A recent comment here led me to a blog that I will not honor with a link, lest I be responsible for helping profane that which is sacred. Let it suffice to say that the blogger, having previously broken a sacred covenant never to divulged certain aspects of the Mormon temple endowment ceremony , was now boasting that he was about to be excommunicated from the Mormon Church.
I find it mildly interesting that this should be viewed as some kind of a great accomplishment by the blogger and most of his commenters. From my observations, it’s much easier to get excommunicated from the Church than to give up cigarettes, lose twenty pounds, or get off most junk mail lists. What intrigued me more is the claim by the blogger and many of his commenters that they did not know what they were getting into when received the Endowment, and that this invalidated the covenants made as part of the Endowment, because these were superceded by greater duty to reveal just how sinister the Endowment is.
My own experience of receiving the Endowment was evidently quite different from what these folks experienced. I found it a bit bewildering, which is not surprising given its length and richness, but it was also one of the high spiritual experiences of my life, one I could hardly wait to go back and repeat. In no sense did I feel like I had fallen into the grips of some kind of authoritarian cult. I suppose I was smart enough, even then, to realize that the Church was in no position to meaningfully enforce any of the promises I had made to God in the temple. If I refused to yield to the supposed tyranny of the Mormon hierarchy, the worst they could do was … kick me out, thereby ending whatever authority or influence over me they had ever had.
Oh, I know. There are various social pressures facing someone who wants to break loose from Mormonism. They’re not significantly different from those facing someone who wants to break loose from Catholicism, or evangelical Christianity, or the Democratic Party. They are worlds different from those facing someone who wants to break loose from a real authoritarian cult, such as the Crips or the Schutzstaffel.
Unless temple preparation classes are now being taught a whole lot more poorly than I was teaching them some years ago, I’m not sure the claim of incomplete knowledge holds much water. For example, my recollection is that the manual emphasized to the instructor that the lesson on the Law of Consecration should be taught in such a way that the individuals preparing for the Temple understood exactly what commitment they were going to be making. I single out the Law of Consecration for particular mention because I can’t imagine what other commitment made in the Endowment would give offense. You pretty much already have to be living the other principles before you’re allowed in the temple anyway.
Unless it’s the asymmetric wording of one covenant, which strikes some as sexist. That’s a topic for a different discussion. but I’ll note that it’s no more sexist than the restriction to men of the privilege of holding Priesthood office in the Church. And, again, you pretty much have to already accept the legitimacy of the Priesthood before you’re allowed in the temple.
But even if the knowledge of what you’re getting into when you receive the Endowment is less than complete, that hardly makes the Endowment unique among binding commitments. Including some commitments enforced by the civil law in this country.
Military service. I doubt any prospective soldier, sailor, or airman has the least notion what combat is actually like when he signs the enlistment papers. Yet we expect him to keep his commitment, and it is at least theoretically possible that he will face very harsh consequences if he rethinks his commitment in the heat of combat. I imagine that may not carry much weight with pacifists, but it certainly does with his buddies who were counting on him.
Marriage. I defy anyone who has ever been married to look me in the eye and tell me with a straight face that he really understood what he was getting into when he swore lifelong faithfulness to his spouse. Yet, until relatively recently, most major religions and secular governments put significant barriers in the way of couples who thought better of their marriage vows and wanted to dissolve them. I suspect this is true even of Islam, where the “I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you” proceeding is apparently controversial even among the fundamentalists. It is certainly true of historical Christianity, as illustrated by some unfortunate incidents in renaissance England that keep me from ever advising a young man to treat his girlfriend like a queen.
Parenthood. Again, I defy anyone who has every tried to put a colicky infant to sleep at two in the morning to look me in the eye and tell me with a straight face that he really understood what he was getting into when he impregnated his partner. Nevertheless, this is one of the few commitments that our legal system can still be bothered to take very seriously.
Leaving aside the example of military service, what do the Endowment, marriage, and parenthood all have in common? All are commitments that one makes with an imperfect knowledge of what one is getting into. All are commitments that one is not at liberty to set aside when that knowledge becomes more perfect, not if one has any regard for one’s own immortal soul. Which I think is really kind of the key.
We have a word for acting with imperfect knowledge: Faith.
Receiving the Endowment is an act of faith, just like contracting a marriage or begetting a child. It is not an act for the faithless.