Saturday, August 13, 2011

Do Mormons wear "magic underwear"?

      An increasingly frequent mockery of Mormonism is the claim that Mormons wear “magic underwear.” Like most such rumors, the “magic underwear” claim is a misrepresentation. Yet there is some truth behind it, which ought to be separated from the sensationalism.

The Temple Garment
      Mormon men and women who have worshiped in a temple wear a white garment as their underclothing. (Temple worship is open to all adults who have been active members of the church for a year and keep the basic baptismal commitments.) It is intended to symbolize moral purity and to serve as a reminder of the spiritual and moral standards one promises in the temple to uphold, and is called, simply, the “garment,” or formally, the “garment of the Holy Priesthood.”
      Attaching religious symbolism to clothing is nothing unheard of. Nearly every religion has some kind of special religious clothing. The difference is that in Mormonism, every active member is a part of the ministry and there is no paid clergy, so everyone wears the garment—not just the congregational leaders. The garment is therefore worn as underclothing, not as outer clothing, because:
      1) we live our everyday lives during the week, which may be incompatible with religious vestments worn externally,
      2) but we don’t want to create the impression that we only carry our religious standards with us when we go to church on Sunday, and
      3) the point is to remind the wearer, not the rest of the world, of his or her religious commitments.
Because the garment is underwear, it can be worn underneath our regular clothing during most day-to-day activities. That reminds us that we also "wear" our spiritual obligations all the time—not just when we’re at church.

Similarities to Other Religions
      Actually, it’s not even very unique that our religious clothing is our underwear. Many religions around the world have underwear with special religious significance. For instance, one of the “five Ks” of Sikhism is the wearing of the kachchhera, a special kind of cotton underwear intended to remind Sikhs of their obligation of sexual morality. Orthodox Jews wear a garment called the tallit katan either as underclothing or outside their clothing, also as a reminder of their covenants with God. The complicated traditional vestments of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy also include a certain type of underwear, although I have been unable to determine whether it has any religious significance independent of the other vestments.
      (Additionally, there is a special religious garment in Islam for those who have participated in the hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca). That garment is worn as outerwear, not underwear, but it is reminiscent of the fact that Mormons wear the garment after they have participated in temple worship.)

Biblical Basis
      The Bible contains plenty of references to clothing with religious and symbolic significance. In Exodus 28 and Exodus 40:13, Moses is commanded to clothe the temple priests in “holy garments,” including a linen tunic or undershirt. Isaiah refers to the “garments of salvation” (Isaiah 61:10). In Ezekiel’s vision, he saw that people who came to worship in the temple put on special temple garments (Ezekiel 42:14). Jesus told a parable in which a wedding feast represented heaven, and only those who wore a special garment were admitted (Matt. 22:11-13).

Not "Magic"
      Although the critics like to mock the garment as “magic,” Mormons do not believe that garments themselves have any supernatural qualities. However, we do believe that keeping our spiritual obligations brings blessings from God, and that wearing the garment helps remind us of those spiritual obligations. In that way, the garment provides spiritual protection.

In summary
Argument: Mormons wear magic underwear, and that’s weird.
Response: Garments are not “magic”; Mormons don’t believe they have supernatural qualities. Rather, garments serve to remind Mormons of their obligation to live up to their religious obligations. They are worn as underwear because the purpose is to remind the wearer of his standards, rather than to flaunt our religion to other people.

Further Reading
Boyd K. Packer, "Preparing to Enter the Holy Temple" (2002)
Mormon Voices, "Magic Mormon Underwear" (June 23, 2011)
Evelyn Marshall, "Garments," Encylopedia of Mormonism (1992)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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