Monday, May 7, 2007

Heavenly Mother

I made some comments about this topic on NOM last week, but I want to flesh out my thoughts a little more.

I used to think that Heavenly Mother (HM) was a great doctrine--something that offered a value to believers that they couldn't really find elsewhere. Now I think it's a pernicious doctrine. Not by itself, but in how it's applied.

Traditional Christianity suggests the presence of God, usually referred to in the masculine. This could be because of the terrible stuff He encouraged doing to women (segregation, death for accidentally touching male privates while defending her husband, etc.), but, at any rate, I think modern Western Christians tend to view God as transcending gender. So a person can imagine God being as male or as female as he/she wants to. God becomes gender-neutral.

Joseph Smith threw a wrench into this by suggesting that people become gods, and that God was once a person. As such, God has a gender. One could leave it at that, and say that we happen to have a male God and other worlds have female Gods, but he also introduced plural marriage (more commonly known as Celestial Marriage), meaning that we have both a Father and Mother God.

Mormon doctrine unequivocally teaches that there is a Heavenly Mother (or Mothers), although it provides virtually no details. But one aspect of her existence reign supreme in the modern church--she is an evil topic. People get very uncomfortable in public discussions of Heavenly Mother. If a speaker were to begin expounding on his/her beliefs about Her, a bishop would probably feel compelled to either stop the speaker outright or at least "correct" the talk from the pulpit afterwards. No "good" thing is so completely taboo (even the temple, which is freely discussed in the temple, and isn't really a "doctrine" anyway, but a ritual).

We have no indication that Heavenly Mother serves any purpose whatsoever. There's no question that God was the Creator. There's no question that Jesus is the Savior. The Holy Ghost is the Comforter and testifier of all Truth. So, where's Heavenly Mother in any of this? Making refreshments? Tidying up the CK for our eventual return (as Neal Maxwell once suggested!)? Yes, girls, you get to be a god along with your husband, but that won't mean "God", because God is clearly the male, and His Wife, well, we don't really know what she does, nor do we want to know, nor do we want you to even think about it. In other words, we don't care what she does. You may not be second class citizens in the church (cough, cough), but you clearly will be in the eternities, at least to your children.

This denial of the feminine bothers some believers, even though they may not fully know why. So we see explanations arise for how it can be "good" not to care about women's eternal destiny.

The #1 Mormon explanation for this (as I perceive it) is that God doesn't want her to be criticized. People might start saying, "Oh my Heavenly Mother!" Seems possible--I've heard people "swear" on Mary. So we know one other thing about female Gods--they're emotionally fragile. Heavenly Mother would rather completely distance herself from Her children (even removing their salvation, if necessary) than risk one of them saying something mean about her. Even as a GOD, women will need to be protected by their husbands.

The #2 explanation (and this is a distant second), is that she's the Holy Ghost, or some such thing. (I've also heard that Joseph Smith was the Holy Ghost embodied--whatever.) You know, if this makes someone feel better, I guess I won't get on their case, but the HG has no body. So it can't be the female equivalent of HF.

I wouldn't mind this doctrine so much if women (and men) were free to openly discuss these things, or if Hinckley were to get inspiration to clarify this teaching. Instead, response to spiritual inquiry is hostile. Seriously, if someone feels like they have a spiritual connection to the feminine divine, should that be dismissed as evil? It's just so blatantly wrong! Better to not have Her at all, than to make her a magnet for guilt and self-loathing. If we don't care about the existence or role of Heavenly Mother, what are we saying about the fundamental and eternal value of women in general?

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Blogger Alma said...

I'd like to make a couple of comments. 1) Brigham Young taught that all of the people who come to this earth are the children of 1 heavenly mother. 2) God, in LDS thought must include both the Father and Mother. God created man in his own image "male and female," indicating that God's image isn't just male. The 132nd section of the D&C clearly demonstrates that men do not enter into exaltation singly; and as Paul taught, "either is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord." (1 Cor. 11:11)

If you think that a bishop would act quickly to stop someone from expounding on that person's beliefs about HM, how quickly do you think he'd act if that person began to expound on HF's mortal life or Jesus' teenage years? How about the future mortality of the Holy Spirit? Anytime someone ventures into purely speculative theology from the pulpit the bishop has the responsibility to quash it, lest the members think it's authoritative.

May 7, 2007 at 9:00 AM  
Blogger Ujlapana said...

Alma, thanks for the comment.

1) So Brigham taught that planets were exclusive per wife? I hope we're a first-wife planet.
2) First you suggest that God is a plural gender-neutral concept, then you refer to God as using the masculine possessive, "his." God is a man. Heavenly Mother is a woman. It takes both to tango. I think we're in violent agreement, given that I never asserted anything to the contrary.

Or perhaps you're suggesting that God and Heavenly Father aren't the same thing. Interesting idea, but not one that reflects the use of the word "God" in any part of Mormondom that I've ever seen.

Do you not see the difference between discussing HF's mortal life and a mortal woman's eternal life? We talk about men's eternal future quite freely--to become a god. What does that mean? Well, we have an idea of what that means because we talk about Heavenly Father all the time. We tell women they can become gods, too. What does that mean? Something kind of dirty, apparently. You see, the Holy Ghost's future doesn't matter because we're not taught that we will follow that path. No one is told, "you're like the Holy Ghost." But half of us are told, "you're like Heavenly Mother," with whom a direct relationship (through prayer, say) is as welcome as a direct relationship with Satan (which we would say most of us have, what with all the constant temptation). Yes women, in the next life, glorious as it will be, you will be less relevant to the lives of your children than the spiritual embodiment of evil is to you today.

May 7, 2007 at 2:35 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

I liked what one of the missionaries said about the priesthood during his testimony this Sunday. He said that mothers do so much for us, that the priesthood is given so that men might serve women (and thus, their mothers) through the ordinances of the priesthood and thus give back a small measure of what a mother does for her children. In so many ways, I can see that alluding to this discussion about Heavenly Mother. If this world is like the preexistence, than that would suggest she gave birth to us and nurtured us. She taught us important lessons about life. Is her role less important than Heavenly Father's in how we came to this existence? Is it more important? Perhaps it is simply different, and there is nothing wrong with it. I do not look at my mother's contribution to who I am and look down on her while admiring my father for his. I look at how much my mother shaped and molded me into who I am today, and I am truly grateful to her. My father played a different role in my upbringing, and I appreciate his as well. I have drawn parallels to my mother and mothers of the scriptures in talks before. I can just as easily draw a parallel to my mother and Heavenly Mother. I think so much in modern society has reduced the importance that women have in our lives. The different role is not the "lesser" role. I definitely think my wife has and my mother had an equal - if not more important - role in raising children. Take that for what you will.

May 8, 2007 at 5:45 AM  
Blogger Sister Mary Lisa said...

Robert, you said "If this world is like the preexistence, than that would suggest she gave birth to us and nurtured us. She taught us important lessons about life."

So what good does this do us now when we have been made to forget our pre-mortal life? Why would God leave Heavenly Mother out of every last piece of scripture, and not mention her at all? This does not show me he values her, nor does it show me he wants mankind to value her either. But we ARE commanded to give him glory, and worship him, and pray to him. Hmmm.

"Is it more important? Perhaps it is simply different, and there is nothing wrong with it."

Easily said when you are a man. I wonder if you would feel the same if you were a woman, being told how important you are while praising all the different men and supporting all the priesthood holders you are asked to support.

And...if God and Heavenly Mother are the same, or equal, then why are we not allowed to direct our prayers to her? Makes you wonder.

May 8, 2007 at 9:26 AM  
Blogger Ujlapana said...

He said that mothers do so much for us, that the priesthood is given so that men might serve women (and thus, their mothers) through the ordinances of the priesthood and thus give back a small measure of what a mother does for her children.

This sounds like the kind of thing I would expect from a 19-year-old. But you, Robert, can think this through more carefully. You are saying that women do great things (by being mothers), so God gives the Priesthood only to men, so that they can do things that are "almost" as great as being a Mother. News flash to God--women are capable of doing both. Maybe you should see if they want to serve men in both ways! In households where men stay at home and women go to work, should the woman preside and hold the priesthood, so that she can do some service, too? And exactly what kind of "service" is exclusive to the priesthood? Healing is a gift of the Spirit, despite what most modern members believe, so women can give those blessings. They can't baptize or give the GoHG. Ever think that they might want to be involved in those rites of passage? Maybe most of them don't, but if only one of them does, and she is denied because of her gender, that's bigotry. God's not a bigot, but lots of men are.

If this world is like the preexistence, than that would suggest she gave birth to us and nurtured us.

How a physical body gives birth to a spiritual one is pointless to discuss. You're suggesting (as many men have) that women will be pregnant for 20 billion * .75 years in the next life? Some heaven. My point stands--Heavenly Mother is forbidden (both in public discourse and in private, personal spiritual searching), which means that the future of women (and, for some, their connection to an approachable divine) is trampled on.

May 8, 2007 at 9:59 AM  
Blogger Sister Mary Lisa said...

In other words, we don't care what she does. You may not be second class citizens in the church (cough, cough), but you clearly will be in the eternities, at least to your children.

You are spot on, Ujlapana. What kills me is that men at church (prophets, GAs, husbands, bishops, friends) tell me that women are revered and treated as equals or at least should be treated as equals if they aren't. But when they live it and see it's so very obvious that women aren't equal, the men and most women (!!!) still continue to support the organization and accept the way it is as right.

I'd like to know exactly what's so scary about the thought of women holding the priesthood or serving as bishop or High Priestess or General Authority.

May 8, 2007 at 10:58 AM  
Blogger Robert said...

The physical birth by our earthly mother is our "first birth" which she takes full part in. The baptism represents "rebirth" and the man takes full part in. Should the man be excluded from both completely? I am not suggesting women will be pregnant for billions of years. I do, however, appreciate the role priesthood plays for men. It bonds men to the process of raising children, and it teaches them to serve others. My mother-in-law also pointed out that she had a powerful experience when she watched her child being given a name and a blessing. It bonded her husband to their child in the way that her giving birth bonded her to the child. Are they exactly the same? No. But are they inequal? That's what you're debating. The difference does not automatically mean "inequality".

I can see both of your points, uj and sml. I just disagree with you. As for the 19 year old's perspective, I thought it was a solid point of belief. So often we learn from the young how to explain the complex in a simpler way. I learn from my daughter in that way all the time.

May 8, 2007 at 1:43 PM  
Blogger Sister Mary Lisa said...

Robert, your priesthood gift is a power with authority attached, special in that it is the power to act in God's name.

My special power, that of being able to bear children, is the same power that dogs, pigs, and cows enjoy as well.

This could be why some people see that the priesthood authority and giving birth aren't "equal" gifts.

May 8, 2007 at 2:45 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

Giving birth is a power given of God as well. I guess that's where we differ. That is a pretty miraculous thing in my opinion. We'll just have to agree to disagree here.

May 8, 2007 at 5:36 PM  
Blogger Ujlapana said...

Robert, I'm curious if you consider your morning commute a miracle. Miracles, if the word is to have any meaning, must be clearly distinguishible from everyday experiences. Even a skeptic, when presented with a miracle, will have to admit, "that's quite a coincidence," or "I can't explain it." Giving birth, while a relatively rare and profoundly meaningful event to human parents, is extremely mundane as far as the event itself goes. It happens in every mammal species, every second of the day. The fact that we (as is biologically predictable) draw great personal meaning from the event does not mean God set things up this way. SML is right--procreation is the definition of life. For humans it requires two people, one male and one female. The fact that the female carries the developing life for an extra nine months shouldn't mean much 10 years later--if it does then the father's done a poor job.

Search your feelings, Robert. If we were having this discussion about blacks and the priesthood in 1977, you'd be making all kinds of arguments that made sense to you and struck me as immoral. You would probably explain how God had set it up this way for a grand purpose. One year later, at the dictates of men you do not know, you would completely reverse your moral reasoning. Think about it....

May 9, 2007 at 7:58 AM  
Blogger Robert said...

I do not think of my morning commute as a miracle. That simple five minute drive is mundane. Birth is not mundane to me. I was saying the physical birth compares with the rebirth that comes with baptism. That's the comparison and connection.

As for blacks and the priesthood, I have a much different reason for understanding that situation than you might expect. It is not 1977, though, and therefore you might see it as a political answer, which it is not. I can see how things played out, and I can accept what the general authorities have said on the matter. Again, it's something you don't want to agree with anymore. I can accept that.You have that right as a person.

Here's an interesting discussion I had on another blog with an evangelical Christian who claimed they simply wanted to know about the LDS Church. He described his understanding of being "saved by grace" and in his explanation, I could see a fairly exact description of the plan put forth by Lucifer (as an alternative to the plan of salvation). In simple terms, he said that once you believe you will forever do good because you will feel unable to do otherwise. That struck me in a pretty peculiar way at first, and I'd never realized how much the "saved by grace alone" model followed Satan's plan until that conversation.

No, I am not proposing that all Christians outside the LDS Church are secretly worshipping Satan. I just wondered what your thoughts might be on the evangelical Christian's idea of how a person acts once they have become "saved" versus the LDS perspective of what it takes to become exalted.

May 9, 2007 at 11:06 AM  
Blogger Ujlapana said...

That's a pretty off-topic question. Where's the thread you're referring to? I may start a new entry on this, as I have had some thoughts about the Mormon focus on obedience vs. the Christian focus on love, but I wouldn't want to bury it in a thread on Heavenly Mother.

May 9, 2007 at 1:47 PM  
Blogger Sister Mary Lisa said...

Another thought I've had every time I've heard the argument that the Priesthood power is equal to a woman being able to have children. A woman is taught at church from the time she's little that her one divine role and sole purpose in life is to be a Mother in Zion.

But men get this power too. They get to be fathers AND have priesthood power, as if they are the only ones who can handle both at once.

Plus, they get to enjoy all the benefits of being a father (or mother) without having to endure the physical drawbacks that bearing a child produces. Lucky.

May 9, 2007 at 3:42 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

I only brought up the off-topic question after you brought up blacks and the priesthood. I really considered it a fairly open topic at that point, or I would not have brought in a separate line of thought.

Feel free to start another topic. I disagree that Mormons are only focused on obedience and not on love. That is not at all my experience, either as a member or as a non-member.

May 9, 2007 at 6:46 PM  

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