Multiple Mortalities

Several individuals have advocated teaching multiple mortalities as a central doctrine of Christ’s gospel. I have always discouraged anyone from teaching it, and have spoken against it on a few occasions.

The most frequently taught version is the worst form of that idea. It holds that people live here repeatedly, going from spirit world, through birth into mortality, then passing into the spirit world through death, only to later reappear here again through yet another birth. I have denounced this idea for many reasons, but mainly because it is silly and extremely unwise to teach.

First, the silliness: From all mortals who have ever lived, we have a record of some kind for about one-ten-billionth-of-one-percent (or something close to that). Yet those who advocate the teaching claim they have come to the solemn realization that they are some past historic character returned to earth, and now seek recognition for their self-identification with some past historic figure. EVERY ONE of those I have heard who advocate this teaching claim an association with a known past-figure. This is outrageously unlikely. Going with this false idea for a moment, it begs the questions: How can you trust your memory about such a past identity when you hardly remember details from a few years ago? At birth, a veil was placed between you and events in the spirit world. How can you recall events from an earlier birth-death-spirit world-birth with such accuracy that you “know” who you were/are?

Second, and perhaps yet more silly: What difference does it make? We are on probation here. If we fail now, we will be judged for that failure. If we passed the probation in an earlier mortality, why return to hell to retake a test when failure is the norm? Or did we fail and want to retake the test? Because we all likely failed to be here again, then we are probably past prostitutes in Sodom, or critics of Noah, or battlefield fodder for an Oriental monarch. Not likely Peter, Joseph or Ezekiel. However, advocates of multiple mortalities prefer to advance the notion of returning as nobility or greatness in themselves and those they teach.

More seriously, this idea is unwise because it really DOES NOT MATTER, even if it were true. We are here on probation. It began when we took our first breath and will end when we take our last. God loans us the breath of life, and we are accountable for every act, thought and word we choose. (See NC Alma 9:4)

Moreover, if this teaching were important to the plan of God, then the scriptures would hold it forth in plainness. It would not require mangling the text to find it, but would be there plainly. Instead the scriptures teach against the idea: “it is appointed unto men once to die and after that the judgment” (NC Heb. 1:28)

Then we have insight from the experience of Peter, Jacob and John on the Mount of Transfiguration. In a revelation to Joseph Smith about that event, the Lord stated, “And I will show it plainly, as I showed it unto my disciples as I stood before them in the flesh and spoke unto them, saying, As you have asked of me concerning these signs of my coming, in the day when I shall come in my glory in the clouds of Heaven, to fulfill the promises that I have made unto your fathers, for as you have looked upon the long absence of your spirits from your bodies to be a bondage, I will show unto you how the day of redemption shall come, and also the restoration of the scattered Israel.” (T&C 31:4)

These disciples saw the future until the Second Coming and the resurrection of the dead. They did not want to remain in the grave, separated from the body, in the world of the dead (spirit world) until the resurrection. That “long absence” would, to them, be a “bondage.” If they were to live again before Christ’s Second Coming, time after time, this would not have been their reaction.

When the disciples saw what awaited them in the “long absence of [their] spirits from [their] bodies,” they all three asked for a way to avoid “bondage” in the spirit world until the resurrection. Rather than the spirit world, John asked to “tarry in the flesh” and minister as an angel here. (T&C JS-H 13:18; TSJ 12:19)

Peter chose another way to avoid the “long absence” of spirit from body. He asked to go quickly through death into resurrection so he could ascend to Christ’s kingdom. Christ responded to Peter, “you desired that you might speedily come unto me in my kingdom.” (T&C JS-H 13:19) Both John’s and Peter’s requests avoided imprisonment by death awaiting the Second Coming. If Peter and John were not returning to the flesh prior to the Lord’s return, what can justify teaching multiple mortalities by returning to live here again?

The idea that we may at some long distant, future cycle of going from one estate to another (T&C 145, Abr. 6:2-3), through one creation into another (OC Gen. 1:6), worlds without end (T&C 69:28; 157:38; 175:23), is something quite different from the idea of multiple mortalities taught by individuals now. The challenge is here and now. Dreaming of past greatness is no more profitable than dreaming of mansions above:

Then wake up and do something more
Than dream of your mansion above.
Doing good is a pleasure, a joy beyond measure,
A blessing of duty and love. (Have I Done Any Good?)

The teaching is harmful, inspires foolishness and vanity, and does nothing to advance the obligation to live nobly. I believe it is untrue, and that while we may have many opportunities in future estates to face challenges and opportunities for growth, we will pass through this creation once. After that we will be called upon to render an account for what we did while here. Take no thought for tomorrow, therefore, but improve our time today.