The secrecy surrounding the temple can be viewed from several different angles, but in this post I’m interested in exploring how it functions with respect to time.
Because investigating details of the ceremony is forbidden to the uninitiated and people are required to receive their own endowments before being allowed to do vicarious work, time–to contemplate the significance of the particulars of what one is covenanting under sacred oath–is denied the new initiate. The Church’s preparation for the would-be temple-goer is vague and enigmatic. As a result, worthy individuals who have refrained from finding out about the ceremony in advance are given approximately a second and a half, as the moment descends upon them with its plodding air of inviolable inexorability, to decide whether to make those covenants or not. Which isn’t, realistically, enough time to decide “not.” Add to this the legions of smiling family members and friends probably shepherding the clueless novitiate through the ceremony, as well as the possibility that said novitiate’s departure on a mission or wedding may loom in the immediate future, and the prospect of deciding “not” in that split second, with all the pressures of the situation bearing down, diminishes to the microscopic level.
What is the justification for not telling people in advance what specific promises they’ll be asked to make?
Observe that when it comes to weddings, the rules are different. Anyone who’s endowed can perform proxy sealings, whether or not they’ve already been sealed themselves. As a result, people (especially men, since they’re more likely to serve missions) can participate in the ceremony in advance and think through what will be required of them in the heat of the moment on that hectic day. Why not rearrange things somehow so that worthy individuals could also go through other secret ceremonies vicariously first, giving them time to consider the specific nature of the covenants they’ll be asked to make? Another option would simply be to preach, openly and comprehensively, the ideals that the temple ceremony endorses (even if the specific language of the ceremony is avoided), in an effort to remove any element of surprise regarding the particular requirements of the covenants. A third option would be for bishops to reveal, confidentially, what exactly those covenants consist of when a member seeks a temple recommend, and well before the trip to the temple has been scheduled.
The advantages to giving people time seem enormous to me. If people had the sincere option of turning away from them knowing full well what they entailed, covenants that were entered into willfully, after due consideration, would seemingly be more meaningful, purposeful, and sincere. As to those who chose to participate in the ceremony vicariously and then did not take the step of receiving their own endowments for whatever reason, perhaps they would be less resentful toward the Church. One of the aspects of the temple that’s potentially traumatizing is the participatory nature of ritual. It’s not a matter of sitting through a movie one dislikes or reading an offensive scriptural passage. It’s a matter of stepping, yourself, into that movie or that passage and publicly assenting to its claims, and just as this heightens the experience and creates space for personal interaction with deity and with myth, it equally allows ritual to violate people on a more profound level. And the pressure created by the lack of time for consideration only serves to aggravate this sense of violation, pushing people under duress to accept commitments and structures that may, in the hard light of day, run contrary to their values.
Eternity is unimaginably vast. Why compress people into a single instant, with minimal information, and then pressure them into making decisions of eternal import?
- 26 December 2008