Learning to be a God
Smith’s attempts to defend this doctrine from the Bible are enlightening with reference to his claimed abilities as a Scriptural exegete, but we must pass over them lightly at this point, since we have much material yet to admit into evidence before getting to an evaluation of these claims.
The Scriptures inform us that Jesus said, As the Father hath power in Himself, even so hath the Son power to do what? Why, what the Father did. The answer is obvious in a manner to lay down His body and take it up again. Jesus, what are you going to do? To lay down my life as my Father did, and take it up again. Do we believe it? If you do not believe it, you do not believe the Bible. The Scriptures say it, and I defy all the learning and wisdom and all the combined powers of earth and hell together to refute it.
This is followed by another striking proclamation:
Here, then, is eternal life–to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power. And I want you to know that God, in the last days, while certain individuals are proclaiming his name, is not trifling with you or me.
It is certainly difficult to avoid getting Joseph Smith’s point loud and clear. You have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves . . . the same as all Gods have done before you is an amazing claim. And here we are given a glimpse into the concept of exaltation, which is defined as going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one. The promised end is to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power. Again we see the driving force: the exaltation of man to the highest categories.
I remind the reader that Smith was here preaching a funeral sermon that was combined with the Conference of the Church. He continues on to speak of how these glorious truths are helpful in consoling those who have lost a loved one, for, he goes on to say,
. . . they shall rise again to dwell in everlasting burnings in immortal glory, not to sorrow, suffer, or die any more; but they shall be heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. What is it? To inherit the same power, the same glory and the same exaltation, until you arrive at the station of a God, and ascend the throne of eternal power, the same as those who have gone before. What did Jesus do? Why; I do the things I saw my Father do when worlds come rolling into existence. My Father worked out his kingdom with fear and trembling, and I must do the same; and when I get my kingdom, I shall present it to my Father, so that he may obtain kingdom upon kingdom, and it will exalt him in glory. He will then take a higher exaltation, and I will take his place, and thereby become exalted myself. So that Jesus treads in the tracks of his Father, and inherits what God did before; and God is thus glorified and exalted in the salvation and exaltation of all his children. It is plain beyond disputation, and you thus learn some of the first principles of the Gospel, about which so much hath been said.
The same themes are again struck here, with the emphasis upon the progression, in almost train-track fashion, whereby one persons exaltation adds to those above on the ladder, and so forth. We note the words, To inherit the same power, the same glory and the same exaltation, until you arrive at the station of a God, and ascend the throne of eternal power, the same as those who have gone before. The idea of men becoming Gods here results in the plain (and necessary) assertion of polytheism, for we hear Smith speaking of those who have gone before.
When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the Gospel–you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave.
 Most Mormons dislike the term polytheism due to its connections with paganism and the like. However, the term is most appropriate, especially in this context, where the phrase plurality of gods hardly does justice to the concepts here enunciated. We also note the fascinating use of the phrase Christian polytheist by BYU professor Eugene England in a fairly recent issue of BYU Studies, Summer 1989, 29:3, p. 33:
He begins his discussion with a quotation from 1 Corinthians 8:5-6: There be gods many and lords many. But to us there is but one God the Father. Despite the context of this scripture–a discussion by Paul of belief in idols–Brigham Young, B. H. Roberts, Joseph Fielding Smith, and many others have used it as a brief explanation of how it is possible to be both a Christian polytheist (technically a henotheist) and a monotheist: how we can talk sometimes in an adventuresome mode about multiple orders of godhood, and how we can consider the advanced spheres that exist in the infinities, and yet at the same time, without contradiction, we can talk in a worshipful mode about our one God and his perfect knowledge and supreme redemptive power in the sphere of our world.
Likewise, Donl Peterson and Charles Tate, The Pearl of Great Price: Revelations From God, (Religious Studies Center Monograph Series, Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1989), p.102, interestingly note:
Mormonism is simultaneously monotheistic, tri-theistic, and polytheistic. There is but one God, yet there is a Godhead of three, and beyond them, gods many, and lords many (1 Cor. 8:5). But regardless of the multiplicity of personages bearing divine titles, they are one in that priesthood which governs throughout the eternities.
 Ibid., p. 348. Italics in printed edition.