An Unveiled History of Modesty in the West – New Approach to Modesty Series

August 3, 2013    By: DavidF @ 10:52 am   Category: Life,Modesty,Mormon Culture/Practices

This is the fourth post in the New Approach to Modesty series.  Click for post one, post two, and post three.

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.

In Sexuality in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Times, Albrecht Classen, a leading figure in medieval sexuality, examines several medieval stories where nakedness causes shame in the characters.  Examining the literary cues, Classen shows that sexual purity has no attachment to the characters’ shame.  For example Classen draws from the German poem The Stricker, a poetic story collection with moral lessons.  In one story a servant’s master sends him to deliver a message to another lord.  Someone tells the servant that the lord is sitting in his bathroom, which he has heated for the winter months.  The servant incorrectly assumes that the lord is taking a bath when, in fact, the lord had modified the room so that he and his daughters could work on their chores while enjoying the warmth.  The servant gets naked and enters the room only to discover that he is a naked man in a room full of a clothed people.  The lord assumes that the servant’s goal was to “rob [the lord] of his honor by exhibiting himself to the entire family as a deliberate affront” and nearly kills him before the story gets resolved happily (everyone sees it was just one big misunderstanding).

The story teaches us that we shouldn’t be so quick to judge, but Classen takes another message from it.  The lord wasn’t angry because the servant’s nudity implied sexual gestures, but because the servant had apparently displayed himself as an exhibitionist.  Communal bathing, and bathing with a guest were both common features of medieval life.  Had everyone been on board ahead of time, the blatant nudity of this stranger wouldn’t have been a problem.  But the exhibitionism, likely coupled with the disparity of social rank, offended medieval notions of honor.

Other cultural indicators support the idea that medieval sexuality and nakedness differ markedly from today.  In medieval England, wedding guests would accompany newlyweds to their bedchambers and watch them lie naked together.  Sexual acts in general weren’t nearly as private as they are now, and in some instances, servants or children were present while a husband and wife copulated.  Medieval artwork is filled with images that could hardly be described as anything but pornographic, including images where clothed and naked people appear in the same scene, such as in aristocratic parties.  Classen also highlights several other stories where both nakedness and shame about the nakedness factor into the story but are not linked by a sense of shame about sexuality.

This is not to say that the medieval world was enlightened about gender, sex, nakedness and so forth, and it certainly shouldn’t be a model to return to.  It does show that modesty, referring to sexualizing dress, had lost itself for over a millennium in the west.  So what brought it back?

Modesty returned as the Middle Ages came to a close.  Renaissance humanism, taking firm root across Europe in the 16th century, introduced a dramatic shift in western thought.  Beginning with Elyot, the English humanists brought modesty into the cultural discourse.  Like the Romans, the first humanists, such as Elyot and Roger Ascham, treated modesty as a character trait for men, not a standard of dress for women.  The poet Phillip Marlowe made the first subtle connection between modesty and feminine dress in his 1589 The Hero and the Leander, writing about a bride and groom on the wedding day:

On his right arm did hang a scarlet veil,/And from his shoulders to the ground did trail/On either side, ribands of white and blue/With the red veil he hid the bashful hue/Of the chaste bride, to show the modest shame/In coupling with a man, should grace a dame.

In short, by veiling her face a woman displays her modesty.

The earliest exposition on feminine modesty came 13 years later from Barnabe Rich’s moral manual, which I cited earlier.  Thus, within half a century, modesty transformed from a classical virtue related to moderation, to a feminine virtue relating chastity to appearance.

Returning to an earlier claim, did the humanists really invent modesty?  Or had they just reintroduced it?  It’s probably just a matter of perspective.  The English humanists adapted ancient concepts (modestus and pudicitia), but in fusing them together under one word, modesty, they created something new.  Notably, French maintains the difference between modestie (modestus) and pudeur (pudor – a connected word to pudicitia in terms of general meaning).

Modesty probably first gained popularity among the aristocracy, where affluence made female dress a significant topic.  It is quite possible that modesty didn’t have much influence on peasants for decades, or perhaps centuries.  Scholars have noted a similar trend on female virginity before marriage, which the aristocracy gave serious attention to in the Middle Ages, but no one else appeared to give it the same weight until much later.  However long it took for modesty to become an essentially universal social virtue, by the industrial revolution, when the rising middle class could start spending money on fashion, modesty had become an ingrained virtue among all classes.

At least among Catholics and Mormons, modesty, in terms of avoiding sexualizing dress, didn’t become serious religious topics until the early 20th century.  As I noted before, Joseph F. Smith first advocated feminine modesty in Mormonism.  Pope Pius XI gave the first official statement in 1930 on the topic for Catholics, following the influence of Saint Padre Pio (1887-1968), who had a remarkable sway on modern Catholic views of modesty.  Reading feminine modesty into the scriptures and God’s decrees ensued thereafter.

To try and bridge the last post to the next one, I will make two notes.  First, feminine modesty has no origin in sacred literature, but in ancient Greek and Roman morality.  That doesn’t mean that we should discard feminine modesty on that basis alone, but it should embolden us to be critical of whether we accept it.  Second, because modesty’s justifications are ultimately unconnected to religion, we should feel comfortable with modifying it to suit the best usage we can find.  In the next post I’ll introduce my own formulation of modesty, drawing from Elyot’s definition, before modesty acquired its baggage of sexual purity.

                                           

Classen, Albrecht, ed. Sexuality in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Times:  New Approaches to a Fundamental Cultural-Historical and Literary-Anthropological Theme. Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG: 2008.

Karras, Ruth Mazo. Sexuality in Medieval Europe: Doing Unto Others, 2nd Edition. Routledge: 2012.

Langlands, Rebecca. Sexual Morality in Ancient Rome. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Rich, Barnabe. The excellency of good women. The honour and estimation that belongeth vnto them. The infallible     markes whereby to know them. By Barnabe Rych souldier seruant to the Kings most excellent Maiestie. http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebo/A10700.0001.001?rgn=main;view=fulltext (Accessed August 2, 2013).

112 Comments »

  1. I was actually very comfortable with everything in this post… until the last paragraph. The whole point of revelation is that it doesn’t really matter what we think and the whole point of continuing revelation is that it doesn’t really matter what did or did not happen in other times and places, whether written in the scriptures or not. Your post did nothing to “embolden us to be critical” of anything, nor did it establish that modesty’s justifications are ultimately unconnected to religion.”

    Comment by Jeff G — August 3, 2013 @ 12:12 pm

  2. I should note, however, that this post is very much the reason why I wanted to resist the strong identification or connection between modesty and chastity that Geoff was advocating. I thought the historical information was quite interesting, but when it came time to unpack its relevance to us, the reasoning got pretty quick and sloppy.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 3, 2013 @ 12:14 pm

  3. Thanks Jeff. The last paragraph was mainly a way to make this post relevant to the series as a whole (had I not been so anxious to get this out, maybe I could have thought of a better conclusion to it). But ignoring that, I’m glad you enjoyed the informational side of it, which was a pleasure to research.

    Comment by DavidF — August 3, 2013 @ 3:03 pm

  4. Interesting history lesson.

    I fail to see how it supports criticism of Mormonism’s recent focus on “modesty” for several reasons.

    1. Mormonism is based on the principal that God leads this church today. So claiming “feminine modesty has no origin in sacred literature, but in ancient Greek and Roman morality” is moot. Either God runs this church now and has inspired the current emphasis on avoiding too “sexy” clothing or he hasn’t.

    2. Pointing out that medieval folks didn’t share our standards of sexual purity or modesty mostly supports the Mormon narrative of a Great Apostasy as far as I can tell. The fact that civilizations closer to the time of Jesus did support more similar standards further bolsters that Great Apostasy/ Dark Ages perspective.

    3. Sounds like flashers have never been acceptable, even in the middle ages. Not surprising but it’s an amusing factoid anyway.

    4. It seems like one of your primary gripes is that you are bummed that the meaning of the word “modesty” has morphed in the English language. But language drifts and we can’t do much about that. I am bummed that people say “I’m jealous” when they really mean “I’m envious” all the time but that is a language shift I am not going to be able to turn back either.

    5. I am still baffled at the resistance to the obvious connection to current Mormon warnings against too-sexy clothing and the law of chastity. If there were no law of chastity do you really think these modesty standards opposed to wearing too-sexy clothing would be emphasized in the church? If so, to what end?

    Comment by Geoff J — August 5, 2013 @ 1:02 am

  5. Geoff,

    1. True. This may just be a personal consideration, but when I can trace an argument currently espoused in the church to a very non-sacred origin, I find myself skeptical of the revelatory nature of the argument. I find myself more likely to see it as part of the zeitgeist that our current leaders grew up in. I could of course be wrong, but it raises a red flag in my mind.

    2. Perhaps. The Great Apostasy is ultimately the loss of priesthood authority, but we also often point out the problems of Greek thought invading Christian theology. Modesty is just that (although delayed until after the Renaissance). And since there are plenty of bad ideas the Romans espoused around the early church that we wouldn’t agree with, I’m not sure this is a good counterargument. Either way, you don’t find feminine modesty in the scriptures, except through one very strained reading of Genesis 3. Otherwise, it’s just not there.

    4. This is a good point. But since I’ve started with the a priori notion that we should change what we mean by modesty, looking back to older definitions is a helpful place to start.

    5. No. I agree that if we lacked a law of chastity, we wouldn’t teach modesty. It’s clear that we want to make the connection. And like I’ve said before, there is at least some loose connection between chastity and modesty. But I think we’ve overplayed that connection, and it doesn’t exist to the degree that many of us think it does.

    Comment by DavidF — August 5, 2013 @ 9:20 am

  6. *True. This may just be a personal consideration, but when I can trace an argument currently espoused in the church to a very non-sacred origin, I find myself skeptical of the revelatory nature of the argument. I find myself more likely to see it as part of the zeitgeist that our current leaders grew up in. I could of course be wrong, but it raises a red flag in my mind.*

    I don’t see the sense of this, frankly. God does work among the Gentiles. Mormonism is not meant to be hermetically sealed.

    Most everything you believe, including the techniques of deconstruction that you have been using in this series of posts, originated in non-Mormon sources.

    Comment by Adam G. — August 5, 2013 @ 10:38 am

  7. Adam G.,

    This is a good point. But I find myself in a dilemma. Prophets aren’t infallible and Mormonism doesn’t contain all of the truth. So how am I to go about judging what is truth and what is error, if I can’t necessarily trust everything I’m taught in church to be perfectly true? The Spirit helps, but revelation isn’t always so neatly delivered. So I, like everyone else, am often left to my own devices to sort things out. So when I can trace a principle back to a non-divine source, I question it. I don’t dismiss it, but I study it with heightened scrutiny. That’s the best I can do with my limited mind.

    Comment by DavidF — August 5, 2013 @ 10:59 am

  8. Well, it helps to realize that in this life knowledge isn’t meant to be had, but to be sought.

    There is a reason revelation doesn’t come in neat little packages. Just like there is a reason exercise isn’t easy.

    Comment by SilverRain — August 5, 2013 @ 11:47 am

  9. I think we’ve overplayed that connection, and it doesn’t exist to the degree that many of us think it does.

    I think you might be right about this. But what, then, is the reason for modesty standards? (For the record, I reject the idea that modesty needs to be connected to other morals.) You make it clear that modesty has its roots in pagan sources and that these pagan sources weren’t too connected to chastity. Fine. But what was the reason for it then? If anything, adding these extra reasons should provide an even stronger case for modesty.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 5, 2013 @ 1:37 pm

  10. But what was the reason for it then?

    That’s a difficult question, mainly because modesty is traditionally connected with shame (in one way or another), and in my experience concepts of honor and shame are among the hardest to understand in foreign (including ancient) cultures.

    I mentioned that for Cicero and Thomas Elyot, modesty meant moderation, but that wasn’t quite true for the Greeks, who basically used modesty (aidos) to mean conformity; or rather, conforming with communal standards. Different authors held different ideas under that umbrella.

    So, for example, Protagoras argued that modesty and justice were the two forces that kept citizens in check. Justice delivers punishment, while modesty delivers disgrace.

    Plato followed Protagoras by connecting modesty with reputation. If you take immodest actions, then the community will shame you, and your reputation will be disgraced.

    Both Protagoras and Plato saw modesty as a publicly enforced virtue (like justice). But other Greeks felt that modesty should be a matter of self-shame. You should conform to keep yourself from being embarrassed (by yourself). They figured that if you left it up to society to deal out shame, then all you really teach people is how to do wrong actions in private.

    To go on a brief tangent, Aristotle argued that modesty wasn’t a virtue. A virtuous man should take right actions out of a desire to do good, not out of a fear of shame (Aristotle teetered back on forth whether modesty comes from public or self-shame). He still praised modesty, but didn’t call it a virtue.

    Digressing, when we talk about modesty today, we’re talking about the the basic Greek version, except that we’ve shifted it from men to women, turned it almost entirely into a matter of sexual expression, and limited it to whether a woman’s dress should trigger public shame. We can trace this convoluted combination of ideas to the renaissance humanists, who, in seeking to emulate the ancients, produced a patchwork quilt of concepts strangely sewed together. I find it fascinating.

    My definition of modesty will follow Thomas Elyot’s, who didn’t seem to buy into enforcing modesty through public shaming, but through self-shame. And as I’ve painstakingly documented in the previous two posts, LDS ideas of modesty do the exact opposite of this, and make modesty into a matter of public enforcement (if not explicitly then at least implicitly).

    Comment by DavidF — August 6, 2013 @ 5:25 pm

  11. That’s the thing, David; figuring out the reason for Mormonism’s recent emphasis on clothing choices not a difficult question . Current Mormon modesty rhetoric is entirely connected to the law of chastity as we swim in our modern waters of ubiquitous “sexy” images and easy access to porn. The only difficult thing is pretending it is not.

    Let’s not forget that Mormonism is a highly pragmatic religion. What other reason would there be for the rising resistance to too-sexy-clothing among us? Some tribal garb thing like white shirts for men on Sundays? I think not. The obvious explanation works perfectly well here so your resistance to the obvious remains baffling to me.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 7, 2013 @ 9:47 am

  12. In Mormonism, the body is important and sacred. To me it’s not very difficult to imagine modesty being based on a stand alone principle of respect and honor for the sacred body and the image of God which we bear, that should not be crassly and disrespectfully open to public viewing.

    Comment by SteveF — August 7, 2013 @ 10:18 am

  13. David,

    It seems like your last comment was more about modesty in the sense of “he’s just being modest” as opposed to being boastful. I was wondering more about standards of dress. What purpose did they serve? No doubt the two are connected like in the Book of Mormon when people begin to dress immodestly in the sense of being too concerned with fashion and social status. But what else can you say about dress standards?

    (For the record, and no offense intended, but I couldn’t care less about was various philosophers thought or argued. I find the positions that they argued against to be more interesting and relevant.)

    Comment by Jeff g — August 7, 2013 @ 1:38 pm

  14. Geoff J,

    I fully acknowledge that Mormons address modesty in order to protect chastity. I just don’t think those two concepts really are as related as we make them out to be. You keep appealing to common sense to show that modesty and chastity are connected. I have produced logical arguments (there is neither a necessary nor sufficient connection between modesty and chastity), studies (sexualization, not immodest dress, affects chastity), and now a historical argument (only in the modern era have modesty and chastity become linked) to show that the modesty-chastity link is actually dubious. Do I resist connecting these two concepts? Yes, but that’s in part because the only counterargument you’ve produced is an appeal to common sense that I’m not sure is either common nor sensible. Mormonism may aim for pragmatism, but that doesn’t mean it always achieves it. I do of course think our leaders are inspired, but when we acknowledge that they are fallible, I think the modesty-chastity link is a contender for showing how they are fallible. But maybe I should stop trying to battle this out in the comments section. I think we’re bound to disagree on this.

    Comment by DavidF — August 7, 2013 @ 6:51 pm

  15. SteveF

    The problem with the respectful dress line is that it isn’t very convincing. Jake thinks that bare shoulders are disrespectful to God, but Janice thinks that God doesn’t mind. Who is right? And why are they right? And since modesty standards have become less restrictive over time, why isn’t it disrespectful to God for a woman to show her upper arms in public when it was once considered immodest? Respect is such an arbitrary and culturally determined value, that it is a pretty tough sale to make to anyone who isn’t predisposed to accepting that argument.

    Comment by DavidF — August 7, 2013 @ 6:52 pm

  16. Jeff G

    Actually, the modesty I described in my last post was really any action of social conformity. It was much more expansive than any and all definitions we use for modesty today. Either way, I see I missed your question.

    The Romans had strict dress standards on married women (less so on unmarried women, but I don’t know much about that). Some records show that married women had to wear veils when they left the house. Think today’s Muslims. It was to prevent affairs. In saying that, I’m not sure how widespread or how long in Roman history those kinds of standards lasted (we often incorrectly think of the Romans in large singular terms, but that’s a different topic).

    During the Middle Ages, dress was justified because it was an outward display of how mankind differs from brute animals (I think they were following Aristotle on this). Interestingly, underwear didn’t get invented until around the time that the modern world became concerned with modest dress.

    I don’t know much about the purpose of dress in other times and places. As far as I can tell there hasn’t been much ink devoted to the topic.

    Oh and don’t worry. I know you don’t care much about philosophers. ;) But they leave behind written records, which makes them invaluable sources.

    Comment by DavidF — August 7, 2013 @ 6:52 pm

  17. Jeff G,

    I’m a little concerned that I’m still not answering your question. Forgive me if I’m flailing unhelpful answers about.

    Comment by DavidF — August 7, 2013 @ 6:54 pm

  18. David,

    Yes, I am appealing mostly to common sense because it is, you know, so obvious.

    If your question in this series is “why does Mormonism focus on avoiding sexy clothes so much”, the most universal answer might be “because God wants the church to do so”. The next question might be “why does God want that?” Jeff’s answer is probably “We don’t know for sure, but it doesn’t matter anyway. We trust God.” That answer works fine for some. A more practical answer is “well we know through clear revelation that God commands all of the saints to covenant to live the law of chastity. And common sense dictates that wearing overtly sexy clothes works against compliance with the law of chastity. Therefore God probably wants us to avoid too-sexy clothes as a hedge around the law of chastity.”

    Seems to me that you are engaged in a lot of wishful thinking with your series. You think things should be some other way than they are in the world and so all of the studies, logical arguments, and history you are providing are in support of the way you think the world should be. But should is not is.

    Also, I don’t know what you mean when you say “Mormonism may aim for pragmatism, but that doesn’t mean it always achieves it”. I think this is probably false. Mormonism may not be perfect or always right, but it is nearly always pragmatic as a whole. As such, it doesn’t matter one whit who taught avoiding too-sexy clothes throughout history. If teaching that to the the saints to avoid too-sexy clothing now is believed to serve God’s purposes now then it will be taught and we saints will be left to choose to follow the counsel or not.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 7, 2013 @ 8:43 pm

  19. @DavidF. “Respect is such an arbitrary and culturally determined value” Yet there still may well be an eternal principle behind certain parts of the body being too sacred to expose to the general public view. As is true with any objective moral truth, culture will have its own interpretation of what constitutes morality (in this case what parts of the body are too sacred for public view or not, if any at all), but that does not take away from an objective moral truth existing.

    If prophets tell us certain parts of our body should not be exposed, and we already believe/accept that the body is sacred, and that we actually bear the sacred image of God, I don’t think its unreasonable to think that there might be an independent eternal truth behind this instruction.

    Comment by SteveF — August 7, 2013 @ 8:44 pm

  20. SteveF,

    Based on the Garden of Eden story, there is no eternal prohibition on public nudity. There were at least 5 people in that story and God had no problem with public nudity before the Fall. So I think any claims that “here still may well be an eternal principle behind certain parts of the body being too sacred to expose to the general public view” don’t hold up.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 7, 2013 @ 10:11 pm

  21. Geoff J. Off the top of my head I can think of a few reasons the Garden story as a single example (and possible exception) doesn’t necessarily support your logic:
    -Adam and Eve were in state of innocence, not knowing good from evil.
    -Adam and Eve were husband and wife
    -Their state was described as being like children
    -Many elements of the story are to be taken symbolically. In some traditions Adam and Eve were covered by garments of light before taking of the forbidden fruit, only at which point they became fully exposed losing their garments of light
    -They were ashamed of their nakedness once they did know good from evil, and their first natural inclination was to cover their nakedness
    -The Garden has been described as a sacred space like unto a temple, possibly a terrestrial sphere, and therefore could be a more appropriate space than base/mortal Telestial spheres to be so exposed temporarily.
    -All other beings in the story that knew good from evil (and all other non-earthly beings I’ve ever heard described)all wore clothes.
    -And as a side note, some traditions hold that we will receive/inherit heavenly robes or garments upon resurrection to heavenly glory, pointing to the idea that wearing clothes may be eternal (and to what end, if we are not in danger of breaking the law of chastity?). Even our own endowment makes various connections between clothing and the eternal priesthood.

    I think many of these points individually, but especially collectively give reasonable doubt to your logic, and I think taken as a whole even shifts the most logical conclusion in favor of my theory. Additionally, in other comment sections, I have already pointed out some other scriptural support for this concept (when viewing the human body as a temple/tabernacle, etc.)

    Comment by SteveF — August 8, 2013 @ 7:38 am

  22. SteveF,

    Here are some reasons why your examples don’t work:

    1. If God were opposed to public nudity as an eternal principle as you asserted, the “state of innocence” thing wouldn’t be an exception. That’s what eternal principals are — eternal and unchanging.
    2. Adam and Eve eventually were married (later if I remember correctly) but they weren’t married to the three other men in the narrative. Thus the “public” thing.

    I could go on, but suffice it to say your claim that there “may well be an eternal principle behind certain parts of the body being too sacred to expose to the general public view” is thoroughly unpersuasive. Not that God isn’t opposed to adult public nudity for us here and now. But that need not be an *eternal principal* to be binding on us here and now.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 8, 2013 @ 8:34 am

  23. Seems to me that you are engaged in a lot of wishful thinking with your series. You think things should be some other way than they are in the world and so all of the studies, logical arguments, and history you are providing are in support of the way you think the world should be. But should is not is.

    If making normative rather than positive statements about the world is sufficient grounds to dismiss an argument, I wonder what appeals to you about the restoration of a gospel that rejects the world as it is in favor of a Zion that may be.

    Comment by Peter LLC — August 8, 2013 @ 8:58 am

  24. If you equate the church teachings with “the world as it is” and undermining church leaders with pursuing a “Zion that could be”, then modesty is the least of your worries.

    Comment by Jeff g — August 8, 2013 @ 10:15 am

  25. Geoff J. Just because there are almost always exceptions to the mortal language we use to describe an eternal law, doesn’t make it not an eternal law.

    No, please continue, you have conveniently ignored several other stronger points, such as the possibility that Adam and Eve’s bodies weren’t even viewable, that the nakedness aspect may merely be a symbolic element of the story and not historical, or that like in other traditions, it a non-mortal state they may have been covered by some form of glory or garments of light. Your whole argument hinges on this one point, and yet without going back in time and seeing it, you cannot even substantiate that there was indeed either historical or visable nudity, let alone both. And since your whole argument hinges on this single point, the several plausible arguments against it, with several other points outside of the garden narrative that seem to reasonably contradict your idea, the argument falls flat.

    Even if they were historical visibly nude, which again you cannot prove, why wouldn’t a state of innocence be a reason they didn’t know to cover themselves? (Why would God force a principle of clothing on them in their neutral innocence?). Furthermore, there is the argument that this terrestrial/temple like sphere may have been a more appropriate and sacred guarded space for such a temporary exposure to occur. You also have failed to account for why then when they suddenly know good from evil, are they immediately ashamed of their nakedness. Were they afraid of breaking or being tempted to break the law of chastity? As husband and wife, I doubt it. You have to admit as a natural response, something other than breaking the law of chastity led to this shame and desire to cover up.

    You have also ignored the fact that all we only have examples of eternal beings that know good and evil with clothes, no angels or visions of heaven to my knowledge have ever been described with beings who are naked, but several have described clothing. You’ve largely ignored my previous scriptural arguments of the body being a tabernacle. And in Mormonism specifically in our more holy place, we make a specific connection of clothing with the eternal priesthood.

    Against this wide and varied body of evidence, your singe point that both cannot be proven and can be reasonably seen as an exception is extremely weak to say the least. I think you need to stop trying to pretend it is something more than it is.

    Comment by SteveF — August 8, 2013 @ 10:16 am

  26. Geoff,

    Peter LLC said it as well as I could. If you dismiss an argument simply because it relies on a should, you’ve dismissed any and all moral arguments, since all moral arguments ultimately make claims on how things should be.

    Perhaps current modesty teachings are in place because God says they should be. But maybe not. I could find a dozen or more quotes from General Authorities to show that prophets aren’t infallibile. So it would be irresponsible of me to assume they are right about everything they say just because they say it.

    Comment by DavidF — August 8, 2013 @ 10:33 am

  27. Whew! Let me try to catch up here.

    Regarding the modesty/chastity connection: I agree with Geoff that there is currently an obvious connection between the two. I agree with David, however, in doubting that this connection is interesting or relevant. I reject the assumption which both David and Geoff seem to share that modesty must be explained or justified in terms of some other principle or commandment. My position is that immodest dress is wrong, full stop. There may be interesting correlations and causations, but these have nothing to do with the fact that it’s wrong.

    I follow Steve is not accepting the Garden of Eden as a counter-example to much of anything. The idea that any other place or time can serve as a counter-example to what God wants for us here and now (especially when the time/place is Eden) is antithetical to the belief in continuing revelation.

    I think any conversation regarding the (in)falliblity of prophets is a complete red herring. NOBODY is infallible, least of all DavidF or the authors upon which he is leaning so heavily. For every statement which DavidF can produce to show how prophets are fallible, I can show him 5 that show how the philosophies of men are fallible. The real question isn’t fallibility, but truthworthiness, and all authoritative statement agree that the prophets trump all others on that count.

    This is why I reject David’s position: not because it is normative in nature, but because the values which it advocates are directly contrary to those of the prophets. David’s position seems to be: “Maybe the prophets are right and maybe they are wrong. Let’s try to settle this by an appeal to the tools of logic and evidence bequeathed to us by the philosophers and scientists.” But I reject this from the very start.

    So much of David’s position seems to be based in the presupposition that if we can’t explain it, then we can’t justify it. This is entirely wrong. I don’t care what the explanation is for our current modesty standards since such explanations are largely irrelevant to the question of justification.

    “Oh and don’t worry. I know you don’t care much about philosophers. ;)” You might be surprised! I graduated with a degree in philosophy and it is largely which philosophical weapons that I choose to battle philosophy. I simply think that philosophy implodes upon itself and is merely one (largely irrelevant) tool among the many available to us.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 8, 2013 @ 3:06 pm

  28. If you equate the church teachings with “the world as it is” and undermining church leaders with pursuing a “Zion that could be”, then modesty is the least of your worries.

    While I agree that modesty is the least of my worries, it seems you misunderstand: the church clearly rejects the world at it is (cf. the “natural man”) and church leaders, whom I have pledged to sustain, urge us to take steps within our stewardships to bring about conditions not yet widespread, even within our hearts, that are traditionally referred to as “Zion.”

    My reading of the teachings of Jesus and the prophets of the restoration is that they acknowledge “is” while preaching “should.” According to this reading, someone who dismisses an argument simply because it describes the way things ought to be rather than how they are is at best inconsistent in his reasoning if he at the same time accepts the normative project that is the restored gospel.

    Comment by Peter LLC — August 9, 2013 @ 8:24 am

  29. Peter LLC,

    You make a good point. I agree that my “world as it is” point in that comment didn’t work.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 9, 2013 @ 9:27 am

  30. DavidF,

    How far down this “God might not be opposed to too-sexy clothes and fallible prophets might have foisted Mormonism’s current aversion to them on us” path do you want to go? Do you even think there is a line where clothing should be considered too sexy and thus spiritually detrimental? If so where is that line and how is your line different from the line Mormonism is drawing?

    I would just like to figure out what we are really disagreeing about here.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 9, 2013 @ 9:33 am

  31. Jeff: My position is that immodest dress is wrong, full stop.

    I take it you come to this position because you believe leaders of the church to be the most reliable authorities on the subject, right?

    I have no problem with that position. My speculations about why the subject is important to God are really a different topic entirely.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 9, 2013 @ 9:45 am

  32. If so where is that line and how is your line different from the line Mormonism is drawing?

    The answer is part of my next post, so I’ll wait until then when I can frame it in the rest of my ideas.

    Comment by DavidF — August 9, 2013 @ 9:56 am

  33. Peter,

    I understood that point just fine. I also understood that Geoff wasn’t making such an absurd point either. The point of his objection was not that David’s posts are ideological, but that they undermine the ideology shared by the prophets and attempt to push a modern, liberal ideology whose source is secular rather than divine.

    Geoff,

    How I came to the belief isn’t terribly relevant to me either. Again, describing the origins of an idea or moral is a form of explaining it, and I reject the idea that explanation is necessary for justification. Good ideas and morals both tickle down from above and bubble up from below and I see no reason why they must be explained, logically framed or articulated in any way before we accept them.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 9, 2013 @ 12:37 pm

  34. “I reject the idea that explanation is necessary for justification”

    But surely you have a reason for any belief you hold, that tells yourself why its more than just an irrational or random thought? Even if that reason is as simple as “it feels right to me”.

    Without internal reasons/rationale, how can belief be belief?

    Or are you simply saying you don’t feel the need to explain your rationale to others.

    Comment by SteveF — August 9, 2013 @ 2:17 pm

  35. But surely you have a reason for any belief you hold, that tells yourself why its more than just an irrational or random thought? Even if that reason is as simple as “it feels right to me”

    .

    No, I don’t necessarily agree with this. I think that most of our widespread and long-lasting beliefs are neither irrational nor random. I think that very few of these beliefs are acquired in a way which supports or undermines justification. Thus, I reject the notion that there must be some kind of internal reason or rationale which is in any way apparent to us.

    I also reject the priority of the external justification process. I reject the idea that any time we cannot answer the appropriate “why?” questions, these beliefs must therefore be unjustified.

    Don’t get me wrong: rational justification is nice and can be useful for various purposes. Furthermore, whenever somebody comes along talking about how important or essential rational justification just is, it seems pretty obvious to me what purpose they intend to use it for: a power grab wherein they attempt to de-legitimize what they perceive to be the opposition.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 10, 2013 @ 11:53 am

  36. Interesting concept, I’ll have to think on that. I just cannot imagine holding a belief while at the same time not having an internal justification for that belief, at the very least “because it just feels right to me” or “I trust this authority because of xyz, and so I believe based on that trust”.

    I’m having a hard time conceptualizing what you mean, can you give an example of a belief being held without a reason for that belief? It almost seems contradictory, how can I believe something without a cause/reason for that belief in the first place?

    Comment by SteveF — August 10, 2013 @ 12:32 pm

  37. Well, I don’t think it’s really all that deep of a point to be honest.

    Explanation and justification are processes which take time and energy. We do not spend the time or energy necessary to explain or justify the vast majority of the beliefs which we hold. Therefore, as a matter of fact, the vast majority of our beliefs are neither explained nor justified.

    A somewhat deeper point would be that I reject the idea that explanation and justification are processes which ought to be applied to any given belief. The idea that nothing is sacred in the sense that everything ought or can be the subject of investigation is a modern value which comes not from the prophets, but from the philosophers.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 10, 2013 @ 1:17 pm

  38. Probably don’t want to get to far away from the OP, but I guess maybe you could say that reasons likely exist for most beliefs, or at the least people believe they have reasons for their beliefs, even if most of the time these beliefs are not consciously vetted or fully reasoned out.

    Comment by SteveF — August 10, 2013 @ 2:22 pm

  39. Explanation and justification are human activities. Talking about these hypothetical reasons which exist independent of what we do sounds like talking about the hypothetical championship that the giants are going to win this year.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 10, 2013 @ 6:32 pm

  40. That’s the foundation for what I’m saying. So many intellectuals like to pretend that logic, reason, etc are characteristics of the universe rather than characteristics of human activities.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 10, 2013 @ 6:41 pm

  41. If you really believe that belief can exist without reason, than belief becomes arbitrary. And if belief is arbitrary then faith is arbitrary. And as faith is the foundational principle of action in all intelligent beings, then action becomes arbitrary, to which then existence has no purpose.

    I would argue then that if belief has no underlying reason to it (whether consciously deliberated or not) then life is meaningless.

    Comment by SteveF — August 10, 2013 @ 10:34 pm

  42. *then belief

    Comment by SteveF — August 10, 2013 @ 10:35 pm

  43. I probably comes as no surprise to you that your argument means very little to me. Even if it was a sound argument (and I don’t think it is) I still wouldn’t be too concerned. First, we were talking about explanation and justification, not reason as such. Second, belief is anything but arbitrary with or without reason.

    Constructing arguments, explanations, clarifications, mounting evidence, etc., etc. These are all human activities which had to be invented and people got along just fine before they were invented. These are simply a handful of the many, many social games that we play as humans whereby we navigate the world around us.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 10, 2013 @ 10:46 pm

  44. Another way to look at this is if belief merely happens to us without choice involved then we couldn’t be justly morally accountable for our beliefs, and since our beliefs are one of the primary influences of our actions, we could not be very accountable for our actions if at all. If belief does hinge on our free choices, but still we don’t make this choice based on a reason (therefore we couldn’t distinguish if a belief was good or evil, desirable or not, as that would be a reason for the choice) then our beliefs would have no moral worth, and our actions also. Which comes back to the same conclusion that life would be ultimately meaningless.

    Comment by SteveF — August 10, 2013 @ 10:48 pm

  45. That argument still seems like quite the stretch. I don’t know anybody who thinks that we are morally accountable for all of our beliefs. The idea that if we aren’t able to explain and justify each and every belief we are left with nihilism seems peculiar to say the least.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 11, 2013 @ 9:17 am

  46. I think what bothers me about Jeff’s approach is that even if all of my beliefs aren’t justified via explanation, all of them come ready to be justified by me. For example, knowing that I feel hungry leaves me to believe that my stomach is empty. I don’t have to justify why my stomach is empty in order to believe that is empty, but if I want to, all I have to do is think about the last time I ate (i.e. yesterday night), and I have a ready justification for that belief.

    Some beliefs have dire need of justification. Suppose I start hearing voices in my head, and I have the idea that these are really invisible angels surrounding me, and I form that idea into a belief.

    First, it should be noted that even if I haven’t thought it through, my belief is justified. Coming up with an explanation for why I believe the voices in my head are angels is really nothing more than me retracing the steps to how I acquired this belief. So even if Jeff rejects that beliefs need to be explained, there is still an explanation for all beliefs, and the mind goes through the explainable process whether he thinks the process is worth analyzing or not. My concern is that if we don’t analyze the process, or explain or justify our big beliefs (those tied to big concepts), then we could easily be controlled by whatever enters our minds and entrenches itself as a belief. The consequences are potentially dire.

    Suppose these voice I hear eventually tell me to kill myself. If these voices are angels as I believe they are then I probably should listen to them, even though they contradict another belief I have, namely, I shouldn’t kill myself. I need to reject at least one of these beliefs in order to act according to my beliefs. If I abandon logic or any related means of justification, then how can I possibly check my belief about the angels to determine whether it is a true, much less a good belief?

    Comment by DavidF — August 11, 2013 @ 9:44 am

  47. I definitely want to give you a more detailed response, but this will have to do for now.

    Again, you are treating explanation and justification as if they were something other than social phenomena. If a belief isn’t explained or justified to somebody else, then as far as we’re concerned, it hasn’t been satisfactorily explained or justified. There is a reason why we don’t consider voices in someone else’s head justified, and it had little to do with the burden of proof, logic or any other rule of liberal science.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 11, 2013 @ 2:21 pm

  48. Basically, explanation and justification is a game that we may or may not play, and there are a few different sets of rules according to which we might play. Like religion, liberal science likes to pretend that their are the “real” rules against which all others are measured. But in so choosing to treat liberal science this way, we inadvertently treat religion and its rules a certain way.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 11, 2013 @ 3:03 pm

  49. So even if Jeff rejects that beliefs need to be explained, there is still an explanation for all beliefs, and the mind goes through the explainable process whether he thinks the process is worth analyzing or not.

    This seems like a (very strong) empirical claim for which you have provided no reason to believe. More honestly, though, it is simply an article of faith. I, for one, reject it entirely. Out of the countless beliefs which I hold, the vast majority have never been explained by me or anybody else. Furthermore, I have no idea what these free-floating-explanations-which-nobody-has-ever-provided-but-in-some-sense-still-exist are supposed to be or why they matter to what actually happens in my life. Explanations are things which we actively create, not some pre-existing things which are waiting around to be discovered.

    From an evolutionary perspective, beliefs came around long before explanations or justifications did – and this implies that beliefs can exist just fine without either.

    From a religious perspective, it seems even more odd to insist that all of our beliefs must be amendable to the reasoning of man.

    My concern is that if we don’t analyze the process, or explain or justify our big beliefs (those tied to big concepts), then we could easily be controlled by whatever enters our minds and entrenches itself as a belief. The consequences are potentially dire.

    I hate to break it to you, but this is the case whether we analyze our beliefs or not. After all, where do our beliefs concerning what constitutes a proper analysis come from? And what about our beliefs regarding that question… and this one… and so on. There is simply no way to ever analyze enough beliefs such that we can escape your fear here.

    Finally, people got along just fine before the greeks invented your particular way of analyzing and explaining things. The consequences weren’t all that dire, nor are they dire for those who continue to know nothing about explanation and justification.

    P.S. How is it that you are able to cast doubt on modesty standards because they originate from non-prophetic sources, but you are able to fully embrace a set of moral and mental standards whose origin is equally non-prophetic? Historical deconstruction, feminism, logical syllogisms, etc. are all just as exposed to your criticisms as the dress standards you criticize. By your own reasoning, shouldn’t we be suspicious of these posts?

    Comment by Jeff G — August 12, 2013 @ 12:42 pm

  50. Willful choices/actions are made based on beliefs. I believe eating food will make me less hungry, so I choose to eat.

    If we accept beliefs are formed, then beliefs must either be causally formed, or randomly formed.

    If beliefs are randomly formed, then our actions that result from these beliefs are also random, and have no moral worth.

    If beliefs are causally determined, but only by factors outside of the individual’s control, the resulting actions are also of no moral worth as they are not ultimately attributable to the individual.

    But inasmuch as there are beliefs that are causally determined by internal choice of the individual, then actions resulting from these beliefs allow for a just moral accountability to exist for the individual.

    This third option is the only one that allows a just moral accountability to exist for individuals. And because beliefs formed this way are a result of a causal chain, if a being knows all things, an explanation can be given for why the belief formed.

    Because I accept a universe where moral accountability exists, I accept that beliefs that effect our spiritual progression/digression have underlying reasons/rationale/explanations even if the act of explaining has not been done.

    Comment by SteveF — August 12, 2013 @ 3:07 pm

  51. I could go into more detail regarding how there is nothing about the world which forces us to carve it up in terms of beliefs, responsibilities, causations of different kinds, and so on. Carving up the world in these terms is a choice which is simply not forced upon us.

    The correct response, however, is to note that arguments like these are utterly pointless. You do not live your life based on this line of reasoning any more than I do, nor are we under any obligation to do so. The same can be said for our ridiculous arguments about modesty, infallibility, etc. These explanations and justifications simply do not matter to how I live my life.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 12, 2013 @ 3:21 pm

  52. Jeff G.,

    You may not have tried to explain most of your beliefs (no one can), but do you seriously believe that your beliefs aren’t causally connected to circumstances in your past? Without going to the extreme of determinism, all (or almost all) beliefs come about through causal mechanisms. We may create our explanations for beliefs, but we create them after discovering, or reflecting, on possible explanations. The point is, even if we don’t explain all of our beliefs, all of our beliefs are explainable. And explanation is a key component to making sure that we don’t have a false belief. I have no idea how you decide to reject a belief if you don’t examine it in terms of explanation or justification. If I heard voices in my head that told me they were angels, I would look to psychology for help (and Mormonism as well, but I don’t know if I could get many answers there). If you heard them, what would you do?

    From an evolutionary perspective, beliefs came around long before explanations or justifications did – and this implies that beliefs can exist just fine without either.

    Are you sure about that?

    From a religious perspective, it seems even more odd to insist that all of our beliefs must be amendable to the reasoning of man.

    From “a” religious perspective, perhaps, but not from every religious perspective. I think reasoning can bring us closer to God’s truths, when used with humility and caution.

    There is simply no way to ever analyze enough beliefs such that we can escape your fear here.

    Nice try, but that’s just a slippery slope argument. I could make the same point with sin. I worry about sin, so I do things to avoid it. But I can’t possibly avoid all sin so why even bother? Part of buying into reasoning is that I try to avoid fallacies like these.

    Finally, people got along just fine before the greeks invented your particular way of analyzing and explaining things. The consequences weren’t all that dire, nor are they dire for those who continue to know nothing about explanation and justification.

    I don’t think the Greeks did invent new ways of thinking so much as they labelled and evaluated common ways of thinking. Did pre-Grecians think logically? Did they think in terms of causation? Sure. So they thought logically. Aristotle may have shown us that a person can’t talk and not talk at the same time, but everyone knew this basic logical axiom long before him. You can’t blame the Greeks for cognitive functions that are innate in the human psyche.

    P.S. How is it that you are able to cast doubt on modesty standards because they originate from non-prophetic sources, but you are able to fully embrace a set of moral and mental standards whose origin is equally non-prophetic? Historical deconstruction, feminism, logical syllogisms, etc. are all just as exposed to your criticisms as the dress standards you criticize. By your own reasoning, shouldn’t we be suspicious of these posts?

    Oh absolutely! Feminism has its problems, but by engaging with it, it helps me be more sympathetic to a sex that isn’t mine, and sympathy is a key component to developing love. You may disagree with my application here, but it’s a useful tool sometimes. Deconstruction has its flaws, but it helps me separate religious beliefs from societal traditions, something that you presumably would be unable to do by rejecting reason altogether. Syllogisms have their limitations, but they keep me honest with the rules of the game. In other words, they are useful when applied judiciously. But just because they are imperfect doesn’t mean that I throw them out. If I were to reject every flawed idea out of hand, I wouldn’t be able to think very much about anything (and I wouldn’t know if the ideas I thought were perfect were actually flawed too).

    Comment by DavidF — August 12, 2013 @ 5:18 pm

  53. Again, you are not taking the socially constructed nature of reason and justification seriously. Connecting our beliefs to the past by way of certain agreed upon rules is a choice which we make. There is nothing about the world itself which requires us to play this game according to one set of rules rather than another. Indeed, there is nothing about the world itself which requires that we play this game at all.

    The point is, even if we don’t explain all of our beliefs, all of our beliefs are explainable.

    This is an article of faith, nothing more. This is simply a rule which we may or may not choose to play by: a rule which says that nothing is beyond this particular type of analysis. It’s not a description of the world at all, but a description of what we can a cannot legitimately do in one game… a game which we are under no obligation to play.

    Are you sure about that?

    Absolutely. Beliefs do not require language but the social practices of explanation and justification do.

    From “a” religious perspective, perhaps, but not from every religious perspective.

    I suppose that technically you’re right, so long as you also acknowledge that the Judeo-Christian religion of which we are apart just IS that religious perspective. The scriptures are full of warnings against trying to put force divine pegs into secular holes.

    Nice try, but that’s just a slippery slope argument.

    Not true; it’s an infinite regress argument. It shows that no matter now many beliefs we explain or justify we can never escape the contingency of our beliefs. It will always be the case that we just do believe certain things, and that that’s perfectly okay.

    But just because they are imperfect doesn’t mean that I throw them out.

    Who said anything about throwing them out altogether? I don’t suggest rejecting reason altogether since it is a useful set of rules for many tasks. But, precisely because they are imperfect is why we don’t place it on a pedestal. What I’ve been objecting to is your attempt to make human reason trump the prophets. I don’t have to reject reason altogether in order to do this.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 12, 2013 @ 7:01 pm

  54. “What I’ve been objecting to is your attempt to make human reason trump the prophets.”

    I agree that human reason does not trump the prophets. To me this is because it is the duty of any member of the church to give their allegiance to the Keys of the Kingdom (unless there is strong reason to believe the person holding the keys is abusing their power to the extent of causing serious harm to others, in which case a church court should be sought), and because humans are far from capable of reasoning out all truth.

    Yet just because humans cannot comprehend all reason, doesn’t mean it is not there. Inasmuch as there is meaning in the universe, it must be ultimately eternal or part of a causal chain leading back to that which is eternal. And therefore anything that has ultimate meaning can be explained by a being with all knowledge, even if human/mortal limitation prevents us from doing the same. Maybe this is a statement of faith, but I cannot make sense of meaning/morality in any other type of universe.

    Comment by SteveF — August 12, 2013 @ 7:31 pm

  55. Inasmuch as there is meaning in the universe, it must be ultimately eternal or part of a causal chain leading back to that which is eternal.

    If one so chooses to construe the world around them in terms of a causal chain, then this *might* be right. But this is still a choice which we are under no obligation to make.

    Again, the idea that we are somehow required to construe the world along the same lines as liberal science shows a remarkable lack of imagination.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 12, 2013 @ 7:38 pm

  56. *to the keys of the Kingdom and those holding them

    Comment by SteveF — August 12, 2013 @ 7:42 pm

  57. These are my personal views, and I’m definitely not trying or have no particular desire or need to “construe the world along the same lines as liberal science”. But if we happen to be in alignment, I guess so be it.

    As for lack of imagination, that may be true, for in my mental model the only other alternative to eternal or causal is random. If there are somehow other alternatives to these three, then I agree that my mental model falls apart. I choose to construe the world around me in terms of a causal chain, because I believe in morality, meaning, and God, and furthermore can only conceive of randomness as the only other alternative to causality or eternalness.

    Comment by SteveF — August 12, 2013 @ 7:55 pm

  58. Jeff G,

    I’ll grant you that there are multiple games and science isn’t the only one. But avoiding any other quibbling, I’m not so sure that reason should be considered secular. You mention that the scriptures warn against forcing “divine pegs into secular holes.” By that I assume that you mean trying to use reason to evaluate divine claims (am I wrong?). When I read Lehi on opposition or Alma on justice v. mercy, I find clear instances of reasoning, guided by the Spirit no doubt, but definitely instances of reason. I can’t think of any instances in the scriptures where God implores us not to use reason to evaluate truth-claims, even divinely sourced ones. There are plenty of instances where we’re supposed to take leaps of faith, but I know of none where we’re commanded to abandon reason when divine things are presented to us.

    Comment by DavidF — August 12, 2013 @ 8:42 pm

  59. To be sure, the scriptures encourage reasoning in support of the prophets, but they discourage trusting the philosophies of men, the learned or reasoning according to the flesh.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 12, 2013 @ 9:11 pm

  60. Sure. That doesn’t mean that reason is antithetical to religious experiences, but that if we are going to reason, we’ve got to have our starting assumptions right. So I have two assumptions that come to bear in this discussion. One is that church leaders are inspired. Another is that they are fallible. Since I have a tough time lining up current modesty teachings with other scriptural counsel about judgment-making, since I can’t find evidence for its usefulness in the secular world (i.e. exploring its fruits), and since I can explain it quite easily through the developments of secular culture, I find myself drawn to act primarily on my second assumption for this topic. And since the second assumption, i.e. fallibility from leaders, is a valid one given what many leaders have said, I’m not using reasoning according to the flesh to supplant the prophets, but reason against culturally influenced traditions. You’ve set this up in a religion v. reason dichotomy, and I just don’t see it that way.

    Comment by DavidF — August 13, 2013 @ 2:12 pm

  61. I could have provided no clearer example of a person using the arm of flesh to try and show that they are not using the arm of flesh.

    The prophets don’t get their assumptions right before they reason; they get their conclusions right first. Then they use a very loose version of reason (they never, ever mention validity, assumptions, etc.) in order to try and persuade people of that pre-established conclusion. Bias is very much a part of this mode of reasoning… and that’s perfectly okay because they are not reasoning according to the Greek rules of liberal science.

    For example, Lehi very clearly commits the fallacy of affirming the consequent in 2 Ne. 2… and this is perfectly okay (try modeling the argument formally if you don’t believe me). Alma clearly equivocated on certain terms in Alma 32…. and this is perfectly okay too. They aren’t philosophers or scientists and they should give two wits about such arms of the flesh. D&C 19 is another obvious example of equivocation.

    Your commitments to liberal science are all too obvious when you can think of no way of harmonizing your two assumptions (this already drips with greek influence) other than by the rules of logical consistency. It is through this rule (which is never given very much weight by any of the prophets) that you choose to invalidate the prophets.

    By contrast, the prophetic tradition of which we are a part chooses to harmonize current church leaders with ancient prophets by simply dropping the ancient prophets. This is the whole point of modern revelation. The consistency which unites past and present prophets is not the rule of non-contradiction, but rather the direction in which they point us. Since we find ourselves in a very different starting point than those of the New Testament did we should never expect the prophets of both eras to be logically consistent.

    Finally, your appeal to the fallibility of prophets grows old. The scriptures and the modern prophets spend far more time emphasizing the trustworthiness of the prophets than they do about their fallibility. All you have to do is substitute the word “infallible” with “trustworthy” throughout your posts and you will clearly see the reason why I am suspicious of them.

    To recap, you are so convinced that the prophets are bound by the rules invented by greek philosophers, that you are blind to the consistency which binds them. You then use these rules of greek philosophy to undermine our confidence in the prophets which are never described as anything less than trustworthy. your posts are everything that the scriptures have warned us against.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 13, 2013 @ 3:08 pm

  62. Ouch. But even if I were to agree, then can you explain how you would determine whether a prophet makes a mistake? Even if my approach makes me cautious before accepting everything a prophet says, I find that it helps keep me away from following blindly every dictate a prophet utters–the classic “when the prophet speaks the thinking is done” line–which as far as I can tell is an extreme that we aren’t supposed to embrace. How do you get around that?

    If we divide the world between sacred and secular, I’m not sure I put the prophets in the same box as God. Prophets are men, and if I follow a belief a prophet has that God didn’t inspire, then I am still relying on the arm of flesh. I commit the very mistake the scriptures warn against. Of course prophets are also called of God, so I pay close attention, but if I put my faith in a prophet, I still put my faith in man. If I rely on my own personal relationship with God, then I may avoid that pitfall.

    By the way, I hope that none of my views expressed in these comments or elsewhere get taken as destructive to the kingdom. If these posts are a little too controversial for NCT, then I’ll pull back on them and be a little more strict about future posts.

    Comment by DavidF — August 13, 2013 @ 4:24 pm

  63. Quick response:

    “can you explain how you would determine whether a prophet makes a mistake?”

    That’s easy, by doing what the scriptures and prophets (not the scientists and philosophers) tell you to do: pray about it and realize that whatever answer you get, you still aren’t authorized to openly contradict the prophets.

    As for posting here, I’m just as much a visitor as you. Don’t let me stop you. :)

    Comment by Jeff G — August 13, 2013 @ 4:39 pm

  64. I agree that it is not proper to try show/prove specific current teachings of the prophets as fallible/wrong on the basis of human reason. It’s presumptuous to think we are even capable of doing so. I think reason is a valuable tool in trying to understand the why behind the what prophets teach, seeking it out in our mind and heart in search of revelation. I think it is even valuable to discuss our several ideas that may or may not explain rationale behind doctrinal teachings.

    But short of revelation, I think it would be totally wrong to presume through reason that the prophets are incorrect in their current stances/teachings. I think it is okay to say that reasons seem to suggest that things *might* change, or *may* not yet be perfect, but we cannot pretend to know that such is the case, and so for the time being we should continue to stick with the current teachings of the prophets as a community. And even if it were personally revealed to someone that a certain current teaching was imperfect or incomplete, it would be wrong to publicly teach that which is contrary to those things currently revealed or taught to the church through those holding the proper keys to do so. It would not be within the person’s stewardship, and would be contrary to the order of the Kingdom that allows for stability and proper growth as the true and living church.

    So I believe I agree with Jeff G that what current prophets teach is much more important than the why, and the why isn’t even necessary to rightly follow those teachings. But maybe I disagree in that in my worldview I do think there is reason behind every truth even if we are not capable of discovering it in full, and I find it valuable to seek these reasons in concert with prayer and living the teaching in an effort to gain further light and knowledge on the subject, and that doing so may even be a personal responsibility so that we become much more than mere automatons. The purpose of following the prophets in the first place is not merely to follow, but to learn for ourselves and internalize the truth of the principles taught to us that we advance further in spiritual intelligence and capability.

    Comment by SteveF — August 13, 2013 @ 4:51 pm

  65. I wrote that before 62 & 63. Looks like you guys basically already covered what I wrote.

    Comment by SteveF — August 13, 2013 @ 5:04 pm

  66. So the end of 61, in isolation, sounds really over the top. In case it wasn’t clear from the context, I meant that posts like these are what the prophets mean by trusting in the arm of flesh, etc.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 14, 2013 @ 1:52 pm

  67. It’s always so delightful to see that our church’s discourse on how women should behave and dress, which causes real pain for many women and may do permanent damage to young girls’ sense of themselves, provides a convenient opportunity for a bunch of men to play abstract mind games. (One is tempted to say something about intellectual masturbation. Ahem.)

    Comment by Kristine — August 23, 2013 @ 1:02 pm

  68. It’s always so delightful to see that a serious conversation regarding intellectuals’ subversion of church authority, a phenomenon which causes real pain for many members and may do permanent damage to young members’ faith, provides a convenient opportunity for a bunch of bloggers to pass snarky judgment while contributing nothing. (One is tempted to say something about motes and beams. Ahem.)

    Comment by Jeff G — August 23, 2013 @ 1:49 pm

  69. @Kristine. I can’t speak for everyone, but all of my comments concerning modesty have been intended to apply equally to men and women. Is there some reason you feel modesty only applies to “how women should behave and dress”?

    Comment by SteveF — August 23, 2013 @ 1:59 pm

  70. Well-played, Jeff :)

    SteveF–the overwhelming majority of modesty discourse in the church is directed at young women (and much of the historical discourse David references, at least for the last several centuries), as is most of the enforcement of “standards.” It’s nifty that you’re being egalitarian and all, but it’s silly to pretend that this discussion is not thoroughly gendered.

    And to (sort of) respond to Jeff’s point, church authority is also gendered, so that an intellectual response to the dictates of that authority (I don’t think “subversion” is what’s going on here) also has significantly gendered implications: it’s all well and good for men to have a meta-discussion of how trying to think about the sources of modesty discourse is or is not an appropriately deferential response to the men who generate that discourse, but the fact that women are not participating in the conversation recreates the power imbalance that is inherent in a group of grown men deciding whether a 5-year-old’s shoulders are somehow provocative and girls should be shamed into covering them. That’s no mote.

    Comment by Kristine — August 23, 2013 @ 2:20 pm

  71. To me the underlying principles of modesty are not gendered. And although I haven’t taken part of this side of the conversation – I agree that how modesty is taught is gendered. To me this differentiation is reasonable, since males and females commonly have differing propensities in following or disobeying this law. So you could reasonably expect differing approaches in how modesty is taught to males vs females.

    But since I have been primarily concerned with underlying principles, I don’t feel like my being male is a very important factor.

    But if we were/are discussing how modesty should be taught to females (as opposed to merely the underlying principles), I agree that input from particular genders suddenly becomes a factor, and female input would probably be more valuable in leading the discussion, just as it might be more valuable to hear the male perspective on how to teach modesty to males; although I think in both instances you’d want/need input from both sides.

    Comment by SteveF — August 23, 2013 @ 3:03 pm

  72. Kristine,

    I don’t necessarily deny any part of what you’re saying. Once you embrace the mental tools of the intellectual, your conclusions do seem to follow. The problem is that there seems to be no compelling, non-tendentious reason to trade in the mental tools of the prophets for those of the intellectual. The enlightenment values of self-worth are just as ephemeral as those of faith, but only the latter seem to receive any attention in the scriptures. In other words, if you’re going to understand and fairly engage those who resist the feminist movement, it seems that a meta-discussion like this is both needed and lacking.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 23, 2013 @ 5:15 pm

  73. Jeff, I simply don’t accept the premise that the mental tools of the prophets and “the intellectual” (whoever that is) are opposed to each other, or even distinguishable. I’m a feminist because I am first a Mormon–there is no contradiction.

    Comment by Kristine — August 23, 2013 @ 7:26 pm

  74. SteveF: “males and females commonly have differing propensities in following or disobeying this law” What?? I don’t understand the nature of this comment. What is it that leads you to believe most men behave in a specific way and most women behave in another specific way? How is it that men & women behave according to you?

    Jeff G: “The enlightenment values of self-worth are just as ephemeral as those of faith, but only the latter seem to receive any attention in the scriptures.” What about D&C 18:10, John 3:16, Moses 1:39 and D&C 46:26 for starters? There are many many scriptures designed to build love toward God through self worth, by identifying the importance of souls to God. What is that if not self-worth?

    Comment by hawkgrrrl — August 23, 2013 @ 10:41 pm

  75. @hawkgrrrl. Evolutionary pressures/psychology, and in some instances cultural conditioning

    I don’t claim to be an expert, but it seems to me that men are more prone to consume pornography, and women are more prone to dress in sexually suggestive clothing to display their sexual availability or get attention/affirmation, just to name one difference for each. I don’t mean that this applies to every man or woman, only that these propensities seem to exist.

    Comment by SteveF — August 24, 2013 @ 8:33 am

  76. @hawkgrrrl. Evolutionary pressures/psychology, and in some instances cultural conditioning

    I don’t claim to be an expert, but it seems to me like more men are prone to pornography consumption, and more women are prone to dress in sexually suggestive ways to show their sexual availability or get attention/affirmation, just to name one difference for each. I don’t mean to say this applies universally to every man or woman, only that these propensities seem to exist.

    Comment by SteveF — August 24, 2013 @ 9:34 am

  77. I tried to respond to you hawkgrrrl, but it seems something that I wrote (I tried posting it a few times) is keeping it in moderation.

    Comment by SteveF — August 24, 2013 @ 11:14 am

  78. Kristine,

    I guess that’s where you and I differ then. For me, the rules which govern belief and thought within a premodern, prophetic tradition are very different than those of a modern, scholarly one. There is nothing wrong with the modern, scholarly tools of thought, as long as they are not allowed to trump those premodern, prophetic ones which we are taught at church. That’s the problem that I see with most feminist critiques of the church: it’s that they use the mental tools which they have inherited from the philosophers, scientists and scholar to “critique” the church and its prophets. While this is not only allowed, but actively encouraged in the modern tradition, they are very much forbidden in the premodern tradition of which Mormonism is a part. To repeat, I don’t object to feminism per se, since I see Mormonism as comfortably accommodating a very strong feminism indeed.. Rather, it is the criticism of church leaders and their teachings which is clearly ruled out by Mormonism.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 24, 2013 @ 4:36 pm

  79. Hawkgrrl,

    I would definitely agree that I overstated my case. The scriptures do seem to care somewhat about the virtue of self-worth, but I would suggest that it is not a very high priority when compared to the virtues of faith and loyalty to the Lord’s anointed. Indeed, the impression that I get is that once you take care of these latter values, the former will follow in turn.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 24, 2013 @ 4:39 pm

  80. To repeat, I don’t object to feminism per se, since I see Mormonism as comfortably accommodating a very strong feminism indeed.. Rather, it is the criticism of church leaders and their teachings which is clearly ruled out by Mormonism.

    This doesn’t make sense to me. Where current policies of the church are out of sync with the robust feminism Mormonism accommodates (I’d say requires, actually), with scriptural and church historical precedent, _saying so_ is somehow not acceptable within the Mormon tradition?

    Good thing nobody told Eliza R. Snow, or Aurelia Spencer Rogers, or Emmeline Wells, or Laverne Parmley or Aileen Clyde or Julie Beck or Elaine Cannon, or any of the many, many women who have made improvements by pointing out problems in church policy to the Brethren.

    Comment by Kristine — August 26, 2013 @ 6:07 pm

  81. Or, if you want a “pre-modern” example, maybe you could take a look at Zelophehad’s daughters criticizing the law of Moses based on their own sound legal reasoning…

    Comment by Kristine — August 26, 2013 @ 6:08 pm

  82. To be sure, there are plenty of scriptural and historical precedents for one kind of feminism or another… But neither historical, nor even scriptural precedent is an adequate substitute for revelation and priesthood. That is the modern mindset which I am trying to isolate, if only to make it explicit. You don’t have to agree, so long as you can at least see where I’m coming from.

    I would suggest that in the same way that church leadership’s modesty-talk tends to marginalize and de-legitimize females (however unintended this might be), criticism of church leadership’s modesty talk tends to marginalize and de-legitimize the church leadership’s authority (however unintended this might be).

    If we look for scriptural precedent to answer which of these two issues (females and church leadership) takes precedent over the other, the answer should be obvious. But luckily, we aren’t really forced to choose between these two. There are ways of (re-)asserting feminist values which do not marginalize or de-legitimize church authority. Openly calling out church authorities for their teachings (be they regarding modesty or something else) is simply not the way to do this.

    Again, the values of using words to articulate, criticize, argue, protest, and other such things which pre-suppose that everybody’s beliefs, opinions and teachings are all equal and that no subject or speaker is placed beyond the reach of scrutiny and/or criticism are all modern values which are systematically warned against in the scriptures.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 26, 2013 @ 8:39 pm

  83. Are Zelophedad’s Daughters the ones that had to live seperate from their family when they were menstrating or were they the ones who were to listen only in church and if they had questions they could ask their husbands at home?

    Comment by Chelsey — August 27, 2013 @ 7:54 am

  84. There are ways of (re-)asserting feminist values which do not marginalize or de-legitimize church authority.

    Such as … ?

    Comment by Kristine — August 27, 2013 @ 8:37 am

  85. Comments like Chelsey’s alienate people like me. If you have nothing to contribute to the conversation but mockery for those who disagree with you, I can’t help but lose some enthusiasm for her cause.

    Kristine,

    Maybe focusing more on what you are for rather than on what you are against? I personally think that if you side-line rather than openly and directly engage those teachings which you find offensive, you will have more success. Mormons tend to be far more comfortable with and accepting of people who ignore rather than criticize church leadership and their teachings. That seems to be how continuing revelation works: superseded revelations are not overturned so much as forgotten.

    No doubt you see anything but a complete answer to your question as a bit of a cop-out on my part. But to be honest, I simply don’t have the same passion for the cause that you do. I don’t feel like I have to answer you question for you. I do feel, however, that insisting that we must choose between hostility toward women or hostility toward church leadership shows a certain lack of imagination.

    Again, I see your cause as a just one. I simply want to point out that for most members of the church (and not without good reason), sustaining the church leadership is a more pressing cause. Thus, if you frame the issue (however unintentionally) as church leaders vs. women, you will probably find yourself fighting as uphill battle.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 27, 2013 @ 11:35 am

  86. I do feel, however, that insisting that we must choose between hostility toward women or hostility toward church leadership shows a certain lack of imagination.

    You’re the one who set up that binary, not I!

    Comment by Kristine — August 27, 2013 @ 2:14 pm

  87. Well, that’s clearly not true, but I don’t see what is to be gained by assigning blame here.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 27, 2013 @ 3:06 pm

  88. I said I don’t think that any hostility is necessary. You are the one who insists that using one’s wits to articulate problems in church policy is “hostile” to church leaders or to some premodern deference to authority. I don’t believe that it is (at least not necessarily).

    And the example of Zelophehad’s daughters suggests that Moses didn’t think so either, and that Jehovah approved of their petitioning. I don’t think you’ve provided convincing evidence that using reason as a mode of critique is necessarily eschewing the possibiity of revelation or of deference to authority. There is that pesky commandment about loving God with one’s mind…

    Comment by Kristine — August 27, 2013 @ 4:05 pm

  89. Well, to be sure that the hostility I speak of is a special kind: marginalization and de-legitimization. There are (at least) three levels at which I see this kind of hostility (possibly) operating:

    (1) Church leaders, in their teachings regarding modesty, are hostile toward females.
    2) Feminists, in their criticism of the church teachings regarding modesty, are hostile toward church leaders.
    3) I, in my criticism of feminists’ marginalization and de-legimitimization of church authority, am hostile toward feminists.

    Now as far as revealed scripture is concerned, (1) seems to be more or less supported although this isn’t a slam-dunk, (2) is clearly and strongly forbidden and (3) seems to be supported as well. This would suggest that revealed scripture is pretty strongly on my side in this debate.

    As for your Old Testament example, I don’t straightforwardly deny it. What I do reject is any attempt to overturn modern-day church authority and teachings with an appeal to ancient authority and teachings. The whole point of modern-day revelation is that ancient precedent doesn’t give anybody the knowledge or authority to act for God, since ancient precedent can be used to support pretty much any position. My response to the story of Zelophehad’s daughters is “so what?”

    Finally, it takes a pretty large leap to get from “one must love God with one’s mind” to “one must use the mental tools bequeathed us by the Greeks, the Marxists, the Feminists and other such philosophers, scientists, scholars and intellectuals.”

    Comment by Jeff G — August 28, 2013 @ 3:16 pm

  90. Criticism is not necessarily hostile. I’m pretty sure we can’t talk to each other if you think that critiquing an idea or a policy is somehow hostile to prophets and/or prophecy.

    Comment by Kristine — August 29, 2013 @ 7:47 pm

  91. The problem with using Zelophehad’s daughters as type for modern behavior is the leadership might, too. They were given inheritance, yes, but eventually only if they married their cousins and kept the inheritance within their male tribal line, which they did.

    Additionally, Zelophehad’s daughters weren’t subverting priesthood authority our trying to change it, they were appealing to it. They didn’t go around, encouraging everyone with a beef against authority to back them and force leadership to behave the way they wanted them to.

    Mormon feminists could actually learn a great deal from the story about how to appropriately work within priesthood authority, if they were willing to actually study it. Instead, it is used to try to prove that women have a right to petition, which isn’t even in dispute except among rare fringe parties.

    Comment by SilverRain — August 30, 2013 @ 4:29 am

  92. Like I said, the hostility which I speak of is simply shorthand for “marginalization and de-legitimization”. So now you are left with a choice: If this isn’t really all that “hostile”, then the feminists should stop pretending like it is since the church leadership is really just “critiquing” ideas and behavior regarding modes of dress. If, on the other hand, the hostility is as bad as the feminists say that it is, then they should back off of the church leadership. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 30, 2013 @ 9:39 am

  93. Part of the problem is that Jeff and SilverRain aren’t actually talking to me, but to “feminists.” I’m not “Mormon feminists” (and lots of them wouldn’t even claim me). I can’t stand in for the fantasy amalgamation of riotous women you want to argue with.

    Comment by Kristine — August 30, 2013 @ 9:59 am

  94. Actually, Kristine, I was responding to your use of Zelophehad’s daughters as a pre-modern example of using feminist techniques to criticize the leadership of the Church. It is an argument that stems from Mormon feminists, and really should be re-examined by those who are using it without seeming to have read or understood the story.

    That was an argument YOU made, and I responded to it. You can accuse me of being late to the game, but not of speaking to general feminists and not you.

    Comment by SilverRain — August 30, 2013 @ 12:10 pm

  95. Well, I’m certainly in no position to say what you do and do not believe. I was merely pointing out that those who criticize the church leadership’s teachings regarding modesty marginalize and delegitimize the church leadership in exactly the same way that latter is taken to marginalize and delegitimize women. I was under the impression that you didn’t agree with some aspect of this line of reasoning.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 30, 2013 @ 1:04 pm

  96. This isn’t very Zelophedad-esque: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/blogsfaithblog/56795670-180/women-says-church-kelly.html.csp

    Comment by Chelsey — August 30, 2013 @ 1:28 pm

  97. I think you’re kind of wandering in this series. I’ve just read all four posts and am finding it hard to determine the thrust of your argument.

    I think it would be fairly easy to establish that the focus of male sexual desire has changed over the centuries, and is also dependent on the location and culture – so that “a well-turned ankle” excited our Edwardian great-grandfathers, but seems like nothing to us. Yet “cover your ankles” would have been as fervent a message in Conference in 1890 as “cover your knees” is today.

    Likewise, it’s not unusual to see American Muslim women in knee-length skirts but with their hair veiled. The parts of a woman that attract us have changed over the years and from place to place/culturally. Thinking about it, we’ve nearly de-sexualized the female breast in modern America in the last 20 years. If it’s no longer the forbidden fruit, it’s no longer tantalizing. Perhaps we’re moving out of a Victorian model of modesty and back toward a more mediaeval view?

    Comment by Steve Florman — August 30, 2013 @ 1:49 pm

  98. Jumping back in (while I finish up the next post)…

    Jeff (#95), does making a critique of current modesty rhetoric marginalize and delegitimize the prophets? I don’t buy that. I only buy that if prophets are held to the impossibly unreasonable standard of infallible transmitters of God’s direct word. But since I don’t hold them to that standard (nor should anyone), then it’s entirely possible to disagree with them, and for them to make a mistake, while still believing that they are inspired and called of God. And if I believe that the prophets are called of God, then how could I have marginalized and delegitimized them? I can’t think of any scriptural example of a person who disagreed with the prophets who wasn’t also an apostate leading people away from Jesus. That being said, I’m not sure that the act of disagreeing on a particular subject in and of itself qualifies for the kind of hostility against the prophets that the scriptures warn against. I think you’ve overshot the mark.

    Comment by DavidF — August 31, 2013 @ 10:05 am

  99. Steve Florman,

    I think we’re approaching something reminiscent of medieval notions of modesty with a twist. The medieval world was as much or more aggressive against the idea of sex as an act of pleasure than even the Victorian era was (which, according to my limited knowledge, has its prudish elements over-exaggerated). The modern west isn’t the first group to have been saturated with sexuality in history, but we’re experiencing a uniquely wide scale shift. For example, it’s hard to know how permissive Roman culture really was, even at the height of it’s decadence, but we’ve probably over-exaggerated their moral decline as well.

    The point is, I think we’re moving towards new territory, culturally.

    Comment by DavidF — August 31, 2013 @ 10:09 am

  100. provides a convenient opportunity for a bunch of men to play abstract mind games

    Kristine, what is it exactly that you object to about a the prior discussion of modesty? That the discussion is above is dominated by men? Can you be more specific about what you see as a “mind game?”

    Comment by Jacob J — September 1, 2013 @ 9:51 am

  101. DavidF,

    Out of all the years I’ve been in the bloggernacle, I have yet to meet a single person who believes in prophetic infallibility. Does this not make you worry that perhaps you don’t really understand your target audience?

    Comment by Jeff G — September 2, 2013 @ 8:42 am

  102. Jeff G

    I’m with you in that I don’t know if I’ve ever met a single person who says they believe in prophetic infallibility. But lots of people will reject a stated belief but will nevertheless believe it practice. Perhaps we will disagree on terms, but when I suggest that the prophets are fallible, what that means is that they can not only make mistakes but that their mistakes are knowable. Furthermore, I can disagree with a mistake and still show avid support for a prophet and his office. As a result, I’m not inclined to believe everything a prophet says out of hand, though I think many people do, and it seems to me that you more or less do.

    Comment by DavidF — September 4, 2013 @ 3:58 pm

  103. “their mistakes are knowable” I’m assuming you mean by revelation, right? Otherwise how could you truly know such a thing?

    And assuming this is true, do you then believe it is right (morally justified) to publicly oppose the prophet’s belief/command that you know is in error? And as a separate question, do you believe it is right to push (not just suggest/recommend) for that mistake to be remedied, publicly and/or privately?

    Comment by SteveF — September 4, 2013 @ 6:36 pm

  104. “Furthermore, I can disagree with a mistake and still show avid support for a prophet and his office.”

    I don’t think that this is a very contentious position… But this is not what you are doing. What you are doing is disagreeing with a mistake, advertising the mistake, publicly arguing against the mistaken prophets and usurping the authority to teach and direct the church, all the while pretending that this is an avid show of support.

    We all get to disagree with the prophet, but none of us are authorized to publicly criticize, correct or otherwise compete with the prophets. This is exactly what you are doing.

    Comment by Jeff g — September 4, 2013 @ 9:44 pm

  105. SteveF,

    On my mission I could see that the mission was implementing policies that almost assured that we were baptizing folk who were going turn inactive within a month. I opposed those policies and still do, even though they came from the mission president. But I’m not likely to support the OrdainWomen movement. In other words, I don’t know if it’s all black and white for me.

    Comment by DavidF — September 8, 2013 @ 10:30 am

  106. Jeff G,

    Well, I’m not sure that I am advertising a mistake (you’d have to sell me on that one), but I’m certainly not usurping the prophet’s authority. Since God grants the prophet’s authority, I don’t even have the capacity, nor do I pretend to.

    I suspect that there is nothing wrong with disagreeing with a mistaken belief. So the question isn’t whether I’m allowed to disagree with a prophet, but whether modesty as currently taught is a mistaken belief. And I also believe that it is entirely possible to support the church while allowing for the presence of some mistaken beliefs. Don’t you agree?

    Comment by DavidF — September 8, 2013 @ 10:41 am

  107. David,

    I’ve noticed a pattern in your responses in that you never actually appease that doubts I raise so much as sideline them. I show you how those disagree with you are framing the issue in a way which raises serious doubts and concerns, and your response tends to be “well then you should just frame it differently”. But that doesn’t answer the questions I raise, so much as simply raise the questions which you already have the answers for.

    You also seem to think that what you think you are doing has some sort of special priority over what other people think you are doing. There are many of us who think that you are airing the mistakes of the prophets. We think that are trying to get the saints to think and believe certain things which the prophets have taught against. We think that this places you in direct competition with the prophets regardless of what prophetic claims you do or do not claim for yourself. Very few anti-christs actually claim prophetic authority while they compete with the prophets.

    Finally (and again), nobody cares whether you privately agree or disagree with the prophets. What you privately think and believe simply isn’t of concern to anybody else. What is relevant, by contrast, is when you publicly try to sway other peoples’ beliefs and thoughts against that which is taught by the church. You have yet to acknowledge this distinction.

    To repeat (again) the issue isn’t mistaken belief (which is private). The issue is authoritative speech (which is public). The question is: Who is the final authority that we are to listen to when it comes to LDS modesty? The answer is: The prophets, not you.

    The only reason why you would ever think that your opinion on modesty mattered at all would be because you have accepted the protestant democratization of the authority the teach and criticize, but this just is the antithesis of priesthood authority. You think that when there is a disagreement, the person with the most evidence and reason on their side (no matter who they are) should win. What the scriptures teach, by contrast, is that when there is a disagreement, the person with the most authority (aka priesthood) should win.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 8, 2013 @ 11:44 am

  108. What the scriptures teach, by contrast, is that when there is a disagreement, the person with the most authority (aka priesthood) should win.

    True, but in the scriptures the person with the most authority is also right. I know of no scriptural precedents that show what we are supposed to do when an authority makes a mistake. Your suggestion that we keep it to ourselves is a great opinion, but has no scriptural authority that I know of. In fact, there is no scriptural precedent showing that we should even have doubts that we don’t talk about, so I’m not sure why you are giving me a free pass there.

    In saying that, I don’t think we ought to broadcast ever possible mistake a prophet may make. That would be, as should be evident in my next post, immodest (at the very least).

    Comment by DavidF — September 8, 2013 @ 12:40 pm

  109. “True, but in the scriptures the person with the most authority is also right.”

    But this gives everything away. How do you know that the person with authority was right? Your answer, I assume, is that evidence and reason was on their side, and if evidence and reason was not on their side, they would not have been right.

    But this line of reasoning begs the question altogether. This discussion can be framed as follows: When it comes to modesty, are we to follow prophecy/priesthood or evidence/reason? Since there is a disagreement between these two value systems, you are trying to say that evidence and reason show us that we should favor evidence and reason over prophecy and priesthood. Arguments don’t get much more circular than this.

    What I want to say is that those people in the scriptures were right precisely because they had the authority. Evidence and reason were never all that important. (I have a hard time imagining what evidence for a moral code would even look like.)

    Just to clarify, I’m not trying to define priesthood authority as being right by very definition. Rather, I’m saying that if prophecy and priesthood clashes with evidence and reason, all other things being equal, the scriptures tell us that prophecy and priesthood win.

    I would also suggest that there are plenty of scriptural precedents for my position. We are frequently taught not to argue, debate or otherwise criticize. We are taught to trust the prophets. We are taught not to rely on the understanding of men. We are taught to follow and agree even when we know not. We are taught that learning is good, unless you disagree with the the Lord and His representatives.

    What we can do, however, is have private, one on one conversations. We can speak directly to the prophets about our concerns. There is a world of difference between confiding and critiquing. If you want to win an argument against the priesthood, the proper way to do it is through the priesthood leaders, not through public forums like this.

    (P.S. The anti-christ thing was meant as a counter-example, not an accusation. That wasn’t as clear as I would have liked.)

    Comment by Jeff G — September 8, 2013 @ 1:21 pm

  110. How do you know that the person with authority was right?

    Mainly because the arguments were over pretty basic stuff being argued, like whether Jesus was the Savior or not. No question begging here!

    Just to clarify, I’m not trying to define priesthood authority as being right by very definition.

    If that’s true, then I’m having a tough time understanding your position. You seem to leave a back door route where personal, undisclosed revelation trumps priesthood authority, but ignoring that minor exception, it seems pretty clear to me that what you are suggesting is that a priesthood authority is always right. And since there is no valid way I can verify the veracity of their position, I simply must assume that priesthood authority is actually right by definition, even when it’s not.

    I just don’t see that position holding up to the realities of life. We know, by Joseph Smith’s example, that even a prophet can make a mistake and trust in the arm of flesh. It seems that you’ve taken the two basic categories: the arm of God and the arm of flesh, and claim that prophets essentially invariably fall into God’s category. While I assume that prophets are far more likely to fall into that category than me more frequently, I find it entirely impractical to assume that they always fall into that camp.

    Granted, none of this makes a good case for why reason should prevail as a way to verify prophetic claims (and when I’m done with my series, I’m contemplating a post that will concede a lot of these arguments to you…but not all), but I don’t think I so neatly align with the Korihors and Lamans of the world.

    Comment by DavidF — September 9, 2013 @ 6:25 pm

  111. Hahaha… Don’t worry, I certainly don’t think you are anything approaching an anti-Christ. I do, however think that you are thoroughly infected with various values of philosophical rather than divine origin. You are obviously a very well-read and intelligent guy who has nothing but the best of intentions in your posts. I just think that if you took a long, hard look at the cognitive rules (and their geneologies) which underlie much of your thought processes, you might be surprised at how many of them are warned against in the scriptures. (This really shouldn’t be much of a surprise, since the modern values which I’m attacking were new, edgy and dangerous to the authors of the scriptures. It would be shocking if they weren’t criticized.)

    What I was partially trying to do with my recent post was to show how irrelevant the infallibility issue is. Nephi was clearly and openly fallible, but this did not stop him from condemning his brothers “corrections”. I have no idea what you have received by way of personal revelation, and I don’t care. Such things should stay personal rather than be aired on a blog or some other public forum. Laman and Lemuel were plenty free to follow whatever personal revelation they received, but this in no way authorized them to criticize Nephi. They could have kept their complaints to themselves, taken Nephi aside to express their concerns or simply leave the group if it really was that big of an issue. The point that Nephi was at pains to make, though, is that he could not tolerate them undermining his leadership by publicly criticizing him.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 9, 2013 @ 6:53 pm

  112. The main problem, from my perspective, is that all of the things that Laman and Lemuel were doing have now been re-described as good things which we are supposed to be doing. We are taught all through school that “peer review” and the mutual give-and-take of debate and criticism are good things which we ought to learn and apply to everything around us. In a democratic society, I couldn’t agree more, but the church is not a democratic society. It is for this reason that all the prophets and scriptures preach against these things, insisting that authority comes from God above not from the people below.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 9, 2013 @ 6:56 pm

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