An Atheist in the Great World of the Spirits of the Dead

This morning the man whose office is three doors down from mine died. He was in his late-70s, had been here nearly fifty years, and was on the job until last week. I shared his office for a couple years, and those thousands of hours together were my most extensive dealings with a bitter atheist. He wasn’t bitter about things in general, just his distaste for religion.

So there he is now, less than a day among the dead. It must be quite an experience for everyone, but even more disorienting for someone approaching it from a state of disbelief. Parley P. Pratt’s conference talk from 1853 comes to mind:

I will suppose, in the spirit world, a grade of spirits of the lowest order, composed of murderers, robbers, thieves, adulterers, drunkards, and persons ignorant, uncultivated, &c., who are in prison, or in hell, without hope, without God, and unworthy as yet of Gospel instruction. Such spirits, if they could communicate, would not tell you of the resurrection or of any of the Gospel truths, for they know nothing about them. They would not tell you about heaven, or Priesthood, for in all their meanderings in the world of spirits, they have never been privileged with the ministry of a holy Priest. If they should tell all the truth they possess, they could not tell much.

Take another class of spirits—pious, well-disposed men; for instance, the honest Quaker, Presbyterian, or other sectarian, who, although honest, and well disposed, had not, while in the flesh, the privilege of the Priesthood and Gospel. They believed in Jesus Christ, but died in ignorance of his ordinances, and had not clear conceptions of his doctrine, and of the resurrection. They expected to go to that place called heaven, as soon as they were dead, and that their doom would then and there be fixed, without any further alteration or preparation. Suppose they should come back, with liberty to tell all they know? How much light could we get from them? They could only tell you about the nature of things in the world in which they live. And even that world you could not comprehend, by their description thereof, any more than you can describe colors to a man born blind, or sounds to those who have never heard.

What, then, could you get from them? Why, common chit chat, in which there would be a mixture of truth, and of error and mistakes, in mingled confusion: all their communications would betray the same want of clear and logical conceptions, and sound sense and philosophy, as would characterize the same class of spirits in the flesh.

Who, then, is prepared, among the spirits in the spirit world, to communicate the truth on the subject of salvation, to guide the people, to give advice, to confer consolation, to heal the sick, to administer joy, and gladness, and hope of immortality and eternal life, founded on manifest truth?

All that have been raised from the dead, and clothed with immortality, all that have ascended to yonder heavens, and been crowned as Kings and Priests, all such are our fellow servants, and of our brethren the Prophets, who have the testimony of Jesus; all such are waiting for the work of God among their posterity on the earth.

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About John Mansfield

Mansfield in the desertA third-generation southern Nevadan, I have lived in exile most of my life in such places as Los Alamos, Baltimore, Los Angeles, the western suburbs of Detroit, and currently the northern suburbs of Washington, D.C. I work as a fluid dynamics engineer. I was baptized at age twelve in the font of the Las Vegas Nevada Central Stake Center, and on my nineteenth birthday I received the endowment in the St. George Temple. I served as a missionary mostly in the Patagonia of Argentina from 1985 to 1987. My true calling in the Church seems to be working with Cub Scouts, whom I have served in different capacities in four states most years since 1992. (My oldest boy turned eight in 2004.) I also currently teach Sunday School to the thirteen-year-olds. I hold degrees from two universities named for men who died in the 1870s, the Brigham Young University and the Johns Hopkins University. My wife is Elizabeth Pack Mansfield, who comes from New Mexico's north central mountains and studied molecular biology at the same two schools I attended. We have four sons, whose care and admonition, along with care of my aged father, require much of Elizabeth's time. She currently serves the Church as Mia-Maid advisor, ward music chairman, and choir director, and plays violin whenever she can. One day, I would like to make shoes.

11 thoughts on “An Atheist in the Great World of the Spirits of the Dead

  1. John M, I have spent most of my life around atheists, some bitter, some not-so-bitter. One thing worth pointing out is that most of them mellow over time and begin to recognize some good in organized religion. For those who never do, I could recommend dozens of books that I have read, but two immediately come to mind:

    “The Question of God: Sigmund Freud and CS Lewis.” One of the interesting features of this book is the study by the author, a Harvard professor, on the good that happens to undergraduates at Harvard who adopt a belief system. No corresponding good happens to the unconverted.

    Another one is Chris Hedges’ “I Don’t Believe in Atheists” in which he takes on the new group of radical atheists who seem to be filling up the book shelves these days:

    I haven’t read the latter book but will at some point.

  2. It is worth pointing out that for many, many spirits the fact that you still exist after you die will not help you get to God’s religion. At one point I thought to myself, “well, all these atheists will immediately convert when they get to the Spirit World and see that they still exist.” I no longer believe that. If you take the amount of intelligence with you that you have when you die, that intelligence will be focused on your angsts and bitterness and hatred of religious people when you die also. A lot of these people will still make excuses for all of the things they see, including the “miracle” that their spirit still exists after it leaves the body. My personal feeling is there still will be a need for a “might change of heart,” even in the spirit world.

  3. I’ll point out that I remember this particular talk by Parley P. Pratt because it is the second discourse recorded in the first volume of Journal of Discourses. I am probably not the only person who once thought it would be a nice idea to read through the Journal of Discourses, but got sidetracked from the project early on.

  4. Great post, John. I would think your former associate would be asking for an explanation about his new surroundings. Perhaps the dead are invited to a large group meeting, similar to the ones held in the MTC, where they are given a quick orientation and explanation as to their current status and location. Sadly, like the new, smaller temples, there is no cafeteria and no clothing rental. I can just imagine the look of bitter disappointment Leona Helmsley’s face when she got to the spirit world and discovered she was missing her vast shoe and clothing collection…and the lack of servants.

  5. Great post John Thanks. LOL Brian. I think that you got it right. Geoff B. I think you are correct. We will retain the essence of who we are even after death.

  6. Would he assume that his Buddist girlfriend was right and he’s just waiting to be reincarnated?

  7. I’m reminded of the Southpark video about “orientation” given by the ‘cruise director’ in hell.

    I wonder who make up the welcoming committees and who are in authority in the area of the spirit world or spirit prison where the non-believers, atheists and unrepentant go.

    If a spirit is in a place and condition where he/she can hear the missionaries, is it obvious that the missionaries have authority or are telling the truth? Or do spirit missionaries (‘dead missionaries’ if you will) of various churches and religions get to go around saying “No, don’t believe them, believe us.”

    Even before I saw the Southpark skit on the cruise director in hell, I often pictured the spirits of those who were non-believers in mortality asking someone in authority “so which religion was right, or the closest?” And the answer being, “Uhh, let’s see, during your lifetime it was ‘The Mormons.'”

    Let’s remember that there were a lot less atheists in Western (Anglo and western european) societies in the 1800’s than there are today.

    Today a lot of honest-in-heart people have been deceived by the craftiness of men. I believe that the initial shock of “Hmmm, so there is life after death” will in itself convert a lot of atheists almost immediately after death into believers in some higher power. The main question for them will be “Ok, so which religion or church was it?”

    The time it takes them to convert and repent may depend on how much “competition” is allowed in the Spirit World.

    I also wonder what will happen to lazy believers like me who haven’t submitted the names of known ancestors to have their temple work done. If I don’t get my paper files entered into the computer and submitted before I, er, “cross the veil”, I could imagine meeting up with some angry ancestors, who would want to kick my spirit butt for not getting their temple work done.

    Unless someone has had a vision of the Spirit World and Spirit Prison, I don’t think we can assume much. I don’t know if Parley was speaking from his own visions or whether he was extrapolating the doctrines taught to him by Joseph Smith.

  8. Geoff: I suppose I’ll run into two sets of people

    1) those my dead ancestors who’ll want to kick my spirit butt for not getting around to their temple work.

    2) the ancestors of people who join the church through the book-slinging and who remain faithful to do their folks’ temple work.

    So maybe those other peoples’ ancestors will protect me from getting beaten up by my ancestors.

    Back to what atheists might think…

    That will have to be a big shock to atheists. I think it happens one of two ways. Just guessing here. One way would be to go to sleep (or go unconscious) here and then “wake up” on the other side. Or a second way might be to consciously pass through the veil and be mentally/spiritually aware of the transition, like walking through a waterfall, or going through the wormhole on the Star Gate TV show.

    I think one of the unwritten thoughts that went through Alma Junior’s mind during his period of conversion while he was unconscious was: “Oh no! Dad was right!” (Personally, I think Alma Jr and his buds already had a testimony, and knew the church/gospel was true. You don’t get angelic visits until after you “know.” They were intentionally rebellious, sinning against the light, and were in big trouble because they were going against what they knew to be true. Therefore, the angelic visit didn’t prove/convince them of anything they didn’t already know. The visit just forced the issue of them dealing with the truth they already knew.)

    Can you imagine the look on people’s faces if Spirit Missionaries in the Spirt World (at least those who serve people who die nowadays) wear business suits and black name-tags with the name of the church on it?

    “Oh no! Not the Mormons!”

  9. Interesting Bookslinger. I suppose most of us will have a mixed reaction crowd at our arrival in the Spirt World. If a lot of people are like DH and I, they will have a crowd of ancestors who are a variety of color and ethnic type. That will give some Mormons a big surprise! I have this picture in my mind of the spirit world just like the final room on the ride *Small World* in Disney Land That room just makes me cry. DH MIke just rolls his eyes.

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