“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”
It’s the famous line from The Wizard of Oz. Keep your eyes fixed on the machine. Look what you’re a part of! A marvelous work and a wonder is about to come forth!
Starting to sound familiar? I remember being at a youth conference listening to an endowed member of the church talk to a silent, eager audience of teenage Mormons about the temple. He was vague, but offered more information than I had ever heard before. It was like the preview to a psychological thriller that gets you just emotionally involved enough to ensure you spend $13 to see it. I remember thinking, “I believe, but I want to KNOW! And I will know when I go through the temple, because that’s where faithful members commune with angels, see the savior in the Celestial Room, and (as a reward for their faithfulness) receive a sure witness that the sacrifices they make as members of the church are worthwhile.”
It made sense. Why else did you have to wait so long to go in? Or be so pure? Something big happens there… right?
So the big day arrives. My extended family is present. My parents told me that no question is off-limits when we’re in the Celestial Room. Cool. Finally all of my doubts can be put to rest.
It’s beautiful. It reminds me of a country club the way it is full of old white people who just show a card, get in, and act cordial with one another. Washing and anointing, and then endowment. I am not going to go into any detail about the ceremony because that is irrelevant to my point. The ceremonies didn’t especially freak me out or disturb me. I wasn’t focused on it. I was solely waiting for what was going to happen when I pass through the veil.
I was pulled through the veil. I find myself in a dazzling, white room with high ceilings, cushioned chairs and mirrors. It is clearly designed to elicit the intended response: Peace. And it was peaceful. It was conducive to meditation and prayer. But there was no witness. There were no angels. There was no voice from the heavens, visitation, confirmation or apparition. My family members crowded around me and asked me if I had any questions. But obviously I couldn’t ask the one question I had because I was now part of the club. I was now part-owner in the secret of the temple: That there is no secret, and we all keep our mouths shut and let unendowed members think whatever they want about what goes on within these walls. I don’t know what they think they feel. But I was underwhelmed, and I seriously doubt they were experiencing more than I was.
But I look back on that sense of wonder and mysticism from before I had “seen behind the curtain.” It was exhilarating and addictive. The prospect of a witness of truth grabbed me and didn’t let go. There was only one cure for that addiction. For me, “seeing behind the curtain” means being able to quickly be a well-adjusted ex-Mormon. Allow me to explain:
From a young age Mormons are taught we are children of god, families are forever and I want to get married in the temple some day. It is indoctrinated from before they can spell or count to 100. Eventually they are captivated by the promise of the temple, eternal progression and even godhood. Those are enticing premises. To lose your faith as a teenager, it would have taken a lot longer for me to become a well-adjusted, functioning adult. Questions would always linger because the indoctrination runs deep. Some of the teachings of the church just “feel” so right that they are hard to shake. But the more you see behind the curtain, the more you see the wheels of the machine powering the corporation forward, the easier it is to alienate yourself from the teachings that the machine propagates.
This is why I have said before, the best Mormons eventually make the best ex-Mormons.