The Grandest Principle of the Gospel:
Hope, Meaning and Activity Underlying Theologies of Eternal Progression

The 2007 Summer Seminar Working Papers were presented at a BYU symposium on August 9, 2007. The theme was “Mormon Thinkers, 1890-1930.” Working papers are unpublished, unedited, unpolished drafts. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the Maxwell Institute or BYU.

 

Introduction

 In February 1895 the editors of a small journal known as The Index (an obscure periodical produced by the Mutual Improvement Association of the 20th Ward in Salt Lake City) submitted the following inquiry to 10 prominent church leaders: “What, in your opinion, constitutes the grandest principle, or most attractive feature of the Gospel?” The church leaders’ answering letters were published in The Index and shortly thereafter as a symposium in the pages of The Contributor, one of the many church magazines in publication at that time. One respondent said that eternal marriage was the grandest principle. Two more replied that love was the crucial component of the Gospel. Another answered, in essence, that all the principles of the gospel were so grand that he could not choose just one. Interestingly, there was a consensus among the remaining six church leaders (among whom were included such well-known leaders as Joseph F. Smith, B.H. Roberts, George Reynolds, and Orson F. Whitney) as to the grandest and most attractive feature of the gospel: the doctrine of eternal progression.[1]

Why eternal progression? There was no mention in the survey of critical doctrines such as Atonement, continuing revelation, or salvation for the dead. Yet many Mormon writers and thinkers from founding prophet Joseph Smith through intellectuals discussed in this essay–B.H. Roberts and John Widtsoe–undeniably had a fascination with the doctrine of eternal progression, which I will very loosely define for purposes of this paper as the belief that all human beings can advance and improve from one qualitative level of existence to the next forever, until the attainment of godhood and beyond, and that God also exists under this same system. These thinkers clearly thought that of all Joseph Smith’s teachings, eternal progression was his most innovative idea, rich in possibility and potential. They were not alone. Former Mormon and skeptic Fawn Brodie, though believing Joseph Smith borrowed this concept through reading philosopher Thomas Dick[2], nevertheless conceded that Joseph’s own notion of “the boundless opportunity for progression throughout eternity” was “the most challenging concept that Joseph Smith ever produced, and in a sense the most original.”[3] More recently, Evangelical scholar Carl Mosser, when asked by BYU Professor of Philosophy David L. Paulsen to identify Joseph Smith’s possible contributions to the Christian theological world, replied, “Too often, in my view, Christian theologians are content to reflect on how we are redeemed (the mechanics) and on what we are redeemed from. Smith’s teachings about the eschatological potential of men and women challenges Christian theology to think more deliberately about what we are redeemed for.”[4]

While much of the appeal and significance of eternal progression in Mormon thought at the beginning of the 20th century centered on Mormon intellectuals’ fascination with the progressive science of their era, eternal progression in fact had a much broader, deeper, existential appeal. These earlier Mormon thinkers and writers viewed eternal progression in terms which instilled unique meaning and purpose into this life and the post-mortal eternities. Underlying sweeping notions of unlocking the eternal laws of the universe and becoming gods was an intense engagement in a quest to infuse special significance and value into human existence. Key to their conception of eternal progression was a philosophy that described eternal progression in direct contrast to what LDS writers perceived as the meaningless, unsatisfying, and even nihilistic nature of the conventional Christian heaven. At the heart of early expositions on eternal progression is the notion that eternal, godlike activity is what provides meaning and purpose to any and every stage of human existence, and that the static immobility and eternal rest of the soul is the polar opposite of the eternally progressive Mormon heaven. These LDS writers whole-heartedly agreed with the idea put forth by former president of Harvard University, Charles W. Eliot, who wrote in his biography of Henry James, “The idea of an eternity of rest is positively repulsive to any man or woman, primitive, barbarous, or civilized, who has had joy in his work.”[5]   For these Mormons, the only happy heaven is the one in which activity is eternalized, a heaven where the acquisition of new knowledge leads to higher and higher realms of meaningful existence.

It is not my intent in this paper to make an in-depth study of eternal progression throughout Mormon theological history. Instead, I will focus on common expositions of the doctrine during the critical decades following the issuance of the Manifesto ending plural marriage and the consequent reordering of LDS theology. Specifically, I will assert two things: 1) that key Mormon writers in this period sometimes misrepresented the eschatological doctrines of other Christian churches–particularly Protestant churches–as a foil against which to describe and exalt Mormon notions of eternal activity and progress. 2) Though the idea of an afterlife of everlasting activity was not unique to Mormons, Mormonism nevertheless evoked its own novel conception of activity that was dissimilar to conventional Protestant ideas. Mormon thinkers of this period understood the purpose of all activity–pre-mortal, mortal, and post-mortal–to be the achievement of human deification, and that the joy of eternal progress applies to all intelligences, including God. Though Mormons and Protestants at this time held quite similar notions of the family-centric, social nature of heaven, Mormons were additionally theologizing a cosmology of deification and the eternal mastery of existence, a cosmology ultimately discrete from more secularized Protestant beliefs of eternal family life, work and labor, beliefs that were essentially an extension and projection of earthly activities into the heavenly realm.

In order to provide a context for the development of early 20th century Mormon thought on eternal progression, I will begin with an overview of its roots by briefly examining the origins of eternal progression in Joseph Smith’s thought and the expansion upon his ideas in the theology of Brigham Young. Many Mormons writing on eternal progression (and especially John Widtsoe and B.H. Roberts) expand upon Young’s particular vision in their attempts to provide a rational basis for a theology of eternal activity. Widtsoe and Roberts develop a theology in which they hope to prove that the quest for higher realms of truth and being discloses the true meaning of human joy and existence. I will conclude with what I believe are some of the potential philosophical and theological implications of Roberts and Widtoe’s views on eternal progression, and how these might be viewed through a contemporary lens.

Eternal Progression in Early Mormon Thought

Eternal progression in Mormon thought was originally taught by Joseph Smith. His views on the progressive nature of the afterlife and the divine potential of humanity were not wholly original; other theological and philosophical traditions in Joseph Smith’s time promulgated similar concepts, including most denominations of 19th century New England Protestantism, remnants of Neo-Platonist Hermeticism[1], and American Transcendentalism.[2] However, Joseph Smith’s erasure of the ontological rift that separated divinity from humanity, including within his philosophy ideas of human deification, a plurality of gods, and the advancement and progression of all intelligent beings, including God, seems to be a genuinely unique amalgamation.[3] Unique or not, Joseph’s most detailed explication of eternal progression, the King Follett Discourse, was revolutionary and even polarizing to its first hearers, many of whom praised it as proof of the prophet’s inspiration, while many others denigrated it as “a worse doctrine than taught by the Devil himself in the Garden of Eden.”[4]

Though the seeds of eternal progression in Mormon thought were planted by Joseph Smith, Brigham Young nurtured them into a full-fledged forest of doctrinal exposition. Young seems to be, in fact, the first to use the phrase “eternal progression” to describe and embody several interrelated concepts promulgated by Joseph Smith concerning the nature and purpose of God and humankind.[5] Within Young’s system eternal progression became an expansive vehicle for unlimited learning and advancement. For Young, the unlimited nature of God and man were keys to his understanding of progression. He believed in an eternal chain of gods with no beginning and no end, a chain to which man was in the process of becoming connected in his quest to become divine. The unlimited nature of Godhood led Young to posit that God and man could increase in knowledge and power for eternity. He reasoned that limiting the capacity to attain knowledge would be to limit the universe itself, which would in turn limit humankind and God.[6] While such a notion about God’s capacity for unending knowledge acquisition may be considered controversial today, it was a key to Brigham Young’s theology. Fundamental to his ideas of eternal progression was an existential engagement with the meaning of life itself. Eternal progression was a way of being, a means of positioning oneself in the world. Young wanted to get at the heart of what motivates us to continue to propagate our own existence:

The first great principle that ought to occupy the attention of mankind, that should be understood by the child and the adult, and which is the mainspring of all action (whether people understand it or not), is the principle of improvement. The principle of increase, of exaltation, of adding to what we already possess, is the grand moving principle and cause of the actions of the children of men.[7]

Thus, the capacity to acquire knowledge (in addition to “increasing” in other valuables such as posterity, kingdoms, etc.) is a desirable end in and of itself, inasmuch as the activity of knowledge acquisition makes life meaningful and enjoyable, and would continue to do so forever. For Brigham Young, this vision of the purpose of existence made salvation genuinely attractive, because it describes salvation in understandable, “this-worldly” language: what moves and motivates us to action and improvement in earth life will likewise be what motivates our activity in the eternal worlds.

In endorsing this particular notion of eternal progression Young was implicitly giving voice to the anxiety of considering its reverse proposition: not progressing, or regressing, which is to experience “the second death”:

The first death is the separation of the spirit from the body; the second death is…the dissolution of the organized particles which compose the spirit, and their return to their native element…The one [choosing life] leads to endless increase and progression, the other [choosing death] to the destruction of the organized being, ending in its entire decomposition into the particles that compose the native elements.[8]

Contemplating an afterlife with no progression, Wilford Woodruff gives pointed expression to the despair he sees entailed by an existence in which progression is ultimately delimited:

If there was a point where man in his progression could not proceed any further, the very idea would throw a gloom over every intelligent and reflecting mind. God himself is still increasing and progressing in knowledge, power, and dominion, and will do so world without end. It is just so with us.[9]

Eternal Progression in Early Twentieth Century Mormon Thought

At least from the time of Brigham Young through the end of the 19th century eternal progression was inextricably connected to plural marriage. Just to cite one very brief example, Susa Young Gates, a daughter of Brigham Young, in the pages of the Young Woman’s Journal, declared, “[Plural Marriage] is the law that crucifies the flesh that it may sanctify the Spirit; the law that marks the way to eternal progression.”[1] The family was the vehicle for eternal progression. One progressed by entering into the Patriarchal Order of Marriage, or Celestial Marriage, popularly called plural marriage. Progression was then measured by the “eternal” increase of wives and posterity within the family kingdom, both here and in the eternities, a holy act that mirrored that of God himself, who also progressed in like manner.

By the turn of the 20th-century, and after the Manifesto in 1890 declared the end of plural marriage, the eternal family kingdom and its link to eternal progression disappeared almost entirely as Mormonism sought to distance itself from its polygamous past. Ironically, while Mormonism’s Protestant counterparts were at the height of expostulating their family-centric social heaven, the idea of eternal family in Mormonism, always previously situated within the framework of plural families, was drastically muted.

The principle of eternal progression, however, lived on under the influence of the scientific and philosophical rationalism that was beginning to take hold of the Western world. The philosophies of Charles Darwin, Herbert Spencer, John Fiske, Henri Bergson[2], and other influential thinkers exercised profound influence upon secular and religious society. Mormon intellectuals were among the many converts to contemporary scientific and philosophic thought. It was during this time that systematic expositions of Mormon theology began to appear, among them The Gospel: Exposition of First Principles (1888), The Seventies Course in Theology (5 vols., 1907-1912), and The Truth, the Way, the Life: An Elementary Treatise On Theology (1930), all by B.H. Roberts; Articles of Faith (1899) and The Vitality of Mormonism (1919), by James E. Talmage; The Scientific Aspects of Mormonism (1904) by Nels Nelson; and Joseph Smith As Scientist (1908) and A Rational Theology (1915) by John A. Widtsoe. These works as well as many others were the attempts of Mormon intellectuals to explain and defend their religion by incorporating contemporary ideas into their theologies. Eternal progression was recast within this modern conceptual framework, and unsurprisingly it would not escape a naturalistic, rational interpretation.

Under the hands of professional academics like John Widtsoe and BYU English professor Nels Nelson – and heavily influenced by the social evolution theories of Herbert Spencer[3] – eternal progression became the centerpiece of a Mormon teleological cosmology in which God, man, and all of creation are eternally evolving in a universe who’s clear purpose is the manufacturing of gods. In this universe God becomes the “Master of Science,” the Supreme Intelligence who masters the eternal laws of the universe. John Widtsoe offers what is probably the clearest, most concise definition of “God as Ultimate Scientist” in this way:

God undoubtedly exercised his will vigorously, and thus gained experience of the forces lying about him. As knowledge grew into greater knowledge, by persistent efforts of will, his recognition of universal laws became greater until he attained at last a conquest over the universe, which to our finite understanding seems absolutely complete. …His Godhood, however, is the product of simple obedience to the laws of the universe.[4]

The implication here for humankind is clear: as God learned to master and control the laws of the universe, so we, under His guidance, are to discover and obey these same laws, the consequence of which will result in our own attainment of godhood. Widtsoe and other Mormon thinkers clearly believed that the ushering in of the modern era was both a sign of the onward progress of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ and a forward leap toward the ultimate achievement of the mastery of the world and universe.

As one surveys the literature on eternal progression from this time, a pattern emerges that is common to almost all existential descriptions of the great hope, joy, and meaning behind this expansive doctrine.   Familiar to all these writings is a dualism of activity and inertia, eternal motion and everlasting fixity. A theology of activity lies at the heart of discussions on eternal progression. Consider the following, from an unknown author in the 1931 Improvement Era:

The idea of progress and the emotions arising out of discovery in the world of intellectual achievement are both lure and urge to mental activity, and when the idea is connected up with a belief in the endlessness of progress, it takes hold of the believer and holds him to the task of reaching higher levels and viewing broader fields in a way that wearies not, but develops to the utmost.[1]

Apostle and agricultural scientist John A. Widtsoe similarly conceived of eternal progression as an exultant state of experiential and cognitive increase. He wrote, “What then is eternal progress? It is an eternity of active life, increasing in all good things, toward the likeness of the Lord. It is the highest conceivable form of growth.” However, the totality of activity can only be possessed by those found

in the highest heaven, the Celestial Kingdom: “One thing is known through the revelations of God. Those in the higher, the celestial glory, the one that we all hope to achieve, are in full activity…Not so in the lower glories.”[1] He further declared, “If we seek, we shall forever add knowledge to knowledge. That which seems dark today, will be crystal clear tomorrow. Eternal progress means the unending elucidation of things not known or understood today.”[2]

As taken as they were with eternality of activity as the most essential component of a meaningful existence, Mormons were far from alone in such a belief. As noted earlier, several theological traditions in Joseph Smith’s time held quite detailed theologies of heavenly progression. Concepts of heavenly progress can be found in early Church Father Origen all the way through the Protestant theology of the 1930’s. Consider the following striking parallel between B.H. Roberts’ notion of perfection and that of German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz. Roberts writes: “…There are no ultimates. Each succeeding wave of progress may attain higher, and ever higher degrees of excellence, but never attain perfection—the ideal recedes ever as it is approached, and hence progress is eternal, even for the highest existences.”[3] Though he did not conceive of any form of eternal progression per se, in an almost perfect reflection of B.H. Roberts’s thinking on the apparent deliciousness of almost, but not quite, attaining perfection, Leibniz wrote, “I feel that restless activity is an essential part of the happiness of creatures…” Therefore, happiness “never consists in perfect possession…there must be a continuous and uninterrupted progress toward greater good.”[1] Though the Scholastic, liturgical heaven of the changeless and static Beatific Vision would survive into the modern era with Catholicism and certain Protestant hymns such as Jerusalem and Longfellow‘s “Resignation,”[2] Protestantism in the 19th and early 20th centuries embraced a heaven of eternal motion and activity that fit squarely with Leibniz’s conception. In fact, though they condemned one another on many points of theology, evangelicals and liberal Protestants agreed that activity and spiritual growth in heaven were certain. Methodist Leslie Weatherhead, for example, wrote in his book After Death: “It is inconceivable to believe that the life after death is a life without continuous growth and progress.”[3]

The emphasis on heavenly progress had surged among Christian writers in the decades just prior to Widtsoe’s Roberts’s time. Inspired by the depiction of detailed 18th century portrayals in art and literature of after-death reunions with loved ones, women fiction writers in the 2nd half of the 19th century created domesticated literary visions of a heaven conducive to every ideal of home life. Within this comprehensive heavenly society one can find husband, wife, children, siblings, parents, friends, pets, and even celebrities. By the end of the 19th century and continuing into the first three decades of the 20th century most Protestant ministers and theologians, as well as Spiritualists, were preaching the anthropocentric heaven of social community, where believers would mingle with family and friends and enjoy “productive work, spiritual development, and technological progress,” wherein, as German theologian Isaac A. Dorner put it, “the blessed will never be in want of an arena of satisfying activity.”[1] The eternally changeless Beatific Vision of the God-focused theocentric heaven would continue to be promoted among many (though not all) Catholic theologians and within the Protestant hymnody, but theocentric notions of heaven would remain in the minority throughout the beginnings of the 20th century. A motion-oriented afterlife captured the imagination of nearly all of Protestantism and not a few Catholic theologians. Ralph Waldo Emerson encapsulated the utterly unimaginable idea of a static, changeless heaven when he wrote, “God invents, God advances. The world, the flesh, & the devil sit & rot.”[2]

Mormon thinkers during this time sometimes failed to recognize the change in mainstream Christian eschatology. To promote what they apparently saw as Mormonism’s unique vision of heaven and the purpose of life, they sometimes mischaracterized the vigorous Protestant heaven of sociality and activity that flourished during this period. For example, although B.H. Roberts allowed that “the creeds of men,” possessed some truth, he thought the creeds were woefully unimaginative, and did not go far enough in comprehending the meaning of existence:

What other conceivable purpose for existence in earth-life could there be for eternal intelligences than this attainment of “joy” arising from progress? Man’s existence for the “manifestation of God’s glory,” as taught by the creeds of men, is not equal to it…It is written that “the glory of God is Intelligence” (D&C 93:36); and it must follow, as the day follows night, that with the enlargement, with the progress of intelligences, there must be a constantly increasing splendor in the manifestation of the glory of God. But in our doctrine, the manifestation of that glory may be said to be incidental. The primary purpose is not in that manifestation but in the “joy” arising from the progress of intelligences.[1]

In step with Roberts, N. L. Nelson offered perhaps the most scathing critique of what he saw as the almost laughable, meaningless nature of the Protestant afterlife:

Here is the way in which a noted Presbyterian delivered himself on this theme: The question is often asked, “What shall we do when we get to heaven? Wherein shall consist our happiness?” I shall answer this question for myself. When I get to heaven, I shall spend the first five million years of my life in gazing upon the face of God; then if my wife is near I shall turn and look at her for five minutes. Then I shall gaze upon the glory of God again for a million million years; and when the longing of my eyes shall have been satisfied, and my soul is suffused with the beatific vision, I shall snatch up my harp and begin playing.

Nelson goes on to write, “What kind of being must God be, if we suppose him to get pleasure from having a billion billion…eyes glued upon Him from all sides for millions of years at a stretch? And then to have a certain quadrant of the enraptured gazers suddenly seized with harp-madness for other millions of years! Surely he will need the full measure of his infinite patience and long-suffering!”[2]

Mormon intellectuals, dissatisfied with what they perceived as the immobile and inert state of Heaven in other Christian denominations, offered up something of a straw-man depiction of the conventional Christian heaven which they then could effortlessly tear down. In reality, these Mormon authors were deconstructing the theocentric, immobile and changeless heaven of Catholic Neo-Scholasticism.[1] However, they mistakenly misrepresented Protestantism by superimposing their arguments (and ridicule) upon a portion of Christianity that was, in some ways at this time, even more drastically anthropocentric than they were.

Though these Mormon authors at times utilized obsolete theological data to characterize the doctrines of their Protestant counterparts, they were not totally unaware of competing contemporary views. Both Roberts and Widtsoe conceded that Mormons were not wholly alone in considering the eternal activity of immortal humanity in the universe. Roberts cites the ideas of Sir Oliver Lodge, whose theology is “far removed from modern Christian orthodoxy, though splendidly true”: “The universe is not a ‘being’ but a ‘becoming…’Monotony, in the sense of absolute immobility, is unthinkable, unreal, and cannot anywhere exist…Such ideas, the ideas of development and progress, extend even up to God himself.”[2]

Similarly, John Widtsoe admitted that “Many men, the world over, not of our faith, now hold to the doctrine of eternal activity and progress. Note these words of Thomas Curtis Clark in the Christian Century: ‘We serve no God whose work is done, Who rests within His firmament: Our God, His labors but begun, Toils evermore, with powers unspent.’”[3] However, another good reason for their religious ignorance is that at times they simply did not do their homework. According to Sterling McMurrin, Roberts often totally ignored advances in religious and biblical studies, or at least he rarely commented on them in his writings.[4]

On the other hand, despite their lack of awareness, there was much at stake in what they were attempting to describe by pitting the “creeds of men” against the Restored Gospel. Roberts and Widtsoe were concerned with what they saw as the nihilistic nature of the Christian heaven. A life of rest and happiness “gazing into the face of God” for eternity was utterly meaningless. For Mormons, happiness and meaning in the life after death did not exist on a separate ontological plane radically distinct from that of mortality; on the contrary, happiness existed along the same ontological continuum as earth life. As Brigham Young had surmised half a century before, that which makes one happy and satisfied in this life is not very different from what will satisfy and appeal to one in the next life. Consequently, “eternally resting from labor” “glorifying God forever,” and “staring into God’s face” for eternity were impossible concepts to understand, inasmuch as there was no experiential basis for grasping them. They could see no motivation for desiring this type of heaven, and they were left with not only an incomprehensible heaven, but even a painful one. As Nels L. Nelson put it, “Think of the agony involved in an eternity of stagnated bliss, of monotonous, never-varying joy!”[5]

For Roberts and Widtsoe, the type of Christian heaven against which they were battling was a heaven completely empty of any rationally conceivable value. By rationally conceivable value I mean that for Mormonism, because of its commitment to ontological monism, it can posit that heaven and earth are ontologically the same. Thus, the only really conceivable values are those of this world. Christianity, on the other hand, holds that all real value exists in another, metaphysical realm. For Mormons this separate metaphysical realm does not exist; consequently, there is nothing of value in the Christian heaven and therefore it is truly meaningless. Though Mormons would not have known to employ the terminology, they were fighting against a kind of Christian nihilism, or the meaninglessness and worthlessness of a heaven which does not recognize any of the hard-fought prizes and accomplishments of mortal human achievement, where any and all progress and meaning gained in this life is annihilated. As BYU Professor of Philosophy James E. Faulconer has observed, “Mormons like Roberts could see traditional views of salvation as the bookend opposites of creation ex nihilo: we come from nothing; we become nothing.”[6] Mormons used their outdated ideas of Protestant heaven as a foil against which they sought to illuminate and enhance their system of eternal progression and advancement.

Activity in Mormon and Protestant Thought

What was the nature of the “activity” that Roberts, Widtsoe, and others had in mind when they enthusiastically proclaimed their theologies of eternal progression? In last year’s Summer Seminar, participant Justin Collings quite aptly described just this theme beginning to emerge in the Mormonism of the middle to late 19th century, what he describes as “Eternal restlessness.” He writes, “Mormons were an eminently busy people, a people who adopted the beehive as a community symbol and whose descendants still categorize each other as ‘active’ or ‘inactive’…Renouncing the conventional Christian yearning for eternal rest, Mormons longed for eternal restlessness.”[7] Indeed, as religious anthropologist and interested Mormon observer Douglas Davies notes, “to be active is a key Mormon value…Activity is as distinctive an LDS noun as ‘active’ is an adjective describing involved church members.”[8] He goes on to theorize that there is an important connection between the activity of the local level of church life and the activity of the Temple, both being locations where various types of “sacred work” take place (as opposed to simple sanctuaries of meditation and prayer alone). The sacred work of the Temple in particular he labels, “sanctified activism.” Thus, activity is institutionalized and ritualized at nearly every level of the Church.

It is through the lens of this “sanctified activism” that perhaps we can begin to get a clearer picture of the Mormon interpretation of being eternally active. I will define sanctified activism in a somewhat different way than Davies. For purposes of this paper I will somewhat follow McDannell and Lang’s differentiation between LDS and Protestant afterlife theologies, and will say that sanctified activism is activity that is entirely religious in nature, activity with a wholly theological purpose, e.g., gaining knowledge in order to master the elemental universe and save fallen beings, create and populate worlds, learning to become gods, etc. In other words, doing the types of things that it is imagined God himself does. This type of activity is contrasted with the more secular activism of Protestant activity in the afterlife, activity that mirrors the everyday activity of human beings in a human society, e.g., working, playing, socializing, etc. Taking Carl Mosser’s insightful inquiry of considering that for which we are to be saved, we may profitably ask the question, for what or in what way are Mormons to be eternally active? I’ll briefly consider Protestant formulations of activity after death in order to clarify and contextualize Mormon formulations of the same.

19th and early 20th-century Protestant afterlife theology, though not unified on all details, is nevertheless saturated with the teaching of continued Christian service in heaven after death. Baptist preacher William Ulyat taught that “heaven is a workshop,” “and each of its residents have their appointments and daily avocations.”[9] In heaven, secular activities involving social life, marriage, sexuality, and all types of labor-intensive and intellectual work continue in much the same manner as on earth, save Christians are free from pain and suffering. Christians continue to advance from “perfection to perfection,” though it’s not clear in the literature what this means or how it is to be accomplished, and there is no sense of this process being a vehicle for advancement toward any sort of distinctive, external goal.[10]

A close reading of Mormon notions of activity reveals that Mormons like Roberts and Widtsoe were attempting to elucidate what was, in their view, a higher purpose to activity, what I will explicate as “sanctified activism.” In what way or ways were Mormons active? Roberts did theorize (in step with Protestant theologians) that in the next life we will build and inhabit houses and buildings. However, contrary to any Protestant strand of thought from his time, he also anticipated participation in interplanetary travel and counsel with the Gods concerning the salvation of other Intelligences.[11] John Widtsoe stated we will be in the process of building our kingdoms and increasing our posterity.[12] Other authors wrote that we will be creating worlds of our own.   For these Mormons, these activities are the activities of Gods.  These activities are what they imagine God himself in fact does.  Roberts’ and Widtsoe’s descriptions of heavenly activity go beyond the more subdued, secular Protestant notions of activity and advancement.   They were instead attempting to describe the kind of activity that they and other faithful Mormons will engage in on the path toward Godhood.

Mormons want to say that that which inspires and motivates God is also what inspires and motivates humans in process of becoming gods.  What is it that inspires and motivates the progression of God himself?  Protestants, still steeped in traditional notions of God’s utter ontological otherness, were not asking this question.  For Mormons, however, the question was critical because God’s progress and activity were also their own progress and activity.  Thus, the following quote from Roberts is significant: “And is it too bold a thought, that with this progress, even for the Mightiest, new thoughts, and new vistas may appear, inviting to new adventures and enterprises that will yield new experiences, advancement, and enlargement even for the Most High?”   The joy and meaning we find inherent in progress is not qualitatively different from that which satisfies God as well.  Furthermore, when Roberts writes that “the ultimate of truth will always be like the horizon one pursues over the ocean-ever receding as one approaches it…never hoping to encompass it,”   he is saying that the moment God ceases to learn, the moment he no longer anticipates the next great adventure, is the moment that progress ceases, and with it his joy.  The same holds true for humankind.  Here Roberts was attempting to describe the world and the universe, as William James put it, as a “real adventure”  with real risks, real heights and real depths, even for Gods.  Thus, Mormons, through progress and activity, were equipping themselves to become Gods.  Widtsoe’s notion of “full activity” seems to partake of this understanding.  Those in the Celestial Kingdom (those most nearly like God) can most nearly engage in the same type of activity in which God participates.

This notion of sanctified activism collapsed the chasm between the godly and earthly realms of activity and allowed Mormons to religiously ground all their activity in this process of deification.  This is the major departure of Mormon theologies of activity from Protestant ones.  Where Protestants are active in heaven in engaging in the same Christian work and service, the same modes of play and worship with which they were familiar in life, Mormons found meaning and joy through the extravagant proposition that eternal activity could and would result in deification.  Consequently, the purpose of all activity in mortality and post-mortality is not happiness per se or even preparation for eternal rest within the family circle.  Instead, its purpose is centered on training and instruction for becoming like gods.

Some Possible Philosophical Entailments

Eternal progression for Mormon writers during this time period (especially through the writings of Widtsoe and Roberts), whether through an intense fascination with modern science and evolution, or through a detailed polemic against Christian nihilism, was a theology of activity, a response to the existential problem of the meaning of life.  However, Mormonism has a long tradition of equating the meaning of existence with joy (or at the very least in declaring that joy is intimately connected to existential meaning and value), and Roberts and Widtsoe were no exception.  B.H. Roberts often quoted the familiar, pithy Book of Mormon passage: “Adam fell that men might be; and men are that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:20).  But what was joy to Roberts?  Considering the above, joy was certainly more connected to eternal progression and activity than it was to the eternal sociality of friends and family in the kingdom of God, though certainly Roberts wholeheartedly embraced that aspect of immortality in the eternal realm.  He wrote, “The joy [here contemplated] is a joy that will be born of the consciousness of existence itself–that will revel in existence–in thoughts of realizations of existence’s limitless possibilities.  A joy born of the consciousness of the power of eternal increase.  A joy arising from association with the Intelligences of innumerable heavens–the Gods of all eternities.”

It is not totally clear what Roberts means here.  Is he referring again to the “great eternal adventure” that the universe provides its inhabitants, as noted above?  Or perhaps the mere event of achieving godhood is what produces joy.  It is also possible that Roberts has a notion similar to Hegel’s unbounded absolute self-knowledge/consciousness, wherein joy is equated with the complete consciousness of self.  The entailment here is that to know oneself is to understand that one’s capacity for improvement is endless, a notion that seems to fit well with the rest of his philosophy.

The far-reaching nature of this joy prompts Roberts to boldly proclaim that the universe itself is optimistic, in that once we understand the nature and function of the universe properly, optimism becomes a proper response to it:

For to intelligence there is no end of progress; however great its present attainment, there is still a beyond to higher glory…There are no ultimates to progress for intelligences, there is always becoming, but no end.  This constitutes the joy of existence-the possibility of eternal progress…all this makes the universe an optimistic universe…”

Similarly, John Widtsoe connects progress to joy:

One may exist who is only static, who stands forever in the same place, who adds nothing, by his own effort, to himself or others. Under the law of the gospel, all who have dwelt on earth are entitled to eternal existence. But that does not lead to joy. One who is active, increasing, progressing, who accepts and obeys the gospel law, ever moves into higher zones of existence, and carries others along in his onward course. He receives the gift of eternal life, with its unending conquest, progress, development, and growth. He feels the quivering, thrilling response called joy.

Not all philosophers, however, have been confident that a meaningful life (for present purposes eternal progression as providing meaning and value for existence) is a sine qua non for a joyful existence.  Leo Tolstoy wrote that for life to be meaningful some activity pertaining to life must be worth doing, and it is only worth doing if it makes a permanent difference in the world.   However, though we can see evidence for some concrete notions of progress and activity after death in Mormon thought at this time, it is more the fact of activity taking place than any sort of particular through which activity is realized.  This was a theme taken up by philosopher Harry Frankfurt, who theorized that life becomes meaningful when we lose ourselves in some particular activity or experience.  His notion was that concentration and engrossment in activity intuitively provide meaning to our existence, regardless of the specifics of the activity.   Thus, while what we do may be implicitly worth something, what is important is that there is work at all, that there is something at all that needs doing.  One finds meaning in existence simply because one can work and advance and can do so forever.  Thus, John Widtsoe writes, “It matters little what tasks men perform in life, if only they do them well and with all their strength. In the eternal plan they are given progressive value.”

However, others have argued, along the lines of German thinker Arthur Schopenhauer’s philosophy, that our lives will always lack meaning because we are never satisfied; either we have not obtained what we have sought for, or once we have obtained it we become bored and dissatisfied with it.   Nonetheless, this notion assumes that there is necessarily some object that we must obtain in order to provide meaning to our lives.  But it does not seem that there exists or could exist any such object in the universe, the attainment of which guarantees a meaningful existence.  Roberts’s and Widtsoe’s answer to this is that meaning, within the ever-expanding structure of eternal progression, is performative, not objective.  Eternal progression is the exaltation 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.  Consequently, humans, like God, can be eternally “self-surpassing,”  and this, in Roberts’s and Widtsoe’s view, is the very essence of a meaningful (and joyful) existence.

Conclusion

At the conclusion of their book, Heaven: A History, McDannell and Lang observe that the idea of a progressive, social heaven has survived after the 1930’s in only three ways: 1) in contemporary popular culture; 2) in glimpses of the afterlife in near-death experiences; and 3) in Latter-day Saint theology.   Protestant ideas of an active heaven were a product of a moment in their history and were not to endure.  This points to the unique adaptability of eternal progression within LDS theology, though contemporary discourse on eternal progression is also quite distinct from that of the early 20th-century.  With the controversial world of polygamy in the distant past, Latter-day Saints once again speak of eternal family, eternal marriage, and eternal progress in the same breath.  Nevertheless, the doctrine continues to take on meanings suitable to its proprietors.  Where Mormons once spoke of the joy of God’s and man’s unending progression in knowledge, they now speak of eternal families.  Where they once discoursed on the eternal activity of progression as necessary for development into godhood, Mormons now speak of the tripartite Plan of Salvation or Eternal Plan of Happiness.

In spite of such drastic changes in LDS doctrine concerning polygamy and priesthood restrictions, eternal progression is a doctrine that has nevertheless remained largely intact.  Certainly its connection to eternal marriages and families is a key factor in its longevity, but I have argued that there is also something more, an existential component that provides a possible motivation for Latter-day Saint activity here and in the hereafter that, for Mormons who embrace the faith, speaks to the possibility of the excitement and thrill of, as B.H. Roberts wrote, “yielding to new thoughts, new vistas, new adventures, new experiences.”   Eternal progression in Mormon thought allows for the exaltation and qualitative self-transcendence of human beings that is not available in most other theologies.  In the  pantheon of denominations in the contemporary Christian universe, this doctrine of LDS theology uniquely echoes Catherine Albanese’s description of religion for the Transcendentalists, that “the most salient characteristic of religious reality is that it moves.”

 

NOTES:

1. I must thank Richard Livingston, fellow participant in the 2007 Joseph Smith Summer Seminar, for the initial idea for this paper. Also, Seminar Directors Professor Richard Bushman and Professor Terryl Givens, as well as BYU Professor of Philosophy James E. Faulconer, offered valuable criticisms and insights that have immensely improved the paper from its original draft.

2. “The Grandest Principle of the Gospel: A Symposium,” The Contributor, Vol. 16, 1894-95, pp. 610-614. Eight of the ten church leaders surveyed considered eternal progression as at least a candidate for the grandest gospel principle, though only 6 finally concluded it was such. The other respondents were Henry W. Naisbitt, T.B. Lewis, David McKenzie, S.W. Jenkinson, George G. Bywater, and Thomas Hull.

3. Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith the Mormon Prophet, Second Edition, Revised and Enlarged (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979), 172. See also Thomas Dick, Philosophy of a Future State (Brookfield, Mass.: E&G Merriam, 1830). Though Dick posited that the stars were home to “progressive beings” in various stages of evolution toward perfection (see p. 101), his philosophy (which was mostly a theory of metaphysical astronomy) was still quite different from Joseph Smith’s system of human beings progressing into individual deities after death.

4. Ibid., 300.

5. Carl Mosser, email message to David L. Paulsen, February 2005.

6. Charles W. Eliot, Henry James, Vol. 2 (Cambridge, MA: Houghton Mifflin), 300, quoted in John Widtsoe, Understandable Religion (Salt Lake City UT: Deseret Book Co., 1944), 35.

7. Scott Goodwin, “Joseph’s Ladder: Principles of Eternal Progression in Three Theological Traditions,” in Archive of Restoration Culture: Summer Fellows’ Papers 1997 – 1999 (Provo, UT: Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History, 2000), 103-105. Goodwin argues that, though these traditions reject creatio ex nihilo (creation out of nothing), they favor a model called creation ex deo, in which all things emanate out of a single, divine essence, “creation out of God.” Joseph Smith, on the other hand, rejected creation out of nothing in favor of creation ex materia, or a creation out of previously existing materials, in which God is organizer rather than originator (104-105).

8. L. Mikel Vause, “Eternal Progression: The Higher Destiny,” in The Search For Harmony: Essays On Science and Mormonism, eds. Gene A. Sessions & Craig J. Oberg (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1993), 278. 

9. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 2005), 457-458, on the subject of Joseph Smith’s detailed cosmological narrative, writes, “No other nineteenth-century religious imagination filled time and space with stories like these.”

10. Goodwin, “Joseph’s Ladder,” 101, quoted in Van Hale, “Doctrinal Impact of the King Follett Discourse,” Brigham Young University Studies 18, no.2 (1978), 211-212.

11. Eugene England, “Perfection and Progression: Two Complementary Ways to Talk About God,” Brigham Young University Studies 29, No. 3 (1989), 35. See also Lisa R. Adams, “Eternal Progression,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow, 4 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 2:465-466

12. See Boyd Kirkland, “Eternal Progression and the Second Death in the Theology of Brigham Young,” in Line Upon Line: Essays on Mormon Doctrine, ed. Gary James Bergera (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989), 175.

13. Journal of Discourses 2:90, 6 February, 1853 (emphasis mine), quoted in England, “Perfection and Progression,” 35.

14. Ibid., 9:149, 1:349, 352, quoted in Kirkland, “Eternal Progression and the Second Death,” 175. Young is here describing the ultimate fate of the sons of Perdition, the definitive examples in his thought of those who will regress instead of progress. Though the sons of perdition will be included in the universal physical resurrection (see D&C 76:17, Alma 11:42-42) it appears that their resurrected bodies are “devoid of glory” in that they do not participate in the celestial, terrestrial, or telestial glorified states immediately following the resurrection. It is therefore theoretically plausible under Young’s system that the un-glorified body of a son of perdition “decompose into its native element, ” if one assumes that it is the glorified state of the body that staves off the effects of death and corruption. However, there are numerous scriptures that indicate the immortality of all humans after death due to the resurrection (e.g., 1 Cor. 15:22, Alma 11:46). Alma in particular says of the sons of perdition, “…for they cannot be redeemed according to God’s justice; and they cannot die, seeing there is no more corruption” (Alma 12:18, emphasis mine). Nevertheless, it is clear that the sons of perdition are the only ones who will experience the “second death,” which various scriptures define as a “spiritual death” (Alma 12:16, Helaman 14:18, D&C 29:41). The nature of the second death is not totally clear. The scriptures describe the sons of perdition as being cast into the “lake of fire and brimstone” with the devil and his followers and they are the only ones who cannot be redeemed (D&C 76:36-38). In one popular exposition on the second death, Apostle Bruce R. McConkie surmised that the sons of perdition who experience the second death die to spiritual things, being cast out of God’s presence forever. However, they cannot be utterly disorganized; they continue to live eternally as resurrected beings or unembodied spirits [see Mormon Doctrine 2nd Edition (Salt Lake City UT: Bookcraft, 1979), 756]. Still, questions remain. Why can they not be redeemed? Is it because God knows that they will eternally reject Christ and His gospel, or because they physically and spiritually regress, as Brigham Young believed, into their native element and therefore dissolve as beings capable of repentance and transformation? Suffice it to conclude here that though Young’s statement appears to be hypothetically plausible, the issue is murky enough to be speculated upon by various authorities and no authoritative conclusions have been reached.

15. Ibid., 6:20, 6 December 1857, quoted in England, “Perfection and Progression,” 38.

16. Susa Young Gates, Young Woman’s Journal Vol. 2, 1891, p. 284.

17. Particularly seminal and influential works from these thinkers include Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life 5th Edition (New York: D. Appleton, 1871), original publication 1859; Herbert Spencer, A System of Synthetic Philosophy, 9 volumes (London: Williams and Northgate, 1862-93); John Fiske, Outlines of Cosmic Cosmic Philosophy, Based on the Doctrine of Evolution, with Criticisms on the Positive Philosophy (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, 1874); Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution, tr. Arthur Mitchell (New York: Dover, 1998), original publication 1911.

18. See Stanley Thayne’s essay, “One Grand Unified System: Herbert Spencer’s Influence on Mormon Thought,” in this volume for examples of the substantial influence of Herbert Spencer’s social and philosophical theories on Mormon thought during this time.

19. John Widtsoe, A Rational Theology (Salt Lake City UT: Deseret Book Co., 1937), 25.

20. “Mutual Messages: Provisions For the Doctrine of Eternal Progression,” Improvement Era 35, No. (December 1931).

21. John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, arr. G. Homer Durham (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960), 185, first published 1943, emphasis mine. Widtsoe seems to be here implying that those residing in the lower kingdoms of glory lack in some degree the ability to act, in contrast to residents of higher kingdoms of glory whose capacity for activity is somehow enhanced.

22. Ibid., 33.

23. B.H. Roberts, The Seventy’s Course in Theology, Third Year: The Doctrine of Deity (Salt Lake City: Claxton Press, 1910), 151, emphasis mine.

24. Gottfried Leibniz, Nouveax Essais II, 21, in Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Sämtliche Schriften und Briefe, ed. Deutsche Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1962), 6th ser., VI, 189, quoted in Colleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang, Heaven: A History, 2nd Edition (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 277.

25. McDannell and Lang, Heaven, 188.

26. Leslie Weatherhead, After Death (New York: Abingdon, 1936), 54, quoted in McDannell and Lang, Heaven, 276.

27. McDannell and Lang, Heaven, 283.

28. Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks, ed. William H. Gillman et al. (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1969), VII: “God invents, God,” 172 (9 March 1839), quoted in McDannell and Lang, Heaven, 278.

29. B.H. Roberts, The Truth, The Way, The Life: An Elementary Treatise On Theology: The Masterwork of B.H. Roberts, ed. Stan Larson (San Francisco: Smith Research Associates, 1994), 302.

30. Nels L. Nelson, The Scientific Aspects of Mormonism; Or: Religion In Terms of Life (New York, London: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904), 217.

31. In addition to representing Protestant eschatology through a straw-man, Mormon authors were also committing the fallacy of composition, declaring that since one denomination (albeit the largest denomination) of Christianity (Catholicism) advocated the changeless, Beatific Heaven, therefore the whole of the Christian tradition must also do likewise. Perhaps a partial reason for this was the 1902 Roberts-Van Der Donckt debates, in which B.H. Roberts and the Catholic Reverend C. Van Der Donckt of Pocatello, Idaho engaged in a series of debates concerning the nature of God in Catholic and Mormon thought. Nels Nelson actually references the debates in a chapter on his (Nelson’s) views of the afterlife in his Scientific Aspects of Mormonism in which he inserts Van Der Donckt’s description of the Beatific Vision (p. 216). The debates were significant and influential enough to be published in the Improvement Era and later in a fuller, more expanded form in a book authored by B.H. Roberts, a work many consider to be his finest defense of the Mormon faith (see, for example, Blake T. Ostler, Exploring Mormon Thought: The Attributes of God (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2001), 93. Moreover, confusion on the part of Mormon authors may be even more understandable when one considers that virtually the entire Christian world for the most part agreed, following St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, on the nature of God as incorporeal, simple, timeless, impassible, etc., a fact highlighted by the Roberts-Van Der Donckt debates themselves. It was in their notions of heaven that Catholics and Protestants differed, and that only recently, a point perhaps too subtle and fine for Mormons to grasp at that time. For the text of the Roberts-Van Der Donckt debates see Improvement Era, August 1902, Deseret News Co., Salt Lake City. For B.H. Roberts’s expanded treatment see his The Mormon Doctrine of Deity (Salt Lake City UT: Deseret For B.H. Roberts’s expanded treatment see his The Mormon Doctrine of Deity (Salt Lake City UT: Deseret News Press, 1908.

32. Sir Oliver Lodge, Science and Immortality (New York: Moffat, Yard, and Co., 1908), 292, quoted in Roberts, The Truth, The Way, The Life, 477.

33. Widtsoe, Understandable Religion, 38.

34. Sterling McMurrin, “Introduction: The Mormon Theology of B.H. Roberts,” in Roberts, The Truth, the Way, the Life, xxiv.

35. N.L. Nelson, “Eternal Progression,” in Young Woman’s Journal 10, No.5 (May 1899), 219.

36. James Faulconer, email message to author, 20 July 2007.

37. Justin Collings, “Longing For Eternal Restlessness: The Mormon Kingdom in the Spirit World,” in this volume.

38. Douglas J. Davies, The Mormon Culture of Salvation: Force, Grace, and Glory (Aldershot, England: Ashgate Publishing, 2000), 76.

39. McDannell and Lang, Heaven, 282-83.

40. In a sense, the anthropocentric and family oriented heaven was not a theological option for Protestantism. Considering their Augustinian and Thomistic understanding of God’s nature as timeless, and therefore eternity as timeless (as opposed to the LDS understanding of eternity as unending time) one couldn’t work, have projects, or progress in any way. Such things seem impossible in a timeless realm. My thanks to Professor James Faulconer for elucidating this point.

41. B.H. Roberts, “The Mormon Point of View In Education,” Improvement Era 2, No. 2 (December 1898).

42. John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, 185.

43. “Mutual Messages: Provisions For the Doctrine of Eternal Progression,” Improvement Era 35, No. 2 (December 1931).

44. Mormon eschatology agreed with Protestant progressive eschatology on many points, but it was what Mormonism had to say about God’s place within the progressive theological framework that radicalized and separated it. Consider the following LDS missionary story from 1914: “Elders who have been on missions will, no doubt, confirm the writer’s missionary experience in teaching eternal progression. Many were fascinated by such an attitude towards life and growth. In fact, some intelligent, conservative people became enthusiastic over the richer and fuller life this doctrine held out. However, when carrying the principle to its ultimate conclusion, and applying it to God himself, intense opposition was encountered…What! God not at the end of progress! The idea appeared unthinkable.” William J. Snow,“’Mormonism’ a Dynamic Force,” in Improvement Era 17, No. 6, April 1914, 533.

45. Roberts, The Truth, The Way, The Life, 476.

46. Ibid., 16.

47. William James, Pragmatism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975), 121, [1907], quoted in Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 536.

48. See Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 537, where he writes, concerning Joseph Smith‘s theology on this topic, “They [the Mormons under Joseph Smith’s leadership] subordinated themselves to the higher power in preparation for assuming that power themselves. The purpose of allegiance and obedience was not order and happiness but training. The subjects of the king were learning to become kings.”

49. My thanks again to Dr. Faulconer for an illuminating critique regarding the topics in this section.

50. Roberts, The Truth, The Way, The Life, 301.

51. Ibid., 91.

52. Widtsoe, Understandable Religion, 37-38.

53. Leo Tolstoy, My Confession, My Religion: The Gospel in Brief (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1899).

54. Harry Frankfurt, “The Importance of What We Care About,” Synthese 53, No. 2 (November 1982), 259.

55. John A. Widtsoe, A Rational Theology, 22.

56. See R. Martin, “A Fast Car and a Good Woman”, in The Experience of Philosophy, 2nd Ed., D. Kolak and R. Martin (eds.), (Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1993), 589-95. See also, Thaddeus Metz, “The Meaning of Life”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2007 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2007/entries/life-meaning/>.

57. See Ostler, Attributes of God, 99.

58. McDannell and Lang, Heaven, 307-08. Additionally, Richard Bushman, in Rough Stone Rolling, p. 537, notes that some of its appeal may be in its “American-ness”: “Mormons themselves have labeled the doctrine of eternal spirits ‘eternal progression,’ as if it meant rising ever higher in society, the essence of the American dream. It is the one teaching of Joseph Smith that Americans are most likely to admire.”

59. For example, in the “Newsroom” section of the LDS Church’s official website, lds.org, the phrase “eternal progression” links directly to a separate section of the site entitled, “Plan of Salvation” (see the following URL: http://www.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=25ca9c137b69f010VgnVCM100000176f620aRCRD&vgnextchannel=3e0511154963d010VgnVCM1000004e94610aRCRD).   Additionally, note Apostle Joseph B. Wirthlin’s phraseology from a 1998 General Conference address: “Right now, this very moment, is part of our eternal progression towards returning with our families to the presence of our Father in Heaven” (see Joseph B. Wirthlin, “The Time to Prepare,” in Ensign of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, May 1998, 14. 

60. B.H. Roberts, The Truth, The Way, The Life, 476.

61. Catherine L. Albanese, Corresponding Motion: Transcendental Religion and the New America (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1977), 94, quoted in McDannell and Lang, Heaven, 278.