“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.