Monday, August 8, 2011

Do Mormons believe that God lives on a planet called Kolob?

      The Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon” is a prominent example of what has become a trendy belief among those who consider themselves benevolent atheists: that religion is full of ridiculous beliefs, but is still possibly a positive thing because it makes people feel good. The musical presents a list of crazy-sounding ideas as if they were core Mormon beliefs and implies that all religion contains similar absurdity.

      The problem is that many people seem to not grasp the fact that the musical is hyperbole and exaggeration and repeat its version of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as accurate. Indeed, some of the humor is funny only if the audience believes that certain misrepresentations are true.

      A CNN blog recently held a Q&A with Dr. Richard Bushman about the accuracy of some of the musical’s portrayals of Mormon beliefs. After noting that the musical is like "a fun-house mirror. The reflection is hilarious but not really you," he offered this explanation of the Kolob claim:

"Does God live on a planet called Kolob? Again, pretty close, but not precisely accurate. The astronomical reflections of Abraham in one Mormon scripture do speak of God dwelling close to a planet named Kolob. The place of God’s dwelling registers only as a tiny detail in Mormon thinking, but the idea that He does have a dwelling place is of immense importance.
      "Mormon theology differs radically from conventional Christianity in locating God in time and space. He is not outside creation as traditionally believed. He is part of the physical universe, a being like the God in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel who could touch Adam’s finger with his own if He chose."

      I like how Dr. Bushman cuts through the weirdness factor to focus on the actual theological issue: Mormons believe in a physical God who exists inside the universe. To Mormons, the traditional idea that God exists everywhere and nowhere at the same time is nonsense, as is the idea of a God who exists “outside the universe.” I suspect that the belief that God dwells near a place called Kolob mainly sounds weird because the name “Kolob” sounds like something from sci-fi, not because the idea that God actually exists in a particular place is so bizarre. But then, what name did you expect it to have? Any name at all would’ve sounded weird, since most people are accustomed to thinking of heaven as an abstraction, not a literal place.

      Two final notes: Dr. Bushman made a minor mistake when he said that God dwells “close to a planet named Kolob.” Kolob is actually a star, not a planet. The fact that a prominent Mormon scholar like Dr. Bushman would make that mistake just illustrates what an insignificant part of our beliefs this is. I can’t remember the last time I even heard the word “Kolob” in church.

      And finally, it’s worth noting that Kolob is not where Mormons expect to go when they die. Jesus Christ taught, “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5), and Mormons take that to mean that after the final judgment, “the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory” (Tenth Article of Faith). So Mormons believe that our heaven will be right here, not near a star called Kolob.

In summary
Claim: Mormons believe that God lives on a planet called Kolob.
Response: Mormons believe that God lives not on a planet called Kolob, but they do believe that He lives near a star by that name. Kolob is just about the least important thing in Mormon doctrine, and it's hardly ever even mentioned. The more important point is that God lives in an actual place in an actual location--that he's a real being with physical substance.


Hithereyall said...

If there are billions of humans, does that mean that God had sex on a planet near the star Kolob, billions of times?

Anonymous said...

Thanks. This was helpful.

Book Addict said...

Thanks for that explanation. Raised Mor:mon, but because its significance is minimal, I'm only now, at age 53, just seeking to clearify, while studying Abraham.

Travis Brinton said...

To Hithereyall: We believe that we are children of God in the spirit, but our doctrine does not get into the specifics of how that was accomplished. We take no position on that. Certainly God has the power to beget children through other means; he is omnipotent.

But suppose God did beget us sexually. Why would that be scandalous, ridiculous, or blasphemous? I think many people are accustomed to thinking of sex as something dirty; as being all about lust; as a pleasurable but shameful and embarrassing indulgence. That is a misguided and unhealthy attitude. Sex, as God intended it, is a sacred thing, a beautiful thing, and a means of strengthening marital bonds and of bringing life into the world. If people understood sex the way God intends us to understand it, I don't think they would consider it scandalous that he may have become our Father by a sexual process. Whether or not that's how it happened, that possibility is not disturbing to Mormons.