The latest Gospel Topics statement ‘Becoming Like God’ is a wonderful affirmation of one of the most compelling doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The notion that God was once like us, and we can one-day become a God, is an exhilarating and thrilling thought. Indeed Mormonism places a lot of emphasis on our ‘divine nature’ and our ‘eternal potential’.
As a young woman this was extraordinarily important to me. While young people stretch into adulthood they are often subject to the harsh endless evaluative judgments of the adolescent world, leaving psycho-social scars. My belief in an omnipotent creator, who had an interest in my becoming ‘Godlike,’ was a healing and reassuring faith.
However, over the years, as I’ve grown into womanhood, it has become less and less resounding. Not that I have entirely abandoned the thought, but this doctrine has grown into something more nuanced. At some stage this particular doctrine came to feel a bit ungainly.
We tend to refract our understanding of God through our cultural values. Thus, the assemblage of those characteristics that we valorize most in our cultural communities become our image of God. This is also suggested in the church’s statement; Latter-day Saints tend to imagine exaltation through the lens of the sacred in mortal experience. Taken together then, representations of God in Mormonism, from paintings, conference talks, the temple endowment etc. tell me that while God is loving and caring, the business of being God feels more like a divine patriarchal, corporate enterprise. In my imagination God has an American accent and he looks like Zeus. He is authoritative, powerful, speaks through mortal men, and despite his being married is always inexplicably alone in his Heavenly boardroom awaiting reports and updates on his salvation and building projects. He also hangs about in places with great views, where the flooring looks to be Italian marble (always a sign of plenty). And this is a compelling image, enough to excite many a white, Western middle class Mormon males into a frenzy of God pursuing activities. And why not? The rewards are extravagant!
As well as which in our religious language we often use very athletic verbs to express our divine becoming. Again we extract this language from our culture, and a culture of competition tends to use verbs that sound like they come from a football game commentary; ‘Striving; proving; pushing; enduring; working; trying; ascending’ This very muscular notion of our work towards Godhood works very well for the Mormon men in my life who have been habituated into a churched frenzy that sees them out late, away from home on Sundays, frantically working up a sweat to build the Kingdom. And in terms of producing well behaved men, it usually works. I have found Mormon men, on the whole, to be individually quite nice. They have a tendency to substitute parents for church (and that has its own drawbacks) and I can’t vouch for them as a suited hierarchical tribe, but on their own they tend to be very agreeable.
But if I’m to be very frank, I don’t much like this strapping, white bearded, finger-pointing, American speaking, satin sheathed God of our Mormon imagination. He’s too monarchical, more judgmental than merciful, and fuller with law than with grace and compassion. I’m not sure that this is the God that Joseph Smith had been imagining. If Mormonism’s comtemporary cultural habits are an emulation of the God that is popularly understood he can be one seriously mean dude.
And almost none of what motivates my Mormon husband to his relentless pursuit of Godhood really inspires me. Not because I don’t believe in determination, or even sports for that matter, but because I’ve always experienced God as a somewhat nice, and very pleasant surprise.
But the biggest gap for me in my imaginings of Godhood is the missing feminine divine. In so many ways my religion tells me that my divine potential is really about my efforts to secure my husband’s exaltation, where I, like my Heavenly Mother, will fade into feminine obscurity – and become, like her, something unutterable.
The Gospel Topic statement itself is quite impressive. I like it – mostly. But it has left me to imagine my exaltation as a boisterous family reunion where mums swoon with mother love over toddling grandchildren, and dads preside over their happy offspring with an authoritative but gentle and competent hand. Something I can’t help but respond to with a bit of a bored yawn.
I think if I were ever exalted and became a God, I’d quite like to be as independent as our man God seems to be. In the resurrection I’m hoping for a restoration of my latent mathematical and scientific acuities so that I can be in the thick of creation. I’d like stories written about me, and I’d like to be credited with all goodness, righteousness and perfection. I’d like all of my spiritual girl babies to be able to look up at the night sky and think of me, and in turn I’d like to bless them with outpourings of divine feminine love. If there were churches I’d like my girls to see me represented on the podium speaking my truths, my words, glorying in my power. I’d like my followers to sing “The Spirit of Goddess like a fire is burning”; “Goddess is Love”; and “Come thou o Queen of Queens.” I’d like blessings and prayers begun as: “O Goddess the Eternal Mother..”
I have to wonder if my Heavenly Mother would quite like this as well, after all she is a Goddess. Or perhaps she is the quiet retiring type who is happy to thrust her husband into the limelight? But I’ve never had that impression. Every time I’ve talked to her – she’s glorious, terrifying and wonderful. And if I’m in the business of becoming like God – I choose to become just like Her.