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.