Who gets saved?

But while one portion of the human race is judging and condemning the other without mercy, the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard; He views them as His offspring, and without any of those contracted feelings that influence the children of men, causes “His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” He holds the reins of judgment in His hands; He is a wise Lawgiver, and will judge all men, not according to the narrow, contracted notions of men, but, “according to the deeds done in the body whether they be good or evil,” or whether these deeds were done in England, America, Spain, Turkey, or India. He will judge them, “not according to what they have not, but according to what they have,” those who have lived without law, will be judged without law, and those who have a law, will be judged by that law. We need not doubt the wisdom and intelligence of the Great Jehovah; He will award judgment or mercy to all nations according to their several deserts, their means of obtaining intelligence, the laws by which they are governed, the facilities afforded them of obtaining correct information, and His inscrutable designs in relation to the human family; and when the designs of God shall be made manifest, and the curtain of futurity be withdrawn, we shall all of us eventually have to confess that the Judge of all the earth has done right.Joseph Smith, Jr. (April 1842)

This posting — indeed, my starting this entire blog — is prompted by Hugh Hewett’s blasting of a piece by Gary South on Politico.com talking about “Mormon Intolerance”. South’s big concern: the LDS Church’s claim that “no other Christian church…is valid” and that only those who receive proxy baptism will be saved. He sees this as intolerance, being apparently unaware of that the LDS belief (and practice) actually is vastly more inclusive than the “problem of the unevangelized” that has plagued Christianity for most of the last 2000 years, viz., eternal condemnation to hell for anyone who doesn’t accept Christ (and, for some churches such as the Catholic Church, the appropriate sacraments/ordinances) in this life. Didn’t South ever read Dante’s Inferno, if not St. Augustine? In fact, by Augustinian doctrine, even Christians, however sincere, who never received an acceptable baptism, are damned to hell forever. Does South consider that religious intolerance?

The irony is that LDS theology is possible the most inclusive and diverse in terms of salvation of any major Christian denomination.

To wit:

  • Honest-to-goodness Mormons (by which I mean — and will always mean on this blog — individuals who in this life have been baptized into the LDS Church since its founding in 1830) will make up a very tiny fraction (<0.01%) of those who who inherit the highest (celestial) kingdom of glory.
  • Virtually everyone (>99.9% and probably >99.9999…%) who has ever lived upon this earth will end up in a kingdom of glory (celestial, terrestrial, telestial — glory likened to sun, moon, stars), in service to God — and the glory of the lowest (telestial) kingdom “surpasses all understanding” (D&C 76:89). Mormons will be scattered throughout all three kingdoms, based on how they’ve lived their lives.
  • Mormons, on the other hand, will likely dominate among those in this life who end up as the “sons of perdition” (D&C 76:26-32, 43), the only group that will not ultimately be saved in a kingdom of glory.

Let me explain.

Somewhere close to 100 billion people have lived on the earth to date, the vast majority in primitive, pre-industrial, or third-world societies. In such societies, infant mortality rates (death of livebirth children before the age of 5) can approach 30% (PDF) and could reach 50% as recently as the 18th Century (right now, it’s still at a horrific 8% worldwide). LDS scriptures state that children who die before reaching a state of accountability (defined as at 8 years of age) are automatically saved in the celestial (highest) kingdom (cf. Mormon 8; D&C 137:10). (It’s interesting to note that the Catholic Church is now moving towards a belief in salvation of unbaptized infants.)

So let’s do the math. Let’s say that of those 100 billion people throughout history, 20% died before the age of 8 — likely a very conservative estimate. That makes 20 billion people automatically saved in the celestial (highest) kingdom. Furthermore, most of these are going to come from non-European societies and countries: Asia, Africa, and native populations in Australia and the Americas.

What about the other 80 billion? Well, the majority of them likely never heard of Christ at all or heard of him only as a curiosity or a foreign belief; many of those who did hear of him were never baptized by one having proper priesthood authority. By restrictivist Christian theology, these folks are damned to hell forever. By LDS doctrine, these people will have a post-mortem, pre-resurrection opportunity to hear and accept Christ’s gospel (cf. 1 Peter 3:19, 4:6; D&C 138) (more on this subject in a future posting).

I have no basis on which to estimate how many would avail themselves of that opportunity (the principle of agency would dictate that this post-mortem setting is one where the answer isn’t blindingly obvious), but we’re still looking at a total of 20 to, say, 60 billion people who will end up in the celestial kingdom. Let’s pick 40 billion as a midpoint.

Now I don’t have statistics showing the total number of Mormons baptized since 1830, but I would pick 25 million as a defensible upper bound; LDS Church membership didn’t reach 1 million until 1947, it was only 2.6 million when I joined in 1967, and it’s probably right at 13 million today in 2007. I’m pretty sure that only some minority fraction of that total will reach the celestial kingdom, though I will not limit the grace of Christ.

To make the math easy, let’s suppose that 4 million of those 25 million Mormons actually made it to the celestial kingdom. That gives us a 10,000:1 ratio of non-Mormons to Mormons in the celestial kingdom, again with the overwhelming majority of them non-Caucasian.

Everyone else, Mormon or not, ends up in the terrestrial kingdom (presided over by Christ) or the telestial kingdom (presided over by the Holy Ghost — and, yes, LDS doctrine see the Trinity as three separate entities). As noted, these are all kingdoms of glory, and all will be “servants of the Most High” (cf. D&C 76:112). Note, however, that those who will not accept Christ and let Him pay for their sins will have to suffer for their own sins first (cf. D&C 19); however, this is not a never-ending punishment, nor does it involve actual fire and brimstone (though that phrase is used as a simile).

A very small group ends up as the “sons of perdition” — these inherit no kingdom of glory, but go into “outer darkness” (cf. D&C 76:31-49). To qualify, you have to have an absolute witness of the reality of Christ (“those…who deny the Son after the Father has revealed him”) and then actively fight against God and Christ (“…having denied the Holy Spirit after having received it, and having denied the Only Begotten Son of the Father, having crucified him unto themselves and put him to an open shame.”). Not a lot of people make these qualifications; from an LDS point of view, most would have to be witness of Christ from various dispensations (more on LDS dispensationalism in other post). For the last 200 years, that would mean Mormons (and relatively few of them) would be the only ones in a position to qualify as sons of perdition.

son of perdition — Judging from the fact that the Lord hasn’t mentioned any daughters of perdition, this looks like one more position that only men can hold. — Orson Scott Card, Saintspeak: A Mormon Dictionary (1984).

One last point: South labels as “religious intolerance” the LDS point of view that the priesthood authority to conduct essential ordinances (including baptism) was lost within a few centuries of Christ’s ministry, that all such ordinances performance from that point on were of no efficacy, and that only those ordinances performed within the LDS Church are valid. Again, South appears to have no real knowledge of Christian history. During the schisms that started even as the Apostles died, various Christian factions repeatedly asserted that they and they alone inherited the valid priesthood and that the ordinances performed by the others had no effect; a lot of reciprocal excommunications occurred as a result. During the Reformation, the Catholic Church considered the Protestants to all be damned, and to a large extent, vice versa. Ecumenical recognition of ordinances is a relatively recent development and is by no means universal; no only do many evangelicals claim that the Catholic Church is not Christian (just as they do about the LDS Church), but the Catholic Church itself does not recognize the efficacy of LDS baptism.

In other words, the Catholic Church considers all Mormons, infants and adults alike, to be damned to hell forever. Since most evangelical Christian churches do not consider the LDS Church to be Christian, they consider us all damned as well.

Mormons, on the other hand, believe that all Catholics (and Protestants — and Christians, Jews, Jainists, Buddhists, Zoorastrians, Pagans, Wiccans, atheists, etc.) who have ever lived will have a chance to accept the restored Gospel of Christ and to inherit the celestial kingdom. Because (like the Catholic Church) we believe baptism is required for entrance into the celestial kingdom, we practice baptism for the dead (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:29) in our temples. However, this does not somehow force or compel conversion of the dead (who still have their agency); it merely unlocks the door should they choose to walk through.

So, where exactly is the “religious intolerance”? Enquiring minds would like to know. ..bruce..

baptism for the dead — An example of pure charity. It wins them neither fame nor profit, yet Mormons will travel hundreds of miles at great expense in order to give people they do not know a gift that might not be accepted. — Orson Scott Card, Saintspeak.

P.S. Gary — I’m a lifelong registered Democrat, but attitudes such as yours — which appear to be based more in a desire to undermine Romney than to accurately represent the LDS Church — explain why relatively few Mormons are Democrats. On the other hand, the strong anti-Mormon element in the Religious Right is a major reason why I have not — to date — joined the Republicans.