Tuesday, October 14, 2014

the temple

The newest LDS temple,in a metro area that now has half a dozen, is an overwhelm- ing frenzy of straight lines and right angles. There is nothing natural about it, which is an observation that applies as well to the Mormon religion, a pastiche of Biblical literalism combined with a highly original but not very successful, from a critical literary standpoint, scriptural imitation,or forgery.

However, it must be successful enough, since LDS is the world's fastest-growing religion.

Having never experienced the dubious grandeur of a modern Mormon temple, I took the rare opportunity today to tour the new building in Phoenix. "Gentiles" are not ordinarily permitted entry to these places, where the most sacred rituals are enacted. We are, however, allowed usually 10 days of access, between the building's completion and its formal dedication, to view the treasures.

The tour itself consisted of walking  slowly in a compact group through narrow passage- ways hung with prints of scenes from the life of Christ. These open onto large rooms such as the baptistery with its huge, full-immersion font resting on the backs of 12 oxen, symbolizing the 12 Tribes of Israel. Unlike conventional Christianity, the central ritual of which is the eucharist, baptism seems the most important Mormon sacrament.

The other important spaces visitors are permitted to see include the "Celestial Room," which hints at the hygienically pristine joys of LDS heaven, and the "Sealing" rooms in which Mormon couples are married "for eternity."

No expense was spared in the embellishment of this place with its gold & cunningly wrought grates, as well as innumerable homogenized symbolic door pushers. But compared to the old Spanish Franciscan missions such as Tucson's ancient San Xavier del Bac, or humble San Miguel, near the central California coast, these grand & very expensive post-modern piles of Italian marble cubes, 21st-century LDS temples, are strictly Jesus comes to Howard Johnson's.

I understand the appeal of this essentially paternalistic and authoritarian religion, whose spiritual understanding is genuine, & centered on daily family life. The timeless and deeply conservative archetypes of the family banish uncertainty, with which the human race is plagued by natural circumstances, replacing it with immutable & changeless certainties. However, when HoJo Jesus comes to town with his gorgeous chestnut mane waving in the gentle breeze of the off-camera fan, his piercing blue eyes framed and set off by the carefully-cropped reddish beard, he comes to set limits, not to liberate.

Yes, your marriage will last forever, and your children will always be with you, and nothing ever really changes. I understand it at the same time I believe it's kind of a con, for two reasons 1)  because in this world, everything that arises passes away, & 2) because in our brief time on God's green earth, flexibility is strength, rigidity kills, and no one can ever be certain he's right.



Joe said...

That is so true about our imperfect certainties. In fact we are just imperfect. So if someone says, I have the right way, the only reasonable approach is to be skeptical of the assertion. If reason is to be abandoned to faith, we have a term for that...crazy. I guess there is desperation, when we might do that.

Come to think of it, I feel pretty desperate, so can understand people going by the faith. I wish that I could at least even just feel, instead of know analytically, that what the faith represents is real. But everything I've found and thought about on the matter indicates it's not real.

Dave B, a.k.a. catboxer said...

Hi Joe. It's good to see you as always.

Sometimes the faith is real, sometimes not. It all depends on the faith. The one word that kept coming into my mind as I toured the Phoenix Temple was VANITY.

But what I saw & felt at San Xavier del Bac a couple weeks earlier was real for sure, and there was no vanity in that place. I would say if you want to try a faith, choose carefully.

Joe said...

Thank you Dave.

What I mean is the object of the faith doesn't seem real. I was trying not to sound too harsh because I don't blame the people at San Xavier for believing. I think it is true that the faith can be real.