Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Secret Mormon Temple Endowment

Why do so many Mormons out there have their garmies in a bind over HBO's Big Love depicting the Mormon temple endowment ceremony?

Growing up in the church, young Mormons are taught that their main aspiration should be to go on a mission and be married in the temple. Eventually they learn that before they can go on a mission or be married in the temple they have to "take out their endowments" in the temple. But all they know about the endowment is that it can't be discussed and that afterward they will be required to wear temple garments instead of normal underwear for the rest of their life. Throughout their young lives, if their parents are devout, they see their parents go away to the temple regularly to do who knows what. Growing up in Des Moines, Iowa my parents made annual pilgramages to the nearest temples in Salt Lake City and Washington, D.C. to do temple work. But I never knew what that work consisted of other than doing endowments for dead people.

Prior to taking out their endowments Mormons have to pass worthiness interviews with their Bishop and Stake President. In the interviews no more information is provided about what will happen. The church sometimes has temple preparation classes and it has a book, "The House of the Lord," written by an apostle, but none of those resources give much information about what the endowment consists of or what to expect. It is a great, sacred secret that you will only receive once you are proven worthy.

The secrecy is then reinforced in the ceremony itself when the participantsy promise before "gods, angels, and these witnesses" to never reveal the secrets that they learn within. When I went in 1990 I had to promise to suffer my life to be taken rather than reveal its contents. I promised this not only once, but three times and each time had to ritually enact different ways in which my life could be taken: by having my throat slit, by having my chest torn open, and by being disemboweled.

When Mormons go the first time, they receive additional instruction from the temple officials after the ceremony to never talk about the ordinance outside of the temple, not even to their spouse. The secrecy is reinforced throughout their lifetime of church attendance by all of the oblique, obscure, indirect references made to what goes on inside the temple. It has such an air of sacredness, mystery and untouchableness that I don't know any active Mormons that are willing to talk about what goes on inside the temple.

So, within the culture of Mormonism it is really, really, really, super duper, mega bad to talk about the temple. It is a violation of their most sacred promises. In some ways, the very essence of the endowment is its secrecy. It is special, occult knowledge that is only supposed to be known by those who have lived worthily and who are candidates for eternal exaltation. Its signs and tokens are supposed to be the keys to entering heaven and so it's unthinkable to disclose those sacred things to non-believers or unworthy people.

And that, my friends, is why the Mormons freak out when people publish the endowment on the web or re-enact it on film or put it on TV.

Ironically, if you read it over there is absolutely nothing doctrinal in the entire thing that isn't openly taught outside the temple. The only unique things are the secret handshakes and passwords which, again, are easily available outside the temple.

For a recounting of my experience with the temple, click here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Big Love to Show Endowment

Since the Mormon temple ceremonies are in the news I thought I'd link to my previous posts about my temple experience when I was a young TBM Mormon preparing to leave on a mission to Bolivia in the fall of 1983. You can read it here.

For the full text of the ceremony, click here. It includes markup that shows the extensive changes that the church made in 1990 to remove parts that are particularly unsettling.