Monday, May 15, 2006

Mormonism as a tribe, Part 8: the tribal temple

Going through the temple is an interesting experience. When you go through, it's safe to say it's nothing like you've experienced before.

The temple as the full extension of the tribal reality

We have seen how Mormonism is a tribal reality in previous posts; the temple is the extension of those tribal values. Just like the Mayans, Jews, Muslims, and others, the Mormons build temples where they can preform certain tribal rituals. These tribal rituals will take you through the process of tribal initiation and then teach you how to gain access to the inner part of the temple. In the temple, there is an alter where they can preform sacrifices. There are no longer blood sacrifices that take place in the temple, but you do swear an oath to give up your time, talents, money, even your life, if necessary, for the establishment of the tribe.

This is a natural tribal way of governing the tribe. The chief wants you to give up everything to his control so that he has the power and the resources to defend the tribe. To seal your allegiance to the chief, he has you enter into blood oaths where you prove your loyalty to him by swearing your life.

Hand signs and specific words

Part of this tribal life is to know who is with your tribe. This is done through signs and specific words.

Think about a gang in east L.A., they will have gang signs that they flash other warring gangs to demonstrate which tribe they belong to. If you show the gang sign for bloods in a crip controlled area, the crips could shoot you for being on their turf.

When I was in high school, you couldn't wear certain colors or clothing because they were gang clothes, or clothes associated with a particular tribe. You had to be careful of what signs you presented with your hands to certain kids, because if they saw you do a rival gang sign, they would get violent with you. This is exactly the same as the signs within the temple. During your time through the temple, they give you certain hand signs (a hand sign is where you contort certain fingers or parts of your hand to represent a certain form). Part of the tribal temple ceremony is to show the sign to another member at the end, where he can see if the signs are correct or not. You can then gain access to the inner part of the temple by demonstrating your knowledge of the signs and the words that go with those particular signs.

If you give away your signs or secret words, which are also used to tell what tribe you belong to, there are sever penalties, even death. You are told that when you get to the gates in heaven, there will be sentinels, or soldiers, that will be there waiting for you to give them the signs. You then can demonstrate your tribal membership by showing the signs, just like the gang member would do in East L.A. to show other members of the gang that he belongs to this particular gang. If he showed these signs to different gangs, he could be shot for representing that rival tribe.

Temple clothes

Another aspect of the tribal ceremony is to wear certain pieces of clothing. Gangs in urban cities where certain clothes to distinguish themselves from other gangs. When I was in 6th grade, we were not allowed to wear a certain brand of shoe, because that was well understood to mean you belonged to a certain gang. Likewise, within the temple you are given certain clothes to wear which demonstrate that you belong to the tribe. At different times during the tribal ceremony, you will wear different tribal clothes. Each piece of clothing means something else, although no one I ever spoke to understood what the different parts meant, that really different matter, because these clothes were not meant for your understanding, but for the tribal human instinct. When you wear them, you know that you belong to this specific tribe.

Signs are needed only for tribes, not god.

These tribal signs and key words are needed to gain access to the safety of the tribe. This aspect of the temple really made me question what was going on. I never understood why God would need me to contort my hands in certain ways to show him I can get into heaven. I always understood God would read my heart and see my character to determine my worthiness (also what would happen if someone saw the signs and could replicate them). Then I thought that God would simply judge whether I got these tribal signs worthily or not by reading my heart when I gave them to him, but then why would I need the signs at all if he could read my heart in the first place?

That is the question. Why are signs needed at all if God can read your mind and heart? They are not needed to god, but they are needed to tribal chiefs and their soldiers. Because the chiefs are not god, they have set up a system whereby they can tell who belongs to the tribe and who is an enemy to the tribe. Without these signs and specific words, it is obvious you do not belong to the tribe.

That's the tribal reality. And that's why the temple leaves many members so disturbed after they go through it. Other people will try and tell you that all of the signs and key words are in the scriptures, but that doesn't help you understand why they are in the scriptures in the first place.

The need for secrecy

In the temple, there is a strict emphasis that these hand signs and key words are to remain secret. The hand signs are not found in the scriptures and not in any other church material, only in the temple. Everything else in the temple could be found in the scriptures. As far as I know, most every Mormon doctrine is considered sacred, which probably means that it comes from God, but only the hand signs are kept secret. For the members of the church, secret is synonymous with sacred.

But if this were true, then why not have all the highest doctrines be secret as well? The secrecy only makes sense within the context of the tribal life. If you were to print these hand signs in a book, then anyone could pretend to be a member of the tribe and gain access to the temple. This would defeat the purpose of the hand signs and key words, so in order to make sure that only the tribal members receive the hand signs, the leaders tell the members of the tribe that the hand signs are of the up most sacred things. They should never divulge these hand signs or key words to anyone at anytime expect for in the temple and at a specific time after this life.

This all works for the tribal reality because it confirms that the member is on the path to survival within the tribe. He has the pass that will get him through the gates. He has the secret knowledge to secure his safety.

But, again, why would a god need these secret hand signs if he could read your heart and your mind? He wouldn't. He doesn't. And the only reason they are there is because you belong to a human, animal tribe.


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