Sunday, February 8, 2009

Chapter 2: Love ~ The first characteristic of Virtue is Love ~ Love of Others, Love of God, Love of Self ~ selfishness is the antithesis of love

Chapter 2:

Links to skip ahead
The great lie of porn
our sexual passions are closely tied to our ability to love
Like virtue, love is a proactive quality
How lack of virtue skews dating
How lack of virtue skews marriage

A General Authority once stated that pornography was created by Satan in order to destroy sealings, that is to say, temple marriages. This may seem odd, as this appears in some ways, to be the least of this large class of sins. Yet pornography has within it the essential DNA of immorality's destructiveness and virtue's importance.

Notice that pornography was not created to vex teenage boys, taunt those divorced or lonely, or frustrate unmarried people in general. (I am trying to keep this as gender-neutral as possible, because while males traditionally have been the primary consumers of pornography, statistically females are rapidly catching up.) True, it is engineered to created lust but even more than the acts it glorifies, or titillates with, porn teaches a subversive lie – one so subtle that it is easy to miss.

Of course, it teaches many lies; some more significant than others.
Pornography often lies about what real men and women look like.
Pornography also lies frequently about what women and men either act like or should act like.
Pornography lies about what is normal and appropriate.
That is just a start.

But then it will be argued that very little of Hollywood is realistic, from any of its children's cartoons to the popular movies of today. Honestly, if movies were to be believed, the average bent fender would be enough to make any car explode in flames. Just what is the danger here, especially if we are aware of it?

Yet, the greater danger is in a completely different lie. It is all the more deadly because it is not preached in words, rarely overtly at all, but is preached in actions; both by actions that are suggested by the porn itself, and also by actions that all who view it willingly must do. It is taken for granted as true by all those associated with it.

The great lie of porn is that it teaches us to please ourselves first and foremost, instead of serving God or loving others. It teaches us to seek our own pleasure is what is right and to focus on ourselves. In a nutshell, it is self-centeredness.
I suppose many will ask, “How can this be? It has not made me an evil person.”.

I doubt that many of those who partake believe it is that troublesome, if you were to ask them, yet we become what we do. Actions, far more than words, no matter how sincere, will mould the mind and spirit. It is the kind of actions that change us to the core.

The problem with porn, or any media, is that we tend to subconsciously absorb what it tells us. If the example of porn seems too extreme, consider the more inocculous romantic comedy movies that Hollywood tends to put out. Inappropriate and sex scenes aside, what is wrong with that? This is not intended here as a criticism, but as a scientific observation about how they unconsciously affect us.

The problem is that people who watch them tend to end up believing what the movies show, as normal, even if they first admit Hollywood does not show realistic relationships. Let me repeat that - even when intelligent people see unrealistic relationships on TV or movies, and know they are unrealistic, they still have their attitudes and expectations gradually molded and changed. Research by Bjarne M. Holmes and Kimberly R. Johnson showed that many of the relationship myths that hurt our love life, or set it up for unrealistic expectations, stem from movies we have seen. Further, that we are more likely to believe these things after we have seen them.

Dr. Bjarne Holmes explained,
"We now have some emerging evidence that suggests popular media play a role in perpetuating these ideas in people's minds. The problem is that while most of us know that the idea of a perfect relationship is unrealistic, some of us are still more influenced by media portrayals than we realize."

The point of mentioning romantic comedies is not to particularly condemn them (this should apply to all movies – but I am not saying we should give up every movie), but to point out a measured effect of watching them. And if we can measure the effect of a movie that is in comparison relatively harmless, then we need to be all more aware of what pornography can do. The attitudes subconsciously espoused are all the more subtle because putting self first – as your own highest priority, is becoming a more and more a majority opinion. So much so, that it is hardly even questioned – few can imagine it otherwise.

And as this lie is is assimilated, if the former lies are not believed, they will certainly be taken for granted.

Is it avoidable? No it is absorbed subconsciously. Only personal interest matters. No commitment is required. The focus is wholly on the self. Nothing is required of the viewer save, perhaps some money. And it is all the more dangerous, because it is reinforced biologically.

We can only avoid ingesting this lie by denying it battle. It is because we are what we eat, and this is true both of the food we chew and swallow, as well as the things we see and read. In the words of Alexander Pope, what is “seen too oft, .... first we endure, and then pity and then embrace” when what we really need is to pray as Nephi did “may I shake at the gates of sin”.(2Ne 4-ish) What we see too often, we begin to endure, or put up with things we are opposed to. Extended exposure softens us to sympathize, (not merely with people), but to things and ideas we should not. We begin to unconsciously think these things are normal. Sympathizing with ideas opens us, however slowly, to embracing. To view pornography, is to embrace that lie because it is putting yourself first, with nothing required of you.

Pornography's focus on the wants and needs of self (either of the male or female variety) and their by twists the kind of relationship that should exist between a couple. It erodes intimacy even as it exploits it. It isolated relationship between the sexes, or more accurately, it replaces the proper relationship of love and mutual affection between husband and wife with focus on self. It converts what should be a selfless act of love between husband and wife into an object of selfish desire and lust. Never mind if it is 'consenting adults' -- mutual selfishness is neither celestial or even terrestrial.

Many of those whom porn entrances, are simply the lonely and stressed, who have no intention of either selfishness, or any kind of infidelity. While that may make it all the more understandable, a broken leg is still a broken leg. That is to say while a fascination is often not due to any wrong intentions, the same lies are (without realizing it) still being integrated and the same mental and neural pathways in the brain are being built up. Its spiritually diseased consequences remain. Even if it does not start off with apparent self-centeredness, it will slowly and gradually, move the soul that way because virtue is intrinsically linked to our ability to love.

Even when these lies are seen for what they are they will be absorbed and assimilated as the body becomes acclimated it what is it exposed to. A stoner may stop taking heroin, and an alcoholic, may stop drinking, but we can not simply stop taking hormones or thinking ideas! We must master them through Christ, be doing what he has asked of us.

Often this self-centeredness is called 'sexual objectification' but too often this is understood in a way that pins the blame on a relatively minor issue, and not the root. It is not seeing others as sexual objects that is the primary issue, as bizarre as that sounds. It is the desire for self gratification, with no thought for others. It is dealing with others with no concern for them.

Objectification happens with porn because you can't interact with a picture. It is likewise a problem in a emotionally disconnected relationship. You can't deal with them as you do real people, yet it brings up our deepest and most intimate passions. You can't have a relationship where anything is required of you. There is no listening to their problems, no calls for help at inconvenient times, no time spent on their behalf. Perhaps that sounds nice, (some days it sounds very nice!) but it is a Devil's bargain. There is none of either the satisfaction or growth of a real relationship. You can only interact with any of those images as objects, because that is what a picture (or book or movie, etc) is. Nor is it even a matter of how much one sees. A single unvirtuous image is detrimental in and of itself. And as much as you would avoid toxic chemical exposure, avoid this.

This is not an effect of porn only, but it is the result of a broken law. When people merely become ways for ourselves to have fun, or they became replaceable, then the result is the same. People become things, objects to be discarded if they no longer matter to you. Is it any surprise then, that the sexual excesses of Germany preceded its spiritual decline into Nazism and the Holocaust. If we have taught ourselves a thousand times by our actions, that even the closest sexual intimacy (either with a person, or with any kind of media) render others unworthy of attention, --- If we don't care about others, beyond the moment of passion, that is same spirit as those who don't care if others even live. It is what leads even to such horrors as genecides and the Holocausts. The difference between not caring and a fully out genecide is a matter of degree, not kind. Can so little a thing have so great an effect? Yes, it is out of small things, that great things, or even very great problems, come. The change of a single bit (just a 1 or a 0) is capable of keeping an entire computer

There is a peculiar feature that is prominent in both Israel and the state of Utah, as though God put his people there so they always had a reminder in front of them. Both areas have a fresh water lake that feeds a hyper-saline lake. In Israel, you have the lively and vibrant Sea of Galilee which feeds the Dead Sea. Utah Lake, like the Sea of Galilee, is well stocked with fish and feeds, the Great Salt Lake, which is too saline for almost anything other than some hardened brine shrimp. The Dead Sea will grow which nothing except a few hardy bacteria and algae. What is the difference here? Why is one lake alive and the other dead? Both sets of lake share the same climate and rainfall and input of water from rivers. The reason is that both Utah Lake and the Sea of Galilee give out where as the Dead Sea and the Great Salt Lake are terminal lakes. No water flows out of either of them and any salt or minerals that do come it, are trapped. There is abundance of life only where there is a dedicated outlet.

Lest any misunderstand the seriousness of pornography, allow me to clarify. Like few other sins, pornography both teaches and physically reinforces a lie. It is all the more subtle because it is a skewing of the our most fundamental drives. It is enhanced and reinforced by our very own hormones. And because it is natural, its camouflage is all the more perfect. Yet, while it is natural, it is separated from its essential companion – dedicated love. This separation of genuine intimacy and pleasure is the essential element in what makes sex go from compelling to addictive. Any by dedicated, I do not mean a current favorite girlfriend or boyfriend. I mean an eternally bound couple. I mean a dedicated marriage. That is what a river that always runs represents.

Yet, the cascading effects of this sin are far more than merely physical. If the sin of adultery were primarily physical, why did the Savior so strongly warn us about committing adultery in our hearts? Lust is not concern – it is desire. It is a hunger; not a hunger to help or assist but for personal satisfaction. For certain, there are a large number of physically significant reasons for chastity, such as unwed pregnancies and sexually transmitted disease. But these are not the reason the law was given. They are the weighty side-effects of a broken law. The law can be broken whether or not there is a chance of pregnancy, sexual transmitted infection, or anything else. This is a physical sin, but its spiritual aspect is more damning and less easily noticed than the physical part of it. We do not sin for lack of a better condom.

Our sexual passions are closely tied with our ability to love. Alma counseled his wiser son, Shiblon, “Bridle your passions, that ye might be filled with love.” Alma 38:12 If we live this law as commanded, we will be able to love more deeply and completely. But the converse is also true; if do not govern our passions, we can not be filled with love. Quite the contrary, if at our deepest and most intimate, we have no lasting commitment or even lasting relationship, what will we be with everyone else? If the depths of our love are no deeper than 'loving and leaving', or 'viewing and then forgetting' then there is no way we can live the great commandment to love our fellowman, or crucially, even ourselves.

The law of virtue is intrinsically linked to our ability to love. This love is not only our spouses or romantic interests, but all mankind (including ourselves as well). It should not surprise us to read that “because iniquity shall abound, the love of men will wax cold”. Matt 24-ish. The news we see daily of frightening levels of self-centeredness- shootings, rapes, theft, beatings, etc are a direct result of hearts waxing cold. I say 'self-centeredness' because deep down, that is the only thing really really matters, or it matters more than it should. It is people not caring about other people. Or in other words, because of immorality, people's ability to love has been dulled and diminished, and as a result, people act in a way that shows they simply do not care about other people at all. They have acted as though intimacy meant nothing, only to find that any love they had means nothing at all either.

Elder Maxwell wrote,
“Our capacity to feel controls our behavior in many ways, and by inaction when our feeling prompts us to do good, we deaden that capacity to feel. It was Jesus’ striking sensitivity to the needs of those about him that make it possible for him to respond in action.
At the other end of the spiritual spectrum are individuals such as Nephi’s erring brothers; Nephi noted their increasing insensitivity to things spiritual: ‘[God] hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words.’ [1 Nephi 17:45] . . .
A sex-saturated society cannot really feel the needs of its suffering members because, instead of developing the love that looks outward, it turns men selfishly inward. Imperviousness to the promptings of the still small voice of God will also mean that we have ears but cannot hear not only the promptings of God, but also the pleas of men.”
Neal A. Maxwell, A Time to Choose, p.59 - p.60 emphasis mine

Or in the words of CS Lewis, "more often [a man] feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and in the long run, the less he will be able to feel." (Screwtape Letters, Letter 13, pg. 57.)

When we feel, we must act or we reduce our ability to either act, or feel. The problem with immorality, is that feeling and acting are so completely separated. Images viewed or read, or persons made love to are not actually loved, there is no selflessness, there is no service, as a husband might take care of his wife when sick. One night stands and short-term relationships do not provide a way to act on the physical love felt. In such a way, those feelings become falsehoods themselves, because they are not accompanied by actions. If two lovers do not love each other sufficiently to already have those binding ties in place, and to have made those sacrifices to have a permanent relationship, then notwithstanding their motives however pure, their actions are an admixture of more selfishness than genuine love, no matter how it parades as pure love.

What of a couple who has every intention of love? They sleep together before marriage because it is seen as the thing to do. No selfishness at all is meant. The law still holds, and the result of a broken law will weaken the individuals in proportion to the impermanence of the relationship and the degree to which love and service are supplanted with personal concerns. God puts marriage before sexual intimacy not because He is out of touch, but because He understands what will make us happy.

There is a reason that the First and Great Commandment (to love God with all our hearts, might, mind and strength) is not equal with or placed next to, but comes before the Second Commandment (to love our neighbors as ourselves). The first commandment must come first if we are to be able to obey the second commandment. It is the first commandment that teaches us how to live the second commandment. We must put God first, if we want to be able to love our fellowman, or even the best intents will finally twist themselves into something far less than what God intents for us, or even what we would find acceptable to ourselves. It is worth remembering that “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8). Even more than this, John the ancient Apostle, writes, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep his commandments.” (1 Jn. 5:2)

Like virtue, love is a proactive quality. You can not have it, or keep it, without it acting on it.

Just as there is no virtue without becoming filled with love; so likewise, there is no love without virtue. This is taught plainly in the scriptures. When Paul (or also Mormon) enumerates the aspects of charity, virtue is chief among them. (1 Cor. 13) Our actions that degrade our virtue likewise degrade our ability to love. It also deadens our sensitivity to the Spirit in the same way it deaden our love.

The subversion of immorality manifests itself in dating, and as well in marriage. Sexual intimacy is treated too casually. It is not merely recreation for which there are no significance – it can not exist but affect the soul, for good or ill. True, many engage without apparent ill effect, much as an experienced smoker no longer coughs from the smoke he breathes.

That is not say, there is no place for fun, triviality, or even silliness, but not without the right circumstances or commitments. When physical intimacy becomes separated from from the actions that accompany genuine lasting affection, then we are “feeling without acting” and the love that is supposed to be associated with sexual intimacy is proportionally vitiated.

When we hear the lurid details of those deeply fallen in sexual sin, the degree of self-focus can be shocking. I am not merely speaking of the sensational rapists and child molesters, though they certainly should be included too. I am speaking of concern for self that this leads too. On one end of the spectrum (forgetting for a moment, the spectacular wickedness of a few) we have one night stands and causal sex. The underlying current of all of this, is “What do I want?” as opposed to, a concern for others happiness in life and their long term well-being. Even if it does not start that way, it will inevitably progress and powerfully change the soul. It is the nature of God to be selfless and the doctrine of devils to “put number one first”. It is a matter of no small significance as to who is being put first, and how firmly and sincerely love is felt. It is no small matter because in terms of change, it is more akin to gravity than mere speed and direction. In other words, no matter how hard I throw a rock in the air, it will always fall to the ground. Unless Christ, through the power of the Holy Ghost regularly purifies our souls, gravity will eventually win.

Some remain single because marriage would disrupt their lives and finances. Others, are excessively shallow in both whom they pursue, and in their relationships. Others claim to be exploring their sexuality. One increasing popular phenomena has been “friends with benefits” or simply (it deserves no dignified a name) 'f**k buddies'. In short, it is convenient sex with friends, without even the effort of a romantic relationship. It maximizes personal pleasure, will avoiding either responsibility or effort to pursue a committed relationship. The “mormon” version of this, while paying a modicum of attention to the letter of the law of chastity, is the so-called non-committal make-outs (NCMO) of varying degrees of intimacy. The common thread running through all of these is that they are predicated on satisfaction of ones self, and no one else. Merely trying to sensually please another is a far cry from concern about anything else in their lives.

Likewise in dating, the great fault of 'players' and 'gold diggers' is that they take no thought or concern for God, or crucially, other people. One is focused on sex, and the other on money and gifts. Their focus is on themselves. All other faults stem from this one.

The degree to which we discount the body or soul of another as simply something to be used for our own pleasure, we denigrate its inherent value, and thereby denigrate all those around us, ourselves included.

This concern of self over and above love of God and others, is pride, and as such pride dovetails itself into this sin at every opportunity. It is a state of opposition to God, and man. Pride hardens those who sin, so that they become rebellious, and refuse to repent.

There will, of course, be much talk of pleasuring your partner, of pleasing your lover, or of making love,(or of learning how to) but unless we have put God (and His laws) first, the primary motivation is still selfishness – the self-will to do what you want, instead of what is commanded or what others need. Any love felt is restricted to a single activity and only for a short period of time. After the climax, it is simply so much empty talk. Any motives that were right will be diminished as this lie is acted out: our bodies and brain chemicals are saying one thing, while we do another afterwards.

Now, I need to be clear – no one should think intimacy is bad, in and of itself. What it is, is sacred and powerful. Kissing, if it helps you, may be thought of as a language. If we kiss when it does not express our true and lasting feelings, then we have been dishonest. If we have expressed unworthy feelings by kissing, then we have 'spoken' things we should not have. Compare Elder Holland's counsel on governing our tongues (no pun intended!) in the April 2007 General Conference. And like our passions, words are also symbolized with fire. We need to be careful what our kissing expresses. I am not saying all kissing should be momentous, but if a kiss means nothing, then so does the intimacy that goes with it. And if that intimacy means nothing, then by equal measure, the person with whom intimacy was shared means nothing.

The physical intimacy must have a real connection, or it does more harm than good. Look at the difficulty retired prostitutes and porn stars have forming relationships and experiencing genuine intimacy.

It has been hotly debated, sometimes even in LDS circles, if pornography is permissible within marriage, because after all, it is rationalized, all the sex that happens, happens between two married people. Yet this would be the one place where its the corrupting influence of porn is most dangerous. This is specifically what it was created to destroy. Those who would encourage it are like those who would warm a house by setting it ablaze, rather than stoking a fireplace. But what of those who have an unsatisfactory sex life in marriage? That is a deep subject that I can not answer fully here – yet marriage is what virtue is all about. We do not become married simply in order to not break the law of Virtue; we are virtuous in order to have an eternal marriage.

If we will come to Christ, he will teach us what we need to learn. Sex is good. God invented it, not only for procreation, but also for bringing a couple together emotionally. He wants us to enjoy it. Adam and Eve were sealed and “one flesh” long before the Fall happened. But marriage is far more than just sex.

It is a clear signal that modern priorities are skewed, that as we worry more and more about self-gratification and "what's in it for me" / "are MY needs being met", that divorce and marital disharmony rates have increased. We can not have the kind of relationships we are, or should be capable of, when compatibility with self is our highest priority.

Elder Oakes of the Quarom of the Twelve said,
I strongly urge you and those who advise you to face up to the reality that for most marriage problems, the remedy is not divorce but repentance. Often the cause is not incompatibility but selfishness.

Many, seeing the rising rates of divorce, are worried about future sexual compatibility. There are, of course, differing statistics about the cause of divorce. Some place the blame on disagreements about money, and others on differing sexual desires. The common root here is focus on personal desires, as opposed to sacrifice on others behalf, (though it may only take one person to ruin a marriage). If the sole purpose and measure of marriage was sex, then “kicking the tires” before you “bought the car” would make sense. The problem is, compatibility is made, not simply found. It is neither automatic, nor is it unchangeable. (Not that all of this makes dating as a single adult easy!)

This corruption of the proper relationship of husband and wife is the center of loss of virtue. In place of sacrifice of time and effort that characterizes a healthy marriage, everything here presumes the pleasure of oneself is the most important thing. Because many of these same hormonal systems are activated in a married relationship, context is crucial (and will be discussed in greater depth later). In place of the binding ties that unite a married couple, that which is immoral requires nothing of either party. Fleeting encounters, either with printed page or real person, replace the Eternal. Focus and love of your spouse is replaced with focus on self, even while it proclaims itself as focus on others. Mutual exploitation in place of mutual love. It is acting a lie when we and our bodies (and brain chemicals) are saying love in the heat of the moment, and no commitment after climax. It is a relationship based on self-gratification.

But this law has tremendous potential for both good and bad. We must bridle our passions, if we want to be able to handle the kind of love that our Father in Heaven both asks of us, and that he wants us to be able to receive. True intimacy is not for the faint of heart. There is a reason that the law of chastity is given after both the laws of consecration and sacrifice in the temple. Likewise, Sealings occur after the endowment because for this law to be properly and completely lived, it requires a coming to the Father, and the Son, in a profound sense. In fact, in the eternities, only those who have fully and completely come to Christ, with no reservations, will be able to maintain their marriage. If you want an eternal marriage, or even to be able to love the love-of-your-life, when you do meet him or her, you need to be virtuous.

1 comment:

  1. I think this is probably the best expose on Virtue I have read in a long time.
    There is one thing I feel differently on however, the law of Chastity comes before the law of consecration. I believe it is a natural must be "married" to the idea to give all you have to it.
    Many consider that the Law of Chastity is simply between husband and wife...that was covered back in the Law of the Gospel...the law of Chastity is the marriage we all share with our Savior...this allows us to consecrate our will to Him and His purpose.
    It is far greater even than that of a relationship between husband and wife, it is what true virtue is all about.
    Thanks for this wonderful post.