Monday, May 9, 2011

When Symbols Become More Problematic Than Positive

I have no problem with changing symbolism in the temple, because what differing cultures and generations take out of symbols changes. 

For example, there was a time when ANY member who received the endowment LITERALLY risked life and limb in doing so. They truly were threatened with death for not revealing what occurred in the temple, so the punishments made total sense. It wasn't, "We will kill you in these gruesome ways if you reveal this," but rather, "You must be willing to die in these gruesome ways" - which, again, was a real possibility at the beginning of the Church's existence. As that reality changed, and members stopped being threatened generally in that way, I am glad the symbolic actions were deleted. They no longer rang true AS SYMBOLS, so they lost their symbolic meaning - and actually started being misunderstood.

Washings and annointings are the same: In a day and age where it was no big deal to strip naked and be washed fully as a symbol, such practices made sense; as that became more and more uncomfortable, eliminating the nudity and altering the ordinance to our more recent practice still could hold the power of the symbol without the reticence and discomfort that would have accompanied the former practice; as our society has become almost obsessed with "improper touching", it's only natural to change the specific practice again to continue the underlying symbolism.

Finally, the elimination of the Protestant minister role in the endowment also makes total sense when it is viewed in relation to the opposition that was being faced previously and the changing world in which we now live. What made perfect sense in the former society simply doesn't ring true symbolically any more for many members - and once the tipping point has been reached and a symbol starts being more problematic than positive, it's time to change or eliminate it. (Besides, do you really want to go back to the Nauvoo endowment - the one that lasted all day? I thought not. *grin*)

One of the best things I was told when dealing with symbols is to contemplate the "what" (What is being taught by the symbol?) and the "why" (Why is this particular symbol effective or problematic?). That has helped tremendously in accepting the changes in the temple symbolism I have seen in my lifetime and those that happened before I started attending.

5 comments:

Ben said...

As a post-1990 endowed member, my biggest concern with the changes is that symbols have largely been deleted, not replaced or refined.

In a setting where the teaching is nearly completely symbolic, eliminating the symbol means eliminating the teaching. I sometimes fear my experience is incomplete from what was intended and wonder what I'm missing.

And yes, I would LOVE to participate in a Nauvoo-style endowment. Not nearly as convenient as our abbreviated ceremony, but they obviously had something that we don't now have if it filled a full day.

backandthen said...

See, this is interesting. I know many people who have a firm belief in the fact that everything in the temple is absolutely how it is going to be like in the next life. I like what I have heard when I was a child that the temple is the University of the gospel. To me this is the ultimate place where we can progress freely only being slowed down by our own inabilities.

Chris and Amanda said...

#2, If you read through journal entries and other transcripts from the Nauvoo era, I'm not we are missing all that much. They didn't have witness couples back then, so every single time, every single person had to come up to the altar and receive things. It was a whole lot of waiting around. That and teh lecture at the veil could take up to an hour... I'll take today's ceremony over that any day...

Papa D said...

As C&A pointed out, there really isn't all that much that used to be part of the ceremony that isn't now. The use of proxies as a witness couple was the one thing that shortened the endowment more than anything else, as well as the use of film instead of live actors.

I really like the nuance that can occur with live actors, but I don't mind the use of film, since the visual aspect of the first part is so much more enthralling than without use of film. As with most things, it's a trade-off - and, in this case, I don't mind the trade-off.

Anonymous said...

We lambast so many other churches that have changed baptism from full immersion to sprinkling. We teach about the unchangeability of gospel ordinances such as baptism and the laying on of hands. And yet we find a way to rationalize and justify changing the ordinance of washings and anointings in a very significant way because it makes some people uncomfortable. Something is wrong here.