Few things serve as a starker reminder of Mormonism’s near omnipresence in Utah than the 14 temples that dot our state’s landscape. The Salt Lake temple, as the church’s flagship temple, casts the longest shadow. And because a lot of ex-Mormons and non-Mormons here don’t like living in that shadow, the Salt Lake temple for them almost takes on a menacing visage (the fact that it resembles a fortress doesn’t help).
But I have a confession to make: For the most part, I actually like the temples. Admittedly, I sometimes get the creeps from the Salt Lake temple. Perhaps it’s just too synonymous with the LDS Church’s inordinate influence in Utah. Otherwise, I’m able to divorce the temples from Mormonism and appreciate them as architectural works and landmarks.
Now I don’t really understand the aesthetics behind good architecture, but I find many of the temples beautiful. The Provo temple is an eye-sore, granted. When I was a student at USU, however, I loved the view I had of the Logan temple. And where I currently live, I enjoy my proximity to the Draper temple as well. Other temples that I like include the Washington D.C., San Diego, and the Laie Hawaii temples.
Having a big, beautiful building around which a city is constructed appeals to my Europhilia, I guess. One of my favorite things about Germany is that every village has either its own distinctive castle or cathedral. That isn’t to say that an LDS temple is the architectural equivalent to, say, Notre Dame. But compared to the big box retailers and chain franchises that dominate suburban Utah, LDS temples are a welcome sight.
I doubt ex-Catholics have the same aversion to European cathedrals as ex-Mormons do toward LDS temples. Many cathedrals in Europe are seen as fairly secular. Indeed, a number of the cathedrals I visited in Germany were not operated and maintained by solely the Catholic Church, but the government too (as they are recognized to be both historic sites and tourist attractions)*. And to the extent that cathedrals invoke the thought of religion, it’s often just as a relic of Europe’s religious past. Today, the pews are empty—save for Easter and Christmas Mass. Even in the 19th-century, Nietzsche referred to churches and cathedrals as “tombs of God”.
Should Mormonism collapse in Utah as Catholicism largely has in Western Europe, would we value the LDS temples enough to preserve them? I hope so.
*I initially claimed that some of these Cathedrals were wholly operated by the German government, but that was mistaken, as I explain in the comments.