William James

William James
We must get by on what truth we have today, and be willing to call it error tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Modesty and the Duty not to Cause Others to Sin

The question was put: "[In light of the LDS Gospel Essentials Manual which says], 'Chapter on Law of Chastity. Satan attacks the standards of modesty. He wants us to believe that because the human body is beautiful, it should be seen and appreciated. Our Heavenly Father wants us to keep our bodies covered so that we do not put improper thoughts into the minds of others.' Is it my responsibility to ensure that another person does not sin? and to what degree should act to prevent another person from sinning?"

To which I responded:
1. To answer your direct question: yes, we all have a responsibility not to conduct ourselves in a way which causes or encourages others to sin.

2. That said, the example you have cited from the Gospel Essential manual embodies some assumptions and positions with which I strongly disagree. First of all, I think we should leave Satan out of the equation and try to look at the issue as objectively as possible. The minute we decide that Satan wants "X", then the rational debate about whether "X" is OK or desirable tends to cease in religious circles. The given rationale for why "Heavenly Fauther wants us to keep our bodies covered" is "so that we do not put improper thoughts into the minds of others." This in turn assumes that sexual thoughts are (a) inherently wrong; and/or (b) likely to cause us to commit sin. We should face the following facts: (A) Sexual thoughts are a natural, inevitable, and acceptable part of our brain's activity which arises out of our inseparable sexuality; (B) The overwhelming majority of the population (apart from people with mental disorders) possesses the ability to separate fantasy from reality, and sexual thoughts or fantasies about someone do not mean that we will attempt to have sexual relations with them (although I certainly concede that people generally won't pursue a sexual relationship if they at least haven't thought about doing so); © masturbation is a safe and acceptable outlet for sexual fantasies, which can have the benefit of reducing the longing associated with an unfulfilled fantasy, and thus reducing the temptation to act out the fantasy in real life; (D) anything less then separating males from all female images will still leave male sexual fantasizing in tact. Attempts to eliminate sexual fantasies through what has been termed "modesty" tend to either be ineffective half-hearted efforts, or else cause greater problems than they solve. In some countries, women are oppressed by having to wear burkas, the rationale being that it is better for them to cover themselves completely and be virtually excluded from the bulk of public life then for men to have sexual thoughts about them. In fact, it seems that rape and abuse of women are more common in societies which try to suppress sexuality and sexual expression than in more sexually liberal societies. Perhaps there is an unintended heightened sexual allure about the mysterious unseen which drives men to seek sexual release in much more dangerous ways such as coercive sex. I highly recommend that anyone who disagrees with me on this point broaden their education on the subject, including watching the movies "Osama," "Kandahar," and "The Kite Runner". (E) beating puritanically driven standards of modesty into our young women will likely have some additional unintended side affects, including causing them to feel less comfortable and secure about their own sexuality, and creating mistrust and guilt about their sexuality even once they are married.

In my opinion, there is a place for the principle of modesty. But the driving rationale should NOT be the prevention of sexual thoughts and fantasies; it should be for the reasonable functioning of institutions, to reasonably prevent unwarranted distractions from what needs to get done. For example, it probably would not work for everyone to show up to a sacrament meeting in speedos and bikinis. It would disturb the mood of the meeting and make it more difficult to concentrate. A similar principle applies to children in school. If kids are too scantily-clad, it can interfere with the academic environment which should prevail. But we should dispense with the notion that sexual thoughts are "immoral". For generations, parents have not grasped or appreciated the problems caused by trying to suppress their children's sexuality. Furthermore, the suppression of sexuality leads to a great deal of dishonesty. People find themselves in a position where they hide their true thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in order to fit in socially. If it is a sin to cause others to sin, then perhaps we ought to take a very hard look at the dishonesty we are encouraging by having unjustified and unrealistic expectations when it comes to managing human sexuality.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Most Potent Criticisms Against The LDS Church

The question was put: "What types of criticism against the church do you think are the most difficult to answer? (1) Arguments using the Bible to attack LDS doctrine; (2) Criticism of church history ( polygamy, MMM, first vision,etc.); (3) Questions concerning the authenticity of LDS scripure (Book of Mormon, Book of Abraham); (4) Ciricism of modern LDS culture and views; (5) Secular; or (6) None."

To which I responded:
I selected "Ciricism of modern LDS culture and views." Although my criticism comes from a secular perspective, it is not because I am an atheist or an agnostic. It is because I believe that religious doctrines should not be inconsistent with science and reason. It IS permissible for religious doctrine to supplement where science and reason do not appear to provide clear answers, but we should not find ourselves ignoring objective data in order to maintain our religious beliefs.

I did not select the choice "secular" because I don't believe it was well-defined. Indeed, it appears some posters hold the view that "secular" criticisms of the church may only be leveled by those who don't believe in God or don't believe in authentic spirutual experiences. I don't agree. One may be faithful but still maintain secular criticisms.

I also did not select the issues having to do with church history because, although I believe they are critically important, I also believe that the Church would be much more easily equipped to deal with its history if it corrected the errors of the present, including making, without limitation, the following changes:

1) abolishing the culture of considering the living prophets' purported revelations to be inerrant;
2) allowing members, within reason, to publicly disagree with leaders on various topics without fear of discipline;
3) having greater involvment in the furtherance of indisputable moral values (i.e., openly speaking out about, and actively taking a role in the prevention of, human rights abuses, slavery, genocide, destruction of the environment, domestic violence, corporate corruption, social injustices, etc.);
4) adopting more realistic standards of dress (not saying people need to walk into Sacrament meeting with nothing but a thong on, but we shouldn't be criticizing young women because their shoulders are showing);
5) publicly announcing once and for all that neither God nor the Church frowns upon, dislikes, or discourages interracial marriages, and that members are free to select their own spouses, deciding for themselves what character traits are most likely to produce a happy marriage;
6) abolishing the culture of making people in difficult financial circumstances feel guilty for not paying tithing;
7) adopting an official and open policy of fairly considering historical and scientific evidence in formulating official positions on various subjects, inviting members and experts to share argument and evidence without fear of reprisal, and making church historical records more accessible to members and the public;
re-evaluating the rationale for, content of, extent of, and implementation of doctrines concerning chastity, including issues related to masturbation, oral sex, sexual fantasies, pornography, homosexuality, sexless marriages, the legitimacy of sex as having among its purposes physical gratification, etc.;
9) the revision of temple worthiness standards to be more inclusive of members who are in good faith trying to be good and follow God's will as they understand it;
10) Making temple garments more adaptable to modern dress standards.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Most Obvious Reason For The Ban On Giving Blacks The Priesthood

The question was put: "Which, to your mind, is the least absurd explanation for the Priesthood ban? (1) Some factor from the pre-mortal existence determined that certain spirits, once placed in mortal bodies, could not have the Priesthood after ~1850 and until 1978. (2) Some ancient action caused God to place a curse on a certain people, and their modern descendants could not have the priesthood until 1978; (3) There is another more logical explanation that still maintains the divine origin of the ban."

To which I responded:

I chose the last option. Although it, too, is absurd, it is the LEAST absurd of the three. A much more plausible explanation is that the ban was not devine at all. JS had it right and BY's racial prejudices caused BY to get it wrong. Continuing racial prejudice, combined with irrational fear of the consequences of declaring BY to be in error, combined to perpetuate the ban until it was removed in 1978. Even then, Spencer W. Kimball did it very creatively, avoiding any admission that the ban was wrong.

Gender Roles, the Priesthood, and Non-traditional Familes

The question was put: "was considering how she might respond to her daughter's assertion that 'it wasn't fair' that 'boys' got the Priesthood. I found this to be a very dynamic topic for discussion, especially with my recent observation/experience. In the Gospel Principles class it was asserted that men and women have defined roles - Men to be the breadwinners and providers, and women the 'nurturers'; 'because women have that gift'. A high council member made this statement in reference to the Proclamation of the Family. He made the statement, and the missionaries and myself all turned to look at my husband to be, with your 14 month old daughter sitting in the back of the chapel - taking care of the baby while I attended the class. He doesn't know that I'm the breadwinner and provider, and he does all the nurturing/caretaking/disciplining etc of our children 4 days a week. Now, I don't hold this against this gentleman. I know what he was trying to say. And he is not aware of my family's 'differences'. However, it did get me thinking about the expectations of the church and where/if I could ever really fit in. Some very good topics for debate: 1. Is holding the priesthood an inherent 'inequality' or just a 'different responsibility'. 2. Are women, as defined by the church, more 'loving and good' based on their gender. 3. Should the 'women are more spiritual' mantra die a natural death. 4. Is there room for families where the Priesthood holder is the 'stay at home dad'? 5. Are families with non traditional roles common, or more present in other places where the church is present. 6. Is there any 'official' remark from church officials about non-traditional roles in families?"

To which I responded:

I concede that statistically and generally, there are significant differences between the genders. But I do not perceive any persuasive reasons to make one gender ineligible to receive the priesthood. Nor do I perceive any reason for God to legislate gender roles which do not fit the natural dynamics of individual couples and families. Fortunately, the Proclamation on the Family does contain a clause about individual adaptability when it comes to gender responsibilities, but this liberalism is often overshadowed and overpowered by the all-too-common rhetoric about gender roles in the LDS church. As far as I am concerned, if a couple believes it makes more sense for the father to stay at home and for the mother to work outside the home to be the "breadwinner," there is nothing wrong with it, and the family may well be better off for it. Many fathers are highly nurturing to their kids (like me). Many mothers are more qualified than their husbands to earn a living for the family. Additionally, we can expect to see non-uniformity when it comes to individual parents' preferences about their responsibilities, and the strength of those preferences.

Your question highlights one of the prominent issues in the church's social values- we formulate ideals, then glorify them, and with hardly a thought, rush to the unjustified conclusion that the ideal we have created, must be sought after, regardless of its attainability or even desirability in individual circumstances. In fact, if we look closely, we will probably discover that a great deal of our practical theology (i.e., theology relating to how we should conduct ourselves) stems from this very process of idealism. It does not follow, from the statement, "Most men are best suited working outside the home while most mothers are best suited staying at home taking care of the kids," that therefore, "All men should focus on being the breadwinners and all women should focus on taking care of the kids."

Absolutely there is room in the Church for families such as yours. But more importantly, the Church shoud abandon the rhetoric about proper gender roles and leave it to couples to decide for themselves.

As an aside, as far as I am aware, households with hyper-masculine, religiously-conservative fathers are more likely to experience physical and sexual abuse. While this fact is certainly insufficient to blame all relatively innocent hyper-masculine, religiously-conservative fathers for the bad acts of their peers, we should give serious consideration to whether there may be a causal relationship between idealizing hyper masculinity and religious conservatism, and the ills which tend to be empirically associated with them. In my personal opinion, paternalistic religious conservatism fosters an environment of male superiority, lack of respect for women, and a dynamic which tends to justify abuse with impunity. Freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, and egalitarianism are thus not only critical on the citizen-level, but within the family. From what I understand, studies also show that egalitarian couples have more satisfying relationships. So if our real goal is to have greater happiness, we should not tie ourselves down with gender roles dictated by anyone other than the couples themselves.

That said, I do believe that couples should be encouraged to study the scientific literature concerning the genders and couple relationships, as these may be enlightening to help couples understand each other better, and find ways to make the relationship more satisfying.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Why We Should Not Bring Back The Practice Of Concubines

The question was put: "Whenever you hear defense of polygamy you'll invariably hear references to how Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon & Moses and how they all practiced polygamy. And because a prophet in the Bible did it it's supposed to be somehow sanctioned by God. I still remember speaking to JW on my mission -- when he brought up polygamy I disarmed his anti-polygamy stance by namedropping all those guys and asking him 'what did they all have in common?', as if the polygamy in common between them was a God-sanctioned, Biblical, holy principle. It worked, by the way, and we moved onto something else. So Abraham, David, Solomon, Gideon (others?) had concubines. Some of the same people had extra wives AND concubines. Seems like concubinage is exactly as Biblical as polygamy. (I suppose to a lesser extent invasion of a foreign country and annihilating the residents is a time-honored Biblical and Book-of-Mormon-ical tradition as well -- sometimes explicitly sanctioned by God, so it's not hard for me to fathom God approving of concubinage). Fast forward: near recent era. This is supposed to be the 'Fullness of Times'. According to the Church, this is the dispensation in which 'all things are to be restored in Christ'. I read that as basically all the Biblical stuff that was lost or no longer practiced is supposed to be brought back, their principles & ordinances practiced (you know how we LDS are sticklers on that sort of thing). We all know how Joseph, Brigham & the close inner circle practiced 'polygamy/plural wivery/polyandry/plural marriage'. When are we going to start practicing concubinage?
How is one supposed to be some sort of righteous principle and another is apparently quietly forgotten, tucked away and not really addressed? It's in the Bible isn't it? Prophets went about doing it didn't they?
How can the Restoration of the Gospel in Dispensation of the Fullness of Times be complete without checking the box next to 'restore and practice concubinage[]'?"

To which I responded:

If you reject, as I do, the notion that the Bible (or any other canonized LDS scripture) is the inerrant word of God, then there is not an issue with rejecting the notion of "concubinage". I strongly believe in the equal dignity of the genders, and believe that the true guiding primary principles of any sexually intimate relationship are:

1) Meaningful consent (including lack of coercion, whether spiritual or otherwise);
2) Capacity (i.e., maturity, lack of mental disability, etc.); and
3) The right to seek one's own happiness, tempered only by our duty to act responsibly (i.e., not engaging in risky behavior, not causing unnecessary objective harm to others, a reasonable level of commitment and self-sacrifice, etc.)

In the case of "concubinage," as far as I can tell, it appears the Biblical model of this violates the above principles and relegates women to an inferior status. For that matter, so does marriage to the extent it is coerced. For these reasons, I strenuously object to the return of "concubinage" in its traditional sense. I also reject polygyny (and polyandry) when it violates the above principles. By the same token, however, I must condone forms of marriage (including polygyny and polyandry) which conform to the above principles, and I believe that God does not generally interfere with or prohibit relationships which do so conform.

I realize that many LDS conservatives resolve the issues you have raised by a simple appeal to God's will as revealed to LDS prophets (i.e., God can command as he chooses, and we are not to question, and whatever God commanded or permitted in some other era is irrelevant so long as our current LDS president instructs otherwise). But I do not find this to be a satisfactory analysis. I cannot accept a capricious god. If I am to place my faith in God, then I must assume that he is a rational god, one who has valid and generally intuitive reasons for the commandments he gives. I do accept that God's ways are not always man's ways, and that there will once in a while be times when I simply will not understand some theological concept because I have not yet progressed far enough to grasp it. But I also believe that God will not punish us for our lack of ability to understand, and that we are morally permitted to act in accordance with the understanding we HAVE been given, so long as we do so in good faith and with an eye towards doing good.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Why Greater Use Of Pornography In Utah?

The question was put: "I apologize in advance if this has already been discussed. In taking a class for my CEU’s the question was brought up as to why Utah residents are statistically the highest consumers of pornography. One comment that I admit caused a reaction in me was that the culture in Utah leads to people who are “repressed.” Apparently this somehow correlates to making pornography more attractive to people in this culture (LDS culture). Of course the next day I thought about a response. Maybe the rates are so high because the 300,000 or so citizens who are not part of the predominant culture are much higher consumers, skewing the results, because they need to escape because they are feeling isolated, bitter, ostracized etc etc. (I am being facetious) How might you answer the question posed above? How would you defend the 'Mormons are repressed' argument? As an active LDS I certainly don’t feel repressed. If anything I feel just the opposite. Maybe I am lying to myself? I am walking around repressed and I don’t even know it?"

To which I answered:
I am not in a position to comment on the empirical question of whether porn use per capita in Utah is greater than in other states. But I do have a few observations:

(1) Mormons tend to define pornography much more broadly than the general population does. Many Mormons call any imagery which induces an erection pornographic.

(2) Because the term "pornography" has a generally negative connotation, individuals tend to define it according to what they themselves consider unacceptable. A very conservative person, for example, might define a picture of a woman dressed in a mini-skirt as pornographic, whereas more liberal people may not even consider full frontal nudity or a scene of missionary-position marital sex to be pornographic. Before any statistic on pornography can be considered meaningful, therefore, a clear definition must be given.

(3) Attitudes about sexually-oriented media are largely colored by underlying values and assumptions. For example, an LDS wife's primary objections to her husband's viewing of sexually-oriented materials may be rooted in one or more of the following: (a) that he does not love her if his sexual thoughts are not exclusively about her; (b) that viewing sexually-oriented materials is inherently evil and will necessarily keep her husband out of the Celestial Kingdom, thereby preventing their eternal marriage; © that viewing sexually-oriented materials will inherently make her husband more likely to have an affair; (d) that viewing sexually-oriented materials is the equivalent of adultery and must be treated as such; (e) that every sexually-oriented image has been produced through abuse or coercion; (f) that viewing sexually-oriented materials necessarily causes a man to no longer feel physical attraction to his wife; (g) that viewing sexually-oriented materials will necessarily replace marital intercourse; (h) that viewing even heterosexual sexually-oriented materials leads to homosexuality; (i) that viewing sexually-oriented materials will cause her husband to look at women (including his wife) only as sex objects who have no other human worth; (j) that viewing sexually-oriented materials will lead her husband to engage in dangerous, oppressive, deviant, or unlawful sexual practices, such as rape, molestation, etc.; (k) that a man's use of sexually-oriented materials is itself abnormal and perverted; (l) that viewing sexually-oriented materials necessarily means that a man is unhappy in his sexual relationship with his wife. Not only are such views held by LDS women, but a fair number of LDS men at least profess to hold these views as well.

(4) From my life observations and what I have studied and read, I believe the above views in part (3) are erroneous. The overwhelming majority of men are readily able to distinguish between fantasy and reality. (There are, of course, exceptions in men who are mentally ill and are sex predators) That said, I do believe that the use of sexually-oriented materials can be a problem if: (a) it takes up so much time in a person's life that it becomes disruptive to ordinary responsibilities; (b) it forecloses the opportunity of a willing and able spouse to have sexual intercourse with the user of the sexually-oriented materials; © it involves an actual sexual relationship with a person outside of marriage (such as phone sex, a lap dance, etc.); (d) it involves the expenditure of money, resulting in not reasonably providing for one's family; (e) it involves the consumption of any materials produced through coercion, abuse, or oppression (such as child pornography, molestation, rape, imprisonment, human trafficking, extortion, etc.); (f) it attempts to glorify the oppression of either of the sexes or intends to send a message about one sex's superiority over the other; (g) it encourages real-life sexual behavior which is dangerous, irresponsible, oppressive, illegal, etc.; (h) it encourages the use of harmful drugs to enhance sexual experience. If I had more time, I could probably think of more ways that using sexually-oriented materials could be problematic.

(5) In the Mormon arena, there is no recognized benefit to our sexuality other than the assumed joy we will all have by attaining the ideal marriage. Most youth, at least the males, imagine the ideal LDS marriage to be one in which sex is always available from an attractive, loving, and interested partner. Although church authorities have recognized that sex will not always be available even in a good LDS marriage, the general assumption is that unavailability will be the exception and not the rule. The myth also seems to be perpetuated that as long as two people love each other, the sexual attraction will also remain the way it did during courtship, and there will therefore be no need to resort to anything other than marital intercourse to attain sexual satisfaction. The reality for most couples seems to be very far from the ideal. I imagine there are a great many people, men and women alike, who have woken up to this harshness only after they have committed themselves to what was supposed to be an eternal marriage. Let's face it: LDS people during courtship generally have hardly a clue about their future spouse's character flaws and undesirable traits. This knowledge is usually only gained during marriage. For many men, there is a private crisis which goes on (often subconsciously) when they are forced to re-assess the meaning of their sexuality- they need to reconcile their intense sex drive with their dashed sexual expectations they had when they married. Being unwilling to pressure their spouses for a more fulfilling sexual relationship, they turn to self-help to fill the void. The fact that sexual practices within a marriage are generally a hush-hush topic in church doesn't help either. Women and men who have grown up feeling guilty and insecure about their own sexuality are less likely to take risks and try new things with their spouses, for fear of shame or rejection. This in turn (even independent of any pornography or extramarital sexual fulfillment) puts a damper on the marital relationship and can contribute to boredom in the bedroom. Temple garments are also not what I would classify as a turn-on. The injunction that women dress modestly can also put an unintended damper on a husband's sexual interest.

(6) "Sexual Repression" is not always overt. It happens very subtly in ways that we as LDS often don't even realize. Rhetoric and sermons, particularly during youth, can have a powerful effect in forming sexual attitudes which can be very difficult to change in adulthood. If we as youth are taught to be afraid of our sexual feelings because we have been taught that having any sexual pleasure outside of marital intercourse will bring us destruction, this creates guilt and shame about the very fiber of our human existence. The LDS Church's unrealistic view of sexuality makes LDS men much more likely to lead double lives: One life in which they enjoy social acceptance and religious comradery by pretending in public to have perfect sexual control and satisfaction with the Church's very limited list of acceptable sexual outlets, and a second secret life in which they may finally express what they really feel without social constraints- a world in which guilt and discord are temporarily overcome by freedom and excitement. Of course, one of the ironies of this is that, having this second private life can contribute to the guilt privately felt in the public life. It does seem that the increasing guilt can drive a cycle in which the sexually-oriented material has even greater allure than it otherwise would. To the extent such is the case, it could very well be that the sex-repressive environment in the Church contributes to a greater per-capita use of sexually-oriented materials. Some suggest changes to the Church's methodology and rhetoric in order to eliminate use of "pornography." But in my opinion, you cannot eliminate use of pornography by simply not making an issue out of it. Instead, we should rethink the entire question of whether it is necessary in the first place to eliminate use of sexually-oriented media. We should re-examine the assumptions which have heretofore been relied upon by puritan-influenced leaders and prophets, and really ask ourselves, for example: "What harm does it inherently cause? Are there any benefits? Are there reasonable restrictions or measures that would suffice, short of a blanket prohibition, which would accomplish the goal of preventing oppression and not contributing to unhappy marriages?" In my own opinion, a great deal could be done to mitigate or eliminate marital discord flowing from use of sexually-oriented materials through education and dialogue. In particular, it is critical that the erroneous notions in part (3) above be dispelled so that women do not misinterpret use of sexually-oriented materials or have unnecessary worries. In my own opinion, the use of sexually-oriented materials in many marriages actually lessens the likelihood of an affair in real life, by providing a safe outlet which might not otherwise exist.

Human Tendency To Rely Upon Scripture Or Prophets As Inerrant

The question was put: "My meetings with my neighbor continue, and I am absolutely blown away with how respectful he has been of our differences of belief. One phrase that he used regularly and that I have heard many time concerns me though. You could summarize this stand as, 'No I will not pray to God to know the truth; The Bible IS the word of God and so only my ability to align what you say with the Bible determines what is true.' When was God replaced by the Bible? I see this as a graven image, where God is literally standing there waiting to speak to his children, and like the Pharisees and Sadducees, THE LAW has become preeminent above God himself, while in this case it is 'The Word.' The parallels are striking IMHO."

To which I responded:
While this is a keen observation, what it really highlights is the human tendency to want a simple answer to what are in effect very complex questions. Whether you are a fundamentalist evangelical Christian who believes that the Bible is the inerrant and complete word of God, or whether you are a conservative LDS member who believes that a Church President's sermons are the inerrant word of God which must be followed without exception or question, you have something in common: you are looking for a simple answer about how to know the truth. History has taught us that theology is not an exact science, that people's acceptance of various theological doctrines depends largely upon subjectively-chosen methodologies and assumptions, and that for millenia, reasonable minds have disagreed over such fundamental questions as the existence of God, etc. Attractive as it might seem to be able to solve all of life's questions by an appeal to canonized scripture, or by reliance upon the words of an imperfect human being (even a prophet) who has his own fears, prejudices, ignorance, motives, and weaknesses, we must accept that the discernment of truth is not, and likely never will be, so simple.

For my part, I see no reason to assume that the Bible (or any other canonized scripture) is either inerrant or complete. Nor do I see any evidence to suggest that purported prophetic utterances are the inerrant word of God. God commands us to pray, study, and ponder for a reason; only by being forced to grapple with uncertainty and imperfect evidence will our spirits, intellect, and faith mature. Sure, we will necessarily make some mistakes and poor choices as a result, but we will grow more. God generally does not spoon-feed us the truth. He commands us to study things out in our minds. Even when we have done so, our ability to obtain revelation may be hindered to some degree by our continued ignorance and the unavailability of information. I believe that is why God give us wisdom "line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little." There are truths that we will never grasp until our minds are sufficiently prepared.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Is secular marriage sacred?

The question was put: "How sacred is secular marriage on a scale of 1 to 10?"

To which I responded:
A simple number from 1 to 10 would not do justice to my opinion. Is the question about how sacred secular marriage is to God, to me, or to the married couple? Also, you have not given an adequate definition of "secular marriage". Is it defined as any marriage "for time"? Or is it defined as a marriage between two non-believers who are simply getting married because they want to live together and take advantage of the legal benefits associated with marriage?

So the best answer I can give is this:
In my opinion, sex tends to be inherently sacred, although its expression has many moods other than reverence, including passion, exuberance, obsession, longing, pleasure, compassion, and fear. Marriage would probably not exist if there were no sex, although most marital relationships have many more layers than just the sexual relationship. I believe that God does command us to be wise in the sharing of our sexuality, because there is natural happiness to be gained, and misery to be avoided, by exercising reasonable control over our sexual expression. Sex is sacred not only because of the joy and pleasure it brings, but also because it should be treated with a certain amount of caution and circumspection, and not subjected to capricious flames of irresponsible passion. How sacred a marriage is for the couple will depend on how they as individuals subjectively feel and act about it.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Is it ever OK to disobey or disagree with a living prophet?

The question was put: "Current prophets are probably wrong about some point of doctrine or another. We know this because past LDS prophets have been wrong about the laws of God, and we have no reason to believe that current prophets are any less fallible. So why is disobeying a prophet such a big deal? Is it worse to say that President Monson is wrong about the sinfulness of same-sex relations than that President Young was wrong about the sinfulness of interracial relations? At least one prominent Mormon apologist has said that Young was wrong, but none have said that Monson is wrong. Why? What standard do Mormons use to determine whether it's permissible to contradict one of their prophets?"

To which I responded:
Some conservative Mormons answer this question with two main positions: (1) denial of either prophetic error altogether, or denial of the possibility that the current prophet could be in error; and (2) the fallback position that, in case we follow the errors of a living prophet, God will forgive us and only hold the leader responsible, but it is our duty nevertheless to follow the living prophet. I do not subscribe to any of the above views, and probably have not since I was about in elementary or middle school.

Above all else, (and subject to the limitations which I will describe) we have not only the right but the obligation to follow our own conscience, even if it contradicts the doctrinal pronouncements and behavioral edicts of the living prophet. But this right in and of itself does not give us a free moral pass to simply do whatever we please. We have an affirmative obligation to honestly seek truth and knowledge, to contemplate competing ideas, arguments, and information, and to make reasonable sacrifices for the betterment of ourselves and the world. So long as we are doing those things, and are striving to be good, then our own conscience trumps any purported doctrine or commandment. Were it not so, we could find ourselves subject to abuse, engaging in harmful behavior, or otherwise being misled in very dangerous ways. Brigham Young taught that members should think for themselves and not blindly follow.