Torture and the Temple


There's an entry I've been meaning to write for a long time, about the links between Mormonism and torture in the Bush administration, but luckily I found that someone had already done it, and done it quite well. In the April 2008 issue of Sunstone, Boyd Peterson has an excellent essay entitled "Mormonism and Torture--Paradoxes and First Principles." I didn't read it when it came out because the magazine arrived when I busy getting my house ready to sell, and I stuck magazines in boxes rather than read them.

I am glad I finally got around to correcting that oversight. I highly recommend this essay if, for some reason, you missed it like me. My only complaint with it is that it makes no mention of the ways torture is enabled by the temple ceremony.

Now, Sunstone has a strict policy of not discussing the details of the temple, which isn't all that remarkable, since when you go through the temple, you make a vow never to discuss it. There was, however, an article in the most recent issue about how Mormons might make the temple seem less weird and more respectable to people who will never understand what's going on in there. The article is seriously whacked. It enraged me as few things have lately, and I seriously considered both A) posting an angry rant about it and B) writing a letter to the editor of Sunstone about all the failings in the article, but then I decided I had better things to do than explain to the pompous Mormon man who wrote that delusional piece of shit just how clueless he is about the reasons why people REALLY dislike the temple.

But then John R posted something on his blog about how he's probably going to be exed for a previous blog entry about the gruesome death threats made in the temple.

In a comment, John illustrated how he felt about the vow of silence he made in the temple with this analogy:

let's say I had a consensual sexual relationship with a much older and caring adult teacher while I was, say, thirteen. S/he swore me to secrecy, and out of affection, I complied. I grow up and realize that the relationship was wrong and that the same teacher was still sleeping with their students. Would I be morally bound by my promise to secrecy or by the need to protect potential victims from harm.

Well. This caused A LOT of consternation among believing Mormons. How dare John compare the temple to any sort of abuse?

So I wrote this (which I am cleaning up here a little, because a bout of PTSD hindered my proofreading):

I think John's analogy is very apt, deficient only in the level of violence, threat and divine retribution involved. If the adult also did something like, say, drown a puppy in a bathtub and inform the minor that any discussion of the details of the relationship would make God so angry that he would want the minor to die, both in this life and next, then it would mirror more closely what actually went on in the temple.

(and, incidentally, I am able to offer that insight because I read a book where something similar happens: Riptide by Marion Smith. It has its problems as literature, but as a discussion of abuse and coercion in Mormonism, it's pretty damn great.)

And this is where I circle back to what I opened this blog entry with:

I realize that the temple ceremony was changed in 1990, but I went through at a time when you still had to enact your own ritual execution through several possible methods and were told, explicitly, that you deserved to be brutally murdered if you talked about this stuff.

Most of the time I think that I've gotten over most of the harm done to me by the church. But I am shaking and fighting the urge to vomit as I type this. The threat of violence, the coercive, punitive tone, made the temple a form of spiritual rape.

Just as we are seeing with the whole torture debate, information and promises extracted through violence or threat of violence are legally invalid. Therefore I do not feel that my vow is at all binding. Furthermore, not only do I feel no obligation to abide by it, I feel an obligation to inform others of what I experienced.

Much is made of the fact that it was an LDS judge who authorized and two LDS psychologists who created the Bush administration's torture program. Given that these men were trained to believe that coercion and threats of violence were actually part of the pinnacle of spirituality and communion with God, is that really surprising?

To anyone who objects to the characterization of the temple as coercive or abuse, I must point that the death threats and penalties were DESIGNED to be scary and intimidating, and to compel silence. A desire to scare and intimidate is why the penalty for betraying the vow is death, as opposed, to, say having to drink lemonade and eat cookies for dinner on alternate Tuesdays.

And yet, feeling scared and intimidated and coerced by scary, intimidating, coercive statements and ceremonies is seen, in the Mormon church, as evidence of a disordered psyche and resistance to divine truth.

No wonder our society is so violent. It's how we think our god expresses love to his children: he threatens to kill us. And if we find anything wrong with that, well, we deserve to die.


I remember feeling coerced when I first went through the temple. I found the blood oaths to be gruesome and frightening. I agree with you that this was the intent. Also, the secrecy itself is coercive.

You are definitely right, CCSea, that the secrecy in and of itself is coercive. But for the people who resist seeing that, it helps to point out that the blood oaths were designed, as we can both recognize, to scare and intimidate people.

Leave a comment


OpenID accepted here Learn more about OpenID
Powered by Movable Type 5.12

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Holly published on June 13, 2009 10:53 AM.

Twelve-Year-Old Scotch vs. Twelve-Year-Old Vienna Sausages: A Clear Winner and a Murky, Messy Loser was the previous entry in this blog.

Vampires and the Names of Women Who Love Them is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.