Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Second Kingdom, Baby!

If I'm worthy and do all the "right" things, I will attain the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom.

...but not only that! I'll get to be a goddess and with my godlike husband have lots of little spirit children and create worlds without end.

All sorts of good stuff!

If I pay my tithing, I get blessings!

If I do my visiting teaching, I get blessings!

And so on, and so forth.

My feelings don't discriminate either. I felt the same way at my father's church and others I attended. Everything was met with a "reward" of some sort. I even had a youth group activity where all the kids sat in the chapel waiting for two of their counterparts - "angels" - to come and select them at random. This was death. If you went to heaven, you got cookies. If you went to hell, well...

At least at the end of the activity the demon spawn from hell (one of whom was me) were escorted to heaven to partake of the cookies.

Oy, that's a whole other post.

I could give up the Celestial Kingdom entirely...if it weren't for that whole eternal marriage bit. I like my husband. A lot. No matter how much I question or flat out reject some teachings, this...I still feel this one wrapped around my ankle.

It is a romantic notion. Together forever - and I do want that. Will it really be taken away from me? I don't know. I have to admit, I'm leaning more agnostic these days but I still have a hope in Christ, if that makes sense.

While I recognize real doctrinal issues, I have left the door cracked. I can't not do that.

But I will not be bribed. Don't tell me to do my visiting teaching because I will be blessed; don't tell me to follow the commandments because I will be blessed; don't tell me to do everything I'm told because obedience begets my own kingdom and people to govern.

Tell me it's because God loves me and this is the way. Tell me it's because it will help others (understood is the fact that in helping others we help ourselves). Tell me its because it's the right thing to do.

I've heard more than once someone telling me that we're blessed because of what we do. Does that not imply a revocation of blessings for failing to do? Often we tell others we don't believe we fall on hard times because of failure to pay tithing or attend the temple, but we do attribute good times to the good things we do.

Anyone else see the disconnect?

I want to have as pure a motivation as is possible. I don't believe God asks these things of us so we can plead our case. "Hey, look at all I've done. Please, then, help me to do X, Y, and Z."

(Yes, people have said this is something they've done.)

Aren't we all supposed to be eternally indebted to God for Christ? Indebted to Christ? Why then do we think we have any claim on any blessings because of what we do or don't do?

I like to think instead blessings come because God loves us, not because we're doing what he asked. Perhaps some will say we do this with our own kids: we want them to do what we ask and we reward them when they're good.

Sometimes I do this. Then I realize my kids covet only the reward, and I prefer they do what is right because it is right and they see what it reaps in others. I want them to do good simply because it is good. Shouldn't that be reward enough?

This is supposed to be a gospel of grace and faith manifest in works. I'm starting to see why other churches refuse to place any emphasis at all on works.

Some may submit that some blessings are natural, much like some consequences come naturally. I stub my toe, it hurts like hell. Am I being punished for stubbing my toe? No, but I'll watch out next time, that's for sure.

But is there any implicit blessing for my kid cleaning up her toys in the living room for me? It'll bring me much happiness; I've enough to do. I'll love the room being clean, and it really isn't my job to play maid.

But for her - what will it do for her? Should I reward her each and every single time she "obeys"? I don't think so.

If she decides to "disobey," however, there will probably be repercussions in the form of a time out so that she'll learn to help. I should also help her see the good in what she is doing - how nice the room looks, how much easier it is to relax, how much she's helping Mommy and what a big girl that makes her. It's part of being a grown up, and I'm helping her to realize that. That said, she must rely at least somewhat on herself for motivation. I will not bribe my child - with the exception of desperate times :)

Does this mean that perhaps a person who refuses to pay their tithing will in some way miss out on blessings? I know of someone whose mother rags on her inactive son: "You'd have a job if you would pay your tithing!"

Would God truly bribe us this way? Where is our heart when we do what we're told we're supposed to do?

On the flip side, I know of an inactive member who has worked very hard to get where he is in life, unlike his active, RM, temple married brother who has had Mom and Dad bail him and his wife out time and again.

Granted, there are outside influences, such as the son who seemingly quits every job when the going gets annoying or the Mom and Dad who are the ones "punishing" their inactive son by tossing him out in the cold to fend for himself (and well has he done!). I wonder how this fits into the equation of things.

Perhaps we don't know, but it is food for thought. If you'd like more, Mormon Heretic quotes a Sunstone article that deals with this very subject entitled Using Fear, Pride, and Greed to pay Tithing

All interesting thoughts. Anyone else?


Amanda said...

You know honestly, I never understood the whole together forever thing. Dont' all religions believe that? Every one I've ever been involved with did. When the missionaries originally tried to push that on me, it just didn't make any sense. Why was THIS the big selling point for the church? What's so different from other religions?

(and yes, I know, it's because of keys to the temple and all that jazz, but if you aren't Mormon and don't believe in the temple ceremonies, then you dont' believe the special ceremony does more than the special ceremony your own church goes through)

Lisa said...

"What's so different from other religions?"

To a point most churches will agree: we're all going to be together. At least the saved will be.

Married? Nope.

Other Christian denominations reject the idea of eternal marraige. Their interpretation of the scripture found in Matthew 22:30 differs greatly from how the LDS church chooses to read it.

"For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage..."

Mainstream Christianity chooses to believe that this means there will be no marriage *period* (we will all be angels) while the LDS church says there will be no new marriages in the resurrection, and those who are single will be relegated to "angel" status.

For me, the whole idea of the temple marriage brought a new dimension of romance to the table. Just everything. I'm having difficulty reconciling some things regarding it right now. The idea of agnosticism unsettles me in these instances.

Steve M. said...

I get tired of all the blessings talk.

The LDS definition of "covenant" basically amounts to a contract with God: we agree to do X, and He agrees to give us Y. If we indeed do X, then we get Y. If we neglect to do X, God is not bound to give us Y.

Of course, we don't have much bargaining power in this relationship ("God sets the terms," remember). And for some reason it doesn't seem that Y comes (if it comes) in the form we expected when we made the covenant and performed X.

My mission president once instructed us not to teach people that paying tithing would yield temporal blessings, because frankly, it doesn't always work like that.

Sure, we hear all the stories. You know, about people who only have enough money left to pay for food or tithing. They pay their tithing, and then magically a bag of groceries shows up on their doorstep. These stories make for great General Conference talks.

But we don't hear about all the people who paid tithing but didn't get the bag of groceries. And that happens a lot. I can't tell you how many times I've paid tithing only to be faced with an unexpected but necessary expense immediately thereafter.

When the "promised" blessings don't come, I guess we all know the explanation. Maybe the blessings are coming at some time in the indefinite future (perhaps in the hereafter). Or maybe we've been overlooking the blessings and just need to look harder for them. But for some reason we can't admit that, sometimes, the blessings just don't come.

[kɹeɪ̯ɡ̊] said...

I've always thought that the "do good because you're getting rewarded / don't do bad because you'll be punished" aspect of Mormonism (and religion in general) to be downright immature and as driving the more base instincts of humanity rather then the more noble.

I am a good person not because I will be rewarded or punished, but because I genuinely enjoy being nice to others, and desire to be person who ameliorates suffering and spreads happiness. Of course, I don't always succeed, but the point is, I know I'm a good person because it's who I totally freely choose to be, not because I'm being coerced in any way at all.

If there is a god(s), I'd like to think that s/he/they would rather I do good for that reason, than because I want a reward, or don't want to be punished.

Of course, I'm an atheist, so don't think the likelihood of there being god(s) is very high at all, and yet, somehow I still manage to be a good person.

Grégoire said...

But for some reason we can't admit that, sometimes, the blessings just don't come.

next yom kippur you should go to temple and chant kol nidre. the hebrews have been let down so often that they just take it for granted that god is going to break his promises, like we will.

Chedner said...

I call it the Celestial Carrot.

Laura said...

"I like to think instead blessings come because God loves us, not because we're doing what he asked."

Some blessings do come because God loves us. The atonement allows for all of us to be ressurected and receive immortality. I think we forget what an amazing example of grace that is right there. It also allows for us to receive forgiveness from sin. Those are examples of what God's grace can do for us.(i.e. b/c He loves us)

"Aren't we all supposed to be eternally indebted to God for Christ? Indebted to Christ? Why then do we think we have any claim on any blessings because of what we do or don't do?"

I am not so arrogant as to think that my works alone are so wonderful that I can save myself. But I also think it would undermine the Savior's sacrifice if I felt I shouldn't have to DO anything. When we reflect on the suffering He endured in Gethsemane and on the cross, do we really think ourselves better than He? If we take upon us the name of Christ, should we not be expected to do good works? Did not the Savior go about doing good?

"Would God truly bribe us this way?"

I'm not sure I've ever heard it put this way, but no I don't think of it as bribing.
Perhaps we may not receive temporal blessings but we will receive heavenly blessings. Maybe we will not reap the blessings until the next life, but sometimes it still helps to know that there will be relief from our trials if we are faithful. Granted this is not the most important reason we should do good works. The Savior himself often speaks of "rewards in heaven" for the righteous. Is He bribing us?

I've always thought of good works as a reflection of your thoughts. If we really love the Savior and want to be like Him, then we will live our testimonies of Him and show it in the way we act. We will want to follow in His steps and be baptized, etc. And the blessings will naturally follow, whether in this life or in the next.

I guess I see your point that maybe we emphasize the promise of blessings too much. We should do good works because it's what the Savior did and what we must do if we want to be like Him. That, I think, is the ultimate blessing. Perhaps I don't deserve it, but I do desire it and I am glad that it is promised to us if I do my best to follow His example - including his example of good works.

Lisa said...

Steve: Nor do we hear about all the people (like the inactive brother) who don't pay their tithing and yet...do well.

*gasp* Blessings don't come sometimes? Surely you mean they don't come in the way we want! ;)

Craig: Couldn't agree more.

Laura: Bribing is generally one in authority saying "Do this, and you get this ultra cool thing" So...technically yes, I guess Christ was. Depending on how you look at it.

I suppose there would be a people saying "So why the hell should I care about going to heaven?"

Perhaps the "reward" is the answer.

Matt said...

In my mission, some of the Elders had got this strange little notion in their heads that they could set up "covenants" with God to get him to help them in their work in such and such a way. You know, we’ll get up a half hour early if you give us six baptisms this month. No matter that this kind of God-baiting is not in line with doctrine, the idea had infected a good portion of the mission by the time I got there; it had grown from harebrained notion to cultural undercurrent. When my second companion hit me up with the idea that we make a deal with God to jumpstart the slowing work in our area, I flipped out, and my disgusted reaction is still a pleasant memory for me. Out of a whole awkward mission, there's one of the things I feel that I at least got right.

We don't get to pick the blessings. We also shouldn't presume to know what blessings we might get from obedience. The Word of Wisdom makes you a better professional athlete. Y'all have already hit on the anecdote-based connection between paying tithing and getting a job/finding groceries on your doorstep/having enough oil in the cruse to pay the rent.

My stake president was on hand for ward conference two Sundays ago and gave a Sunday school lesson about agency. Up on the board were "I the Lord am bound when ye do what I say" and "There is a law irrevocably decreed… upon which all blessings are predicated." From there he went on for a solid hour promoting the awesomeness of works without faith. If you do good things, God will have to bless you with eternal life, and everybody has the agency to do it., and if you make wrong choices, sucks to be you, because God gave you a fair shake and you blew it.

I came so very close to raising my hand and public telling my stake president that he was teaching pernicious doctrines. He was teaching a religion without Christianity. My comments were going to be really tactful, of course, and my point was going to lead into the idea that our agency is impaired and imperfect because we live in a telestial world (a little nod to the Mormon vernacular), and that we're supposed to screw up to know the good from the evil, and that we're supposed to miss out on blessings and have the spirit withdraw and be unemployed and not find sacks of groceries on the porch. And we only have all this agency he kept ragging on about because of the atonement, and it's not our agency that is God's greatest gift, President. It's the atonement. It's Christ. And I wish I had made that comment in class because there's never enough Christ in church, and the lesson was boring, and iconoclasm wakes people up, and half the class wouldn't have known what "pernicious" meant.

I think it's easier for most people to believe that their outward piety is a ticket to the top (Chedner, I love that Celestial Carrot metaphor) instead of wanting to be good intrinsically. If that's what motivates people to be good, it's not a bad thing, but Paul would have some objections. If-this-then-that is an easy concept, but if God blessed you in ways you immediately saw and understood, then that would ruin having to act by faith. Rats in a lab don't need to have faith if ringing the bell brings food every time. Having that kind of perfect confidence in tangible temporal results will eventually destroy your agency, and then Christ isn't good for much more than just cleaning up the mess afterwards.

We get accused for believing in works without faith by people who only understand the basics of our doctrine, and a real examination of Mormon doctrine will show that Mormons do indeed believe in salvation by grace and not by works. But it you look even closer at how many Mormons tick, you'll find that the idea of grace isn't quite getting through, and that many of us are yearning to be saved or damned by our works. Especially because our works are the very bestest evar. Just look at the casseroles!

Shelley said...

So maybe we shouldn't just focus on "faith without works is dead" but also that "works without faith are in vain." I do think both are equally important and that ultimately the Lord will not only judge us by our works, or lack thereof, but the reasons behind them. Motivation seems to be just as important, if not more. For example, the Christ condemns those who prayed in public looking for outward praise saying that "they shall receive their reward." Thus, motivation of our works seems to be just as important as the actual act of doing.

Katie said...

I think in alot of ways the "do this for blessings" approach is a sort of lower law - a sort of obedience-without-testimony thing - and it can get really chancey to suggest that obedience to all laws give an immediate and obvious blessing. Like how we are taught that even if we don't understand something, its better to be obedient and not understand than to not be obedient at all. Obviously, it is BEST to have a real testimony, and to do things out of love for God. Personally, I prefer the "witness comes after the trial of your faith" approach - its just that God doesn't always tell us how long "after" is :-)

However, sometimes, like when I am ready to scream at my child for waking me up for the ump-teenth time during the night, I have to remind myself that yes, blessings do come of being a good and patient mom.

I liked what you said about the "stub your toe and it hurts" connection between blessings and laws. I think that is how it DOES work. Sometimes the blessings aren't for us (like with your child cleaning up her room - the blessing is to you, who are grateful, and in turn she cleans it up more), and/or sometimes the blessings aren't what we would want (ie, your child learns the value of order and neatness over time). I do think God blesses us because He loves us, but I think that the blessings come in the form of natural consequences - since he is the one who set up the consequences in the first place. That's part of the reason why we don't always get what we expect, b/c we don't really know all the rules and their consequences :-)

The other thing to consider is that blessings like those often associated with tithing (for instance, the bag of food on the doorstep) require the obedience of someone else as well. If the person who God prompted to bring you that food doesn't listen or understand the prompting, then what? I don't think you are out of a blessing, I think that God still wants to bless you, and this is just where the Atonment and the eternal nature of our spirits comes into play.

So, yeah - obviously it is better to obey from a love of God. But sometimes people also need other incentives, for whatever reason.

Katie said...

Ugh, I hate it when I forget to hit the "email me with follow-up comments" button. so, I will comment twice this time :-)

Lisa said...

Matt: I, too, believe it's a bit of miscommunication between the denominations (dare I say) that we do not believe in salvation by grace alone - That last part really is the wedge.

You can see how we do focus entirely too much on it though. I appreciate that we expect more out of each other and ourselves; however, when one becomes disaffected it's easier to forget Christ and just be a good person.

This isn't the case for all those who leave the church, but I do wonder how pervasive it is for those to leave the church and basically take on a religion devoid of Christ. I can certainly see how easy that would be.

That said, I'd so rather have a good-hearted atheist to a pain in the ass Christian anyday.

Shelley: Agreed. Motivation is everything. My motivations aren't always great, but sometimes if I do it anyway, I'll learn and have a purer motivation next time. That's what I've come to learn, at least. (btw, are you new? If so, welcome and thank you)

Katie: If my blessings are contingent upon not only myself, but of a second party...eh, I see your point but I don't know that I agree. That seems dreadfully unfair, and I believe God would see that one coming.

"I know I promised you X, but Joe Schmoe wasn't spiritually aware, so too-bad-so-sad. Yay for the Atonement!"

I would hate to be docked a couple points because I screwed up and ignored an impression that would've really blessed another person's life. The sting from realizing it alone is bad enough, but would you suggest I would be double docked because that person didn't receive their due blessing? Would that really be my fault?

Yes, sometimes people need base incentives...we just have to hope that in time their hearts will grow to not need such things. I'm still learning. :P


Katie said...

I hadn't thought about that, about being judged according to what our omission caused to occur to someone else.

These sorts of questions really bring up the whole "why bad things happen to good people" conundrum. I do that that others can use their agency to harm us, contrary to what God may want for us, either through commission or omission. Ultimately, though, those actions shouldn't in the long run frustrate God's ultimate plans. And, hence why we say to rely on the Atonment. For instance, what about abortions? Or countries where you can only have 2 babies and babies are left out to die on the roadside? Were those kids supposed to have such a short lifespan? People who die of starvation - which could have been avoided if more people had donated to Red Cross or wherever? I just think that personal agency of others can affect these things, and its tricky to suggest otherwise.

Lisa said...

Katie: I agree. It gets rather itchy.

Thanks for the good points :)

Amanda said...

Okay, so I'm way behind and forgot I'd commented on this, but in response, I dont' know that I agree that most Christian religions don't believe in being married or together in the afterlife. I guess I haven't studied it or anything, but I grew up with that concept in all my CCD classes in Catholicism, and everyone I knew from a multitude of different religions believed the same thing. I've never heard anyone from any religion say otherwise. That's what surprised me so much about the Mormon church saying they were the only church that believed in that. It struck me as fundamentally untrue. My church believed in that. So did my cousin's church, and another cousin's church, all of which were different. it's not a unique concept, even if it may not have been doctrinal several hundred years ago, when marriage was, socially, a different sort of contract. Most churches evolve over time, and have come to embrace the idea of people staying married/together in the afterlife once marriages started to be based on love rather than monetary situation or other motives.

Amanda said...

"while the LDS church says there will be no new marriages in the resurrection, and those who are single will be relegated to "angel" status."

Wait, I just saw this. This wasn't what we were taught at my branches/wards. We were taught that people who died single would have a chance to be married in the afterlife. That was the comfort to those who were single. We talked about that all the time. Even in my temple lessons they addressed this.

Lisa said...

Really? That's always been my understanding, that we can marry during a specific period (the 1000 years?) but...oh hell I don't know.

That's always been my understanding and what I was taught.

Amanda said...

Hm, I dont' know. I've never heard of the 1000 years thing. The amount of detail foretold about the afterlife astounds me. I was always under the impression that it was impossible for us to know so much, that we were meant to have a more vague idea. Then again, maybe I'm just a little bitter - did you read my blog post about what the LDS bishop did at my aunt's funeral?

Katie said...

I do think its during the Millenium (ie, "1000" years of Christ's reign on the earth after His 2nd Coming) that singles who died without being married are able to get married.

Boquinha said...

One of our sayings around here is "It's good to be good to be good." Yep.

Very thought-provoking post (as always).

One thing, though. I *do* see people attribute being down on your luck to sinning and "not doing." So I think it goes both disgusting ways.

It's a double standard. If you're active and you have a rough time, well, it's a trial.

If you're inactive and have a rough time, well, it's because you're not going to church.

I could do an entire post on double standards like that.

And don't get me started on the NUMEROUS Ensign articles that imply that depression is caused by sin, Satan, and not being good or worthy enough. GRRRRRRRRRRR.