I am Son of Perdition (And So Can You!)
As one of those ex-Mormons who has adopted the label Son of Perdition (SofP), I’d just like to toy with this a bit (continuing the discussion here). I think this label is a bit loser than some think. Here’s an intriguing post on BCC about those who would be considered SofPs by Joseph Smith, which includes a rather extensive list.
What is required to be a SofP? According to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism: “Those who sin against the Holy Ghost commit the unpardonable sin and will suffer the fulness of the second death.” Some Mormons seem to think this sin is denying a “knowledge” of the truthfulness of Mormonism received through the holy ghost. Considering the fact that many Mormons believe the “emotional” confirmation they received from the holy ghost is “knowledge” (an epistemological issue we should debate), this would mean any Mormon with a testimony would be a potential candidate if they deny their “knowledge” at a later date. By this definition, I’m definitely a Son of Perdition!
Of course, many Mormons would go further and say that there is a step above the regular testimony that is required to be a SofP. Short of actually seeing god (which means you no longer have or need faith), I fail to grasp what could be a higher level of belief. Some claim apostles have a “higher testimony.” What can be higher than “belief” than actual knowledge? This sounds like an intentionally vague characteriziation of the belief of apostles just to set them apart from ordinary members. This may also exist so Mormons don’t have quite so many enemies (else every former Mormon who ever had a testimony would qualify). By this (intentionally) vague definition, I would not qualify as a Son of Perdition (I was never an apostle by ordination).
But there are other criteria laid out in Mormon scripture and, as indicated by the link above, Joseph Smith called some people apostates who had never been apostles SofPs (generally those he didn’t like). I pulled this out of the Topical Guide, D&C 84:40-41:
40 Therefore, all those who receive the priesthood, receive this oath and covenant of my Father, which he cannot break, neither can it be moved.
41 But whoso breaketh this covenant after he hath received it, and altogether turneth therefrom, shall not have forgiveness of sins in this world nor in the world to come.
I could be wrong here, but this seems to be referring to two possible things: receiving the priesthood or the “oath and covenant of the priesthood” which is part of the temple endowment. Given the time frame of this revelation, it probably didn’t refer to a temple endowment because it didn’t exist at this point. But, in retrospect, it could easily incorporate the temple endowment. Now, couple the temple endowment with the pre-1990s “penalties” and I’m inclined to believe that anyone who was endowed who later leaves the LDS religion and denies what they experienced (in the sense of no longer believing it is divinely inspired) is, ipso facto, a Son of Perdition. By this definition, I qualify as a Son of Perdition.
We can debate Mormon theology, I guess, though that probably isn’t going to get us too far considering there isn’t really an “authoritative” source on this. Instead, I’m really interested in how the label is applied in a different sense: Mormons seem reticent to apply the label. Why? And why is this label reserved by some Mormons only for dissenters from the higher levels of the leadership, as though they some how have some higher “witness” of the truthfulness of Mormonism? Given my current beliefs, I’d dare say that it is very likely no leader of the LDS religion (prophets or apostles) has ever seen god or Jesus. Ergo, what is this “higher witness”? And what is a “perfect knowledge” of the Holy Ghost? All of those seem intriguing topics of discussion to me.