Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Mormon Book Bits #41: David John Buerger, The Mysteries of Godliness: A History of Mormon Temple Worship

Editor's note: This is # 41 in a series of posts by Dennis Horne about collectible books. The introduction is here.

The mysteries of Godliness attempts the first historical treatment of the development of the endowment and other temple rites. The preface acknowledges the sensitivity of this theme and promises ‘to treat the ceremony with respect’ in order to ‘enhance understanding of the temple for both Latter-day Saints and others by providing a history of the endowment’ (vii, ix). Yet, ‘given exaggerated claims about the temple and its origin by some enthusiastic apologists’ [just who these persons are and what constitutes their exaggerated claims the author does not tell us], he argues that ‘a degree of specificity in detail is unavoidable” (viii). Using many unpublished primary sources and published exposes written by anti-Mormons, Buerger traces endowment history from its beginnings in 1831 to the present day. His narrative is specific enough to offend the sensitivities of most devout Mormons, despite his disclaimers.

            “All sacred texts and sacred ceremonies, when they become the object of historical analysis, should be treated with delicacy and care…. Buerger, attempting to speak through his sources, some of which are openly antagonistic to Joseph Smith and the ceremonies revealed through him, fails to pass the sensitivity test. Nevertheless, basing his history on a plethora of documents (many of which are restricted by the Church because of their sacred content and thus cannot be studied by general researchers to determine their meaning, veracity, or historical setting), he does create an interesting narrative. …

            “While there is much of value in this volume, it is seriously flawed. Buerger promises a history of Mormon temple worship, but his focus is much more limited, with emphasis on washings, anointings, [and other ordinances]—precisely those things Latter-day Saints believe are most private and thus should not be discussed publicly. At the same time, he neglects other very important aspects of temple worship. This exclusivity belies the title and promise of the book. (Book review, Bachman & Godfrey, BYU Studies Vol. 36, No. 2 [1996-97], 245-47)

            Buerger, who for nearly thirty years has claimed no affiliation with the Church, spent his early years studying Mormonism as did the Jews of old—by looking beyond the mark (see Jacob 4:14)—always delving into the deepest doctrines and speculative ideas that he could not understand; then after being disappointed that the mysteries of Mormonism did not satisfy his appetite for sensationalism, he left the Church behind—worse for his having crossed its path. Buerger’s works are seen as mostly anti-Mormon by Church leaders, but for those who desire it, do contain some of the aforementioned titillating restricted sources. But reader beware, some of the information cannot be verified.

No comments:

Post a Comment