Thursday, March 12, 2009

No love for Big Love

I saw a news story the other night about the upcoming episode of Big Love showing LDS temple ceremonies and clothing, and the outcry from some members of the church. While I loved the official LDS Church response, I went online to see exactly what the fuss is about. A quick google lead me to stills from the upcoming episode showing one of the actresses in what looks like temple clothing. Further browsing lead me to a discussion thread about the topic that was mocking LDS temple clothing and the wording of the ceremony. Most upsetting was a link to the temple ceremony with the title, "Your secrets aren't sacred anymore."

This upset me for many reasons. Primarily it is because something that is sacred to me is being treated in such a disrespectful manner by so many people. But I was more upset about the lack of understanding of what it is to be sacred. Just because you know about it and are posting a link to the information doesn't make it less sacred. The temple ceremony has never been secret. Even before the advent of you tube and google, the entire temple ceremony was recorded in the Library of Congress. The official church position has been that the temple isn't secret, it is sacred. We don't discuss what goes on in the temple because of the sacred nature of the ceremonies that are performed there.

This has left me wondering for the last few days if we have lost the concept of sacredness in our society. I'm inclined to say yes, especially in a day where profaning the name of deity is part of mainstream entertainment. When people don't understand why things are sacred, and are willing to respect the sacredness of the beliefs of others, it leads to disrespect or worse. Some things are sacred to certain belief systems. They don't share those things freely with others who don't share the same beliefs, because the lack of understanding and necessary context makes them difficult to comprehend and place in an appropriate normative framework. I remember reading about mystery cult initiations in pre-Christian times, and the idea that not everyone was ready to receive the highest levels of spiritual knowledge was commonplace. You were taught the law you were willing to live, and not exposing people to higher spiritual laws was done out of protection of the person not willing to live the more demanding part of the doctrine. That's what the temple is for the LDS faith. It is for mature adults who have shown dedication to and belief in the common doctrine of the church to continue their education. I guess you could say it's the Mormon equivalent of grad school.

The temple ceremony, to those who are not familiar with, and adherent to, LDS doctrine is going to look weird. Heck, I grew up in the church and the first time I went to the temple I thought it was weird. The important key to understanding LDS temple ceremonies is the knowledge of the symbolism that is used throughout the ceremony. The entire ceremony is symbolic, and so is the clothing that is worn during the ceremony. It requires a lifetime (or beyond) to fully understand everything the temple ceremony is designed to teach, and requires study, prayer, and ongoing personal righteousness. Without someone translating the ceremony to a non-adherent, it is going to look wacky. Television is not the hermeneutic device that makes that understanding possible.

I don't watch Big Love, mostly because I don't have HBO, and I haven't seen the episode where this is supposed to happen. I'm not assigning intentionality to the producers or writers for their decision to show these ceremonies. I'm also not saying that the LDS church deserves special protection or treatment. All religious traditions deserve respect and understanding. My biggest concern is that this shows an ongoing degradation of the concept of the sacred in our culture. Some things are too important to be bandied about for the sake of entertainment. The temple ceremony, to me, is one of those things.


Anonymous said...

The problem with religion in America is that the temple ceremony is not me. It isn't any more sacred to me than the elevation of the host at a Catholic Mass is sacred to a non-Catholic or non-believer in the real presence of Christ at the Eucharist.

Now, how do we manage that? Does mutual respect mean that I must observe as sacred the things that other religions find sacred, in addition to keeping my own? And how do you enforce that? I work on one of those pre-Christian secret initiations, actually, and in that context, those who disrespected or revealed the secrets contained therein were put to death. To. death. By the government. That was the means for enforcing the secrecy, not some kind of underlying cultural norm. The norm was there, yes. But the enforcement of that norm was the government's job.

It seems to me it would take that level of enforcement of a mutually agreed upon set of boundaries in order to preserve the absolutely sanctity of every religious tradition. At that point, the government has to become involved, which violates the principle of separation of church and state--for real, not just in the sense of mixing religion and politics.

In other words, I am tempted to conclude that religious freedom and religious diversity means all religions are fair game. In order for something to be truly sacred and secret, that secret must be kept from all outsiders at all costs. That's what the masons do.

So I don't know if I think it's a degradation of the concept of sanctity per se, so much as a characteristic of the American religious landscape that religions are open to scrutiny and ridicule of all kinds. I do think there are strong social norms against violating certain things we hold sacred in common--the flag, the national anthem, the festivals of our civil religion--but even those are not enforced and violating them is protected under the freedom of speech.

Mormons Are Christian said...
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Mormons Are Christian said...
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EmmaNadine said...

I'm not expecting anyone outside of the tradition to regard the temple ceremony as sacred. However, my biggest source of discomfort with the representation that I saw online is the mocking and ridicule that was part of the discussion. And I might add that the ridicule started with the Mormon faith and went on to include most, if not all, Christian traditions. So I'm concerned with rituals that other faiths regard as sacred that I don't.

I'm definitely not saying that Mormons should run around killing people who reveal the temple ceremony, or that the government should punish in any way those who do so. I'm not asking for government intervention of any kind. I guess what I am hoping for is that people will not openly mock traditions that they are not a part of. Religions should be open to discussion and critique, but I think it's unhelpful to do it out of a position of "You're an ignorant moron to believe that." Like I said in the post, I've never watched an episode of Big Love in general, and the episode in question in particular, so my comments were directed at the public discussion of the episode more than anything.

That's one of the things that I find particularly interesting about your blog, Anastasia. I love seeing you explain a faith tradition that is different from my own.

I'm wondering if it is possible to treat as sacred traditions that are not sacred to you? And if not, can we at least afford our fellow citizens respect for their beliefs?

EmmaNadine said...

Spammy comments about why the Mormons are right and everyone else is ignorant get deleted. If I'm talking about respecting other faiths, then that lesson starts at home.

Mormons Are Christian said...

My comments were not aimed at proving other faiths wrong. They were aimed at garnering respect for ordinances and covenants initiated by Jesus Christ. These temple ceremonies were not invented in the 19th Century!

I'm sorry you didn't recognize my intent.

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!"

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