A Heavenly Father for this life

“The idea that the universe invites me to pursue Heavenly Father’s perfection stirs and moves me, inspires my thinking, and … Continued

“The idea that the universe invites me to pursue Heavenly Father’s perfection stirs and moves me, inspires my thinking, and shapes me—right now, in the minute to minute life I have to live,” writes Mason.

I don’t know who I’m going to vote for in November.  I’ve made a practice of voting for my dad, and I may do it again this time around.  Not because my dad wants to be president, but because electronic voting machines allow me to write in any name I choose.  I decided some time ago that I’m going to keep on voting for my dad until someone I think could run the country better shows up on the ballot.

My father taught physics for more than thirty years at a large, private university.  When he retired, he kept teaching part-time.  When the school told him they couldn’t keep paying him, he kept teaching for free.  Last I checked, he’s still teaching.

He wrote the book, literally.  My dad and some of his colleagues produced a textbook for introductory physics classes.  Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of students bought this book every year for decades.  In an attempt to keep the cost of book down, my dad never accepted any royalties.  When the publisher made yet another move to issue a ‘new’ addition with few substantial changes and a terrifically higher sticker price, my dad told them to take his name off the book.  Then he posted his version of the book on the internet for free.

When I grow up, I want to be just like my dad.

This sentiment will permeate our culture this weekend, in dime-store greeting cards, church sermons, long-distance telephone calls, rushed email messages, and maybe even a few handwritten letters.  I extend to all who say it the faith that they mean it.  But this expression—”I want to be just like my dad”—has, perhaps, a peculiar significance to the Mormons who say it.

One of the things that keeps Mormonism weird is its assertion that people can become like God.  It’s a bizarre, goofy, even ridiculous idea.  But in a world of religious doctrines that includes original sin, burning bushes, three-in-one-in-three trinities, resurrection from the dead, lakes of fire, and the eternal playing of lyres, is it really so outlandish?

On the other hand, what’s the compelling reason to countenance such an idea?  If the idea of becoming like God is simply a foolish fancy, we might very well dismiss it—along with similar fancies like hopes in life-after-death and belief in God’s very existence—and get on with living our lives.

But what if an idea is simply beautiful?  Let’s set aside truth for a moment and consider the possibility that some religious ideas are just lovely.  You put my dad in the oval office, and he’ll have the country running like a clock inside of the first hundred days.  Not only am I confident of this proposition, I love this proposition.  Like a Caravaggio or a Beckmann, this idea grabs my mind’s eye and turns it around.  The idea—truth aside—that my dad could save the world strikes my aesthetic faculties with the splendor and grace of art.

What Sartre said about God’s existence is true about theological doctrines, too.  Whether they’re true, on one level, doesn’t matter.  We’re still here, facing a life that can be harsh and lonely, a life that demands that we make our choices.  Religious notions, like other kinds of art, transform our visions of ourselves and the people around us, and can change the world we live in.  And religious ideas can’t be reduced, simplistically, to “comforting fantasies,” as Carl Sagan and others might suggest.  Art often does not offer comfort or fantasy.  Art often confronts us with the worst that is in us and provokes us to make it different.  The best religious doctrines are often challenging and demanding and intemperate.

Mormons aspire to be like their dads, including the being they imagine as a Heavenly Father. The idea the imagination offers of divine perfection charms me.  It calls me.  The idea that the universe invites me to pursue that same perfection stirs and moves me, inspires my thinking, and shapes me—right now, in the minute to minute life I have to live.

My dad is perfectly good.  Perfectly just.  Perfectly reasonable.  Perfectly capable.  When I grow up, I want to be just like that.

David Mason is associate professor at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. He is the author of “Theatre and Religion on Krishna’s Stage” and “My Mormonism: a primer for non-Mormons and Mormons, alike.

David Mason
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  • Rongoklunk

    AS far as we know there are no gods. If folks stopped insisting on telling their kids that there’s a guy in the sky watching over us – well, we’ll just go on having to believe it, even though it’s a lie – a lie made up to make us feel good about death. But it’s a lie. And the lie makes folks stupid enough to actually believe in an invisible skygod; when in reality he only exists in the imagination – where anything can exist. Grow up people. It’s all a scam.

  • DENNISMcKay

    I think the idea of children becoming like their father is a great one. Just reflect for a moment how long eternity will be and what we might be doing for all that time. In one aspect the very idea petrifies me. I would think that anything would eventually become horrifically boring. Now if we are given the opportunity throught ages to become like the Father, the Creator, well, at the least that would be something quite interesting to do for all those billions of trillions of years. I think the Mormons have a good idea there. Dennis

  • commonman1

    Please feel free to state your own perspective but leave me out of your “we” in “as far as we know.” In fact I know there is a God. I promise not to force you to toe my line, but I refuse to knuckle under to yours.

  • Tryor

    To Rongoklunk: How is it that you are so omniscient as to know whether or not there is a God? Doesn’t that imply that you are all knowing, to know that there is nothing — no existence– after this life?

    That strikes me as the height of arrogance, to know what is beyond your capacity to know.

  • cking

    Well done, Dave. I think you’re bringing good ideas to the public sphere. Do you perhaps feel we’ve witnessed the death of rational literalist belief, or are you simply demonstrating that even without this we might still benefit from certain of the same beliefs? And that existentialism, the transition to metaphorical belief, is the most promising bargain we can make with the last few straws that remain? While the analogy of God as eternal Father may not reduce to a mere comforting fantasy, that’s the only angle to which the mind of the (typical Mormon) believer expands since thankfully most of their fathers, like yours, are good. The bad is possible within a larger scope of religious imagination: a cruel totalitarian Father against whom we must rebel. Which thought calls on us and shapes us to oppose the credulity and injustices brought about by Him today. Our Father was also once a man (according to Mormonism), which in my mind makes it possible He may be more imperfect than we. Maybe we ought to reconsider if we want to be like that.

  • SODDI

    It would be best for REAL fathers to be decent, civilized human beings first instead of basing who they are on some fictitional paleolithic construct. That kind of attitude is why so many fathers are estranged from their families.

    The world has had enough of petty dictators with delusions of godhood.

    And treating women as property, chattel, as the OT god does is right out as well.

  • coltakashi93

    Thank you, Professor Mason, for pointing out that some of the peculiarly Mormon doctrines are, regardless of their acceptance by other varieties of Christianity, ideas which have their own intrinsic appeal. Professor Truman Madsen (PhD Harvard) pointed out that the Mormon concept of humans living with God BEFORE our birth on earth resolves many of the theological conundrums that have plagued Christianity since the time of Augustine, including the Problem of Evil.

    I assume you know that the aspiration to become like God, that is, to become like Christ, is the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of theosis, which they have preserved from the teachings of Jesus, Paul and Peter, through the early Church fathers of the second and third centuries, and which Catholic theologians will admit is a little appreciated part of their heritage as well. It crops up in the writings of C.S. Lewis as well, one of the reasons he is a favorite author for Mormons. It is as venerable a doctrine as the Resurrection of all mankind, and grows out of the same sermons about the future status of the saved. My mother’s Russian Orthodox priests taught that Irenaeus was quite serious when he wrote “God became man so that man can become God.”

    Christians who ridicule theosis are demonstrating their ignorance of the history of Christian doctrines and the simple fact of change in those doctrines over two millennia. Many of the characteristic doctrines of Evangelical Christianity, such as biblical inerrancy, are actually innovations that are barely older than Mormonism itself.

    The range of Christian beliefs cover a lot of variety, and it is clear that in some of those areas, the Mormons are closer to the original Christian understanding than most modern Protestants.

  • coltakashi93

    The kind of judgmental dictator you speak of is quite the oppisite of Mormon teachings about the equality of the sexes, that the highest priority for men is to care for and support and love their wivrs and children, before any other pursuit, of wealth or even prominence in the church. Mormon men care for their infant childten at church, take them out and feed them and change their diapers, and take them along to the men’s meetings. Mormon men are taught that the only leadership authority they have is attained “by gentleness and meekness and love unfeigned”.

  • coltakashi93

    95% of the matter-energy in the universe is NOT the matter and energy that was known to physicists 25 years ago. Dark Matter is a substance that holds our galaxies together and makes them rotate more like solid disks than an agglomeration of orbiting stars. Dark Energy is accelerating the expansion begun in the Big Bang and extends throught space. We know not much more than that. Claiming that you have a comprehensive knowledge of the univetse, and that you don’t see God anywhre, and therefore God does not exist, is quite an accomplishment. Especially since you don’t know what 95% of the univetse IS. The argument against the existence of God based on human omniscience just does not cut it, since human omniscience has far less evidence in its support than God does.

  • hrobert02

    To commonman1:

    I know there is a heavenly Flying Spaghetti Monster and I will make sure to brain-wash my children into believing in his Noodly Appendages.

    In His wisdom he makes sure to cause earthquakes and tsunamis periodically, and to cause DNA mutations so that babies can be born with incredibly cruel genetic diseases. Ramen.

  • Kent French

    I couldn’t disagree more with this article. Let’s go to the Bible and the King James Version to see why Mormons teach that God is literally the Father of our spirits, and that we are his children.

    The Apostle Paul taught this doctrine to the Greeks when he spoke to them on Mars Hill. He urged them to seek after the true and living God, saying:

    “for in him we live, and move, and have our being for
    we are also his offspring”.

    “Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God we ought
    not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or
    stone, graven by art and man’s device”.
    Acts 17:28-29

    Paul also taught the Romans that God is literally our father. He said:
    “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we
    are the children of God:

    And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs
    with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him (follow him)
    that we may be also glorified together.”
    Romans 8:16-17

    The Apostle John, speaking our resurrection, put it this way:

    “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet
    appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall
    appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
    1 John 3:2

    Jesus had this to say about our relationship to God:

    “When ye pray, say, “Our Father which art in Heaven”.
    Luke 11:2

    Also, when he was resurrected he told Mary:

    “go to my brethren and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father,
    and your Father; and to my God, and your God”.
    John 20:17

    Now, you may not agree with Mormon theology on this point, and you may interpret these scriptures differently, but it is indisputable that throughout all of God’s creations every living creature has the potential to grow up to be like its father.

    Personally, I have found that it’s very important for me to know that I am a child of God. I believe it plays a critical role in my salvation because:

    1. It enables me to understand God’s great love for me.
    2. It enables me to love Him more fully

  • XVIIHailSkins

    What a perfect distillation of the sadomasochistic, master/slave relationship that is christianity (mormon or otherwise).

  • Kent French

    Hey football fan,

    I am not trying to convert you. Just trying to defend my faith to those believers who are out there.

    As a side note, I once taught a non-beliver like yourself how he could receive a message from God that what I was teaching him was true.

    He went through the steps necessary, got that witness and was baptized. However, his position was this – If it is true, I really want to know, and I will repent and be baptized and remain true and faithful all the days of my life.

    You probably are not be willing to put forth the effort necessary. That guy is the only non-beliver that I have ever came across who was willing. However, comon sense tells me there must be thousands out there who are.

  • greyham47

    Setting aside the propensity of Christian scholars to allegorize the scriptures, but to take them at face value, wouldn’t our Father, as a supernal, omniloving Being, want His children to obtain the same status as He has, to become as He is? When Paul, in his first letter to Timothy (1 Tim. 6:15 [KJB]), exclaims that Christ is the “blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords,” which kings and which lords is he referring to? One may conclude, and rightly so, that he is referring to the kings and lords of the world, and leave it at that. Yet what was Christ’s thinking when he declared in stunning summation of His Sermon on the Mount, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48 [KJB])? Or, as John recorded, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne” (Rev. 3:21 [KJB]), what was Christ saying? Or, as John testified as an apostle and special witness of Christ, “And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father;” (Rev. 1:6 [KJB]) what should we conclude?

  • SODDI

    Mormon dads like Rulon Jeffs, Ervil LeBaron and George Romney.

  • George Joseph DeMetz

    The doctrine is only bizarre or ridiculous if one is ignorant of what the Bible really states, or if they are like the evangelicals who claim to hold to Biblical teachings, but really just pervert the meanings to suit their own false beliefs! Psalms 82:6 clearly states: “Ye are gods and all of you are children of the Most high.” Christ used this same scripture to defend Himself against the accusation of Blasphemy (see John 10:33-35, and see also Revelation 3:21)!

  • Kent French

    Come on SODDI.

    Rulon Jeffs, his followers are not Mormons. The church they belong to is no more The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints than Baptists are Catholic. But, of course you already know that.

  • Kent French

    Hey George, be nice to our evangelical brothers and sisters.

  • SODDI

    They are mormons, just like Southern Baptists are Baptists.

    Mormons just don’t like like to admit it.

    They sure ain’t buddhists.

  • Kent French

    There you go again SODDI

    Have the Baptists excommunicated anyone and everyone that adhears to the Southern Baptist teachings? You know they don’t.

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not perform plural marriages, and any member who marries more than on wife civily is excommunicated. Of course, you know that also.

  • RachelW1

    Jesus Christ is God, not a second god or a mere human or mythical human-god. People who believe the Bible is the word of God and means what it says, and who believe what it means, know this, and know that no Scripture saying we are gods or we will be like God means that we will take a throne in heaven and judge, know, and love, and save as God does. We will not inherit Godhood if we go to heaven, but be with Him in His kingdom; we will not be God, but be with Him and worship Him still, and obviously not be displeasing to Him (be opposite Him) but simply be His people in His kingdom–this is what the Bible means no matter what any interpretation and single Scripture says. I thank the Lord for clarifying it for us.

  • RachelW1

    XVIIHailSkins, as has been said, “Religion is man reaching out to God; Christianity is God reaching out to man.” When Jesus said to the man crucified next to Him that he would be with the Lord upon death because of what he said to the other dying man and Jesus, He summed up Christianity for all of history to understand. If you do not believe the Bible is true, you still cannot deny it what it says about its own God. Although this is just one passage, it is not out of context and not capable of being misinterpreted, and it is what someone called the Savior–who, Himself, said several times He was not here to judge us–said to a convicted thief. Please do not misunderstand Christ even if you don’t like a lot of what you see in history and the present of Christians and Christianity.

  • Secular1

    How do you all theists come to the conclusion that your truth claims are authentic? More importantly, how do you conclude that others’ truth claims are unauthentic. What criteria do you use in either case? Leave alone all the grotesque passages in all the scriptures, or just plain false claims about natural phenomenon, or historical facts, or complete violations of laws of nature.

  • Kent French

    Rachel,

    You are 100% right about one thing. We may be gods (little g) in that we are his children, but we are not “God” and never will be!

    As to whether Jesus and his Father are separate persons please read the following:

    Simply put, Nicene Christians believe that God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are one and the same God, and that he (God) is a spirit without a body, parts or passions.

    The bottom line difference is that we Latter-day Christians teach that Jesus Christ is a separate person from his Heavenly Father and from the Holy Ghost. And, that Christ has been resurrected with an immortal, glorified, spiritual body of flesh and bones like his Heavenly Father’s. See Hebrews 1:1-3.

    In other words Latter-day Christians believe that Christ is still resurrected whereas Nicien Christians evidently believe that Christ is now a spirit without a body.

    You can also refer to John 17:20-23, 20:17, Luke 22:39-44, Acts 7:55-56. These scriptures, and scores of others, show that Christ is a separate person from his father. However, the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost are united as “one” in purpose, thought and actions. In addition, read Revelations. 1:10-18 which contains Christ’s own statement that he is still alive (resurrected) and always will be. Note that Christ laid his hand on John’s shoulder which proved to John that his statement was true. Thus, Jesus Christ is a separate personage from God his father, as evidenced by the fact that at the throne of God he sits on the right hand of God his Father. Hebrews 1-3.

  • ezrasalias-socialize

    Mason’s father seems a good man, for the common good rather than monetizing anything that comes by. But Sagan is right about ‘comforting fantasies’. I cannot put my faith in fantasies of supreme beings and rock-hard doctrines and dogmas, it is just too plain silly to believe in these things. Having said that, Mason’s dad already sounds better than who we have as leaders right now.

  • Kent French

    Also Rachel,

    Let’s see what Jesus said about our being gods. I hope this clarifies things for you as to this subject because we know he never taught any false doctrine.

    32 Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me?
    33 The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.
    34 Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?
    35 If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken (meaning you can’t say this scipture means something else);
    36 Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?
    John 10:32-36

    Take special note of verse 34. It cross references to Psalms 82:6.

  • DRJJJ

    Loving God and loving others-essential Christian doctrine! What a horrible world view to promote huh?