Saturday, January 31, 2009

Ch. 1 ~ What is Virtue and why is it important?

Chapter 1

Links to skip to
We don't really understand the law of Chastity
Failure of the Sexual Revolution
Russian attempt to destroy family
Just how important is virtue?
We need to understand the doctrine of virtue to be more virtuous
We can not be “partakers of the divine nature” by mere abstinence

We don't really understand the law of Chastity.

Too often the law of Chastity or the quality that we call 'virtue', is seen as little more than a checklist of 'don'ts' that would befit the Law of Moses. Do not lust, do not commit adultery, do not view pornography, and so on. Don't do this and don't do that. Don'ts that may many times seem arbitrary.

But there is far far more to this law than a laundry list of 'don'ts' and if we try to live the law of that way, we seriously misunderstand it and will not receive the power and blessings this commandment promises. This law is one of the most inclusive and far reaching commandments in the church. Its effects are eternal, both when visible, and when it is quite unseen.

This law has everything do with (and can not be lived without) accepting Christ and relying on His mercies, no matter how well we live the letter of the law; the “don'ts”.

To many, this seems to be a requirement that is either impossible and/or misguided. Others complain that the World's view of sex is wrong, but differ on exactly what the Lord desires of us. Some complain that we ought to be more tolerant of, or allow more sleeping around, or support same-sex marriage. In order to understand either what is wrong, or why it is wrong, we need to understand the purpose of both sex and the law of chastity. We need to understand at a far more deep level, what virtue is.

But something is wrong. The great shift in public attitudes called the Sexual Revolution was supposed to have solved society's problems, not created more of them. Sexual liberation was supposed to have been the solution to all our problems. It was claimed that:

If we were sexually liberated there’d be no president, no police force, no night sticks, no governments. i

Free Love would solve all of our problems!... or so it was claimed. Any kind of shame or guilt was claimed to be purely the fault of an oppressive and dysfunctional society and that with unrestrained indulgence, all that shame and guilt would be gone. Guilt was not from wrongdoing- it was society's fault. The Sexual Revolution was supposed to have given limitless freedom and legitimacy to all sexual impulses. It promised freedom to pursue pleasure without responsibility of childbearing or marriage or any moral constraint. All of society's ills were laid at the feet of an “unrealistic” Judeo-Christian morality.

If individuals took a rational view of sex, there would be no more jealousy, no more monogamy, no more shame—all products of Judeo-Christianity’s superstitious anti-sex agenda. . . . In fact, by eliminating shame and self-loathing, sexual rationalism would solve virtually all of society’s remaining problems. ii

It was the entrance to a new liberated utopia, where we cast off the shackles of the past – it was a new Enlightenment.

This revolt against Christianity, which is comparable to the Enlightenment in the 18th century, is the Sexual Revolution of the 20th Century. iii

So, how has that worked for us? Notwithstanding its popularity, it has been a disaster; culturally, medically and morally. Things have not improved. The problems it was supposed to have solved have not been solved, or have introduced worse problems than before. iv

Medically, we have seen the rise of sexually transmitted infections; syphilis, hepatitis B, genital herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea, HPV and especially AIDS. As recently as 1960 there were 2 recognized sexually transmitted diseases, but now there are at least 25.

Culturally, this has had severe impacts on numbers of single parent households, weakening of marriage in general and a rise in teenage pregnancy. 38.5% of children in the United States are born outside of wedlockv, primarily in the 25-29 year old demographic, while in 1960 it was about 5%. Even children as young as eleven are becoming pregnant. Instead of a more loving society, we have become progressively numb to those around us. The cultural and society connections that united us to our fellow man are increasingly absent. In place of a more mature and capable society, we are starting to deal with an extended adolescence that often lasts into the 30's. Instead of enlightenment, sex has become increasingly debased as it has become more public.

Morally, we are drowning under the problems of sexual abuse, broken homes, and disintegrating marriages. 22% of all pregnancies end in abortion, excluding miscarriagesvi. 1% of abortions are due to rapes, and 6% are due to health issues – the remainder is due to social reasons. 1 out of 6 American females are the victims of attempted or completed rape. 15% of those are children under the age of 12vii. 25% of husbands and 17% of wives have had extramarital intercourseviii with women's infidelity rates increasingly approaching those of men. However, some estimate significantly higher percentages (50-70% of husbands, 30-60% of wives)ix. Male youth raised in a fatherless home are twice as likely to end up in jail, while of adolescents who committed homicide , 3/4ths came from fatherless homesx. For nonviolent larceny offenses by adolescents, it is 82%.

About half American of marriages end in divorce, with the annual rate being 17.7 per 1000 (in 2005). This is an improvement from 1980 with 22.6 per 1000, but primarily because the marriage rate itself is dropping and many are remaining unmarried. The annual rate in 1970 was 76.5 per 1000 dropped to 39.9 per 1000 in 2005.xi I could go on and on and write a book of nothing but statistics on the matter, but this is sufficient to show, there are major problems around us.

Even sexually, we have not escaped. Obsession with sexual satisfaction is more and more overwhelming, while we now have more hang-ups over the whole thing that we ever did before. In place of contentment, we have increasing levels of sexual anxiety. Impotence (and worry about impotence) has reached record levels.

General happiness has not been improved by this sexual revolution, or have we seen it's promises fulfilled.

Of course, it is not as if this was the first sexual revolution. Many cultures in history have attempted such “enlightenment”. Rome, famed for it orgies, fell with barely a whimper. Others, like Ancient Greece, or the Ottoman empire, pursued the same path before they likewise, fell. It was not one of the more successful experiments of the French Revolution.

Russia tried it – with disastrous results. Following the Revolution of 1917, it was decided that marriage was bourgeois and all distinction between married and unmarried were eliminated. Guilt and shame were shouted down.

Peter Hopkirk wrote:

Some of the new Soviets which were springing up everywhere had very uncertain concepts of what Marxism-Leninism was all about. North of the Caspian, at Suizran, a proclamation had been issued ordering the nationalization of women. All the best and most beautiful women, it declared, had hitherto belonged to the bourgeoisie, while the peasants and workers had had to put up with the second best. This was unfair, and from now on all women were to become public property. xii

Regardless of how this philosophically aligns with Marxist Communism, this state of affairs lasted over a decade.

The Russian socialogy professor, Pitirim Sorokin wrote:

During the first stage of the (Communist) Revolution, its leaders deliberately attempted to destroy marriage and the family. Free love was glorified by the official "glass of water" theory. If a person is thirsty, so went the Party line, it is immaterial what glass he uses when satisfying his thirst; it is equally unimportant how he satisfies his sex hunger.

The legal distinction between marriage and casual sexual intercourse was abolished. The Communist law spoke only of contracts between males and females for the satisfaction of their desires either for an indefinite or a definite period, a year, a month, a week, or even for a single night. One could marry and divorce as many times as desired. Husband or wife could obtain a divorce without the other being notified. It was not even necessary that marriage be registered. Bigamy and even polygamy were permissible under the new provisions.....Premarital relations were praised and extramarital relations were considered normal.

Within a few years, hordes of wild, homeless children became a menace to the Soviet Union. Millions of lives, especially of young girls, were wrecked; divorces skyrocketed, as did abortions. The hatreds and conflicts among polygamous and polyandrous mates rapidly mounted -- and so did psychoneuroses.

The results were so appalling that the government was forced to reverse its policy. The propaganda of the "glass of water" theory was declared to be counter-revolutionary, and its place was taken by official glorification of premarital chastity and of the sanctity of marriage...

Considering that the whole cycle occurred under a single regime, the experiment is highly informative. It clearly shows the destructive consequences of unlimited sexual freedom. xiii

Likewise, the famed sexual openness of post World War I Berlin, Germany, did not lead to a new era of universal civilized enlightenment, but instead saw the rise of the National Socialist Party, aka, the Nazis. Do not think for a moment, that the Nazis were virtuous either. But at first they did project a family friendly image, they had an active trade in pornography and were the inventors of the first sex doll.

The cruel irony of it all is, that abandoning the commandments does not lead to greater indulgence. Many imagine Satan to be some great sexual hedonist, indulging in all kinds of sin and pleasure- but the truth is, this is both the Creator and Source of happiness, both this kind and any other, is God the Father.

But all that aside, (as though it were nothing) why should you care? Perhaps you say to yourself, just because people in history made mistakes, does not mean I would. Just how important should virtue and chastity be to you personally? And fundamentally, why is it important? There are a multitude of conflicting opinions pressing themselves upon us, so it is important to understand.

Above and beyond the earthy importance of virtue, how central is it to God's plan for us? Just how important is it to our salvation and even temporal happiness?

There is a feeling among many, that virtue is a commandment more or less tacked on to the rest of the commandments – that this commandment exists for very little reason.

The great variety of opinions on the matter serve only to confuse and find excuse for bad behavior. We need a crystal clear understanding of this law and just why it is eternally significant. In all ages of the Earth, and particularly our own, this commandment has entails great sacrifice – so we need to understand its effects and why, sometimes notwithstanding the greatest personal sacrifice and struggle, why God has asked us to live this law. It is worth it, but unless we understand why it is worth it, be deprive ourselves of much power and pleasure to live this commandment.

We have plenty of rules, but what we want for is something that makes us want to keep them.

Doctrine is always more compelling than mere rules, even more than threats or physical compulsion. Consider the reaction of the prophet Alma when dealing with the apostate and polically traitorous Zoramites, a political situation that the Nephites regarded as extremely dangerous.

“And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.” (Alma 31:5)

It is the word of God that will have the greatest effect of us. Neither warnings of disease, threats of punishment or coercion, or anything else will effect us the way doctrine can. A philosopher, whose name has been lost in history, once stated, “tell me sufficiently why a thing should be done, and I will move heaven and earth to do it.” This is true of all of us. If we can understand 'why' this commandment is important, no compulsion would ever be necessary – and indeed no opposition would be too great.

Consider for a moment, the failure of sex education, and especially 'Abstinence Only' education. Far be it from me to criticize the preaching of abstinence; but without a crystal clear understanding of the doctrine, focusing on sex education will only make any struggles harder because they offer no compelling reasons, while still focusing on the act. Neither risk nor rules are a compelling argument when lust either makes demands, or masquerades as true love, and especially not in the heat of the moment. Who would not do or risk anything for love? Hormones additionally, lead to short term thinking, and without strong doctrine, they can be more persuasive. I am not saying it should not be a compelling line of reasoning, but just that in practice, it has limited effectiveness.

That is why this book will talk more about the doctrine itself, than about reasons why we should or should not. Rules have a useful place, but what the soul hungers for is comprehensible doctrine. This may not always be possible. In the end, we will all have to rely on faith and not just what makes sense to us. Still, a deeper understanding will be more compelling and helpful.

Consider for a moment how much the Book of Mormon talks about virtue and chastity. And frankly, the answer is not very much. It condemns it to be sure, but for being the third worst sin, and one of the most common (if not the most common) spiritual traps of our day, the very day it was written for, that is a very unusual omission. Even when Alma directly confronts Corianton over his indiscretions with the prostitute and/or porn star, Isabel (Alma ch. 39-42), and explains that this is the third most serious of all sins, his lecture to his wayward son is surprisingly devoid of references to chastity, after the first chapter (Alma 39). Even in that chapter, Alma does not belabor the point spending about 7 verses talking about it.. He does not spend nearly as much time on the “thou shalt nots” as he does on the pure doctrine of the Plan of Salvation – on the doctrine that will bring us to Christ. It is this doctrine that we need to understand. That is what will make a difference in our lives.

Elder Packer wrote: True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior. Preoccupation with unworthy behavior can lead to unworthy behavior. That is why we stress so forcefully the study of the doctrines of the gospel. (Boyd K. Packer, Conference Report, October 1986)

It was the Doctrine and a clear understanding of that doctrine of Salvation, that Corianton needed – not just to be reminded endlessly what should or should not be done. It is extremely doubtful that he simply forgot what the commandments actually were and told his father, “Oh yes, adultery, I keep forgetting I am not suppose to do that”. Rules in an of themselves are not necessarily compelling but understanding what is at stake, is.

But what do the scriptures say? Peter, in his second epistle, counsels us to “be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2nd Peter 1:4).

Peter does not merely want us to not “not do it”, but to go so far as being “partakers of the divine nature”.

According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:
Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;
And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;
And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.
For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. 2 Peter 1:4-9

And to this end, he sequentially lists qualities that we should develop in order to be partakers of the divine nature. First, he lists faith, and as it is the first principle of the Gospel, this does not particularly surprise us. He goes on to list knowledge, charity, temperance other important and essential qualities. This list is repeated almost exactly in D&C 4:6. But for both, squarely in second place, is virtue.

This is apparently so important a thing to seek, that is comes after only the first principle of the Gospel, but before knowledge of it. Likewise, it comes before so many other aspects of righteousness that are so obviously essential to us - charity, brotherly kindness, temperance, patience, godliness, and so on.

Prior to this, Peter refers to how God has called us “to glory and virtue”. D&C 46:33 pairs the qualities virtue and holiness. (and likewise, 2nd Ne. 2 pairs holiness with happiness) In the Book of Mormon, Jacob tells us “For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me” (Jacob 2:28). Mor. 9:9 refers to chastity as “precious above all things”. D&C 25:2 counsels us to “walk in paths of virtue.” D&C 121:45-46 gives us the great promise that if virtue will garnish our thoughts unceasingly, “then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distill upon thy soul as the dews from heaven. The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.”

The doctrine and correct understanding of virtue and chastity are essential if we are to live the law correctly. And in this day of sexual obsession, we need this understanding more than ever.

If we need help overcoming sins and weaknesses (and we all do), we need the Atonement and we need to think of virtue. But what exactly is the doctrine of virtue?

What we usually use for a definition of virtue is what I call a negative definition. It tells us what virtue is not. And this can be very helpful when we need to set a minimum standard. This way there is no ambiguity, for instance, if adultery is immoral. We know explicitly that it is not because it says in the ten commandments, Thou shalt not commit adultery.

What is virtue other than merely not committing adultery, in act or in thought? We feel confident in pointing out other things that are unchaste, but can we use this definition to point out something that is very chaste? Not really. The best we can do is avoid a few enumerated unchaste sins, but there is much more to the commandment than this.

The problem is, negative definitions are limited in scope and usefulness. It is great if we want to know what not to do, but not as useful, if we want to know what we should do. Knowing that we should not touch a hot stove or add too much salt may keep us from making major cooking mistakes, but by itself, it will never make us a great cook.

We know how to not commit overt sin, but how do we cultivate actual virtue above and beyond the elementary “thou shalt not”? We are commanded, for instance, to walk in paths of virtue. How can we do that if we can't define it clearly? What is “walking in paths of virtue” other than not walking over a cliff?

Virtue and chastity are not the absence of sin, but they are a proactive quality, much as love is far more than simply refraining from murdering or even just hating our neighbors. Likewise, virtue is something that requires doing, and not merely being.

Now if virtue merely consisted of thou shalt nots, then garnishing our thoughts would be done by thinking about not thinking about lustful things. Particularly with this temptation that would be clearly counter-productive to focus on not thinking of scantily clad women, for instance.

That would not be helpful, in the least. We can not keep this commandment properly if we focus on simple “thou shalt nots”. Imagine someone thinking,
“I am not thinking of scantily clad women,
I am not thinking of scantily clad women,
I am not thinking of scantily clad women in a lacy black.... agh!
I am not thinking of scantily clad women...”.

In all our struggles, heterosexual, homosexual, or otherwise, we often inadvertently make it worse, by focusing on their sin in an effort to repent. But no amount of focusing on the “don't” that way will help, because the more we think of a thing, the more frequently it will come to mind. Lustful thoughts of the opposite sex are not fundamentally different in this case.

The Book of Mormon, for instance, was given to us to bring us to Christ, foremost. That is its purpose. First we need to come to Christ, and then He will help lift us out of our sins.

When we think about sin, or conversely, we think about resisting sin, we are reinforcing many of the same neurons. Like muscles, the more nerve cells are used, the stronger they grow. Or not unlike a stream bed; the more water that flows, the deeper the stream bed becomes. And the deeper it becomes, the harder it is to change its course.

As I observe the world around me, I see it is quite possible to be as immoral as hell, and yet have committed no overt sin. The lack of opportunity to commit adultery, is not the same as virtue. There are even some who despise their virgin status and are only virgins because they have lacked opportunity. This defies the Law of Chastity almost as much as the act itself.

Not only is in important to understand what it is, we need to understand why it is so important that we keep this commandment. After all, this commandment precedes others that we would probably think are far more important. Indeed, in the moment of temptation, when lesser spirits whisper to give up, and you wonder why you should have to struggle so hard in a world that not only glorifies sex, but throws it at you from every angle, it is essential for us to understand 'why'. Personal knowledge is fundamental in both religion and salvation. Not only are we saved no faster than we gain knowledge, but much of repentance, is rethinking. And for that we need to learn.

Wilford Woodruff recorded the Prophet Joseph as preaching,
“The principle of knowledge is the principle of salvation. This principle can be comprehended by the faithful and diligent; and every one that does not obtain knowledge sufficient to be saved will be condemned. The principle of salvation is given us through the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Salvation is nothing more nor less than to triumph over all our enemies and put them under our feet.”

But what if we don't believe that knowledge because it contracts what we think is right?

And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the tradition of the fathers. D&C 93:39

We need that knowledge, and we need to believe it. The very bands and chains of hell are not disobedience (as significant at that is) but is the traditions of our fathers – the things we grow up believing, that “everyone knows”, and especially those that have the full support of public opinion, that are not true, that limit us.

Disobedience may send us to Hell, but it is “the traditions of our fathers” is what keeps us from leaving Hell, and keeps us from fully repenting in this life.

It is an imperative duty that we owe to God, to angels, with whom we shall be brought to stand, and also to ourselves, to our wives and children, who have been made to bow down with grief, sorrow, and care, under the most damning hand of murder, tyranny, and oppression, supported and urged on and upheld by the influence of that spirit which hath so strongly riveted the creeds of the fathers, who have inherited lies, upon the hearts of the children, and filled the world with confusion, and has been growing stronger and stronger, and is now the very mainspring of all corruption, and the whole earth groans under the weight of its iniquity.
It is an iron yoke, it is a strong band; they are the very handcuffs, and chains, and shackles, and fetters of hell. D&C 123:7-8

Virtue has everything to do with our ability to love, not only God, but anyone else, including ourselves. And what true love exists is slowly subverted to self-centered concern. This selfishness erodes society as it degenerates individuals.

Virtue and sex are potent powers for good or ill. It is fundamental - absolutely fundamental to overcoming our fallen natures and returning to the presence of God that we develop virtue in ourselves. Virtue is synonymous with the Spirit of God (and vice versa) and necessary for our happiness. It is inherent in the Spirit of God, the Holy Ghost. For your body to be a temple, means you are filled with the Spirit of God. It is the finest embodiment of the law of consecration.

Virtue is that which builds and sustains the family both in life and in eternity. Yet we may also define it as what God commands. And while these sound substantially different, we will see they are far more intertwined than we would expect.


  1. Very thought provoking. I look forward to reading more. Check out my blog at

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  3. Really interesting read, I have only read about half but I have a few comments.

    “As recently as 1960 there were 2 recognized sexually transmitted diseases, but now there are at least 25”

    Could this not be just a rise in medical practices? Meaning could they have existed before but not been detected, or not understood to be an STD?

    Fun fact : 2006 stats says that about 50% of 9th graders claim to have had sex, but in the past decade it has apparently leveled off and is not significantly increasing

    “General happiness has not been improved by this sexual revolution, or have we seen it's promises fulfilled.”

    That confused me when I read it, would it be more appropriate to say “nor” rather than or? Maybe it’s just me.

    I’ll read the rest later. I like your take on things thusfar.