Tuesday, October 4, 2011

THE TEMPLE: Superior Beings Vs. Women

"Don't you just love the celestial room? The spirit is so powerful here." "If I am having a bad day, or if I need to find answers to really difficult problems, the best place for me to go is the temple."  "Being in the celestial room is as close to being with God as one can get on earth". 

These are some of my favorite temple quotes that I have heard over the years. However, I can honestly say, I have never once felt comfortable, or enjoyed being, in the temple. From day one, that place gave me the willies. Even the basic functions as a kid, going to the temple to do baptisms for the dead, seemed wrong to me. Why did we think it was okay for us to decide if someone would get baptized? If they were alive, they may have said 'no'. When they are dead, you can't prove whether they would want it or not. Therefore, it is not okay to take away someone's free will simply because they are dead. I mean, a main concept of the Mormon religion is that our lives continue beyond death and before birth. We are still "us", even after we die. So the concept of making different rules for someone because they are dead, to me, is the same as deciding to baptize in their name while they were on a vacation in the Bahamas.  When I was a teenager, our youth group used to drive for 3 hours to the nearest temple, do a quick set of dunks and prayers, and drive 3 hours back to home. The trip was fun, because I was with friends and we always found a way to have fun. But I remember feeling bad on the way home, because what we were doing just didn't sit right with me. But, of course, I kept my mouth shut and went with the flow.

If someone were to ask me if there was one thing more than any other that would convince me that the church was a hoax and not based on truth from a 'loving' God, it would be the temple ceremony. And, while attempting to remain respectful to believers, I will give a few examples without revealing too much. First off, the clothes, or uniforms are ridiculous. They also bring out the main problem I have with the whole gig: Sexism. The entire temple experience is based on the premise of sexism. Nay, the entire religion is based on sexism. And, if you disagree with that, you truly need to take a step back. The concept of the Mormon religion and their idea of the expectations and plans from God, are based on the notion that men are superior to women. There is  an attempt made to nuance this concept in to an accepting form of government, but at the base of the rules it remains sexist in pure form. The crazy part for me, that I just can't quite grasp, is that the devout women in the religion believe it is the way to live; even to the point that they make sure they are placed in an inferior position. It literally blows my mind. Let me explain as best I can...

In the temple, from the beginning of the 'session', men and women are segregated. Men sit on one half of the room, while women sit on the other. Even if I wanted to sit with my wife through the tortuous couple of hours, I would not be allowed. There are times during the ceremony when you, as a group of men, or women, are prompted to make promises to God. Most of these are done by standing and repeating aloud a promise that is scripted. Most of these, if not all, are done in the order of men going first and the women going second. It is important to note here, that there is a certain familial hierarchy in the Mormon religion. It is as follow: God speaks to Jesus, Jesus speaks to his followers or messengers, the messengers speak to the males, the males speak to the females. In reverse order, and this is the significant part, it ends up as follows. If a women wants to ask of something from God, she cannot go to him directly. She must go to her husband and then he can continue with the connection to the almighty. Also, a woman is to take cues or spiritual guidance from her husband, as he gets it from the Lord. The weirdest part to me is that they say women are to take counsel from their husbands, as long as they are following the guidance of Christ. If a women is not allowed to directly communicate with God in the first place, how is she supposed to know if her husband is actually following God's commands; or is taking a slight detour over to "whatever I want to do" avenue. Near the end of the 'session', there is a symbolic entrance in to heaven. A man (never a woman) plays the role of God, accepting worthy members only in to heaven. Once the man has entered, he is allowed to test the woman to see if she is worthy to enter heaven as well. It can't be the other way around. Also, while women are making some of these promises aloud, they are required to place a veil over their faces. So basically, from a societal perspective, the temple is teaching, reinforcing and even encouraging the idea that men are superior to women; not only here on earth, but also in the eyes of the supreme being. 

So why is it that women in the Mormon church are not only okay with this notion, but are incredibly supportive of it. Like I stated before, the nuance of changing it from sexist and demeaning, to god-like and appropriate is supported by women and, of course, men. The male support I can understand, from a basic, lazy and controlling perspective. The female support is what I have trouble with.  Do they support it because they truly believe God made it this way? Or, is this more of a traditional role that has been carried down from the generations of male dominated societies, under the geise of holy scripture. Have women been suppressed for so long, they aren’t even consciously aware that it is happening to them? The concept has been there for as long as the King James version of the Bible has been around. The belief is supported by the idea that God made Adam and then created Eve from Adam. The idea in the Mormon church is that God created Eve as a “help mate” for Adam. But that was written a long time ago. The Book of Mormon, and the origination of the Mormon church occurred during a time when women were still not regarded as equals…not that they are yet even today, by many standards. However, times are changing and people are waking up to the idea that a penis, or lack thereof, is not a determinant to automatic superiority, or key to extra spiritual privileges. The mormon church, as pathetic as it is to watch, remains this way. This is not god-like. This is not American; and American is supposed to be god-like. We are placed on this earth as equals. We are given citizenship in this country as equals. We are taught to treat each other as equals. The Mormon church does not support this notion; especially during it’s early years. Polygamy, just by definition, is a sexist cultural entity. It is a man collecting women. A male polygamist, or as I like to call them, a jealous pimp with really bad business sense, is a social construct of sexism. That is why the Mormon church fights to separate the old ways from the new. They don’t care that it was illegal at the time; that never bothered them (that is an entirely different story of hypocrisy for another time). They separate themselves from polygamy because of the appearance it gives to male superiority.  

This is the part that baffles me…the justification, by women, of male superiority within the church. Boys, when they turn 12 years old, are blessed with the sacred powers of the priesthood. Girls, at the age of 12, are not. As the boys age, they are blessed with increased  levels of priesthood abilities. This continues in to adulthood and for the rest of a man’s life, as long as he remains worthy to hold the priesthood. Women, no matter their level of worthiness, are not able to obtain the priesthood. So sayeth the lord. In the family construct, it is important for a man to be worthy of this office, so that he is able to bless his wives and kids with the priesthood. In other words, the woman and children will be blessed by having a worthy man in their home to share the powers of the priesthood with them. They are the benificiaries of the priesthood that is held by the man. They cannot have it themselves, so it is important that they keep the man around and treat him with respect, so they can have that all-important blessing nearby. This is one of the reasons the church hates divorces. The female divorcee is encouraged to try to keep the family together so they can have the priesthood in the home. Without it, her children with spiritually suffer. This is a wonderful message to give to pressure a woman to stay in an abusive relationship. Quality stuff.  Now, if you were to ask a mature, card carrying female member of the church, why she does not have a problem with the fact that she cannot be given the priesthood, you will most likely be given similar answers to these: “I don’t want it. My husband, or future husband remains worthy and that is all I need”. Or, “God has given women other blessings that men cannot have; like childbirth, ability to raise children”.  And, “If God didn’t give the priesthood just to men, we wouldn’t need them for anything”. The hard core will just say, “Because that is what God has decided and that is the way it should be”.  If you were to ask a man in the church why women cannot have the priesthood, you will usually get an answer like, “They don’t need it. They are more spiritually in tune with God than us men are”. Or, “We don’t question God. He hasn’t given us all the answers, because we aren’t able to comprehend them all yet. Joseph Smith received this information from God, and it is supported through our modern day prophets, so that is the way it is”.

Gun to my head; if there was one reason more than any other, why women and men are willing to continue on with this sexist society, what do I think it is? That is a tough question, because I believe there are many factors that play in to this. Social factors are probably the largest part of it. There are many parts of our culture, here in America, not just in the church, that support sexist ideas. Slowly, however, they are disappearing. The church’s stance on sexism will remain, because it is the foundation of the religion. Tradition in cultures is a very difficult fire to put out. Women in this country weren’t even allowed to vote, which is the concept we were founded on, until very recent. We judged each other, within the law, by color. Eventually, we saw the errors of our ways; and we have many more to rid ourselves of. I just find it appauling that no matter how hard we fight for equal justice in this country; no matter how many people die defending this opportunity, the Mormon church will not allow that to happen.

They will do it in the name of God.

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