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Sacred or Secret? and Big Love

Posted by nebula0 on March 21, 2009

One of Mormonism’s common sayings is that the endowment ceremony is sacred, not secret.  The point of this saying is that there aren’t just weird things going on in the temple but rather that sacred truths are being imparted, so sacred in fact that they shouldn’t be discussed away form the sacred locale of the temple.  Obviously this line of thinking does have its rationale and that shouldn’t be ignored, but from the point of view of an outsider the Mormon IS keeping secrets, whether he labels it or understands it that way or not.  The effect is the arousal of curiosity, really, how could you NOT be curious if someone tells you “I’m sorry, but it’s too sacred for me to share what we do”?  Isn’t that just too tantalizing?  which relates to the following incident.

All of this, of course, has been debated in light of the recent decision by Big Love to portray the endowment ceremony on TV.  Outsiders are fascinated to get a glimpse of ceremonies they are not privy to and Mormons disgusted that something they hold to be too sacred to share with outsiders, or even uninitiated insiders, or even insiders outside of the temple, defiled by being shared through a popular HBO series.  This of course raises questions about religious tolerance and television, how far is too far, and so forth.   There is no way that Mormons are ever going to be okey-dokey with a portrayal of any part of the endowment on television, so does that mean that it is wrong to portray it?

Well, the reality is that it was only a matter of time before this was going to happen.  Mormons have lost their minority protected status with the passing of Proposition 8.  They seems like a far too influential group to give special minority rights to, too much money and too much status.  But then again, Mormons have been wanting out of their peculiar people status for the last couple of decades anyway by emphasizing the Jesus Christ in the name of their church and trying to find acceptance amongst America’s born again crowd.  Mormons are generally a people obsessed with respectability and in that seeking have sought mainstream academic treatment, media treatment, and demand to be called Latter-day Saints rather than Mormons.  Their recent re-emphasis of their all important family message led to wide association between the passing of Prop 8 and Mormonism, casting Mormons as sort of arch conservatives with money.  All of this, I argue, led to the inevitability of wide exposure of Mormon rituals.  Why?  Because as soon as you lose that minority status with the mainstream everything is fair game, that’s why.  It becomes okay to talk about funny underwear, endowment ceremonies, Joseph Smith having spirit wives who were already married and all kinds of issues that the liberal oriented media would have avoided to protect a small religious group.

All of that is to say that Mormons, in their quest for mainstream respectability and acceptance, asked for exposure, and exposure they will get.  This is only the beginning.  Here is the bright side Mormons: as America becomes more familiar with peculiar Mormon belief and ritual, it will, over time, become desensitized.  It will become less weird with each exposure and who knows, maybe that will lead to more converts.

Of course explaining the WHY this would happen in mainstream media doesn’t answer the question- is it right?  My unequivocal answer has to be yes.  I respect the right for Mormons to hold their ceremonies sacred and therefore secret, but that compulsion doesn’t cover the spirit of the First Amendment.  I do not agree with those who argue that anything which might offend someone somewhere ought to be avoided, we’d never talk about anything whatsoever that way.  I think we ought to have all the cartoons of Muhammad that we want, all of the misrepresentations of Catholicism which are so rampant in popular media, and yes, show Barb in the robes of the priesthood.  Just as much as HBO has a right to do this, not just legally but ethically, Mormons have a right to dissent, to explain and to boycott the show.  Hurray for freedom.


4 Responses to “Sacred or Secret? and Big Love”

  1. Seth R. said

    I don’t generally go much for the sacred-secret distinction.

    My own view is that the temple stuff is secret. And it is the secrecy that ENHANCES the sacred character of the stuff there.

    This isn’t something a lot of Evagelicals (or Americans in general) get. For much of America today, if anything is deeply felt or important, it must be immediately slapped on a stupid bumper sticker or emblazoned on a bad T-shirt.

    In short, Americans have become a bunch of crass, tell-all boors who wouldn’t know “sacred” if it came up and kicked them in the face. If it’s not something you’d loudly and obnoxiously tell the cashier at Wal Mart, it must be reprehensible right?


    • nebula0 said

      I do think there is truth to that. American culture in general doesn’t ‘get’ sacred, which is the same reason Americans, generally, have been so concerned about Catholicism’s sacred rites over the years. Part of the secret= questionable equation though is deeply rooted in human nature. People have been curious across cultures about anything which smacks of curious, and ultimately imagine worst case scenerios. For instance, look at what Romans thought about early Christians and their ‘secret’ meetings. Christians were accused of literally eating babies and having orgies. There is just something about knowing that one’s fellow is engaged in a secret side life that is undeniably tantalizing.

  2. Kathy said

    This whole issue is rediculous! I am mormon and I don’t understand why all the secrets. My own parents can’t tell me about what happens in the temple! I believe it needs to be reveled. I have questions and I want answers!

  3. Sam said

    When Big Love made the decision to portray the marriage ceremony, they also made the decision to disrespect something the LDS church, along with a few million of its members, holds sacred, thus drawing a very clear line between them and the LDS church. And for what did Big Love do it for? For ratings and money and whatever else they gain, but in the end they alienated a large group of people who meant well. Oh well, they got their reward, and the LDS church will continue on as they have since the beginning. In the end, those who watched that episode probably came away from it wondering what the big deal was anyway. Well, there is no big deal about it unless you are Mormon.
    Mormons honestly believe they are making covenants with God when they participate in those endowment ceremonies. Those covenants they make during the endowment ceremonies are meant, and hoped for, to produce the best results for the man and woman who enter into them. Even if, after all is said and done, Mormons are wrong, I don’t think God is going to condemn them for their beliefs, in fact he might give them a good place for at least trying to keep what they honestly believed were good covenants meant to produce good results.
    Furthermore, the endowment is not defiled by the portraying of it on tv. People are defiled when they watch it. It is much more fulfilling and meaningful to discover the endowments through the proper and honest living of a good life, rather than to sit down one night and turn on the tv. Like I said, the covenants are meant to produce a better person and discovering them any other way renders them useless and meaningless to the observer except as a momentary diversion from life. Maybe somewhat ironic? I guess it depends on what side of the line you’re standing on.

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