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.


Chino Blanco said...

Tom Hanks puts this brouhaha into perspective (and waxes prophetic) at the 3rd season premiere of Big Love:

"There's gonna be lies, and secrets, and discoveries, and problems. Television!"

lma said...

You know, every time I hear the Mormon church or individual Mormons get their garmies in a twist over people talking about the temple ceremonies, I just roll my eyes and think about how silly it all is and how juvenile the outrage is.

"It isn't secret, it's sacred" really seems to me to be just a cover for "How can I ever let anyone know how like a club for ten-year-olds the temple is." I mean, really...secret passwords and handshakes. Puh-lease.

And the silly clothes. I like playing dress-up as much as the next person...I'm deep in consideration about what my costume will be for Gallifrey One (a Doctor Who convention in L.A.) next year. But I'm not ashamed of the fact that I will be in costume at the event, and I fully and freely admit that I'm playing at childish games when I do. Nothing wrong with staying in touch with your inner child (in fact, I believe it is healthy to do so), but there's a lot wrong with hiding it by saying its "sacred" and then getting all outraged when you're outed for doing it.

Niels Plougmann said...

The exchange at the veil was actually beautifully done and accompanied with Barbers heavenly Agnus Dei it was so much more respectful than devout LDS feared.

It may be sacred to TBMs, but to us doubters and "apostates" it seems more secret!
Re-enacting something that is sacred and secret to TBMs is IMO not disrespectful. They can just choose not to watch on TV. Using the temple clothing for Halloween or mocking the ceremonies would be sacreligious - but Big Love was not. I don´t know any other churches or religions who have secret rites like the LDS Church - perhaps Scientology? If the so-called Church really want to bring people to Christ - they should let everybody who want to go through the temple - worthy or not - and let Christ decide whether people are worthy. The idea of doing the endowment by proxy seems so strange to me - much stranger than babtism by proxy for the dead.
I have very mixed emotion about the temple - I think some of them are beautiful, but the ceremonies seem so outlandish to me. TBMs will probably say I do not have the right spirit with me - because that will make me understand. But I think that is false. Every thing that is weird or strange about doctrines, temples, and especially events in church history is because we do not have the right spirit. I find that spiritually abusive. I feel so stupid for having believed that a new name and some handshakes, and uncomfortable underwear with markings - is what is wanted! I no longer desire to receive it - that I will no longer keep a secret.

Anonymous said...

As a TBM, I find this whole conversation interesting. But I don't really think we all see things so differently. As an anology, if you and a neighbor stand on opposite sides of a fence you essentially see the same fence, just from different vantage points. So with that in mind, let me explain how I think our differences are more nuanced and less divergent than you might think.

A few have mentioned how most of the details of the Temple can be found in the public domain. Yep, TBM's know this as well. And we aren't panicking. Is the whole line of "It isn't secret it's sacred" a little disingenous? Yeah, I can see that. I believe the endowment is sacred. But I'm not so diluted as to think it doesn't seem like we are being secretive. We are.

But much like the analogy of the person going to a Dr. Who convention and dressing up; what is missed is, imagine that at such a convention a bunch of jock-types showed up and made jokes and laughed at the nerds in their costumes. Would that detract from your experience? Sure would. It isn't that you'd feel ashamed for being a Dr. Who fan. But you would be annoyed that someone with no understanding of Dr. Who was disruptive. And look the analogy is irrelevant. But surely any fair person can see that things we each enjoy and hold as special aren't things wee want to see mocked. And not because of insecurity. How many of you quietly offer "I love you's" to a significant other on the phone? Why do you do it quietly? Are you ashamed that you are in love? Probably not. Why do you enjoy using sweet talk when in your significant others presence but avoid it in public? Are you insecure about your relationship? Probably not, but you hold that relationship as special and don't care to share it publicly. Certainly I don't need to explain the entire concept of intimacy, do I? Somethings in this life are done publicly. Some things are not. I hope others who aren't LDS can appreciate that.

As far as Big Love, what has my 'garmies in a bunch' is not that the ceremony was used. Not first and foremost anyway. What bothers me more is that this all comes in the context of Tom Hanks and Lawrence O'Donnel (both producers of Big Love) making some seriously unkind comments about the LDS (Hanks said LDS are 'un-American' Larry O'Donnell slamed the faith famously on McLoughlin Group). Added to that the fact that the show is about polygamy and you can imagine why TBM's might not give so much leeway and assume the worst.

Look, it's over. Mormons are getting on with their lives. Just don't expect us to believe that no offense was intended and don't be so shocked when we repond as we did about something special to us. None of us think Big Love crossed any bright, legal line or perhaps even a moral line. But that doesn't mean we have to like it.

Brady the mormon said...

You people have no idea what you are talking about. Who ever wrote this post is just making up stuff to cause controversy. There are no secret hand shakes and passwords. Mormons love to talk about the temples and will even talk about the ceremonies. They just wont tell you the exact details because they are sacred, not secret. They also dont like to tell people about the details because people like you go and twist everything around to fit your own perceptions of the church. Take the secret underware for example. Ive heard everything from steel-mesh underware to magic underware that even protects from bullets. That is ridiculous. The garments are a symbol to mormons to remind them of the sacred vows the made to keep themselves morally pure. That really sounds magical or cultish doesnt it? So how about before you go on line and continue perpetuating these misconceptions, why dont you people go to a mormon church and learn about it. that would be much less "juvenile" than spreading rumors and pretending that you know what you are talking about.

Bull said...

Brady, what can I say. Anyone can find the details on the internet and verify that there are indeed secret handshakes and passwords and that the endowed promise to keep them secret.

Everything else in the post is my own personal experience and unless you have known me my whole life I'm not sure how you know more about those experiences than I do.

Maybe it's different where you are from. But I just shared my personal experience from 40+ years in the church from birth.

As far as the garments, when I was growing up I heard it told many times that they were a physical shield that could protect worthy members from physical harm. On a national TV show Mr. Marriott related how they had once protected him from physical harm. Maybe that's news to you, but it's not to active members who have been through the temple.

By the way, I've actually been through the temple. By your mis-statements I wonder if you have.

Anonymous said...

i wonder if you truly have been through the temple endowment because your still around to talk about it maybe you really did not receive what others truly guard with their lives!

Anonymous said...

Brady u are an idiot. There are secret passwords and handshakes. Your new name is one. Your given first name is another. Another is the son. And last is health in the navel, marrow in the bones, strength in the loins and in the sinews, power in the priesthood be upon me and upon my posterity through all generations of time and throughout all eternity. Stop trying to paint this bullshit with a pretty brush. It still stinks