Mormons, Sex & Heaven, or An After-Valentine Love Symposium
As Valentine’s Day nears and passes, we each respond differently to the holiday that celebrates romantic love. Some of us will trade mass-produced Valentine cards with classmates, others will long for that someone special to deliver a card, flowers or chocolates to them and yet others will declare love for the first time to someone they care for. Some of us will be obliged to go on a date with someone we care for only platonically, some of us will gather our children and indulge in something sugary-sweet to celebrate family… yet still others filled with apathy, will count the moments until the March remnants of after-Valentine’s sale items have utterly disappeared—bringing the peace associated with a sense of relief.
Valentine’s Day, like love itself, is expressed through, and represents many different kinds of human, mortal, love. As church members, we are well familiar with the term, “love” and it’s many complications—we are told that we should love one another as Christ loves, that we are to love our families, that we are love the Relief Society, love our spouses and even love those who really don’t even like us a little bit. Oh, and what the heck—even to have sex *because* it results in children.
These numerous admonitions are nothing short of the variety of love that was discussed in Plato’s Symposium. The Symposium is a philosophical look at the origin, purpose and explanation of the complicated emotion of love. Written between 370-385 BC, it is a Greek play wherein the characters, known philosophers of the day, each offer a speech that is in celebration, or a possible explanation– of love. Socrates asserts that the highest purpose of love is to become a lover of wisdom, whilst Pausanias argues that sex is the highest form of love. Eryximachus discusses how love is both good and bad (addiction), while Agathon describes love as youth itself. Alcibiades is drunk and relays a kind of love that is a hot mess of admiration, infatuation and even rejection. And then, there is Aristophanes.
Aristophanes’ speech comes someplace in the middle of the play. Known mostly as a comic writer, this Symposium speech of Aristophanes has been lauded by many scholars as Plato’s greatest literary achievement (a child-friendly, fun reworking of the classic can be found here). In it, Aristophanes’ goal is to explain why we, and mortals and humans, desire so intensely to not be alone. He begins by telling a tale about the first inhabitants of the earth: these mortals consist of three different beings—male, female and a combination of both male and female. Each being had two heads, four arms and four legs. Having so many limbs, these beings were exceptionally strong, so strong, that they tried to gain access to heaven. Zeus, the king of Greek mythology would have none of that—so he cut each being in half. This increased the numbers of the beings, but weakening them to a stifling mortal state. Now, each being only had one head, two arms and two legs. Those who were male became 2 men, and those who were female became 2 women. The androgynous beings became a male, and a female. This resulted in what we know as humans—males and females, once united, but then cut off — and thus, longed for and sought to embrace each other. In the embrace of companionship, each couple would grow together and therefore, would feel whole.
Mormon theology teaches something similar to this in its concept of marriage. The Old Testament teaches that Eve, the first wife and mother, came from the rib of the first husband and father, Adam. Hence, they were once physically connected, “bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh”, thus creating an equal companion. The New Testament refers to two becoming “one flesh” in regard to marriage (Mark 10:8 and Matthew 19:6), and that in the highest degrees of glory (the highest part of heaven), one must be married. That is to say, two beings, rather than one, must be connected to each other through the act and action of marriage in order to receive the highest level of exaltation. Because of the sometimes simplistic and literal doctrine of the Celestial Kingdom as “an elevated form of the human sphere,” the existence of Mother God is necessary to complete the sexual power dynamic in Mormon theology. As argued by Heeren, Lindsey and Mason,”Mother in Heaven is properly seen as elevating the conjugal relationship into the eternal realm.” Just as Aristophanes’ 2-headed beings were powerful enough to challenge the position of the Gods, married Mormons are promised that we can become exalted as Gods, having sexual intercourse just like God the Father and God the Mother.
Sex in heaven is not an unknown concept for Mormons. Even as a youth, I was taught that one of the main reasons I should remain chaste was that if I did, and one day married in the temple, I would be able to have sex for eternity. If I did not, my eternity would be sexless as a punishment for “misuse” of my mortal body. Sex, rather than intimacy or companionship, was the prize for those who would strive for heaven. We might all be exalted in heaven, but sex would yet be reserved as the prize for those most righteous. This idea is supported in Joseph Smith’s teachings wherein virgin females are given to males who are deemed righteous enough to be awarded sex for their religious devotion (Doctrine and Covenants 132:62). This means that Mormon theology’s highest characteristic of love and heavenly exaltation is to engage in sex eternally, rather than to live eternally in a sexless “outer darkness.”
Thus, to Mormons, sex is important because it is the primary motivation to gain eternal life. Mormon culture reflects this concept: it teaches us to cover the shoulders of 2 year old girls to teach them that they are intended to be, if not already- sexual objects. Mormon culture also teaches that young men cannot control their sexual desires any more than they can control the priesthood that is laid upon them. Mormons give sex the same procreative, unyielding power of God. Thus, the power of God within a Mormon context is conceptually the same as sex itself: priesthood power is to be used properly, and not for unrighteous dominion, just as sex is to be used for procreation within marriage. Sex then is a symbol of the highest level of the Celestial kingdom, and ultimately means power.
What then, if heaven does not involve the act of sex? Aristophanes’ speech was intended only to explain the nature of mortal love and sexual attraction; the intention was not to define the heavens. Even Joseph Smith’s introduction of plural marriage was based on his query to God to explain the relationship of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar, rather than to define the status of sex in heaven. In fact, in the scriptures, God is not described in terms of sexual love, but as the epitome and characteristic of companion love. This spiritual companionship is described in the book of John wherein it teaches that “he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. (1 John 4:16)” For Christians, this means that perfect love is found in companionship with God. Yet this companionship is not limited to being with God. We must seek this non-sexual communion with each other as well, “And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also (1 John 4:21).”
Godly love is absent of sexual love and explains our desire to develop a relationship with God. It also explains our non-sexual desire for marriage, and even our desire for friendship. Indeed, the Doctrine and Covenants claims that Christ was received in fullness, meaning that even He had to enter into the “everlasting covenant” of eternal marriage. Likewise, we believe that His own conception was sexless, as Mary was told by an angel that she would give birth to the son of God (The Catholics teach that Mary was inseminated through her ear.) But this means that heavenly love is not reflected in sex, which suggests that the concept of procreation is not something that is sexual in nature. Spiritual procreation is something greater than sex, and perhaps akin to the transcendence we attribute to perfect Christlike love.
So what then is spiritual, “eternal” love? Real love, particularly within Mormon theology, when we remove the Mormon emphasis on sex? Perhaps in the highest level of heaven there is no desire for sex. Instead, our desire is to become co-creators of brilliance and perfect goodness. Rather than eros (erotic love), heavenly love means something more along the lines of Socrates’ definition of love as the characteristic of perfect knowledge. If this is the case, then procreation becomes the highest form of knowledge because omniscience, rather than sex, is the only means to create worlds without end, to create offspring without sex, and create ecosystems without pollution, among other things.
Should this be the case, that God and heaven are not sexual being or places, then the Mormon sexualised separation of genders is unnecessary. It also can mean that gender is not eternal, even though it is declared as such in the Family Proclamation. But it really means more than just that. At its essence, it means there is no Heavenly Father, and ….there is no Heavenly Mother. There is simply Elohim, the plural term that describes God as the ultimate, yet singularly powerful creator. Thus, I wonder…. Is gender truly eternal?
More importantly, can Mormon doctrine survive without its emphasis on sex?