Temple Worship and the Retreat of Esoteric Space

In a comment on Gordon’s recent post, Jed Woodworth raises an interesting point. He, entirely accurately, points out that the notion that the temple is a place that most members should regularly attend is a late 20th century phenomena in Mormonism. Prior to that time, the temple, for most members, was generally a place visited once or twice in a life time, and work for the dead was largely delegated to specially called temple workers. Indeed, during the 1930s, Heber J. Grant actually hired people to do temple work on behalf of his ancestors as a kind of make-work project. Yet I think that Jed misses something in his account of the shift away from this rather modest role for individual temple worship to our contemporary emphasis.

According to Jed this shift follows the rise in divorce and temple building. He thus associates temple attendance with the Church’s emphasis on the family and suggests that the creation of modern temple worship was a kind of instrumental move to help forestall marital disintegration. There is no doubt much truth to this, but it is, I think, an incomplete account of the rise of temple worship. I would suggest that the increase in temple worship comes about because of the need to maintain esoteric doctrines in the face of contracting esoteric space. Let me explain.

I love to read the Journal of Discourses. There is a lot of wonderful speculation in those volumes borne largely of Mormonism’s radically anthropomorphic idea of God and our theomorphic idea of mankind. You do not see the same kind of sermons today. There are lots of reasons for this. Many of the 19th century doctrines have been rejected as mistaken. The Church has suffered through a number of nasty doctrinal fights, which has given the Brethren a greater sense of the potential dangers of public speculation. However, the contraction of Mormon space, I think, has much to do with the change in discourse.

Many of the doctrines regarding man and God that lie behind the 19th-century speculations are in some sense esoteric. They are doctrines that we teach to the initiated, those who have already joined the Saints. They are not necessarily those doctrines that we preach to the nations. They are pearls, and we try to avoid casting them before swine. Even in the more free-wheeling 19th century this was the case, and Joseph and later Brigham emphasized from time to time that there are doctrines that we teach in Zion that are best not taught in Babylon. Hence, Zion became a kind of esoteric space in which the quasi-secret doctrines at the heart of the Mormon revelation could be taught.

The problem came, of course, with the destruction of Zion as a spatial entity. Federal persecution and the complexity of the modern economy (and Mormonism’s ultimate refusal to go down fighting both) created a problem of esoteric space. In a sense, everything became Babylon. Everything became the World. The one exception to this was the Temple. Here, the sacred, esoteric space of Zion exists in pristine purity. So it is into this space, that our esoteric doctrines have retreated.

If I am right, then the development of modern temple worship is a way of maintaining the esoteric core of the Mormon revelation. We go to the Temple because it is a place where we can renew our commitment to and connection with the esoteric doctrines that fill the pages of the Journal of Discourses. It is our way of maintaining a real and spatial Zion in the face of an all pervasive Babylon. This, I think, is also what the public disclosure of temple secrets is so offensive. It is not that these are embarrassments that we wish to keep hidden from the world. Nor is it that the secrets of the temple are magical talismans whose power is lost if they fall into the wrong hands. Rather, the outrage comes because of the violation of sacred and esoteric space. It comes because it represents an effort by Babylon to break down the last redoubt of much shrunken spatial Zion. Finally, the temple makes the global exportation of Mormonism possible. There is a tragic aspect to our retreat to the Temple, but there is a triumphant aspect as well. Temple’s make Zion — with its spatial, esoteric core — portable. They become our tabernacles in a global wilderness, tiny islands of the world of Joseph and Brigham flung across the sea.

44 comments for “Temple Worship and the Retreat of Esoteric Space

  1. Kristine
    July 12, 2005 at 2:27 pm

    Armand Mauss and Jan Shipps have both made essentially the same point, but with a slightly more American public relations version of what you call Babylon. The increasing emphasis on temple worship allows Mormons to assimilate in many ways, to proclaim “we’re not weird” for the sake of enabling the church first to survive and then to grow, while preserving the peculiarity–the weirdness–of Mormon notions of kingdom-building and ritual purity.

    It makes a great deal of sense from a doctrinal point of view, milk before meat, hiding pearls from swine, etc., but it seems to me that it becomes an especially difficult strategy in a post-Watergate, post-Donahue cultural era, where secrecy and duplicity are viewed as profoundly un-American, and even sinful (this in a world where almost nothing else is still commonly regarded as sinful).

  2. Jack
    July 12, 2005 at 2:31 pm

    I like this post Nate, especially the idea of making Zion portable.

    I do wonder though if temples, at this point in our history, are really more about preserving esoteric space–or the idea of it–rather than doctrine (if the two can be seperated). It seems to me that nowadays there’s very little doctrine found in the temple that is truely esoteric.

  3. Mathew
    July 12, 2005 at 2:39 pm


    Excellent post–original and, I think, correct in its assessment that the temple is now the primary space within Mormonism where the unique doctrines of Mormonism are taught to the initiated. But I think you place too much of the cause for the retreat of esoteric teachings from public Mormon life on federal meddling. Certainly government intervention was the biggest factor in the church’s rejection of the practice of polygamy, but it isn’t the government that is rapidly reducing the doctrine of a plurality of gods to a couplet. While once we were prodded to assimilate on the tip of a bayonet, we now rush to shed the vestiges of the heady doctrines that made the saints a peculiar people. In the modern church, cheap mass communication and public opinion from the outside coupled with a desire to appease and please from the inside have done more to push our unique doctrines into the temple redoubt. That may or may not be a good thing . . .

  4. July 12, 2005 at 2:44 pm

    The thing about using Temples as repositories of the esoteric doctrine is that we don’t get to talk about it. Integral to Zion is community and though we can do a temple session, there is not much of a structure that fosters communal reflection of these doctrines. The temple remains mostly an indavidual ritual, not a communal discourse.

  5. James
    July 12, 2005 at 2:44 pm

    Interesting post and makes a lot of sense. Although I don’t want to get your post off topic, this reminds me of a question I often have of Mormon families. I am curious why the same thought process (as well as other uniquely Mormon issues) doesn’t lead to more Mormon families homeschooling their children. We homeschool our children so that we are able to effectively raise our children in the manner in which the scriptures teach. Many of the principles we teach and encourage are not done in public or private schools.

  6. Nate Oman
    July 12, 2005 at 2:47 pm

    Kristine: I agree that the theological logic of the temple creates a public relations nightmare because it requires that we affirm that in some sense the unitiated are swine. Hardly the sort of thing that can be said tactfully. Of course, there is a long tradition of viewing the esoteric as un-American — anti-Masonry and all that.

    Matt: There is truth to the fact that we are, collectively, very eager for outside validation, but I would not let the feds off so easily. Essentially what the period of the Raid taught the Church was that in America “freedom of religion” mean “freedom to be Protestant.” The Church quite rightly concluded that if they were going to avoid legal and political harrassment in the future they were going to have to look more Protestant. Even today, American first amendment jurisprudence is essentially Protestant-centric. The closer religious practice is to Presbyterianism or Lutheranism, the more likely it is to be protected. Indeed, the law even provides protection to new religions by analogizing them to Protestant institutions, ie the priest-penitent privilege, etc.

  7. Daniel
    July 12, 2005 at 2:51 pm

    thanks for the post. It ties together for me comments Nibley has made regarding the design of early temples to resemble castles of defense — witness the Logan or St. George temples bulwarks (is that the correct term? Architecture is not my metier.).

  8. Rosalynde Welch
    July 12, 2005 at 2:59 pm

    Nate, good points, persuasively made. I think the increased emphasis on temple attendance also tracks a qualitative shift in the nature of temple worship: whereas temple work was in the beginning a site of group instruction and ritual that enacted the essential sociality of exaltation, it is now, above all, the ultimate site of personal (or, at most, couple) meditation and revelation, a highly individual and personal form of worship. In line with your Protestantization thesis, we could say that whereas the temple provided something like the experience of a Catholic mass, it now provides the Protestant experience of the solitary believer worshiping alone in her closet.

  9. Shawn Bailey
    July 12, 2005 at 3:01 pm

    “Indeed, the law even provides protection to new religions by analogizing them to Protestant institutions, ie the priest-penitent privilege, etc.”

    I didn’t follow this, Nate. When I think of the priest-penitent privilege, the Catholic confessional comes to mind.

  10. Jim F.
    July 12, 2005 at 3:02 pm

    Isn’t it also true, however, that the temple becomes the center of a sacred space that surrounds it and, thereby, changes the otherwise secular? For LDS, Provo is defined by its temple (as ugly as it is).

    For a very long time, the “navel” of the LDS world was in SLC, part of the reason for strong immigration to Utah even long after the practice was encouraged. As more and more temples are built, the secular space of Africa, South and Central America, Asia, and Europe becomes sacred space, a place in which the Saints can live without merely being foreigners in their own homelands.

    Obviously we are only beginnning to see this happen, but it seems to me to be the natural trajectory of current practices.

  11. A. Greenwood
    July 12, 2005 at 3:04 pm

    Ah, the priest-penitent privilege is a Protestant institution? The first priest-penitent case I can remember off hand was in NY in 1813 and it involved a Catholic Father.

  12. Nate Oman
    July 12, 2005 at 3:10 pm

    Rosalynde: I am not so sure about your corporate to individual thesis. I would need to know more about how 19th-century temple worship worked, but my intuition is that actually you have the opposite dynamic at work. Today you have things like ward temple trips, etc. that to my knowledge never existed in the 19th century.

    Shawn and Adam: I could be wrong, but I thought that the priest pentitent privilege was developed in the common law as a way of accomodating the CofE. I could well be wrong about this…

  13. Greg Call
    July 12, 2005 at 3:23 pm

    Re: Jim’s comment 10: The McKay biography indicates that the expansion of the temple building program at mid-century was an overt attempt to stem the tide of immigration to Utah.

    Also, I think Rosalynde is probably right about the shifting nature of temple worship. Seems to me that a full day of singing and dancing and enacting at the temple is much more of a communal activity than an hour or two watching a film and pondering quietly, even if it is with fellow ward members. I’m a bit of a solitary guy, myself, so I’m glad this is so.

  14. Rosalynde Welch
    July 12, 2005 at 3:25 pm

    Nate, if your ward temple trips involve anything like a real social interaction between ward members, they’re certainly different from mine! Once in my life I attended a ward chapel session and subsequent endowment where I had a significant social experience, but every other time has been smiling at friends in the chapel and then whispering hello in the celestial room. Ward and stake temple events are simply gimmicks to boost attendance, not a significant communal worship experience.

    That said, different regions of the temple have different social ecologies. The baptistry, for example, with its busy, bustling environment and sense of shared, cooperative purpose provides something much different than the celestial room, with its reign of silence and stillness.

  15. Seth Rogers
    July 13, 2005 at 12:38 am

    RE: #10

    Speak for yourself. I’ve always liked the Provo temple quite a bit and know lots of other people who feel the same way. I also liked it better with the gold spire (although the new one is OK).

    The temple I have the biggest aesthetic problem with is the Ogden temple. And this isn’t because of the temple design itself.

    It’s because some idiot had the gall to build a stake center right next to the temple with a spire almost as tall as the temple itself. Looks just awful.

  16. Jack
    July 13, 2005 at 3:18 am

    It wasn’t until someone pointed out to me that the Provo and Logan temples where both patterned after a pillar and a cloud that I began to have some appreciation for their design. I too was a little disappointed when the pillar was changed from gold to white, as the gold was a better representation of fire (imo). But what the heck, perhaps heavenly fire burns white hot, almost tending toward a blue.

  17. Jack N
    July 13, 2005 at 3:18 am

    I’ve taken a far more pragmatic approach. There have been an estimated 50 billion people on the planet. If you are very active and attend the temple 12 times a year ( I haven’t) and do it for 50 years you will have done 600 (599) endowments for the dead. Even several million members does not make a big dent in the number of endowments that have to be done. I think we will be very busy in the millennium.

  18. norm
    July 13, 2005 at 4:00 am

    My Great-grandfather was a bishop in Springville. He regularly paid members of his ward to attend the temple for him. I had never thought of it as a make-work program, although his practice overlapped the Great Depression.

    Mostly, he was wealthy and generally in poor health. Making the trip to Manti took time away from business and bishopping. But I always thought it was odd that he would pay people to do his temple work.

  19. John Mansfield
    July 13, 2005 at 7:37 am

    A couple weeks ago at the Splendid Sun site, Justin Butterfield provided a 1915 First Presidency letter that gave guidelines for hiring proxy ordinance workers. From my own family history, I know it was not just wealthy saints paying for such services.

    And but me down as another who finds the Provo temple beautiful. Will that get me shunned by the cool kids? Besides the cloud and pillar of fire design, I see it as a crown to the Utah Valley. I like it up close, and I like it from across the valley as I enter on I-15 from the north.

  20. July 13, 2005 at 9:26 am

    Provo’s esoteric beauty is allabout placement. It is framed by the canyon directly behind it, giving it a nice connection to the mountain of the Lord.

    The last group temple trip I went on involved all of us gathering in a small chapel and having a brief, 5 minute talk from the stake president before we went in. It was much better that way than just happening to be in the same room with those from the ward.

    Another rather obvious reason to increase temple worship as a voluntary frequent activity is that both free time and transportation are far better. Even living in Provo, the trip up to SLC in 1900 would be much longer than now. Those in the far reaching colonies would have been hard pressed to make the trip regularly. Once temples began to dot the land, this emphasis could change. Looking to the wild days of 19th century doctrinal speculation, how many temples were there in the 1860s and 1870s anyway? St. George was not finished until 1877 for goodness sake. From there until the end of the century the Church was embroiled in the federal attacks on polygamy. So I am not sure that regular temple worship could really have taken off very early anyway unless the Church had been building a lot more temples or had desired to push a lot more sacrifice.

  21. John Mansfield
    July 13, 2005 at 9:56 am

    It appears to me that the emphasis on frequent temple worship proceeded having temples dot the land. The temples in Snowflake and Colonia Juarez could just as well have been built and benefitted from seventy years ago if frequent temple worship had been desired then. As Brother Nate started out, semi-private preaching from the apostles had a place in 19th Century worship that we don’t enjoy today. So all across Deseret, the saints built tabenacles to assemble in and hear that preaching. As I’ve sat on metal folding chairs in the back of cultural halls for stake conference, I’ve often wished for a tabernacle, a place really designed for a large body to be preached to, but that isn’t a priority today. The saints could have built small, close temples long ago if that had been the desire then.

  22. John Mansfield
    July 13, 2005 at 10:17 am

    A nice example of the shift from preaching to temple worship is the Vernal Temple, occupying the structure formerly known as the Vernal Tabernacle.

  23. July 13, 2005 at 10:20 am

    Or they could have been built in the 60s when President McKay was thinking about how to bringthe temples to the world. But they weren’t. Apparently it was not yet the time for them. It was the time for big temples. Obviously, temples dotting the land is going to be jointly detemrined witha desire to have more regular temple worship. But the issue is the extent to which such a thing was feasible and in the Lord’s plan. It was not feasible, in 1910, to build a bunch of big temples easily accessible by horse and buggy since the Church had little money.

    Also, I think the hired temple worker thing is very interesting. Unless somehow the money invalidates the ordinance, this seems like a way to not only provide for the needy but to give them spiritual blessings as well as giving blessinsg to the dead.

  24. Mathew
    July 13, 2005 at 10:57 am

    Nate: “The Church quite rightly concluded that if they were going to avoid legal and political harrassment in the future they were going to have to look more Protestant.”

    That may be, but I’m having trouble believing it is part of the calculus today. The federal government isn’t interested in whether we believe in one or many gods or whom we conduct proxy ordinances for. Our retreat from these and other doctrines and practices is firmly centered in our collective desire to be less peculiar. As best as I can tell there are several reasons for this, some of which have more claim on my personal sypathies than others: 1) an emphasis on commonality as a missionary measure, 2) a willingness to show greater respect to the sacred traditions of others, 3) a long-term PR effort to burnish the church’s image . . .

    Of these it seems number 3 trace most easily traces its origins to the period of assimilation you mention above. But even if that is the case, we have sufficiently rehabilitated ourselves in the eyes of the government that its current purpose is long divorced from whatever inspired it originally. No one would seriously entertain the idea of using official coercion to force a change in our core doctrines or practices. The one exception to this rule, our pre-1978 policies towards blacks and priesthood, was not inspired by a desire to look more Protestant.

  25. Nate Oman
    July 13, 2005 at 11:05 am

    Mathew: You are probably right with regard to current practice, even here, however I think that one shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss the impact of legal pressure. You are correct that in the United States that the Church is unlikely to face serious legal persecution. However, the Church rather regularlly has to deal with anti-cult legislation overseas. The ability to claim close affinity with mainline Christianity has real legal payoffs in such situations. No one passes anti-cult legislation against Methodists.

  26. Nate Oman
    July 13, 2005 at 11:23 am

    Jim: In your comment #10 you make a point about how a temple transforms the space around it into sacred space and this allows non-Utah and Great Basin locales to be authentic sites of Zion. The transformative power of shrines on their surrouding spaces seems like straight Eliade, and I largely agree with it. Certainly, for Mormons in the DC area, Kennington and the temple form an axis around which much turns.

    However, what I am trying to get at is not exactly the same thing as Eliade’s notion of sacred space, although obviously what I am saying comes out of his stuff. I chose the phrase “esoteric space” rather than “sacred space” deliberately. It seems to me that what is involved in the temple is more than simply a distinction between sacred and profane, but also a distinction between esoteric and exoteric. In the 19th century, the borders of the geographic Zion marked this boundary. Esoteric space began not in the Salt Lake Temple, but rather at Fort Bridger. As another commenter rightly points out, I think, the contraction of the esoteric into the Temple has a tendency to make it personal, meditative, and largely mute. Being a loquacious guy, I find this unfortunate. However, it points out that difference between estoteric and sacred space. Esoteric space is not simply a matter of awe at being in the place of the gods (the sacred); it is also a matter and speaking and hearing teachings that one does not hear or speak (at least officially and institutionally) elsewhere.

  27. Mark B.
    July 13, 2005 at 11:58 am

    The “legal persecution” faced by the Church, both here in the United States and elsewhere, is much more likely encountered in mundane matters such as land use regulation, recognition of churches as corporate entities, collection and disbursement of fund and immigration/visa matters for missionaries/employees than in specific “anti-cult” legislation that might prohibit proselytization or conducting of worship services. As recent experience in Belmont, Massachusetts, and Harrison, New York, show, those issues are still alive and well in the US.

    The building of temples will continue to be a thumb in the eye of the orthodox religious establishment, so any attempts to “look more Protestant” will be fruitless, at least when it comes to issues relating to land use regulation.

  28. N Miller
    July 13, 2005 at 12:24 pm

    Earlier on in the discussion, there was talk about the esoteric space being constricted, even in the temple. Perhaps, but I had the awesome opportunity to be part of a stake meeting in the upper rooms of the Logan temple this last spring. Talk about some great inspired words from the stake presidency and Vaughn J. Featherstone, the temple president. It opened up a lot more of understanding in such an environment. Of course, you had to have a temple recommend to enter, which meant (or assumed) that you were living a decent LDS life and were of the “dedicated” kind. Therefore, the pearls were cast before people who had a basic understanding. My father in law is part of the stake presidency of this stake and he shared with us some of the thoughts and experiences of members. Let me say that gifts of the spirit are still manefist today and that in these times, the esoteric space is not constricted, but in my view is enlarged.

    President Featherstone is awesome, he is always trying to get people to see the temple as something more than a place to spend two hours on a friday night as a date with your wife. Perhaps if you have questions you ought to call up your temple presidency and ask them if you can talk to them in the temple. Featherstone is always willing to do that, even though he sometimes may send his counselors in his place as he is very busy. There are some cool things that will come up if you talk to them in the temple.

  29. Mike Wilson
    July 13, 2005 at 12:30 pm

    I agree with Nate that it is unfortunate that we, as a community, don’t have the opportunity to discuss these esoteric doctrines more fully. I guess that one reason may be the idea that our understanding of esoteric doctrines comes at different times and different ways for different peoples, but I appreciate being able to read (couched in history and literature) Bro. Nibley’s understanding of the temple ceremony. It would be great to be able to have gatherings (post-endownment) to discuss and rejoice in those eternal, lifting teachings.

  30. Jim F.
    July 13, 2005 at 12:43 pm

    Nate (#26): I thought it was straight out of Heidegger (“Origin of the Work of Art”) rather than Eliade, but the point’s the same. I’d have to go to the book shelf to see which came first chronologically and I’m too lazy to bother, but I read Heidegger before I read Eliade, so for me the point remains a Heideggerian one.

    I understood your point about esoteric space, and I agree with the point about its contraction to the temple. However, I wanted to make the additional point about how a temple puts us in Zion, something that doesn’t happen without it. President Hinckley’s temple-building has been a way not only of making the temple ordinances more widely available, but also of making true what we have said is true for a long time, that Zion is where the Saints dwell. (I confess, I was thread-jacking.)

  31. Jed
    July 13, 2005 at 12:43 pm

    Nate: “I would suggest that the increase in temple worship comes about because of the need to maintain esoteric doctrines in the face of contracting esoteric space.”

    The need to maintain esoteric doctrines may account for the rise in temple building, but not for the rhetorical shift from infrequent to frequent attendence. Maintenance has little to do with frequency. Why would people need more esoteric doctrine at the end of the twentieth century than they would at the end of the nineteenth? That is the question.

    Nate: “Zion became a kind of esoteric space in which the quasi-secret doctrines at the heart of the Mormon revelation could be taught.”

    Shipps’s idea of the end of the temporal kingdom and the contraction of Zion space needs to be refined. The non-Mormon judges controlled Utah almost from the beginning and after the TC RR the Gentiles poured into SLC within only a few years. We are too set on saying Zion was X, now it was Y (and never again X). Zion always had many meanings for Mormons, just as it does in the scriptures, and the Saints could easily call on one meaning while leaving the others to lie fallow without repudiating any one meaning in particular (an emphasis does not mean a repudiation). JF Smith continued to talk about Zion spacially–Jackson County and Jerusalem. Mormons today continue to call their mountain bastian Zion even as they call the stakes and temples elsewhere anchors of a Zion space. Zion can be in our homes, the prophets say.

  32. Nate Oman
    July 13, 2005 at 12:51 pm

    Jed: My point is not that we need more esoteric doctrine now than we did in the 19th century. My point is that esoteric doctrine in the 19th century was not confined to the temple, and hence members could get their esoteric fix, if you will, without going to the temple. With the retreat of the estoeric into the temple, more frequent resort to the temple is necessary to maintain anything like the same level of connection with the esoteric doctrines. Even with the rise of contemporary temple worship, I suspect that the contraction of esoteric space (and esoteric discourse) means that these doctrines are a less central aspect of modern Mormons’ spirituality.

  33. MDS
    July 13, 2005 at 1:03 pm

    Re: Rosalynde’s No. 14:

    Rosalynde, I have had very social ward temple outings. My Miami ward would take regular trips (about quarterly, IIRC), leaving on Friday afternoon/evening and driving up to Orlando. We tried to schedule someone from the ward’s own endowment and/or sealing to coincide, which helped motivate others to go in support. We’d get a block of rooms and have a nice dinner together, and spend the evening seeing some of the Orlando sights. Saturday, we’d spend a decent chunk of time at the temple, trading off babysitting duties so that all had a chance to do at least one session. Teens from the ward would help with this so as to minimize the number of adults who got to drive to Orlando just to babysit. We’d get some good southern bbq and head home, often arriving fairly late Saturday night. It was great for the ward.

    Now, however, I live in North Salt Lake, so there isn’t much justification for hotels and the like. However, the High Priests sponsor ice cream socials after each ward temple night, and this has been a nice way for us to meet some of the members of our new ward.

    There is still room for communal experience if we make it.

  34. A. Greenwood
    July 13, 2005 at 1:19 pm

    The Provo temple is homely from far away, but up close, when it no longer looks circular, its majestic.

    The ugliest temple I’ve seen is the Logan Temple. To the original structure they’ve put on an addon that is ugly in its own right and conflicting with the appearance of the original in every way. It looks like an adobe tacked onto a colonial.

  35. Jed
    July 13, 2005 at 1:22 pm

    Nate: I can see some modern Mormons needing an esoteric fix, as you say, but do you really think those people are the majority of temple goers? I seems to me that most people just want an experience with the divine. How do you get that in a secular world that is more or less hostile to religion?

    There is no denying the 19 c esoterica debates from the Mormon pulpit have ceased in the 20th c, but I am not sure whether we need the temple to continue those debates. We can have them in our front rooms, and we do indeed have them on the INternet. Moreover, as I suggested earlier, I think you overestimate the degree of freedom the JD prophets had in discussing esoterica from the pulpit. There were always Gentiles in the Tabernacle audience. Always. Whatever they we were doing from the pulpit, we were not maintaining our esoteric core. That was still done in the temple where Gentles could not go.

    I doubt very much, quite honestly, if your argument for maintenance finds support from the modern public discourses on temple. The modern discourses often speak of the very practical business of finding peace, answers to problems, etc., not the esoterica business where people can debate Adam-God in the Celestial Room. Those explanations for frequent attendance have to be taken seriously for a theory to have large explanatory power.

    The modern explanations assume a world hostile to religion–a place you don’t have peace, where all is not well, where you are not “reminded” of your relationship to the divine and, hence, you need the temple to do it for you. I see the secularization of American society (and, obviously, Europe would be a more extreme case) as being more pivotal in the rhetorical shift than esoterica. 19th c Mormons lived in a world much more hospitable to religion and religious worldviews than we do today.

  36. N Miller
    July 13, 2005 at 1:26 pm


    I admit that the addition does not do the rest of the edifice justice, but they have done a great job at minimizing its distinction. Few people realize that it is even there. Eyes are always directed to the main building. Also, as one comes out of Sardine canyon into Cache Valley – especially at dusk when the Logan temples spires are lit, wow, what a sight! I think only the Bountiful and Washington DC temple compare in complete beauty (meaning not just the building but its surroundings as well).

  37. A. Greenwood
    July 13, 2005 at 3:16 pm

    Yes, you don’t see it until you get closer. Then it jars. The woman who smiled at you across the room turns out to have stinking breath.

  38. N Miller
    July 13, 2005 at 3:26 pm

    Ah, but something that can be overlooked if it’s the woman I love.

    BTW, it has been a long time, but I remember the Manti temple being majestic placed on top of that hill. But I don’t remember much more about it.

  39. Kathy S.
    July 14, 2005 at 6:29 pm

    When the new Nauvoo temple was dedicated, Elder Oaks drew a parallel between the pioneers needing the temple ordinances in order to endure the trial of crossing the plains, and today’s saints needing the power of the temple in order to endure the trials of the last days. Surely one reason why so many temples have been built recently and why temple attendance is being emphasized is because the saints need to worship there regularly in order to receive the strength they need to endure what is, and what is to come. Family preservation is one important aspect, but not the only one. And what we need even more than committment to/connection with esoteric doctrines, is committment to/connection with divine beings, whose reality can be experienced powerfully the temple.

  40. July 14, 2005 at 7:06 pm

    I disagree with the basic thesis here. The doctrines that anthropomorphize God and theomorphize man are presented more explicitly in public sources (e.g. Joseph Smith History, missionary flipcharts, D&C 132, Gospel Principles chapter on exaltation) than they are in the temple. The 19th esoterica are not taught in either current Church literature or the temple.

    Rather than a source of esoteric doctrine, I think the main thing one gets out of the temple—with its worthiness prerequisites and synthesizing, participatory overview of the path to exaltation—is an earnest of victory on judgment day: a tangible sense of being on track, of already being one of the chosen. What is offensive about public disclosure is that accessibility in any way to those who have not “paid the price” dilutes this perception of special status. (It may be similar to the offense at gay marriage felt by those who believe the sacrifice involved in raising children is integral to marriage.)

  41. July 16, 2005 at 9:40 am

    Just to add a bit to my previous comment… Was it really the case that 19th century policy was that “there are doctrines that we teach in Zion that are best not taught in Babylon”? My recollection is that the express purpose of newspapers like Orson Pratt’s The Seer (in Washington D.C.) and John Taylor’s The Mormon (in New York?) was to clearly and accurately explain the deep doctrine in order to provide a rational defense of the Saints’ practices, especially polygamy. They seemed to have reasoned, ‘The doctrine is so pure and rational, it could not be gainsaid if we could just get a fair hearing for it.’ I suppose it was a project that failed.

  42. Nate Oman
    July 18, 2005 at 4:33 pm

    Christian: Calling something a policy in the 19th century is a bit anachronistic and implies a level of consistent organization that was frequently lacking, however there nevertheless was a distinction between what was to be taught in Zion and what was to be taught in the World. As for Orson Pratt, he got into a lot of trouble for The Seer, although it was less of an exoteric v. esoteric issue than just that BY thought he was wrong as a substantive matter. Obviously, I disagree with you about the Temple, particularlly the reasons why disclosure is blasphemous.

  43. July 19, 2005 at 2:48 pm

    Response to # 40

    I think this comment is right on target in many ways.

    I have recently developed a personal perception concerning that last question in the interview for a temple recommend. The question is something like: Do you feel worthy in every way to enter the temple?

    I used to flippantly answer with little thought, “of course. ‘” (Else why would I be here wasting your time and mine?)

    Now I feel like it is a trick question. Anyone who feels like they are worthy to enter the house of the Lord has to be extremely arrogant. Too arrogant to enter the presence of the Lord. Only those who say no might have sufficent humility to enter. Perhaps there are a few really clean righteous and pure souls who are worthy in every way, but I haven’t met them. I have tried to explain this perception to those who interview me and they alway probe deeper and assume that I must be fornicating or worse. Then when I explain it more clearly, they try and tell me that I am being too hard on myself. One Bishop actually told me that the standards for going to the temple really are not that high.

    I used to think I was hot stuff. BIC, RM, MIT, EQP, college grad, straight A student, etc. etc. I had a nice church resume. But as I have journeyed through life and hit some rough spots, I have become increasingly aware of my faults and character flaws. They have been with me all the time but conveniently ignored. As time passes it is more and more difficult to change them. I am really set in my ways now and I don’t see much overall improvement for me in the future and the idea of eternal progression seems absurd at this point. Life becomes an ever increasingly difficult effort to avoid serious regression as ones memory dims and senility gradually encroaches. And teenage offspring drive you up the walls.

    The only hope I have is for the grace of Chirst to somehow miraculously overcome the vast forest of my faults and weaknesses. I have not enough time nor the inclination to repent and overcome very many more of them. Maybe all I learn in this life is to repent of a small number of things and then take that experience to the next world. It seems like I need to take an old Model A Ford and build it into a race car capable of winning the Indy 500. I didn’t flat out wreck it and I figured out how to change the oil and put bigger tires on it. Next year we can improve something else. But I am going to need one heck of a Mechanic to help me race it

    I really don’t feel worthy to sweep the floor of the House of the Lord, yet alone sit in there and scratch my beard and ponder the various mysteries of the Kingdom.

    Another unrelated point. I think taking the wife to the temple is a pretty lousy date. You don’t even get to sit by her or talk to her through most of it.

    One of the biggest barriers I find in sharing the gospel with my friends is what one of them calls the Mormon Moral Superiority Complex. We have The Truth and we really think we are better than other people. We bristle at any statistics that might indicate otherwise. Is this what attendance at the temple is suppose to give us? How does esoteric knowledge and Zion space make us better servants for the Lord?

  44. Lisa B.
    July 20, 2005 at 1:19 pm

    I think you’re onto something here, Mike. I think attendence at the temple is supposed to give us the exact opposite of the Mormon Moral Superiority complex. We should all have the Mormon Painfully Aware of Our Imperfection Complex. Actually, I think we (collectively) have a fair amount of that as well, especially when we struggle to accept God’s power to heal us, or with impatience (my problem) that I can’t get it/ heal/ learn/ improve faster.

    I think recognition of our imperfection and need of Christ and the impossible distance between us and God is the main sign of temple worthiness since a major point of the temple is to make God’s power and love more evident and available to us, even as we become more keenly aware of our need for grace.

    If esoteric knowledge and Zion space point us to ideals which we cannot attain on our own merits, then perhaps faithful response to those compel us to be better servants for (or beneficiaries of?) the Lord.

Comments are closed.