Desiring „to be like God“, or moreover: „to become God“ oneself, that seems to be a permanent pipe dream among human beings. To this day different epochs and cultural circles have shown corresponding faith and thought schemes, frequently linked to elaborated rituals by which means the divinisation of man should be realized.
For example the ancient Greek and Egyptian mystery cults in which the disciples, by solemnly reciting holy words and formulas, by meditating symbols, by ritually imitating the fate of certain deities and other ceremonies, could regard themselves as elements in a magical procedure which was to lead them to divinisation. This was common belief among those participants in the Eleusian, Dionysian, Orphic or Osirian cults of the east-mediterranean area.
In numerous branches of Hinduism the same concept of divinisation of man is found, understood as an extraordinary and not easily achieved state of „enlightenment“ which endows the candidate with knowledge and immediate experience of the supposed substantial equality of his „divine“ individual soul (Atman) and the „divine“ cosmic soul (Brahman). Consequently the main streams of this Indian religion teach ways and methods to reach the mentioned goal by severe asceticism, yoga, meditation and ritual guru-adoration.
In the west we have at the moment contemporaries who, under the cover of „New Age“, propagate the divinisation of man as well, explained as the final state of a long evolution.
As early as in 1904 the great magician and satanist, Aleister Crowley, maintained that man was the „true god“ of this world. Thus „There is no God but man“ became the slogan of modern satanism.
Many more examples of this kind could be enumerated. Astonishing that among them you would find a religious body which refers to itself as Christian but which has made the divinisation of man likewise the essential content of its religious convictions: „The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints“, better known as „The Mormons“. Their corresponding teachings are now to be described here.
In Mormonism the idea of divinisation is very closely related to its images of God and man, which again are coined by the aspect of „development“. Mormons believe that everything in the universe is subject to a „Law of eternal progress“, this means all things are constantly developing: the single worlds, nature, human beings, and even God himself. Accordingly they „quite logically“ assume that even God in his early ages was not omnipotent and omniscient, but that he found himself on a lower level of development, even held the position of a mortal human being as we do today. How this formerly mortal man had changed to immortal Godhood, explained by the former Mormon-apostle, Milton R. Hunter in the following statement:
„If we accept the great law of eternal progression, we must accept the fact that there was a time when Deity was much less powerful than He is today. Then how did He become glorified and exalted and attain His present status of Godhood? In the first place, aeons ago God undoubtedly took advantage of every opportunity to learn the laws of truth and as He became acquainted with each new verity He righteously obeyed it. From day to day He exerted His will vigourously, and as a result became thoroughly acquainted with the forces lying about Him. As He gained more knowledge through persistent effort and continuous industry, as well as through absolute obedience, His understanding of the universal law continued to become more complete. Thus He grew in experience and continued to grow until He attained the status of Godhood. In other words, He became God by absolute obedience to all the eternal laws of the Gospel... There is no other way to exaltation“. (The Gospel Through The Ages, 1957, p;114)
Even right now God has not yet reached His final state, but according to the „law of eternal progression“, is developing further.
The Mormon speculation on God´s appearance, nature and attributes originated in Joseph Smith, founder-prophet of Mormonism. On the occasion of the funeral of a fellow believer in the spring of 1844, in a commemorative speech in Nauvoo, he expressed his opinion as follows:
„God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens... If you were to see Him today, you would see Him like a man in form - like yourself in all the person, image, and very form as man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God“. (Documentary History of the Church, 1901-1906, vol. 6. p;305)
Mormons believe that if God´s appearance, nature and feelings (passions) are very much like ours and if He, nevertheless was able to develop himself from a mortal human being into immortal Godhood, the same must be valid for us; thus they hint at the main tenet of their teaching on God and man, worded by Lorenzo Snow, fifth prophet: „As man is, God once was; as God is, Man once may become“.
The Mormon concept of man, derived from this background is as fanciful as their imagination of God. They believe that every human being, before starting his course on earth, resides as a spirit in a pre-existent sphere, where he has been generated by God and a „heavenly mother“ from the substance of pure and eternal intelligence. Very soon, in premordial times, after God had begun generating sparks, He decided as „loving Father“, to grant his spirit-children the possibility to likewise ascend the level of Godhood. He developed a so-called „plan of salvation“, which consists of several steps and lead to this goal.
In the first instance the spirits have to be incarnated on earth to mature mentally and spiritually, for example by experiencing good and evil, being taught the „Laws and Ordinances of the Gospel“, and learning how to make decisions correctly.
In the moment of death, the immortal spirit and the mortal body are separated from each other. The corpse is laid into a grave and the spirit gets into an intermediate realm - by the Mormons called „Paradise“ - to await his resurrection there, meaning the bringing together of body and spirit again.
Having made possible such a mechanical resurrection for all human beings, is the merit of Jesus Christ, His salvation deed. Thus all resurrected participate in the general salvation, the mandate of Jesus is fulfilled.
But God´s intrinsic „plan of salvation“ does go much further. As next follows the „last Judgement“, that all have to face up. The resurrected will be judged „according to their works“ and finally put into three categories, i.e. they will be attached to three different „degrees of glory“. Whosoever will be found qualified for the highest within the uppermost degree is not only regarded as „redeemed“ but as „exalted“: he has become God himself.
Knowledge of the three grades of glory, including the conditions of admittance, Joseph Smith supposedly attained through a „revelation“, which he dated February 16, 1832 (Doctrine and Covenants 76). According to the opinion of the former Mormon apostle Melvin Ballard: „The greatest revelation the Lord, Jesus Christ, has ever given to man“.
The three degrees of glory are designated from bottom to top as: telestial, terrestrial and celestial. The lowest stage is reserved „for those who receive not the gospel... liars, sorcerers and adulterers“; the middle stage „for those who received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh...; honorable men... but blinded by the craftiness of man“. A title to the celestial glory is ascertained by very few, exclusively members of the Mormon society, who fulfill the necessary conditions for this degree. Thereby it has to do with already mentioned works, that stand to disposition in final judgement and which endow the expiationary death of Jesus Christ its complete validity. The work consists of the following elements: conversion to Mormonism in case one has not been born a „saint“; reception of the Mormon baptism and the Holy Spirit through the corresponding priesthood; marrying and founding a family connected with the reception of the peculiar „blessings“ and „sealings“ in the Temple; participation in the Temple ceremonies; and observance of the laws and vows which are conveyed there. Recognition of the Mormon leaders as „prophets and revelators“ as well as adhearing to all the rules and regulations. Among the just mentioned conditions for the celestial glory there is one aspect especially heeded to, for it is essential for the appropriate divinisation of Mormons: the Temple and its rituals.
The importance of Mormon temples and their rites for the „saints“, the tenth prophet and revelator, Joseph Fielding Smith clearly delineated in his book „Doctrines of Salvation“ (vol. 2. p. 5). Whoever as a Mormon attends the temple and absolves the ceremonies belongs to the priviledged class of the „Church of the Firstborn“: All the blessings of heaven and earth, including divinisation, are promised to him. Those whoever, who for various reasons do not come to the temple form a lower class. They can be as good and loyal church members as concievable, but the last goal, the fulness of Mormon salvation and divinisation they can never attain.
Practically speaking, Mormons may take part in three ritual blocks: a) proxy baptism for the dead, b) Endowment and c) Sealings for eternity. The ritual for the „second anointing“ is the most secret of all; therefore it is reserved only for the very few elected (apostles and prophets in the first place). The „Endowments“ and the „Sealings“ complement each other like two succeeding stages. In the context of the endowment ceremony the way of man is depicted from his alleged pre-existence to his return into the kingdom of God in form of a stage-show; in the course of which the participants are included in the event and equipped with various laws and by-words. These are supposed to guarantee them access to the highest degree of glory (kingdom of God). But only after the adjoining ritual of sealing, by which married couples are bound together for time and eternity, the godliness is to be attained. Behind this conception stands the idea, that in the celestial glory, basically only the married attain and exercise the imparted divine attribute, namely to generate spirit-children as God now does. This idea goes back to Joseph Smith, who claimed to have had this „revelation“. „God“ allegedly communicated to him in July 1843 that such „saints“ who are only civilly married would be admitted to the category of the celestial glory, but they have to exist through eternity as unmarried ministering angels. Sealed Temple Mormons on the contrary would ascend to being gods. Literally the corresponding passage in „Doctrine & Covenants“ 132 is as follows:
v. 17. „For these angels did not abide my law; therefore they can not be enlarged, but remain separately and single, without exaltation, in their saved condition to all eternity; and from henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever“.
v. 19. „...if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise... they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever“.
v. 20. „Then shall they be gods, because they have no end. Then they shall be gods because they have all the power, and the angels are subject to them“.
On the basis of this initial push of the prophet, in the time hereafter many leading Mormons attempted again and again to further elaborate these descriptions and to supplement them by formulated details, whereby speculations were set no limits. In most recent times, e.g., George McCune in his treatise „The Blessings ofTemple Marriage“ drafted a very graphic picture of that which Temple Mormons may anticipate from the world beyond. By including the doctrine of the „Three Degrees of Glory“ he at first made clear the peculiar value of marriage sealed in the Temple by the following thought scheme.
„The world beyond can be compared to a high mountain, which is being ascended on all sides by the resurrected. The majority remains hanging far down on the slopes and make up the telestial sector. Others don´t get any further than the medium heights and populate the terrestrial realm ongoingly. The peak of the mountain is crowned by a city, in the centre of which a castle is found. On the basis of their religious membership (by baptism) all Mormons possess a passport which opens up for them, and only for them, access to the divine city. Whoever intends to enter the castle, in which God-Father and Jesus Christ reside with their family needs beyond this a visa, namely the marriage sealing in the Temple“. McCune summarizes; „With baptism, you have a passport which will be acknowledged at the gate of the city, at the top of the mountain... When you present your baptism key at the gate of the city of God..., your key will fit in the lock and you will be allowed admittance into the celestial kingdom. Only those who have two other keys will be able to unlock the door to the home of Father in Heaven, however... If you have received your endowment and eternal marriage sealing you will possess the two additional keys which will fit the lock of the door to Heavenly Father´s Castle.... Once you obtain admittance into the Lord´s Castle, you will find jesus Christ and Our Father in Heaven there, and everyone grouped together in families, with husband, wife and children, bound together by the priesthood“.
Those however, who have finally gained access to the Castle of God, are promised unimaginable eternal blessings. First of all, they are named members of the Family of God, (You will be priviledged to live with God and his family eternally“) and thereby as gods acquire the right of co-rulers in as well as co-possessors of the Kingdom of God:
„Father in Heaven will give you and your mate a portion of his kingdom as a righteous inheritance.... It means that you shall have joint ownership of God´s kingdoms and dominions“
The future „being-God“ of the Temple Mormons, compared with the present godhood of God, expresses itself specially in the generating of an infinite number of spirit children, which then gain absolute the same development course through a material existence as it now takes place with human beings on this earth, in order to likewise enter into their exaltation later on. For this however, it will be necessary that the divine married couples organise their own worlds and planets, on which the progress of their spirit children can be enacted. Joseph Fielding Smith had the following opinion on this topic:
„To become like him (i.e. God), we must have all the powers of godhood; thus a man and wife, when glorified, will have spirit children who eventually will go on an earth like this one we are on and pass through the same kind of experiences; ...there is no end of this development; it will go on forever. We will become gods and have jurisdiction over worlds, and these worlds will be peopled by our own offspring. We will have an endless eternity for this“.
And George McCune surmises to this:
„As your spirit children increase and you create more worlds for them to inhabit, your dominions will increase. Glory will echo to your name and your posterity will call you their Father in Heaven“.
Rüdiger Hauth is a pastor and "beauftragter" (commisioner) for the ministry to new religious movements, centered i Witten, Germany. He has authored a number of books in this field. He has a Ph.D. on the esoteric part of Mormonism... He is a Dialog Centre International associate and one of its pioneers.