To see Cal Grondahl’s cartoon that goes with this post, click here We Mormons have a name for hell — it’s called Sons of Perdition. We’re pretty confident that Satan, Cain and Judas will be residents there, but after that things get a little hazy. Frankly, we’re not even sure what it’s going to be like, other than God and his minions have no plans to visit.
We’re not even sure if there are “daughters of perdition” out there in outer darkness. That makes sense because no one wants a Son of Perdition to be able to place his hands on a daughter of any kind. To be honest, we’re encouraged on lds.org, and the church lessons handbooks, to not dwell too much on the Sons of Perdition. Instead, as the song goes, we should accentuate the positive, and focus on the greatness of the Celestial Kingdom and happiness.
But I can’t help myself. The recent case of evangelical pastor Chad Holtz being canned by the United Methodists because he no longer believes that a loving Heavenly Father would burn his children forever and ever reignited my interest in where Old Scratch resides. Frankly, the idea that God would subject his children to a punishment a million times more physically painful than Christ suffered — and let’s face it; lots of people were crucified; that’s no big deal, in the eternal sense — seems to be a doctrine that comes from old Satan himself. The doctrine of sinners in the hands of an angry God ought to go the way of infant damnation. I personally like C.S. Lewis’ definition of hell — detailed in the novella The Great Divorce — where “hell” is where we most feel comfortable in the afterlife.
But back to the Latter-day Saints and Perdition: Standard-Examiner blogger Ryan Jenkins posted an excellent piece detailing Mormon beliefs on punishment and reward, and God being a deity of salvation, rather than damnation Read, but we still don’t get an idea of exactly who is ending up there. To be a “Son of Perdition” is to deny the Holy Ghost, but even that creates more questions, as does this quote from the Prophet Joseph Smith:
“What must a man do to commit the unpardonable sin? He must receive the Holy Ghost, have the heavens opened unto him, and know God, and then sin against Him. After a man has sinned against the Holy Ghost, there is no repentance for him. He has got to say that the sun does not shine while he sees it; he has got to deny Jesus Christ when the heavens have been opened unto him, and to deny the plan of salvation with his eyes open to the truth of it; and from that time he begins to be an enemy.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith , 358). (from lds.org)
If you read Doctrine and Covenants, Section 76, verses 32 through 38, the sufferings of the Sons of Perdition rival the sufferings of the damned in that bizarre Christian novel action “Left Behind” series. “Lakes of fire” and “better for them never to have been born” fill the verses. But the real puzzler — at least to me — is verse 35, which reads that to be a Son of Perdition involves “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.”
That seems to indicate that a Son of Perdition needs to have accepted Christ as his savior, then rejected that belief and done everything to lead others away from Christ. That “Mormon” definition of qualifying for hell seems to jibe with many other Christian beliefs. But what about those evil people who never accepted Christ in the first place? Is a person who was born in the Amazon jungle 500 years ago and enjoyed raping and murdering for sport exempt from hell, or Sons of Perdition because he never had a chance to embrace Christ?
Or, as I’ve heard many LDS brothers and sisters tell me in my lifetime, is the Sons of Perdition reserved for LDS apostates who fight against “the church?” How do they end up in Perdition and that creep I saw profiled on Cable TV on the crime documentary channel escape the “Mormon hell?”
I’m tying myself into theological knots here trying to grasp understanding of a concept I admit I don’t understand. But I doubt that makes me unusual. I wonder if LDS Church leaders fully understand Perdition and what it is. And what about the Left Behind crowd or those nitwits who fired Pastor Holtz for believing in a God who doesn’t torture?
Personally, I believe God will be a heck of a lot more merciful than most of us think, but I can’t say that definitively.
Perhaps the more intriguing question is, why do so many followers of the peaceful Christ buy the allegorical descriptions of a burning, torture-dungeon hell? And what are the motives of those who preach of, advocate, or wish for such a hell or Perdition?
This post also appeared in Currents, the Standard’s digital-only section on politics and culture. For more information on Currents, call 801-625-4400.