The Fanatic in the Street
No one is allowed to talk about what happens in a Latter-day Saint temple. This means there’s no good way to prepare yourself for your first trip down that rabbit hole.
This essay is an abridged excerpt from an early draft of my memoir, The Accidental Terrorist: Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary.
Temple Square occupies a full city block in the heart of Salt Lake City. Most of its buildings, including the famous Tabernacle, stand open to the general public. But the grand and towering Temple welcomes only the card-carrying faithful.
Built from gray Utah granite, the gothic-style temple was begun in 1853 and took forty years to complete. Its clean lines, narrow windows, and six elegant spires draw the eye toward the heavens, inspiring thoughts of eternity. Each spire rises more than a hundred feet, the tallest topped by a gilded statue of Moroni, the angel who gave Joseph Smith the Golden Plates.
Adorning the outer walls you’ll find relief carvings of such symbols as clasped hands, the All-Seeing Eye, and the seven stars of the Big Dipper. These are some of the few remaining relics of the folk-magic traditions from which Mormonism arose, and their presence on the Temple can be startling even to believers.
But if you find the outside strange, just follow me inside.
I first entered the Salt Lake Temple on August 15, 1986, in the company of my parents. I had turned nineteen the day before and was scant weeks from departing for a two-year missionary assignment. I was dizzy with hunger, having fasted since breakfast the day before, but that was nothing compared with my excitement and dread at finally being initiated into the deepest mysteries of my faith. That day I was to experience the most sacred and secret of all LDS rituals — the endowment.
Temples are houses of advanced worship, not for ordinary Sunday services. Admission is by “recommend” — a card bearing the signatures of two of one’s local church leaders. To acquire it, I’d been interviewed to ascertain my readiness and worthiness, with particular emphasis on the question of whether I had sympathy for any…