Rejecting Mormon Heaven
For many post-Mormons, talking about the Mormon idea of heaven (or the “celestial kingdom”) can be a source of both amusement and horror. The truth is that as we slowly began to have problems with the church (and in hindsight many of us see that we were starting to change before we knew we were changing), the things we were told about Mormon heaven just seemed unpleasant, if not outright terrible. I’ve heard the following things about the celestial kingdom:
1. Women will continue to bear children and raise them for eternity, dozens or hundreds at a time.
2. All of the church programs will continue into eternity, from visiting teaching to other service work.
3. We will continue to receive further “light and knowledge” from God, so basically more General Conference talks?
4. More temple work? (Officially, the Millennium is supposed to take care of temple work for the dead, but somehow I’ve been given the impression that heaven will be a lot like going to the temple.)
5. Polygamy (obviously for women this is more fraught than it seems to be for men, though I’ve heard occasionally that men don’t like the idea of being used to marry women, either.)
6. Visiting family in other kingdoms, since they can’t come up, so you have to go down. I’m unsure if these visitations will be like missionary work, but that seems to be the general idea. Do we believe that people can move between kingdoms after death? That seems to be in dispute, but otherwise why would we visit lower kingdoms? Purely to enjoy our own superiority?
7. Reading more books, learning languages, and playing musical instruments. This isn’t doctrine, but I’ve heard more than one person suggest that God knows everything, so we’re going to be learning everything in the celestial kingdom, and these are some of the things I’d like to know. I suppose others would be more interested in quantum mechanics. I’d have to hope my brain becomes significantly more functional before I’m capable of getting that.
8. Family get togethers with those who are in the celestial kingdom with us? I’m not sure if we’ll be doing Mormon potlucks with jello salad and ham casseroles, but what else would we do?
9. No alcohol or coffee, but lots of diet Coke?
10. Perfect bodies won’t have to be exercised anymore to stay in good shape, but I suppose I’ll be one of the few who will miss doing pushups, lunges, and squats. Not to mention marathons.
What’s wrong with these ideas of heaven? I’ve been a little facetious with some of them, but I think that for many Mormons, heaven as an extension of the church as currently constituted would be both a blessing and a comfort. If the church brings you peace and community, of course you’d want that to continue in the after-life. This is precisely why I say that one of the first signs of discomfort with the church comes with rejecting the idea of Mormon heaven.
What would I imagine heaven like now? Well, I admit that I don’t really believe in an after-life and I think that most ideas of the after-life are ways to get us to give up too much now in promise for returns that will never materialize. But if I were to imagine a heaven, it would be the same as what I think of as my most blissful moments are now:
1. Sharing food with family and friends.
2. Reading books that expand my soul.
3. Going out and enjoying nature itself.
4. Doing nothing at all.
5. Feeling my body pushed to its limits, drenched in sweat, and knowing I can keep going.
6. Making my own choices without other voices telling me “no.”
7. Creating new books out of my own imagination.
8. Laughing at stupid jokes.
9. Kissing (and more) — maybe this is one part Mormonism gets right, except for the people who have “smoothies.”
10. Winning. I really like winning. I’m not sure this is a celestial attribute of mine.
I think that different religions have different conceptions of heaven because their conception of god and divinity differ greatly, and because what god is defines what their religious practice is about. For Mormons, I think God is a god of rules and order. So that’s what Mormon heaven/the celestial kingdom would be, as well. It’s no wonder that Mormons often assume that heaven will be an extension of Mormonism here on earth, because that’s our way of conceiving of God working with humans.
And it’s no wonder, too, that conceptions of heaven are constantly changing, because Mormonism is always in the midst of change. This is both afeature and a bug of Mormonism, that it claims modern prophecy and revelation, and then has to live with that when those very claims come crumbling down (the 2015 policy of exclusion and the exaltation ban for blacks, for instance). Even my own idea of heaven on earth changes depending on how irritated I am with the people I’m currently living with (is that too real?).
What is your heaven like?