Immortality: Distinctions and Confluences Between Feminist Theology and Mormonism By Caroline Kline

Kline, CarolineOn the whole, I like the Mormon concept of immortality. I like the idea of being with my family forever. I like the idea of being able to love and live with a child or spouse or parent that might have died too young. I like the idea of being eternally engaged in learning and working with others. I do fully admit, I am put off by the idea that I as woman might be eternally giving birth to spirit babies, and the status of Heavenly Mother – my immortal role model – is angst inducing if I sit down and think about it for very long. But in my positive moments, I have some hope that my husband and I would actually be equals in the next life – that the patriarchy of our Church and of our world is just a natural consequence of the fall and of human fallibility.

So I initially found it a bit jarring to read about Rosemary Radford Ruether’s take on immortality.

Goddess Luna by Angela Gonyea

Goddess Luna by Angela Gonyea

Ruether, author of Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology, questions whether or not the idea of immortality is an outgrowth of a Western (and she would also say male) concern with self-perpetuation as well as an abstraction from the real life processes of growing, birthing and dying. She has reason for this latter concern: in traditional Christian theology, immortality is static, and according to some Church fathers, the resurrected female body (not the male) will have its sexual organs neutered in some way so as to not be able to inspire lust.

Ruether proposes that we explore a feminist theology that moves away from thinking so much about the ego’s everlastingness and instead accepts our own finiteness and embraces death as part of a natural matrix of humans and non-humans, who spring from the earth and eventually return from it in a nutritive regenerative cycle. Rather than hoping for the ideal in the next life, she urges us to use this present moment to create a just and good community for our children.

I have mixed feelings about Ruether’s take on immortality. On the one hand, I very much appreciate her ideas about valuing the body, accepting change, and restoring balance between human and non-human. On the other, I admit that I find it empowering and elevating to think of existing eternally, to think that my soul is co-eternal with the divine (even if that idea is a bit egotistical).

So it might appear that Mormonism and Ruether’s feminist theology might not have a lot of common ground to work with regarding the concept of immortality. But I actually see some surprising confluences. Mormonism’s concept of immortality is very different than the one Ruether is rejecting. Our immortality not only accepts change, it expects and embraces it. Rather than a heaven that is never-changing perfection, Mormonism’s concept of eternal life is all about working to make progress, evolve, and learn. There is an embracing of the body, sexuality, and natural life processes in Mormon ideas of eternal reproduction. In a nutshell, I see Mormonism’s concept of eternal life as a merging, in some sense, of both traditional Christian ideas about immortality and of Ruether’s feminist emphasis on the body and change.

Caroline is completing her coursework for her Ph.D. in religion with a focus on women’s studies in religion.  Her areas of interest revolve around the intersections of Mormon and feminist theology and the study of contemporary Mormon feminist communities. She is the co-founder of the Mormon feminist blog, The Exponent.

Categories: Mormonism

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9 replies

  1. Interesting thoughts. I too have written about accepting death as the end of life in She Who Changes, Rebirth, Laughter, and most recently in “The Last Dualism” in the JFSR. I completely agree with Ruether. However, I have found that accepting death as the end of life is the last thing most people, including most feminists, want to do. To me it seems like the most natural thing in the world. What I don’t believe is that “everything happens for the best.” This is why I believe that a relational Goddess/God does not control everything that happens in the world.


  2. Carol, thanks for the comment! She Who Changes was a fascinating and enlightening read for me. I love the idea of an evolving, changing God and Goddess who work as co-creators with humans, who are limited in scope and power. Those are some core ideas within Mormonism, and I love the way they mesh with feminist theology.


  3. Caroline,
    Thank you for this important post. I know that when I wrote on the resurrection of the body, I as well attempted to tease out some of your own concerns. I recall reading Ruether’s take on death during my MA studies and how empty I felt at the possibility of no after-life.

    As a Catholic, I draw upon the doctrine of the Communion Saints to sustain me. What the next phase of our spiritual journey entails is all mystery, but the presence of those who have died remains with me. It is the pulling down of the ancestors, the knowledge that the thinness of the veil that separates us from them is comforting. From a rational/analytical perspective, I know of no way to defend the existence of an after-life, but equally true is the inability to dismiss its existence. And so I chose to live in the in-between spaces of divine mystery and a god/dess who accompanies me in this life and the next.


  4. I think the idea of ancestor worship undermines Western notions of secularism. I think that it may be more important to the segmentws of the black community that practice a form of Native American religion that is in keeping with Gaian cosmology. It’s one of the reasons I backed away from a nature based practice. There is a kind of determinism that creeps in and it limits women if it is too oriented to that way of thinking.


  5. When I studied for my graduate degree in transforming spirituality and doctorate in educational leadership I was bathed in the freedom of feminist theology…it resonated so completely. In my real work as at registered nurse I work among the masculine imposition of mormonism & 7th day adventists; when I took a vacation to Rome it was thought that I was going to the home of the whore of Babylon. I’m so tired of the masculine ‘normative’ which does not even entertain the possible non-gendering of the sacred, much less avoid oppressing the feminine aspects of spirituality. I’m glad I came across this page as I was studying up on dominionism so I can better detached from my surroundings….


  6. Thankfully some bloggers can write. My thanks for this writing.


  7. I would like to thank the author for using my painting “Goddess Luna” for this article. The site that the image was on changed. You can find images of my “Goddess Luna” paintings on my devious Art page or Or Thank you…….Angela Gonyea


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