaware of these evolutionary changes.
As for the Lectures on Faith, while obscure today, are considered of value by the LDS Church and easily accessible to buy or read for free on the Internet.

--- Doug Gibson
--- Originally published on StandardBlogs

Monday, May 28, 2018

So, are there different degrees of hell, heaven?



I read a fascinating piece from a website, whatchristianswanttoknow.com, on hell. It was titled, “Are There Different Levels of Hell and Heaven.” (Read) Frankly, the part about hell interested me more. I think that’s human nature; most of us are fascinated with hell, a place we’re more or less certain we will avoid. As for heaven, yeah, we’re pretty sure we’ll make it there and are more willing to be surprised.
We Mormons have an interesting take on hell (more on that later). A traditional view from others of hell, to me, has always been this line that separates the heaven-bound from the hell-bound. Don’t step to the left or you’ll fall into that pit of eternal fire. Keep to the right and you can hang out in beautiful gardens with Jesus Christ. Another traditional view of hell has been that even the sweetest grandmother will roast for eternity unless she accepts Christ as her savior in a manner consistent with what’s preached in the “Left Behind” books.
And that’s why I found the whatchristianswanttoknow article interesting. It differed in that it surmised that there must be a variety of sufferings in hell, based on an individual’s knowledge of the Gospel. This scriptures from Luke chapter 12 is quoted: “… the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful. That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating.  But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.”
The writer still separates residents of hell as “unsaved,” meaning the loathsome “sweet grandma in hell” theory holds in the post. That is because traditional Christianity refuses to assign any “good works” as credits toward ascension to heaven. However, the “good works” theory appears to factor into the levels of punishment theory. The author writes: “While the Bible doesn’t address this specifically, we do know that some who are more evil in this life will have to suffer more for their sins.  Hitler will suffer more than the person who lived a pretty good life. The consequences of sin for the unsaved will be attributed to the degree to which they suffer.”
The author adds, “He is saying that the more a person knows about Christ and still refuses to do anything about it, the more they will be held accountable.  More so than the native in the Amazon who has never heard the name of Christ. To hear the gospel time and time again and not respond to it will be to regret it forever.  The more light a person has been given the more they will be held accountable.”
Frankly, the article, which assures its readers that the biblical description of hell exists, is pretty muddled about hell. It’s hard to find any mercy or distinct sufferings in hell when your theology describes it as a “lake of fire” where your “worm” burns for eternity. But I give credit to the author for at least contemplating that there may be cooler areas in the “lake of fire.”
Back to Mormonism: Its version that fits closest to a traditional biblical version of hell, with some type of suffering, is probably “spirit prison,” in which persons are rewarded or punished after death while awaiting a final judgment. Catholicism sees a place called purgatory, in which persons deemed worthy of salvation suffer for a time prior to admittance to heaven. The Mormon spirit prison is also a place for individuals to be taught about Christ and eventually declare Him as savior.
The Mormon concept of hell might surprise persons who are critical of the church’s strict adherence to traditional concepts of morality. Hell, which is called “Perdition,” is reserved for persons who have received a full knowledge of the Gospel and willfully rejected it and worked to persecute those who follow Christ. (In the knowledge sense, it bears similarity to the whatchristianswanttoknow.com blog.)
Although with these subjects, lore sometimes mixes with doctrine, I have been taught that a virtual few will inhabit the Mormon hell of perdition. So we’re talking about the level of Cain, Judas, and maybe John C. Bennett, if I’m allowed a little Mormon levity. In any event, I don’t think the average Latter-day Saint who leaves the church and joins Ex-Mormons for Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, etc. is a candidate for Perdition, although perhaps very conservative members might disagree with me.
The progressive aspect of Mormonism is that it sends everyone, sans Judas, Cain, …, to a reward. There’s the Celestial Kingdom (heaven) and it has several levels. Then there’s the Terrestrial Kingdom, which has several levels, and the Telestial Kingdom, which has several levels. (This is likely a myth but I used to hear in church that Joseph Smith once said that the glory of the Telestial Kingdom was so great that a person would be tempted to commit suicide to inherit it.)
In any event, Mormonism is pretty close to universal salvation. I hope I don’t get my hand slapped for this, but even your garden variety murderer will inherit some level within the Telestial Kingdom, as I understand it.
The kingdom degrees of glory doctrine is tied to the Mormon belief in the family being eternal. One part of Mormons’ belief is that an individual can visit persons who exist in lower degrees of glory. Besides the old joke that the Mormon bishop who cheated on his taxes gets a visit from his Celestial Kingdom wife once a week, this doctrine comforts faithful Mormon parents who are discouraged over their children who reject their beliefs. This belief assures them, that if they remain faithful, they will still be able to be with their children, visiting them in the afterlife.
-- Doug Gibson
-- Originally published at StandardBlogs