Sunday, March 29, 2009


Treating our bodies as sacred, isn't all avoiding tattoos, and piercings. Just as we must be careful not to step off the narrow path to the tree of life to the one side, it is also quite capable to step off it to the other side. Indeed, tattoos and piercings may even be the lesser worry of the two extremes.

The more subtle danger is to focus too hard on how the body looks. That is not say we should not be attractive, but all things can be taken to extremes God did not intend. There is no shortage of references in the Book of Mormon correlating fine clothing with pride and wickedness. Costly apparel is the universal distinguishing feature of the Great and Spacious Building (1 Ne. 8), the Great and Abominable Church of the Devil (1 Ne. 14) and Babylon, The Mother of Harlots (Rev. 17).

The dual dangers here are pride from better clothes than those around you (which I shall not spend much time on) and immodesty, though they are more closely linked than one might expect.

Elder Holland said, quoting Halle Berry
Frankly, the world has been brutal with you in this regard. You are bombarded in movies, television, fashion magazines, and advertisements with the message that looks are everything! The pitch is, “If your looks are good enough, your life will be glamorous and you will be happy and popular.” That kind of pressure is immense in the teenage years, to say nothing of later womanhood. In too many cases too much is being done to the human body to meet just such a fictional (to say nothing of superficial) standard. As one Hollywood actress [Berry] is reported to have said recently: “We’ve become obsessed with beauty and the fountain of youth. … I’m really saddened by the way women mutilate [themselves] in search of that. I see women [including young women] … pulling this up and tucking that back. It’s like a slippery slope. [You can’t get off of it.] … It’s really insane … what society is doing to women.” i

In terms of preoccupation with self and a fixation on the physical, this is more than social insanity; it is spiritually destructive, and it accounts for much of the unhappiness women, including young women, face in the modern world. And if adults are preoccupied with appearance—tucking and nipping and implanting and remodeling everything that can be remodeled—those pressures and anxieties will certainly seep through to children. At some point the problem becomes what the Book of Mormon called “vain imaginations.”ii And in secular society both vanity and imagination run wild. One would truly need a great and spacious makeup kit to compete with beauty as portrayed in media all around us. Yet at the end of the day there would still be those “in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers” as Lehi saw,iii because however much one tries in the world of glamour and fashion, it will never be glamorous enough.
Jeffrey R. Holland, “To Young Women,” Ensign, Nov 2005, 28

So many of us have an artificial distinction in our minds between what is immodest and what is pornographic, when in reality, it is a continuum. We think of pornography as something abhorrent that we would never do, and yet immodesty as a little thing. However, any distinction drawn is purely artificial. They are quite the same thing.

In some ways, the pornographic label is a poor one, because it seems far removed from personal experience, whereas in reality, it encompasses everything from the unspeakably degenerate, to what we think of as quite ordinary and every gradation in between. There are far, far more degrees, kinds and variations of porn than there are flavors of ice cream.

The problem with the label “pornography”, is that it sometimes leaves us worried about the things we are in the least danger from, and unconcerned about the things that pose the greatest threat.

It is only in the last few years, since about 1957 that the definition of pornography and of obscenity has been separate from definitions of biblical morality. In the United States, this legal redefinition happened because of the court cases, Roth v. U.S (1957) and then Miller v. California (1973). The result of all this is, that legally while any obscenity would have made something pornographic, as it is now, if there is any “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value” it is not (legally) considered pornography. But even the Miller decision only attempted to define legally prohibited pornography, and not all pornography.

We can not live by the world's definition and still expect the Lord's approval. We may have limited influence on the world around us, but we need to show where we stand. So why bring this up here and not earlier when we spoke of pornography? It is only because of legal definitions that we have even begun to think of immodesty and pornography as fundamentally different things. They are not. They are simply labels and it is by manipulating labels that Satan tries to convince us that somethings are not as bad as they really are.

Elder Wm. Grant Bangerter of the First Quorum of the Seventy said:
And, of course, in doing these wicked things they suggest that it is not so bad anymore. Since so much of the world accepts these actions, if we resist them or speak out against them, we will be scoffed at. We will be called prudish, Victorian, puritan, and self-righteous, as if we had become the sinners. We will be accused of being evil-minded in our failure to appreciate the “beauty and naturalness” of the human body.
Ensign, May 1984, p. 27.

However, once you have made the decision to wear something (or look at someone) that is below your standards, your standards are already changing. What you consider normal, and ordinary is strongly affected by what you do and see, even and especially when you think you are aware of it.

The old maxim is, “If you don't look once, you aren't a man”. But our bodies do not need to see pornography in order to arouse inappropriate feelings. When we view something that is immodest, or suggestive, our bodies automatically react to anything suggestive. The reaction happens within milliseconds – faster even than the rest of our brain can even recognize what an image is. In other words, even before the rest of our brain can tell what we are looking it, it is already reacting to its sexual suggestiveness. Our bodies will begin to go on autopilot and unless our spirit counter-acts immediately, we progress toward a point where our spirits will not be strong enough to fight our bodies. It has only been in recent years that scientists have begun to realize that this physiological reaction (arousal) in our bodies long precedes conscious desire. In other words, your body is beginning to gearing up and get ready long before you realize it. That gives your body a significant head start over your mind, one you can't allow it to have.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Modesty is another issue where we have sometimes allowed the rules overshadow the doctrine. At the risk of sounding cliché, consider the very large amount of money and time that the Church spends on grounds keeping and upkeep of temples. It is no insignificant amount! Likewise, as important as the temple ordinances are (essential for eternal exaltation) look at what the Lord required of the Saints in the beginning of this dispensation. Years were spent hauling stone, when they barely had enough to survive on. If the ordinances are so important, why didn't the Lord simply allow the people to get by with a nice tent?

It is not because the ordinances, per se, must be done in a nice place. At times, mountain tops and wilderness places served as temples. But what is essential, is that we treat the temple and its ordinances as extremely sacred. The building and grounds help us remember that, as well as the reverent voices and music inside. It is why we take especially care of our temple garments.

By treating the temple as sacred, we are reminded in physical form the sacredness of the temple ordinances and the covenants we make there. It is as physical a symbol as our bodies themselves are.

Considering how much effort the Lord insists of us, in order to have a temple building (the Salt Lake Temple took 40 years to build), modesty is becoming the temple that we ought to be. We need to see ourselves, body and spirit, as sacred – literally in the image, or the likeness of God, literally the
(צלם) resemblance of God. He is serious about this, and is saddened when we do not treat it seriously as well. We can not treat it lightly without diminishing the degree to which we take God seriously.

An idea that is common to the point of taken for granted, is that what we are in the inside is what really counts. And like all misconceptions, there is a great deal of truth to that. The deceptive part is where we think of the outside and inside a separate parts. Clothing is as much an important part of mortality, as receiving a body is.

The primal man, is not the naked dirty caveman of lore, but Adam our Father and Eve our Mother.

Naked is what happened to a person who has been nake-ed. Nake is a old verb meaning “to remove clothing”. The naked man is not our primal ancestor, but rather one that has been stripped of the clothing he has on.

God the Father clothing Adam and Eve was one of the first things that ushered them from their proto-mortal state in the Garden of Eden, to life in mortality.

Elder Hales said:
Modesty is at the center of being pure and chaste, both in thought and deed. Thus, because it guides and influences our thoughts, behavior, and decisions, modesty is at the core of our character. Our clothing is more than just covering for our bodies; it reflects who we are and what we want to be, both here in mortality and in the eternities that will follow.

Clothes express who we are, and what we believe. There is more than a bit of literal truth to the maxim, Clothes make the man. The once you have made a decision to wear something that is below your standards, or to view something below your standards, your standards are already changing.

As in theatre, we become what we wear.

How we clothe ourselves is no small issue.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Circumambient Convictions

One of the most dangerous and pervasive aspects of Babylon is the mindset and philosophy that we must discard. That is not to say there are not good things out in the world, but when we say, Babylon, or The World, we mean what is worldly from a gospel perspective. Unconsciously we have absorbed a “network of ready-made solutions”, which can be as much of a problem, as our problems themselves.

One philosopher had this to say:
“One of the factors that makes up our destiny is the mass of circumambient convictions in which we find ourselves. Without realizing it, we find ourselves installed in that network of ready-made solutions for the problems of our lives. When of e of these problems weights on us, we revert to that treasure.... “

And what does this “network of ready-made solutions” tell us? They tell us not merely how to answer questions, or what questions to ask, but how to answer those questions.

Nor is it necessary to ask such questions; from the very moment of birth – in family life, in school, in reading, and in social intercourse – we are constantly trying to receive and absorb those collective convictions into our veins before, almost always before, we have become aware of the problems for which they are, or pretend to be solutions. To that when we come to feel actual distress in the face of a vital question, and we really want to find int solutions, to orient ourselves with respect to it, not only must we struggle with the problem, but we find ourselves caught within the solutions previously received. The very language in which we will have to think our own thoughts is itself an alien way of thinking, a collective philosophy, and elementary interpretation of the life which so closely imprisons us.

To simply intend to be good is entirely insufficient as long as we have rely on the network of ready made solutions. This is part of the reason both pornography and associating excessively with immoral people – we tend to pick up on their “ready-made solutions”. And how has the world as a whole decided to treat sex?

Just how aware are we really about this "network of ready made solutions" that society tries to teach us? I think we see part of it... but not always all of it.

Bite-size segments

You would think that as net-savvy as I am, it would have occurred to me to write in bite size pieces, instead of a chapter at a time. You might think that.... but you would be wrong.

So, while I am behind in posting anyway... I am going to put up smaller, but more frequent postings. Which is really the way I write anyway.

After all, it isn't what you eat, it is what you digest.

So in place of chapters, I will post a sub-topic at a time - first up
(1) "circumambient convictions"
(2) modesty

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Chapter 5: Celibacy vs Virtue ~The fourth characteristic of Virtue is the proper place of Sex

Chapter 5: Celibacy vs Virtue

During the Middle Ages, celibacy was taught as being a higher way of life, especially for those monks and nuns who devoted their lives to God in this way. One proponent of this doctrine was St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the most prolific and influential writers of Early Christianity, born in 354 AD, just before the fall of Rome. Among the many things he is remembered for, was his prayer 'da mihi castitatem et continentiam, sed noli modo', or simply, “[God] Grant me chastity and continence, but not quite yet". As funny as that is to read now, St. Augustine was quite in ernest. He was a Gnostic Christian, until he was 32 and converted to Catholicism. But until that time he spent a lot of effort sowing his wild oats, indulging frequently and with vigor sleeping with anyone he could. He had a concubine (whose name we do not know) with whom he had a child, Adeodatus. His mother, Monica, had opposed a marriage with the concubine as it would interfere with his career. His mother persuaded him to get rid of her, and move to Milan, so he could make a better career. She also set him up with a marriage into a prominent family, whose rank and means would further his career. He abandoned his concubine now that it was inconvenient (his fiancee's family insisted on it) for a society wife, half his age, his mother had set up with him. But as the society wife was two years too young, he took up in the meantime with someone else.

Both as a Gnostic1 Christian and a Catholic believed in chastity, but struggled with lust. He finally came to associate sexual desire with our fallen nature. It was not the sex act itself, but rather the feelings associated with it, and the degree with which relationships and family interfered with his career.

He tried to quit, but found himself unable to stop. Even after his conversion to Catholicism, he struggled between lust and sexual anorexia. But God is not a glutton for either punishment or asceticism. Augustine avoided marriage because it would have interfered with his work and sex because he had a guilt complex. But none of that was a good thing. This was not an oscillation between virtue and vice because neither of these was virtue. While his celibacy was not fornication, neither was it anything good. It was still a sex obsession.

You can not oscillate between virtue and vice any more than you can easily go from bodybuilder to frail old man, and back again. And if any have done that, it has taken years to recover what they lost.

Later, he advocated celibacy as a higher way of life. But was this celibacy a form of virtue? No, not at all. You can not any more easily change yourself from a bodybuilder to scrawny wimpy nerd and back. Nor could you change from a accomplished mathematician to a village idiot, and back. Thus virtue is not only what we do or do not do, but is a statement of what our soul is truly like. It is an aspect of our nature. Christ must change our natures, or when it comes down to willpower vs. desires, desires will win.

What this illustrates, is that the opposite of immorality is not abstinence. Nor is the opposite of pornography, modesty. Abstinence and modesty are both merely a lack of sin. And while that is important, we need something more substantial. The true opposite of these, is the service we perform in the Temple and the ordinances performed there and the living covenants we have made there, particularly those that seal us as families. Why is the Temple and family, the spiritual opposite? Because the qualities necessary for, and engendered by one, are the polar opposite of what composes the other.

Temple service is just that, service and that service is a selfless and vital act of love, for people that for the most part, we will never even meet in this life. It releases them from a spiritual bondage. It strengthens us against the World and our own carnal natures. The entire focus of the temple is Eternity. It brings us a greater measure of the Spirit of God and brings us closer to God than we could otherwise be.

While on the other hand, immorality in its myriad forms, separates us from God. It focuses inordinately on the moment. We can not have his Spirit while we unrepentantly indulge in this sin. It is among the greatest expressions of worldliness and the most potent re-enforcers of our carnal nature. It is a spiritual bondage. It is the opposite of love and service, as it neither benefits others, nor is done with that in mind.

Further, one is destructive of the foundations of family happiness and futurity and is among the greatest of sins, while the other is the means for its eternal existence and exaltation and is among the greatest forms of service.

Was this celibacy merely neutral? While it is true, that it was intended as a way to become closer to God, it was anything but neutral on the subject of sex or family. Jerome, for instance, counseled married couples to divorce so they could devote themselves to God, even going so far as to say that marriage was an invention of Satan. "How many there are who, by consent between themselves, cancel the debt of their marriage, eunuchs of their own accord through the desire of the kingdom of heaven."

Augustine for his part, was not quite as extreme, but scarcely less obsessed. He considered that any kind of sexual feeling or action, not matter how natural or innocent, was sin. Married couples could have sex, but only if it was for children. He even considered an erect penis to be a symbol of the inner man's rebellion against God.

Origen felt so strongly about it, he castrated himself. St. Ambrose wrote, “The ministerial office must be kept pure and unspotted and must not be defiled by coitus (sex)." (St. Ambrose, "Duties of Clergy" 1, 258). Iranaeus (d. 202) taught that sexual copulating was the reason Adam and Eve were banished from Eden, and that it was by never having sex, that Jesus redeemed the world. (St. Iranaeus, "Against Heresies" 5, 19, 1)

These were not minor figures or people on the fringe or rare opinions. They were the leading men and popular opinion-makers of their day. But in all of this, the family (and often by extension, women) were denigrated as a sinful result of the Fall, and something to be avoided. The ultimate goal was a life of uninterrupted and exclusive philosophical contemplation of God. Family was considered an evil to be avoided because it drew one's attention away from God. Origen considered the distractions of domestic and economic life to be an unmixed evil. (Origen, Contra Celsum I, 9-10, in PG 11:672-75.) They sought a quiet unattached life free of all financial and social obligations.

Considering that men like these wrote voluminous books on this, we could spend a very long time discussing this, but this is enough for us to ask, Is there a relationship between celibacy and these very unhealthy opinions about sex and family? And was any of this virtuous? Can this be considered to be what the Bible taught?
Although this did have its origins in some misinterpreted verses in the New Testament, some by Paul for instance, it is certainly not scriptural. It is plainly taught that children are an heritage of the Lord and blessed is the man that has his quiver full of them.

But when the Early Church Fathers (as they are called) preferred the unattached life of a philosopher over the hassles of marriage and family, they made a significant error. The stated goal was to spend all of one's time drawing near to God, to more completely worship Him. But can we worship God without trying to be like Him? Do we not all strive to be more Christ-like and Godly people? How can we best do that?

Above all things, God is the Father. He is our original parent. If we wish to become more Godly and like Him, we must learn the life lessons that spring from the kind of life He leads. The kind of life lessons that are learned from being without responsibility, without necessary concerns for others, without personal inconvenience, and above all, without sacrifice, teach us the wrong lessons to learn. But no amount of church service in addition to such a life, can teach us, or help transform us, to become a mother or father.

And the longer it is put off, the longer it will be before we can be taught by service in this very essential way. Not that all of us, of course, have all of the opportunities for dating and marriage that we would like. I would scarcely condemn those without opportunity. What I refer to by way of condemnation, are those who prefer the single life, and who do not actively seek to change their single status. Not all of us may even have an opportunity in this life, but all of us should have honestly sought it with all our heart.

Thus, virtue has everything to do with the doctrine of the family, which, by extension means the sealing power of the priesthood is its ideal.

Virtue is what benefits and perpetuates the family, it is the proper relationship between men and women – hence those who avoid marriage, (even single mothers and fathers, who are too busy with their children to date are included here) may be not disobeying the law of chastity in so many ways, but until a couple is eternally sealed, the law has not been fulfilled completely and the blessing is unreceived.

The rest of the chapter coming later!