According to Mormon doctrine, children who die before the age of accountability are fast-tracked straight to the Celestial Kingdom. This idea creates all sorts of numbers problems. Infant and early childhood mortality claim large numbers of children every year. In many areas of the world, chances of dying before the age of five remain shockingly high — around 20% in much of Africa. In total, eleven million children under the age of five die annually — ninety percent of them in developing countries.
Why does this matter? Recall that the total membership of the church is only eleven million. If every single baptized member of the church alive today made it to the celestial kingdom — no inactivity, no sins, no problems — we would still, as a body, barely match the number of children who died worldwide, prior to the age of accountability, in 2005 alone.
If we go back to 1995, the total number of baptized members of record who existed at any point in that span is going to be higher — perhaps twelve or thirteen million over that time. Again, let’s assume that we all go straight to the Celestial Kingdom. During the same time frame, though, early childhood mortality killed 10+ million children, every single year. That’s a Celestial Kingdom composed of 100+ million fast-track children, and maybe 13 million lifetime-baptized members — barely 10% of the total. As we stretch back to 1985, or 1975, the overall numbers get more and more skewed. (And recall that childhood mortality has been much higher worldwide, prior to the past few decades. Today’s rates of infant and early childhood mortality are the lowest they’ve ever been. In 1900, nearly every country on earth had an infant mortality rate of 15% or higher — several times today’s rates.)
So even with a fast-growing church, the lowest infant mortality rates in history, and an assumption of 100% salvation for baptized members, we still have a Celestial Kingdom that’s composed of 90% fast-track arrivals. If we drop the assumption of 100% salvation, and factor in the fact that infant mortality has been much higher in the past, the numbers are even more striking. If children who die before the age of accountability are fast-tracked to the Celestial Kingdom, it’s hard to imagine that the percent of fast-track arrivals in the Celestial Kingdom will be less than 95% — and it will probably be higher. Those people who arrive via lifetime baptisms will be a tiny, tiny minority. How do we make sense of this?
It seems that there are three basic options.
First, perhaps our concept of a Celestial-Kingdom fast track is wrong. Children who die before the age of accountability are not damned, but they’re not guaranteed salvation either. They’ll have to earn it, like everyone else, some time in the Millenium. And some of them will go to degrees of glory other than the Celestial. I like this idea myself, because it seems to make sense. However, it also goes directly against Moroni 8 and D&C 137:10.
Second, perhaps the ratio of lifetime to fast-track arrivals will level out again at some future date. For this to happen, worldwide infant and early childhood mortality rates would have to drop precipitously and church membership would have to grow precipitously — and that state would need to exist for a long time. However, several decades of exponential church growth, coupled with exponential drops in infant and early childhood mortality, could eventually balance the scales. It could conceivably even tip them in the other direction.
Absent either of those possibilities, it seems inevitable that the Celestial Kingdom will be heavily (95/5) skewed towards fast-track arrivals. Which brings us to our third option: Perhaps our concept of the role of mortality is all wrong.
Perhaps we on earth are the losers. Everyone else gets a guarantee. They’ve already shown all the faith they had to show, they did that in the pre-existence. However, we here on Earth are essentially the bottom 5% of the spirits who chose to follow God. As a result, we’ve got to show our faith again. For everyone else — the vast majority of spirits — mortality is a mere formality. They’ve already done what they need to do to be saved. For us, however, mortality is necessary. We apparently didn’t do what we needed to do during the time that most of the spirits made it; as a result, we’re in remedial summer school. Everyone else passed the third grade already and is playing in their sprinklers; we’re reviewing math. This idea is internally consistent, but it’s a very different conception of the role of mortality than we usually hear in church.
Am I missing any other options? How can we explain the numbers problems caused by infant mortality and our conception of fast-track salvation for children who die before the age of accountability?