Like all good daydreams this one concludes in triumph and something like this New York Times headline: “Archdiocese Humbled, Court Concedes No Evidence for Heaven.” The same daydream begins earlier that same day as the chief justice of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, Alice M. Batchelder, hears opening remarks in Michigan Secular Student Alliance vs. the Archdiocese of Detroit; an appeals hearing lodged after the MSSA successfully sued the Archdiocese under Section 43(a)(1)(B) of Subchapter 3 of the Lanham Act. That is to say, the daydream is all about successfully suing the church for false and misleading advertising. It’s the Holy Grail of secularist’s fantasies; getting the costumed clergy before a judge and jury where some dangerously articulate [American version of] Geoffrey Robertson, Q.C, annihilates the apologist’s arguments and in doing so sets a precedent from which other secular groups can then petition state and federal legislators to not only erase the tax exempt status of all churches but get religion out of schools forever.
It’s a nice dream, a delicious flight of fancy, but this phantom musing inevitably comes crashing back down to earth for one simple and repeating reason: the church has a fool proof Get-out-of-Jail-Free Card. A false and/or misleading advertising charge cannot stick provided the defendant has not demanded payment for a product or service, which technically no modern church does. Money is obtained via wilful donations, no receipt is ever issued, and the alleged final product cannot be tested, tasted, touched, smelt or in fact ever seen. Yes, Indulgences with Papal receipts were sold by the medieval church but the practice disappeared shortly after Martin Luther threw a titanic 1517 tantrum about the whole pay-to-play deal, closing that legal avenue forever. As for the current church, promises are indeed made and product satisfaction is even guaranteed, but as no direct solicitation of payment is made or agreed upon between the parties the legality of the case simply evaporates. That said, if by some freak of nature a judge did find reason under something like the Lanham Act to hear such a case any plaintiff would find themselves in the rather awkward position of having to then produce expert witnesses ready to testify they’d been duped and that no such thing as an ethereal postmortem wonderland actually exists. Locating such experts is quite easy. Convincing said experts to stand before a jury is however a little more complicated as the dead are notoriously stubborn individuals to get motivated.
So yes, it looks appealing on the plate, but something like Section 43(a)(1)(B) of Subchapter 3 of the Lanham Act will never get a church into a courtroom to face cross examination, which is really what any secular legal action all boils down to. The objective here is not monetary reward or financial compensation rather the opportunity to force a church (preferably an Abrahamic church) to present evidence for their chimerical claims in a public forum. It is a test they would of course fail, but I’d be surprised to hear of any minister losing even a minute’s sleep over such a challenge coming any time soon. The Abrahamic churches have expertly covered their liable bases by never giving away any concrete details of the promised heavenly hearth, leaving that legally thorny loose end instead up to the layperson to imagine. The trick therefore is not in challenging a breach in some unfair trade practices clause but rather contesting the religions guarantee itself, and when you look at it this way there is one Abrahamic congregation who is ripe for prosecution: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Now admittedly Mormons might not be as large, wealthy or influential as the Catholic Church, and prosecuting the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the twelve-man apex of the LDS Church) might lack some of the satisfaction of suing some colossal asshole like Pat Robertson, Billy Graham or the grinning idiot himself, Joel Osteen, but the true objective of any secular class action is to get any Abrahamic religion before a judge from which a precedent can then be set… and if the Mormons are the weakest link in that chain then it’ll be the Mormons who’ll have to defend all Abrahamic religions, and here’s how that works:
From a legal perspective the founder of the LDS Church, Joseph Smith, made two terrible blunders when forging the outlines of this fantastically whacky Christian offshoot. The first was in the outlandish Mormon document, The Book of Abraham: an 1835 work written by Smith which is supposedly his translation of ancient papyri penned by the biblical Abraham himself. Astonishingly, these documents were purchased by Smith from a traveling mummy exhibition (no, I’m not making that up), and in chapter 3 includes a detailed account of the cosmos. This chapter waffles on and on about the order of planets and stars, but the two entries listed below are probably all any clever lawyer would need to establish his or her case.
2 And I, Abraham, saw the stars, that they were very great, and that one of them was nearest unto the throne of God; and there were many great ones which were near unto it;
3 And the Lord said unto me: These are the governing ones; and the name of the great one is Kolob, because it is near unto me.
In case you missed it, here it is again: “the name of the great [star] one is Kolob.” Somewhat stupidly Smith identifies Kolob as a star, a physical and giant celestial body probably meaning it’s a supermassive star possibly larger than even this giant, VY Canis Majoris. That’s important to our Geoffrey Robertson QC, but fortunately Smith only made matters worse for himself by doubling-down on this detailed silliness in Section 76 of his Doctrine and Covenants. Here he outlines the ‘degrees of glory’ in what he names the Celestial Kingdom: the Mormon heaven. Between verses 18-24, 50-70 and 81-113 he describes inhabited planets arranged in an ascending order in orbit around Kolob with Gods planet (and Jesus’ as well) closest to the giant star. It’s a planetary harem where Mormons will spend eternity and according to Smith if you have enough Mormon credit a whole planet is waiting for you to rule over as a God. It’s one hell of a postmortem promise, the most preposterous carrot of all religious carrots, and that is precisely how any ingenious lawyer with even a rudimentary understanding of astrophysics can successfully sue the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Simply put, the LDS’s claim of an eternal Celestial Kingdom cantered by a supermassive star is not only demonstrably impossible but it’s also going to end in a certain fiery shitstorm.
Stars have a life. They are born, they mature, and they die. It is a lifecycle determined by their mass where stars smaller than our own sun (a middle aged 4th or 5th generation star) can live for hundreds of billions of years whereas supermassive stars (like VY Canis Majoris and Kolob) may only live for as little as 10 million years. Either way, 90% of every stars story is found in what’s called main sequence where these elemental factories fuse hydrogen into helium. Life on the main sequence cannot however last forever and when the fuel – the hydrogen – is spent fusion stops. For supermassive stars (like Kolob) this initiates an outrageous 26-part long death dance before its final cataclysmic obliteration in a Type-2 supernova. It is an outward blast of energy so magnificently absurd that it glows brighter than a hundred galaxies for over a week and remains brighter than all the stars in a single galaxy for three or four months as it ejects 99% of all the matter that makes up the chemistry set of the universe… and when it happens you really don’t want to be anywhere near.
Now it’s safe to say Joseph Smith clearly wasn’t aware of this rather awkward corporeality of stars, but as sure as the earth is round the legendary Kolob will go supernova and when it does every planet in the Mormon Celestial Kingdom will be blown to smithereens. Said in another way, the LDS guarantee of eternal celestial bliss is a demonstrable lie, and that is grounds for a class action. To even mount a defence the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles would have to explain how Kolob would escape this certain cataclysmic end, and that would mean detailing precisely from where and how the giant star would acquire the infinite source of (finite) hydrogen it’d need to burn for eternity… and that is an explanation I’m sure a judge, a jury, and the entire scientific and secular world would just love to hear.