Comparing reincarnation to the Plan of Salvation

Geoff has been posting regarding multiple mortal probations (MMP) again. Recently he issued a challenge to find a model that answered certain questions better than his MMP model. This post is my oversimplified response to the challenge. But first I will begin to point out that I believe some of the terms Geoff uses in his descriptions are a bit misleading. I am not sure whether this is intentional or not. This begins with this theory being called multiple mortal probations, when it is really just a modified version of reincarnation. But reincarnation would be to easy to dismiss thus the new name.

Geoff also gives the impression that there was this teaming horde of 19th century apostles who openly and clearly taught reincarnation, presumably as opposed to teaching the plan of salvation. One of the quotes he gives I will duplicate here.

We have come here to become inured to work-to build temples, and improve upon the elements that God has placed around us, that we may become more skillful tomorrow, through the experience of to-day. What I do not to-day, when the sun goes down, I lay down to sleep, which is typical of death; and in the morning I rise and commence my work where I left it yesterday. That course is typical of the probations we take. But suppose that I do not improve my time to-day, I wake up to-morrow and find myself in the rear; and then, if I do not improve upon that day, and again lay down to sleep, on awaking, I find myself still in the rear. This day's work is typical of this probation, and the sleep of every night is typical of death, and rising in the morning is typical of the resurrection. They are days labours, and it is for us to be faithful to-day, tomorrow, and every day." (Journal of Discourses 4:329) (Heber C. Kimball

My take on this quote is that it at most speaks of a series of probations, namely pre-exitence, mortality, and the spirit world. Saying that this describes a cycle of possibly endless mortal probations is a stretch that would impress plastic man.

So, in response to Geoff's indirect challenge, I would like to offer my model and compare it to his. My model can be simply outlined like this:

Creation and Fall
Spirit World
Judgment and Resurrection
Degrees of Salvation

Now many of you might be saying, 'Hold on there Eric. We know you are this wild and crrrrrazy guy, but this is going to far. You are thinking way outside the box here. You're making my head spin. Where do you come up with this stuff?' Okay, so I'm feeling a little sarcastic today. Of course this isn't my model. This is known as the Plan of Salvation. Perhaps you have heard of it. It is outlined in the new Preach My Gospel Book that the missionaries use on page 54, so it is pretty official.

Geoff would characterize this plan as the 'My Turn on Earth' model. Again a bit misleading. He could just as well call this plan the Plan of Salvation as taught by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. But the My Turn on Earth model is so much easier to dismiss because of the juvenile and commercial image it brings. So removing the terms Geoff chooses to use I would like to compare reincarnation to the Plan of Salvation.

One of the area's Geoff questions in the plan of salvation is what to do with the idea of God creating previous inhabited worlds. Who inhabited these worlds? Geoff speculates that we inhabited these worlds during a previous mortal probation. Apparently future inhabited worlds will also be inhabited by us during a future mortal probation.

What does the plan of salvation say of these inhabited worlds? Well nothing directly. It appears to me the most reasonable assumption would be that these inhabitants would be our spiritual brothers and sisters. Geoffs natural response might be - why split us up? Perhaps there is wisdom in limiting the number of people and duration of a world - I don't know. But spiritual siblings inhabiting these planets is a reasonable answer. Whether it is complete or true, it is reasonable.

Another one of Geoffs objections has to do with a permanent final judgment which may result in being assigned to a lower degree of glory than the Celestial Kingdom. His objection seems to be two fold, that God will make a mistake and assign someone to a lower kingdom who would have qualified for a higher degree of salvation if only given more time and opportunities, and what do you do with all these people? Geoff suggests an infinite number of penal colony planets where these exiled souls will dwell in misery with other reprobates for all eternity with no death.

In Geoffs version of reincarnation, those who are not exalted will be sent to planet after planet with a new mortal body. This process of probation after probation would continue on and on until the soul was either exalted or destroyed both body and spirit to be recycled as new intelligences. There would be no lower kingdoms per se. Geoff appears to believe that free will and time will lead someone eventually to exaltation or eternal extinction. This seems an odd result for someone who loves free will as much as Geoff. Freedom of choice and equality do not go together. In a free economy, there is a wide range of financial results mainly based on the desires, abilities and choices of those who participate. Would it not be the same in eternal things? Would not some souls choose to be average? Or above-average? Would God not allow that to be? Why force exaltation or extinction as end results?

Geoff is fond of insulting those who disagree with his theories as being deceived by creedal christianity. Perhaps turnabout is fair play. But is this result not right down creedal Christianity's alley? Heaven or Hell. 100% or 0%. Does this view not rob the beauty of revealed truth regarding degrees of salvation based on the choices of those who chose to participate?

The Doctrine and Covenants describes the Telestial Kingdom as being beyond all understanding. Brigham Young said it was beyond anything that John Wesley ever imagined (Discourses 391). The Telestial Kingdom is salvation. It is a degree of glory. And there of course is room for stars that differ in light from each other. Perhaps there is a wide range of glory that has been described in the revelations in a simplified way. Perhaps the separation and distinction between kingdoms is much less than we realize. But simply viewing the Telestial Kingdom as being somewhat better than an isolated penal colony planet is a significant answer to Geoffs objection.

I guess I answered the second part first. Oh well, the first shall be last and the last shall be first. Geoff wonders if God would close the doors of exaltation on someone who would then later on repent, change, and eventually qualify for a promotion following the final judgment. Answering this is easy for some, hard for others. Those like me who view God as having perfect judgment are willing to put complete faith in this judgment secure in the belief that God will not make any mistakes there. That those who would qualify have qualified, and those who don't never will. Those who do not trust that God is capable of such perfect judgment would not be comfortable with this. The answer that God is capable of perfect judgment after the pre-exist end, mortality, and spirit world, and perhaps the experience of Jesus in the Garden (Mosiah 3) is a reasonable answer to this problem. Is God capable of perfect judgment or not?

Now a prediction. Geoff will not be swayed in the least by any of this. He will continue to claim that no model addresses these issues as well as his version of reincarnation. Perhaps he is really on to something. Perhaps he is just being stubborn. I'm sure that I am not in the least qualified to speak on this important topic. If I have screwed things up or been unfair let me know the error of my ways. But just because Geoff will dismiss all of this does not mean that there are not reasonable answers to his questions.


At 5/09/2006, Anonymous Geoff J said...

Well I’m glad to see you took up my challenge Eric. Here are some responses…

1. While MMP could be called a form of reincarnation it is useful to call it MMP because the term reincarnation means multiple lives here on earth. MMP is simply a much clearer and more descriptive name for the concept.

2. The MMP model is not different than the plan of salvation, I believe it is possibly the metaphysical backdrop to the plan of salvation. You think the metaphysical backdrop to the plan of salvation includes only one mortal probation. I have no problem with that, but it is completely inaccurate to say that MMP is competing with the plan of salvation.

3. If the average life was 3 days long then your interpretation of the Heber C. Kimball quote might make sense…

4. It will apparently surprise you to learn that I have no qualms with the model you outlined and which I taught as a missionary. MMP is not competition with the basics of that model. The difference comes when unpacking what the “pre-existence” portion looks like when unpacked as well as the unpacked version of “degrees of glory”. MMP is only a model of getting more detailed on that same model you are preaching. The models are complementary, not competitive. Competition between model comes when people start unpacking the pre-existence and degrees of glory portions differently.

5. You are right about the reasons I call it the My Turn on Earth Model. I think the assumptions about the first and least parts by most members are not well thought out though so I think comparing it to a trite 70s play serves a useful purpose as well.

6. I’m glad you at least acknowledged the problem with the “batches” of children issue and many inhabited planets. Do you believe we are beginningless? If so, why did those poor schmucks get so much less time to prepare for their single mortality that us? (Presumably many millions of years less time.) Why did we get less time to prepare than the inhabitants of the many worlds to come in hundreds of millions of years from now? If the single mortality is the one and only “final exam” then how is the massively different preparation time just? And why is there no mention in the scriptures on the preexistence about all the “spirit children” who were slated for the innumerable planets to come in the future? Were we completely isolated from all eternity from those “brothers and sister”?

7. Yes, because we are free to choose a person could always choose to be spiritually average for all eternity. The key is that Mormonism assumes a metaphysic of becoming rather than a metaphysic of being. That means that all reality is about motion. We are so committed to this position that our scriptures tell us God could make choices that cause him to cease to be God.

8. That those who would qualify have qualified, and those who don't never will. The problem with this sentiment is that it is a knock against free will and a vote for causal determinism. Free will means that someone can choose to be different regardless of what they have chosen in the past. If God knows what someone will choose in the future then how are they really free? (This is the free will vs determinism and foreknowledge debate again). You are calling it “perfect judgment” but it really means exhaustive foreknowledge. We have obviously beaten that horse into the ground at this point.

9. I appreciate your attempt here (even if your prediction has come true…) :-)

At 5/09/2006, Blogger Eric Nielson said...

I should have set a stopwatch to see how long it would take to draw you out!

I'm a little bit surprised how little there seems to be to talk about after your response. The first 5 responses you give are somewhat explanatory in nature and I might respond with 'fine'.

Number 6 asks several questions. I believe our intelligences are eternal, but do not know what they are. I believe our spirits had a literal birthday. As far as some getting more time than others I would just say that not all intelligences are equal, neither are spirits. Some progress faster than others. So I would assume God would judge perfectly who is ready to go from one probation (preexistence) to the next (mortal life). And I would just trust his judgement. I might also say that there is not much difference in infinity versus infinity -100,000,000. The two quantities are the same.

I guess to answer some more - why do we not get the full story in many areas of scripture? Just because we have not been told some things is not proof that there is not truth to something.

For number 7, would a belief in the metaphysics of becoming assume that everyone will eventually end up at one extreem or the other? I don't follow that. Could one not become average and choose to be that way eternally? Why force an extreem result of free will?

For number 8, I do not feel this is a knock against free will, simply the result of it. In some ways I don't thing the lower kingdoms will need to have bars around it. People there will choose to stay. The result of free will.

At 5/09/2006, Anonymous Geoff J said...

Alright. No one is claiming all of the spirits or intelligences connected with our planet are equal. But since you believe our spirits have a "birthday" then does that mean that all of the spirits connected with this planet were spiritually "born" at around the same time? If not, the how is it fair that the oldest of the spirits got perhaps eons longer to prepare for this "final exam" than others?

If it is not clear, it is the final exam concept that I think is incorrect.

Just because we have not been told some things is not proof that there is not truth to something.

I agree. Are you defending MMP with this statement? ;-)

For number 7, would a belief in the metaphysics of becoming assume that everyone will eventually end up at one extreem or the other?

No. In fact, in a metaphysic of becoming there is no such thing as any necessarily permanent "end up". Motion is always possible (thus the possibility that God can cease to be God).

People there will choose to stay. The result of free will.

How could you possibly know what people will freely choose in the future? No one could know that if they have free will. As I said, there is no necessary "end up" in the Universe. If God can cease to be God using free will then devils could also cease to be the devils using free will.

At 5/09/2006, Blogger Eric Nielson said...

You ask how is it fair that some have more time in preexistance than others. It is fair because God does the evaluation. He decides when they take the final test, and where the testing center will be.

I was not defendin MMP by this. Amulek clearly taught resurrection is permanent in the scriptures. That must be thrown out in your model.

Ending up at one extreem or the other is the result of your model. Either we eventually reach exaltation or we are destroyed both body and soul. A forced result of 'free will'.

Who said I knew what people will choose. The just choose. The results are the consequences of their choice - whatever that choice is.

I don't really believe God can cease to be God. When I read the passage in Alma that says that I read it as a sarcastic rhetorical approach. If this, this, and this, then God would cease to be God. BUT GOD DOES NOT CEASE TO BE GOD. And since this is the case, then this, this, and this won't happen. I believe the notion of God ceasing to be God was meant to sound ridiculous.

Alma 42:22-23 is good here. Especially verse 23. God ceaseth not to be God.

At 5/09/2006, Blogger C Jones said...

Nice post Eric! I agree with pretty much everything you say here. I am reserving judgement on the issue of progress between kingdoms though, until I can do a little more research.

Somewhat similar to your comment that some might not be comfortable with the idea that God is capable of perfect judgement, I think that MMP also weakens the doctrine of the atonement.

Truman Madsen says that, "the redeeming truth is that Jesus Christ lived and died not only to heal, lift, and fulfill all men, but all of man--intelligence, spirit, and body." The resurrection is inextricably linked to the Atonement. MMP seems to suggest that Christ's atonement and subsequent resurrection was somehow just not powerful enough to do what Jesus claimed to be doing- that is, atoning for and redeeming us from the sins we commit during this earthly probation. In other words, we somehow need multiple do overs even after the atonement.

As far as how much time various spirits or batches of spirits got to prepare, I believe that God's time could be very counter-intuitive to our current understanding of time. I don't think we have enough information to speculate too much here.

And FWIW, I made a similar comment about God ceasing to be God here;

But it didn't faze Geoff one bit :->

At 5/10/2006, Blogger Eric Nielson said...


Thanks for your comment, it was a home run! How did I not get the atonement into my originaly post? Small mind I suppose. I thought about Moroni 8 and infant baptism after reading your comment. Little children are alive in Christ because of the atonement. Not only does MMP take away from God as a perfect judge, but it is also a form of denying the atonement!

As far as the three degrees goes, I am backpedalling a bit from that, to me it is a separate issue in a way. I think there is some distinction between the kingdoms, but I also think there is a range within these kingdoms. Another post for another day perhaps.

At 5/12/2006, Anonymous Jason said...

To me, when reading about the laying down to sleep as death, and rising up in the morning as resurrection in Heber C. Kimball, I see the imagery as an extension of Amulek.

But we know that Amulek believed in an inseparable, immortal resurrection.

At 5/12/2006, Blogger Eric Nielson said...

Thanks jason, good point.

At 6/05/2006, Blogger Bruce said...

Geoff is certainly on the track, even if you both "see through a glass darkly".

At 6/19/2006, Anonymous Proud Daughter of Eve said...

I couldn't go through all this again. Once is more than enough. I don't/won't/can't believe that God would ask us to do this ad infinitum. The Atonement is there to make up for our lack; there is no need to repeat mortal life until we get it as right as He.

At 6/20/2006, Blogger Eric Nielson said...

I agree PDoE. Thanks for dropping by.

At 6/27/2006, Blogger Jeff said...

Mmmm, MMP... One of the finest delicacies of Mormon doctrine. For the sake of brevity, I'm more or less with Geoff J on this one. I have yet to hear any othe proposition that adequately solves so many problems and takes into account the Fullness of what has been revealed to us. It would maybe be of use, if someone would create a thorough listing of all official, or semi-official sources that are known to be interpreted as supporting MMP, and require some type of answer to or explanation of each of these prophetic or scriptural statements by any other competing theory. Likewise, we (MMP supporters) should be able to answer to any other scriptures and prophetic statements in a sufficient manner in order to show that our view is viable.

I may undertake to compile such a list of scriptures and references at some time, but it would be a big chore (since I see it written all over the Gospel) :) But, it would take someone else, maybe you Eric, to go to the task of demonstrating a viable alternative, since I have a harder time accurately representing a view that I do not myself hold, or perceive as incorrect.

Anyone interested in helping create this list?

~Jeff, a "Mormon Gnostic"

At 6/27/2006, Blogger Jeff said...

Proud Daughter of Eve,

Once is enough? I myself am up for "Eternal Life" or more accurately, the blessing of "Eternal Lives" promised in the Temple. I think life is or at least can become a Joy. Life is a sacred thing given by God, and it seems disrespectful to God to be seeking to depart from Life and wishing to never partake of it more.

Mormon theology, even in most of its simplest incarnations includes the concept of Exaltation: the prospect of becoming Gods, framing and peopling our own planets at some future point. If you think this won't involve living again on an earth, I'm curious where you reach that conclusion.

These planets will need their Adams, Eves, Christs, etc. Which is where the MMP ideas come in.

At any rate, I encourage you to try to love life.

~Jeff, a "Mormon Gnostic"


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