A Public Conversation about Mormonism
Simon also gets right that each person has something in him or her that is uncreated, "something that precedes God and is [in embryo] divine." (For more about that, see here.) These two beliefs, that there is a sense in which God and human beings are the same ontologically, and that some aspect of every person has existed forever, are among the most widely held beliefs in Mormonism, and they have practical consequences, consequences I'll take up when I take up Simon's question / challenge.
Nevertheless, there were, as I said, a few brush strokes that weren't quite right. So let me see if I can touch up Simon's sketch of Mormon belief before I respond to the challenge that he points to.
Many Mormons do believe that God was once a human being like ourselves and that we can become like him. That doctrine was widespread during the 19th century and remains popular, but most Mormons don't think much about it today. If they do think about it, there is a variety of responses. Some Mormons don't believe all of what that teaching entailed (see here, for example, and here), and a few Mormons don't believe any of it.
My view, a view that I think is shared by a number of other LDS thinkers, is that as a church we are not particularly hung up on theology. We can take it or leave it. (I've said some things about that here, here, here, and also here, particularly the last part.) As a result, the decision to accept the belief as Joseph Smith taught it or to accept part or none of it has no official consequences.
Pick three Mormons: She straightforwardly believes what was taught in the 19th century. I believe that God was never a human being, but that we can become like him by receiving a fullness of his grace (as is suggested by passages such as John 17:20-23 and Romans 8:17). He believes neither that God was once a human being nor that we can become gods.
Bully for us all. But the questions we will be asked by our congregational leader (we call him a bishop) are about whether we are living a Christian life as understood in Mormonism. He is more interested in whether we are keeping covenant with God, our families, and the Church than he is in what goes on inside our heads when we do.
Some of the bishop's questions will be about belief. It is, after all, not irrelevant even if it isn't the most important thread of Mormon religious practice: Do you believe in God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost? Do you believe that the LDS Church is led by a prophet? But most of the things he will ask will be about how we live our lives: Do you do your duties within the Church, taking on the responsibilities to which the bishop has called you? Do you live a chaste and honest life? Are you kind to those in your family? . . . He will almost never ask about theological particulars.
James Faulconer is a Richard L. Evans Professor of Religious Understanding at Brigham Young University, where he has taught philosophy since 1975.