Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Mormons Building Bridges Retreat

(Image Credit: sundancevacations.com)

I recently attended a Mormons Building Bridges Contemplative Retreat in Sundance, Utah. Attendees were asked to participate in introspective questioning and sharing about gender identity and sexual orientation in relation to LDS policy and Mormon theology. The retreat started in a large group of roughly 20 people, followed by breakout sessions of seven people, down to three people per group. Attendees included parents of LGBTQ kids, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and allies. Religious and spiritual beliefs varied across a broad spectrum, but were all in some way familiar with Mormonism.

As the retreat began it became increasingly clear there is a serious amount of conflicting emotions regarding queer Mormons and their place in various Mormon communities (for clarification, I’ll be referring to any member of the LGBTQ community as “queer” for the remainder of the paper). However, what was slightly surprising among the participants was the reaction straight allyship had to the recent policy change to ban the children of practicing homosexuals from baptism. Some were suffering to the same extent, or perhaps more, than actual members of the LGBTQ community. I particularly noticed the suffering of the mothers of queer children.

In listening to the experiences and perspectives of these mothers it seemed the reoccurring question was, “Where does my queer child fit in this church and in the eternities?” This question is a source of angst that produced a variety of emotions and responses—everything from anger to sorrow. Many feel as though they are forced to choose their child or their church. Obviously, this could cause turmoil to even the most devout disciple or committed mother.

Imagine a Mormon female being raised in a religious tradition that correlated her value with her ability to produce offspring and rear those offspring toward exaltation.  The plan seems simple at first, until one of the offspring has identified as queer. This is in direct opposition with current LDS policy, culture, and structure. The esthetics of the “eternal family” have been prescribed according to not just the biological limitations of sex, but also the social construct of gender. The conflation of biological sex and socially constructed gender performances (which are two separate ideas) have produced a false sense of the “natural order” without consideration to those who fall outside the prescribed “natural order”—mainly non-heterosexuals and non-cisgender individuals. When a Mormon mother, who was quite literally raised to breed children and fiercely rear them into salvation, is confronted to choose between her pre-ordained calling of motherhood and the religious institution that taught her this divine purpose, there will undoubtedly be conflict. However, the conflict is far deeper than a surface level misunderstanding. This conflict calls into question the very nature of her existence and purpose as a mother. How is she supposed to choose between her child and her church?

The recent LDS policy change to the church handbook has been a catalyst in the transformation of many Mormon parents, with reactions ranging from confusion to outrage. The policy specifically states “apostasy refers to members who are in a same-gender marriage.” This qualifies homosexuals, specifically same-sex married couples, as apostates.

For a Mormon mother this means that if her child chose to enter into a same-sex relationship with the hopes of marriage and an eternal family, they will automatically be rejected as apostates. They would not qualify for the blessings of eternal marriage or an eternal family, which is central to the theological, governmental, and cultural teachings of the LDS Church. If a Mormon mother’s existence and purpose is to breed eternal families, her child’s orientation is not just a problem, but is sometimes treated as a disease that needs to be eradicated before admittance into any sort of exaltation.

At the retreat I listened to the painful struggles of what a Mormon mother of a queer child is experiencing; I listened to their stories. I watched them cry as some described suicide attempts, self-mutilation, self-loathing, and substance abuse of their children. Many of them, for the first time ever, are finding themselves in a place of theological uncertainty. They were not prepared, nor equipped to address the conflict that has now caused them to question the very foundation of their existence.
Despite the harrowing stories, I also saw hope. Observing the interaction between the queer participants and the mothers of queer children was encouraging and inspiring. Amid the sorrow and frustrations there was also consolation and hope that perhaps one day their children could find a place of belonging. Many people embraced one another and dried each other’s tears with empathy and concern. While this is hardly an excuse for the jarring conflict between their church and their child, I see many people seeking reconciliatory ways of moving forward.
For example, some of the attendees participate in groups such as Understanding Same-Gender Attraction (USGA) at BYU. USGA “is an unofficial group of Brigham Young University students, faculty and guests who wish to strengthen families and the BYU community by providing a place for open, respectful discussion on the topic of same-gender attraction and LGBTQ issues.” Though change is slow, the conversation is happening in ways it never has before. More opportunities are becoming widely available in an effort to help those in the LGBTQ community and their loved ones.  Medical reports, psychological research, and social pressures have changed attitudes toward such harmful practices as conversion therapy. While homosexuality isn’t condoned in LDS policy, I am observing a slow and steady change in attitudes and misconceptions.

As I left the retreat we hugged each other goodbye. Many exchanged contact information in hopes of being a source of support during times of turbulence. It was both humbling and inspiring to engage in such a wonderful, thoughtful experience. For anyone looking for introspection, contemplation, reconciliation, and friendship, I highly recommend the experience.

Published at Rational Faiths on Tuesday, February 20, 2017

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Human Fragility: a transhumanist love poem

(Image Credit: Embrace by Agnes Cecile)

Stuck in human fragility
leaving me to my vulnerability.
Love without expression.
Prayer without honest lips.
Stricken with feelings that we hide,
I mourn the loss of a love that hasn’t been,
but could be.

How could this body hold my love and rage?
Please. Stop!
Don’t turn the page.
Pull my body into your embrace.
Breathe in my essence,
intersecting and interlaced.
Undress my mind,
until you find me inside.
I felt religion in your arms,
breaching boundaries
in a sinless love.

Run the simulation again and again,
Don’t let my memories end.
Nothing more than a slave to biology,
I’ll be ripped from my fleshy cage.
Perhaps these words will fall
into the abyss of digital space.
Yet, I furiously punch the memories into code,
so that somewhere in the future it might be known,
that a simple human like me
loved a simple human like you.

They may think I’m insane,
I admit, my religion is strange,
But what do they think love means,
beyond human fragility?
Did I go too far, or not far enough?
Some say it’s meaningless
when I’m a product of programming.
But even so,
I’ll live the illusion with you,
and hope that love might be made true.

I pray these meager words might remain,
for future generations to maintain
so, God willing, our love might live,
beyond human fragility.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Queer, Mormon, and Transhuman: Part II

(Image Credit: Plot Magazine)

After publishing my post Queer, Mormon, and Transhuman, I received some criticism. Most of the criticisms of my character were clich├ęd projections built upon inaccurate assumptions. However, I’d like to clarify some of the more controversial subject matter. Deconstructing the gender binary is not an “agenda of the alt-left,” it’s a matter of biology. Men and women are not the only genders that “naturally” exist.

I’d like to make two points in this post:

1.  A third biological sex naturally exists in our human species.

2. Accepting the intersex population isn’t a matter of progressivism, conservatism, or even philosophy. It’s about recognizing the natural biological variances that exist within the tangible world in which we live.

In my previous post I stated, “The gender spectrum is filled with eight billion uniquely different genders diverse in biology, identity, embodiment, performance, expression, and fluidity.”

Sometimes when people consider the gender binary as a social construct, they often ignore the biological realties of the natural world. Many aspects of gender may indeed be the figments of our imaginations perpetuated by socially constructed ideas imposed on each rising generation. However, I’d like to focus our attention first on the biology of sex that produces natural variances within a small portion of the human population: the intersex population.

There are biological anatomies and chromosomes that categorize a person’s biological sex, not just ideological or social performances. Females have XX chromosomes while males have XY chromosomes. However, a third gender exists quite naturally without any technological, social, or philosophical intervention. Roughly 1 in 1,000 births are of XXY chromosomes (Klinefelter syndrome). These individuals are intersex and are not chromosomally classified as male or female even though their genitalia may or may not present indicators of their chromosomal variance. This portion of the intersex population is not solely male or female, chromosomally speaking.

A slightly larger portion of the intersex community is born with physiological variances like ambiguous genitalia, although medical experts vary on the definition of what constitutes a person as intersex. If we include ambiguous genitalia and chromosomal abnormalities roughly 1.7% of the world population is intersex. Keep in mind less than two percent of the world’s population consists of redheads. Arguably, depending on how you define intersex, the intersex population is comparable to the redhead population. To deny the existence of a third gender within the “natural” world is to deny the existence of a small, but real portion of the human population. According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, intersex people “do not fit the typical definitions for male or female bodies.”

An intersex individual may choose to conform to socially constructed standards of the gender binary, but chromosomally or physiologically speaking the gender binary would be an inaccurate or incomplete categorical frame.

Some may wonder, so what? Why does this matter? It’s a matter of human rights and morphological freedom. Intersex is a non-binary gender that is sorely underrepresented in gender-related conversations and human rights discussions. Intersex infants are naturally born, yet hormonally and surgically altered to conform to socially accepted “norms” to perpetuate the gender binary. These non-consensual, “normalizing,” aesthetical interventions have little to no firm evidence that treatment offers medical benefits other than perpetuation of social gender constructs.

Morphological freedom includes the right to accept or reject one’s own anatomy according to their volition. It’s about respecting agency, consent, and personhood. Social conceptions of the gender binary, misogyny, and misconceptions of biological sex produce undue stress and potentially oppressive procedures on the intersex population.

Taking gender biology even further, one could also argue extreme hormonal abnormalities could constitute a gender variance that is non-binary. For example, women who contain high levels of testosterone may experience deepening of the voice, increased muscle mass, enlarged clitoris, or frontal balding, similar to men. Their hormonal variance can play a significant role in how they experience gender.

High concentrations of androgens (male steroid hormones) have been associated to infertility in women, particularly polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Another interesting aspect of the study conducted by researchers from the London Women’s Clinic found that lesbians are twice as likely to have an imbalance of sex hormones. "Our research neither suggests nor indicates that polycystic ovaries-PCOS causes lesbianism, only that polycystic ovaries-PCOS is more prevalent in lesbian women. We do, however, hypothesise that hyperandrogenism - which is associated with PCOS - may be one of the factors contributing to the sexual orientation of women."

This could be the beginning of linking biological sex variances with sexual orientation and/or fertility. This is one reason it’s important to understand biological sex, independent of gender performance, before making conclusions about sexual orientation. We are a product of our anatomies and a better understanding of our biology could lead us to better understand sexual orientation.

After all, if an intersex person is biologically both male and female and are attracted to males they are both heterosexual and homosexual, but not bisexual. However, if an intersex person is only attracted to other intersex individuals that, too, could mean they are homosexual. Or does homosexuality only apply when two intersex people choose the same gender performance independent of their biological sex? As you can see the limitations of our language and understanding of biology pose certain complexities concerning gender and sexuality.

From a Mormon perspective, it’s imperative to the health and well-being of our siblings that we make space in our language, theology, and dialogue for those that aren’t of the gender binary. Fortunately, there is room in Mormon theology for not only better treatment of cis women, but also the non-binary population and various sexual orientations.

I am not “a ‘NOM’ and ‘cultural Mormon’ for whom the church is a blob of silly putty upon which can be imprinted.” I am a Latter-day Saint who embraces Mormon theology and doctrine authentically and radically.  I was taught “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” I was taught that Jesus said, “…lovest thou me? Feed my sheep.” I was taught in continuing revelation as part of an ongoing restoration. Are you sleeping through the restoration? I was also taught, “We believe in continuing revelation, not continuous revelation. We are often left to work out problems without the dictation or specific direction of the Spirit. That is part of the experience we must have in mortality.”

In essence, I was taught if we love God and Jesus we should show our love through our works towards our siblings. Although I was taught God reveals more light and knowledge, we are also responsible for working out discrepancies amongst ourselves as part of our growth, progression, and development.

Some may claim broadening our understanding of gender beyond male and female is part of the “leftist gay agenda” void of conservative values, but in actuality it’s about realizing the already existing biological variances within the natural world in which we live.

*Note to my intersex readers: My perceptions and opinions are based upon academic research only, as I have no experience as an intersex person. If you think I have inaccurately represented the intersex community, feel free to contact me. I’m happy to learn more about your unique experiences.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Edge of the Cliff

(Image credit)

I stood on the edge of the cliff.
Salty sea air bushed across my skin.
My lover by my side.
His wings spread wide with confidence,
then he jumped.

I watched and smiled in delight,
light reflected off his wings,
as he pursued his heart’s desire.
He was happy, 
so I was happy.

The man dressed in white, 
came to the cliff to clip my wings.
He was kind and soft-spoken.
He called himself, Protector.
My wings needed taming.

I didn't mind. 
He was gentle, 
and my wings were just as fair as my lover’s,
perhaps even more fair.
Maybe that's why they needed taming.

Much later, my lover flew,
I stood still, watching from the cliff's edge. 
I smiled in his shadow.
He made such lovely shadows.
Large shadows.

The man dressed in white, 
came to clip my wings again.
My lovely wings needed taming.
They were to be admired, adored,
not used.

I didn't mind, I had other work to do.
My sons needed rearing.
They grew until they flew.
They were happy,
so I was happy.

Much later,
my sons flew with my lover.
Their wings spread wide with confidence. 
I stood on the cliff’s edge lonely, but joyful,
observing their freedom.

The man dressed in white, 
came to clip my wings again.
My abdomen was swollen with my daughter.
Even if he hadn't clipped my wings,
could I even fly?

Much later,
my lover flew with our young daughter.
It was beauty beyond my imagination.
She was happy,
so I was happy.

The man dressed in white, 
came to clip my wings again.
I asked him, “Why must you clip my wings?”
He replied, "You know why.
It has always been so."

The man in white called for my daughter.
She couldn’t hear him.
Her wings were so young and fragile.
How could she possibly need taming?
She could barely fly.

The man in white called for her again,
but she was too engrossed in freedom to notice.
He would not clip her wings.
I told the man in white to leave,
and never return.

Much later,
my lover flew with our children.
My wings were lovely, but frail.
Perhaps tamed beyond use,
could I even fly?

I stood on the edge of the cliff.
Salty sea air bushed across my skin.
With the sun setting in the distance, 
my wings spread wide with confidence,

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Ye Are the Body of Christ

(Christ Walking on Water by Julius von Klever)

Over the past year, my son has been searching for a better understanding of Jesus and Christ, which I have encouraged him not to conflate. He recently asked me, “How can I know if all the things they say about Jesus are true?”

I empathize with him. As a young girl, I often questioned the stories of Jesus. Though they were quite beautiful narratives, I couldn’t reconcile them with what I knew of the natural world I live in. What miracles actually took place, if any? How did these miraculous events happen? Why don’t they happen today? If Jesus suffered for everyone how could he suffer for the pains and afflictions of women? If all His miracles weren’t real is there any value in what I was being taught from the scriptures?

Christmas can be particularly challenging when fellow believers bear testimonies of mystical, superstitious narratives that perpetuate escapist attitudes and relinquish our responsibilities as “joint-heirs with Christ.” Fellow congregates may bear testimonies of faith in Jesus, but their “faith without works is dead.” If our faith in a miraculous Jesus is without action on our part, our faith becomes nihilistic. If Jesus suffered for all of us, broken the bands of death, and graciously gifted us immortality, what is our role as the body of Christ? To blindly comply to the latest authoritarian?

In 1st Corinthians 12, we are taught that we are all the body of Christ, “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, and one body: so also is Christ. For the body is not one member, but many. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ and members in particular.”

These scriptures remind me of the song Christ Has No Body Now on Earth But Yours.

Christ has no body but yours;
No hands, no feet, on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which He looks with compassion on this world;
Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good;
Yours are the hands with which He blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, Yours and the feet;
Yours are the eyes; You are His body.
Christ has no body now but yours;
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which He looks with compassion on this world;
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

As members of the body of Christ all things are possible and events that seem unlikely or even impossible can be made true. We can suffer with humanity. We can reconcile with humanity. We can atone with humanity. We can rejoice with humanity. This is what it means to become the body of Christ—to join Jesus in atoning. Our doctrine mandates our participation. In a very real sense Christ’s suffering and reconciliation, when engaged in more thoughtfully, is not limited to Jesus, but all humanity.

We take the sacrament every Sunday to remind us we are the body of Christ. Mark 14:22 says, “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take it: this is my body.’” We symbiotically take on the name of Christ each week in religious ritual. We do it “in remembrance” as a “witness” to participate in Christ by immersively taking upon the name of Jesus.

The body of Christ knows no gender, race, nationality, ability, or orientation. The body of Christ is unified not in homogenization, but in the commonality of our belief in the atonement. Just as a human body is composed of diverse cells that have various functions, each collectively works together in unison to produce a functional body. We are the cells of Christ.

The scriptures also suggest that all parts of the body of Christ are an important and valued member. 1st Corinthians 12 expands on the body of Christ, “If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were heading, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body which seem to be more feeble, are necessary.”

We may each subscribe differently to appeals of Jesus’ divinity, his miracles, or the particulars of his life, but I trust his example is worth following. As we celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas time, it is also important we celebrate the birth of an idea. Christ. It is the idea that absolutely nothing is beyond reconciliation, even death. To be Christ we must immersively follow Jesus’ example, atone with humanity, and participate in the work of redemption in compassion and love.

*Published at Rational Faiths on Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Queer, Mormon, and Transhuman

(Image Credit: “Spectrum” by Richard Phillips)

A friend recently asked, “Is Transhumanism compatible with the LGBTQ community?”

My answer is a resounding, “YES!”

Not only that, I find queer theory highly compatible with Mormon Transhumanism. While LDS policies and practices pose certain challenges, there is certainly room in Mormon theology for a diversity of genders, families, and orientations.

First, Transhumanism broadly is “the belief or theory that the human race can evolve beyond its current physical and mental limitations, especially by means of science and technology.” As the human species gains greater cognitive capacities I would venture that our understanding and perceptions of gender, sexuality, and procreation will radically change. Some may advocate for a radical post-gender society, but homogenization hardly seems like a product of evolution when evolution generally favors increased diversification. Gender, when deconstructed of its binary notions, is as unique as each individual. The gender spectrum is filled with eight billion uniquely different genders diverse in biology, identity, embodiment, performance, expression, and fluidity. It seems likely our rudimentary labels of male and female will adapt even more with increased cognitive function and physical freedom. Two people may identify as female, but they both wear their gender uniquely. Think of it this way, vermillion and cardinal are both red, but each is distinctly unique. The gender spectrum is limitless.

I am especially enthusiastic about reproductive technologies that would help loving, committed parents of any gender conceive their own biological children. I have been a grateful recipient of such technologies. Technologies such as artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, surrogacy, and uterus transplants have helped many diverse families in their procreative aspirations. Uterus transplants for transwomen are on the horizon, as well as two-mother and/or  two-father children. As medical technologies continue to progress sexual preferences in relation to procreation will become less relevant. That is not meant to undermine the pain, trauma, and bigotry that people in the queer community currently face, but rather meant as an encouraging trajectory for better days ahead.

Even further into the future, I imagine technologies such as brain-to-brain interfaces that could radically change our views of intimacy and human sexuality. To share a mind with a person would not only include every sexual fantasy and experience you’ve ever had, but every intimate aspect of your being. Sharing your body with a person, same-sex or otherwise, would be overshadowed in comparison to the intimacy of sharing a mind with another person. Pleasurable experiences, such as orgasm, could take place independent of physical contact entirely with one or multiple person(s). As technologies enable us to have a greater capacity to have intimate experiences, our perceptions of sexuality, relationships, intimacy, and even pleasure will develop in ways that are hardly imaginable.

Second, Mormon theology also offers opportunities for diverse orientations and genders. Many arguments made against same-sex families are perpetuated by conflating the mortal human model of conception and reproduction with a Godly model of reproduction, which I have already addressed. The most notable example of same-sex creation is found in canonized scripture and LDS temple rituals when women were entirely absent in accounts of the creation. Adam’s embodiment was created by Elohim and Jehovah, two male personifications. Two males created a male. Eve’s mortal body was also created by two males and formed from the rib of another male, Adam. There is no account of her physical embodiment being produced by an earthly mother. I trust the Gods have far more sophisticated ways of reproducing which would render the argument of same-sex reproduction meaningless, or perhaps encouraged if we are to follow the creation narrative literally.

Mormon theology’s emphasis on theosis and deification gives way to an exceptionally diverse God. Moving our limited perceptions of the singular, male esthetic of God toward an all encompassing image of God allows individuals to see the image of God within themselves, independent of genderized, heteronormative assumptions. Humans tend to make Gods in their image, or rather interpret God in their image. If a woman or intersex person is made in the image of God, I don’t see how God is not composed of both male and female attributes. Perhaps God is so diverse that they would surpass our current perceptions of gender. After all, the scriptures depict God as a dove and burning bush. I trust God’s morphological freedom to be far more interesting than gender morphology.

Personally, Mormon Transhumanism has helped me in my own path of reconciliation. While many opinions among Mormon Transhumanists differ and resistance to new ideas is to be expected, I have found a lot of support and acceptance among members of the Mormon Transhumanist Association when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

*Published at Rational Faiths on Wednesday, December 8, 2016

Monday, December 5, 2016

Eternal Progression: Change as a Constant

(Image Credit: Guido Argentini Photography)

Philosophers, both ancient and modern, have contemplated the meaning of our existence. If heaven is perfection then what joy is there to be found in perfection? Do we ever stop growing and stop changing? Is there any meaning in the absence of opposition?

Mormonism’s unique doctrine addresses this dilemma with eternal progression. The principle of eternal progression cannot be fully comprehended, yet is at the basis of our Mormon theology. It first arises in discourses of Brigham Young, but is predicated upon the teachings of Joseph Smith.

As stated in the King Follett Discourse, “God was once as we are now, and is exalted, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret […] Here, then, is eternal life—to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be gods yourselves, the same as all gods have done before you.” [1]

Eternal progression inspires me as one of the most profoundly beautiful and unique aspects of our Mormon doctrine. Life is not static, we are constantly evolving and changing, and I do not see how eternal life could be static when there is endless potential within humanity. Eternal progression motivates us toward greater goals in an ongoing process of becoming—a process that God continues to undergo as well.

In a recent Dialogue article, Jacob Baker summarizes, “Meaning within the ever-expanding structure of eternal progression, is performative, not ultimately objective. Eternal progression is the exhalation of the ordinary man or woman, not defined and labeled according to his or her vocation or the ‘objects’ of his or her possession, but given meaning and purpose through capacity to act. Hence, human beings, like God, have the potential for radical ontological transcendence, not simply in transcending the world as immortals but also in transcending the self as gods.” [2]

According to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, “The Church does not understand [God’s omnipotence] in the traditional sense of absoluteness, and, on the authority of modern revelation, rejects the classical doctrine of creation out of nothing. It affirms, rather, that there are actualities that are coeternal with the persons of the Godhead, including elements, intelligence, and law. Omnipotence, therefore, cannot coherently be understood as absolutely unlimited power. That view is internally self-contradictory, and given the fact that evil and suffering are real, not reconcilable with God's omnibenevolence.” [3]

This also suggests that even God's omniscience is not absolute. If God had a perfect knowledge of all things, God could not progress eternally. Likewise, if God had knowledge of all things then all meaning would cease as well. Mormons reject this logical defect with eternal progression. If God became God through eternal progression, God too is eternally changing. As Brigham Young stated, "There is no such thing as principle, power, wisdom, knowledge, life, position, or anything that can be imagined, that remains stationary—they must increase or decrease." [4] It appears that God’s omnipotence and omniscience are best understood as an endless development.

The potential of humanity to become God was also encouraged by Lorenzo Snow who taught that we are as God once was, and God is what we may become. [5] Ceaseless progression is not only illustrated in our temple ceremonies, but also taught by the current apostleship.

Elder Holland recently stated, “We’re the church that says we’re Gods and Goddesses in embryo. We’re the church that says we’re kings and queens. We’re priests and priestesses. People accuse us of heresy. They say we’re absolutely heretical, non-Christians because we happen to believe what all the prophets taught and that is that we’re children of God, joint heirs with Christ. We just happen to take the scriptures literally that kids grow up to be like their parents. But how does that happen? How does godliness happen? Do we just pop up? Are we just going to pop up out of the grave? Hallelujah, it’s resurrection morning! Give me a universe or two. Bring me some worlds to run! I don’t think so. That doesn’t sound like line upon line or precept upon precept to me. How do you become Godly? You do Godly things. That’s how you become Godly. And you practice and you practice and you practice.” [6]

This is eternal progression, “All human beings are children of loving Heavenly Parents and possess seeds of divinity within them.” [7] But we are not to become just any Gods, but rather Gods exemplified by Jesus. Ephesians states we are to become Christ, "In love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ." [8]

This also gives us a few clues into the nature of God. Elder Holland says we are “gods and goddesses in embryo” and “priests and priestesses.” This is a direct reference to our godly potential as Heavenly Parents, especially our Heavenly Mother [9] who is often neglected from the conversation.

In Genesis we are symbiotically created in the image of God, both male and female, which denotes that God is both male and female. [10] Elder Erastus Snow stated, “If I believe anything God has ever said about himself […] I must believe that deity consists of man and woman." [11] In Second Nephi we read that God denieth none, black and white, male and female, all are alike unto God. [12] Note the scripture does not state we are alike unto each other as a homogenous group, but rather in all our diversity all are alike unto God. [13] Continuing along the logic of Mormon scripture, it is also clear that Mormons are polytheistic. [14] [15]

Now that we have established we are all children of God and are all endowed with godly potential, how do we get there? What does eternal progression look like? “Latter-day Saints […] constantly seek personal and righteous improvement not only by establishing Zion in this world, but by anticipating the continuation of progression eternally." [16]

We have already begun this process in faith and humility. Faith in this context forsakes its escapist nature and becomes a powerful motivator required to even undertake such a monumental task. Elder Oaks counseled that we do not have “sufficient spiritual maturity to comprehend God." [17] This profoundly beautiful sentiment requires us to have enough humility to admit what we don’t know about God, but have faith that we can come to know what we currently do not. If we could truly comprehend all the glories and mysteries of God, we would cease to be human and be one in God.

There are some secularists that claim faith is dead, and the world could be explained by science alone without a need for trust and faith. I believe otherwise. Faith, when practiced thoughtfully, is essential to our growth and progression. Discoveries are made in the spirit of faith. Without faith, hope or trust humanity would sooner wallow in nihilism.

As every Mormon knows, faith without works is dead. [18] We show our faith through our actions and manifestations. This is how we express our inner most desires and values. It’s how we truly progress. According to Elder Holland, in order to become godly “we do godly things.” One way we might become Godly is through an increase of “light and knowledge," [19] and the radical expansion of our intellectual capacities. "Knowledge is essential to our understanding of the purpose of mortal life and of our eternal destiny as resurrected beings after mortal life." [20]

Genesis supports the evolutionary sentiment of enhanced knowledge. When Adam partakes of the fruit in the Garden of Eden “The LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil.”[21] This scripture supports the plurality of God and the notion that increased knowledge is essential to our eternal progression. "Similarly, knowledge of the mysteries of God also comes through personal revelation […] Knowledge is understood to be an active, motivating force rather than simply a passive awareness, or collection of facts." [22] It appears that the more intelligence a person develops the more Godly that person becomes. Elder John Widtsoe suggests that humans are superior to beasts because our material organization permits greater capacity for intelligence. Under the laws of evolution our material organization will become more complex and Godly. Conversely, God being a superior intelligence to us was once a simpler intelligence. [23]

It is also prophesied that during the millennium, knowledge will greatly increase, for the Lord will reveal all things and answer questions which have perplexed humanity concerning our origins [24] and that God will reveal all things. [25] We are to “ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” [26] Note this requires action on our part. Increased knowledge is not a product of a mystical transformation or idleness, but rather thoughtful inquiry followed by action. Keep in mind, the Sacred Grove wasn’t sacred until a 15-year-old boy dared to ask a question.

A revelation cannot be meaningfully received unless we are open to that revelation. Nor is there any indication that God is willing to override human agency and compel us into transcending our human fragilities. “It is not up to God to right our moral wrongs, to fix our injustices, and correct our oppressions.” [27] The Book of Mormon states, “do ye suppose that the Lord will still deliver us, while we sit upon our thrones and do not make use of the means which the Lord has provided for us?” [28] [29]

If we are to seek after further light and knowledge, what kind of cognitive enhancements or amplifications are currently increasing our intellectual capacity? The human species has engaged in cognitive evolution and development for centuries in many diverse forms. For example, formalized education systems, general health improvements, mental training exercises, supplements, medical drugs, and mental health care, are but a few examples. Having entered the technological era, we have increased our ability to consume information at a faster rate via human-computer interaction and increased access to information via the internet. In the future we may use even more sophisticated technologies to enhance our mental capacities and functions, like genetic modifications, prenatal enhancements, brain-computer interfaces, and collective intelligence.[30]

The enhancement of our minds and mental abilities are also directly linked to our bodily enhancements. The human body is constantly in a state of change where the majority of our cells are dying and regenerating perpetually. Some cells in our bodies change minute by minute while other cells are much slower to change or are perhaps incapable of regenerating without assistance. Medical technologies that enable our bodies to function beyond their expiration date continue to bring life, joy, and hope to people across the globe. Further development of these technologies may enable us to live longer, healthier lives. Current life expectancies are generally higher than they have ever been. Perhaps future technologies could enable us to live to the “age of a tree” as prophesied in Doctrine and Covenants.[31] For reference, the Bristlecone Pine and Patagonian Cypress live for roughly 3,000-5,000 years. [32]

Our bodies are constantly regenerating a continuous pattern of information that sustains the life of every being on the planet. If we look at our bodies like an organic machine it may even be possible to maintain our bodies indefinitely. The scriptures call this eternal life. After all, if God is God there is a wealth of knowledge and advancements we have yet to discover, but are encouraged to actively seek after.

Under eternal progression, or process theology, many Mormon thinkers have found that God influences and is influenced by temporal changes. In this way the future is open and allows us to act as free agents. “While it may be possible that God understands and can ‘see’ all logical possibilities, those potentialities are realized only in some actual futures. Furthermore, those futures’ realizations depend on the action of free agents.” [33] In other words, we are coeternal with God, [34] [35] we are encouraged to become Gods, and God has promised not to interfere with our agency. [36] Think of it as theistic Darwinism.

All things are constantly changing. “It either becomes more complex or more simple; it moves forward or backward; it grows or decays […] this is the greatest known fundamental law of the universe, and all things in it—that nothing stands still, but either progresses or retrogrades. Now, it has been found that under normal conditions all things undergo a process of evolution; that is to become more complex or advance.” [37] If we suppose that God is more evolved than ourselves, then evolution would result in a more diverse God, not less. Overall, evolution generally favors increased complexity over long periods of time. In this theistic Darwinian model, it seems the further a lifeform evolves into a greater state of knowledge, consciousness, and awareness, the more godlike that lifeform becomes.

Is there a limit to the changes matter will undergo? Is there a limit to the transcendence of humanity? According to eternal progression, the answer is firmly “no.” Process theology allows for limitless potential. There can be no defined beginning or end.

Evolution and eternal progression are often interchangeable in Mormon theology. The teachings of modern and ancient prophets, Mormon theology, Mormon cosmology, and Mormon philosophy mandate the definition of God as a superior intelligence evolved from a lower condition. There can be no logical objection to the idea that there are many gods, and worlds without end. [38] “Mormon tradition teaches that the eternities consist of innumerable heavens of types and degrees toward which our world may advance. These heavens are inhabited by a plurality of gods whom we may join.” [39] In this regard, the Mormon idea of God is quite radical, yet quite reasonable.

As our minds and bodies change, so will humanity as a whole. Eternal progression in this sense seeks to build Zion. Think of Zion as a community of radically compassionate, intelligent, and creative beings. Beings so far evolved from us that they would warrant a new term: posthuman. “Posthuman beings would no longer suffer from disease, aging, and inevitable death. They would have vastly greater physical capability and freedom of form—often referred to as ‘morphological freedom.’” [40]

We are collectively changing and adapting in our interactions, social and political structures, and religions. Statistical trends indicate humanity is adapting toward compassionate and productive trajectories—worldwide there is a decline in slavery, rape, war, child abuse, infanticide, animal cruelty, world hunger, and homophobic violence. Simultaneously there is an increase in women’s rights, civil rights, access to education, and medical technologies. [41] Zion wasn’t built in a day, but I remain hopeful that our efforts are not in vain. Eternity is now.

Mormonism is a relatively new religion that continues to evolve and change upon further revelation in an ongoing process of restoration. In fact, it is arguable that Mormonism’s uniqueness of continuing revelation makes it an evolutionary religion, at least more so than other forms of Christianity.

Mormon cosmology is unique in that it provides room for evolution of the human race as a constantly growing species that is capable of transcending the entire human experience [42]—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of all humankind. [43] In First Corinthians, we are invited to become a part of the body of Christ [44] and participate in this work—to heal, console, comfort, and radically improve the human experience. [45] Our faith without works is dead and as Joseph Smith said, “you have got to learn to be gods yourselves.” [46]

Perhaps humanity is destined for a cognitive revolution that would enable our transcendence. The technological revolution has presented us with unique opportunities. Technologies both simple and sophisticated are rapidly changing the human condition. Everything from eye glasses, pacemakers, orthodontics, prosthetics, medications, vaccinations, vehicles, computers, tablets, and smartphones have already drastically changed the lives of millions of people. “Mapping the first human genome required fifteen years and $3 billion. Today you can map a person’s DNA within a few weeks and at the cost of a few hundred dollars.” [47] We are on our way to become superhuman. Imagine what future technologies could enable humanity to accomplish. Perhaps the future is glittered with medications designed for your specific DNA, genetic engineering that could wipe out hereditary diseases, cognitive treatments to cure mental illness, or nanotechnology that could perpetually repair your body without invasive procedures. It’s true the possibilities are limitless and likely incomprehensible, and while risks are many and should be mitigated, I have faith the future is bright.

While these ideas and possibilities seem overwhelming, I am encouraged by the words found in Second Nephi 28:30, “Line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto [them] that receiveth I will give more.” [48] Though the task at hand seems insurmountable, we must move forward with practical faith in our works. To live is to be in a constant state of change and growth. As we increase in knowledge, complexity, intelligence, and compassion the more Godly we will become.

While our church and its membership are flawed, I still believe in our collective atonement and redemption as exemplified by Jesus. There’s a lot of work to be done, but I remain hopeful that in the end goodness, compassion, and love will guide our eternal progression.

Notes and Citations

*Presented at Sunstone Northwest Symposium on Saturday, November 19, 2016 in Seattle, WA

[1] Joseph Smith, Jr., “The King Follett Discourse,” General Conference Meeting (Nauvoo: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, April 7, 1844).

[2] Jacob Baker, “’The Grandest Principle of the Gospel’: Christian Nihilism, Sanctified Activism, and Eternal Progression,” Dialogue (Vol. 41, No.3): 71.

[3] David L. Paulsen, “The Encyclopedia of Mormonism: Omnipotent God; Omnipresence of God; Omniscience of God,” (1992), accessed November 6, 2016, http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Omnipotent_God%3B_Omnipresence_of_God%3B_Omniscience_of_God.

[4] Brigham Young, “Life and Death, or Organization and Disorganization,” July 10, 1853, Journal of Discourses, 1:350.

[5] Eliza R. Snow, “Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow,” (1884), 46. “As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be.”

[6] Jeffrey Holland, Remarks given at Tempe Arizona Stake Center, April 26, 2016. 

[7] LDS Gospel Topics, s.v. “Becoming Like God,” accessed October 20, 2016, https://www.lds.org/topics/becoming-like-god.

[8] Ephesians 4:15 NIV. “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”

[9] LDS Gospel Topics, s.v. “Mother in Heaven,” accessed October 28, 2016, https://www.lds.org/topics/mother-in-heaven.

[10] Genesis 1:27 KJV. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

[11] David L. Paulsen and Martin Pulido, “A Mother There: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven,” BYU Studies 50, 1 (2011): 79.

[12] Nephi 26:33. “For none of these iniquities come of the Lord; for he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.”

[13] Blaire Ostler, “Diversity of God,” The Journal of a Mormon Feminist Transhumanist, accessed November 13, 2016, http://blaireostler.blogspot.com/2016/05/diversity-of-god.html.

[14] Truman Madsen, “150-Year-Old Debate: Are Mormons ‘Really Christians?,’” San Francisco Chronicle, April 8, 1996. “People tell us, ‘You don’t believe in one God: you believe in three Gods.’ And the answer is ‘Yes, we do.’ If that’s polytheism, then we are polytheists.” 

[15] Richard Abanes, “Becoming Gods,” (Eugene: Harvest House, 2004): 112. “Based on these definitions, Mormons are polytheists. Their recognition of other Gods, coupled with their admitted worship of more Gods than one, makes any alternate classification unjust.”

[16] Lisa Ramsey Adams, “The Encyclopedia of Mormonism: Eternal Progression,” (1992), accessed November 6, 2016, http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Eternal_Progression.

[17] Dallin Oaks, “Apostasy and Restoration,” LDS General Conference (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, April 1995).

[18] James 2:14-20 KJV. “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?”

[19] Doctrine & Covenants 50:24. “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.”

[20] Oaks, “Apostasy and Restoration.”

[21] Genesis 3:22 KJV. “And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:”

[22] Richard Williams, “The Encyclopedia of Mormonism: Knowledge,” (1992), accessed November 6, 2016, http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Knowledge.

[23] John Widtsoe, “Joseph Smith as Scientist,” (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1964): 137.

[24] Roy Doxey, “The Doctrine and Covenants and the Future,” (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1957): 64.

[25] Doctrine and Covenants 101:32. “Yea, verily I say unto you, in that day when the Lord shall come, he shall reveal all things—“

[26] Matthew 7:7 KJV. “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:”

[27] Catherine Keller, “Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming,” (New York: Routledge, 2003): 140. 

[28] Alma 60:11. “Behold, could ye suppose that ye could sit upon your thrones, and because of the exceeding goodness of God ye could do nothing and he would deliver you? Behold, if ye have supposed this ye have supposed in vain.”

[29] Alma 60:21. “Or do ye suppose that the Lord will still deliver us, while we sit upon our thrones and do not make use of the means which the Lord has provided for us?”

[30] Nick Bostrom and Anders Sandberg, “Cognitive Enhancement: Methods, Ethics, Regulatory Challenges,” (Springer Science+Business Media B.V., 2009).

[31] Doctrine and Covenants 101:30. “In that day an infant shall not die until he is old; and his life shall be as the age of a tree;”

[32] List of oldest trees, Wikipedia, accessed November 5, 2016, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_oldest_trees.

[33] Steven Peck, “Evolving Faith: Wanderings of a Mormon Biologist,” (Provo: Maxwell Institute, 2015): 53. “Taking from process theology, the theological possibilities of temporal theism have received a friendly reception among many Mormon thinks. In this view God has a core identity that makes him God but influences, and is influenced by temporal changes. In addition, the future is open. While it may be possible that God understands and can ‘see’ all logical possibilities, those potentialities are relied only in some actual futures. Furthermore, those futures’ realizations depend on the actions of free agents […] this viewpoint seems most open to theistic Darwinism by providing an opening for God to be part of the unfolding universe.”

[34] Gayle Oblad Brown, “The Encyclopedia of Mormonism: Premortal Life,” (1992), accessed November 4, 2016, http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Premortal_Life. “There is indeed indication that the intelligence dwelling in each person is coeternal with God. It always existed and never was created or made.”

[35] Doctrine and Covenants 93:29. “Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.”

[36] Moses 4:3. “Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down;”

[37] John Widtsoe, “Joseph Smith as Scientist,” 104-5.

[38] Ibid., 138.

[39] Richard Bushman and Scott Howe, “Parallels and Convergences: Mormon Thought and Engineering Vision,” (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2012): 82.

[40] Max More and Natasha Vita-More, “The Transhumanist Reader,” (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013): 4.

[41] Steven Pinker, “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined,” (New York: Viking, 2011).

[42] Mormon Cosmology, Wikipedia, accessed November 5, 2016, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mormon_cosmology. “In Mormonism, the concept of divinity centers around an idea of ‘exaltation’ and ‘eternal progression’: mortals themselves may become Gods and Goddesses in the afterlife, be rulers of their own heavenly kingdoms, have spirit children, and increase in power and glory forever.”

[43] Moses 1:39. “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”

[44] 1 Corinthians 12:27 KJV. “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.”

[45] Lincoln Cannon, “Practicing Atonement,” Lincoln Cannon, accessed November 10, 2016, http://lincoln.metacannon.net/2009/04/practicing-atonement.aspx.

[46] Smith, Jr., “The King Follett Discourse.”

[47] Yuval Noah Harari, “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” (New York: Harper, 2015): 409.

[48] 2 Nephi 28:30. “For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.”