Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

Working with imperfect knowledge

June 28th, 2009 by Vader

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when received the Endowment, and that this invalidated the covenants made as part of the Endowment, because these were superceded by greater duty to reveal just how sinister the Endowment is.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.

Alma 32:21

And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.

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.

Comments (18)
Filed under: Birkenhead Drill,Deseret Review | Tags: ,
June 28th, 2009 23:26:01

June 29, 2009

Some people feel that the LDS tradition costs more than it benefits; therefore they are happy and proud to escape the black hole (as they perceive it). I would guess the boastful profaning of your sacred matters would act as fuel to push out and away from the ill-adjusted, institutional relationship. Probably not the healthiest way to end the relationship, but it has a purpose and potency, nonetheless. I guess your beef is that you think he has no right to tell anyone if he promised not to tell anyone. Well maybe getting out of the relationship is more important than keeping the secret.

As social institutions the military has a certain pull, marriage has a pull, parenthood has an allure. But the perception is pretty universal among humans that these institutions have benefits that out-weigh the costs. The benefits are pretty Darwinistic, if you think about it.

Adam G.
June 29, 2009

Some people are fools and self-regarding, faithless, drama queens. Yes, indeed.

John Mansfield
June 29, 2009

In these things, it’s funny how universal the need is to see oneself as heroic. Just once I’d like to see someone observe that living according to his beliefs or lack thereof is a bit cowardly and lazy, but that’s where truth and reason lie, so the virtues of bravery, industry, and fortitude will have to lie dormant in this matter and be applied elsewhere where that may be done in good conscious. Being a faithful son/husband/citizen is usually a more pleasant thing than not being one, but still an important position to uphold even if not brimming with heroism each day.

Wm Morris
June 29, 2009

I’m perfectly content to be subversive by living a life of convention and to be rebellious by living a life of faith.

June 29, 2009

Name-calling is what most anti-anti-LDS conversations devolve into.

It looks like we’re all pretty confused what heroism looks like in the realm of religiosity.

June 29, 2009

You think you’re being treated … unfairly?

I thought I was fairly careful to avoid name calling, though I certainly disagree with the blogger in question.

Adam spoke intemperately. I cannot say he spoke entirely incorrectly. In particular, it appears that the other forum is dominated by atheists, for whom “faithless” is probably a badge of honor. And I believe the blogger made a foolish choice which he is now determined to call as much attention to as possible.

The Church doesn’t necessarily see an excommunication as final: It has a long history of rebaptizing penitent excommunicants. The Church therefore prefers not to burn bridges unnecessarily by subjecting an excommunicant to public shame. It’s usually the choice of the excommunicant to publicize the disciplinary action, as in this case.

Adam G.
June 29, 2009

this is a blog with a minimal spine. You’ll find your whimpering less effective than heretofore.

Jana (not that one)
June 29, 2009

I don’t have much to add to what’s been said, other than to “amen” Adam’s thoughts. I read the boastful blog in question, somewhat by accident. Adam is absolutely right, there is nothing particular heroic about being excommunicated, let alone difficult. I think the blogger is just using the opportunity to further hash out his personal demons in a somewhat undignified way. What is it about people leaving the church that makes them think it is so much harder than those who choose to leave any other similar organization. I have a friend who’s faced much more difficult circumstances leaving the Jehovah’s Witnesses than I’ve ever heard described by those leaving Mormonism.

Oh well. Whatever drums up traffic to your blog, I guess.

June 29, 2009

Oops, my mistake, blog was by Vader. Although I generally agree with Adam’s thoughts, too!

June 29, 2009

[Censored for being boring and whiny.

Ahem. Correction. Heroically censored for being boring and whiny and for advocating personal demon hash, when everyone knows that hash should be made with Idaho potatoes

PS. Don’t look now, but as a special one-time offer you, and you only, can see the original comment below pre-censorship

-Adam G]

John–It’s funny to me to hear about supposed heroic delusions from a member of a religion that claims exclusive, real divine saving power in organization and ordinance.

Morris–OK. The thrill of rebellion can be found anywhere, apparently. I’m sure one day you’ll see the value in looking around you.

Vader–Fools, drama queens? You picked the one cleverly, defensible term and convinced me that you WANT to believe your ex-comm brother made the wrong decision.

Jana–I believe you’ve offered up an interesting straw man JW argument. I’ve met militant anti-Scientologists. What about it? I never argued that similar logic doesn’t exist elsewhere.

And how dare this man further hash out his own personal demons! It’s not like uprooting your entire life’s belief system is traumatic or anything!

(I don’t know which specific blog this blog is referring to)

Adam–Way to go, buddy. I’d like you to further hash out some demons sometime.

June 30, 2009


Scott B.
June 30, 2009


Yes. This.

June 30, 2009

John M: Just once I’d like to see someone observe that living according to his beliefs or lack thereof is a bit cowardly and lazy, but that’s where truth and reason lie,…

[raises hand] Ok. That’s me. I didn’t come back to church in 2002 because I really wanted to. I was given to know (by a spiritual 2×4 up side the head), that going back to church and repenting would be easier than the consequences of the road I was on. Not exactly, but something like Alma-meets-the-angel turnaround, or more like a small taste of D&C 19:20.

June 30, 2009

“Boring” “Yawn” = I don’t want to explain by reasoning about that.

OK, I get it. I’ll go troll up some attention on some other poor, semi-logical LDS blog. Can’t say I didn’t try. I’ll have to work on my baiting-contention techniques.

June 30, 2009

Don’t try to explain that I meant by “yawn”. You don’t know what I meant. You stick to just stating what YOU mean – and if I care enough, I will express myself.

But in this case that I don’t care enough or that I am simply hearing something again I have heard many times before my response might just be “yawn”.

Also if you want to visit my blog and discuss time travel with me, that would be awesome, Ceejay.

July 12, 2009

And I thought Mormons were supposed to be welcoming, long-suffering, patient types. Is this really a Mormon web site? Much different tone than when talking with the bicycling missionaries. Fascinating.

July 12, 2009

I’ve never been much impressed with the passive-aggressive mode of argumentation.

July 13, 2009

What would you like me to be more direct about? As if yawn* was so clear.

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