The vast majority of members – especially females – oppose the priesthood ordination of women. Which means that if the church were a democracy women would not be ordained. But the church is not a democracy such that orders come from the top-down rather than from the bottom-up, and the top says “no” to the priesthood ordination of women as well. In spite of this, the Ordain Women movement presses forward, urging the church to give women the priesthood without any regard for what the rest of the church wants or thinks. This state of affairs cries out for explanation: How can a movement which is so strongly committed to emancipation and social justice (and I see no reason to doubt their sincerity) try to force people to be free? (more…)
I’ve noted before that LDS speakers and writers occasionally point out that modesty is much more attitude than dress code, but whether dress code or attitude, today’s modesty probably doesn’t qualify as a virtue. Based on how they’re constructed, modesty guidelines conflate being modest with appearing modest. And since appearing modest generally satisfies communal standards, modesty falls short of a quality of character and, subsequently, a real virtue.
The emphasis on appearing modest sets modesty apart from other cherished Mormon values. Few youth leaders would teach youth that in order to be faithful they have to appear faithful. Modesty teachers, however, do follow this process. While I’ve spent a considerable time critiquing current modesty rhetoric, the main goal of this series is to establish an alternative meaning for modesty that avoids the negative elements currently attached to it. My intent in this post is to lay out a modesty that is primarily a quality of being but also gives some guidelines on appropriate dress. To do this, let’s return to what modesty meant before the English humanists radically altered its meaning.
Barnabe Rich was a pioneer moralist. In 1613 he wrote a book explaining the roles that men and women should play in the home. Of make-up wearing, provocatively dressed women Rich said that their appearance provoked:
The first, offence to God, the second, It giveth hope to the vicious, and thirdly, It bringeth destruction to the husbande.
Today, Rich’s list looks unremarkably consistent with current modesty discourse. Yet Rich had been born around the time that modesty had been invented. While up until this point I have criticized current modesty rhetoric, in the last four posts I’ll advance ideas that may strengthen modesty and chastity. But to begin with, I will first discuss modesty’s origins.
A few decades before Barnabe Rich wrote moral advice for married couples, Thomas Elyot, a friend of Thomas More and early English humanist, wrote a widely circulated moral manual for youth, The Boke Named the Governour. Among other things, Elyot’s fame comes from introducing several English words taken from Latin writers. In The Governour Elyot introduced modesty. Elyot rendered modesty from the Latin modestus, citing Cicero, which meant something like restraint or moderation (I’ll return to this in greater detail next time). Elyot’s modesty had no connection to sexual purity, which makes sense given the fact that modestus doesn’t connect to purity either. When the Romans discussed sexual purity they used pudicitia, an ambiguous word relating to sexual virtue including modest dress for women.
While the Romans held pudicitia in utmost regard, this virtue disappeared sometime before the Middle Ages, as did any idea linking modest dress to sexual purity. Medieval writers and artists show that the Middle Ages frowned on public nudity, but for reasons unrelated to chastity.
Speaking at a Women’s Conference event, Sister Claudia J. Dansie said:
Part of our responsibility as parents is to guide, direct, and warn if necessary…. Some topics must be covered as directly as their consequences are lethal—subjects such as modesty, drugs, pornography, and immorality.
Lethal? Assumedly, Dansie meant spiritually lethal. A woman’s bare shoulders expose herself to consequences with eternal implications. Does modesty really merit this language?
Elaine S. Dalton expressed a similarly solemn message calling modesty “the foundation stone of chastity,” explaining “it is essential to our very safety to be modest.” Adding to Dansie’s and Dalton’s severe warnings, BYU president Cecil Samuelson explained that dressing immodesty may be as perilous as breaking the Word of Wisdom:
Most of you have no problems concerning the Word of Wisdom….What we may not realize is…that what we put on our bodies may be as equally corrosive and dangerous as what we might ingest into our bodies. (emphasis in original)
It’s hard to imagine that a woman’s uncovered knees could be as dangerous as her drinking alcohol, especially since the latter has temple-worthiness implications. But because feminine modesty so closely connects to chastity, modesty rhetoric has adopted grave themes.
This is the second post in the New Approach to Modesty series. For post one click here.
Getting ready for a Mutual activity, Chelsea Anderson casually put on a pair of short shorts. “It never occurred to me that they were inappropriate.” She sat down in one of the few remaining seats, prepared for a lesson from the missionaries. With the last couple of remaining seats to her side, Chelsea overheard the missionaries’ whispered argument over who would have to sit next to her. Although she didn’t hear why they argued, Chelsea figured her immodest shorts caused the argument. “I realized that I was making virtuous young men feel uncomfortable.” Thereafter Chelsea dressed modestly.
While her story is unique, Chelsea didn’t have to look far for council to mirror.
Young women, respect your body and help others, particularly young men, maintain virtuous thoughts and actions. (Dress and Appearance: Let the Holy Spirit Guide)
Not only does this sort of council make young women responsible for young men’s actions, but it signals an even greater problem with current modesty rhetoric. But before getting there, we first have to establish what modesty means today. To begin with, modesty rhetoric rarely refers to men. When it does, speakers implore men to dress appropriately for sacred ordinances and meetings, leaving references to virtue virtually nonexistent.
Part of why male modesty rarely focuses on male sexuality could be because male leaders don’t find men sexually alluring.
If leaders applied the sexuality standard equally, perhaps the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet would read a little differently:
A little more than a month ago I came across a BBC program on the subject of fasting. You can watch the whole thing here.
If you don’t have a whole hour to watch I recommend picking up around the 36 minute mark where they start discussing intermittent fasting, or alternate day fasting. The basic concept is to alternate between fasting days and “feasting” days. A fast day consists of 400-500 calories for women or 500-600 calories for men. (You are encouraged to drink all the water you want on fast days). On the feed/feast days you eat whatever you want.
What are purported benefits of alternate day fasting? All sorts of things according to the researchers interviewed. Here are some mentioned in the documentary:
- Weight loss. It turns out that people doing this intermittent fasting don’t normally eat double their daily recommended calories on feed days. They are more likely to eat about 110% of recommended caloric intake so there is a net calorie deficit every week and that means steady weight loss.
- Reduced blood sugar levels. Warding off diabetes is always a good thing, right?
- Reduced levels of triglycerides, bad cholesterol, and blood pressure. They say this is a good thing. Reportedly reduces risk of heart disease and whatnot.
- Improved brain function. Mice on intermittent fasting remain mentally sharp far longer than the mice that were fed well daily. The theory is that humans see similar benefits. Fasting reportedly causes brains to grow new brain cells. Researchers interviewed for the piece think that this is an evolutionary survival mechanism; as we fast our brains quickly get stronger to give us better odds of wrangling up some food to stay alive. (I’ve been told that other studies indicate fasting has been shown to improve student test scores as well.)
Literary theorist Terry Eagleton provides a fascinating criticism of the New Atheist movement:
My favorite part: “To imagine the Christian faith is meant to be an explanation of the world is rather like supposing that Moby Dick is meant to be a report on the whaling industry.”
Here is another guest post from NCT regular, DavidF
I’m sure most people are sick of conference posts by now. Timing isn’t my best quality. That being said, I’m not sure what to make of these three statements about tolerance from conference:
Packer: “Tolerance is a virtue, but like all virtues, when exaggerated, it transforms itself into a vice. We need to be careful of the “tolerance trap” so that we are not swallowed up in it. The permissiveness afforded by the weakening of the laws of the land to tolerate legalized acts of immorality does not reduce the serious spiritual consequence that is the result of the violation of God’s law of chastity.”
Oaks: “Latter-day Saints understand that we should not be “of the world” or bound to “the tradition of men”… These failures to follow Christ … range all the way from worldly practices like political correctness and extremes in dress and grooming to deviations from basic values like the eternal nature and function of the family.”
Monson: “May we be tolerant of, as well as kind and loving to, those who do not share our beliefs and our standards. The Savior brought to this earth a message of love and goodwill to all men and women. May we ever follow His example.”
These three statements don’t technically clash. They are all vague enough to allow all of them to be right. But the implicit messages are wildly different. Should we beware of tolerant practices (i.e. political correctness, Oaks), embrace tolerance (Monson), or show some kind of measured restraint on being tolerant (Packer)?
I just saw an article by Joanna Brooks titled “I Died Inside”. Here is the first paragraph:
Emmett C. is a twenty year-old community college student in the Pacific Northwest. Last year, he applied to serve as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a religious obligation he had long prepared for and looked forward to fulfilling. But in the course of preparing his missionary application, Emmett came out to his local LDS Church leaders—not as a gay man, but as a straight Mormon who believes that LGBT people are equal in the sight of God and should treated the same as straight members of the LDS Church. And on these grounds, he was told that he would not be permitted to serve.
If Emmett was told he couldn’t serve a mission due to his views on the LGBT topic, I can guarantee that it was not for him believing “that LGBT people are equal in the sight of God and should treated the same as straight members of the LDS Church”. How do I know this? Because the church openly teaches that LGBT members are equal in the sight of God and should be treated the same as all other members. That includes holding all Mormons to the exact same Law of Chastity. The Mormon Law of Chastity states we should have no sexual contact with anyone besides our opposite-sex, legal spouse.
It is more likely that Emmett was advocating that LGBT members should not be treated the same as straight members and should not have to follow the Law of Chastity as it currently stands. Perhaps he was advocating for the Law of Chastity to be amended to give the green light to gay sex (within gay marriages) or something.
I’m sure Ms. Brooks meant well but I find her attempts at spin in that opening paragraph irritating and counter-productive. If you want to lobby for gay sex (within gay marriage) being permitted in the Mormon Law of Chastity just say so. At least we’ll be talking about the actual subject rather that completely dancing around it.
Change within the church, as within any other organization, can be challenging. This is not to say change should not and cannot occur. But it does mean that those who agitate for change need to be sensitive to the issues surrounding it and should be sensitive to the needs and feelings of those who will be impacted by that change.
One challenge many face in the wake of change is uncertainty and confusion about what is correct and valuable. Some will look back on their lives and see a gap in them that could have been filled had the policy been different in their day, and will cry out “How could God let this happen to me?”. Others will see this change as an indicator that other changes are possible and will lose certainty of the paradigms upon which they have made their life decisions. They will either have set up a series of reasoning which had supported the rules before the change and need help deconstructing that list, or they will have reservations making faith claims on any certain position of the church, wondering if it will just change later. They will turn to their own reasoning over the teachings of the church and begin trying to predict rightness or wrongness on their own. This is not bad in its own right, but people will feel further from God as a result of this.
Another result causing a feeling of sadness in people will be their seeing human action trumping divine aid. They have seen you lobby for this change, and they wonder to themselves “All my life I have been told that God runs this church, and that I can pour out my heart to him in prayer and he will answer. But now, these people run the church via activism. Should God have not just heard their prayers and responded?” Some will see this as another indicator that the church is a human run organization with no divine spark pushing it along.
This leads us straight into prophetic fallibility. It can be very challenging for members to see major change from leadership in the church. One of the central ideas of Mormonism, like it or not, is that the Lord uses his prophet to lead the people. It is assumed that this should mean the prophet has some higher level of consciousness and should know God’s will directly. He should not need to be poked and prodded by other men or women. He should take his orders directly from God. When one statement from a general authority is questioned, it creates the Paul H. Dunn effect, where every other statement by that same authority is damaged collaterally.
Lastly, when we are dealing with change of any kind within the church, we have to be sensitive to the human emotion involved. People have invested their time, talent, and energies into defending the thing you are now seeking to change. They have done this because they believed it was God’s will. Some have made it a central part of their identity to defend it. They will need to be assured their energies have not been wasted and still matter, or you will have people become emotionally disengaged.
So when you bring snacks to primary, please be considerate of those who remember the days when snacks in primary were not allowed. Tread lightly, my friends.
Over at BCC, Ben F posted a nice little intro to a series which he plans to post regarding science and religion. It’s a friendly, uplifting and informative post which nobody but the most stick-in-the-mud-know-it-all would ever ever take issue with. But hey, what are blogs like this for, if not taking issue with innocent things which don’t really have that much bearing on the rest of our lives, right? (more…)
In marketing, we often drive for major events which through their magnitude will create an ongoing halo effect, a self-generating gravity which continues to attract thinkers to them for some time to come. In our modern media age, for such an event to be effective, it needs to be really massive to garner any form of lasting halo, and needs to be well supported with a ready network to handle the load it creates. Also, it needs be somewhat controversial while having the ability to deflect some of the controversy away from itself. It’s kind of like a perfect storm, to use N. T. Wright’s favorite analogy. (more…)
In my last post – which fell stillborn from the wordpress – I articulated my position as a Darwinian Anti-intellectualist. Briefly – and somewhat differently – I rejected the practice of construing all beliefs as if they were automatically answers to some question or another, the premises or conclusions to some argument. The two stalking horses in this project of mine have come to be Socrates and Descartes with their respective question/answer dialectic and methodological skepticism. In this post I will roughly follow Aladair MacIntyre in framing my own de-conversion from Mormonism in terms of a (mistaken) Cartesian framework. (more…)