Tuesday, February 15, 2005


“Do Mormons believe that only Mormons will go to heaven?”

It only stands to reason that this would be one of the first questions asked by someone seeking to learn more about Mormonism. After all, the idea of “being saved” from Hell and eternal damnation and “going to heaven” when one dies is the basis of what most people in the West believe about an afterlife. Religion is usually presented as a means of “getting into heaven,” and more than a few religious people believe that others will not get into heaven unless they accept their religion--which can mean everything from “having a personal relationship with Jesus,” to obeying the dictates of a particular book of scripture, a particular person or an institution.

Because of all of this, it’s perfectly understandable that most people would assume that Mormons believe that only Mormons will “get into heaven.”

In the first years of the Mormon movement, it’s pretty safe to say that most Mormons--coming from a traditional Christian background--probably did believe this. After all, “The Book of Mormon” itself contained many passages on Hell, damnation and salvation.

And so it not only surprised many Mormons, but also troubled some, when on February 16, 1832 Mormon prophet Joseph Smith and his councilor, Sidney Rigdon had a vision of eternity that was not only at odds with “the Grand Scheme of Things” as traditionally envisioned, but also hinted that human nature itself was quite different than what was commonly believed.
Even Mormon leader Brigham Young admitted, "My traditions were such, that when the Vision came first to me, it was so directly contrary and opposed to my former education, I said, wait a little; I did not reject it, but I could not understand it" (Deseret News, Extra, September 14, 1852, p. 24).


Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon had been studying the Bible when they came across the Apostle Paul’s writings on the Resurrection of the Dead. Paul’s reference to there being “bodies Celestial and bodies Terrestrial” piqued their curiosity, and they decided to study further and pray over the matter.

Joseph Smith wrote:

"From sundry revelations which had been received, it was apparent that many important points touching the salvation of man had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled. It appeared self-evident from what truths were left, that if God rewarded every one according to the deeds done in the body, the term ‘Heaven,’ as intended for the Saints’ eternal home, must include more kingdoms than one."

After studying further in the Gospelof John, Joseph and Sidney decided to pray for further understanding and knowledge. As a result of their prayers, they envisioned what might now be called “The Mormon Grand Scheme of Things,” and set it down in writing. At first known simply as “The Vision,” it was widely circulated among Mormons and eventually was canonized as Section 76 of “The Doctrine & Covenants.”

From its birth, Mormonism had been viewed by most people as unorthodox. After all, it rejected the Bible as the sole source of authority, regarding “The Book of Mormon” and other writings by Joseph Smith as divinely inspired scripture. “The Vision” signaled what would eventually become a complete break not only from traditional Christianity, but also from monotheism itself. For those who accepted the scheme of things as laid out in “The Vision,” the question, “Who will get into heaven and who will go to hell?” became obsolete.

Of "The Vision," Mormon pioneer leader Wilford Woodruff said it was "a revelation which gives more light, more truth, and more principle than any revelation contained in any other book we ever read." Twentieth century LDS leader Elder Melvin J. Ballard called it "the greatest revelation the Lord, Jesus Christ, has ever given to man, so far as record is made."


The case could be made that in 1832 the majority of Christians believed that only Christians would inherit “The Kingdom of God.” Many believed that the majority of mankind would be damned. Thus it was believed that one’s eternal happiness would depend on whether one had accepted the right religion.

But according to “The Vision” recorded on February 16, 1832, one’s religious affiliation, as well as the doctrines that one accepted, had little if anything to do with this. What matter was one’s character, one’s personal virtue and righteous. That virtue would be manifested in one’s actions--in one’s works. It is by one’s works--not by one’s faith and beliefs --that one would be judged.

No one is either all good or all bad. Each human being is a mixture of light and dark. All have free will (Free Agency) and can chose their actions. People have minds that are capable of learning and acting upon new truth. In short, each of us can grow and progress.

Each of us is on an eternal journey not to a particular destination such as traditionally envisioned with Heaven and Hell, but journey towards becoming a particular type of person. We are each progressing, evolving; and since we are each a free agent, we each control the pace and extent of our progress and evolution. Being born in the image of God, each of us--by our very nature--can progress and become like God.

In “The Vision” the Glory of God--that is, God’s virtue, knowledge and power--was likened to the brilliant light of the sun. Those who become like God will inherit this glory: the Glory of the Sun, or Celestial Glory. “The Vision” went so far as to declare that those who inherited this Celestial Glory would., in fact, become Gods.

Because of their choices and works, some will not progress as far. Using the symbolism of light, “The Vision” says that some will inherit a glory that could be compared to the light of the Moon (Telestial Glory). Still others will progress and inherit a glory that could be compared to the Light of the Stars (Terrestrial Glory).

These various degrees of glory are not given to people by God or anyone else. One’s degree of glory is the direct result of the type of person that one has become--the knowledge gained, the virtue cultivated. Because of this, all people will have some degree of happiness in eternity.


Joseph Smith likened “The Vision” of February 16, 1832 to a “light which burst upon the world,“ the truths of which were “so much beyond the narrow-mindedness of men, that every man is constrained to exclaim: "It came from God"' (“The Teaching of the Prophet Joseph Smith,” p. 11).


Because of the new understanding of humanity’s nature and divine potential laid forth in “The Vision,“ Reform Mormons revere February 16th as a holiday. In some Reform Mormon homes, the Sacrament will be taken as part of the day’s main meal. In some of their homes, Reform Mormons will light three candles--symbolizing the Celestial, Telestial and Terrestrial Glories. Still others may read “The Vision,” published as Section 76 in “The Doctrine & Covenants,” and mediate upon it. What unites all will be the feeling of celebration and thankfulness for a vision of eternity in which all human beings will inherit a degree of glory and happiness; a vision in which the labels of “saved” and “damned” have no place; a vision that truly embraces all mankind.


Eternal Progression is central to Reform Mormonism. Whereas others might ask, “What must I do to be saved?,” Reform Mormons ask, “How can I become more like God? How can I progress? What more can I learn? How can I further develop my talents? I can I reach my full potential? How can I fulfill the measure of my creation?” In contemplating the Vision of the Three Degrees of Glory, these questions can take on deeper meaning and help serve as a compass for living.


At the most basic level, Reform Mormonism is an approach to living for individuals who wish to progress, to realize their full potential and to have joy not only in eternity, but now in this life.
Reform Mormon rituals, ordinances and holidays have the most potential for deep meaning when they are observed in the home--either alone or in the company of family and friends.

The Sacrament (traditonally called Holy Communion or The Lord’s Supper ) is an ordinance to be observed in the home. Neither priest, rabbi or clergy is needed; Reform Mormons believe that each person can approach God as a Priest or Priestess for him or herself. The notion of “the Priesthood of All Believers” is an accepted truth for Reform Mormons.

The Sacrament--the blessing and partaking of bread and wine--usually takes place at one’s own dinner table, as part of one’s main meal on the Sabbath or on holidays.

If, as part of celebrating February 16th (The Day of Eternal Progression), you would like to administer the Sacrament, the Reform Mormon Sacramental prayers are printed below.

Once the food has been prepared and all members of the family are seated at the table, the person administering the Sacrament, waits for quiet, takes bread, and breaks it. After pausing for a moment of quiet meditation, the following is spoken:

(Addresses God,) we ask thee to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it, that they may eat in remembrance of thee, and of the covenant to emulate thy creation. Amen.

The bread is passed among all at the table, and all partake. The person administering then pours wine into a glass, pauses, and speaks:

(Addresses God,) we ask thee to bless and sanctify this wine to the souls of all those who drink of it, that they may drink in remembrance of thee, and always have thy spirit to be with them. Amen.

Once all have partaken of the wine, the Sacrament is ended; the meal progresses.

Reform Mormons have a variety of ways to address God in prayers and ordinances. The particular method chosen is at the discretion of the Officiator. Three of the most common are:
"O God, the Eternal Father,""O God, the Eternal Mother,""O God, our Eternal Parents"

To read more on Reform Mormonism, visit www.reformmormonism.org
How did you observe the Day of Eternal Progression?
Share you thoughts and experiences with our readers,
by emailing us at: reformmormons@aol.com

Sunday, February 13, 2005

THE QUEST FOR KNOWLEDGE: Exploring the story of Adam & Eve

(In this lesson we continue our exploration of the Mormon interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve. You’re encouraged to look at the accounts of the story found in Genesis and in the Book of Moses in “The Pearl of Great Price,” as well as the commentary found in II Nephi, chapter 2 in “The Book of Mormon.” An abridged version of the story--edited from these sources as well as from the dramatized portion of the LDS Mormon Endowment Ceremony--can be found in our last lesson )


Throughout most of recorded history there has been a tradition of Forbidden Knowledge--the idea that there were things which humanity should not know. The message of most religions has been that while it was the will of God (or the Gods) that humans be rational creatures, it is human curiosity and the desire for knowledge that is responsible for all misery; that if humans would remain humble and obedient to Deity, never venturing beyond Divinely appointed limits of what it was proper for them to know, all would be well.

Anciently there was the myth of Pandora, whose curiosity led her to disobey the command of the Gods that she not open a certain box. By opening the box, Pandora released all the evils, miseries and woes that have plagued the earth.

There is also the myth of Prometheus who tried to capture the Divine Fire of the Gods, bringing wisdom, light and knowledge to mankind. For this sin, the Gods chained him to a mountain top where he would be eternally tormented by birds of prey.

The Bible also has one such myth, found in the eleventh chapter of Genesis. Humans decide to “make a name” for themselves by building a tower, the top of which will reach to the heavens. When the Lord sees this, he says to the others in his heavenly court:

“Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.” (Genesis 11:6)

The only way that the Lord is able to put a stop to human ingenuity is to confuse their language so that the towers builders are unable to understand one another.

Notice that in each of these myths, the humans are able to do exactly what they set out to do: Pandora opens the box, Prometheus brings light to the world and the Tower of Babel is built. In all of these stories the borders dividing humans from Gods are being breeched. The Gods, in order to maintain their distance from humans (who They see as inferior beings), either have to punish humanity or undermine their natural abilities.

In the end it is humanity’s rational nature, their curiosity and--perhaps most importantly--their imagination (their ability to create), that threatens the Gods, who are depicted as jealous to preserve their sovereignty.


In short, religions have tended to preach variations on a single them: ignorance is not only bliss, it is blessed--the foundation of morality; know your place and don’t venture past it; turn off your mind, believe and obey; don’t trust your own understanding of things.

A quick glance at history shows that it has been traditional religion and its priests that have consistently protested nearly every important advancement in human knowledge--all in the name of God.

No where is this more clearly evident than in the debate between some fundamentalists and scientists over the theory of Evolution. A farmer in rural Georgia may protest that the public schools are teaching his children certain theories and biological facts as Evolution--which he sees as a denial of God’s sovereignty. Yet armed with most of these same theories and biological facts, this same farmer will work to breed a prize-winning hog--a better hog than would be born if nature ran its course without human intervention.

Currently there are debates on the morality of such things as nuclear energy, cloning and stem cell research. “We must not play God,” many say.

But what if “playing God” is exactly what God expects of His children? What if “playing God”--far from being a sin--is actually the basis of morality? What if there simply is no such thing as forbidden knowledge?


Orthodox Christianity has taken the notion of forbidden knowledge and imposed it on the Biblical story of Adam and Eve. Christianity has taught that it was pride, ambition and the sinful desire to become like God, that prompted Adam and Eve to eat the fruit. Because they did this, they sinned and fell from God’s grace. Their quest for knowledge corrupted human nature itself--so that everyone born since is worthy of nothing other than eternal damnation.

Original sin is the concept of inherited guilt; of guilt, not for what one does, but for what one is.
Most modern Christians reject such evils as racism and anti-Semitism; after all, one can’t help the race or ethnic group one into which one is born; they realize that racism is wrong because it is based on the concept of inherited guilt--a guilt based not on actions committed but on identity itself. Yet these same Christians accept this notion on a much broader scale. In fact, it is the basis of their world view. It is mankind’s inherited guilt--human identity itself--from which, Christians believe, Christ must save us.

And the root of this inherited guilt--this Original Sin? The human quest for knowledge and understanding.


Often when people discuss the story of Adam and Eve, they use certain words and phrases: the Forbidden Fruit, Original Sin, the Fall, pride, arrogance, sin, the devil, lies, Satan, Lucifer. But if one looks at the story in Genesis, one will see that not a single one of these words or phrases appear any where in the text itself.

It is often taught that the serpent lied to Adam and Eve when he told them that if they ate the fruit they “would be as gods, knowing good ands evil.” (Genesis 3:5)

But according to God Himself, the serpent told the truth. After Adam and Eve eat the fruit, God declares:

“Behold, the man is become as one of us to know good and evil.” (Genesis 3:22)


“The Book of Mormon” broke with 1800 years of Christian tradition by presenting an opposing (indeed, a completely contradictory) interpretation of the Adam and Eve story.

The so-called Fall was a good thing. Adam and Eve had to eat from the Tree of Knowledge in order that humans might exist and fulfill the object of their creation, which was to have joy.
Early Mormon leaders such a Brigham Young took great pride in the fact that Mormon theology did not view Adam and Eve as the world’s first sinners--as those responsible for all sin, misery and woe--but as the world’s first heroes who bravely ate from the Tree of Knowledge and left the Garden of Eden so that they and their descendents might progress.


Joseph Smith taught “Knowledge is what saves a man.”

Mormon scriptures declare:

It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.” (Doctrine & Covenants 131:6)

“The Glory of God is intelligence.” (Doctrine & Covenants 93:36)

Lest anyone suppose that this knowledge and intelligence only relates to “religious” or “spiritual” matters, Mormon scriptures admonish us to “seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” (Doctrine & Covenants 88:118)

When defining “Truth,” other religious traditions often lean toward mystical and vague definitions. In contrast, consider the Mormon definition:

“Truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come; and whatsoever is more or less that this is the spirit of the wicked one who was a liar from the beginning.” (Doctrine & Covenants 93:24)

What is the result of acquiring knowledge?

“Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.” (Doctrine & Covenants 130:18-19)


Brigham Young taught that all truth is part of Mormonism--whether it be found in religion, science, philosophy. There is no contradiction between one “type of truth” and another. Indeed, the Masonic Compass (which is incorporated into Reform Mormonism’s logo) within Mormon tradition symbolizes that “all truth can be circumscribed into one great whole.”

Accepting these principles and building upon them Reform Mormonism embraces knowledge as the second of its four foundational principles--Faith, Knowledge, Revelation and Restoration.
Within Reform Mormonism, there is no such thing as forbidden knowledge. There is no conflict between religion and science, or religion and art. All fields of human endeavor may yield aspects of the truth; therefore, all are to be explored. There is no such thing as blind faith, as mindless obedience. Indeed, being a child of God with a mind capable of unlimited growth, it is up to each and every individual to think for him or herself.

In the end there is no area of knowledge so scared that it is off-limits to humankind; for Mormon scripture proclaims:

“…the day shall come when you shall comprehend even God..” (Doctrine & Covenants 88:49)


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February 16th is a Mormon Holiday

On February 16, 1832 Joseph Smith and Sydney Rigdon recorded the Vision of the Three Degrees of Glory--found in "The Doctrine & Covenants," Section 76. This Vision serves as the foundation for the Mormon belief in Universal Exalation--the belief that all people who have ever lived, regardless of their religion, will inherit some degree of glory and eternal happiness. This Vision is also important because it is the first place in Mormon scripture where the human potential for Godhood is mentioned. (D&C 76:58)

Because of the great importance of this Vision to Mormonism, REFORM MORMONS honor February 16th as a religious holiday--a day on which to mediate upon the principles laid out in this Vision, and to celebrate God's universal love and justice--as well as humanity's Divine potential.