One of the things that befuddles me about traditional Christianity (and also Mormonism) is its morality about sexuality. Ostensibly, one of the sells about these religions is supposed to be their fruits. A life transformed by Jesus Christ is supposed to look like something, but more specifically, it’s supposed to look like something good, and as has been discussed at LDS & Evangelical Conversations, certain Christians should agree on what that life should look like.
I asked what a life transformed by Jesus should look like, since from my view, Christians seem just as petty, judgmental, spiteful, rude, angry, inconsiderate, as everyone else (it’s as if….contrary to the claim that religion is obviously decisive in one’s life…that instead, religion is irrelevant.) (But it’s worse than that…it’s as if religion is not just irrelevant, but also sometimes harmful…as some of the fruits I see from Christians are self-denial, self-rejection, inauthenticity, lying to oneself and to others, fearfulness, and so on. It is these sorts of things that cause people to have faith crises, I think.)
Some people answered that Christians sin just like everyone else, so one shouldn’t expect Christians to be perfect. Then someone gave me the standard Biblical answer for what sorts of things should be manifesting in a transformed Christian life.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control
The fun thing about this scripture is how generic it is…how…it doesn’t seem to fit the moral code that Christians want to enshrine in law, and how it isn’t even unique to Christianity.
That being said, for the most part, I think that I can recognize that there are some human ills and deficiencies. So, you know, I can see how lying is bad…I obviously can see how stealing is bad, how murder is bad. These things produce worse outcomes — even if those outcomes don’t come immediately. (Of course, there’s room to argue on whether these things are bad in every situation, or whether there are justifications. Ethics is not a solved problem.)
I don’t think Christianity is unique to recognize these things as bad, and I don’t think one needs to be Christian to recognize these things as bad. I think that many people can often be “unaware” or “unconscious” about things they are doing that are harming their lives, and that frameworks or concepts or ideas or worldview that can help people be more fully “awake” are helpful. However, I think that some things that Christianity is adamant are “bad” just…don’t make a lot of sense.
I think that homosexuality is a clear example.
The argument typically goes like this: sexuality is given to humanity for expression in marriage between a man and a woman. Homosexuality falls outside these boundaries, therefore it is sin. It is like alcoholism or a propensity toward violence because it is a natural urge of which God has forbidden expression. Like other impulses of the “natural man,” we might feel drawn to certain behaviors, but that doesn’t make acting on the impulse justifiable or correct.
This is an argument I myself espoused for many years. But then I took a closer look and realized that I had failed to take note of some critical differences.
First, consider the nature of sexuality itself. I think we can all agree that sexuality is not inherently evil; at worst we might say it is morally neutral, a power humanity has been given to exercise for good or ill. At best (and I think a strong argument can be made for this), it’s inherently good.
Contrast this with urges toward addiction or violence, or other urges symptomatic of the “natural man,” such as avarice, hatred, or judgment. These natural inclinations necessarily lead to destructive ends. There is no situation where addiction is healthy. There is no situation where violence is the best answer. There is no situation where hatred can be used positively. There is no situation where it’s correct to envy or condemn. That’s not the case for sex. Sexual urges are something fundamentally different from these other urges (which I like to call “diabolical” vices).
Please note that, in and of itself, this doesn’t make homosexuality right — it just makes questions of sexuality DIFFERENT from cases of addiction or violence. We can all think of circumstances where sexuality is used in destructive ways. But a closer examination reveals that this tends to happen when sexuality is tied up in one of the diabolical vices: sexual coercion is violence; sexual addiction is, well, addiction; lust is the de-humanizing of someone made in the image of God and reducing them into an object for personal gratification; infidelity is dishonesty and betrayal. The list goes on.
Which of the diabolical vices is homosexuality attached to? Dead serious question. Because I can’t find one.
Not only that, Jesus said, “By your fruits ye shall know them.” When I examine committed, mature homosexual relationships, I see the same kind of fruit emerging as in committed, mature heterosexual relationships. I see people who are willing to sacrifice, work together, and grow together to become something greater as a couple than they could be alone. I see stability and peace. I see the transformation that comes from sharing a life with others.
Yep. See, the way that Christians and Mormons want to lump homosexuality itself with things like lying (see the comments to this article) just befuddles me — like do they really not see the categorical difference between the two? Do they really not see the inherent destruction in some things that don’t exist in others?
(Then again, some people argued that from a sinful perspective, what may be evil may look good and what may be good may look evil…but doesn’t this really undercut the idea that we will know based on fruits? If moral intuitions actually cannot be trusted, and everyone doesn’t necessarily recognize what is moral as moral, then doesn’t this actually put us close to relativism?)
I mean, it feels like some Christians only see out of homosexuality a particular form of promiscuous hedonism. One person in one of the discussions seemed to think that the discussion on homosexuality was an open and shut case because to him, the fruit of homosexuality is AIDS. In these comments and others, there doesn’t seem to be an acknowledgement that 1) straight people can be promiscuous, can catch diseases, etc., too, and 2) gay people can live their sexuality in non-promiscuous ways.
I just feel like if Christians want to espouse a sexual ethic of commitment and monogamy, they are missing an opportunity to preach that ethic consistently to homosexuals. I mean, as some of the most heteronormative people — in the sense of espousing the father and mother, 2.5 kids, and white picket fence is an ideal — Mormons in particular have a really easy way out of their LGB conundrums: espouse homonormativity. (P.S., I think LDS ideas about eternal gender vs fallen bodies gives them an easier out on transgender issues, but that’s a different post.)
To be sure, homonormativity is not without its critics; after all, one could make the claims that the sort of standards around heteronormativity are a perfect storm of classist, racist, consumerist, sexist, and all sorts of other bugaboos. But hey, it just goes to show that someone could advocate for particular expressions of heterosexuality (hetero, homo, bi, or other) without moving to an “anything goes” standpoint. And the thing is: lots of people who are raised in Christian or Mormon homes would *love* if this were an option open to them. Many already want to do this — they want mother + mother + 2.5 kids + white picket fence, or father + father + 2.5 kids + white picket fence. But what do we do instead? We insist celibacy. For some people, it isn’t better to marry than to burn with passion. They can just deal with it or gtfo. And that’s what people do. They gtfo, and they actually do engage in a lot of the destructive behaviors because they were taught that their sexuality in and of itself was wrong (so if you’re going to be wrong, why not go all the way?)
…I understand that this will probably always be too much to ask of the Christians who enshrine sexuality to being about a penis entering a vagina with the hopes of producing babies — they will not be amused or satisfied. And I guess it is true that there are still people who think that even *contraception* is sinful, so it isn’t even enough to point out that most straight people aren’t doing that. (Oh, they are just fallen sinners too…)
But I dunno, people seriously and unironically discussing how committed, monogamous gay relationships are comparable to lying or how they should be included in lists of moral deficiencies…yeah, that just doesn’t seem like great fruit to me.
I have gone around in several venues (even here, way back when) arguing against doxastic voluntarism — or, in layman’s terms, the idea that beliefs are consciously chosen. That’s just not the way I see things. Beliefs are a response to stimuli, evidence (although my understanding of evidence is far more subjective than others might like), experiences, etc., — and that response is not chosen. I recognize that what I can do is choose to place myself in certain situations and hope that I will have certain responses…but the response is never chosen. My favorite analogy for changing beliefs is that of gambling — if someone chooses to keep buying lottery tickets, he may one day win. But does choosing to buy lottery tickets mean choosing to win (in the event he does)?
I would say no.
Rejecting doxastic voluntarism really doesn’t mesh well in lots of theological contexts (like, say, Arminianism). But it also really doesn’t mesh well with Mormonism, which fetishizes free will and agency. Many Mormons just don’t know how to deal with the concept that beliefs may not be chosen.
I feel that one common move for Mormons to make is to talk about the difference between knowledge, believing on the words of others, desiring to believe, and hoping. This setup is fleshed out in a Mormon sense on D&C 46: 11-14 or so:
10 And again, verily I say unto you, I would that ye should always remember, and always retain in your minds what those gifts are, that are given unto the church.
11 For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.
12 To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby.
13 To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.
14 To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.
Even though people mean the discussion of gifts in an inclusive way, it seems to me that people read things pretty narrowly. I mean, just because it is given to “some” to know and to “others” to believe on their words…that doesn’t mean that “some” plus “others” equals everyone. And really, if you look at all of the gifts, it seems that not all gifts are created equally. If you don’t know or believe, then who cares if you have the gift of the word of knowledge? I mean, we know from the scriptures that to be learned is good, if they hearken unto the counsels of God.
But I digress. I wanted to get into the phenomenology of hope vs desiring to believe, and why I don’t think these are choices.
My favorite trope of all TVTropes is probably the Un-Sorcerer.
But first, a background. A few years back, I wrote a post about magic, fantasy, and atheism. There, I discussed the way that many people see fantasy as illustrating greater highlights to this worlds’ spiritual reality, whereas I do not see such. Instead, I wrote:
What struck me about this was that for me, I never really felt the magic of Mormonism. I never felt as if I was “living in a magical world of angels and miracles.”
I then wrote about SaGa Frontier 2 — and specifically, how in that game it discussed the issue of a character who utterly could not use magic in a world suffused with it. As I wrote:
When I played SaGa Frontier 2, I thought that one character was particularly interesting: Gustave XIII, the heir to the Finney family and heir to the throne, fails the family’s “Firebrand Ceremony” and is banished from the kingdom. But what is this ceremony and how does Gustave fail? The Firebrand Ceremony determines who is the worthy successor to the throne in a kind of sword-in-the-stone-esque manner: the candidate for the ceremony lifts the family weapon (the namesake Firebrand) and channels his “anima” (a force that actually permeates throughout all living beings and all of nature, but which humans can only manipulate through tools) so that the blade glows fire-red. If the candidate is burned by the blade, he fails.
…But if the candidate cannot even channel anima through the blade, and thus cannot make the blade glow, then he fails even more spectacularly.
To the horror of his father (the King), Gustave has utterly no control of anima.
Gustave is able to remain relevant in the game through his use of steel, which is dead to anima and therefore well-suited to those who cannot use anima like Gustave. The thing about steel is that in contrast to the materials that make anima-infused tools (e.g., stone, wood, fangs, things like that) is that it’s more physically powerful and more durable (oh yeah, in the game, you have to worry about using most weapons too much, because they will break…metal weapons have infinite durability). In a way, Gustave’s adoption of steel tools vs. the dominant non-steel tools is like the introduction of guns to a world that had previously fought with swords, spears, and bows. (Is it interesting that Mustadio, the character who first introduces guns to the game Final Fantasy Tactics, also is an avowed atheist?)
I tried comparing to other series’ concepts like Harry Potter’s squibs, but I found appreciable differences. I mean, in Harry Potter, there are squibs, but it would be difficult to imagine writing the series with Harry being a squib — his ability to be a protagonist is distinctly based on his ability to use magic.
But then I found out The Unsorcerer from TVTropes.
I know that it’s been a long time since my last post, and I’ve kept thinking to myself…I should write a post. But then I feel that it would just take so long to catch everyone up with what I’ve been thinking about. Since I’m lazy, I would probably do a really poor job of that, but I wouldn’t want to post something that I know to be a pretty lazy post. And so I’ve sat around without any new posts.
But I’ll try something out after all.
Recently, I’ve been commenting at LDS & Evangelical Conversations. I used to read the blog a long time ago, but at some point, I just stopped reading as regularly. It wasn’t for any particular reason…it just dropped off my list.
Recently, though, it got back on my list. What intrigued me was a series of posts by Jared C. Without linking to each post that caught my eye, I’ll just say that what intrigued me about Jared was that he is someone who was raised Mormon, who had been an atheist for some time, yet who appears to have come to a very different (…Protestant?) view of Christ. He has written a series of posts attempting to harmonize LDS concepts to traditional Christian concepts (for example, his post that the traditional Christian God is the Light of Christ in Mormonism). I don’t think this is really done to say that Mormons believe the same things as non-LDS Christians — since Jared’s project also about showing that there is something missing in how Mormons understand Jesus or how they understand sin — but I do think it is very much an ecumenical project.
That being said, what I’ve been interested is seeing if perhaps he or the other regulars at LDS Talk can make sense of Christianity for me.
Last week, the voting for the Brodies Awards closed, and chanson posted the winners…check that link for them all, but my “Mormonism and Race in 2014” won in the “Best Religion-and-Race Discussion” category.
I’ll have to write about this more, but I’ve been thinking more and more — Mormonism very much is a part of me, regardless of what I believe or what I practice. How is this so? How can someone say they are still Mormon even though they don’t believe or they don’t practice? Even though they haven’t attended church for years?
I think it has to do with how Mormonism treats race.
As I’ve written before, there really isn’t a way to become “white and delightsome.” There is never a way to become respectable enough. Not that I’m saying I would want to do, but it’s not truly possible to do.
However, what is possible is it’s possible to become, say, an oreo: black on the outside, white on the inside. And what has caused this, for me?
Certainly, my upbringing. Since “acting white” basically can drill down to speaking normative English grammar, certainly one doesn’t have to be a black Mormon to be an oreo…but for me, that is an undeniable part of my upbringing. I won’t get too much further in this post, but as I’ve reflected, there are other things…other ways of thinking…that I recognize as playing into my racial experience that came about because of Mormonism…
But I’ll hold off on that…for now, I’ll switch hard to the next subject — I wrote a post on Wheat & Tares about Mormon Stories, Open Stories Foundation, and non-profits.
Since it’s the beginning of a new year, it’s time to think about our favorite stuff from last year — and all of the various Mormon blogs and groups are hosting their annual contests. Some have already finished (like Main Street Plaza’s “X” Mormon of the Year contest or Times & Seasons Mormon of the Year no-contest), but some are still ongoing, like Main Street Plaza’s Brodies and Wheat & Tares Wheaties…and more importantly, a lot of things that I’ve been involved with (or that I personally have appreciated) have been nominated for stuff!
I will now proceed to shamelessly tell you who I think y’all should vote for: Read more…
As with the exmormon trope I discussed in the last post, I have seen a trope from liberal or progressive Mormons (and some pastoral apologists) more and more often. The setup for this trope will usually be the liberal Mormon arguing for why he or she stays in the church. A critic of the church will counter that the church has a variety of moral failings, and thus, remaining as part of the church is complicity with those moral failings. The trope goes something like this (this is an actual quotation of someone using this argument in an online discussion, so I’m not making this up):
One of the things I didn’t get to explore in the post is the fact that this problem of “myth” vs. “reality” is not just a Mormon problem. It’s a human problem.
We are constantly being faced with the reality that things aren’t always what we thought they were. And when that happens, we are faced with a few options: retrench into literalism, abandon our former beliefs completely, or find a middle way that lets go of some (most) of the literalism but still finds value in the symbols.
I think America is a good example. There are plenty of people disgusted by the fact that our country conducted a vast torture program under the banner of “freedom,” which is a value as Americans that we hold dear. We were lied to by our leaders. They manipulated us, and they manipulated the system in order to get the result they wanted.
And yet, I’m not aware of many Americans who are using this as a reason to renounce their citizenship and move to another country. Because we have the ability (in reality, I think it’s more of a human need) to set aside pure, literalistic interpretations of things and “break the myth” of the thing we once valued. It allows us to keep what we treasure while discarding what is unpalatable for us.
As with before, I don’t know where this trope originated, but it also doesn’t make sense to me. Read more…
For some time now, I’ve seen a recurring trope from many disaffected Mormons. In any discussion about Mormonism that shifts from the discussion of factual accuracy to a discussion of moral good, utility, or practical value (which seems to happen more often because of the shift to pastoral apologetics), someone inevitably will come in and point out that whatever good Mormonism has doesn’t count because it’s not unique.
I’ve seen this often, but I haven’t thought to catalog the mentions. However, here are a couple of statements I’ve seen from recent discussions (emphasis added by me):
…Now if you want to make an argument that there are important spiritual concepts, I will not argue (I will say though that there is nothing original in even the spiritual themes). However I must insist that you quit claiming things that are just not true. It is dishonest to make an argument “The BoM has not been scientifically disproven”.
1. If it works for you, great, I would hope however you don’t harm others by supporting Mormonism.
2. Mormons do not have a monopoly on truth. The same truths, even greater truths in many areas, can be gained elsewhere.
3. Mormonism, in my opinion, still promotes sexism, homophobia, anti-intellectualism, anti-feminism, critical thinking, being judgmental, anti-science, cultural and personal elitism, prosperity gospel, excusing or justifying racism, and a host of other problems contributing to the social pain and problems we see in the world today.
Therefore, for me, I see the value in Mormonism as not being unique, and there are too many problems with it for me to feel compelled to be a part of it.
But if it works for you, great.
I don’t know where this trope originated, but I recall someone (maybe it was Mormon Expression’s John Larsen?) stating it most pithily in this way (sorry for the paraphrase): everything good about Mormonism is not unique, and everything unique about Mormonism is not good.
This trope doesn’t make sense to me, though.
In case you haven’t read my earlier posts on pastoral apologetics, here’s another chance to see it in action. Over at Rational Faiths, James Patterson has written an article on his realization and subsequent conclusion that Mormonism may be made up…but it’s still true. As he alludes in his post, he had been undergoing a faith crisis for some time, primarily due to LDS.org’s essay on Race and the Priesthood. But what was it that got him out of the crisis? Well, per him, it was the Lego Movie.
Definitely check out his post for more details, since I’m not going to quote everything line-for-line.
I for one am happy that James is at a good place with respect to the church. In some ways, I regret writing each of these articles, because, by and far, the pastoral apologists are the good ones. (Not saying that all non-pastoral apologists aren’t good, but there are definitely worse positions to take.) I am not prima facie opposed to to pastoral apologetics. In fact, as I have said before, I think that if more people had that approach — and if it were supported institutionally, Mormonism would probably be a lot better for a lot of people.
My problem, as I have stated before numerous times, is that I don’t think a lot of Mormons have this approach, and I don’t think it is institutionally supported, so I don’t think a lot of people can make pastoral apologetics work. And I don’t think that pastoral apologists fully appreciate the precariousness or the privilege of the situation they are in when and if they can make it work.