Who Should Be More Optimistic About The After-Life?

I have been wondering about the question of whether members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ought to be more optimistic about the after-life than members of other Christian faiths.  In asking this, I am not wondering which group is more smug, arrogant and self-righteous.  I am also not asking this in terms of who is more confident in being doctrinally correct.  What I am wondering, is given the basic theology of different religious traditions (Mormonism and mainstream Protestants for example), who should be more optimistic about the after-life?  In making such comparisons, I will of course be generalizing and over-simplifying to very high levels.  But I hope that thinking and discussing this will have some positive results.

One place to start would be regarding the prospects, or chances, of salvation.  It is my impression that mainstream protestants believe in a Heaven/Hell dichotomy, and that the vast majority of all mankind will end up in Hell.  Thus the chances are not good for humanity as a whole.  But it is the believers we are talking about.  And since much of protestant Christianity seems to believe in salvation by grace alone, or something close to it, the true believers are ‘in’.  And for many, once you are saved or ‘in’ you will never lose your salvation.  And I suspect that even for those who would accept the possibility of losing you salvation (on never really being saved in the first place) gaining or re-gaining your salvation would be as easy as gaining it in the first place.  So I would suspect that the optimism in the after-life ought to be fairly high for this group.  One source of pessimism may be doubt in whether or not one has really been ‘saved’.  Since it is by grace alone for many, and nearly grace alone for the rest, it seems it would be a little bit like winning a lottery.  What if you were mistaken about actually being saved?

The prospects, or chances of salvation are a bit different in Mormonism – from my understanding.  There is not the same Heaven/Hell dichotomy.  Mormons do not have the same beliefs regarding Hell.  The equivalent in Mormonism would be called ‘Outer Darkness’.  This is a place for those souls who had a sure knowledge, and then denied.  It is commonly thought that there will be very few individuals who would even qualify for this place.  Everyone else will be spared this eternal misery.  So in this respect, Mormonism is nearly universal when it comes to being saved from death and Hell – which ought to be quite comforting.  The prospects for mankind as a whole are quite good – in fact they are basically guaranteed basic salvation from death and hell.  Yet, beyond basic salvation there is the idea of degrees of glory.  So, those who have been saved may be ‘in’, but perhaps only partially ‘in’, since salvation is by degrees.  I suppose this can be a source of either optimism or pessimism, depending on your point of view.   Additionally, this aspect of salvation (which Mormons would call exaltation), is based partly on the merit of the individuals themselves, and thus it would be like meeting certain requirements rather than winning a lottery.  Thus for the believers, a source of doubt would be if they had met the requirements for a fullness of salvation.

I have some other thoughts on this, but I think I will stop here and see how this turns out.  Please feel free to share your thoughts on this, and where my thoughts may be messed up.

18 Responses to “Who Should Be More Optimistic About The After-Life?”

  1. 1 lezlee November 4, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    Interesting post Eric. I wonder about this sometimes too. I gather from my interactions with various types of Christians that they seem to all feel that they are “saved”, though they all seem to believe quite strongly in following the tennets of their faith, in whatever ways that manifests in their lives. So that for many of them, they seem to be as busy trying to stay “saved” as Mormons are trying to qualify for a particular degree. Maybe I’m not putting that very well.

    As I get older I wonder more and more about the intersection of grace and works. In a recent sunday school class it became quite apparent to me that members of the Mormon church have very different ideas about how those two things work in conjunction with each other. It’s not totally clear to me still after studying quite a number of scriptures and conference talks on the subject.

    I often wonder too how sure Mormons are of obtaining any particular degree in the afterlife. It’s not something we talk about a whole lot. It seems to be understood that we’re all striving for this Celestial goal, but I certainly know semi-active or even inactive members who are outspoken about feeling content with a Terrestrial or Telestial glory. This may be where we diverge from other Christians, but maybe not. Maybe these things are equally complicated for either group. Perhaps worrying about remaining “saved” is similar to worrying about obtaining a Celestial glory. The more laid back Christians are bit more like the laid back Mormons in that regard perhaps as well.

  2. 2 Eric Nielson November 4, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    I think you are putting things quite well.

    As far as the grace and works goes, I think the main debate should be between grace alone on one side, and some combination of grace/works on the other. What the proper combination of grace/works is, is a difference of degree – not of kind.

    You bring up some very interesting points, thanks for commenting.

  3. 3 Michael November 4, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    Us gay Mormons are burning in hell no matter which faith tradition we discuss. So it is kind of a mute point.

  4. 4 Eric Nielson November 4, 2011 at 2:31 pm


    No you aren’t, and I suspect you know that.

  5. 5 TexasMomm November 4, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    2 Nephi 33:12 And I pray the Father in the name of Christ that many of us, *** if not all***, may be saved in his kingdom at that great and last day.

    I’m hoping for “all” – I mean, wouldn’t that be great? Sure, give us some doubt for a time so that we’re all motivated to be better, but I have confidence in God and in His plan… doesn’t seem like anyone could be completely happy in heaven knowing anyone else was in hell, and we know “all tears will be wiped away”, so why not?

  6. 6 Eric Nielson November 4, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    I can’t leave it at that…

    Suppose that a gay Mormon never got sealed to a spouse in the temple during mortality. I believe that the most Mormons would speculate that they likely would not qualify for the highest degee in the Celestial Kingdom. Anything else would be open to them potentially. Most Mormons would hold out hope that somehow those types of blessings would eventally be made available to everyone – even after death.

    Another reason for Mormons to be optimistic about the afterlife.

  7. 7 Eric Nielson November 4, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    Excellent comment TexasMomm. Mormons can be borderline universalists.

  8. 8 Chimmy Chonga November 4, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    I am neither a Mormon nor an Evangelist, but I if I were an Evangelical and I believed that I would be saved while many of my friends and loved ones (or even total strangers who were otherwise good people) are going to Hell, how could I possibly expect to be happy in my salvation? Unless I ceased to be a caring person in the hereafter, I would be too troubled by the knowledge of their eternal torment to find any peace. I would have to cease to be “me” in order to have any peace in Heaven, in which case I wouldn’t have really been saved after all because I would be somebody else entirely; somebody I would not want to be. How is this not a troubling concept for Evangelists? Anyone who is okay with the idea of others being tortured in Hell is not okay with me. At least the LDS afterlife is not so callous, though I do have issues with it as well.

  9. 9 Michael November 4, 2011 at 3:12 pm


    I will be 50 in a few months and I am not sealed to a single person for eternity. I converted at age 19 and none of my family are members. And since my orientation will be the same in eternity, I am floating in a sea of unknown potential. However, I have Isaiah 56 and Matthew 19:12 to rely upon.

  10. 10 Michael November 4, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    Mormons can also be borderline pelagians.

  11. 11 Eric Nielson November 4, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    I do not agree that your orientation will necessarily be the same for eternity. That certainly is not our doctrine.

    And I agree that Mormons are semi pelagians.

  12. 13 TexasMomm November 4, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    When I first joined I felt the same way Michael – I wasn’t sealed to anyone, no fam in the church, not married, etc. etc. it is hard to listen to all the “together forever” spiels on family etc. etc. when you are sitting in there without anyone. I took my issues to the temple – through genealogy work I no longer feel so alone, I’m confident everything will be sorted out for everyone after we die – those who have gone without will end up with a greater appreciation for everything.

    I think Mormons are universalists…
    (Book of Mormon | 2 Nephi 29:12 – 13)
    12 For behold, I shall speak unto the Jews and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the Nephites and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the other tribes of the house of Israel, which I have led away, and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto all nations of the earth and they shall write it.
    13 And it shall come to pass that the Jews shall have the words of the Nephites, and the Nephites shall have the words of the Jews; and the Nephites and the Jews shall have the words of the lost tribes of Israel; and the lost tribes of Israel shall have the words of the Nephites and the Jews.

    that’s one of the big points of the BoM right? God speaks to everyone, not just the Jewish people? I think He will save everyone too.

    • 14 TexasMomm November 4, 2011 at 6:44 pm

      LOL – I sound like Nehor – edit to add, not “eat drink and be merry”, but rather we’ll all get our thick skin broken off, we’ll all be refined in the fires, some refining fires hotter than others, but for the end state, we’ll be refined.

  13. 15 Rob Osborn November 4, 2011 at 11:44 pm

    I think having a degrees of glory heaven/hell works against us on many fronts. The Book of Mormon is patterned almost identically with the New Testament. Even parts of the D&C and PoGP parallel the Book of mormon dichotomy of heaven or hell quite well. Our doctrine actually works very well with the simplistic approach of either heaven or hell. When exploringt he avenues of how we define the degrees of glory, things really begin to be problematic and outside of BoM and NT teachings. For instance, in our heaven, say the “terrestrial glory” one is basically the type of individual as the celestial in every way other than he just accepted the gospel later rather than sooner. A terretrial individual is the samer as a celestial in that he has accepted Christ, repented of past sins, been washed in the blood of the Lamb through baptism- is thus clean 100% and yet somehow unfit for celestial glory! These terrestrial glory people also can’t go to where the celestial grade people are on their world but instead we somehow think they are happy even though they are without a partner, family, etc. What kind of optimistic future is there for that individual? Is that really the “heaven” spoken of in the Book of Mormon? I have yet to make that connection.

    Then you have your “telestial glory” people who are some mysterious group who in a sense, as our doctrine teaches us, never repent of their sins in the normal manner (repentance, faith in Jesus Christ, baptism) and yet are saved through their own personal suffering…somehow. For these an optimistic future is so clouded in “what could have been” that in fact it must be instead a type of eternal miserable hell! No family, no spouse, no being able to ever go where either Jesus or Heavenly Father are….wait a minute, this isn’t nor can’t be “heaven”.

    And yet, our Book of mormon never speaks of anyone saved outside the very place where the Father himself will reside. “Salvation” only come sin one way- only one path and that path leading only to one physical place. In fact, if we take a purely Book of Mormon and New Testament approach, our heaven and hell is in fact no different than mainstream Christianity.

    And so I really wonder if perhaps just maybe we get optimistic about a heaven that perhaps doesn’t really exist like we have been taught or assume. As a mormon, I myself have come to accept the more traditional model of heaven/hell because not only is it what the book of Mormon teaches us, it’s the only logical conclusion that I can find.

  14. 16 Brother Smyth November 7, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    I think we do believe in the same heaven/hell judgment that mainstream Christians do. The only difference is that we believe it’s temporary. It’s not that I haven’t known this for a long time, but it was only quite recently that I drew this connection talking to a Unitarian friend of mine, actually, to bring that universalist piece back into it. It’s likely that mainstream Christians believe in a single disembodied heaven/hell judgment, because the part that happens after the spirit world was simply lost to them at some point, but up to that point we share the same doctrine. I know that’s not exactly the point of your post, just something I wanted to share since it was a meaningful realization for me. To your point, I wish we knew more or talked more about what qualifies you for one degree of glory or another and what kind of options there are for progressing from degree to degree after this life.

  15. 17 Rob Osborn November 8, 2011 at 12:28 am

    Qualifications for, and the actual “state” of the different glories is so vague in LDS doctrine that we don’t really have any clue what people really will be like outside of the celestial kingdom. We have a mark in our doctrine where everything is celestial or bust that we never really dwell on the little problems or inconsistantcies regarding the lesser degrees. I did a search to find anywhere in the scriptures where it may talk or define these other degrees and apparently, for some reason, they are not discussed at all other than a vague glossing over in section 76 of the D&C.

    It’s interesting that we define qualities and principles such as “repentance and baptism” as the doorway or entrance into the celestial kingdom. The reality though is that those principles are just part of the preparatory gospel- the part that enables one to only “enter” the path which leads to the celestial kingdom. The “path” itself is the ordinance work of the temple and obedience to those covenants. What is interesting about this aspect though of viewing the gospel is that without first entering the path through repentance and baptism, there can never be any degree or portion of salvation ever merited or meted out to any individual. This “bridge”, if one calls it such, which leads from the gulf of misery and woe, is to be obtained, one must enter into a covenant relationship with Heavenly Father. This is done through obedience to the laws and ordinances of the preparatory gospel. If we understand this “must” part, it then shows the many apparent problems with the degrees of glory as we currently define it. For instance-

    We can then realize that there can be no salvation for any individual without the essential obedience to the preparatory gospel. But as one will note, the “preparatory” gospel doesn not perfect the individual or immediatley grant that individual immediate salvation. It merely places him or her on the “path”- it “prepares” them to receive the higher ordinances which in obedience to them, has the power to bring salvation to that individual. One must look at it in this manner. We gloss over the lower two kingdoms as a type of universal salvation where “works” are not really manifested to merit salvation, especially in discussing the telestial salvation. This is obviously problematic or paradoxial though because our religion teaches that “works” is essential to salvation. But, we know that the definition of “works” in salvation terms is specificallly defined as obedience to tthe laws and ordinances of the gospel including temple ordinances. Thus, the qualifications for at least bottom grade salvation- that which saves one from the eternal hell after the millennium is achieved- must be achieved, through basic obedience to “all” the saving laws and ordinances of the gospel. But as one can see at this point, a person of this nature can and is able to endure the presence of Heavenly Father in the celestial kingdom because he is thus “cleansed from all sin” and thus again in a state such as he was in the premortal realm.

    I guess my point with all of this is that there is no bridge or gate or path leading to salvation outside of that which leads one to the very path leading to the celestial kingdom. In order to be saved from the eternal hell, one must enter through the same gate and be on the same exact path as anyone else. This literally means that they must become the same “type” of individual as anyone else at least at the lowest order of things to be saved. It is interesting to me that the Book of Mormon speaks of this minimal person throughout the book- the bare minimum salvation that was known at that time. So, in reality, there really is no salvation outside the celestial kingdom. We need to rework the whol paradigm because under close inspection, our plan of salvation is flawed as bad as mainstream Christianity, just at a different level!

  16. 18 Aaron November 9, 2011 at 9:35 am

    My choice are unbelievers and low-grade believers. There is virtue, after all, in having low expectations.

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