Monday, October 15, 2012

Disciplina arcani

Someone who calls himself newnamenoah got himself recommended for entrance into the Mormon temple endowment ritual, filmed and recorded the whole thing as he went through it and put it up on YouTube recently.

Most people who watched and commented were contemptuous of the ceremony itself (even in its somewhat simplified and bowdlerized revision post 1990) and found its secrecy offensive*. Reading the typical mosh pit of moronic comments, I was reminded of the saying of Jesus not to cast pearls before swine or give sacred things to dogs, lest they trample them underfoot and then turn and tear you to pieces. Today this has been fulfilled in your hearing.

With my interest in world religions, I had investigated the Mormon "ordinances" before, so the outline was not a surprise to me, but this video included the entire film that has come to replace the dramatic enactments that actors originally took place did.

The upperclass living room aesthetics --both bourgeois and otherworldly--, the high technology and the esoteric washings and anointings, vestments, gestures, language and rites make for a somewhat jarring phenomenon, but it was fascinating. I have read that many Mormons, who experience these ceremonies without any prior idea of what they contain, are disoriented or worse. It's a bit like being raised in a Presbyterian meeting house and then being dropped into a Byzantine liturgy.



Like Gnosticism, Mormonism asserts a cosmic back-story that puts the Biblical narrative of the creation of the world, the story of Adam and Eve's creation and fall, as well as the incarnation of Christ, in a quite strikingly different context. The film --and the several rituals which punctuate it-- makes that very clear. Quite apart from its truth-claims, Joseph Smith's new faith is a brilliant work of religious imagination. It uses its reconfigured non-monotheist creation myth, the fundamental Mormon assertion of the restoration of a lost and powerful priesthood and the ceremonial language of Freemasonry to give to the men and women, each one, who go through the Endowment an experience of being Adam and Eve. It is a classic form of sacramental mystery: bringing the here and now into the eternal divine world of myth.



It is clear from the film that the Heavenly Father Mormons worship (the Old Testament Elohim) sends down two of his spirit offspring, Jehovah (who will later appear as Jesus Christ) and Michael the archangel, who together organize this creation and world (only one of many).

When Adam's body is created, it is Michael who provides him his spirit, forgetting his pre-mortal existence. So Adam is the incarnation of the archangel. In a striking resonance with the Catholic theme of felix culpa, it becomes clear that Adam and Eve's fall into mortality and suffering is a necessary part of the life-cycle** of a species whose destiny is to evolve into gods one day.




Adam refuses Satan's offer of the forbidden fruit, but Eve eats it. Touchingly, when he discovers this, Adam eats it as well, so as not to be separated from her. And in odd time machine form, Adam is later visited by the apostles Peter, James and John...

Really, to think that this amazing mythology sprang from the mind of an upstate New York farmboy who grew up among burned-over Yankee Protestants...no wonder Harold Bloom called Smith America's original religious genius.


*Secret rites are common in almost all religions. I wondered if they'd be similarly mocking of Islam's rites and restrictions about Mecca and the hajj. And of course none of them knew of the early Church's disciplina arcani, discipline of the secret. Even today, the Byzantine liturgy calls for expelling the unbaptized and closing the church doors before the central part of the Eucharist.

**In the Mormon Book of Moses 4, 11  And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient. 12  And Adam and Eve blessed the name of God, and they made all things known unto their sons and their daughters

2 comments:

PNWReader said...

Mormons rioting and beheading innocent bystanders in 3...2...1...oh, wait--wrong religion.

USMaleSF said...

Very true. A hit Broadway play is based on mocking their religion, and no one has been killed. For certain other peaceful faiths, all it takes is a cartoon...

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