Last post I tried to disentangle and nail down the type of intellectualism which is not compatible with Mormonism. Briefly, Mormonism is not against us being good at using our intellect nor is it against us enjoying using our intellect for various purposes. What Mormonism is against, however, is us believing, speaking or acting as if our intellect were the universal and indispensable judge of what we ought to believe, say or do. Whereas the intellectual holds that the unexamined life is not worth living, the faithful Mormon places little importance in knowing the reasons for doing some things, save the Lord hath commanded it. Having articulated a Mormon perspective on intellectualism, I would now like to switch gears and articulate the intellectual perspective on Mormonism. While I will eventually argue in future posts that intellectualism fiercely rejects priesthood authority, in this post I want to show the compatibility of intellectualism with prophecy. (more…)
I think we can all agree that within Mormonism there is a certain kind of ambivalence toward intellectualism, even if we aren’t quite able to put our finger on it. On the one hand, it seems clear that Mormonism embraces intelligence as such, going so far as to equate it with the Glory of God. Along these lines we are also told to seek truth and knowledge from the best books and counseled that to be learned is good so long as we don’t abandon the faith. On the other hand, there are at least as many passages which warn us of the learned and scholarly who preach the philosophies of men according to the understanding of the flesh. These tensions within the scriptures leave one wondering what place, if any, is to be found for intellectuals within the church. (more…)
Psychology Today’s latest issue discusses the double edged nature of virtues. Sometimes a virtue, either taken to excess or cherished too dearly, warps into a vice. The article gives several examples.
Fairness is a virtue. But it’s easy to become obsessive about fairness, especially when it plays in our favor. The article references a father who told his daughter he would miss her birthday because he had a business opportunity. ”When she dried her tears, she told him it was OK—as long as he missed her sister’s birthday, too.” Of course, the daughter could have been thinking more selfishly than fairly, but even if the father had made this call himself, it’s hard to say he was acting virtuously. In fact, I imagine with some thought, we could come up with some other reasons why fairness should be tempered (the justice/mercy problem springs to mind).
Another example from the article is agreeableness or niceness, which in more religious terms we could call meekness. Being really nice is good, but when it overtakes being assertive, we can not only harm ourselves, but others as well. As the article points out, people who are agreeable tend to have lower salaries and get fewer promotions, and in some cases can strain romantic relationships because they’re too dependent and clingy.
While the virtues listed in the article serve mainly in the corporate context, Mormonism prizes several virtues that didn’t make this list, such as obedience, faith, and charity. Perhaps these virtues can also morph into vices. Can we become obsessively obedient? Does an excessive reliance on faith corrupt it? Can the compulsive pursuit of charity become a vice?
A lot of elders on my mission liked saying, “If you’re 99% obedient, you’re disobedient.” Not only do I worry about the psychological ramifications of this statement (as, apparently, does Elder Holland), but I wonder if the statement excuses obsessive obedience.
The pharisees are the classic example of over-obedient followers. Not only did they obey the law, but they hedged the law with non-divine rules just to be extra careful. Ironically, as Jesus pointed out, their law hedging made them disobedient, because they became so focused on superfluous details that they lost sight of the actual law itself. Furthermore, their obsessive obedience made them intensely judgmental. (more…)
The vast majority of members – especially females – oppose the priesthood ordination of women. Which means that if the church were a democracy women would not be ordained. But the church is not a democracy such that orders come from the top-down rather than from the bottom-up, and the top says “no” to the priesthood ordination of women as well. In spite of this, the Ordain Women movement presses forward, urging the church to give women the priesthood without any regard for what the rest of the church wants or thinks. This state of affairs cries out for explanation: How can a movement which is so strongly committed to emancipation and social justice (and I see no reason to doubt their sincerity) try to force people to be free? (more…)
Consider the following (and somewhat lengthy) sociological analysis of those tendencies toward dogmatism which we associate with correlation:
“The dogmatism which subsequently mushrooms among Mormons is thus already half-prepared by the stasis of critical thought inherent in doctrinal form; but this is only a potential for dogmatism which Mormonism shares even with conventional normal science. If Mormon dogmatism is not a development alien to science itself but a potential it shares with it, why does this potentiality blossom so fully in Mormonism?… (more…)
The first priesthood blessing I gave terrified me. How does one, exactly, pull inspiration out of the air and give a blessing? No one ever described this to me; they just said it’ll happen. But I had no idea of how the words would come to me.
We can divide priesthood blessings into two components: the procedure, and the mechanics. We’re really good at discussing blessing procedure; that is, the steps to giving a proper blessing. But how does one pick the words they use? That’s the mechanics.
Below are some of my observations on priesthood mechanics, including an explanation of how I seek out inspiration in a blessing.
Do the Words Matter?
Firstly, do the words even matter in a blessing? Elder Oaks pointed out that in healing blessings, the recipients faith and God’s will, not the verbiage used, determine the outcome. So why should we fret about what to say? The words serve at least two functions in a blessing. First, when the priesthood holder echoes God’s will, the words enliven the spiritual environment where the blessing is given. I think that this can give the recipient confidence in God’s power to heal. Second, inspired words can help the recipient receive personal revelation.
A basic distinction which I draw in my attempts to undermine intellectualism, a distinction which I think serves to highlight the contingent nature of the intellectual’s values, is between a pre-modern/religious worldview and a modern/secular worldview. Very briefly, the ways in which statements and actions are justified within a pre-modern, religious worldview include appeals to authority, tradition and revelation. By contrast, within a modern-secular worldview statements and actions are justified by appeals to egalitarianism, logical coherence and empirical data. So many of the debates in the bloggernacle can profitably be construed as a competition as to which of these worldviews is the uniquely right way to view some phenomenon.
I’ve noted before that LDS speakers and writers occasionally point out that modesty is much more attitude than dress code, but whether dress code or attitude, today’s modesty probably doesn’t qualify as a virtue. Based on how they’re constructed, modesty guidelines conflate being modest with appearing modest. And since appearing modest generally satisfies communal standards, modesty falls short of a quality of character and, subsequently, a real virtue.
The emphasis on appearing modest sets modesty apart from other cherished Mormon values. Few youth leaders would teach youth that in order to be faithful they have to appear faithful. Modesty teachers, however, do follow this process. While I’ve spent a considerable time critiquing current modesty rhetoric, the main goal of this series is to establish an alternative meaning for modesty that avoids the negative elements currently attached to it. My intent in this post is to lay out a modesty that is primarily a quality of being but also gives some guidelines on appropriate dress. To do this, let’s return to what modesty meant before the English humanists radically altered its meaning.
I assume that most people in the bloggernacle are aware of the Liahona/Iron Rod distinction wherein those who surrender personal responsibility by following the prophet (like the Iron Rod) are contrasted with those who accept a more robust kind of responsibility by following their own spiritual promptings (like a Liahona). This metaphorical distinction, I submit, is nothing but the philosophies of men mingled with scripture – a clever sophistry which serves to undermine the prophets by democratizing priesthood authority. (more…)
Barnabe Rich was a pioneer moralist. In 1613 he wrote a book explaining the roles that men and women should play in the home. Of make-up wearing, provocatively dressed women Rich said that their appearance provoked:
The first, offence to God, the second, It giveth hope to the vicious, and thirdly, It bringeth destruction to the husbande.
Today, Rich’s list looks unremarkably consistent with current modesty discourse. Yet Rich had been born around the time that modesty had been invented. While up until this point I have criticized current modesty rhetoric, in the last four posts I’ll advance ideas that may strengthen modesty and chastity. But to begin with, I will first discuss modesty’s origins.
A few decades before Barnabe Rich wrote moral advice for married couples, Thomas Elyot, a friend of Thomas More and early English humanist, wrote a widely circulated moral manual for youth, The Boke Named the Governour. Among other things, Elyot’s fame comes from introducing several English words taken from Latin writers. In The Governour Elyot introduced modesty. Elyot rendered modesty from the Latin modestus, citing Cicero, which meant something like restraint or moderation (I’ll return to this in greater detail next time). Elyot’s modesty had no connection to sexual purity, which makes sense given the fact that modestus doesn’t connect to purity either. When the Romans discussed sexual purity they used pudicitia, an ambiguous word relating to sexual virtue including modest dress for women.
While the Romans held pudicitia in utmost regard, this virtue disappeared sometime before the Middle Ages, as did any idea linking modest dress to sexual purity. Medieval writers and artists show that the Middle Ages frowned on public nudity, but for reasons unrelated to chastity.
Speaking at a Women’s Conference event, Sister Claudia J. Dansie said:
Part of our responsibility as parents is to guide, direct, and warn if necessary…. Some topics must be covered as directly as their consequences are lethal—subjects such as modesty, drugs, pornography, and immorality.
Lethal? Assumedly, Dansie meant spiritually lethal. A woman’s bare shoulders expose herself to consequences with eternal implications. Does modesty really merit this language?
Elaine S. Dalton expressed a similarly solemn message calling modesty “the foundation stone of chastity,” explaining “it is essential to our very safety to be modest.” Adding to Dansie’s and Dalton’s severe warnings, BYU president Cecil Samuelson explained that dressing immodesty may be as perilous as breaking the Word of Wisdom:
Most of you have no problems concerning the Word of Wisdom….What we may not realize is…that what we put on our bodies may be as equally corrosive and dangerous as what we might ingest into our bodies. (emphasis in original)
It’s hard to imagine that a woman’s uncovered knees could be as dangerous as her drinking alcohol, especially since the latter has temple-worthiness implications. But because feminine modesty so closely connects to chastity, modesty rhetoric has adopted grave themes.
This is the second post in the New Approach to Modesty series. For post one click here.
Getting ready for a Mutual activity, Chelsea Anderson casually put on a pair of short shorts. “It never occurred to me that they were inappropriate.” She sat down in one of the few remaining seats, prepared for a lesson from the missionaries. With the last couple of remaining seats to her side, Chelsea overheard the missionaries’ whispered argument over who would have to sit next to her. Although she didn’t hear why they argued, Chelsea figured her immodest shorts caused the argument. “I realized that I was making virtuous young men feel uncomfortable.” Thereafter Chelsea dressed modestly.
While her story is unique, Chelsea didn’t have to look far for council to mirror.
Young women, respect your body and help others, particularly young men, maintain virtuous thoughts and actions. (Dress and Appearance: Let the Holy Spirit Guide)
Not only does this sort of council make young women responsible for young men’s actions, but it signals an even greater problem with current modesty rhetoric. But before getting there, we first have to establish what modesty means today. To begin with, modesty rhetoric rarely refers to men. When it does, speakers implore men to dress appropriately for sacred ordinances and meetings, leaving references to virtue virtually nonexistent.
Part of why male modesty rarely focuses on male sexuality could be because male leaders don’t find men sexually alluring.
If leaders applied the sexuality standard equally, perhaps the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet would read a little differently:
Is it too much of a stretch to say that any Mormon discussion of the atonement must answer the big three questions: Where are we going? Why are we here? Where did we come from?
Why are so many bloggers talking about modesty recently? Prepare to know.
As a young man writing about human nature David Hume analyzed several common virtues. When he got to modesty and chastity he ran into a problem. On the one hand, society needs healthy families, but on the other, men have a lot of reasons to avoid being good husbands and fathers. What happens when a man finds out the child he thinks is his isn’t? That’s a problem. Hume saw that men won’t be good fathers if they don’t feel reasonably confident that their mouths-to-feed have a biological connection to them (leaving adoption aside). Men need a guarantee. So how do we rest their fears? Hume’s solution is modesty.
Well, chastity really solves the issue. If women stay virtuous, there won’t be any problems (since women always know who they gave birth to, unchaste men won’t cause them confusion). But Hume was a practical man. People have sex in private. He knew that society can’t constrain lascivious acts done behind closed doors. Hume advised that society should shame women into modesty so that they’ll be more chaste. As modesty increases men will feel more assured that their wives stay faithful. The men will then believe they sired the children the women produce, and the great wheel of social order will continue. No joke.
Let’s not crucify Hume for such an uneven approach to modesty. While blunt, Hume hardly broke new ground. In fact, some readers might applaud Hume’s insight. They shouldn’t. Using modesty to curtail chastity issues creates other serious problems, which I will come back to later. We can do better with both virtues by unhinging them and reimaging them. In this series I’ll present how.
This discussion couldn’t be timelier. Mormon modesty rhetoric has exploded in the last decade. In the 1990s only three General Conference speakers discussed modesty. In the 2000s that number shot up to twenty-one. The next highest decade after the 2000s was the 60s, with only eight speakers discussing modesty. BYU devotionals show the same trend. Nearly as many speakers discussed modesty in the last decade as the three previous decades combined (ten and eleven respectively). There are also more articles in the church magazines now more than ever before, especially The Friend. Almost every speaker focused on female modesty, and most of them linked it to sexual purity as Hume did.
Church leaders have connected female modesty to they way they dress for decades. Brigham Young may have been the first to link the two. Here is a selection of his that modern leaders sometimes quote: (more…)