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.