I was recently listening to comedian Deborah Frances-White on her podcast The Guilty Feminist. As a former Jehovah’s Witness, she sometimes refers to things from her religious upbringing that are amusing to her now. [1] One of these is the way heaven is portrayed in the Jehovah’s Witness religious pamphlets, The Watchtower.

As she describes it, the heaven envisioned by the Jehovah’s Witnesses apparently involves young people handing fruit to one another. It’s an entirely “fruit-based economy,” which was frightening to her as she didn’t know anything about farming or fruit. What if she didn’t like it? Even the carnivorous predatory animals were apparently eating fruit in this heaven as pictures show cheetahs playing with toddlers, and none of the adults in the pictures are at all concerned.

You can read more about her exit from the Jehovah’s Witnesses here. You can catch up on The Guilty Feminist podcast here.

When she described this version of heaven, it made me laugh, and there was a touch of the familiar to it as well. The hereafter is an interesting concept, one that we don’t get to verify while living, and different Christian sects have different ideas of what it constitutes.

For example, many protestant sects (and tropes from TV and movies) describe what I would call Boring Heaven. This is a Heaven in which nobody really does anything but sit on clouds, strumming harps. It’s really just a nod to the idea that we don’t know what to expect in Heaven as well as the idea of rest and worship being the bread and butter of Heaven. I’d like to hope we could at least get some intramural badminton going, and if the only music on offer is the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, no thanks. I’d like to hope we at least get to listen to Queen and Frank Sinatra.

Mormon Heaven is one of the truly unique doctrines we have. It’s quite different from other sects in several regards, at least the way I was taught it: 1) three different kingdoms, 2) the highest one includes marriage and presumably sex and spirit procreation, and 3) people from higher kingdoms can preach to those in lower kingdoms (and those in spirit paradise can preach to those in spirit prison).

But that means that Mormon Heaven is work, not a reward. Well, the reward is work. The Doctrine & Covenants even says “This is my work and my glory.” Rather than a constant state of worship or singing praises to God (which presumably also happens–the glory part), it involves the following types of work:

  1. Missionary work
  2. Having lots of spirit babies
  3. Building worlds
  4. Furthering our education

There’s some question about #2 and #4, actually. The question is whether we are supposed to get “eternal increase”[2] or “eternal progress.” If the former, well, that sounds miserable for the ones who are supposed to relish being an eternal baby farm. If the latter, well, that sounds miserable for anyone who doesn’t like school. But then again, maybe it’s like an endless Netflix binge of interesting TED talks and Adam Ruins Everything. I suppose I could get behind that. The third one always sounded like it might be a drag because I never really liked physics. But terraforming could be cool, so IDK. As to endless missionary work, I think we’ve all had that nightmare of being called back on a mission. That doesn’t sound fantastic either.

And honestly, if the celestial kingdom feels at all like an average church meeting, NO THANKS. That holds no appeal at all. There at least need to be some outdoor activities, hiking or boating maybe, not just boring “council” meetings in which we discuss plans to do work, most of which is also boring. If we have to clean the toilets in Heaven on a forced rotation, I am so out of there.

That brings us to eternal families. It’s something that we are told we can have if we “qualify,” and that we will be sad if we don’t get everyone we’re related to to be Mormon enough to join us in exaltation. But what exactly are we doing there? Family game nights? Eating Sunday dinners together?Am I going to live with my husband or my parents? My in-laws? My kids? My ggggggggggrandparents? Is it just going to be couples? [3] It’s one of those things that sounds great in theory, like time travel, but just gives you a headache thinking about it when you try to figure out how it actually works.

  • What were your early beliefs about Mormon Heaven?
  • Have your notions of Mormon Heaven changed from when you were younger to now? In what ways?
  • Are there things you don’t think sound appealing about Mormon Heaven? Are there things that don’t make sense to you about it?
  • Do you believe we will be “sad” in Heaven because of family separations?

Discuss.

[1] Although she is very much in earnest that she considers that religion a cult, one that mandates shunning for those who leave. Her definition of cult is when church members are encouraged to avoid all outside information or criticism of the faith and to suborn their conscience to whatever the elders tell them.

[2] Brigham Young was a big fan of this one, natch, since he boasted he had so many kids from his wives that he didn’t know everyone’s names. Charming.

[3] If it’s polygamy, I’ll take the JW fruit-based economy over that for sure.