The Gods of the Mormon Church
George Orwell, in his novel 1984, did Catholic apologists a great favor by coining the term "doublethink," which he defined as "the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them." It’s the most succinct way of describing certain religious beliefs. For an illustration of doublethink one need look no further than the Mormon church’s doctrines about God.
Joseph Smith, Mormonism’s founder, taught the doctrine of a "plurality of gods"—polytheism—as the bedrock belief of his church. He developed this doctrine over a period of years to reflect his belief that not only are there many gods, but they once were mortal men who had developed in righteousness until they had learned enough and merited godhood.
The Mormon church uses the term "eternal progression" for this process, and it refers to godhood as "exaltation." Such euphemisms are used because the idea of men becoming gods is blasphemous to orthodox Christians. Needless to say, Smith encountered much hostility to these doctrines and so thought it wise to disguise them with unfamiliar terminology.
Although he softened his terms, Smith minced no words in explaining his beliefs. "I will preach on the plurality of gods. I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see" (King Follett Discourse).
Mormonism’s founder concluded that his flock didn’t understand the nature of God. No mortal entirely does, of course, but this particular group was handicapped, not helped, by the strange theories expounded by Smith.
True to his word, Smith took away the veil of misunderstanding, only to replace it with a monolithic wall of doublethink. After all, to teach that the all-sovereign God, the infinite and supreme being, the Creator and Master of the universe, is merely an exalted man is a fine example of what Orwell had in mind.
Progressive Revelation To Smith
In 1844, shortly before his death in a gunbattle at a jail in Carthage, Illinois, Joseph Smith delivered a sermon at the funeral of a Mormon named King Follett. The King Follett Discourse has become a key source for the Mormon church’s beliefs on polytheism and eternal progression. It’s short and can be purchased at any LDS bookstore for about a dollar. You can read it in half an hour.
To appreciate the extent of Smith’s departure from traditional Christian thought, it’s important to realize that his doctrines weren’t "revealed" to his church all at once or in their present state. From his first vision in 1820 until his death in 1844, Joseph Smith crafted and modified his doctrines, often altering them so drastically that they became something else entirely as years passed.
Early in his career as "prophet, seer, and revelator" of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Smith wrote the Book of Mormon, which he claimed to be the "fullness of the everlasting gospel." In it are passages that proclaim there is only one God and that God can’t change.
The next time you speak with Mormon missionaries, cite these verses:
"I know that God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being; but he is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity" (Moroni 8:18).
"For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today and forever, and in him there is no variableness, neither shadow of changing? And now, if ye have imagined up unto yourselves a god who doth vary, and in whom there is shadow of changing, then ye have imagined up unto yourselves a god who is not a God of miracles" (Mormon 9:9-10).
It’s hard to be more explicit than that. In his early years Smith did not believe in the "law of eternal progression." He had an orthodox understanding of God’s immutable nature. But at some point in his theological odyssey, he veered into the land of doublethink.
Remember, Smith maintained the inspiration and truth of the Book of Mormon at the same time he believed the following: "God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who upholds all worlds and all things by his power, was to make himself visible—I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image, and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with him, as one man talks and communes with another" (King Follett Discourse).
This is one of Smith’s more spectacular displays of doublethink. Fourteen years after penning the Book of Mormon, he contradicts his earlier writings with this sermon—but he doesn’t throw aside his earlier teaching. Both are to be accepted.
The Missionary’s "Testimony"
If you question a Mormon missionary, he’ll be familiar with the King Follett Discourse (or should be), and he’ll have a "testimony" about the truth of the doctrine of eternal progression. If you have both the Discourse and the Book of Mormon on hand, read these passages to the missionary. Watch his reaction and press for an explanation. Ask him how it’s possible to hold both positions. Mormons revere Joseph Smith as the highest authority in their church. What he said is scripture, and they’re stuck when it comes to this topic. These two teachings from the prophet obviously don’t agree with each other. This is where doublethink kicks in. If Mormons couldn’t believe two contradictory doctrines at once, they’d be forced to throw up their hands in bewilderment.
They can’t believe that God is at once immutable and changing, that from all eternity he was as he now is, yet he evolved from a mere man. To Mormons this theological contradiction poses no problem because they don’t think through the ramifications of such a position. Your job as an apologist is to show them there is a problem and then to offer a solution to it.
It’s not enough to say God is eternal and to leave it at that. We need to take his infinite perfection into account. This is where the Mormons falter. They believe that although God is perfect now, he wasn’t always so. Once he was imperfect, as a mortal, and he had to arrive at perfection through his own labor. (You might call it a sort of "hyper-Pelagianism.")
According to Mormon teaching, at one point in the eternities past, this man-become-God, or "Heavenly Father," begat the spirit body of his first son. Together with his heavenly wife, the Father raised his son in the council of the gods.
Before the creation of this world, Jesus Christ presented to his father a plan of salvation which would enable the billions of future human beings the opportunity of passing through mortality and returning to heaven, there to become gods of their own worlds. At the same time, another son of the Heavenly Father and brother of Christ offered a competing plan. When Christ’s was chosen, the rejected Lucifer led a rebellion of one-third of the population of the heavens and was cast out.
In time, Mormons believe, the Heavenly Father came to earth and had physical, sexual intercourse with the Virgin Mary. Rejecting both the testimony of Scripture (Luke 1:34-35) and the constant teaching of the Christian Church, Mormons believe Christ was conceived by the Father, and not by the Holy Spirit. (Journal of Discourses 2:268.)
Moreover, Mormons teach that Christ is a secondary, inferior god. He does not exist from all eternity. (Nor, for that matter, does his Father.) He was first made by a union of his heavenly parents. After having been reared and taught in the heavens, he achieved a certain divine stature. Through carnal relations with her Heavenly Father, the Virgin became pregnant with this lesser god.
Mormons now believe that Christ’s divinity is virtually equal to that of his Father’s. As we have seen, this is a compromised godhood: Jesus Christ merely joins the end of a long line of gods who have preceded him, an infinite "regression" of divine beings whose origin Mormons cannot explain. (Nor, for that matter, can they explain its end, as we will see when we discuss the doctrine of men becoming gods.)
The Holy Ghost
The LDS church teaches that all men must pass through mortality in human bodies before they can reach godhood. Yet their third, separate god, called the Holy Ghost, has not yet received a mortal body, even though he is considered to be another god. Mormon theology typically does not address this contradiction.
However, that’s not to say that the Holy Ghost is without any body. In fact, he has a "spiritual body," in the actual shape of a man, with head, torso, and limbs. He can be in only one place at once (in this he’s no different from his two superiors in the Mormon "Godhead.")
Though to the Holy Ghost is now ascribed the power of each Mormon’s individual "testimony" or feeling concerning the truth of Mormon doctrines, he was not always so honored. In fact, Joseph Smith originally acknowledged only two divine personages, referring to the Holy Ghost merely as the "mind" of the two. (Lectures on Faith, 48-49.)
Latter-Day Saints do not believe that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are the only three gods there are. Rather, they believe in (though do not worship) a "plurality" of gods, gods without number, each one ruling his own creation. Thus, the three separate gods who rule our universe are finite in power—they sustain and govern only a tiny portion of all that exists.
The other gods have either preceded or followed the Heavenly Father who organized our world. In fact, men living today on this planet will one day become gods of their own universes. As such, they will mate with heavenly wives, beget spirit children, populate new worlds, and receive the worship and obedience we are now expected to give to our particular, current God.
Smith—And All Men—To Be Gods
The Mormon founder taught that faithful Mormon men can ascend to divinity. In the King Follett Discourse, Joseph Smith said, "My Father worked out his kingdom with fear and trembling, and I must do the same. And when I get to my kingdom [godhood], I shall present it to my Father, so that he may obtain kingdom upon kingdom, and it will exalt him in glory. He will then take a higher exaltation, and I will take his place, and thereby become exalted myself."
In any discussion with a Mormon about Mormonism’s conflicting teachings on the nature of God, you have to cut away the camouflage. You have to get to the central facts. It’s simple, really. Just show them how the Book of Mormon conflicts with Smith’s later teachings. If he was right about God, when was he right? Take your pick, but you can’t pick both, and neither can a Mormon, except if he uses doublethink. If a Mormon chooses either teaching as correct and admits the other must be wrong, Smith’s credibility as a prophet collapses.
Don’t Aim to Win an Argument
Be forewarned that your first discussion about the nature of God won’t produce any visible change in your Mormon acquaintance. He’s unlikely to admit the cogency and simplicity of your argument. He’s probably working in good faith, and he’s sincere in his beliefs. But psychologically you’re at a disadvantage, since he wants to maintain his faith as he’s known it. Be patient as you help him see these theological "black holes."
Keep in mind your ultimate goal isn’t to win an argument, but to win a soul for Christ. What the Catholic apologist offers isn’t just sound logic, or a preponderance of Bible quotations, or even the blunders Joseph Smith made. No, what he offers is the truth of the Catholic faith.
But you do need sound logic, buttressed by thorough homework, and you need patience that’s sustained by charity. Above all, you need to pray that God will use your efforts to prepare your acquaintance’s soul for the gift of faith. Doublethink isn’t invincible. It’s just an intellectual impediment, and it can be overcome.
You need to do some homework first, of course. You need a solid understanding of God’s nature. We recommend reading the appropriate passages in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Fr. John Hardon’s Catholic Catechism, and Frank Sheed’s Theology and Sanity.
These books are available in inexpensive paperbacks, and they should be a part of every Catholic’s library. You should also have on hand, a copy of the Book of Mormon and of the King Follett Discourse. If you have your references already marked in these books, you’ll be ready the next time a Mormon missionary comes to your door.