Gospel Doctrine for the Godless

An ex-Mormon take on LDS Sunday School lessons

D&C Lesson 20 (Three Degrees of Glory)

The Kingdoms of Glory

Reading assignment

Doctrine and Covenants 76; 131; 132:19–24; 137.

Links: Teacher’s manual | Student manual


In our last lesson, we discussed the Plan of Salvation. Now we’re zooming in on a revelation about the three degrees of glory.

Vision of the three degrees of glory

In another lesson, I pointed out that the idea of three kingdoms of glory was shamelessly pillaged from Emanuel Swedenborg, and other church leaders at the time even thought it was “a trial to many” and a “satanic revelation”. Well, much of the doctrine surrounding the three kingdoms comes from Section 76, part of this week’s reading.

I was always fond of Philo Dibble’s retelling of the origin of Section 76. Joseph and Sidney, in thrall to the cosmic, talked each other through the revelation.

But I’d never read the whole story. It’s the wackiest church meeting I’ve ever heard of (and I’ve been to a few). Here it is. Read the whole thing.

I saw Joseph Smith the Prophet when he first came to Kirtland, and was with him in the first conference held in that place, which was in a small schoolhouse. When he arose in our midst he said that before the conference closed there were those present who should see the heavens open and bear record of the coming of the Son of Man, and that the man of sin should be revealed.

While he talked he laid his hand upon the head of Lyman Wight. He then laid his left hand upon the head of Harvey Whitlock. Lyman Wight stepped into the middle of the room and bore record of the coming of the Son of Man. Then Harvey Whitlock stepped into the middle of the room with his arms crossed, bound by the power of Satan, and his mouth twisted unshapely.

Hyrum Smith arose and declared that there was an evil spirit in the room.

Joseph said, “Don’t be too hasty,” and Hyrum sat down.

Shortly Hyrum rose the second time, saying, “I know my duty and will do it,” and stepping to Harvey, commanded the evil spirits to leave him, but the spirits did not obey.

Joseph then approached Harvey and asked him if he believed in God. Then we saw a change in Harvey. He also bore record of the opening of the heavens and of the coming of the Son of Man, precisely as Lyman Wight had done.

Next a man by the name of Harvey Green was thrown upon his back on the floor by an unseen power. Some of the brethren wanted to administer to him by laying on of hands, but Joseph forbade it. Harvey looked to me like a man in a fit. He groaned and frothed at the mouth. Finally he got upon his knees and came out of it.

Next thing I saw a man came flying through the window from outside. He was straight as a man’s arm as he sailed into the room over two rows of seats filled with men, and fell on the floor between the seats and was pulled out by the brethren. He trembled all over like a leaf in the wind. He was soon apparently calm and natural. His name was Lemon Copley. He weighed over two hundred pounds. This I saw with my own eyes and know it is all true, and bear testimony to it.

I was with Joseph the next morning after he was tarred and feathered by a mob in the town of Hiram. After he had washed and dressed in clean clothes, I heard him say to Sidney Rigdon, who was also tarred and feathered, “Now, Sidney, we are ready to go on that mission,” having reference to a command of God to go to Jackson County, Missouri, and which they had deferred to comply with until they should have accomplished some work which they had planned, but never did accomplish.

The vision which is recorded in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants [D&C 76] was given at the house of “Father Johnson,” in Hiram, Ohio, and during the time that Joseph and Sidney were in the spirit and saw the heavens open, there were other men in the room, perhaps twelve, among whom I was one during a part of the time– probably two-thirds of the time,–I saw the glory and felt the power, but did not see the vision.

The events and conversation, while they were seeing what is written (and many things were seen and related that are not written,) I will relate as minutely as is necessary.

Joseph would, at intervals, say: “What do I see?” as one might say while looking out the window and beholding what all in the room could not see. Then he would relate what he had seen or what he was looking at. Then Sidney replied, “I see the same.” Presently Sidney would say “what do I see?” and would repeat what he had seen or was seeing, and Joseph would reply, “I see the same.”

This manner of conversation was repeated at short intervals to the end of the vision, and during the whole time not a word was spoken by any other person. Not a sound nor motion made by anyone but Joseph and Sidney, and it seemed to me that they never moved a joint or limb during the time I was there, which I think was over an hour, and to the end of the vision.

Joseph sat firmly and calmly all the time in the midst of a magnificent glory, but Sidney sat limp and pale, apparently as limber as a rag, observing which, Joseph remarked, smilingly, “Sidney is not used to it as I am.”



What was the “new and everlasting covenant of marriage”?

Here’s a phrase that always went over my head, and I don’t think most Mormons are aware of it.

D&C 131:1 In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees;
2 And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage];
3 And if he does not, he cannot obtain it.
4 He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase.

I always thought the “the new and everlasting covenant of marriage” just meant “getting married in the temple”. The Encyclopedia of Mormonism fudges it and says it’s just everything.

Baptism, marriage, and all other covenants from God necessary for salvation are new and everlasting.

The study manual for Brigham Young has a whole chapter on this phrase, and talks about its importance, but never once comes out and says what it actually is. How incredibly shifty.

This phrase had a meaning that Brigham Young and other early church leaders well understood: polygamy.

Brigham Young (here’s the link, but watch out for Evangelical Christianity)

…[men] who did not have but one wife in the Resurrection that woman will not be his but [will be] taken from him and given to another. President Wilford Woodruff (Utah Stake Historical Record #64904/CH0/1877-1888. Quarterly Conference held March 3rd and 4th, 1883; Sunday, 2 PM, p.271) The new and everlasting Covenant is marriage, plural marriage – men may say that with their single marriage the same promises and blessings had been granted, why cannot I attain to as much as with three or four, many question me in this manner I suppose they are afraid of Edmunds, what is the Covenant?

It is the eternity of the marriage covenant, and includes a plurality of wives and takes both to make the law…Joseph Smith declared that all who became heirs of God and joint heirs of Christ must obey his law or they cannot enter into the fullness and if they do not they may loose the one talent, when men are offered knowledge and they refuse it they will be damned and there is not a man that is sealed by this priesthood by covenants to enter into the fullness of the law and the same with the woman she says she will observe all that pertains to the new and everlasting Covenant both are under the Covenant – and must obey if they wish to enter into a continuation of the lives or of the seeds.

Wilford Woodruff

When a man, according to the revelation, marries a wife under the holy order which God has revealed and then marries another in the same way, he enters into the new and everlasting covenant, and so far as he has gone he has obeyed the law.

–Wilford Woodruff letter to Bishop S. A. Woolley (9th Ward, SLC) May 22, 1888, First Presidency letterpress copybooks, 1877-1949, Vol. 18: 841-843

Religious polygamy is gross and coercive. Maybe I ought to be glad that the LDS Church tries to walk back its polygamous past, but to hide it outright is dishonest.

Also, I actually think that if this scripture did mean simply “getting married in the temple”, it would be damaging enough.

Ask: How does this emphasis on marriage affect people in the church who have no desire to get married?

True, lesson materials do try to remove the sting:

Student manual. Read the statements under “Those Who Do Not Marry” (student manual, 168). Ask students what these statements teach about those who do not have the opportunity to be married in this life.

There, there, it seems to say. You just didn’t have the opportunity. But if you did, I’m sure you’d do what everyone has to, in order for their existence to be truly validated!

How the LDS Church continually shits on everyone who doesn’t follow the model.

I mean, THIS.

View post on imgur.com

If you’re a guy, did you ever fully grasp how different were the experiences of young men and young women in the Mormon church?

I did not.

(Thanks to Redditor merlin5603 for the find!)

Additional ideas for teaching

Matter, or anti-matter?

What’s the relationship between spirit and matter? Are they different things, or are they just different manifestations of the same thing?

If you said, “They’re different,” then congratulations. First of all, you’re right — matter exists, and spirit doesn’t. But second of all, you’ve managed to avoid a trap that besets silly spiritualists. The trap is a question: why is there no evidence for spirits? The way out of the trap is to say, “Because spirit and matter are totally different things, and you can’t detect spirit using material means.”

Unfortunately, Joseph Smith falls directly into this trap. Here’s what he says:

D&C 131:7 There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes;
8 We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter.

Bah-bow. Now he has to explain why, if spirit is matter, it doesn’t behave like matter, and it’s not detectable like matter is. True, it’s very common for charlatans to say that “our instruments just aren’t sensitive enough”, but this is a dodge that grows ever less convincing as our instruments improve.

For example, matter can be weighed. If spirit is a kind of matter, it can also be weighed. To give an idea: there’s a scale that can detect an object as small as a yoctogram.

Have you ever imagined weighing even the smallest particle of a certain object? If ever a yes, then you actually had the same perception as Adrian Bachtold and his company when they did the tiniest weights.

This guy together with his colleagues is from the Catalan Institute of Nanotechnology in Barcelona, Spain. They did research and came up with this spectacular invention of the world’s most sensitive scale. The device can significantly measure the smallest unit of a mass, or also known as the yoctogram which is just one septillionth of a gram.

I don’t really know how you would get some of that spiritual matter to weigh it, but surely if it were a thing, a clever person would be able to put together a research program. Instead, we get TV shows with people running around in the dark. Silly.

1 Comment

  1. AnonGDTeacher

    20 June 2017 at 2:41 am

    Holy cow, I had no idea about the flying man. That is fabulous. I wish I’d known that before teaching the lesson last Sunday — I’ll be sure to check up before the next interesting lesson I teach.
    (signed, an anon GD teacher who is trying to bring some of this stuff up in SS — more in a faith-promoting way than you are addressing it here, to be honest, but in the general pursuit of truth and making people aware that a. this stuff is out there and b. if they know about it and are sitting there in SS thinking they’re the only crazy one… they’re not)

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