Thursday March 12, 2009
Categories: Contemporary Culture, Religion, Television
What's going to be dramatized on this weekend's Big Love is still not completely known - the basic plot is that Barb, who was raised traditional LDS, is brought up for excommunication.
The image from the episode that was published in TV Guide shows her in garb that is, as I understand it, characteristic (although not exact - I have read that the apron color is wrong) - of what a woman would wear at an "Endowment Ceremony," which leads me to believe there is some sort of flashback going on, perhaps to the high points of Barb's formation in the church.
What is it..and let's revisit the question of the appropriateness of dramatizing the ceremony, because I have a few more thoughts, inspired by your comments.
What is the Endowment ceremony?
That, for one, is no secret. There are numerous websites that contain descriptions, transcriptions and even audio of elements of the ceremony. This is a sympathetic site that draws a curtain on certain aspects and this site is a bit more revealing.
The ceremony has been changed and adapted over the past century and a half, most recently in 1990. Very precise blood oaths are no longer, taken, for example. But the essence remains the same: at the center of the ceremony is dramatized religious instruction of the LDS understanding of salvation history - at one time acted out in person, but now viewed on film.
When you read through it, a couple of things might strike you:
First, that it contains elements of Freemasonry, which is no secret, since Joseph Smith and many of the early Mormons were also Masons.
Secondly, that it is deeply gnostic.
For the purpose of the ceremony (it seems to me) is, of course, initiation into a deeper life as a Latter-Day Saint today, but it is also about the giving of signs and "tokens" that are needed in the afterlife in order to go through the veil and meet God and become a god.
When I figured that last part out, the LDS objections to the ceremony became more understandable to me, although of course, none of the objections have specifically articulated this point which boils down (it seems to me...again) to: Don't give away the Secret Entry Code to the Uninitiated.
I am still not bothered by a respectful depiction - although it is not my place, I suppose, to be bothered or not. Even taking into account what some are saying is the hostility of the creators and producer Tom Hanks to the LDS for its role in opposing gay marriage, given the truly respectful treatment of the beliefs of these characters throughout the program's history, I will hold my judgment until the program airs.
I mean, honestly. When you examine the intricacies of Mormon beliefs...there is ripe room for satire and mockery. But at no point in the series has any character said to another, "Er, you seriously believe that? Explain this to me, please."
Which, I have to say, is a flaw of contemporary religious discourse, period.
Mainstream Christians are accustomed to explaining their beliefs in the public square. We are constantly called on to defend and explain what seems absurd to the unbeliever. Some see that as evidence of "attacks" - I don't. There is nothing wrong with being called on to give an account of what one believes, either to the curious, the hostile or the inquirer. Christians engage in public debate and discussion of their beliefs all the time.
But those of other faiths are not...and I have really never understood why.
Certainly there might be a hesitancy to submit yourself to perceived attacks, but really, no matter what we believe, especially those whose beliefs may seem "exotic" in contrast to mainstream Christianity, should understand that not all questions are fueled by hostility. Some are truly just curious about the beliefs themselves and how one adheres to those beliefs in the context of the modern world.
Are there any forums - not internet, but those in which real people talk and interact in public - in which LDS members answer questions about their history, their cosmology, their understanding of eternal life?
Or in which Muslims answer searching and well-meaning questions about the origins of the Koran - similar to the way in which Christians are asked to justify their faith in Scripture - and the life of Mohammad and their history?
Or in which polytheistic Hindus can be asked serious and well-meaning questions about their sense of the reality of the gods and their mythology?
This is not an "equal time" kind of a post or a plea to lay off Christians. Anything but. If you believe something, if you stake your life on it, if you believe it is true - not just for you, but for all - then you should be happy to explore and explain it and even admit your own questions.
Okay then. Long-time readers will immediately recognize this post as "Wow, Amy starts on one thing and then just....wanders."
Oh, and I will say that the more you learn about LDS beliefs and worldview, the more the question "Are Mormons Christian" pops up and will just not go away. It cuts to the heart of what Christianity is - is it simply a belief in Jesus' divinity? If so, Mormons are Christian. But if it is more - seriously, if it is even a tiny bit more, creeping out through that initial fence round Jesus' divinity, the answer is "no."
Here is a discussion on that from a 2008 issue of First Things.