Which is better: Gay or Dead?

Horrified but unsurprised by The Gay Dot’s report of an LDS bishop saying suicide is preferable to being gay, I retweeted the link to the post. xJane sparked the following train of thought yesterday:

NotSoPoetic: (link) #mormon bishop says suicide is preferable to being gay http://bit.ly/eMtcvm
xJane: @NotSoPoetic Does suicide send you to hell in Mormonism (as it does in Catholicism)?
NotSoPoetic: @xJane It sends you to the lowest heaven with Hitler and serial killers. Only high-up priesthood holders who defect can go to mormon hell.
xJane: @NotSoPoetic wait, Hitler’s in heaven? I’m SET!
xJane: @NotSoPoetic but still, weighing theological probabilities, wouldn’t it be better just to be gay?
NotSoPoetic: @xJane From mormon perspective, yes, as sexual sin is second to killing. Gay mormons may possibly be able to get into second highest heaven.
xJane: @NotSoPoetic So, he was homophobic and wrong!

And suddenly Twitter is no longer sufficient for the magnitude of this conversation. xJane is correct; this LDS bishop, who abused the trust of a gay Mormon coming out to him by responding that it was “best to follow through the suicide than to give into men,” was wrong. First, because he’s a bigot. Second, because what he’s said is theologically incorrect from an LDS perspective.

Mormons have a much more complicated and forgiving scheme of salvation and damnation than your garden variety Christianity. The traditional view is as follows:

Baptism -> Death -> Go to Heaven

Really that’s supposed to be it. There’s a Heaven and a Hell, and if you become a Christian you get to go to heaven. It’s gotten much more complex over the years, with niggling arguments over who can perform the baptism and how much water to use, and then the Catholics had to go and add bleeding Limbo to the mix. But I think we can agree that the traditional concept of Christian salvation involves acknowledging the sacrifice of Christ through the act of baptism, which then places your name on St. Peter’s VIP list.

Mormons, being the pyramid-scheme loving, wacky new business model enthusiasts that they are, had to go and muck up the works by injecting a fat load of second chances, bootstrapping and free will into the equation:

pre-existence -> earth life -> death -> bonus round -> final judgement -> go to one of three levels of heaven

Mormons teach that prior to this life they voted on participating in God’s plan for humanity, choosing to go through with an earthly life. They were given bodies, sent to earth and view this life as a trial. Jesus dying for all mankind gets nearly everybody out of Hell. In fact, the only way to get into Mormon Hell is through deliberate rejection of entering any kind of heaven. Only “Sons of Perdition” or priesthood-holding men in leadership positions allowing them a “sure knowledge” of God and His PlanTM can be damned to join Lucifer and his rebellious angels in Hell. In a way this really marginalises the function of Jesus in humanity’s salvation. Even serial killers get to go to some kind of Heaven. Your religious affiliation plays no part in your pretty much guaranteed pass out of Hell.

Mormons believe that after we all die we go to a holding tank until the Final Judgement Day that accompanies Christ’s Second Coming. Good Mormons go to Paradise, where they are called upon to minister to those who chose not to become Mormons or didn’t have the chance to hear about Mormonism. Back on earth, the living perform the necessary rituals for dead people so that they can become Mormons posthumously and have a shot at one of the higher kingdoms of heaven.

After the Final Judgement, Human beings, based on their Mormonliness, are sorted into three kingdoms not unlike the various houses at Hogwarts. Everyone is guaranteed to at least find a home in the Telestial Kingdom, the Slytherin of the Mormon afterlife. Suicides, murderers, and the scum of all mankind will be found in this kingdom. And apparently it’s not too bad! Wilford Woodruff (allegedly) once said that if human beings knew how lovely it was in this lowliest of heavens, they’d be killing themselves to get there, and the general understanding among Mormons is that Telestial Slytherin House is pretty nice.

In the middle is the Terrestrial Kingdom for spiritual Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws, where decent non-Mormon people and backslidden Mormons will go. These are folks who never became Mormon or didn’t accept posthumous Mormonisation.

The Gryffindor of the afterlife is the Celestial Kingdom, which is for good Mormons. The top tier of Celestial glory is reserved for Mormons who are heterosexually married in the temple. (You can see how this makes being gay a problem.) For years it was also taught that a man needed at least three wives to achieve this highest level of glory, something that Fundamentalist Mormons and traditionalist LDS still believe in. Good Mormons who have done everything right, received their temple ordinances, but never got married, will serve as “ministering angels,” a bit like personal assistants to the glorified married folks birthing new spirit babies and creating new worlds to set up yet another deified Ponzi scheme.

These ministering angels in the Celestial Kingdom should, doctrinally speaking, include gay Mormons who remained faithful to their covenants. Gay Mormons who killed themselves, regardless of other issues of worthiness, would end up in the Telestial Kingdom. It’s hard to say where a sexually active gay Mormon would end up. I want to say that if the person had ethical sexual relationships, they’d likely end up in the Terrestrial Kingdom. So if the Mormons are right, repression or living a gay lifestyle seems like it leads to a better situation than suicide.

So not only was that worthless git of a bishop abusing his parishioner by telling him suicide was better than being gay, he was wrong according to his own doctrine.

And, since I believe Mormon teachings are a load of rubbish, I’ll add that he was just plain wrong.

The Big Deal

CJ had a question meaty enough to prompt a whole new series of thoughts on my last post:

My ultimate question is, why does the literal truth of history seem to matter so much more to Mormons than to other Christians? Belief in Christianity, as a whole, doesn’t hinge (for most Christians, anyway) on, say, the literal truth about whether Noah built the Ark. Although obviously, for some, it does–but outside of Mormonism, we generally recognize them as, well, a fringe element. Within Mormonism, this absolutism seems to be mainstream. Why?

I think I’ve been able to pinpoint what the big deal is. Here’s how it works in mainstream Christianity:

Belief that Jesus died for humanity’s sins = Salvation

That’s it. There are a few minor details in some sects, such as requiring baptism, but most Christian faiths recognise the Christian baptisms of other sects as valid because really all that matters is faith in Jesus. There can be downsides such as people who are “saved” and also real arseholes, or the stupidly unfair idea that unbaptised babies and people who were never introduced to Christianity go to Hell. (Mormonism is a lot more fair by writing in a bonus round for people in this category.)

Mormonism is a little different:

Belief or non-belief in Christ = Basic Telestial Salvation. Payment (cash and labor) for premium access = Terrestrial or Celestial Salvation and/or Exaltation

It’s a bit more complicated, but one plus is that it’s a lot harder to qualify for Hell than in mainstream Christianity. Really hard, in fact. Mormons believe that the Atonement of Christ covers every human being who isn’t a Son of Perdition. That definition is roughly someone who has a full understanding of God’s plan through the priesthood. (That makes a pretty good case for the idea that there will be no women in Mormon Hell.) Every qualifying human being, from Hitler to Mother Theresa, will be resurrected and at least qualified for the Telestial Kingdom. Though I don’t believe in Mormonism any more, this does make sense to me. I cannot actually conceive of any person, not even a genocidal megalomaniac, whose actions deserve to be punished for all eternity. If people are immortal, there has to be a point where bygones are bygones. Humans are far too stupid to have the consequences for their actions as serious as forever.

So whereas in mainstream Christianity faith in Christ = the same salvation for all believers, in Mormonism the Atonement is akin to gaining admission to a nice dance club. Everyone gets inside and is guaranteed to have a very nice time. However, there are VIP lounges in this massive dance club on two higher levels for those with premium access memberships. There is only one place where you can purchase memberships, and you had to know about it before you got into the club. (If you missed your second chance at the Spirit Prison Information Booth on your way in, tough. You’ll have to enjoy the main dance floor.) Super Elite members flash their Calling and Election Made Sure card and get to go to the über VIP Lounge, where they are taught how to build their own dance clubs on real estate given to them by the club owner. Those in the VIP lounges can descend to party with those with Basic Salvation Access, but the bottom-dwellers can’t get past the bouncers at the stairs because they didn’t pay for a premium membership and don’t know the secret handshakes.

In mainstream Christianity, almost everything is background information — Noah’s Ark, the conquest of Canaan, the Ten Plagues, all of Paul’s epistles — all you have to know is that God loves humanity, Jesus died for humanity’s sins, and if you profess your belief in those things you get into Heaven. Mainstream Christianity is contingent on no fallible, mortal man. So if bits and pieces of the Bible aren’t literal history, it doesn’t matter.

Not so with Mormonism. Joseph Smith was the one who established the rituals necessary for Salvation Plus. He’s the originator and therefore the key. His credibility is vitally important to LDS Church claims regarding the Book of Mormon and temple rituals. If Joseph Smith wasn’t telling the truth, and the historical claims of Mormonism are false, this means lots of Mormons are paying 10% of their income and forty hours a week for access to a VIP lounge that doesn’t exist. They could have been having coffee and pastries after an easygoing one hour meeting per week at a nice Lutheran church and gotten precisely the same deal as every other Christian. If Joseph Smith is lying, then Mormons are wasting a lot of time and energy on what Christians would call the blasphemous notion that God would create something as elitist as VIP lounges in Heaven. Mormon heaven is a capitalist meritocracy. Christian heaven is a bit more socialist.

The doctrinal correctness of polygamy as established by Joseph Smith matters because he did all of the following:

Joseph Smith did all of those things. If he wasn’t being commanded by God, then that makes him a pretty unreliable messenger in terms of a spiritual and religious guide. If he could lie and rape (statutory rape is rape), how can we believe what he said about the Book of Mormon? Someone who did these things today would not be respected as a religious leader; they would be in prison for bigamy and statutory rape. Think of Roman Polanski; an older, charismatic leader tells a young teen that if she grants him sexual favours she’ll be rewarded beyond her wildest expectations. Unless polygamy was ordered by God, Joseph Smith was no different than Polanski. Considering that polygamy was what landed him in Carthage Jail, it would seem that the citizens of Illinois in the 1840’s felt the same.

This is why Mormons spend more time publicly affirming that Joseph Smith was a true prophet and the Book of Mormon is true than they spend on showing gratitude to Jesus. That’s why, unlike Christians, they must defend the historical accuracy of their sacred books — all of them — and pay for access to exclusive information that gains them access to exclusive clubs. If Joseph Smith made it up, that’s quite a rip-off.