LDS Temple Collector’s Items

A word of advice to you with white scriptures: hang on to them! Mormon Ebayers may someday pay a fortune for them now that the Church doesn’t make them anymore. Now, when I was a young’un, I recall that with the temple, everything had to be white. I remember thinking that the food would be white, if they could’ve made it that way.

Is this a change in attitude towards the temple? A recent discussion over at The Other Board has made me think that the decision to not have white scriptures anymore is the result of temple culture being more widely disseminated, while temple blessings are more wide-spread. My theory is that people are realizing that white scriptures aren’t inherently more sacred than standard brown. I don’t mean to say that mormons are treating the temple less seriously — it’s still the most sacred place on earth. But we don’t have the same overall respect of sacred places we had a hundred years ago. We’re not approaching temple-related cultural trappings like when Manti was the latest thing. Attitudes towards, say, garments (not to mention their stylings), towards discussing temple blessings, and towards temple symbolism are all changing. No more white scriptures — is the temple so common now that its raw uniqueness is fading? How do we preserve the sacredness of the temple even while we discard some of the vestigial cultural elements?

Update: Some other random blog has noted that the issue of baptizing the Jewish dead has again resurfaced. I would add waning agressiveness towards baptism for the dead as another indicator of cultural temple shifts. We still baptize for the dead, of course, but we’re not nearly as concerned as we used to be, it seems, with baptizing celebrities, politicians, etc.

Comments

  1. “Does it devalue the temple experience when it’s no longer difficult to visit the temple?”

    I’m not sure I’d go that far, but at the very least, it is taken for granted. Given the large population of Latter-day Sants in Utah, for example, you’d think there’d be more than 11 temples.

  2. I live near several church historical sites, and while I love being able to visit them and learn about them, I’ve always been a little bothered by the way some members imbue them, or things purchased or taken from them, with a kind of talismanic quality. I’ve felt the same way about garments; without disrespecting any personal experiences anyone might have had, to me, I feel t their power derives from the covenants they remind me of. So, I’m not so concerned about the aparrent (though not drastic, I don’t think) “de-mystification” of the temple.

    [cont...]

  3. I love the way our cheapo Haloscan comments get cut off. It’s just like a real conversation!

    Jeremy, I think that the sacredness of the covenants is the essence of what makes the temple holy, but I’m not sure that’s enough. In our culture, sacred places and hallowed ground are vitally important. Think of the number of sacred spots in our history already, and we’ve only been around a couple of hundred years. Does having more temples mean a dilution of sacred spaces?

    Also, some of the more arcane/physical elements of temple blessings (garments, etc.) have a mysticism that I think is important to preserve. The whiteness, sacred/secretness and strangeness of the temple is the best thing about it, IMHO. Our society wants to demystify everything. But I’m not sure that’s all good when it comes to the temple.

  4. Kaimi,

    Does it devalue the temple experience when it’s no longer difficult to visit the temple?

    No, seriously — when you’re visiting the neighborhood temple, does it mean as much to you as visiting the temple that was hours away? Doesn’t the personal inconvenience, sacrifice, etc. make a difference?

  5. Mat,

    I’d agree with you whole-heartedly except that the experience inside the temple hasn’t changed at all — it’s still as important and holy for me as it ever was.

    Israel used to have but one temple, and it was the hub of all religious life. Now that we have many temples, how are our religious lives different? It’s clear to me that the temple should be just as important as ever, but like you said, there’s a strange sense of dilution about. Howard W. Hunter may have been getting at this when he advocated a return to a temple-centric life.

  6. Of course, those members who save for decades and travel for days to get to the temple — do they feel the same awkwardness and confusion that often accompanies first-time temple visits?

    I think that the temple inherently involves sacrifice. That’s why it has altars. If people coming to the temple make personal sacrifices to get there, that may increase their sense of devotion to the Lord.

    But is the contrary necessarily so? I’m not sure. It would be insulting to residents of Utah Valley to so suggest. But I think to maximize the temple experience, some kind of personal preparation/sacrifice is in order… so maybe you don’t drop off at Arctic Circle on your way there in the morning? I dunno.

  7. Steve,

    Does it devalue the experience when it isn’t difficult to visit? For some, perhaps many people, that is surely the case. As I pointed out in my previous post, we tend to value that which is rare. We also tend to value that which we have sacrificed for. Someone who saves their pennies for 10 years so that they can visit the temple obviously already values the blessings of the temple–sight unseen, but I think the value a family would place on the temple experience would be higher because of the sacrifice it took to get there. We as a church value hearing about people like this–but I think it is fair to say that most members wouldn’t do this (that must be, at least in part, what makes the story appealing to us).

  8. That isn’t to say that people such as myself who had only to drive 20 minutes to the Provo temple a few days before entering the MTC don’t value the experience–but I bet I would have prepared for it more spiritually if I had to make some sort of significant material sacrifice beforehand.

    On the other hand, those who attend the temple regularly probably value the experience more each time. They keep coming back for something–it must be that they are getting something more out of it.

    I wonder if the church leaders thinks explicitly in terms of the “greatest good for the greatest number”. They certainly have number crunchers following demographic changes…

  9. The sudden increase in temples worldwide is somehow making the temple less sacred–at least in the popular perception. If this is your thesis (which I don’t think it is but it sparked my thoughts), I think that you could be onto something. As any first year law student can tell you, whether you meant it to or not, your comment on the potential for white scriptures to become a sought after collectors item shows the other side of the coin. Why should we be surprised that we tend to value less something that we have more. The blessings of the temple shouldn’t be treated like just another commodity, but scarcity has always been a part of veneration.

  10. Well, all-all-white would have been out of the question. White text on a white page makes for difficult reading.

    As for temples becoming more common, yes, they are. Have you noticed? We have over 100 now, while we used to have less than 20.

    This shift is interesting. The number of temples is causing changes in membership experiences.

    It looks like the days of “We saved every penny for ten years and then traveled 2000 miles through eight countries to be sealed in the temple” are largely over. On the other hand, more members are seeing the benefits of more regular temple attendance.

  11. [...cont]

    What remains VERY important to me, however, is the idea that the ordinances themselves retain their sacred status. The thing I cherish most about the temple–and I think this is something perhaps unique among religious traditions–is that we all experience the temple ordinances almost entirely on a personal level. There is no official interpretation of the “meaning” of the endowment ceremony, for example, even though it is one of the highest ordinances in the Church, and its symbolism and narrative structure are _incredibly_ complex. There’s really not even a forum for hermeneutic dialogue about the temple ceremonies, unless, perhaps, you have a chat in the temple with a temple presidency member or a general authority. For the most part you just go, listen, and think.

    [cont... (!)]

  12. [...last one, I swear]

    So, I hope that even if the temple and its physical trappings become a little less “mysterious,” the covenants themselves retain their deeply personalized significance and remain unsullied by public discourse and communally-assigned meaning.

    *****
    One more thought on this topic: in the Palmyra temple there is a very large window, at ground level, near an exterior sidewalk, that has clear (rather than smoked or obscured) glass and no drapes. Someone standing outside can look right into the lobby. President Hinckley added this touch, so visitors could look out and see the sacred grove.

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