Yikes. I said I was going to try to make a post every day of...last week. That didn't happen. Well, I did say "try"; I'm still very busy with my new job.
So let's try for this week instead, I guess. And the first thing I want to post about is...something that happened the day after the last post before my long hiatus. I went to the temple.
Among people not really familiar with the LDS church, there's often a confusion between temples and churches. Many non-members mistakenly call every Mormon church a "temple". No; there's a difference. The meeting-houses where the members go every Sunday are not temples. They're just churches, or chapels. Temples are much fewer in number--there are only about a hundred and thirty worldwide--and they're used only for certain special ceremonies: weddings, sealings to children, baptisms for the dead, and so forth. The typical faithful Mormon may go to church every Sunday, but only goes to the temple...well, it depends, in part on how close the nearest temple is. Where I live, there's a temple fairly close, so the typical faithful Mormon around here probably goes...well, the most assiduous may go to the temple once a week as well, but they're very much in the minority; most probably only go there once few months or so, if at all. For my part, I usually went on average somewhere between every month and every other month. I never just went there on my own, but whenever the ward or stake organized a group trip to the temple, I'd try to make it.
This was the case on the day in question; it was the day of another stake trip to the temple. Given that I no longer consider myself a faithful Mormon, why did I go? Well, in part because, even if it's not really the "House of the Lord", the temple is a beautiful building, and worth seeing. But mostly, I admit, because for the moment I still feel the need to keep up appearances, and play the part of the faithful Mormon even if I don't believe. This hasn't left my behavior entirely unchanged--I've been skipping church on Sundays more often than I used to--but for the moment I'm still keeping up the act, and that includes, at least to some degree, keeping up my temple attendance.
The first thing I noticed on entering the temple was that the entrance looked totally different from how I remembered, which surprised me, because it hadn't been that long since I was there last. True, it had been a few months, because the temple had been closed for a while--and then it occurred to me that that was why it looked totally different from how I remembered. It had been closed for renovation, and after the renovation it was totally different from how I remembered.
I'm not going to go into detail about what goes on in the temple. I don't see a need to do so, and after all temple-goers do promise not to reveal occurrences in the temple--and even if I don't believe that to really be any sort of divine covenant, or to have any more weight behind it than a promise I might make to my neighbor, it's still a promise, and I don't like to break a promise without a very good reason. If you're really curious about what happens inside a Mormon temple, I'm sure there are plenty of other places online where disaffected ex-Mormons have spilled the beans--and while I wouldn't necessarily trust the word of those sites, given that people with axes to grind may have a tendency to distort the facts (nothing against disaffected ex-Mormons in particular, especially since I guess I sort of am one myself now), they should at least give some idea of the goings-on.
Okay, one thing I will say, and I don't think this is revealing too much. Most visits to the temple are for the purposes of what is called an "endowment ceremony"--a member goes through the endowment ceremony once for himself, and on further visits on behalf of someone deceased. As a part of the endowment ceremony, visitors are given a "new name" (which matters for certain parts the endowment ceremony itself, and apparently not at all thereafter, although I've heard it comes into play one's wedding). Now, the "new name" is a name out of the scriptures, be that the Old or New Testament or the Book of Mormon, and it's the name of a scriptural individual who, well, wasn't completely one of the "bad guys"--I'm guessing people may be given "new names" of "David" or "Reuben" despite those individuals' misdeeds, but I'd be really surprised if the names "Cain" or "Judas" are ever used. I've heard that the new name is chosen based on the day of the year, that everyone going through a temple on a given day gets the same "new name". This may well be, and would certainly explain how they can tell someone his "new name" so quickly if he's forgotten it. But there's something that didn't occur to me until my last visit: what about the women?
See, male names in the scriptures drastically outnumber female ones. This is especially true in the Book of Mormon; there are only six women mentioned by name at all in the Book of Mormon, and of those six, three are characters from the Bible, and one is a villainous harlot. So...not counting the Biblical repeats, that leaves a grand total of two potential female "new names" to be drawn from the Book of Mormon, as opposed to--oh, several scores of male names, at the very least. The situation with the Bible isn't quite so dire; I can think of a good baker's dozen of female names from the Bible right off the top of my head without breaking a sweat, and I'm sure there are many more. Still, there are a lot fewer than male names, and I have my doubts there are enough to fill every day of a year. Are the women's names chosen on a shorter cycle? Or are they drawn from a bigger pool? The latter seems unlikely (where else would they draw them from?); I'm guessing they are indeed cycled through more quickly--monthly, maybe. Not that I suppose it matters; just something I wondered about.
So. Anyway. The endowment ceremony itself...was really, really boring. I knew that before. But at least now that I wasn't trying to pretend to myself that I was supposed to get some deep meaning out of it I could let my mind wander without feeling guilty about it. (My mind certainly wandered before during the endowment ceremony, all the time, but I felt guilty about it then.) One of the past prophets of the LDS church said he got some new insight every time he sat through the endowment ceremony, even after having been through it hundreds of times. I believe that, because I believe the capacity of the human imagination is enormous, and I believe it's certainly possible someone could draw some new connection between elements of any lengthy presentation he sat through repeatedly, if he was determined to do so. I'm sure someone would be able to "get a new insight" during each of hundreds of viewings of, say, Plan 9 from Outer Space, if he really believed that it was a profound spiritual allegory. (And really, to be honest, the movie shown during the endowment ceremony doesn't make much more sense and isn't much better written than Plan 9--though at least it has much higher production values.) Any insights to be had or conclusions to be drawn from the endowment ceremony come much more from one's own imposition of meaning than from anything in the ceremony itself.
Then again, I guess much the same could be said for religion in general, couldn't it?...