Sunday, February 22, 2009

Chapter 4: Worldliness and the Sacred Body ~ The third characteristic of Virtue is receiving the Holy Ghost, leave worldliness, and becoming holy

Chapter 4: Part A

In order to be virtuous, we must have the Spirit of God with us as a constant companion and if we do not have the Spirit with us, we are not fully virtuous. In order to do this, we must forsake the things of this World, and treat our bodies as truly sacred.

In order to be virtuous we must not have the Spirit only occasionally or often, but continually. A temple is a holy place where God will not only visit, but where both He and his Holy Spirit will permanently stay. We were meant to be temples. And like as defiled temples were destroyed anciently, we must be virtuous or we will be destroyed, most likely by ourselves.

In other words, the crux of virtue is the Spirit of God and we are truly virtuous (as opposed to merely not being unvirtuous) in proportion to the amount we have that Spirit. Once we tie as significant a quality as the Spirit of God to virtue, the quality of virtue has suddenly become much larger subject and suddenly encompasses far more than it seemed to before.

We have long been taught that we cannot serve two masters and that like as Zion is a type and pattern of Heaven that we must exemplify, Babylon is likewise one we must purge ourselves of.

What do we mean when we say 'Babylon' or 'Zion'? The scriptures ….... {{I will expand upon this more properly later, in order to explain the great distinction between Babylon and Zion – the interested reader could look at the first chapter of (or indeed the entire book of) Hugh Nibley's Approaching Zion in the meantime}}

Babylon is both a culture and a worldview that does not willingly co-exist with Zion – the Heavenly Order that God desires of us, nor does God look kindly upon the ways of Babylon.

Of the world, the scriptures say, “I give not unto you that ye shall live after the manner of the world” D&C 95:13

And also of Zion, we read, “Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom; otherwise I cannot receive her unto myself.” D&C 105:5

Time and again in the Holy Writ, what trounces an established Zion, is embracing the World or compromising with it, most often by attempting to synthesize it with the Gospel.

The essence of it, is putting things we should not, before God, hence the great command, Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Ex. 20

Likewise, we are told that the reason that “Many are called, but few are chosen” is “Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson - That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.”
D&C 121:34-36

In a word, when we speak of the World, of Babylon, or of the Great and Spacious Building, we speak of idolatry and a worldview for whom the things of the Gospel are pure foolishness. It is putting other things before God. Is this too much to say and terms too strong to condemn with?

Speaking of the unrepentant, in the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord says,
For they have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant;
They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall.
D&C 1:15-16

Of particular interest to us, is what Abraham writes of three royal virgins who “were offered up because of their virtue”, because he explains, “they would not bow down to worship gods of wood or of stone”. Abr. 1:11

Virtue, in a word, was in rejecting the things of the world, and putting God first.

The things of this world are naturally in opposition to what God demands of us, much as the Great and Spacious Building in Lehi's dream was in opposition to the Tree of Life and the Iron Rod and those fashionable people

In order to have the the Holy Ghost as our constant companion, we must forsake the World and become holy ourselves.

Once we take this into consideration, Ezekiel 16:49-50 makes far more sense. The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were memorable for their unbridled sexuality and legally attempted gang-rape in Gen. 19. Yet, in a chapter devoted to adultery, what the Prophet condemned them primarily for was Worldliness.

Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.
And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good.
Ezekiel 16:49-50

We can not cling to the things of this world and simultaneously embrace the Spirit of God any more than we can stand near the great and spacious building in Lehi's Dream, and still hold to the iron rod – they are at odds with each other. The things God asks of us are deliberately meant to bring us our of our mortal obsession with the very temporary world we inhabit.

After the tremendous outpouring of the Spirit and numerous spiritual manifestations after the dedication of the Kirtland temple, there came a time of temptation where many apostasized. Eliza R. Snow wrote,
“Many who had been humble and faithful to the performance of every duty—ready to go and come at every call of the Priesthood—were getting haughty in their spirits, and lifted up in the pride of their hearts. As the Saints drank in the love and spirit of the world, the Spirit of the Lord withdrew from their hearts.”

Prosperity often knits a man or women closer to the world. Just when he thinks he is really beginning to find his place in the world, it is the World finding a place in him. Why is it that prosperity tends to go hand-in-hand with immorality? This is pattern is shown again and again in the Book of Mormon, and unless we make a very conscious effort to focus on Christ above the day to day concerns of the World, we will make the same unconscious errors the Nephites made over and over until they were destroyed.

Very often we spend a lot of time talking about delaying sexual gratification, but how much time do we spend on delaying immediate gratification of other things in this world? Considering that up to 90% of divorces stem from finances, and not literal infidelity, this is no minor worry.

There is much in the spirit of immorality that is strives to coexist with Worldliness, in a kind of symbiotic relation. By 'Worldliness', I mean an inordinate focus on the present, and on self. And not merely a focus on self, but on self-will – what we call pride, is an underlying cause. What parades itself so loudly as love, is in reality stems from enmity towards God and not God only , but man also. It is evident in those who insist that a certain sexual choices must be legitimized and accepted, by both society and the church. It is evident in those who continue their actions regardless of the teaching of modern prophets.

We must not therefore, be surprised when the same society that winks at immorality, becomes more callous and less caring, more focused on the mortal body and less on the soul, more on the spirit of the times, than the Spirit of God.

A righteous society may become wicked by sexual obsession and rampant immorality, but how does such a sex-obsessed society become more wicked? More obsession and more sex? Perhaps sometimes, and perhaps even often, but more often, it just becomes increasingly self-centered. There is less sex, not because it is more moral, but because people are busy with careers and money, and the things of this world. There comes a prudishness, not born of restraint or desire to keep the commandments, but of pride, of enmity to those who are deemed less and/or simply less worthy of interest than work matters. Notice well, how many measures of immorality, such as the divorce rate, are improving, but largely because people are not marrying. Our world is more wicked than the the 1960's when the Sexual Revolution happened – yet sexual activity rates are lower now.

We live in a culture, not of pre-marital sex, but one that does not correlate sex and marriage at all. 
I would not call it pre-marital, because “pre-” implies something that happens before marriage. In much of society, marriage is never even considered.

Now, you may say, I would never do all that. But important thing to realize is that the same spirit that drives an over concern with the world, drives them all. Lucifer is not interested remotely in our happiness or freedom, except only when it helps to promises future disappointment and trouble.

We can not fulfill the purposes and blessing God has in store for us, while carrying the cultural baggage and attitudes of Babylon

Continuing the quotation of Elder Maxwell in Ch. 2,
”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. .... preoccupation with sensual things can cause us to lose our capacity to notice. Sensuality reminds us of our own needs so much of the time that we pass others by and "notice them not." The selfishness of sensuality is at least as intense as the selfishness of riches. When we listen only to the loudest things and act only in response to rage, we will lose our capacity to hear that still small voice.”

Rejecting worldliness is a good first step, but we need more than that if we are to cultivate actual virtue. We need to have the Holy Spirit as our constant companion. In a word, we each need to be a temple. We know a bit of what we should not be – but what is it that we should be? We know the world, because we live in it. But what is it we should strive after instead?

Holy temples
Our bodies have been called temples, but if that concept seems awkward, let me put it a different way. We are children of God. And so there is a bit of that divinity in us. Out of all God's creations, we have that particular honor. And not only we ourselves, but those around us, have to potential to be like our Father and Mother in Heaven. CS Lewis reminds us, “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you say it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship”.

Elsewhere he said:
He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly . . . His own boundless power and delight and goodness.

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. <>

This is what we are suppose to be – that is our true natural spiritual state.

Now with all of this in mind, how do we treat what is holy? This human body that was created in the image of God – we should not take that lightly. The Jews, according to the Law of Moses, even held the body of criminals sufficiently holy that they would not allow dead bodies to remain hanging over night, either from a noose, or on a cross. Deut. 21:22-23; John 19:31

Hence, our most common ordinance, is the sacrament of the last supper, where weekly we remember the body and blood of Christ. Further, that is why we have the Word of Wisdom, as well as commandments about gluttony, sleep and health. Above and beyond that, that is why the Resurrection central to and the final glorious culminating act of the Atonement. We are not some kind of neoplatonists that regard the body as evil or indifferently at best. True enough, in its present form, it is subject to sin, but is still a mark of our royal birthright. Remember the devils that Christ cast out into a herd of swine – those disembodied spirits vastly preferred even a pig's body, to having none at all.

The Sacred Body
if we do not regard our bodies as sacred, then we can not regard truly regard ourselves as children of God, for they are one and the same. Further, the way we see others, is a reflection of the way we think of ourselves, at the deepest level. Personally, I never fully trust someone who despises his fellowman.

And yet, with all this divinity, how do we treat those around us? We are in a society of potential God and Goddesses. Do we see ourselves as holy or as children of Deity? Do we treat others that way? If we do not treat either ourselves or others as holy, is that not a desecration? Can we desecrate others without desecrating ourselves?

But just to be clear, how would we desecrate ourselves or another? Anytime we treat the body as less than sacred – anytime we treat ours, or others bodies casually or flippantly, we are treating people the same way. Thus, sexual union, without the serious binding marital union, is a mockery. It promises everything, but discards the other person, if not the next day, then eventually. Its hallmark is impermanence and avoiding commitment. Stereotypes aside, this is hardly just a male issue.

BYU Prof. Van C Gessel explained, “How to make mortals regard the human body as less than holy? Very simply, just strip its sacredness of all its modest coverings and parade it to public view; batter it and explode it and riddle it with bullets; and display it nakedly engaged in its most intimate activities to make sure the viewer or listener comes to consider public performances of sexual activity as commonplace. What our Father in Heaven regards as the Holy of Holies Satan treats as an open-set film studio. You can almost hear the fiendish laughs of the demons over every depiction of the physical bodies they so desperately envy being exposed to public view and treated like so much meat in a butcher’s shop.”

Is it any wonder then, that the prophets have even spoken on such mundane topics as tattoos or excessive piercings? It is less the fact that one set of earrings on woman are ok, than it is that the body is to be held as sacred – not something to be casually marked or pierced according to the whims of the world. Nor is it something to be sexually exploited one moment (either in person, or by inappropriate viewing), and discarded the next. Or to be exploited before we are serious enough to properly eternally sealed. If we do not love the other person enough to see to it that there is no spiritual harm, them we are putting our own needs and desires ahead of their good, and is exploitation. 'Consenting adults' merely means mutually agreed upon exploitation. Whose good is each party looking out for?

Exploited is a harsh word to use, but in the final analysis, isn't that what it is? Is it possible even to exploit these bodies we have been given? Yes, actually it is.

We have grown so used to this in our own culture (and most of us read too little of other times and cultures) that we are used to this, and think of it as normal. But it is not.

Much of the Gospel centers around the sanctity and importance of the body.

Next week: Part B
Sanctity of Sex
How Sex is spoken of
To be virtuous is to have the Spirit of God

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