Mormons on Hell

As a child, I attended the LDS church with my family and was baptized at age 8. I am embarassed to admit that I am pretty unclear on the doctrine. I have a question for Snarkberry or other LDS members, or for anyone who may know the answer. I could ask the Mormons I know, but right now it wouldn’t be appropriate.
My cousin Todd, who was my age, died 4 years ago in a car accident. His parents and family are devout LDS. He had joined the Army and was home on leave. He was not living a “Mormonish” life when he died. In fact, the police thought his older brother had also died in the accident because he was carrying the brother’s license so he could buy beer with it.
This weekend, the same thing happened to another family in the same church - 20 year old son died in an accident most likely caused by drinking. My mom told me she talked to her brother (father of my cousin who died) and he told her he had also been using drugs, etc. for the past couple of years.
My question is this: Do these two families believe their sons are in hell? Can prayer help them now? I remember hearing about baptism after death (please forgive my terminology, I’m sure it’s incorrect), but would that apply to these two, since they were baptized in the church?
I wonder about this a lot, but I certainly can’t ask their families, and I would rather hear it from someone other than my mom, as she became disillusioned and is now Methodist.

I usually don’t respond to Mormon doctrine questions because they tend to quickly degenerate into name calling and shouting. However, to answer your question briefly –

Probably the most important point is that none of us is qualified to judge what another person’s eternal reward may be. Christ is our judge and our advocate and anyone who claims to usurp that role had better worry about his own reward.

That said, the LDS church teaches that the only way to ultimately return to live with God is to be cleansed from all your sins. Not just the big ones, not just the ones someone else knows about – all of them. In addition (this isn’t doctrine, just my opinion), few of us, Mormons and non-Mormons alike, leave this life in a state of perfect repentance. Just because these two young men appeared to be guilty of some fairly obvious (to Mormons) sins at the time of their death doesn’t mean their state is necessarily all that different from anyone else when they die.

So if we have to repent of all our sins, are we damned if we die without having repented? No, we can still repent after death but it is harder to do. Why that is so is another (long) discussion, but Mormons obviously believe it’s better to repent sooner than later, better yet not to sin in the first place. Otherwise they wouldn’t have their (well-deserved) reputation for being sticklers about avoiding sin. (Unfortunately, some of us are a whole lot better at discovering others’ sins than we are at worrying about their own.)

Mormons believe that after death your spirit goes to the “spirit world” to await the judgement and resurrection. There is not a whole lot of detail about what this is like – the general assumption is that it is similar to this mortal existence except that you no longer have a body, just a spirit. There is a “partial judgement” and the spirit world has two divisions – “paradise” for the righteous, and “spirit prison” for the wicked.

Some Mormons equate “spirit prison” with hell, or purgatory, but that is not official church doctrine, and, other than the use of the word “prison” there isn’t any official doctrine that says it is even a place of suffering. What is clear is that it is a place where repentance is possible. In fact, one of the duties of the spirits in paradise is to carry the gospel to those in prison. (Those of you who thought you could escape Mormon proselyting simply by dying will be sadly disappointed!)

That common, though invalid, belief (drinking => wickedness => spirit prison => hell) may be the basis for the OPs fears about her cousin and the other young man. I hope I’ve made it clear that it is not the case. To reiterate my two main points – First, we’re in no position to make declarations about any of our fellow humans’ state of wickedness or righteousness. If we work full-time on our own sins we’ll be busy enough to please God. Second, since we need to be cleansed from sin to live with God, we should do our best to avoid sin, or repent if we err, and this repentance is possible after death.

I see I haven’t been very brief after all, but I’ve tried to be accurate. I’ll be happy to clarify or correct my answer as needed but I don’t feel this is the forum for debate on the truth or falsity of the doctrine.

“non sunt multiplicanda entia praeter necessitatem”
– William of Ockham