I've been reading Paul Kriwaczek's In Search of Zarathustra lately. Today I came across this:
The Great Heresy was a Gnostic faith: higher ranks would be initiated into secret knowledge and hidden interpretations not available to ordinary folk. [Loc. 1235 of 4637]This made me think about the fact that many people view Mormonism this way. Heck, the entire time I was growing up Mormon, I viewed Mormonism this way. But I don't think Mormonism should be considered a Gnostic faith.
Sometimes you'll hear Mormons make the distinction between "secret" and "sacred." What happens in the temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not secret. I'm not just saying that because you can probably find websites of disaffected Mormons "disclosing" the "secrets" of the temple. I'm saying that because, after attending the temple for the first time, I thought, "Absolutely none of that was new."
Which is the way it should be. After all, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is plain enough for children to understand it. There's no big reveal where "true" Mormonism gets shown to you. (Unless I just haven't reached that level yet! [dramatic music!]) The general summary of temple ordinances has been publicly disclosed by church leaders for over 100 years now. You make covenants to follow the same basic gospel principles you've been following since baptism.
I guess one way to think of it is to think of the escalation that happens in a personal relationship. When I started dating my wife, I was promising to treat her well and be exclusive to her. That didn't change when we got engaged, and it didn't change when we got married. Each of those steps, though, was a deeper commitment to the same principles. And as a result, with each deeper commitment, more privileges were exchanged. But if someone said to me, "How is your promise to be a good husband different from your promise to be a good boyfriend?" my answer would be, "It's just more serious and all-encompassing."
I get people not getting this about Mormons because I didn't get it myself. The adults in my life didn't get the memo about "sacred" not meaning "secret," so a lot of my questions were answered with, "You'll find out." I guess they were probably just erring on the side of caution, but I wish they would have sought clearer directions instead of just winging it. Problems arose that didn't need to. Again, an application of Hosea: ignorance leads to destruction.
When I was a missionary, we knocked on the door of a woman who wanted to save me from the evil cult she supposed I had joined. She explained that I was nice and honest, but the church was sinister and duplicitous, and at higher levels they let you in on the secret. I told her, "There's nothing to learn in this church that I don't already know." She leaned in and asked confidentially, "Do you know about the funny underwear?" I leaned in, too, and replied with equal confidentiality, "I'm wearing it right now." She made a quick excuse and closed the door.
This passage of In Search of Zarathustra made me think about the ways in which some people might consider Mormonism a Gnostic faith, but I don't think it warrants that description in the conventional sense. We'd probably do well to make that point clearer to the world.