Before I answer that question, I’m going to give my own perspective on the afterlife. I have long believed that fear of death and grief from loss of loved ones are the two main motivations for humans creating religion. One of the reasons I clung to belief as long as I did is I didn’t want to face the reality of never seeing my parents again. They both died relatively young. But I came to have peace with that, and I was at peace with the idea of my own death being the end of my existence. What I wasn’t prepared to deal with was the death of my son. His death nearly destroyed me. As I write this, my brother lies in the hospital dying. He has been fighting cancer for years and is now losing. He probably only has weeks. Roy is just 57, two and a half years older than me. My son was 24. The belief that my son no longer exists and that I will never see him again has been so agonizing that I’ve tried to believe in all sorts of afterlives to avoid facing it. Contemplating my brother’s death adds to this nearly intolerable grief. But despite this pain, I can’t bring myself to believe again. Since I’m a woman, the Mormon afterlife requires me to give up personal autonomy, and the traditional Christian afterlife is monstrous. So I’ve tried to come up with an afterlife I could accept. I deigned a version, which is basically a “scientifically” based version of reincarnation, that I could almost get myself to believe. But the realization that I was simply making up what I wanted to be true was too powerful to ignore. When I allowed myself to think about it, it was absurd to think my personal fantasy had any basis in reality. Part of me still wants to hang onto a belief in some sort of afterlife where my son and parents now are and where my brother will soon join them. As my therapist says, I can’t know for certain that no such place exists. I think having such a belief would make the loss easier to bear. But even to soothe my pain, I could never accept either the traditional Christian nor the Mormon version.
The traditional non-Catholic Christian belief, I find monstrous. There is heaven, and there is hell. That’s it. Heaven is a place of eternal bliss, and hell a place of eternal torture. All of humanity is headed for one of these two options. What’s worse, is that your actions have nothing to do with where you end up. Traditional Christians teach that because Eve ate an apple 6000 years ago, we are all horrible sinners. Absolutely, everyone deserves to go to hell and be tortured forever. But since god is “loving,” if you grovel appropriately before him, he will save you from this fate. If you have the faith to grovel, even if you develop this faith on your deathbed after a lifetime of heinous action, you go to heaven. If you don’t have the faith, it doesn’t matter if you’ve spent your life striving to be the best person you can or if you’re Stalin or Mao, you will be tortured forever, something I don’t think even Stalin and Mao deserve. It is an infinite punishment for a finite crime. Any god who would do this is a monster. The Catholic afterlife with provides a bit more justice, but there is still the sickening belief in eternal torture. The concept of Hell is made worse by the belief that god is all-knowing, which means that he created people who he knew would end up suffering unimaginable torment forever. What kind of monster would do that?
I find the Mormon version of the afterlife less objectionable, but I have no desire for the ultimate reward for being a good Mormon—Godhood. Yes, going to the Celestial Kingdom to become a god is what every Mormon is striving for. Lorenzo Snow, the 5th president of the church, put it this way: “As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be.” This is one of the reasons that many Christians insist that Mormons aren’t Christian, and other people think Mormons are so weird. Many find it blasphemous to believe that God and humanity aren’t essentially different. Truthfully, it is a bit on the arrogant side. My biggest objection, however, is that people become gods as a couple with the wife forever subordinate to her husband. An eternity of subordination isn’t something I find desirable.
But the fate of those who don’t qualify for Godhood is more palatable than the eternal torture of Hell. If you don’t do all the correct Mormon stuff, but you’ve been a basically good person, you go to the Terrestrial Kingdom. You don’t become a god here, but it’s a really nice place. When my oldest brother (not the one who is dying) tried to reconvert me to Mormonism, I told him in the incredibly unlikely possibility that Mormons are actually right, I was okay with going to the Terrestrial Kingdom. Truly bad people will go to the Telestial Kingdom, which isn’t as good as the Terrestrial, but it’s still better than earth.
There is a 4th place called Outer Darkness, which is basically hell. Those who end up here are called Sons of Perdition, but there are few of them. To qualify for Outer Darkness, you must commit the unpardonable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. “Wherefore I say unto you, all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men” (Matt. 12:31). What this means is vague, but I was taught to qualify to be a Son of Perdition, you have to have an absolute knowledge of the truth (something akin to god appearing to you personally) and then work to destroy it. Not something that many would do. Also, note that they are “Sons” of Perdition. With the patriarchal nature of god, he's not likely to appear to any woman. Nobody ever actually said this, but it was implied.
What do you think happens when people die? Are you at peace with this? Do you have any questions about the Mormon belief system? Answer in the comments below.