Friday, July 5, 2013

"Let Sex Garnish Thy Thoughts Unceasingly"

In a podcast on LDS discourse around sexuality, one of the panelists pointed out a piece of LDS scripture that has really come to irritate me.  In a letter to Moroni describing the depravity of the Nephites and Lamanites, Mormon explains how far the Nephites have fallen:

many of the daughters of the Lamanites have they taken prisoners; and after depriving them of that which was most dear and precious above all things, which is chastity and virtue—
And after they had done this thing, they did murder them in a most cruel manner, torturing their bodies even unto death; and after they have done this, they devour their flesh like unto wild beasts, because of the hardness of their hearts; and they do it for a token of bravery1. (Moroni 9:9-10)
 What virtue, exactly, did the Nephites take from these women?  Isn't virtue an internal construct?  How can you forcibly remove from a person the goodness of their soul?

The panelist ties this poor choice of wording from Moroni to a couple of things.  First, it is evident that these are historical men interpreting these acts from their historical context2.  Second, this reading only makes sense if you conflate virtue with virginity.  This conflation is a common theme throughout the podcast, and they make a pretty compelling point.  We have hijacked virtue into being a sexual term3.  Perhaps it's time we did something about that.

When Plato wrote Meno, he carefully wrote the dialog so that Socrates would avoid giving a solid definition to virtue (as opposed to the virtues).  Instead, Socrates tried to lead Meno to a more nuanced definition that involved a balance of the three parts of the soul (the physical, emotional, and intellectual).  Virtue, then, is power derived through a healthy and productive balance of competing needs.

The LDS law of chastity is virtuous, then, because it balances the physical needs and desires for sex with the spiritual needs and desires given by the Lord.  I'm going to leave off there.  I'm not quite ready to go off on chastity, virginity, and virtue just yet.  Let's just leave it at virtue is not virginity and virginity is not virtue.

I actually bring up this idea of virtue in order to prepare to take on another difficult topic that has been in the news lately.  I'm going to take on abortion.  I'm a pro-choice Mormon, and that isn't well received in some circles, but the laws being passed in Ohio and Texas are really disturbing to me.  So in the next couple of weeks (when I get back from Scout camp) I'm going to put together the reasons why I am pro-choice, and why I think legalized abortion is a virtuous4 social policy.

Maybe when I'm done with that I can take on virtue and sexuality.

1 Perhaps this is a topic for another day, but is it required of Mormons to believe that being raped is actually worse that being tortured and eaten? Mormon seems to think so, but I have to admit, I'm extremely skeptical.  And don't even get me started on the absurdity of verse 9 being used in the Personal Progress manual to describe to young women to sacredness of virginity.

2 The Book of Mormon was both written and translated in a time when rapes were covered up, never spoken of, and sources of great shame for families. While I am trying to look past this cultural short coming among those who wrote and translated, I've become rather unaccepting of the culture that perpetuates this fallacy.

3This is, arguably, not just a Mormon problem, but a more pervasive problem throughout the human race.

4Remember, the balance of competing needs.

Just a quick note on the title of this post--it's a spoof of Doctrine and Covenants 121:45.  As long as we culturally think of virtue as a primarily sexual term, we're going to distort the great messages that can be found elsewhere in the scriptures.


  1. Benjamin, it's so refreshing to know I'm not the only one with these problems! I have a really tough time in our little Branch as a dyed in the wool feminist (of the 'equal but different' variety, as opposed to the 'cut their nads off' type)and struggled for WEEKS with a recent talk on Family Responsibilities that I was asked to give after a discussion with my Branch President on the subjugation of women in the Church, and oddly enough, on the view of abortion given by an Area 70 in the recent Stake Conference broadcast from SLC, which I was horrified by.Actually there were several aspects of that broadcast that really troubled me, but that's by the by. So it's quite refreshing to see some intelligent, well thought out commentary; I look forward to your treatise on abortion ;)

  2. Great points Ben and I think there have been several quotes by modern LDS apostles clarifying exactly what is virtue and what is chastity however, it seems like the curriculum department that oversees the YW personal progress missed the memo because that scripture in Moroni still there: