The New God Argument and Heaven for the Non-Religious
24 October 2008 (updated 23 June 2015)
I recently received a letter, written neatly by hand and sent through the post (yes, that still happens), from a kind friend with a question regarding the New God Argument. The question and answer are worth sharing here. So, with names removed to protect the innocent, here’s the letter, with the question in bold:
Dear Lincoln Cannon,
[Name] gave me your “The New God Argument”. I’m happy that you left a copy with him for me, and I enjoyed reading it. Aside from the theology, your arguments were very clear and beautifully developed, and with perfect English.
I think Saint Thomas Aquinas will enjoy discussing your ideas when you see him in the life hereafter. In fact there are probably (a key word in your formulation) some who would say your ideas stemmed from his – some aspects of his proof that God is seem to identify with your logic.
Maybe I’d like to discuss with you what a person probably loses by not being religious. If there is a heaven, won’t your advanced civilizations be benevolent enough to accept such a person? For my sake, I hope so.
My purpose in writing this note to you is to compliment you on your interesting, well-written article.
In short, my answer to the question is: no God worthy of worship will reject a person for being non-religious. The longer answer follows.
Joseph Smith taught of a heaven that is quite different from that taught by most other religions. Heaven, for Joseph, was neither an immaterial nor necessarily remote location. While there may be innumerable heavens throughout eternity, Joseph taught most passionately about a heaven that is built, little by little, from the world in which we already live. According to Joseph’s prophecy, it is this world, Earth, that is to become the millennial world, and it is likewise Earth that is to become a celestial glory and the abode of God. We need not look elsewhere to find heaven, and we need not die to attain it. Rather, we should be living and working to build heaven and redeem our dead, right here and right now.
Joseph Smith also taught of a salvation that is quite different from that taught by most other religions. According to his vision, there are many kinds and degrees of heaven, and ultimately only those who do not desire any kind of heaven will succumb to the darkness. Of course, our desires manifest in our works, which have practical consequences. Those consequences, combined with opportunity according to the grace of God, contribute toward the progressive creation of heaven – and sometimes the creation of hell, which we’re all likely to experience in varying degrees along the way.
Where, then, do the non-religious fit into this? That depends on what you mean by non-religious. If, on the one hand, you mean persons who do not agree with various religous dogmas then I think they are every bit as likely as any Mormon to contribute toward and attain to a heaven that corresponds with their desires. If, on the other hand, you mean persons that do not choose to act with love toward others then I think they, even if Mormon, are likely to contribute toward and experience hell, whether or not it happens to come complete with fire and brimstone.
What about the highest glories of heaven? Are only Mormons allowed there? I do think Mormonism teaches some principles that are essential to the creation of some kinds of heaven, particularly approximating the kind of heaven I desire, but Mormonism need not last forever. Religions are tools that we should use to the best of our wisdom and inspiration to participate in the work of God. If Mormons live up to our calling, we’ll continue to make contributions toward the creation of heaven. If we don’t, God will continue to work through whomever will, whether or not they use the words “God” or “heaven”, which by any other names are as sublime.