Where’s The Line Between A Religion And A Cult? Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Jun 26 2012 @ 10:52am

Scores of readers have sent long and thoughtful emails in response to the controversial question and we hope to air as many as possible over the coming weeks. Our goal is to understand Mormonism, the most important influence on the character and life of a man who may be our next president and who refuses to discuss the question at all:

As a former Mormon who has gone to the temple, I think the secrecy argument is overblown. The full texts of the temple ceremonies (and probably at least a few video recordings) are freely available online. You have a bunch of people like me who are more than happy to let it be known what goes on there. To the extent there is secrecy, it’s at a pretty low level, akin to the secrecy of a Masonic rite (which is what the LDS temple ceremonies are derived from). As the information is freely available, the only objection left is that the LDS exclude the uninitiated from their rites, which is not exactly unusual among religions, fraternal organizations or social clubs. And remind me how many Presidents have been Masons?

A reader does:

George Washington, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, James Polk, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, James Garfield, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Howard Taft, Warren Harding, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Gerald Ford. If anything, Romney’s obsession with being a part of a “secret society” makes him more worthy to be President. Your reader’s fear of “secret society” is, well, dog crap.


On restricted access to our temples: First, services, activities, and events at our meetinghouses are open to anyone who wants to visit. We also open temples up for open houses/tours between construction (or remodeling) and dedication. Later this year, open houses will be held in Calgary and Buenos Aires. Temple ordinances (ritual sacraments) are the closest we get to a “High church,” and the liturgy is standardized and available through unofficial sources online with minimal effort. Temple worship is not our standard Sunday service. As a form of “sacred space” the emphasis is placed on meditation and reflection, recharging spiritually before re-entering daily life. (The general consensus of the Internet is that a President Romney would not attend the D.C. temple or any other during his presidency, due to the complicated logistics with the Secret Service.)

Each religion draws different lines about who can attend/participate in sacred rites – though I’ll freely (and sadly) admit that the restriction on only temple-worthy Latter-day Saints being able to attend temple marriages has caused a great deal of pain to friends and family members who cannot attend. (Wedding receptions, of course, are held in more public settings and are the main venues for visiting with the happy couple and other guests.)

Another quotes me:

“Why cannot non-Mormons come and go in Mormon Temples as they can in Cathedrals and mosques and synagogues?” THEY CAN before the temples are dedicated. The Church has been incredibly open and hosts large open houses to let ANYONE into the temples before they are dedicated for worship. I’m sure if you get on the Intertubes, you can probably find lots of video tours of various temples. Here’s one from CNN in April. HBO’s “Big Love” even did a whole episode on the ceremony, which many Mormons found hurtful because of how sacred they view the ceremonies.

Once they are dedicated, however, members view them as sacred places where only worthy folks can go in. Indeed, Mormons (like myself) who don’t devoutly hew the line cannot go in either – not because things are “secret” (I have been many times and know exactly what happens), but because of the belief that the place is reserved for those that are worthy.

Nevertheless, MANY religions have places where non-members simply cannot go for a variety of reasons, including Islam (try getting into parts of Mecca and see how that goes over), Shintoism, and Greek Orthodoxy.  In the Bible, parts of the ancient Jewish temple were restricted even further, being limited to the high priests who were Levites.

Given that you can go inside prior to a temple’s dedication and that you can know what happens inside, why the suspicion? If people want to commune with God in a way that gives them comfort, I don’t understand why that is so bothersome to you or others. I am no longer a temple-attending member for a variety of reasons, but it makes me happy to know that people like my parents, wife, and other friends and family members find great comfort in the temple as a place away from the bustle of the world, a center to focus on their own spiritual development, and a refuge to think about things beyond this life.