The Opportunity Costs of Temple Work

I want to start off talking a bit about opportunity costs, which can be defined simply as whatever it is we give up when we decide to use resources on one thing rather than on another: i.e. if we decide to invest in real estate, we can’t simultaneously invest that money in the stock market. If we spend our time investing in our health by exercising, we can’t spend that same time volunteering at a soup kitchen.

Now I’d like to quote John Dehlin, while explaining his views on ordinances:

And while I acknowledge the beauty and goodness that is experienced by LDS temple workers and participants, I grieve at what I perceive to be the significant expenditure of time, money, and resources involved in performing proxy ordinance work for dead people, while such considerable pain, suffering, disease, and illiteracy persists in the world today.  

What John is describing here, is that he’s uncomfortable with the opportunity costs associated with our focus, energy, time, and money being devoted to proxy work for the dead.

It reminds me a lot of a discussion of global aid priorities by Bjorn Lomberg  in his amazing TED talk. In it, he points out that with our best understanding of the problems of climate change and world hunger/malnutrition/infectious diseases, we would be much better off throwing money on the latter problems. Addressing climate change would produce benefits, but they’d be small, and won’t happen for 100 years, and will benefit a world that is much, much richer than we are today. He says that one day, some Bangladeshi man (who is as rich then as an average American is now) is going to look back and say, “Wow.  Isn’t it strange that they would have cared so much about helping me just a little, when they could have helped my grandfather SO MUCH, when he needed it so much more than I do now.

Now, not to divert into politics, lets return to proxy work. Consider the whole population ever to live on the earth, and the relatively minuscule percent of the population that had access to temple ordinances, which the Church teaches are essential for exaltation.  Now, imagine the small number of active Mormons who are able to perform those ordinances… it becomes quickly apparent that we will in no way be able to get it all done before the second coming.  (I mean, we’re falling farther behind every day).

So essentially, any proxy work we get done is really a small drop in a gigantic bucket.  The vast majority of the work will of necesity get pushed back to the millennium.

Now, consider the cost, in money, time, energy, etc., that goes into building and maintaining temples, performing recommend interviews, and actually performing all those ordinances (2-3hrs/person).  Then think of all the good that the same amount of time, energy, and money could do if applied toward a more urgent, achievable goal.. (Think Liahona Children’s Foundation)

I can see the same scenario playing out.  Some dead Brazilian guy, who died in 1735, getting his temple work done by his great-great-grandson.  Meanwhile, he’s watched their children suffering from malnutrition and dying from vaccine preventable illnesses.  I think he might look back and say, “Wow.  Isn’t it strange that the Church would care so much about helping me just a little (by performing my ordinances now rather than waiting till the millennium), when they could have helped my great-great-great-grand-daughter so much more.”

Opportunity costs are what we give up when we choose to do one thing, when we could have done something else. There are positive benefits in the lives of current members when they perform proxy work.  There are benefits (though small as I see it) to those who are deceased receiving their ordinances a little bit sooner.  I’m just not sure how temple work is ever going to come out positive in the balance of things, until poverty, hunger, and lots of other suffering is eliminated from the world.

What do you think? Is it worth the costs, both direct & in lost opportunities?



Penny for your thoughts... except I have no pennies.

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