09 April 2007

Borrowed Rituals

This Easter weekend has been an interesting one for me. On Good Friday, I watched The Passion of the Christ for the first time ever. I'll leave you to your own decisions on whether to watch it--it was a very overwhelming experience, and at least this first time, I felt more shock than spiritual uplift. The discussion it incited was certainly enlightening, but I'm not convinced that it's something everyone needs to experience. (If there's interest, I can blog more about this, but I'm sure it's pretty much been worked to death, no tasteless pun intended.)

I've also been enjoying the Holy Week poetry over at BCC. I especially liked the John Updike poem they chose for Easter. Now that's what poetry's supposed to be--not obscuring things but simplifying them to the point where emotions are undeniably shared.

Incidentally, the whole Holy Week thing is another part of that sense of tradition--which I've determined should be more properly termed ritual--that I sometimes long for. This is something I meant to blog about a long time ago--at the beginning of Lent, actually--but never really got around to it. I've noticed at BYU that a lot of Mormon young adults (particularly the more liberal leaning types) like to practice traditions that belong to other religions. My freshman year, I remember there being a craze with the idea of Lent. I mean literally half the ward was giving up something for Lent, without any particularly organized prompting to do so. And then you have the annual Passover celebrations/demonstrations at BYU, the huge groups of students attending activities at the Hare Krishna temple in Spanish Fork, the world religions classes which require students to attend the worship services of other faiths. One friend of mine finds it particularly amusing that he's skipped sacrament meeting three times this semester to attend mosque.

And I wonder what this fascination with other religious traditions means. Is it simply missionary curiosity, wanting to know how others think about God in order to better engage them in theological discussion? Or (as with Passover) is it doctrinal curiousity, the need to put our beliefs into context? Is it the same desire for a sense of oldness, of ritualism and formalism that I've been feeling? Or is it a symptom of widespread dissatisfaction with the "cold, corporate" feeling of the Church? I've been thinking about this last question for a long time, ever since reading about Katherine's experience with Evensong in Cambridge. I've sometimes felt the way she describes about sacrament meetings--that I've built up a resistance, that it's so familiar that it means nothing. On the other hand, I don't think worship services necessarily ought to be aesthetic experiences--the appreciation of beauty is one of those feelings which becomes too easily confused with the Spirit. Beauty, while a part of religion, is not precisely what religion is. And I sort of like the fact that sacrament meeting usually yields only what you put into it.

I used to be very against Mormons usurping other religion's holidays. Sometimes, I tell myself that it's because it feels disrespectful. Practitioners of other faiths really believe in their rituals; it seems rude of me to participate in it like a tourist experiencing the native culture. I mean, do I want someone who doesn't believe in Mormonism participating in our sacrament? Perhaps the analogy works better if you think of the temple--we limit its use to committed members because it's something serious and sacred. To allow participation by non-believers--or even casual believers--would cheapen it, would imply it's not real. Isn't it disrespectful of me to do that to another's religious services?

But sometimes I feel my real reason went something like this: we're the true Church; why should we need to borrow worship practices from false (though virtuous) religions? It felt something like idol worship, perhaps, or "Christianity and water" (to steal a term from C.S. Lewis, but change the definition). To my mind, somehow borrowing traditions somehow implied the Church was less than true. I was quite appalled at the Lent craze my freshman year. Passover I had less resistance to, so long as it was done in a purely academic manner.

Oddly, I've become less opposed to it over time, which I'm not sure is a good thing. I even thought about giving up the snooze button for Lent this year. But then something inside me said, just five more minutes . . . .


Paradox said...

Ick. Alarm clocks. I always knew they'd be our undoing:)

Aaron said...

"And I sort of like the fact that sacrament meeting usually yields only what you put into it."

Yes. This is true.

Steve M. said...

There are a couple of quotes from Brigham Young that come to mind:

"I want to say to my friends that we believe in all good. If you can find a truth in heaven, earth or hell, it belongs to our doctrine. We believe it; it is ours; we claim it." (Brigham Young, DBY, 2)

"'Mormonism,' so-called, embraces every principle pertaining to life and salvation, for time and eternity. No matter who has it. If the infidel has got truth it belongs to 'Mormonism.' The truth and sound doctrine possessed
by the sectarian world, and they have a great deal, all belong to this Church. As for their morality, many of them are, morally, just as good as we are. All that is good, lovely, and praiseworthy belongs to this Church and Kingdom. 'Mormonism' includes all truth. There is no truth but what belongs
to the Gospel. It is life, eternal life; it is bliss; it is the fulness of all things in the gods and in the eternities of the gods." (Brigham Young, DBY, 3)

I think that sometimes Latter-day Saints get stuck in this mindset that say, "We have all the truth." But obviously, we don't. Even if the LDS Church is the only "true" Church (whatever that means), does that mean that other religious traditions don't have legitimate truths and rituals and traditions that can connect mortals to the divine? Does that mean that we don't have something to learn from them?

I think it's somewhat disingenuous for a Mormon to participate in the rituals or worship of another faith for the purpose of being better equipped to preach to and convert them. But if Mormons are participating in these other traditions for the purpose of learning from them and worshiping with them, then I personally think that's fine. I think it helps break down the barriers of exclusivism and holier-than-thouism that we sometimes build between our faith community and others, particularly in predominantly Mormon areas.

For what it's worth, I don't think that one must abandon Mormonism in order to embrace certain other faiths. For instance, in some ways I consider myself Buddhist and Protestant. These faiths have influenced me, and I've tried to make some of their beliefs and ideals part of my own individual spirituality.