Saturday, March 14, 2009
The Rules of Grammar
Abraham Kaplan, an exponent of Hassidic Judaism, in his analytic paper called "The Meaning of Ritual: Comparisons," published in Reflections on Mormonism, Judaeo-Christian Parallels quotes Edmund R. Leach, writing "In seeking to understand ritual we are, in effect, trying to discover the rules of grammar and syntax of an unknown language." Kaplan says that "Ritual can be regarded as a language, and I am using the word in its broadest sense as a symbol in action." (Italics mine) He continues, "But language is not constituted by a grammar and syntax alone; it must also have a semantics and be a carrier of meaning."
Interpretation of this symbolic language then becomes prime force behind understanding the actions performed. So, who is the interpreter of the Mormon Temple ritual as it is being performed tomorrow night in HBO's Big Love? We, as viewers? The writers? The producers? Can symbols that hold specific meaning as part of a foreign language, to be understood only in terms of the whole system, be communicated and understood in the short and fictitious context of an hour of TV?
Even if it is relevant to the story line? Will it lead too easily to distorted conceptions of Mormonism?
For us Mormons, temple symbolism is something which, in some way, really is what it signifies. No mystery here. No "secret." Just the symbol, rich in meaning, with levels of nuance, making something concrete that is abstract. If we then, privately choose to wear "magic" underwear that reminds us to eat healthily, to pray, to be honest--why should this become a public matter? Whose business should it be but ours, privately? Who gives HBO invasion of privacy rights concerning private temple rituals and sacraments (or their interpretations thereof)? Does your neighbor have the right to come into your house and then broadcast things he has found on your bookshelf, or in your fridge and cupboards to the whole neighborhood, because it is "relevant" to a funny story he is writing about you?
Just wondering. Next question: Does it matter? No. Should I care? Probably.