Salvation or Happiness?

August 21, 2008 | 33 comments
By

During the last few years, I’ve noticed that less often is “the plan of salvation” used in General Conference, and more often we hear “the plan of happiness.”

Anyone know why?

Pres. Boyd K. Packer says (in a 1993 CES address) that these terms mean the same thing. He also lists another 12 terms that also share the same meaning.

There’s nothing unusual about seeing many terms for the same concept. Just look at some of the compilations of terms that refer to Christ. What is interesting is the increasing preference for this term in addition to “plan of salvation.”

I searched the Church’s database of Conference Addresses, and found just a handful of uses of “plan of happiness” before 1980, and most of those were quotations of Alma 42, the only place where the term is used in scripture. In contrast, since 2000, it occurs just as often as “plan of salvation.”

I suppose “plan of happiness” sounds a bit, well, happier than “plan of salvation.” But it still sounds a little unusual every time I hear it, in contrast to what I’m used to from my youth. The use of “plan of happiness” has also grown gradually enough, that I suppose its likely just the preference of some general authorities rather than a decision to move to this terminology.

I know this isn’t earth shattering, but I’ve lately become somewhat interested in language use, and I’m very curious about changes like this one.

So, what do you think? What’s behind this change?

Tags:

33 Responses to Salvation or Happiness?

  1. Chris Bigelow on August 21, 2008 at 7:20 pm

    Maybe “salvation” is too confusing a term, especially for missionary use, since the Christians use it in a different way than we do. And we have partial salvation (telestial and terrestrial), full salvation (celestial baptism level), and an ultimate form of salvation called exaltation (celestial sealed level.

  2. m&m on August 21, 2008 at 7:35 pm

    I think that it’s a good reminder that God’s eternal plan is for us to be HAPPY. Sometimes I think people think of the gospel as restrictive, or that when things don’t work out as we hope/want/dream/think they should, that it can help to remember that the eternal perspective is about happiness, even if in the moment, things aren’t what we hoped for.

    The trick in my mind is discerning between what the world defines as happiness, or what we think may be happiness in our limited mortal view, and being willing to trust that God’s ways are not ours, and that happiness is the purpose of our eternal existence. And the use of this term to me is a reminder to try to trust God’s definition of happiness, even when life may often be really hard.

  3. Geoff J on August 21, 2008 at 7:42 pm

    What’s behind this change?

    Seems to me that the title of this post answers your question. Equating salvation and happiness is not a given. Yet we have teachings such as “men are that they might have joy” and “happiness is the object and design of our existence” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Section Five, 1842–43, p. 255). So calling it the plan of happiness is more to the ultimate point.

  4. BrianJ on August 21, 2008 at 8:14 pm

    At a stake conference about two years ago we had a Q&A with the visiting GA (…trying…to…remember…his name). Someone asked a “plan of salvation” question and the GA sort of corrected him. I don’t remember his exact words, just that I got the feeling that there was something like a “GA doctrinal style guide” and “P of H” was in and “P of S” was out.

  5. Kent Larsen on August 21, 2008 at 8:26 pm

    BrianJ (4):
    That is an interesting comment. I had given up on any idea that there was any directive regarding this.

    I’d love to see a copy of this “style guide.”

  6. Ugly Mahana on August 21, 2008 at 9:29 pm

    To me, ‘plan of happiness’ is a very Book-of-Mormon phrase. Maybe we, or at least our leaders, responded to Pres. Benson’s call to study the Book of Mormon more, and to emphasize it in our teaching.

  7. Steven B on August 21, 2008 at 10:02 pm

    By using the phrase “Plan of Happiness” church leaders demonstrate and promote the integration of marriage and family into the basic concepts of pre-mortal existence, mortality, redemption and salvation.

    As I recall, as a child I was taught about the “Plan of Salvation” which focused around “pre-existence”, obtaining a mortal body, redemption through Christ, and resurrection through the grace and salvation of Christ. It was a basic framework of “who we are, where we came from and where we are going.”

    The fleshing out of that basic framework to more correctly express the church’s preoccupation with marriage and family as central to salvation and exaltation, seems to necessitate a broader descriptive name. Hence, The Plan of Happiness.

    A good example of this integration is found in Elder Dallin H. Oaks’ 1993 General Conference address, “The Great Plan of Happiness,” wherein he describes our “road map of eternity and . . . our path in mortality.” Elder Oaks teaches that of al of God’s commandments for mankind, first in importance is the injunction to “be fruitful, and multiply.” Oaks goes on to warn of the adversary’s efforts to thwart God’s plan for humanity, including abortion and “social pressures for changes that confuse gender and homogenize the differences between men and women.” This conference address by Elder Oaks also appears to be the first application of “eternal gender” to promote the church’s strict gender and sexual purity.

  8. John Mansfield on August 22, 2008 at 8:24 am

    It looks like the kind of stylishness that affects language in all kinds of ways. Some speaker seeks a synonym of “Plan of Salvation” that’s a bit fresh and will help listeners lend attention. It’s a nice phrase and it catches on and others use it. Eventually the fresh new phrase will become the worn out standard phrase, and some diligent speaker will eventually liven things up with a new substitute. All this without any special importance to the nuances in meaning distinguishing one set of words from another.

  9. Kent Larsen on August 22, 2008 at 10:51 am

    John Mansfield (8): That thought had occurred to me also. But, to be honest, BrianJ (4) reported something that makes it sound more planned. Credible?

  10. BruceC on August 22, 2008 at 11:09 am

    #6 But “Plan of Salvation” is just as much a Book of Mormon term. It never appears in the Bible.

  11. Gerald Smith on August 22, 2008 at 12:36 pm

    Pre 1980s, the focus was so much on obedience and keeping commandments, that many members (including me as a recent convert) came to the conclusion we had to save ourselves, that the “plan of salvation” was not necessarily a happy plan.

    Now that we are more open to discussing grace and how works are only a small component, the “plan of happiness” seems like a more satisfying and correct term to use to replace the concept that we have to save ourselves. As it is, I think only Bruce R. McConkie ever succeeded at the plan of salvation (he said, tongue in cheek).

  12. BrianJ on August 22, 2008 at 12:52 pm

    Just to be VERY clear: I know of no such style guide. I just got the impression that there was one. In the same session, another Q&A dealt with life before this earth. When someone in the audience said, “…preexistence,” the GA responded, “We don’t say ‘preexistence anymore. Now we use the term ‘premortal life.’”

    Again, this could very likely be me reading something into it. My reporting is credible; my conclusions might be crazy-stupid.

  13. CS Eric on August 22, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    BrianJ,

    It may just be me, but that GA of yours sounds like a bit of a twit.

  14. mike on August 22, 2008 at 2:36 pm

    To me “Plan of Happiness” sounds like something the Chinese communists came up with. It sounds too cult-like to me. I wince a little bit every time I hear it. I prefer the “Plan of Salvation” with its hints of similarity to Protestant salvation. Salvation is something we can’t do to ourselves, but requires Christ.

  15. BrianJ on August 22, 2008 at 2:49 pm

    mike: “…something the Chinese communists came up with.” LOL! Of course, the phrase is scriptural. Maybe Mao heard the discussions?

    CS Eric: “…bit of a twit.” I think I remembered his name; reluctant to post it now.

  16. Frank McIntyre on August 22, 2008 at 3:02 pm

    CS Eric, please don’t call GA’s twits.

    Kent, I’m fine with either one, but we definitely need more discussion of the “great plan of destruction“!

  17. CS Eric on August 22, 2008 at 3:09 pm

    Sorry, BrianJ. He probably is a good guy, as evidenced by his willingness to take questions. We don’t get GAs in my part of the world very often, and I frankly can’t remember the last time I had one willing to take questions.

  18. Velska on August 22, 2008 at 3:34 pm

    Plan of happiness may be easier for someone who is not a Christian (most people in the world). PMG still talks about the plan of salvation, though, if I remember correctly. When you think about salvation you associate it with the question: saved from what? To Christians indoctrinated with the doctrine of original sin it is obvious, to others not so much.

    And “premortal” replaced “pre-existence” because “pre-existence” can be confused with ideas that go together with the doctrine of reincarnation (important for Hindus and Buddhists). Okay, just call it my speculation, but it makes sense.

  19. fifthgen on August 22, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    For some reason, I think we are prone to these “verbal fads.” Maybe it is a confluence of spiritual hero worship and correlation. I have noticed the “Plan of Happiness” fad. But how about “tender” and “tender mercies?” Those really caught on after Elder Bednar’s inaugural address.

  20. mike on August 22, 2008 at 4:12 pm

    BrianJ #15:

    The Jaredites must have passed through what is now Tibet during the Fling (it around) dynasty and picked up the phrase and passed it down to Alma who got quoted in the Book of Mormon. Chairman Mao was decidedly not receptive to the gospel. I tracked him out myself in about 1969 during a P-Day trip while stationed as a Mormon missionary in Japan and he would not listen to anything we had to say.

    Of course, it is scriptural. I didn’t claim that the Chi-coms actually created this term for us; only that to these cold war ears, it sounded sort of like something they would. Enough that it makes me wince a little bit. We will have to consult Ezra Taft Benson in the next life and see if he agrees with me or not. He could smell a commie a 1000 miles away.

    At least it gave you a chuckle.

  21. BrianJ on August 22, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    “At least it gave you a chuckle.”

    So did your #20. Good work.

  22. sam on August 22, 2008 at 4:31 pm

    Homemaking meeting is now Enrichment Night, or something like that.

    Activity Days, Achievement Days.

    The constant changing of names without a real change in meaning is typical in an organization that has people on top creating programs and people below implementing them. The people on top, well,…get bored. There isn’t much to do up there, really. So they change terminology. Makes them feel like they are doing something. You see the same thing in the business world. The business world has such strange jargon.

  23. sam on August 22, 2008 at 4:31 pm

    Homemaking meeting is now Enrichment Night, or something like that.

    Activity Days, Achievement Days.

    The constant changing of names without a real change in meaning is typical in an organization that has people on top creating programs and people below implementing them. The people on top, well,…get bored. There isn’t much to do up there, really. So they change terminology. Makes them feel like they are doing something. You see the same thing in the business world. The business world has such strange jargon.

  24. Jonovitch on August 22, 2008 at 4:35 pm

    I think the term “happiness” sounds trite, flippant, sugary, bubbly. I much prefer “salvation” even if it is old school.

    The term “pre-existence” has always been doctrinally, if not grammatically, incorrect. We didn’t exist before we existed. I think forgetfulness or laziness lead some people to drop the “earth” from “pre-earth existence.” Unfortunately it’s hung around and spread far enough, that some people don’t really hear the wrong-ness anymore (just like the testimony closer “I say this in the name of thy Son…”).

    Jon

  25. Marianne on August 22, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    Maybe they’re trying to remind us that in all our striving for salvation we shouldn’t forget to be happy. I had a hard time figuring out that happiness for me wasn’t a giddy, smile-all-the-time proposition, but was a quiet sense of contentment. I served an emotionally brutal mission and then moved away from Utah to come to that epiphany. The Lord doesn’t expect me to flog myself into the celestial kingdom (which is completely my inclination, and while I’m at it, I’m happy to flog everyone else there too), but to find happiness and let that guide my direction.

  26. comet on August 24, 2008 at 8:18 am

    I’m kind of interested in this from a religious marketplace perspective.

    The term “happiness,” especially as part of a religious way or path, seems to be prominent in some of the new religions (it’s also a nascent research/academic field as well called the Science of Happiness). I’m thinking of Kofuku no Kagaku or Happy Science (formerly known as The Institute for Research in Human Happiness. Haven’t heard of it?), Japanese blend of Buddhist and Christian religious thinking and practice for which I did some translation work. It’s one of the New New Religions in Postwar Japan. But there’s also Scientology’s “The Path to Happiness” written by Hubbard (Tom Cruise is quoted elsewhere as saying “We are the Way to Happiness.”). There’s the “Art of Happiness” by the Dalai Lama. This is of course anecdotal but I wonder if
    others have seen the same trend.

  27. comet on August 24, 2008 at 8:19 am

    I’m kind of interested in this from a religious marketplace perspective.

    The term “happiness,” especially as part of a religious way or path, seems to be prominent in some of the new religions (it’s also a nascent research/academic field as well called the Science of Happiness). I’m thinking of Kofuku no Kagaku or Happy Science (formerly known as The Institute for Research in Human Happiness. Haven’t heard of it?), Japanese blend of Buddhist and Christian religious thinking and practice for which I did some translation work. It’s one of the New New Religions in Postwar Japan. But there’s also Scientology’s “The Path to Happiness” written by Hubbard (Tom Cruise is quoted elsewhere as saying “We are the Way to Happiness.”). There’s the “Art of Happiness” by the Dalai Lama. This is of course anecdotal but I wonder if
    others have seen the same trend.

  28. annegb on August 24, 2008 at 10:48 am

    I’m with Mike.

  29. queuno on August 24, 2008 at 11:58 am

    Abbreviated, POH comes off better than POS.

  30. alex valencic on August 25, 2008 at 10:00 am

    sam,

    “Homemaking” was changed to “Home, Family, and Personal Enrichment” to reflect that the Relief Society is for more than just stay-at-home mums who want to learn how to bake healthier breads, make their own yogurt, and make doilies. It is not just a name change – it is a reflection of the many diverse roles women in the Church play throughout the world. Think about it… a young single adult woman who works a full-time job is, in many ways, different from the 40-something stay-at-home mum who has five kids. So instead of implying that Relief Society and its accompanying meetings are for “Homemakers”, we now have meetings that are for all women.

    Primary Activity Days are Achievement Days because they aren’t just about having fun and playing games. There is a purpose to it… something to be… achieved. YM/YW is no longer “Mutual” because the church doesn’t have “Mutual Improvement Associations” (even if they do still use names like Beehives MIA Maids, and Laurels).

    Anyway, more to the point of the topic about the Plan of Happiness, it has been my general feeling that, during the past decade, especially, the leaders of the Church have been struggling to get members to use the Scriptures, in talks, in discussions, and in lessons. The General Authorities model this by doing just that. And since the Book of Mormon does seem to refer to Heavenly Father’s plan as “the great plan of happiness” and “the plan of redemption” far more than it does “the plan of salvation” it makes sense.

    That, and probably the fact that it does help side-step the confusion and the subsequent arguments that we get from evangelicals who think of salvation in different terms that we, as Latter-day Saints, do.

  31. John Buffington on August 25, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    I am still pushing to get members who use the verb “proselyte” to change to using “proselytize”

    any day now….

  32. queuno on August 25, 2008 at 3:36 pm

    John – It will happen the day they get rid of the term “administrate”.

  33. Karen on August 25, 2008 at 9:34 pm

    I like Mike.
    DH was a convert at 26. His family was skeptical, but he joined anyway. Listening to his first General Conference he heard Pres Kimball encourage the saints to read the scriptures every day. He asked me if I did. I said, “well, most days. I try. I read more than most members. Nobody really reads every day” He said, “But he’s the prophet. He said EVERY day.” It was 1976. He has never missed a day since. He remains persistent on a few things. He won’t say “Mulekites.” It’s “people of Zarahemla”. He says “rod of iron”, even mumbling it during the song. He likes “plan of happiness.” As a YSA branch president he knows and follows the handbook closely, but he calls SLC all the time to question the provenance of non-scriptural direction. When he gets “protocol” or “style” handouts he questions who is making up their own hedge about the law and he gets clarification. He’s usually open minded and creative but goes after the ideas of those who confuse LDS doctrine with Mormon culture like a bulldog

    Personally, I can’t stand ‘orientate’ or ‘patriarticle’ and seldom let the chance to correct them go by.