“Nobody actually believes in a man with a beard in the clouds.”

A friend of mine said this recently as we were discussing whether the god that New Atheists dismiss is too simplistic.

All I could say is, “Well, I did.”

Okay, maybe not in the clouds exactly, but from his first appearance with his Son to Joseph Smith to the affirmation in Doctrine and Covenants 130 that he has a tangible body, the Mormon conception of God as I understood it was that God was beyond the shadow of a doubt, a man, the Father of our spirits. And not only was he in our image and we in his, at one time he was a mortal like ourselves. (For all the debate about whether or not this is official doctrine, this is what I learned in Sunday School and seminary. So if it’s not official doctrine, CES dropped the ball.)

I always wondered about what our Heavenly Father was like when he was going through his own earthly progression. Was he whatever the equivalent of a Utah Mormon on his planet would have been (I really hoped he wasn’t)? Or was he one of those hip California Mormons? I kind of imagined he might have been like my seminary teacher that I really admired, kind, intelligent, accepting, the epitome of my ideal of Christlike.

I’ve written about how my parents took a very literal approach to Church doctrine. That became problematic for me when I went to college and learned about things like evolution. One question that bothered me was, At what point along the evolutionary path did humanoid creatures become children of God as opposed to just animals? Was there a magic cutoff line? I couldn’t see how the Adam and Eve story could fit, and if that wasn’t real, a lot of other Church doctrine collapsed for me. I admire those who take a less black and white approach and sometimes wish I’d gotten a more nuanced view of things.

I don’t believe it anymore, but I still find it a beautiful idea that we humans are all the offspring of divinity with the potential to become divine ourselves. “Beloved child of God” was a label that positively impacted how I saw and interacted with people in my everyday life.

I don’t believe in Elohim or Kolob anymore, yet I can’t deny that I had experiences that I view as sacred in connection with those ideas. After a time of considering myself atheist and even anti-religious, I’m grappling with new ideas and reconsidering what God could be. The images of God that I had frankly seem absurd to me now and much of the reason why I took the label “atheist” was because I didn’t want anyone thinking I believed in that God, but I’ve come to a place where the word “God” once again feels relevant and meaningful to me. Perhaps the images I had were incomplete or accurate, but they sure seemed an effective gateway to Something, and it’s a Something that I’m not done exploring.


Writer. Poet. Teacher. Journeyer. Living in North Carolina @leahiellio www.leahielliott.com

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10 Responses

  1. simplysarah says:

    Great post. I can completely relate to everything you’ve written (though I still prefer the atheist label).

  2. Leah says:

    Thanks, Sarah!

  3. Robert Hagedorn says:

    Before we can discuss the tree of knowledge of good and evil we must first know exactly what this tree and its fruit were. Do a search: The First Scandal. Then click twice.

  4. Parker says:

    What do you see as the solution to your conundrum of wanting to believe in a God, but not particularly caring for any of the existing versions?

  5. Carlos says:

    I think that the process is a learning curve. And through this process you will go back and forth until you find the truth. That is the process that your own mind goes through with learning. I feel that at the core of the universe there are a group of laws that without the need of a supreme being make everything work. For instance the law of justice in which a person is rewarded for what he or she does good or bad does not need of a supreme being to be implemented. It simply is. At the core of the universe there are these croup of laws that make the world go forward, and there is no need for a supreme being to control these laws.

  6. Leah says:

    Parker, I don’t know that I’m done exploring all the existing versions. I linked to a great article the other day quoting Karen Armstrong as saying, “God is not a being at all.” I’m reading the work of various mystics in various faiths through the ages. There are vast interpretations about what God could or might be that have been around for a long time. They just aren’t interpretations that I happened to have any exposure to growing up Mormon.

    Carlos, my response to Parker kind of goes along with your thoughts as well. There are some who think that those core laws of the universe are themselves God without any sort of personal intelligence at the helm. Could very well be. Some people object to calling natural laws God. Either view is fine with me. I just think I cut off my exploring prematurely. It may be that after more exploring, I’ll conclude that there’s Nothing after all. Even now, I don’t think that what I’m looking for is any sort of being. I think the human faces we’ve attached to god(s) throughout history (even the Mormon view of God) represent different facets of something much bigger and more complex. None of these anthropomorphic views is “wrong,” exactly, but none of them alone is an adequate representation either. I discussed this in more detail on my personal blog.

  7. TGD says:

    I don’t really label myself anything but I’m fascinated by the idea of labels as they pertain to personal identity.
    Great post.

  8. Leah says:

    Thanks, TGD.

  9. wayne says:

    I have always liked the concept of Brahman, myself. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brahman

    As for God or no God, in thought I am more of an atheist, in practice well I am a pragmatist. The question does not matter to me. If I am with a group of people who are praying I pray too.

  10. Leah says:

    wayne, thanks! The idea of Brahman appeals to me as well.

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