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.


I'm a college professor and, well, a professional X-Mormon. Thus, ProfXM. I love my Mormon family, but have issues with LDS Inc. And I'm not afraid to tell LDS Inc. what I really think... anonymously, of course!

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23 Responses

  1. mermaid says:

    ooh, this is a very painful topic for me – cause my mom accused me of flirting with being a son of perdition (can a woman become a son of perdition?)

    however – i have always been taught that sons of perdition deny the Christ and assent to his crucifixion – although why any sane person would assent to his crucifixion is beyond me, whether they believe in his divinity or not.

  2. chanson says:

    I agree this is one of the many ambiguous points where believers have a lot of leeway to come up with their own interpretations. This ambiguity comes up in my novel here where the believing character concludes that one probably has to have gone through the temple to become a SoP — which is about what I would have said back when I was a believer even though I wouldn’t have been able to back that up with scripture.

  3. Matt says:

    While I agree that no LDS leader has ever seen god or Jesus (note to TBM/apologists: the “it’s too personal and sacred to share” argument seriously fails the bullshit test so don’t bother) one might be forgiven for assuming that they had — you know, based on the standard definition of “witness”. Nevertheless, I have it on good authority (yes, my 9th grade Seminary teacher) that virtually no 2nd Estate being is eligible to be classified a SoP since our test is one of faith and as it goes: perfect knowledge is faith no more. A few notable exceptions and even these are speculative: Cain, Judas, and maybe Emma Smith (and then Joseph too if he’s good on his word). All the rest are among the 1/3 host of heaven that followed Lucifer, that great author of perdition.

    So we’re all good. But think about what SoP entails. That there’s someone out there who has 100% knowledge of god’s existence and nature and this dude hates god. Wants to kick his ass. Now you have to ask yourself, “what kind of asshat is this?” Maybe not so stupid. There’s a reason god’s people are taught to fear knowledge and despise human wisdom. There’s a reason that Lucifer’s name means, “light bearer”. There’s a reason that demon is derived from the Greek word for knowledge … and it wasn’t because god likes playing ironic word games. It’s because god hates anything that competes. It make him wicked jealous and he’s not shy about admitting it.

    This god hates competition so bad that he throws his most heinous and fearful and ultimately impotent threat at the competition. He threatens to throw them out of his presence. Forever.

    Imagine a god whose idea of the worst possible punishment is to deprive one of his presence. A god who says that the only true hell is to never, ever be able to visit him again. That’s the god our parents taught us to worship.

    Turns out, Son of Perdition is looking an awful lot like being human.

    PS. I have personally been assured by an angel who (oddly) refused to shake my hand, that the negative aspects of perdition have been greatly over-hyped and that the place is indeed actually very much like what we have here on earth. For some reason I found myself wanting to believe. So then, if I’m not yet a SoP, I’m well on my way and happy for the company.

  4. Guy Noir Private Eye says:

    I agree with your read & suggested application of the BS test…
    A few (OK, Many)years ago, apostles were touted as being ‘special witnesses of Christ’s resurrection’ Special witnesses to whom???
    The current apostles don’t witness much of anything!
    Oh how Mormonism has been diluted at the same time the outward appearances’ status has climbed into space!

  5. profxm says:

    Matt, you raise a good point concerning the depiction of SofPs – while the criteria for becoming one is ambiguous, they also tend to be characterized as the epitome of evil. While I think the term “evil” is a complete waste of linguistic space, I do think this is another out for Mormons. As chanson notes, many Mormons probably think that anyone who was endowed and then left the religion is probably on their way to becoming a SofP, but it may be the case that this is only the first step. To really become an SofP you have to embrace evil.

    While I think the whole idea of SofPs is ridiculous, I am fascinated by the sociological implications here: SofPs are, next to Satan and maybe Cain, the worst of the worst. But why don’t Mormons call vocal apostates SofPs? I’m really intrigued by that…

    Oh, and that same angel told me the same thing – damn perdition sales angels!

  6. Joel McDonald says:

    I was taught to understand that the warning concerning the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood to be about the Melchizedek Priesthood specifically, and the presumed oath one takes when they are ordained. This would make sense considering the placement of the passage.

  7. Hellmut says:

    Lucifer as the Judeo Christian counterpart of Prometheus? I like it, Matt. That’s an interesting idea.

  8. I want to point out that I’m going to the Celestial Kingdom. 😛

    I think one reason that Mormons don’t apply the SofP label more often to those who leave the church is that many of them have sons, daughters, brothers, or sisters who fit this category. They may think that they’re misguided and under the influence of Satan, but they realize (or at least want to believe) that they aren’t irredeemable, and they don’t all seem worthy of eternal death. They believe the Gospel is fair, so their wayward relatives and friends can’t be included in the SofP category when they don’t deserve it.

  9. I think this label is a bit loser than some think.

    Wow, I was just writing a post on being a daughter of perdition. I’d better put it up today. Come by later and see me, y’all.

    Anyway, I think most Mormons understand this teaching to mean that you have to have your calling and election made sure/see the Savior/have the Second Comforter/be sealed with the Holy Spirit of Promise (all these terms meaning about the same thing–a perfect knowledge of Christ. Then to reject him and come out in open rebellion. There are in fact many apostles who have spoken of having seen the Savior. DH did some research for Donald Q. Cannon for a paper on this subject years ago. I don’t remember all the details, but I know there was Lorenzo Snow in the SL Temple, and Melvin J. Ballard and a few others.

    Then there are those people who stand up in testimony meeting and bear strange testimonies of having visions and seeing Christ. I think they might have to worry about these things.

  10. Seth R. says:

    D&C 76:30-49 are the key verses on the subject. Verses 31-35 give a bit of an outline for the qualifications (Taken from David J. Ridges – “Mormon Doctrines Made Easier”, pp. 237).


    1. “Know my power” (D&C 76:31)

    In order to “know” God and His power, one must have the witness of the Holy Ghost, concerning God and His power. Joseph Smith taught this as follows: “What must a man do to commit the unpardonable sin? He must receive the Holy Ghost, have the heavens opened unto him, and know God, and then sin against Him. After a man has sinned against the Holy Ghost, there is no repentance for him. He has got to say that the sun does not shine while he sees it; he has got to deny Jesus Christ when the heavens have been opened unto him, and to deny the plan of salvation with his eyes open to the truth of it; and from that time he begins to be an enemy. This is the case with many apostates of the Church…” (TPJS, p. 358)

    Interesting quote that I have heard referenced regularly on this subject. On the one hand, the requirements seem rather hard to meet. But on the other, we have Joseph’s interesting statement that “many apostates” that he knew fit the bill.

    2. “Have been made partakers thereof.”

    They are members of the Church and have all ordinances, endowments, etc., that we have available here in this life. Joseph F. Smith quote:

    “And he that believes, is baptized, and receives the light and testimony of Jesus Christ… receiving the fulness of the blessings of the gospel in this world, and afterwards turns wholly unto sin, violating his covenants… will taste the second death” (Smith, Gospel Doctrine, pp. 476-77).

    3. “Suffered themselves [allowed themselves, through agency choices] through the power of the devil to be overcome”

    In other words, they must intentionally allow themselves to be overcome by Satan.

    4. “Deny the truth”

    They become complete liars, completely lacking in integrity… denying the truth when they fully know it.

    5. “Defy my power”

    They don’t just go inactive, but fight against God and the Church, against all that is good…

    6. “They are vessels of wrath”

    They become full of anger, bitterness, and hatred of that which is good.

    7. “Having crucified him unto themselves and put him to an open shame”

    (Ridges adds little worth reading at this point)

    A summary from Brigham Young:

    “How much does it take to prepare a man, or woman… to become angels to the devil, to suffer with him through all eternity? Just as much as it does to prepare a man to go into the Celestial Kingdom, into the presence of the Father and the Son, and to be made an heir to his kingdom and all his glory, and be crowned with crowns of glory, immortality, and eternal lives” (JD 3:93)

    So I imagine there’s a little in that summary for everyone. Some of it supports my earlier points on the matter. Some of it does not necessarily.

    Ridges’ book is one of those popularized doctrinal summaries you sometimes find at Deseret Book (I got it as a gift). I find Ridges to be a bit of a lightweight on occasion. Parts of his entry on Sons of Perdition aren’t really all that helpful in my view. But he is still probably a good place to take a pulse on what you might hear on the subject in your bog-standard LDS Gospel Doctrine class.

    I’ll have to have a shot at Bruce R. McConkie’s “Mormon Doctrine” entry on the subject. Controversial or not, he usually has a deeper grasp of the scriptures than more modern imitators.

  11. Seth,

    You also need to consider D&C 132:19 which implies that murdering an innocent is also involved.

    [Why do I allow myself to get into discussions of the fine points of Mormon doctrine‽]

  12. profxm says:

    So, if I were to say that the “heavens were opened” to me and I had a confirming vision that, um, let’s say there is a god and he is the god Mormons describe, that would qualify me for SofP status, depending on what happens after that point. Right?

    If that’s the case, then, “The heavens were opened to me and I saw God and he was Mormon. I now deny it.”

    Et Voila – I am officially a son of perdition! (Run, run for the hills; there is a son of perdition on Main Street Plaza!)

    Okay, I’m being facetious, of course, but this reiterates my point about this idea: What’s to keep anyone from saying that they didn’t have the heavens opened to them? Joseph Smith said it. Oliver Cowdery was supposedly with him at the time, and he claimed it (then he left the religion). Martin Harris claimed it, as did Joseph Fielding Smith, among others. Yet, quaintly, there is no evidence to support their claims. No more evidence than my claim.

    What’s more, some of those involved with the Nauvoo Expositor were probably candidates for SofP status, yet they were revealing the “sins” of Joseph Smith as they saw them.

    This leads me back to the sociology of the label: A son of perdition in Mormon thought goes beyond sinner (which is a call of repentance and an urging to closer adherence to the religion). A son of perdition label is basically an assertion that a soul is lost and not reclaimable. That’s it! And that’s why it is used so reticently – Mormons recognize deep down that they don’t, in fact, have the ability to determine who is righteous and who is not. Ergo, they can’t actually label anyone an irredeemable soul. Thus, they talk about the possibility, but they never use the label (except for good Ol’ Joe, who used it freely for anyone who opposed him).

    I think I understand why the label exists now…

    This also explains why, even though my family is appalled at my atheism and my criticism of Mormonism, they can’t really call me evil – I’m a nice guy most of the time. Calling me a son of perdition would imply that I’m irredeemable. They don’t see me as evil (except insofar as religion goes) and they still hold out hope that one day I can be redeemed.

  13. Seth R. says:

    Exactly. Isn’t that sweet of them profxm.

    For the record, I just read McConkie. He calls it a myth that the number of SoPs can be “counted on one hand.”

  14. Matt says:

    Good ol’ Bruce. God bless him. The church has buried his kind with much of its history. For better or worse.

    Jonathan (8), I think, has the point on why most Mormons neither go around pointing the SoP finger nor believe that it’s anything but an extremely rare if not mythical assignment. No good-hearted person wants to believe in a human who is so irredeemable or in a god who is so resolute as to virtually give-up on a soul. Yeah, yeah — “I am eternal therefore my punishment is eternal, but this is not to say that it lasts forever … know what I mean, child?”

    We shouldn’t be too surprised either since gods are created by the mind for the consumption of the human mind. What we have today is the rising heresy of un-capped heavenly kingdoms or even the shunting aside entirely of hierarchal afterlife states from daily conversation and cognizance.

    What need do we have these days for a god who is so petty and lacking? Seems like progress to me.

    Guy Noir, exactly. “Special witness”? Also buried with BRM and his too many to count on hands and toes SoP hoards.

    profxm, yep … exact same angel. And that word “evil”? Puff-word indeed. Who are we at war with Mr Preznit? “The evil-doers!” Check.

    Hellmut, yeah–I owe that idea about Lucifer to chanson who turned me on to Philip Pullman who turned me on to Milton. Once you think about it, it’s really not hard to have a great deal of sympathy for the old snake and his mission to do right by the big E’s little play-things.

  15. Seth R. says:

    I always found Lucifer a very sympathetic character. That’s what makes the idea of him dangerous.

  16. Matt says:

    Whatever does it mean that sympathetic makes the idea dangerous? Oh yeah, ’cause he lies. His sympathetic character is a lie. Says who? Oh yeah, the sympathetic character in the blue suit.

    Yep, the confidence man knows the game like no other and can even create a straw man in his own image for you to obsess over while he conducts his business. It’s called mis-direction and it works like a charm.

    Now if you ask me which one I think is more likely the true snake-oil salesman, I’ll tell you that it’s the guy in the blue suit ’cause I’ve never actually seen this so-called devil. Of course, it took a long time to come to this point of no longer believing in the unseen world. Especially when I was taught of its reality since I was a trusting child.

  17. Guy Noir Private Eye says:

    It’s always a Giant Laugh to me when Mormons topics turn to & on tangential, out-of-the-way, off the beaten track details/minutiae.
    Love of God & neighbor cover ALL we need to do, but that doesn’t cover the needs of COB/GAs.
    taken in Totality, Mormonism is a huge JOKE, even just considering the distractions.

  18. Matt says:

    Heh, yeah. Always a good point, Guy. And I’ve said this before but never tire of it … the claim to truth in Mormonism (or of any distinct faith) is in the details. Anybody can teach love but only the church which knows the truth about Satan’s evil (though apparently sympathetic plan) can save you.

  19. Guy Noir Private Eye says:

    (now, let me be “Kinder/Gentler”)

    Mormonism does serve the ‘needs’ of some ppl who thrive on a highly-structured, highly-scripted environment… who might not be served in other religions.
    But the contrast between the ‘need for truth’ that Momism advertises to the exterior, AND the internal equivocations/ambiguities-inconsistencies of ‘the faith’ are overwhelming.

    All the technicalities & legalisms of Mormonism ….(thinking here)
    If they were dynamite, wouldn’t blow anyone’s nose…
    paddling around with one oar…
    a few bricks short of a load…
    elevator doesn’t make it to the Top…

  20. Seth R. says:

    Matt, you don’t even know what I’m talking about do you?

  21. Matt says:

    Probably not. I’m feeling rather bad that I keep going off on rants like this. It’s not you, Seth, it’s me. I’m pretty angry about a lot of things and it just comes out. I’ll work on it and thanks for putting up with it.

  22. Seth R. says:

    Hey, it’s OK. I haven’t been helping really.

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