The Temple Building Dream- Economics and Realities

The following mostly applies to America. Some countries have larger populations of polytheistic communities that this really is not applicable for in the most part.

This afternoon I saw a disturbing image from North Carolina in which a sign marking the entrance of a Hindu Temple was shot up. This was the very same temple that I had planned on visiting when I was living there but had not had the opportunity to go to due to transportation issues. But this is not new thing as I have heard reports from other parts of the country regarding vandalizing of Hindu temples. Anyone who honestly believe that having physical temples elevates the social standing and level of respect that a religion has needs to re-examine that in light of how people treat Hindu temples that have memberships of devotees hundreds strong. Anyone who is willing to vandalize a Hindu temple, do you think it bodes well for this dream of achieving a level of religious merit just by having a temple? We certainly see the trouble that the Matreum of Cybele had with their own temple and the local populace.

However, that is just dealing with the earning respect myth. There are several reasons that make raising temples right now extremely difficult that I was discussing last night with several other folks. The agreed upon biggest problem faced by anyone who wants to raise temples is largely the economic one. The following list is a short hand of what we discussed, and the very reason why before any temple can be put up it must have a large enough community of worshiping households that can meet the economic requirements for temple building. The most any small number of people can hope to do really is to put up a small shrine or altar. For even an open air cordoned off temple, much less a full temple, it takes considerable resources beyond just “having acreage”. Land is just the beginning of what is needed for devoted sacred space.

1. Temples are expensive to maintain, there are land taxes that have to be paid, priests who have to be paid if you want to the temple open all day every day (trust me you will want that because the Hindu temple I go to doesn’t make enough capital to hire a priest and is only open for an hour a week every Sunday which makes the temple largely inaccessible to many folks who cannot make it at that particular time or day), not to mention paying for the building of the temple to sacred specifications and the maintenance of the temple itself with repairs, regular cleaning of the temple, electricity used, heat or a/c being used, water used etc. Don’t forget trash removal, you gotta pay for that unless you want to be daily hauling to the dump? Not to mention regular landscaping maintenance for the acreage that your temple sits on to keep the grass mowed down. While you are at it you might want to invest in a timed sprinkler system that will keep everything from just dying on you.

2. Most land available to purchase at a reasonable cost is going to be out of the way. This often means it won’t have dependable paved roads, rather dirt roads, and in some cases you would have to pay for a road to be put in. Nevermind that if your temple is out in the sticks and you live in a place with snow, that means you are going to have to personally invest your money and time into plowing the way to the temple every time it snows.

3. Location location location. Everyone wants to build near themselves, everyone has a dream of putting a temple up in their own locality. But if you are the only (or just one of a handful) of folks of your religion in the area that will actually use it and it will otherwise sit empty all the time rather than being filled regularly with the prayers and offerings of people visiting the temple then how does that benefit the gods? Even if you get together with folks of the same inclination who can all shoulder the expense together this is going to be an issue because if your temple is far away from a significant portion of your fellow worshippers it will not get the presence of much financial support from that segment of the community. People visiting= funds for the temple.

4. Acquiring sacred image(s). For the size used in temple worship this is not cheap. For religious organizations with greater national/international solidarity sometimes temples will donate sacred images to new temples, but this is not a sure thing even then. If you think that paying between 50-100 dollars for a small image for your household is expensive, imagine paying thousands of dollars for a larger custom made image for your temple? Because you got to pay the artisan, not whine that no one is offering up their art for the temple without compensation. Although icons are not a *must* they are typical for temples to have. Said images may  also come with expenses depending on the culture for perfumes, clothes, adornments etc.

5. Aside from the maintenance issues listed above, there are also numerous other expenses that go into a temple for regular worship, such as:
A. Incense to be used for the temple worship. You will go through a lot of incense. Even if you encourage individual to bring incense, regular rituals will consume huge amounts of incense. Again this is a temple, not your home.
B. Fresh flowers. This may not seem like a big deal until you start tallying the floral costs for flowers for the altar on a daily basis. It is going to be more than just a five dollar boquet of flowers. A temple will probably spend hundreds of dollars on flowers alone if that is something that is part of the traditions of that culture.
C. Food offerings. While it can be something supplied by worshipers, the temple will need to have something on hand, especially regular libations which can vary from culture to culture from milk, honey, wine, mead, beer etc etc.
D. If your temple participates in (humane) sacrifice of animals then you are also looking at the expense of either purchasing livestock from local farmers (most likely), or (less likely) have another piece of property away from the temple for livestock to be reared. In both cases you are looking at a significant cost.

The list can go on and on but this is a brief summary. For these costs you can see why it requires a large community to upkeep the temple. Even then for many communities temples were part of the tourist industry for that area, attracting visitors to the temple helped to pay for the expenses of the temple (as did I am sure the percentage that merchants paid for selling goods outside not too far away from the temple). You are looking at a huge vercatile number of people that is necessary for a successful temple who can put large sums of money into the temple collectively. And let me tell you if a couple hundred Alaskan Hindus are barely breaking even without being able to afford a priest, what is the reality of 2-20 people being able to do more than have a small chunk of land with an altar on it. Because that is what is realistic to accomplish, and even then I am sure it is tight coming up with the property taxes, because we all know how hard to is to get folks to part with their own money for religious stuff.

So that may be a huge downer, but look at it this way, it could still happen in the future. We all say that the heart of the religion starts at home. So put a small shrine at the edge of your yard if you like. But more so, invest in your relationship with the gods in your home every day, and just maybe enough households will be there even if it takes several generations down the road, that will be numerous enough to raise a temple. If we can’t build temples in our lifetimes, let us raise our children and support the raising of children in our respective religious communities and having them at religious events etc, make them a part of the religious life with all of its important dedications and devotions at different periods of life as they grow up and we will find that we are ultimately laying the ground work for having temples some day. It will be our great great grandchildren who will remember us and say that we were the generation, we were the people, who laid the foundations to make it all possible. We are the venerable ancestors for reviving our religions and raising temples in the future by what we do today in our homes.

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4 thoughts on “The Temple Building Dream- Economics and Realities

  1. You bring up important & valid points in trying to build & upkeep a working Temple.
    At this time, the Temple I have is my own home. I have few visitors, due to the very points you present.
    It is so very sad to want to have a holy dwelling for a God/Goddess and realize it isn’t possible. Thank you for your post. We can still dream, despite the problems of having a temple & keeping it one that would please our Deities. Blessings.

    • It is sad on one level, but considering that temples themselves were houses for the gods and not the equivalent of modern churches were people commonly and regularly went to. In fact many temples had strict requirements for purification and sacrifice before even entering, if you even got to enter, most sacrifice and happening occurred outside of the temples. Temples are wonderful, but for the common people it was the domestic cult to the gods in ever person’s household that was the most important part of one’s regular worship life…..and random installation of small outdoor shrines is quite a doable thing. Even if we cannot accomplish temples at this time, there are things that we can and important work to be done at this time.

  2. Didn’t most temples get their start as small public shrines that were regularly tended and visited? I have aspirations of opening a temple, myself, but there are stages of growth on the way to that, I feel.

    • I am not so sure if they started as public shrines specifically, but they did often start out as open air altars. Fact of the matter there are probably more open altars dedicated to the worship of specific gods than there were full blown temples. Said altar could later be surrounded by a wall of an open sky temenos. Temples were extremely costly even in the ancient world and would slowly rise after generations of worship in that sacred area.

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