Let me tell you a story of the Gods. They may not quite be the Gods you think of, but hopefully you will see a Mormon God in them.
Imagine a universe where Nature rules. Gods have evolved with such understanding, power, and unity that they shape Nature, fostering generations of new Gods and inviting all that is to join their great song of creation. Out of chaos arose Great Ones who call forth order of unimaginable complexity and beauty. It is a beautiful picture, to me, with one little problem–we can only glimpse a tiny piece of this grandeur. Maybe we are already Gods, like my three little boys are already humans, but we clearly fall short of comprehending, or even seeing, the vast expanses of knowledge that are likely so commonplace to our parents that they hardly even notice the details anymore. We may be co-participants in creation with God, but mostly unconsciously simply because we are growing up. The things we consciously create are like making our spaceships and castles out of Lego blocks. If we are so immature, what does our path to Godhood look like? What is the plan to become a God? Does evolution support the scriptural notion that strait is the way and narrow is the gate that leads to eternal life, and few there be that enter? Do evolved Gods just happen without obeying the rules of righteousness that religion teaches, obeying instead the law of the jungle? Or will science and nature make us Gods without the help of a redeemer? Let’s explore the question together.
You may have heard said, the more you know, the more you find there is to know? In the universe (or multiverse, or cosmos, or reality) of evolved Gods, this never stops. It is so vast and varied that Gods can be infinite and eternal and still not comprehend the scope of it. These are Brigham’s Gods of eternal progression. What does it take to become one of (or part of?) these Gods?
We must become radically compassionate. There can be no will left among us to destroy one another. We must get to the point where every one of us is seeking to ennoble all the Gods to the extent of our abilities. There is a glimpse of this order in Doctrine and Covenants 76, where even those in the telestial glory eventually submit and becomes servants of God. Doing what? Bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of humanity, presumably.
We must become creators. Without seeking to bring forth additional Gods, we may not cease to be (I’m not sure about this), but we will cease to be numerically significant in the cosmos. And I’m not sure beings who lack the desire to create could achieve eternal life. Life is not a static state. It is a continually adjusting, dynamic near-equilibrium. This is true of all life we know and of the universe that sustains it. We can imagine entirely different sets of laws, but it is difficult to imagine laws responsible for dynamic and eternal beings like our Gods that are not subject to and sustained by laws at least analogous to our laws of thermodynamics.
We must have faith. We must have faith in what we can become, but we must also have faith in the rest of humanity. We can’t achieve Godhood alone. As has been repeatedly taught in Mormonism, we cannot be saved by ourselves. We need our families. We need our ancestors. We need our communities. Gods trust one another not to destroy each other. They arrive at that trust through trials, but it is still something that they must give. In a cosmos founded on agency, we can only know the future of our fellow agents on trust. We must trust their yet unmade decisions, and we must even empower those decisions. We must give each other the power to create, and with it the power to destroy. We must be leaders and enablers, not managers and enforcers.
Thus far Evolution lays out quite a strict path. Just look at your own life, setting aside other people’s choices, and ask how easy it is to be as compassionate, creative, trusting, and empowering as is required for Godhood? If this isn’t a strait way, I’d be hard pressed to find one harder. But how many paths can arrive at this goal? We’ve seen time and again that Evolution often provides multiple, independent solutions to the same problem. How could this path be compatible with the requirements of LDS priesthood ordinances for salvation? This is where I suspect many Latter-day Saints will stick at these evolved Gods (if they’ve managed to get past the sticking point in my second paragraph). This is either a hard question or an easy question, and I’m not sure which. I’ll venture some thoughts without many answers, and refer you to a very interesting and relevant talk related to this issue (Divine Aspirations: Creation, Ritual, and Authority).
The path I’ve laid out matches well with the great commandments–love God and love your neighbor as yourself. It even provides evolutionary reasons for these being the greatest commandments. It matches well with the admonition that not all who say Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of God. It provides evolutionary motivation for the requirements of community and why salvation must be communal. It explains why Christ had to Atone for all humanity, and why each of us must fully partake of this at-one-ment, in a way that is practical and natural and not simply an abstract notion of justice. But it doesn’t explain why someone needs to be dunked under water by another who pronounces some claim to divine authority. In fact, at first glance it may make sacred ordinances like baptism appear to be the silly and pretentious acts implied by my last words. Where does that leave me? It leaves me wondering.
I have experienced the power of priesthood ordinances. I believe my life is richer and I am a better person because of them. I think it’s easy to argue for the value of ritual and covenant. They have great power to strengthen individuals and communities. As tools for bringing about great good or great harm they are unmatched in the history of humanity. I have found them to do much good in the LDS church as expressed by the lives of members who strive to keep them.
I long ago accepted that God sees more than I. Maybe God sees a reason that this set of particular LDS ordinances, performed in approximately a certain way (minor variation is allowed), by a certain set of priests, is essential. I can accept this based on my personal experiences with God. It could be necessary. I can’t give a reason why, though. I can share other people’s testimonies. I can cite scripture. I can even share my blessed experiences with priesthood power. I can intellectually assent to the requirement because of the LDS doctrine that all who desire–past, present, and future–may receive these ordinances. But I can’t give a reason. I can say I trust God to have a reason for the mysteries, but I will not compel another to act on that trust. So evolution leaves me a universalist. Any solution that makes you into a God-like being–loving, creative, faithful, empowering, atoning–is sufficient. It is likely there are numberless solutions to this problem. Think about how each life is different, even among faithful LDSs, and we say of course. But there must be some things in common among the exalted. Evolution doesn’t explain how one particular set of ordinances can be among those, at least not at this level of exploration.
So do I throw away the prophetic claims of essential ordinances and just take them as valuable but non-essential, ritual acts? Do I say, it’s fine for the community to have this myth, but it’s only in their imaginations? By now we know that I don’t go to the other black and white extreme of rejecting the real power of ordinances and priesthood, but that is a predictable position some would take from my evolutionary view of Gods. For now, I can defend the value of ritual and covenant on scholarly grounds. I can trust my personal experience of priesthood ordinances and how they connect me to something mystical–something greater. Evolution does tell me that the path is strait and the gate is narrow, and it’s likely that many won’t make it in. Evolution even confirms the greatest requirements for entering into that gate. But the numbers of ways to walk the path are as varied as the people who follow it.