"I saw photographs on another website of an exmormon meeting where one of the activities was making fun of the Mormon temple rites, garments, handshakes etc. I would never make fun of any one's religious ceremonies. Are all exmormons the type I saw in the photographs of that conference, making fun of what others hold sacred?"
    I understand what you are saying, and I can see your viewpoint. There are several things I would like to suggest to you, in response.

    First, if you got the impression that the exmormons at the conference were "making fun" of those things, you got an inaccurate impression. Actually, I was at that conference (Las Vegas, February 2001), and was the person in charge of that part of the program, and I assure you that the intention was not to make fun, but to educate. Although most of the people at the conference were exmormons, only about half of them had been endowed, and most of those only after the 1990 changes in the ritual. So the primary purpose of demonstrating the temple ritual was to inform those people about it. We had to make do with an extremely abbreviated summary, but we did demonstrate the covenants, the signs and tokens, and the ritual at the veil, both in the pre-1990 version and the present version. Again, because of time constraints, we had participants dressed only in the robes, not the white dress/trousers. Every effort was made to present the re-enactment in a straightforward and sober manner.

    For those who had already been endowed, it gave them an opportunity to see the ritual again from their new perspectives as exmormons. Afterwards I had many people come up to me and express their gratitude for having had the opportunity to see "what they had missed out on" (those who had never been endowed), or to see how the endowment has been changed (those who were endowed after 1990), and, for those who had always been awed or frightened or perplexed by "not feeling the spirit in the temple," the realization that there was no real "spirit" to feel, that it was just bogus. For the latter group, especially, it served as a healing, cathartic experience.

    Also, many exmormons are recovering from what was in some ways for them an emotionally crippling experience. They are truly "in recovery." They are struggling to rid themselves of the demons of fear and low self-esteem that Mormonism put into their minds. For some people in that situation, it is very helpful for them to laugh, scoff, rage and rant at their demons. That helps to rid their subconscious minds of them. For those people (and there were some at that conference), rage and ridicule are a healthy and necessary part of their recovery. I would not want to presume to suggest that they are acting improperly because some devout Mormons might be offended at how they are going about regaining their mental health. And so, yes, there were people watching the presentation who laughed or made comments to those sitting with them.

    I think, too, that it makes a difference that these activities were not in some public forum, but at a private conference, where only those who had paid their registration fees were admitted. It is not as though we were doing this on the corner of South Temple and Main Street in Salt Lake City, or on national television.

    Another thought: the idea that somehow it is wrong to treat anybody else's religious views as beyond the realm of disclosure, ridicule or sarcasm is, I think, an extreme and ultimately untenable position. If that were so, then Salmon Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses should never have been published (and perhaps the general death warrant issued by the Muslim authorities is justified?) because it debases Mohammed's revelations; the musical Nunsense should never be performed, because it makes one laugh at the lives of Catholic nuns; King Kong never should have been filmed, because it shows native African religious rites in a negative light; The Apostle with Robert DuVal, or Elmer Gantry with Burt Lancaster, never should have been filmed, because those films show evangelical Christianity in a negative light. And so on...

    In fact, until 1990, the Mormon temple endowment ceremony, the most sacred religious rite in Mormonism, included a dramatization in which a Protestant minister was portrayed as a servant of Lucifer (Satan) and which mocked certain orthodox Christian beliefs as being absurd. So any protestation by Mormons that one "should not mock others' religions" must ring rather hollow.

    And, lastly, unless one is a devout Mormon, it really is hard not to laugh at the endowment ritual. So many people (non-Mormons) have commented, having read the script or heard it described, "That's ridiculous! Weird! Too stupid! Nobody can take that seriously! You're kidding me!" To put it another way, if you don't want to be laughed at, don't be ridiculous. And if you insist on acting ridiculous, don't resent people's laughter.

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©  2001 Richard Packham    Permission granted to reproduce for non-commercial purposes, provided text is not changed and this copyright notice is included


There is only one step from the sublime to the ridiculous. - Napoleon
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