Our field trip to a Mormon temple, part 2
So anyway, back to the old guys.
What really pissed me off about the spiel of the Mormon elders was just the amount the gall they had when talking about their church's history. I suppose I don't have to explain it to most of you; how Joseph Smith brought forth a new revelation that he translated from some books that an angel gave him, etc. That wasn't at all shocking. I guess what struck me most was how bizarrely logical their position is in the context of the Protestantism in which it emerged.
Since the Reformation eliminated all real authority in the church, it was only logical that someone at some point would try to resurrect a religion in which God is present in all senses of the word, that is, not just "spiritually". And yes, our cadre of middle aged men had the audacity to claim that THEY were indeed successors to the Apostles, invested with their powers to bind and loose. Just like Catholic bishops. Except in this case, they threw out Nicene orthodoxy in the process. And they were wearing some very well-tailored suits.
I don't need to elaborate too much that I found this very insulting. When the Mormons and their more orthodox Protty counterparts speak of the degeneration of the Church, I find myself so indignant that I almost have to laugh. I mean, we were dying in the Colosseum and shedding our blood for Christ back when these people weren't even a twinkle in their great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother's eye. But of course, we were already idolaters and Mary-worshippers... Whatever. You can't make everyone happy.
AG has already commented that there were photos of the interior of the temple at the center, since you couldn't really go inside. And as someone else commented, it looks like the lobby of a Marriott hotel. Go figure. The spaceship actually looks like a normal conference hall inside. One wonders why they went to the trouble to make it so strange on the outside.
As we were about to leave, my rather child-like (childish?) curiosity couldn't help but look inside a door that had some sign like "God's Plan for Your Family" on it. We walked in and saw a screen and some rather strange objects lurking in the shadows. I thought that we had strolled into a closet, so we decided to leave. Just then, however, one of the Mormon girls emerged from the shadows and asked if we wanted to see the video presentation. We gave our lukewarm yes, and she explained how the exhibit worked: there were a series of exhibits that we would have to walk through in order to view the Mormon ideal of the family. Once one finished, we would have to get up to view the next one. It would take approximately half an hour. It was the theological equivalent of the "It's a Small World" ride.
After the introductory screen, we moved on to our first exhibit: a baby's nursery. A screen on the back wall began to play a brief movie in which a young couple were kept up at night by their newborn infant. (They were standing in a nursery exactly like the one we had in front of us. Creepy.) The woman said in the course of the conversation, "Just think, a week ago she was still in Heaven with God..."
Excuse me?! But I thought she would have been in her mother's womb. But as in all of the rest of the presentation, theological absurdities were presented with a kind smile and the assurance that such bizarre doctrines were perfectly normal. After all, such a clean-cut, cute, white middle class family couldn't possibly believe anything strange or abnormal, could it?
The main theological point of the presentation, however, was that the family was eternal. That is, the family is such a sacred institution that it continues to exist after death. So much for, "in Heaven, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage, but shall be like the angels." It's almost a rather sly one-upmanship in the culture wars: not only do we value the nuclear family more than others, but we deify it!
However, at the very end, we were supposed to be given the coup de grace. We were placed in a viewing room apart and were prepped by our handler that this was her favorite part personally. I should here describe her: she was not your typical Mormon. She was from New Zealand, probably either of indigenous or mixed racial background. And you could tell that she was as sweet as syrup. She told us that she was on mission and could only call her parents on the other side of the world twice a year. The rest of the time, she could write them once a month. This broke my heart, since even in seminary, I was allowed to call my family once a month for ten minutes, and could write them all I wanted. With tears in her eyes, she rolled the film.
This was supposed to seal the deal: the young family, their loving grandparents, the sacrifices of time and energy parents take to raise their children... it was the Gospel of Joseph Smith that moved it all up a notch. In presenting the story of salvation history, the short film emphasized the theme of darkness. Man was in darkness who was once in light, and man kept trying to extinguish the light. Finally, God the Father sent His own son, but men even extinguished this light. (Funny, at this part, they mentioned the Crucifixion of Jesus, but skipped His resurrection. I looked at AG and whispered, "Didn't He rise from the dead after that?") Only Joseph Smith and the Mormons restored the light to the world. At the end, with the representation of the apotheosis of the Church of Latter-Day Saints, the dimmed portrait of Christ emerged luminous to the right of the screen. Queue the music... A Hollywood finish.
We thanked our hostess, told her in the course of a brief conversation that we were Roman Catholics, and walked out into the afternoon sun.
After reflecting on this day, it all made me really sad. I remembered one time, again in Argentina, where I saw another Mormon church. On a dirty, impoverished road about an hour and a half outside of Buenos Aires, that Mormon church looked exactly the same as all the Mormon churches I had seen growing up in the States, all the way down to the immaculate lawn in the front of it. (An immaculate lawn anywhere in Argentina is a rare occurrence.) And then I realized that the Mormons are not peddling a religion; they are peddling a way of life. More precisely, they are substituting the American suburban dream for the Logos: and the subdivision became flesh and dwelt among us. Good clean living. Peppy young women in skirts. Lots of healthy smiling kids. And affluence. And cleanliness. To be spread to the four ends of the earth... I think I am going to be sick.
Mormonism is the highest form of American Puritanism with the Christianity ripped out of it. It is everything that is pleasant and nice about Christianity without the doctrine. And America sits up above the nations, a new Zion to be converted to Mormonism, and that parade of saints will march until it reaches the ends of the earth, until it proves, once and for all, that to be white, attractive, middle-class, and clean cut is to be made in the image and likeness of God.
Yes, I do feel sorry for that poor girl who showed us that movie. Please say an extra prayer for her. I leave you with the opening of an old post
from the Undercroft that for me embodies what the real Church looks like: