Zion, Mortal Loneliness, and The Hall of Records

In my imagination there is a hall of records in the future Celestial Zion where anyone can review the mortal life of any other person as seen from their perspective. It is an imposing structure in its own right, one part great library and one part museum, but it lies in the shadow of grander and more glorious edifices. The business of Zion will be eternal progression, and so the hall of records receives fewer visitors than the other communal spaces of learning.

It is vast and solitary place. A person could enter and spend an entire day walking between the towering shelves on the buildings many levels. Outside the sun would roll across the sky, and inside that person would encounter only a couple of other souls, and those at a distance, as each quietly pursued answers to their own questions.

The shelves are loaded with the weight of a hundred billion human lives. The impressions, the thoughts, the fears, and the hopes. All that is learned and all that should have been learned. The fading echoes of all the confusion and glory and darkness of humankind’s brief but pivotal period of mortal existence reverberate quietly within that building.

Mormon 5:8 And now behold, I, Mormon, do not desire to harrow up the souls of men in casting before them such an awful scene of blood and carnage as was laid before mine eyes; but I, knowing that these things must surely be made known, and that all things which are hid must be revealed upon the house-tops—

It’s not hard to see that this vision can’t be taken seriously as a literal belief. I was a child of the 1990s, but most of my science fiction novels came from the used section of my grandfather’s bookstore where the selection lagged by about a decade. So I grew up reading science fiction of the 1980s, written before the Internet, the iPod, and the Cloud cemented in public consciousness the distinction between intangible information and physical media. Those stories are full of “data crystals,”  “data cubes,” and “credit chits”: the futuristic versions of floppy disks. Even as a visual metaphor the whole concept is outdated. And yet.

2013-12-09 Floppy Disks Save the World

My conception of the future was set in the 1990s by fiction written in the 1980s.

And yet I carry the vision around with me as a challenge. More than anything else, my father taught me about the ideal of integrity. There should be no compartmentalizing or rationalizing. In every status and role of life we ought to draw from one unified pool of principles. The idea that everything I do and the reasons why may one day be available for the perusal of everyone serves as  a constant reminder to make consistent choices regardless of what others may know (or think they know) in this lifetime.

Book of the Revelation of St. John 20:12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.

But I will admit that to me the idea is more important as comfort than as challenge. I’ve talked about the idea with people from time-to-time, and the universal consensus is that it’s very, very weird. Voyeuristic. Who wants to go and watch the details that played out in someone else’s life? Wouldn’t that be a squicky violation of privacy, to put it mildly?

Of course I see that aspect, but to me it misses the point. I can’t help but believe that so many of us struggle in isolation with fears and demons that are more common than we realize. Our demons feel larger when we feel that we alone struggle under their weight. I wonder how much heartache and sin comes as a result of people not realizing that their temptations are not unique and their struggles not exceptional. There’s a risk of falling in love with what we think makes us distinctive and special, even if it is darkness.

Pundits talk about the way we use social media to present carefully curated versions of our lives, but it’s another example of rediscovering old behavior in new technology. We always present carefully curated versions of ourselves to those around us, and probably to ourselves as well.

2013-12-08 Antisocial Technology

Back when we only had illuminated manuscripts people understood the value of the printed word….

I don’t think this is a mistake, either. I know that on my mission there was a concept of keeping some things locked in a trunk in the mental basement because oversharing within companionships tended to just makes things… weird. Perhaps we must be guarded in this life, if not outright propagandists. Information control is a necessary a part of mortal life, perhaps, but I like the idea that it’s part of mortal life only. That’s it’s not an eternal condition.

The primary problem with loneliness in mortal life is that problem of information asymmetry. The people around us probably have similar interior lives—similar embarrassments or vices or fears—but we can’t really be sure. The vulnerability of opening up unilaterally is too great. That’s why the only real honesty you see on this topic is in the context of anonymity.

It's funny, but also a little sad, the number of purely innocuous things people do but don't talk to others about.

It’s funny, but also a little sad, the number of purely innocuous things people do but don’t talk to others about.

Sometimes we hurt people and there’s no way to truly make amends. No way to even speak of the wrong we’ve done without compounding it. No way to convey the sincerity of our apology. No way to separate the desire to apologize from the appearance of ulterior motives. I am not thinking here of any great or profound injuries, but just the common misunderstandings, misstatements, and missteps of an ordinary life. They may be small relative to grievous injury, but they are large relative to the possible perfect unity of Zion. They are the seeds of abandoned friendship and severed relationships, of awkward silence where once there was burgeoning communication between open hearts.

D&C 128:7 You will discover in this quotation that the books were opened; and another book was opened, which was the book of life; but the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works; consequently, the books spoken of must be the books which contained the record of their works, and refer to the records which are kept on the earth. And the book which was the book of life is the record which is kept in heaven; the principle agreeing precisely with the doctrine which is commanded you in the revelation contained in the letter which I wrote to you previous to my leaving my place—that in all your recordings it may be recorded in heaven.

The idea that one day my life would be open for public view is comforting to me simply because it seems like the price of admission to a world where we would see each other as we are. Where there would no longer be a constant need to guard and spin our communications to manipulate what others believe about us. When all is revealed there is no more reason to hide.

That’s why I tend to envision the hall of records mostly empty. I think it would be unhealthy to carry on a fascination with what happened in our mortal lives for eons into the future instead of focusing on the new and thriving relationships we would then have. I don’t imagine any kind of ongoing hall of records either. It is only our mortal probation that would be revealed, a kind of communal post-traumatic therapy session. From the mortal perspective we all are born and then die alone. But that means that the two most profound experiences of mortality are universal. If only we could talk about them, and about all that happened between.

Isaiah 52:8; Mosiah 15:29; 3 Nephi 16:18 Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing: for they shall see eye to eye, when the Lord shall bring again Zion.

The imaginary hall of records may be a crude and childish solution to the problem of loneliness. But at least it is a solution to the problem. Since it is the best that I can imagine, I will go on imagining it until I can conceive of something even grander. I don’t know what Zion will truly be like, but for now I keep the hope alive that one day I will see and know for myself.

21 comments for “Zion, Mortal Loneliness, and The Hall of Records

  1. I have a real fear of being truly known. Mostly because to know me reveals someone else’s secrets as well, and I don’t know what they have already repented of. If repentance means that our errors are no longer remembered, this hall of records makes that claim false.

  2. It can’t be taken as literal belief? But yet I literally believe it. Or rather a stronger version of it, that Godhood entails intimate knowledge of pretty much everything about everybody. This is what we believe of the Father and the Son, no? Godhood consists of becoming like them.

  3. It can’t be taken as literal belief? But yet I literally believe it.

    The physical building stocked with physical media storage devices containing digitized records are the aspects that cannot be seriously maintained because they are, as I point out, merely the visual metaphors for knowledge archival based on 1980s-era sci-fi.

    The deeper themes–what this metaphor stands in for–I didn’t so quickly abandon.

  4. If repentance means that our errors are no longer remembered, this hall of records makes that claim false.

    I think there’s something to that perspective, but it would only obscure that portions of a narrative where a person had sinned and then repented. A kind of partial Celestial redaction. I’m not sure if that grants you the kind of total anonymity you seem to seek.

    For me, anyway, it’s the opposite of what I desire. I don’t want to be hidden and isolated. I want to know and be known.

    I don’t know how that will work out. This is just my current best interpretation.

  5. In my version of the Celestial Kingdom there is a deep room filled with cotton candy that I can just jump into and swim around in and somehow not get sticky. I guess that’s where you and I differ.

    But seriously, I think it’s also important to consider the veil that will be lifted and allow us to remember who we were before this earth life. I think that will put a lot of our life circumstances into perspective. Sort of like how there are things you would be embarrassed to do in public but not among your friends. As our thoughts and actions in life fit into the the larger context of our pre-earthly roles and relationships, I think it will cast everyone in a more sympathetic and understandable light.

    Also, I think it’s conceivable that part of the process of true repentance and coming to Christ is being willing, at some point, to give up your sins in the sense of giving them up to be seen and known and not being ashamed anymore. And because repentance will always ever be a process of our own volition, there will never be a video in that library that wasn’t placed there by the owners themselves.

  6. I’ve more recently thought of the “hall of records” to be a planet sized library, with many books, great and small. You just have to watch out for the shadows . . .

    There have been a few authors who have toyed with this idea, even with the idea that everything you ever will do is also written in these books, since they could exist outside our personal timeline. But that just takes us into a whole discussion on agency mixed with time theory, which is way beyond the scope of this post.

  7. D&C 130:8-11 says:

    8 The place where God resides is a great Urim and Thummim.
    9 This earth, in its sanctified and immortal state, will be made like unto crystal and will be a Urim and Thummim to the inhabitants who dwell thereon, whereby all things pertaining to an inferior kingdom, or all kingdoms of a lower order, will be manifest to those who dwell on it; and this earth will be Christ’s.
    10 Then the white stone mentioned in Revelation 2:17, will become a Urim and Thummim to each individual who receives one, whereby things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms will be made known;
    11 And a white stone is given to each of those who come into the celestial kingdom, whereon is a new name written, which no man knoweth save he that receiveth it. The new name is the key word.

    This sounds to me like there won’t be a separate place to get information retrieved, but the whole earth will be an information appliance, accessible anywhere, with visual, audio, and perhaps multi-sensory displays.

    Additionally, the source for us to learn NEW information is password protected so we will be given access only based on our personal readiness, and presumably worthiness.

    It strikes me that these concepts describe a radically advanced information technology, one so advanced that we are only in recent years beginning to recognize it as the direction toward which our IT is moving. It is in advance of our conceptualizations of only twenty years ago! This seems to be a demonstration of a true vision of the future of technology from someone embedded in a completely different kind of information technology, except for his experience with personal information devices that acted like cloud-connected smartphones, or something akin to a Google Glass display.

    A lot of Christians are offended by the the concept of a material heaven, of the earth being transformed and becoming that heaven, and of God and angels using technology. But why is physical resurrection something that Christ suffered to accomplish if we won’t be living in a physical hereafter? A lot of Christians are still thinking in terms of the medieval categories that classified the earth and the heavens as two different categories of substance that have no relationship, with God being the ultimate example of that non-material substance, despite the contradiction of the physical resurrected body of Christ.

  8. *The physical building stocked with physical media storage devices containing digitized records are the aspects that cannot be seriously maintained because they are, as I point out, merely the visual metaphors for knowledge archival based on 1980s-era sci-fi.

    The deeper themes–what this metaphor stands in for–I didn’t so quickly abandon.*

    OK, I see that. Reading comprehension is something else I aspire to in the eternities.

  9. Nathaniel wrote “In my imagination there is a hall of records in the future Celestial Zion where anyone can review the mortal life of any other person as seen from their perspective.”

    For some reason this reminded me of a quote from Dreiser. “Titus Alden was one of that vast company of individuals who are born, pass through and die out of the world without ever quite getting any one thing straight. They appear, blunder, and end in a fog.”

    You’ve seen the homunculus which shows people’s body shape in relation to physical size. We’ll I’ll bet a version that shows their thoughts relative to reality is equally distorted. It would be a hall of ignorance as much as a hall of records.

  10. The Book of Mormon authors held some interesting views on why their records mattered, both then and in the future.

    When Alma passed on the “record of this people” to his son Helaman, he said the record keeping was “for a wise purpose.” He imagined the day when they would “go forth unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.”

    These records would contain stories that exemplified how “small means in many instances doth confound the wise.”

    God said the Nephite plan for preserving records had “enlarged the memory of this people” and “convinced many of the error of their ways.”

    Maybe our records will serve some similar purposes and be available to the same audience.

  11. I think this is true. I find that some of the greatest joys in life come from being able to be open and honest with other people without an ulterior motive. Plus, we should hang out some time.

  12. “The people around us probably have similar interior lives—similar embarrassments or vices or fears—but we can’t really be sure.”

    Not unexpectedly, I think that people have extremely different interior lives. Particularly, I think thoughtful, reflective people overestimate how much the others think about things.

    People who believe in sin, don’t have a very good idea of the interior lives of those that don’t believe in sin.

  13. The link you provided of confessions seemed to show that people with arbitrary, OCD-like behaviors think they are weird. That’s weird.

  14. I am sceptical of any model where (1) people really understand themselves and have coherent, formed inner lives, (2) are capable of sharing them and being understood, but (3) don’t do so because of social pressures.

    In mortality, I doubt all three points.

  15. Adam G,

    You doubt people refrain from sharing things because of social pressures in general or just in cases where 1 and 2 hold?

    Do comment policies count as social pressure?

    Point 1 makes sense, point 2 a bit less but 3 confuses me.

  16. I both love and am terrified by this idea. It reminds me a bit of Joe Spencer’s ideas about grace. We reject God’s grace because accepting it means we have to give up so much of what we think makes us who we are. But your metaphor lets me see, I think, a little bit of what he’s saying: the prospect of accepting grace and accepting that my life and thoughts would be on display like this is really scary. I don’t want my life to be on display. I don’t want to be known this intimately (Frankly, I had second thoughts even about posting this, even under a pseudonym).

  17. Frank,

    Nice to see I wasn’t the only one whose thoughts turned to The Library… ;)


  18. Adam G-

    I’m not sure if your three points are directed towards my post or not because they certainly aren’t entailed by anything I wrote.

    I agree that people do not understand themselves (it’s a major aspect of the way I think about people) and that they do not have coherent, formed inner lives. They still have strong impressions, reactions, fears, habits, aspirations, and so forth. In fact, it is the bewildering array of behavior which we cannot fully explain or control that threatens our self-understanding. Why do we not do the things we think we want to do? This is one of the core questions of the human condition.

    So in mortality it’s not a question of having this consistent, coherent self-image and being afraid to share it. It’s a question of seeing ourselves in a mirror that is not only dark, but shattered. We see shards of ourselves and never know if it’s the self, the reflection, or both that are fractured.

    Many of these fragments are independently disconcerting. You don’t need to have a full picture of yourself to be reticent about sharing certain disjointed insights–insights that might not even be true.

    Fairly safe example: I am not afraid of heights per se but they make me incredibly uncomfortable because I have a very strong temptation to jump off into space. I don’t like going near an edge not because I’m afraid I’ll fall, but because I’m afraid I’ll jump. Is the temptation sincere? Would I really jump? Or is it a passing fancy that only grips me when I’m still so far that it’s not a practical option? I don’t know. (And there’s no good way to find out.)

    When we do not give into temptation we can’t really know if we have the capacity to follow through or not. Perhaps it’s not just unknown, but undecided. In any case, it’s obvious that people would still be reluctant to share these fragmentary and distorted glimpses of themselves anyway.

    So I think the real situation is not that we’ve got a full self-picture that we don’t want to share, but that we’ve got scattered and contradictory pieces that we don’t want to share and, because of that lack of sharing, our ability to put together self-understanding is hampered. We’re trapped with our own visions of ourselves–visions that make no sense–and we have no external frame of reference or comparison.

  19. “We’re trapped with our own visions of ourselves–visions that make no sense–and we have no external frame of reference or comparison.”

    What I don’t understand is why you think a great aggregation of this visions improves the situation. It would make sense to me if you wanted to compare the non-sensical visions to some “reality” of sense, but you seem to think more visions improves things.

    If the limitations are just part of our equipment as human beings, why does more data help?

    It seems like this would be like a combination of Jerry Springer/did I tell you about my trip to the dentist/blog comments on to infinity.

    At best it would be like a giant fast and testimony meeting with everyone hooked up to a lie detector…maybe that could be cool.

    But if everyone is hiding what they find shameful, wouldn’t these records just be even more evidence of human depravity and fear than we already have which seems to be plenty?

    Are people hiding all kinds of grand thoughts and behavior that they are afraid to share?

    I mean we don’t make sense. We say we want privacy but then if you told someone that, “well, don’t worry, your life was one of the very few that wasn’t found interesting enough to be included in the hall of records so you’ve got nothing to worry about”, they would be offended. Go figure.

  20. The analogy I would make is that the hall of records is something like life as a big game of pin the tail on the donkey. We all have the equivalent of blindfolds and we don’t where the Donkey is and yes, its a bit funny when we take off the blindfolds and see where the tails are, but its only the removal of the blindfold, not the aggregate of where the tails are placed that tell us about the Donkey.

    I must admit that I’d check out your record because you confuse the heck out of me in an interesting way. You want to check out the people who put the tail, say the shoulder bone, and thinking if all of us shoulder bone people got together we’d get the tail in the right place and I’m thinking, see Nathaniel, there never was a Donkey or a blindfold.

    What on Earth could be learned from my record?

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