If you fear, fear not. If you fear not, fear.
---J. Reuben Clark
A couple of the talks from our most recent General Conference struck me as relevant to our discussion here, and a fitting way to end things. I was going to put my comments in rollover text, but that would have prevented linkage, so instead I did the footnote method, which I'm not a big fan of, but we'll give it a try.
Elaine S. Dalton : A Return to Virtue
Virtue is a prerequisite to entering the Lord’s holy temples and to receiving the Spirit’s guidance. Virtue “is a pattern of thought and behavior based on high moral standards.” It encompasses chastity and moral purity. Virtue begins in the heart and in the mind. It is nurtured in the home. It is the accumulation of thousands of small decisions and actions. Virtue is a word we don’t hear often in today’s society, but the Latin root word virtus means strength. Virtuous women and men possess a quiet dignity and inner strength. They are confident because they are worthy to receive and be guided by the Holy Ghost.1 President Monson has counseled: “You be the one to make a stand for right, even if you stand alone. Have the moral courage to be a light for others to follow.2 There is no friendship more valuable than your own clear conscience, your own moral cleanliness — and what a glorious feeling it is to know that you stand in your appointed place clean and with the confidence that you are worthy to do so.”
Could it be that we have been slowly desensitized into thinking that high moral standards are old-fashioned and not relevant or important in today’s society?3 As Elder Hales has just reminded us, Lehonti in the Book of Mormon was well positioned on the top of a mountain. He and those he led were “fixed in their minds with a determined resolution” that they would not come down from the mount. It only took the deceitful Amalickiah four tries, each one more bold than the previous, to get Lehonti to “come down off from the mount.” And then having embraced Amalickiah’s false promises, Lehonti was “poison[ed] by degrees” until he died. Not just poisoned, but “by degrees.” Could it be that this may be happening today? Could it be that first we tolerate, then accept, and eventually embrace the vice that surrounds us? Could it be that we have been deceived by false role models and persuasive media messages that cause us to forget our divine identity? Are we too being poisoned by degrees?4 . . . What could be more deceptive than to entice men — young and old, holding the holy priesthood of God — to view seductive pornography and thus focus on flesh instead of faith, to be consumers of vice rather than guardians of virtue?5 The Book of Mormon relates the story of 2,000 young heroes whose virtue and purity gave them the strength to defend their parents’ covenants and their family’s faith. Their virtue and commitment to be “true at all times” changed the world!
I truly believe that one virtuous young woman or young man, led by the Spirit, can change the world, but in order to do so, we must return to virtue. We must engage in strict training. As the marathon runner Juma Ikanga said after winning the New York Marathon, “The will to win is nothing without the will to prepare.” Now is the time to prepare by exercising more self-discipline.6 Now is the time to become “more fit for the kingdom.” Now is the time to set our course and focus on the finish. A return to virtue must begin individually in our hearts and in our homes.
What can each of us do to begin our return to virtue? The course and the training program will be unique to each of us.7 I have derived my personal training program from instructions found in the scriptures: “Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly.” “Cleave unto [your] covenants.” “Stand . . . in holy places.” “Lay aside the things of [the] world.” “Believe that ye must repent.” “Always remember him and keep his commandments.” And “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, . . . seek after these things.” Now more than ever before, it is time to respond to Moroni’s call to “awake, and arise” and to “lay hold upon every good gift, and touch not the evil gift, nor the unclean thing.”8
Richard G. Scott : Honor the Priesthood and Use It Well
As we share these moments together, I ask you to ponder your personal worthiness to use the sacred authority you hold. I will also ask you to consider how consistently you use your priesthood to bless others. My intent is not to criticize but to help increase the benefits that flow from your use of the priesthood.
Are your private, personal thoughts conducive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, or would they benefit from a thorough housecleaning?9 Do you nourish your mind with elevating material, or have you succumbed to the enticement of pornographic literature or Web sites? . . . Are you most careful to control what enters your mind through your eyes and ears to ensure that it is wholesome and elevating?10
If you are married, are you faithful to your wife mentally as well as physically? Are you loyal to your marriage covenants by never engaging in conversation with another woman that you wouldn’t want your wife to overhear?11
If any of you feel uncomfortable with any of the answers you have mentally given to the questions I have asked, take corrective action now. If there are worthiness issues, with all of the tenderness of my heart I encourage you to speak to your bishop or a member of your stake presidency now. You need help. Those matters that trouble you will not heal themselves. Without attention they will likely get worse. It may be difficult for you to speak to your priesthood leader, but I encourage you to do it now for your own good and for the benefit of those who love you.12
1. I hope this is the real issue for us: whether in all our parsing we are insistent that we remain worthy of the Holy Ghost. For what shall it profit us, if we shall gain the whole world--even a really sexy one---yet lose our own souls?
2. This can be interpreted in more than one way. Being the teller of full truths as our early scholars in parts one and two talked of; being the hiders from facts that some would argue for. But of course she wasn't talking about this series when she made the quote.
3. It is extremely possible. But it's also possible that we are finally ready to honestly examine some things we've been avoiding. Sometimes one will be true, sometimes the other. Examine thine own heart, et cetera.
4. And here's the poison metaphor again! which, as you will recall from Part II, Jorgensen rejects as an "overextended or overcredited metaphor. Yes, pornography is dangerous, as [is] poison . . . . But reading is an act of consciousness, a work of the spirit, a free act of a free agent; its consequences are not deterministically predicable . . . . This line of thinking might help explain Jesus' startling declaration that 'there is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him' . . . . His point seems to be that because we are free agents, nothing can defile us but what comes 'from within, out of the heart'."
I think I feel less strongly about this than he does, but I do think we need to come at the metaphor critically. It's a useful metaphor, but it's still just a metaphor.
5. No real comment on this other than to say that I hope no one will use anything I have written as justification for doing what they know to be evil. But, if you do, don't blame me. I might be guilty of many things, but ultimately the choice to do wrong was yours, no matter your excuse, and the charge won't stick come Judgment Day.
6. This seems as good a time as any to mention something that's never quite fit before, viz. Are there books Theric has walked away from?
Off the top of my head, Gore Vidal's Myra Breckinridge, Gilbert Hernandez's Book Of Ofelia, and Anne Rice'sSleeping Beauty.
Don't recommend any of them.
7. I agree wholeheartedly. And her personal plan is a pretty good place for any of us to start.
8. The complicated thing is that I think we can all rally wholeheartedly behind these two scriptures, but we all define the terms in slightly different ways. And what I think we need to do is trust each other's judgment a little more.
For all I know, Myra Breckinridge reintroduced you to God. Who am I to judge?
9. Yes! Another metaphor!
And I quite like this one. Cleaning house. Nice image. We could write a whole post on it! But I won't I'm done. This started as one lonely post after all. And nine is a much bigger number than one.
10. Are you? I'm in favor of dealing with the sexual aspects of life in literature, but never have I argued for the opposite of "wholesome and elevating"; quite the opposite in fact. Finding the intersection of these two shouldn't be hard. In fact, as I understand our doctrine, the intersection must be quite large. And it's unexplored territory, a beautiful frontier.
11. The conversation thing was something I had never thought about and led to some introspection. But the issue of mental adultery is something we've talked about in length. And, as suspected, apostles are against it.
I knew it!
12. If any of you feel uncomfortable with any of the answers you have mentally given to the questions I have asked, take corrective action now.
For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.
Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.
So let it be done.
Now that things are coming to an end in this series, let me just say that it's a beautiful world (as a whole) we've been given and there is much of beauty left to be uncovered in our literature. Let's go, seek, find, share.
The Erotic in LDS Lit
Part I: Why?
Part II: Jorgensen's Take
Part III: Test Case
Part III.V: Breaking down the controversy over Angel Falling Softly
Part IV: The Sex Talk
Part V: Can there be a “Moral Pornography”?
Part VII: Theric replies to your questions and comments (a)
Part VII: Theric replies to your questions and comments (b)
Part VIII: Theric replies to your questions and comments (c)
I quite liked this since I didn't get a chance to really pay attention to conference with Dean running around. Thanks for the commentary.ReplyDelete
I agree with your commentary on the poison metaphor as you treat it, but I don't get the sense that agency is the central issue of Sister Dalton's remark. I think she's trying to point out that there may be subtle dangers planted in our fare that we are conscious of, but that still undermine righteous purposes. The comparison to Lehonti being poisoned seems apt, by that standard.ReplyDelete
We trust people whose goals we know to be contrary to ours, just as did Lehonti, and those people betray us by what they give in return.
Certainly, she's not just talking about pornography either.
Sorry, I meant "not conscious of"ReplyDelete
The repetition of the Lehonti story this conference was striking, and the issue of its application to "desensitization" is one worthy of further discussion.
You're right of course, that I've misrepresented her some. But we choose to poison ourselves with pornography while Lehonti's choice was not to get poisoned, but to let Amalikiah hang out with him. So a more clear metaphor might be Amalakiah = pornography. Which is much scarier anyway.
Wow. I found your blog through an interesting series of hops from other people's blogs. I read through this series, and followed most of the links (with some genuine surprise as to what's out there). I had no idea my experience was so unique—though perhaps that's a result of the "we don't discuss these things lightly" as much as anything else.ReplyDelete
Growing up, I always considered my household to be very conservative and even "prude" when it came to "adult topics." I don't remember having books, magazines, TV shows, or anything else around the house that I thought depicted sex.
On the other hand, I do remember my parents sitting down with me—together, both my mom and my dad—starting when I was not older than six or seven, to discuss human bodies, why boys and girls are different, what the specific differences are between boys and girls, the special nature of sex, and even the mechanics of sex. (I also remember that in the first discussions, I was young enough that I thought it was gross and promised I'd never do it! Hah!)
When I was a little older, my dad sat me down privately to talk about why masturbation was inappropriate. And he didn't say it was an evil act, or that I would grow hairy palms or go blind, but explained that it was "a very good feeling" that Heavenly Father had given men to enjoy, that it was basically the same feeling as sex. He didn't make me feel ashamed for being a horny adolescent, he talked to me like I was mature enough to handle the discussion, and he made sure I understood that what I was doing was wrong because it was inappropriate and not because sex and penises were evil unto themselves.
So, looking back, it wasn't that my parents had a prude attitude about sex, but that they had a very healthy "this doesn't need to be discussed excessively because it's sacred" attitude, and tried to keep media that would undermine that attitude out of my reach. In fact, when I was fourteen or fifteen, and my dad caught me looking at a copy of the painting, "The Three Graces," we even had a good discussion of the difference between art and pornography, why this particular painting was considered art, and how even something created as art could be used as pornography depending on how it made the viewer feel!
I guess I've also been lucky when it comes to bishops. When I was a deacon, my dad knowingly suggested that even though I understood why masturbation was inappropriate, it would probably not be a very easy thing to control on my own. He actually encouraged me to go talk to my bishop about it. I got basically the same information from my bishop: it was a good, exciting feeling, an urge given to men by God, for the purpose of making us want sex—and by extension, making us want a wife. He also suggested that learning to control my urges at that young age would give me power and confidence as I got older.
Many years later, after I was married and had two children, I went to another bishop with questions about actual church doctrine regarding sex, clothing, and birth control. (I kinda hit him with all my questions at once!) My first concern was that I had been instructed to wear certain clothing "day and night," but the reality was that occasionally after intimacy (which isn't a euphamism here, it means "the whole time together, which included sex as part of it") my wife and I would fall asleep together, naked, and not get dressed until morning. I was concerned that this conflicted with the earlier instruction. My bishop (who was at least 30 years older than me, which somehow made me expect an extremely prude answer) assured me that because skin-on-skin intimacy between a husband and wife is the most sacred kind of closeness there is, we were not breaking any covenant. (Intentionally putting off getting dressed to run around the house nude all morning might be a different matter.)
The second goal of the questions, of course, was to find out the official Church stance on "marital aids" and birth control. My bishop referred to very prude comments and views by church members as "pretty radical." The more conservative reality, he said, is that the Church stays out of your bedroom. Sex is about procreation, intimacy, AND pleasure. How we go about accomplishing all three is between husband, wife, and God.
I know some of this detailed description of my experiences is a little off-topic, but I wanted to chime in to point out that there are also some pretty healthy attitudes about sex and nudity among Mormon members and leaders, and as a result, some healthy attitudes about sex and nudity in art and literature. Reading your series, and especially some of the external content I found by following links, I felt that many people are rebelling against an "obverse sin of prudery" which I had never been confronted with!
You're absolutely right about that rebellion and I often fear I will find it in myself. But for my own children, I hope to provide them with the sort of experience you had. Thank you for sharing.