Friday, December 23, 2011

Mormonism: What would Pascal say?

This is not an argument against Mormonism. It's just an observation I thought was interesting.

Pascal argued that in a situation where a person was 50/50 on whether God exists or not, that the safer bet would be to believe God exists since you have much to gain and nothing to lose by believing in God, and you have much to lose and nothing to gain if you don't believe in God.

According to LDS theology, there are three levels of glory--the Celestial Kingdom, the Terrestrial Kingdom, and the Telestial Kingdom. The Celestial Kingdom is the highest kingdom, and that's the one Mormons shoot for. It allows them to progress and become more like the Father. But to get to the Celestial Kingdom, you have to "live the fullness of the gospel," which entails partaking of all the ordinances of the LDS Church.

The Terrestrial Kingdom and the Telestial Kingdom are for most everybody else. Hardly anybody goes to hell, or what Mormons call "perdition." The only way you can go to perdition according to LDS theology is if you absolutely know that Mormonism is true and you reject it anyway. So you've got to basically be visited by Jesus or an angel, or have some kind of experience like that that tells you beyond all doubt that it's true. But since most of us never get that kind of confirmation, we're in no danger of perdition. We're going to go either to the Terrestrial Kingdom or the Telestial Kingdom.

The Terrestrial and Telestial kingdoms are unimaginably better than this world. Those of us who are basically decent people, whether we are Christians, atheists, or whatever, will go to the Terrestrial Kingdom, which is a groovy place. All the rotten people (Hitler, etc.) go to the Telestial kingdom, and even they are going to experience a wonderful eternity there. It turns out that even some Mormons will go to the Terrestrial kingdom because you have to be married and have your marriage sealed for eternity before you can go to the Celestial kingdom. So Mormons who are in good standing and who live faithfully according to their religion will go to the Terrestrial kingdom as long as they remain single.

So let's suppose you're an ordinary protestant Christian trying to decide whether to convert to Mormonism or not. And let's suppose you're sitting on the fence. What would Pascal say?

Well, if conventional Christianity is true, and you believe in it, then you'll be saved. But if you convert to Mormonism, you'll suffer the wrath of God for your sins because the Mormon gospel is a false gospel that can't save. So if conventional Christianity is true, and you convert to Mormonism, you have a lot to lose.

But if Mormonism is true, and you don't convert to Mormonism, you're still going to spend an eternity in heavenly bliss. You're not in any danger of suffering the wrath of God. The only thing you lose out on is becoming a god and populating other worlds. If Mormonism is true, and you believe in it, you STILL may not ever become a god and populate other worlds. First, you have to tie the knot for eternity before you can go to the Celestial kingdom and progress to godhood. That seems like a high price to pay. But even if you get married for eternity and enter the Celestial Kingdom, it's not an easy road to godhood. Going to the Celestial Kingdom only gives you the opportunity to continue on the road of progression. It still takes a lot of effort once you get there.

So if you're happy with what conventional Christianity has to offer--an eternity of bliss free from sickness, suffering, and sorrow--then you might as well stick with that because if Mormonism happens to be true, that's what you're going to get in the Terrestrial kingdom anyway. There's little advantage to converting to Mormonism--especially if the idea of eternal marriage does not appeal to you, or if the idea of being responsible for a whole universe and billions of people does not appeal to you, or if you just happen to like coffee and Dr. Pepper.


Thaddeus said...

Good analysis. Just one thing I would add to round it out:

Mormons believe that telestial and terrestrial-type people will still suffer torment in hell for their sins. It's a unique Mormon belief that the grace of Christ extends even to dead people and that when they exercise their faith in Christ, repent, and receive the vicarious ordinances done in temples, they will be released from hell and eventually find a place in their appropriate kingdom of glory.

This is the case up until the final judgment day, when "every knee shall bow" and there will be no doubt who the Lord is. Those who still refuse to repent will remain in perdition.

So, even though most people will likely end up in a kingdom of glory, they will still be in torment.

Also, is it a universal view in Christianity that Mormonism represents a false gospel? Or is that mainly just evangelical doctrine?

Sam Harper said...

Thaddeus, I don't think that's true about people who go to the telestial and terrestrial kingdom suffering torment. I'm open to correction, though. Do you have a source from LDS literature about that?

I don't know if it's a universal view of Christians that Mormonism represents a false gospel. I guess that depends on how loosely you define "Christians." There are some people who consider themselves Christians, but who don't subscribe to any gospel at all. I wouldn't really consider those people Christians, so, like I said, it depends on how you want to define the term. It is primarily an evangelical thing, though, because evangelicals seem more concerned about orthodoxy than most other Christians.

Psiomniac said...

Pascal's Wager is flawed anyway though, would you agree?

I've just done a short guitar post at my blog by the way.

Sam Harper said...

I'm reluctant to agree with you about the flaws in Pascal's wager since there is widespread misunderstanding about what exactly Pascal was arguing, and I don't know what flaws you have in mind. But I will say there are certain weaknesses, based on my understanding of what he was arguing. I've been thinking for the last couple of days about blogging on it since you posted your comment, but that will require me to go back and read his original argument as well as a few commentaries on it so I can make sure I've got the right understanding.

Pandaemoni said...

I am not a Mormon, so take this as an outsider's understanding...

On souls going to "hell." You need to distinguish between "perdition" and "spirit prison."

Souls of nonbelievers and of believers who fail to abide by God's laws do spend time in "Spirit Prison" before going to heaven, to teach them the gospels and give them time to learn and repent. As I understand it it is even possible that a spirit in spirit prison could reject God and then die (eternally), which is viewed as an eternal punishment (so a species of Hell).

Spirit prison itself is a bit more like Catholic "purgatory" than it is Hell, although there is more of a sense of "suffering" connected to purgatory than there is to spitit prison. It's not so much a place of "suffering" per se as it is a place where souls go to be reformed and to learn to reject their mistakes and embrace God.

After your time in spirit prison, you are bodily resurrected (as are all the dead in LDS tradition) and then judged and sent on to your permanent heaven.

Sam Harper said...

Thanks, Padaemoni. I just went to and had the following conversation with some missionaries:

Agent [Zayne] is ready to assist you.
Me: Hi Zayne.

Zayne: Hi, my name is Zayne. I am 20 years old and from Montana. I teach with Benjamin who is 19 and from Utah. We are online missionaries serving in Utah and are happy to help.

Agent [Benjamin] has joined the chat.

Me: I'm Sam. I'm 38, and I'm here to ask you a question.
Me: Hi Benjamin

Benjamin: Hello Sam! What can we do for you today>?

Me: I talked to some missionaries before, and from what I understand, for those of us who have not undergone the ordinances of the LDS Church (including being sealed to a woman for eternity and being baptized), we will go to a spirit prison after we die until somebody is able to perform these ordinances by proxy.
Me: So my question is this: What exactly is spirit prison like? Is it just a waiting place? Is it a place of punishment? Is it like the Catholic purgatory?

Benjamin: Not quite. When we die, as you said, we go to the Spirit World, which is comprised of two parts: Spirit Paradise, and Spirit Prison. Spirit Prison is where those who have not yet accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ will go. In Spirit Prison, they will be taught about the gospel, and given the chance to accept it. If they do so, they'll be able to go to Spirit Paradise. Baptism and sealing are necessary ordinances for Salvation following the judgement but, to my understanding, it is not necessary for someone to be baptized or have a baptism performed for them to go to Spirit Paradise.
Benjamin: If you don't mind me asking, what has interested you in learning more about our religious beliefs?

Me: I've been interested in Mormonism at various times for various reason. A few years ago, I met a really cute Mormon girl, which created enough interest for me to read the Book of Mormon. Part of my interest is intellectual. I find Mormonism to be a fascinating religion.
Me: So, Mormons go to Spirit Paradise, whether they have had the ordinances or not?

Benjamin: To my understanding, those who go to Spirit Paradise are those who have accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ, and done their best to follow His commandments, which include baptism.
Benjamin: If, for whatever reason, they aren't able to be baptized, then that's not their fault, and they would still go to Paradise.
Benjamin: Again, that's how I understand things - I could be mistaken.

Sam Harper said...

Me: So, theoretically, a person like myself could die, go to spirit prison, have the gospel preached to them, believe it, and then go to the spirit paradise. So really, they wouldn't have to be in spirit prison for longer than a day or so--just long enough to learn the gospel. Is that right?

Benjamin: I'm not sure. I don't quite know how people in Spirit Prison are taught the gospel. I imagine it wouldn't take long, though, yes.

Me: Who does the preaching in the spirit prison?

Benjamin: Missionaries, just like we have here, I would assume.

Me: Maybe they have missionaries in the afterlife, too, and when you go to spirit paradise, you have to volunteer for a couple of years or somethign like that.
Me: Ha! you beat me to it.

Benjamin: Well, missionaries never "have" to volunteer, but yes, that could be the case.

Me: So, do you know whether spirit prison is, like, a bad place or somethign like that? I mean, is it a punishment? Or is it more like a waiting station--like a train station--where you just sit around and listen to the gospel message.

Benjamin: Again, I'm not completely sure, but I think it's more like the latter. It wouldn't make sense to punish people simply for not having had the chance to hear about the gospel.

Me: But wouldn't some of the people in spirit prison be people who have heard the gospel while in the flesh, but not accepted it yet? Or do they not get a second chance in the afterlife?

Benjamin: I think they're free to accept it any time, whether in this life or the next. Sorry I don't have more definite answers for you.

Me: No worries, Benjamin. I was jsut trying to get a little clarification. I was thinking about Mormonism in light of Pascal's wager, which is hard to do unless you have some details about what's at stake.

Benjamin: I hope I was able to help you find a few of the answers you were looking for. Is there anything else I can do for you today?

Me: No, I'm good. Thank you.

Benjamin: You're welcome! Feel free to return if you have any more questions for us. Have a good day!

Me: You, too.

I don't think the spirit prison thing really changes my Pascal wager analysis since going to spirit prison doesn't seem to be much of a biggy. It's just a minor inconvenience that can be remedied in a short amount of time. It can't be TOO bad if missionaries have to go there to preach.

Nate said...

One other thing to add to the mix. It's been a while since I've studied Mormonism but here it goes: I do believe it is possible for those in the telestial and terrestrial kingdoms to work their way up to the celestial kingdom. Therefore, perfectly decent people who aren't Mormons can end up with the same rewards without the risk of being wrong in this life.

Sorry for posting on an old post. I found your blog after finding your build-alongs for bows. Just couldn't help myself.

Sam Harper said...

That is news to me, Nate. I wonder if that is official pronouncement from a "prophet," or if it's the speculation of some Mormons somewhere.

Nate said...

lol! Not really sure. Most of my information comes from a Christian friend from college who grew up in Provo and his father is Mormon. He's a bit of a book worm and seems to read non-stop. There's probably some truth to it but it's probably not as simple as, "Ok, you've been good here long enough! Let's launch you up to the next level!"

Matt Grubb said...

Hi Sam,
I love your bow building page and that lead me to your blog page. Its an interesting question you pose here but it is clouded by a lot of misunderstood information. Some of this doctrine is poorly understood by both church members and non-members alike. Having grown up a church member and now an acting Bishop in the church I wanted to try and clarify it a little.
The deal with the three kingdoms is broadly correct the way that you outline it. Bad people to the telestial kingdom, reasonable to the terestial and righteous to the celestial. I could spend a lot of time trying to describe all the in and outs of what would qualify a person for any of those descriptions but in the end the truest judge will be Christ himself so it's probably best to leave it at that.
Eternal progression is a belief held by members of the church and so we understand the term "damned" to mean that we are unable to progress further. Therefore, after judgement, we are placed in a kingdom most suited to who we are. Only those who have been the most righteous have qualified themselves for eternal progression. It is a falsehood that you can "jump" up a kingdom - even though some people may use that kind of thinking to justify putting off being good until they get to a place where they think it will be easier.
With regards Baptism and other ordinaces, Christ has demonstrated by his own baptism that it is essential to return to live with God after this life. We believe that all souls will be given the opportunity to accept baptism in this life or the next. This does not mean that those who are baptised in the next life having not been willing to be baptised in this life will get a free ride. It's there to give those who didn't get a fair shot in this life the same opportunity as those who did.

In my mind this changes pascals wager. There are greater opportunities for progression in the next life for those who embrace the teachings of Christ than those who reject them. The only fuzzy area in my head is what constitutes a "fair chance" for a person to accept the fulness of the gospel. I leave that to the Saviour.

Hope this makes things a little clearer. Keep up the great work.


Sam Harper said...


Thanks for the clarifications. I'm unclear on a couple of things, though. You said,

"It is a falsehood that you can "jump" up a kingdom - even though some people may use that kind of thinking to justify putting off being good until they get to a place where they think it will be easier."

Then you said,

"We believe that all souls will be given the opportunity to accept baptism in this life or the next."

If getting baptized (by proxy) in the next life does not allow you to 'jump' kingdoms, then what is the advantage in it? From what I have understood up to this point, I will go to spirit prison when I die, and if I never accept the Mormon gospel while in spirit prison, I will go to the terrestrial kingdom after my resurrection. But if I accept the Mormon gospel and have a baptism by proxy, I will be able to go to the Celestial kingdom. Since all the oridinances of the gospel are required to enter the Celestial kingdom, proxy baptism allows people who are already dead to go to the Celestial kingdom who otherwise would have gone to the Terrestrial kingdom. I understand that once a person has gone to one of the three kingdoms, they cannot jump kingdoms, but isn't there a waiting period between death and resurrection in which a person's fate can change depending on the decisions they make in the afterlife? If so, then I don't see how anything you said changes my application of Pascal's wager.

Matt Grubb said...

Hi Sam,

Easiest way I can explain it is this. Lets say that in life you are a real miserable swine of a person. You aren't nice to those around you, you kick cats and steal candy from babies. I'm being a little flippant but I think you get the picture. Maybe you've had the chance to learn about Christs teachings, maybe not. So anyway you die and make your way to the "waiting room" before judgement and have the chance to listen to Christs teachings. You decide that baptism sounds like a good idea - something like a "get out of jail free" card, and thanks to proxy baptism you get the chance to be baptised. If baptism was all that was needed to be "saved" then it would be a sweet way to cheat justice, maybe even better than a death bed repentance.
Only problem is baptism is a gate - not a destination. Once you've been baptised you have to demonstrate that you are willing to accept the principles taught in, or in other words, be a good person. But you're not a good person, you're the same person you were when you died and will be judged accordingly. The reason Mormons do proxy baptisms is to give everyone the chance - we don't know who will accept it and we don't know whose actions in life will be acceptable to God even if they are baptised. This principle also applies to people baptised in this life. If I get baptised but then live a bad life I don't expect to be able to lay hold upon the same priviliges as those who have been more righteous. Like I said before - I leave the judgement to Christ, trusting that he knows both the hearts and minds of all.

This changes pascals wager because the idea that the Mormon faith gives anyone and everyone a free ride to the celestial kingdom is wrong - it doesn't even give people who were baptised in this life that kind of immunity. People will still be judged according to their actions in this life.

On a seperate not, I should be buying some nice english oak shortly - will be following your build log for a long bow carefully :-) - hope it works out okay, wish me luck!

All the best,


Sam Harper said...

Good luck, Matt!