9 of the Biggest Lies Everyday Feminism Tells About Christianity's Views on Sex and Marriage



Today I'd like to analyze some of the arguments made in this woefully sad article published on the popular web site Everyday Feminism. I see my friends and associates commenting on articles from Everyday Feminism all the time on Facebook. I don't know how popular the web site is, but it appears to encapsulate many of the prevalent attitudes found in the echo chamber that is the modern internet. 

The article I'm commenting on is entitled "9 of the Biggest Lies Christianity Tells Us About Sex and Marriage" and is written by one Eliel Cruz. 

An insanely ambitious title if there ever was one, don't you think? Let's just start at the beginning. The article opens with:

"For centuries, the Christian church has had what amounts to a monopoly on Western conversations about sex and marriage. And during this time, it has given a lot of bad advice in its tenure."

Okay, let's overlook the contorted and peculiarly-worded mixed metaphor of the "Christian church" having a professor-like "tenure" but also a corporate "monopoly" and get right into the extremely vague assumptions made in that opening sentence.

What, exactly, is the "Christian church"? Catholicism? Protestantism? Coptic Christians? Greek-Orthodox? Jehovah's Witnesses? Mormons? Pentecostals? Evangelicals? Lutherans? Anglicans? Baptists? I mean, if you're referring to ALL Christian denominations over a period of time "centuries" long, that's a pretty huge thing to tackle. You're talking about billions of people who lived and died holding these beliefs. That's not even an institution, really. It's a deeply-rooted philosophy that informs all parts of modern culture. How can you even assume that every single Christian for the past few centuries has believed basically the same thing on any subject? I would argue that there are very, very few things all these Christians have agreed on. Even something as simple as "Jesus is the son of God" can get extremely tricky when you get into definitions of the words "son" and "God." some denominations believe one way, others another way. This is why so many denominations exist.

And isn't this an extremely, blindingly narrow view of Christianity, too? Christianity has been informed and influenced by many, many traditions. I mean just look at how every single atheist with an internet connection loves to point out how Christmas trees are really rooted in paganism somehow. Hellenistic thought, paganism, Judaism, etc. all informed and shaped many, many Christian traditions. In fact one could argue that this is Christianity's strength; its ability to adapt to a variety of cultural and national traditions. Traditional beliefs from all nationalities and cultures have all mixed into different versions of Christianity, from Gnosticism to mysticism. Is this author implying that African culture did nothing to shape American southern forms of Christianity? Or that Italian culture did nothing to shape American Catholicism? All of these traditions and cultures have their own views on sex and sexuality, but they may agree in some places. If there was ever a "monopoly" on the conversation, it was not because the "Christian church" was dominating human thought on sexual morality; it was because most religions agree on some things and take human sexuality very seriously.

Traditional forms of Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, American Indian religious traditions, Taoism, Islam, etc. all place prohibitions on sexual activity in some form or another. Placing limits on human behavior in the name of morality is the essence of religion, bro.

I can't speak for all of Christianity, but I am going to make some assumptions about what Christians generally believe throughout this post. I feel I am qualified to do this, having grown up Mormon and having studied Christianity throughout college and graduate school. I am going to give Christians the benefit of the doubt, since Christianity has the most followers of any religion on earth and it strikes me as immature to assume they are stupid for their beliefs.

Okay, back to the article. At this rate we'll never finish, huh? But the lack of self-awareness in just those opening lines is really quite astounding.

"While some religious institutions have used their platforms to preach tolerance and respect, all too often their more conservative counterparts have ended up perpetuating patriarchy, rape culture, and heteronormativity."

Suddenly the author shifts from talking about the "Christian church" to just "religious institutions" in general. Their "conservative" counterparts perpetuate "heteronormativity" along with "rape culture," which is surprising because I bet most religious institutions claim to be extremely against rape. What sources do you have, Eliel Cruz, to back up the assertion that religious institutions perpetuate rape culture? Well, he links us to a YouTube video of a talking head explaining the history of rape culture, uploaded by Everyday Feminism. So as proof of this statement, he cites the very publication he is writing for. Okay. That's kind of like me saying that Everyday Feminism has long promoted the molestation of infants in the name of "childhood sexual education." As proof of this, please see my blog post where I first said that!

I guess it's a given that if you are a fan of Everyday Feminism heteronormativity is assumed to be morally wrong, although the reason why "religious institutions" promote heterosexuality is simply because they believe homosexual activity to be morally wrong. So it makes sense that they would promote heteronormative values. It's like when Christians and Jews promote "Judeo-Christian values." Assuming that another party is morally wrong simply because they disagree with you is the exact thing that Everyday Feminists purport to dislike about the "Christian church."

Also, I'd like to point out that both "conservative" and "liberal" denominations of religious institutions often agree that sex outside of marriage is sinful, and that homosexual activity is also sinful. Politically liberal does not automatically mean "moral relativism." There are many Democratic Christians out there who are all about being economically liberal while remaining firm in their beliefs that abortion is wrong and that traditional marriage ought to be preserved. Stop flattening religious believers. Stop stereotyping religious people. We are as complex as a group as anyone else. I'm Mormon and in just this "denomination" of Christianity alone you will find followers of every possible political persuasion. Saying that all Mormons are basically alike is as ludicrous as saying all Christians or all religious are basically alike. It's like saying all gay people like Barbara Streisand and interior decorating. It's an outdated and exhausted stereotype.

"A lot of religious institutions, especially conservative iterations, forgo sexual education in favor of blanket statements like “Sex is impure – don’t have it until marriage.” "

Yeah? "A lot" of religious institutions teach that "Sex is impure"? By all means, tell me more. Give me some examples. That's a pretty huge "blanket statement" to make about religious institutions, isn't it? To teach that having sex is "impure"? I would agree that many, if not most religious institutions teach that sex should wait until marriage--but they might argue that this is for the very reason that sex is the opposite of impure; sex is viewed as sacred.

Also, I'd love to know more about how religious institutions (especially conservative ones!) "forgo sexual education." Is the author stating that churches don't educate their followers on sex? Are we talking the biology of human sexual activity, as in penises and vaginas? Because I believe most churches adamantly encourage parents to educate their children on such issues. If churches don't talk about the wonders of erections and vaginal lubrication over the pulpit, this may be because the role of the church isn't to be a biology classroom. Many churches actually DO educate followers on the moral meaning, effect, and spiritual and psychological ramifications of sexual activity. In fact, in my opinion religious institutions do a far better job of covering the psycho-social aspects of sex than sex education programs, or at least the sex ed. programs I am familiar with. Sex, to the religious, is far more than body parts rubbing against other body parts. Pretending that churches teach nothing about sex is dishonest.

"In the United States, these types of dogmatic and outdated beliefs may be taking their toll on the faithful. According to the Pew Research Forum, more US Americans than ever before claim they don’t consider themselves affiliated with any one religion, including nearly one-quarter of millennials. And it’s not just in the US."

The author states that such beliefs are "dogmatic" and "outdated." What beliefs is he even referring to? The belief that "sex should wait until marriage"? Or the belief that "sex is impure"? These are two beliefs that the author himself mentioned with no citation whatsoever. Ignoring the nonsensical claim that religious people believe sex itself is somehow "impure," what is "dogmatic" and "outdated" in the belief that people ought to wait until marriage to have sex? I thought the point of Everyday Feminism was to encourage sexual autonomy; if an individual man or woman wishes to wait until marriage to have sex, why should they be made to feel as if their choice is somehow wrong? Isn't that a form of shaming? Using the words "outdated" and "dogmatic" certainly do not conjure up positive images, at least in my mind.

"If religious institutions truly want to stop this trend, they must change the perception that they are stuck in a rut culturally. One way to do this would be by contributing healthy ideas about sex and marriage."

The author suggests here that to reverse the trend of people becoming religiously unaffiliated "with any one religion," then religion ought to change the very morality it currently espouses in favor of a new morality. I mean, this is equivalent to saying if Democrats want to win over more Republicans to their side, they need to espouse Republican values and platforms. Sure, that might work, but wouldn't it sort of make the Democrat party irrelevant?

Don't you love that little jab at the end there, too? The author encourages religious institutions to "contribut[e] healthy ideas about sex and marriage," as if all religious ideas concerning sex and marriage are somehow "unhealthy." This is offensive for more than one reason. First, it assumes that all religions basically have the same notions on sex and sexuality, which they definitely don't. Secondly, it encourages the view that if you disagree with the LGBT view of human sexuality, you are wrong. No room for debate of any kind whatsoever. It's the same "dogmatic" view of ideas the author would surely criticize any fundamentalist for.

"But they have to stop telling lies first.

"Here are a few ways Christian leaders could stop being part of the problem when it comes to sexual stigmatization and shaming, instead helping their audience become more enlightened and empowered when it comes to sexuality."

The author suddenly shifts gears here back to criticizing Christianity exclusively, as opposed to all religious institutions everywhere. Is the author suggesting that Christians are the only religious group responsible for"sexual stigmatization" and "shaming"? (Because if so, I have some Muslim countries I'd like the author to meet.)

I also take issue at the author's implication that Christians are less "enlightened" and "empowered" because of their religious beliefs. Again, another example of Everyday Feminism "white knighting" us poor, unenlightened and oppressed Christians. Keep in mind that a man wrote this article. Also keep in mind that women make up at least half of all of Christendom, the world's biggest religion. Also keep in mind that women tend to be more religiously active than men in general (see the very Pew poll the author himself cited above). So let's all remember that every time this guy talks down to Christians, he is "mansplaining" to millions upon millions of women. 

But enough of that. Let's get into the lies Christianity spreads.

"1. Virginity Is a Biological Event

"Once you’ve had sex, you’re no longer a virgin – at least, that’s what some in the church would like you to believe."

Okay, so the "lie" being perpetuated by all of Christianity is that virginity is a "biological event" or that it is somehow intrinsically linked to whether or not one has engaged in a sexual act. As proof that all Christians believe this, the author links to an article posted on a website for a Middle Eastern Christian denomination that I have never even actually heard of. (I dare anyone to visit http://www.aramnaharaim.org/ and tell me the views posted there probably represent most Christians living in the United States.)

You know, the Christians might not be so much to blame for the "myth" of virginity than language itself. The Oxford English Dictionary defines "virgin" as 1. an "Unmarried or chaste maid or woman." Right there, the understanding is that if a woman is not "chaste" she cannot be a virgin. It doesn't even say what kind of sex she has to be engaging in. Anything unchaste is unvirginal, according to the OED. Here's the second definition in the OED: "A woman (esp. a young woman) who is, or remains, in a state of inviolate chastity; an absolute pure maiden or maid." Again, the dictionary itself reiterates that the word "virgin" is a biological event.

I'm not saying the dictionary is the be-all, end-all authority--I only invoke it to illustrate that in English the concept of virginity exists outside the bounds of Christianity. (Don't worry, Everyday Feminism has more than one article decrying the tyranny of dictionaries. I'm not joking.)

Whether or not you agree with the "social construct" of virginity is one thing, but don't try to make it seem like only Christians have pushed the idea of virginity around for the past two millennia. The concept of virginity is older and runs deeper than Christian influence. Most languages have ancient words for "virgin." It's not an esoteric idea.

"Indeed, for many denominations, there is a clear line between pre- and post-penetration that determines your virginity.

"But what kind of sex exactly are we talking about? Does oral sex count? How about anal sex? Or is it just vaginal intercourse with cisgender heterosexual penises and vaginas?

"In fact, the idea that virginity is a biological event is inherently flawed, a social construct that works to uphold purity culture."

Well yeah, for many denominations there is a clear line between engaging in a sexual act and NOT engaging in a sexual act! I thought this would be something Christians and Everyday Feminists could happily agree with! Is the author saying that sometimes there are no clear distinctions between "pre- and post-penetration"? Sounds like the epitome of rape culture thinking to me.

If the author wants to know what kind of sex a demonination counts as "sex," I bet you could find out by simply asking an authority of that denomination. "Hello pastor, could you tell me whether your church considers oral sex outside of marriage as unchaste behavior?" Heck, you might even find some Christians who forbid oral and anal sex even within the bonds of matrimony! It's weird how people believe different things!

Then with a wave of the hand the author dismisses the very notion that sexual activity can determine virginity. It's an "inherently flawed" idea. Why? I'm not sure, because the author does not deign to tell. We must simply accept his word on absolute perfect faith, because he wrote it. Getting a weird "cult" like vibe from that, but okay. Moving on.

"2. Marriage Automatically Makes Sex Amazing for Everyone

"Sex can be awesome after marriage.

"It can also be pretty bad.

"Yes, in fact, your wedding night may be an awkward, fumbling sexual experience – and that’s okay.

"Good sex requires intimacy, trust, transparency, and mutual satisfaction. These things can be achieved outside of a marriage, but can also be amplified by a marriage.

"Despite what some Christians say, believing in the Bible won’t make your sex life amazing.

"Sex doesn’t magically become the bee’s knees because you signed a marriage certificate and received a priest’s blessing."

So the lie here that Christians perpetuate is that marriage "automatically makes sex amazing for everyone"? I've never heard any Christian say this, ever. Would it be so hard to quote actual things that Christians say to use against them? I mean there are plenty of stupid things said by Christians out there! Why fabricate the most extreme statements like this that no married, sexually active Christian would even take seriously?

The link the author provides is a long article on having a healthy sex life as a Christian. I didn't read the whole thing, so I can't say for sure, but from what I read it appeared to take a very sex-positive view of sex. It does mention the Bible, but nowhere did it say belief in the Bible would "magically" make for an amazing sex life. Way to set up an argument that nobody ever made, only to knock it down without even explaining why. It's just dishonest and reductive on the part of the author, who apparently can't seem to make his argument without resorting to lying. It also invokes the word "magically" which respected historian Robert Orsi has written about extensively. Orsi argues that, in a nutshell, accusing a religious group of belief in "magic" has a long tradition in hatespeech, bigotry, and the persecution of minorities. So thanks for that, Everyday Feminism.

One fascinating detail of this section is that the author actually admits that marriage can actually "amplify" all of the things required for "good sex." Isn't this something Christians would teach? Is the author agreeing with Christians here, or what?

"3. Sex Is Only for Heterosexual Cisgender People

"We’ve heard it all before: “If a man lies with another man as he lies with a woman, he is an abomination.”

"Many churches still hold onto theology that condemns same-sex intimacy and polices queer individuals who don’t appease the church’s sexual ethical standards."

While this is obviously true, what is the difference between "policing" sexuality and "policing" any other kind of human behavior? And is "policing" the same as simply believing or thinking something is morally wrong? Police officers are different from other individuals because they have the authority to enforce the law (put people in jail, etc.). How do churches enforce morality, exactly? I would guess most Christian churches leave judgment to God--right? Or is the author accusing Christians of believing in a God that "polices" morality?

Churches condemn many forms of human behavior. In general I believe most religions frown upon stealing, acts of violence, unkindness, hurting the weak and the defenseless, fraudulent behavior, being a traitor to friends, loved ones, country, etc. The ten commandments forbid "covetousness" towards other people's property or other people's spouses. Jesus said that even thinking lustful thoughts or calling someone names is sinful behavior. According to this author, that is "policing," though. And policing, I assume, is bad. But why?

"This shame-filled narrative holds that sex is only for straight cisgender people, essentially erasing LGBTQIA+ people from the narrative altogether."

So it's bad for churches to teach a theology that condemns "same-sex intimacy" because it is promoting a "shame-filled narrative"? Shame is wrong? Promoting shame is wrong? Why? Is there a way to teach the difference between moral right and wrong without the concept of shame? Should individuals feel bad for anything they do, ever? Or is it just shame related to sex that is wrong?

I guess the other thing wrong with this "narrative" is that it holds that "sex is only for straight cisgender people." I feel that most Christians would say this is technically inaccurate. "Sex is only for married couples" would be a much more accurate statement. Marriage is open to anyone on the sexual spectrum, LGBTQIA+, since sexual orientation has nothing to do with whether or not one has been traditionally allowed to get married. You're allowed to marry if you meet the requirements of the institution: one man and one woman. Do Christians teach that God doesn't care about your individual sexual desires? On the contrary, as pointed out above God apparently cares a lot. But according to Christianity the only sexual act that is approved of is between two people who are legally and lawfully wed.

"Even transgender people are unable to be intimate by some churches’ standards.

"A recent publication by a research institute for the Seventh-Day Adventist Church called trans identities a “sophisticated form of homosexuality.”"

First off I really dislike how the word "intimate" can only ever mean "sexually intimate" in the Everyday Feminist world. There are many other forms of intimacy. And no church has ever forcefully stopped any transgender person from engaging in sexual behavior with anyone. Everyone is free to do what they want. Saying they are "unable" to be "intimate" is a lie. You just don't like that the church says it's morally wrong, but the church has the right to say and believe that. Everyone has the right to do that. This is America, man.

I actually don't understand what the point of that last line about transgenders and homosexuality is. Is this supposed to be shocking to us? I thought Everyday Feminism did not consider homosexuality sinful. What would it matter if a church equated transgenderism with homosexuality, then? Is the author just upset that a Christian church thinks transgenderism is sinful, then? It might be informative to figure out just why any given church might find the transitioning of one gender into another as morally problematic. Unfortunately, the author doesn't bother and moves on.

"4. If You’re Not Married By a Certain Age, You’re Screwed

"The pressure to find a spouse in your early 20s is intense in some corners of the Christian world, to the extent that some young adults feel doomed if they don’t marry by a certain age.

"In 2009, Christianity Today ran a piece by Mark Regnerus outlining a case for early marriage: “Amid our purity pledges and attempts to make chastity hip, we forgot to teach young Christians how to tie the knot. More recently, Karen Swallow Prior in the Atlantic extolled the values of marrying young.

"These arguments focus on fertility (“Get ‘em while they’re young!”) and idolize a biblical definition of heterosexual marriage and fidelity.

"But there is no set age that someone must marry by. You can be 26, single and ready to mingle, and it’ll all be okay."

Again, these are statements that I'm pretty sure most Christians would happily agree with. The pressure to find a spouse in your early 20s is "intense" because Christians want to marry other Christians and if they don't find one in time the pool diminishes. This is just math, dude. It's not some nefarious plot from religious leaders concocted in order to hurt people. Even if it were true that Christian leaders pressured youth to marry, what is wrong with that? We pressure people to do things all the time. We pressure them to not cheat on their spouses, to take the feelings of other into consideration. Why not pressure them to get married?

As for "idoliz[ing] a biblical definition" of "heterosexual marriage"--well, obviously. Why would Christians idolize a Quranic definition of marriage? Or the LGBTQIA+ definition of marriage? And I like that the author said the "biblical definition of heterosexual marriage" as if there was some other kind of marriage described in the Bible. What are the Bible's teachings on homosexual marriage, for instance? Just curious. Not to even mention "biblical ... heterosexual ... fidelity." So fidelity itself is a biblical concept? I'm glad you're admitting this, Everyday Feminism. Are you admitting that monogamy is somehow rooted in religious tradition? That has some pretty serious implications!

"5. Having Sex Before Marriage Makes You Damaged Goods

"No one is damaged goods. No matter how much sex you’ve had, you are not damaged goods. This lie is especially dangerous for survivors of sexual abuse.

“There’s this deep fear within the purity movement that if you ‘give yourself away’ or ‘let someone else in,’ you’ll be damaged for your future marriage,” Anderson said.

“But that’s not how life works. Our responses to events, both positive and negative, shape who we are as people. To say that any sexual activity makes you damaged is to say that your worth exists somewhere in your nether regions, which is patently false.”

This is a fascinating section. It really is. Because it acknowledges that human worth does not lie in the "nether regions" of a human being. Your sexuality, it seems to say, does not define who you are. I mean this is what Christianity purports to teach, isn't it? It doesn't matter if you like men or women; what matters are your thoughts and actions. "The worth of the soul is great," as Christ said. The author tends to agree, although where does his belief stem from? Is he religious? Can't tell.

I do know that Christianity teaches of something known as "forgiveness." This concept teaches that since Christ paid the penalty for all human sin, every individual can be forgiven by God for any of his or her mistakes. Churches teach different methods for arriving at this state of redemption, but the overall idea is the same. It's basically what the author is describing. I guess he doesn't understand Christianity very well. Or he does and is being purposefully misleading for some reason.

"6. Women Must Fulfill Men’s Needs

"There’s a double standard in how the church talks about sexual relationships. It’s one that usually favors the men and centers their needs over their female partners.

"The church espouses that women must be ready to fulfill their man’s needs at all times. But this argument does little to encourage men to fulfill their partner’s needs, sexual or not.

"Christian author and on-again, off-again megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll goes as far to say that women who refuse sex (whether for sexual abuse trauma, pain, or even anxiety) are selfish and go against God. No offense to Driscoll, but it’s time to set the record straight on this issue.

Attention, all God-fearing men: Women are not your personal sex toys."

Astounding. So the author is actually claiming that Christianity generally teaches that "women must be ready to fulfill their man's [sexual] needs at all times"? This is basically saying that Christians expect some kind of sexual slavery from women. This is insane! To think that millions upon millions (actually, BILLIONS) of women subject themselves to this inhumane treatment, too!

I was very curious to find where Mark Driscoll says that women who refuse sex due to trauma and pain "go against God" so I clicked on the author's source link. Big surprise! He links to a blog post by a third party commenting on Mark Driscoll's book, not the words of Mark Driscoll himself. The blogger even admits that "The Driscolls condemn marital rape strongly (pg. 202), state that any intercourse forced on someone without consent is rape (pg. 121), and tell husbands that they should never coerce their wives into having sex (pg. 163)."

And yet the author feels that Driscoll's teaching that wives ought to make sex a fundamental part of a marital relationship is somehow transforming them into "personal sex toys." How is Driscoll's argument any different from LGBTQIA+ columnist Dan Savage's advice that happy relationships are built on all parties willing to be "good, giving, and game" in regards to anything sexual? (Google Dan Savage + GGG to read what I'm referring to). I'm talking specifically to the requirement that individuals should act "giving" in terms of sex. Does that mean sometimes having sex when you don't feel like it? Does it mean doing sexual things that may please your partner more than you? And what about being "game"? Does that mean engaging in sexual acts that may appear weird or uncomfortable to you, but that you'd be down to try anyway? Hey Dan Savage, human beings are not each other's personal sex toys!

But of course Savage is not advocating rape scenarios. He is just pointing out a seemingly universal truth that Christians have also discovered. Sex is better when both parties are happy to please their partners. And yet when Savage says it he is lauded as a clear-thinking sexual pioneer. When some Christian pastor suggests it he's deemed a rape advocate. I'd love to see more proof on how Christianity teaches that men like me ought to treat their wives like masturbatory aides.

"7. Men Marry for Sex, Women Marry for Love

"It’s common for some conservative Christian authors to describe men as “wild,” relinquishing any responsibility for a man’s “wandering eyes.” Yes, some even go as far to say “dateable girls shut up.

"This gender stereotypical nonsense is nonsense. People marry for all types of reasons. Sex and love aren’t even the only reasons some people get married. But there isn’t a reason that’s specific to any gender."

Again, this is something I've never heard any Christian say, ever. If anything, I've heard more Christians say men AND women marry for sex. At least in the Mormon world, this is a commonly held belief. But this goes hand in hand with the belief that people typically marry because they are in love, too. This "lie" is so stupid I can't even think of how to address it.

"8. Marriage Is ‘Forever’

"Although not always explicitly, women have been encouraged to forgive and even stay with unfaithful or abusive husbands.

"Women have similarly been encouraged to stay with their partners because, despite consistently high rates in North America and parts of Europe, divorce is still considered immoral in the eyes of some conservative Christian denominations.

"Outdated stigmas about virginity can make divorce especially hard for women, however."

What's the "lie" here? That the concept of marriage is "forever"? Christianity is lying by defining marriage as a life-long (and in some denominations eternal) vow? This makes no sense. A church can define the terms of marriage however it wants, right? I thought that was the whole point of the LGBTQIA+ debate over redefining marriage--that marriage is something that can be redefined! Are Christians not allowed to define marriage as a life-long commitment? That's "lying"? And yet saying that no-fault divorce and serial monogamy in parents is just as emotionally and psychologically healthy for children as any other lifestyle choice--that's not considered a lie? That's considered the hard truth? This all strikes me as more than a fight over who is allowed to claim to the truth; it's a fight over the nature of truth itself. This author uses the term "lie" over and over, but he's not suggesting that these statement are not true because there is some kind of universal truth. He's upset that some people are claiming to hold the truth when he clearly believes there is no such thing as universal truth. All is relative. All is constantly shifting sand. There is no such thing as a stable center. THAT is what the argument is really about, isn't it? 

Again the author uses the term "outdated" to refute any arguments surrounding divorce. Again, the author states that "conservative" Christians find divorce "immoral." I would say plenty of liberal Christians also find "no-fault" divorce to be immoral. What I don't get is why the author feels he has the right to dictate what religions can say are morally right or wrong. If one argues for moral relativism, then of course he has just as much right to say what's wrong or right as anyone else...but then so do Christians. So there's no argument here. He's the epitome of the LGBTQIA+ "anti-argument." He uses the scaffolding of reason to form what has the outward appearance of an argument without ever forming one.

"9. Masturbation Is a Sin – And Possibly Gay

"Conservative Christianity’s promotion of chastity dovetails with a mistrust of masturbation, for both men and women. Some Christians even call masturbation an act of homosexuality.

“Masturbation can be a form of homosexuality because it is a sexual act that does not involve a woman,” Driscoll notes."

Interesting point, which I thought any LGBTQIA+ advocate would wholeheartedly agree with. If Driscoll's view is true then it sort of proves that everyone is a little bit gay, right? Instead the author puts the quote in as if we will find it so ridiculous as to simply reject it without question. I guess he thinks I'm an idiot.

"Often these arguments hinge on the Biblical story of Onan, a man who purposefully “spilled his seed the ground” according to Genesis 38, as proof masturbation’s sinfulness.

This couldn’t be further from the truth, of course. Masturbation is a perfectly normal, healthy behavior, for those who are single, in relationships, or those who are sexually inactive."

So... Christian teachings on the sinfulness of masturbation "hinge on the ... story of Onan"? Could you at least have found one teaching that uses the story of good old Onan as proof that masturbation is wrong? There is no mention made of masturbation in the Onan story, and nobody who read the story of Onan thought it was about the evils of masturbating. If anything it's about the evils of "pulling out." And the author of the article even quotes another author to explain the true meaning of the Onan story!

Do Christians anywhere say that masturbation is not "normal"? Are there Christians who teach that masturbation is "unhealthy"? Maybe there are, so where are their views? 

"Matthew Vines, author of God and the Gay Christian, notes that the story of Onan is being read incorrectly, with the Bible’s words being twisted to make masturbation seem bad.

“The wicked thing that arouses God’s wrath was not Onan’s act of non-procreative sex, but his refusal to fulfill a family obligation of great consequence under the Old Testament,” Vines writes."

Okay so... you're telling me all or most or even some Christians disagree with Vines' reading of the Onan story? And yet you couldn't come up with even one example.

The author ends with all the points he should have made in the beginning, but better late than never:

"Around the world, there are currently more than 2 billion people who consider themselves Christian in some way or another. In the United States, this number is closer to 250 million.

"Christian ideology comes in many forms, from liberal Protestants who actively welcome the queer and trans communities to conservative Catholics who believe mass should only be said in Latin.

"There is no universal Christian, as there is no universal Christian church. That said, there are still far too many Christians who subscribe to a narrow ideology of purity and female submissiveness, of homophobia and general intolerance.

"If the religion is going to endure, however, especially in the West, it must adapt to a world that no longer considers women subordinate, divorcees immoral and the LGBTQIA+ community sinners."

Quick question: WHY does the author care whether or not Christianity can "endure"? Is he merely trying to convince young Christians who don't want to be seen as "homophobic" "intolerant" "narrow"-minded to rise up and forcefully change the core beliefs of Christianity? Because that, to me, is no different than letting Christianity simply die out on its own due to a lack of interest.

Now you might be saying, "But surely you can't think all feminists think this way! This is just one example of a narrow-minded idiot!"

Of course I don't believe all feminists are this way. I also don't believe all religious people think alike, either. For every genius a camp produces, there are just as many mean-spirited idiots. The point is that we choose what we want to believe and argue for that belief. Painting the other side as a bunch of backwards, retarded yokels who are "unenlightened" "oppressed" have "unhealthy" views on things is insulting. It's just another way of othering the opposition by painting them, colonialist-like, as savages and brutes. Gays argue that Christians do this to them. Christians clearly are having it done to them by articles like this. Jews had it done to them by Europeans. Mormons had it done to them by Americans. Indigenous people had it done to them by all kinds of colonizers.

If an entire generation is led to abandon their most sacred beliefs because of articles like this, then I guess religion deserves to die. Its adherents were too stupid and faithless to continue following it. But all I ask is for you to stop dehumanizing me. I am not a moron. I do not believe the things I believe because I was "brainwashed." My ancestors did not bleed and die for their beliefs, have their Constitutional rights taken away, and live in abject poverty hated by their fellow man because they were somehow "tricked." If you want to discuss philosophy, morality, or the merits of traditionalism I am all for it. If you want to disagree with my religion, that's fine. But don't say it's because of your enlightened intellectual superiority. It just makes you seem like a dick.

Rated R for Retarded, Part 2

I was checking movie showtimes the other day when I stumbled across an online review for a local movie theater:

“This theater is great because it's SAFE for families! They don't show any R-rated movies, so you know you can bring your kids here!”

This statement pretty much sums up the Rexburg Mormon mentality perfectly, doesn't it? It's better to remove choice in the name of “safety.”

But you know what? I grew up going to the movies all the time, in theaters that DID show R-rated movies! And you know what else? I watched Beauty and the Beast in the same multiplex that showed The Silence of the Lambs next door, and yet somehow I did not grow up to become a serial killer! Astonishing, isn't it?! 



Anyone who knows me knows I have a serious beef with the R-rated movie ban that Mormon culture attempts to enforce. You can read the first part of this series here. It details my history with R-rated movies and my interest in them.

So what exactly is my problem? Am I advocating disobedience? Am I saying that we shouldn't be following the instructions of the prophet? I don’t think so.

In fact, while I acknowledge that we've been advised by our leaders countless times to avoid bad movies and other media, I am not sure that all R-rated movies are automatically prohibited. As I wrote in the first entry in this series, most of us grew up assuming R-rated movies were prohibited because someone or other told us that someone in authority said so somewhere. I’ve had countless lessons in Sunday School and Priesthood in which teachers and others have claimed that the prophets have always counseled against R-rated movies.
So what makes R-rated movies inherently wrong? Did anyone in the church actually say so? How could a work of art be morally wrong simply by what it’s rated by some third party? I think it would be helpful to first look at a little bit of the history behind R-rated movies and the rating system in general.



A Brief History of Movie Ratings

Starting with silent films and for about fifty years onward, movies were just released to the public without ratings. An entire generation of movie-goers simply relied on reviews, advertising and word-of-mouth to know whether or not a given movie was appropriate for whatever age group. That changed in 1968 when the Motion Picture Association of America, or MPAA, began assigning movie ratings. The original categories were G, M, R and X.
G meant open to everyone.
M meant more mature audiences, but still open to everyone.

R meant 15 and under required a parent or guardian

X meant 16 and under not admitted

In 1970 the rating system changed to G, GP, R and X. In 1972 it changed again, and in the eighties it coalesced into what we know today: G, PG, PG-13, R and NC-17.

I bring up the history of the rating system to illustrate that the system itself has changed and the meaning of “Rated R” has also changed over the years. It’s changed from when I was a kid. It’s still changing today. For instance, based on what I’ve read I believe the original R rating more closely resembled today’s PG-13 rating. I say this because of the presence of the X rating.



In the early years of the rating system, X was the strictest rating. Today we associate the X rating with pornography, but there was a time when many non-porno movies were assigned an X rating simply because of their mature subject matter. In this way I feel the old X rating had more in common with today’s R rating. An example of this would be the film Midnight Cowboy starring Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voigt. It won Academy Awards for Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Picture in 1969. It is considered by many film critics to be one of the greatest American films and is even preserved in the Library of Congress. It is also an X rated film. An X-rated film won Best Picture? Yes it did, but simply because back in 1969 X just meant “movie for grown-ups,” not “porno.” The meanings of ratings change over time.


Baby holding copy of an X-rated film

So here is a movie with an X rating--a rating that most young people associate with pornography--that would never receive an NC-17 rating in 2012. What does this say about the system if it can just change like that? We treat the rating system as if it’s something etched in stone by the finger of God and we’re supposed to use it judge whether a movie is morally right or wrong to view. But really, that’s not its job.

The rating system was not created to a judge whether a movie is morally appropriate. It was made to judge what audience it should be for. Is Midnight Cowboy a good movie? Is it a movie that’s worthy of your time? Does it have aesthetically redeeming qualities? Does it say something about life, about America, about humanity? We can’t tell that from the rating. In 1969 it was rated X because it dealt with subjects inappropriate for youth. It’s about a male prostitute, drugs, sexuality and failure. But is it pornographic? Is it dirty? I don’t think there’s even any nudity in it apart from briefly seeing Jon Voigt’s butt, and even that may be just my imagination. I’m sure most young people today would find the movie downright boring.

When Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf premiered, it was considered so scandalous that it was almost banned completely. The entire MPAA rating system was created in part because of this movie. The film was only allowed to be released after some censoring and many warnings being placed on all its advertisements saying “FOR ADULTS ONLY.” Profanity and sexual language was the cause of the uproar. Here are some examples of the questionable dialogue:

“son-of-a-bitch”

"screw you"
"up yours"

"hump the hostess"
These are all phrases and expressions any five-year-old could hear on Big Bang Theory or the evening ABC Family movie. And yet at one time this movie would have been X-rated because of them.

Twelve Times, in Context

I have not done any sort of exhaustive search of every possible mention of R-rated movies in the church archives, but I think it’s fair to keep things to whatever is available on lds.org and in the official church handbooks. I’m not going to count things someone once heard in Stake Conference back in his home ward in Washington. If it’s important, it ought to be readily available to everyone.
So my first big discovery: the church has no official policy on R-rated films. At least, if there is an official policy it’s not listed in any of the church’s official handbooks. I’ve read through them and there’s nothing there. They talk about avoiding inappropriate media but they never specifically mention any film ratings.
There’s also the (in)famous claim that R-rated movies are specifically prohibited in the “For the Strength of Youth” pamphlet. They are not nor have they ever been. This left me with the Conference archives to search.

A cursory search of the phrase “R-rated” or “rated R” in the General Conference archives brings back 12 hits, total. These archives go all the way back to 1971. With two conferences a year since then, that's 82 total General Conferences. So in 40 years of talks, “R-rated” only gets mentioned 12 times? That surprised me, especially considering how often R-rated movies have been discussed in church all of my life.

To put this in perspective, a quick search of the term “debt” brings back 196 talks. “Pornography” also brings back about 200 talks. The terms “movies” and “films” bring back 230 talks! That’s 230 opportunities to mention R-rated movies, right? But they very rarely do.

So let’s take a look at those 12 mentions. The oldest (and first, I believe) incidence of the term “R-rated” popping up in General Conference is all the way back in 1972. Elder Robert Simpson, a member of the Presiding Bishopric, said:


Elder Robert L. Simpson

"Why not make some effort to find out something about the next movie that will engage your family’s undivided attention for two and a half or three hours and will probably cost you far more than you contributed to the poor and the needy that month? It goes without saying that all X- and R-rated movies are automatically eliminated."

This statement was made four years after the MPAA rating system debuted. On the surface it does appear that a General Authority is indeed forbidding R-rated movies, but I would like to examine it more closely.

Elder Simpson speaks with the point of view of a parent thoughtfully choosing a film he would want to take his family out to watch. Of course it “goes without saying that all X- and R-rated movies are automatically eliminated” because we’re talking about choosing a movie that’s appropriate for family viewing! He didn’t say that all X- and R-rated movies ought to never be watched, ever. He was just making a common sense statement that you shouldn’t let your kids watch these movies. Maybe you think I’m being nitpicky and “wresting the scriptures” so to speak, but I would argue that context is important here. An entire culture was shaped by statements like this one, so why not examine it closely? This initial announcement from Elder Simpson was made in such an off-hand fashion--and then there’s no more talk about R-rated movies in Conference for many years!

If he were just expressing common sense then obviously it wouldn’t need to be reiterated year after year. But most people in the church would have you believe that Elder Simpson meant it as a proclamation against all R-rated films for all time. Why, then, didn’t more General Authorities talk about it?

Out of the 12 mentions, only one came from a living prophet. President Ezra Taft Benson brought it up during the Priesthood Session of Conference (April 1986). He begins his talk by “[speaking] directly to you young men of the Aaronic Priesthood.


President Ezra Taft Benson
"[Avoid] magazines and books that are obscene and pornographic. We counsel you, young men, not to pollute your minds with such degrading matter, for the mind through which this filth passes is never the same afterwards. Don’t see R-rated movies or vulgar videos or participate in any entertainment that is immoral, suggestive, or pornographic. Don’t listen to music that is degrading."

This is the one and only time a sitting prophet utters the phrase R-rated. Out of the 12 mentions, more than half of them were talks quoting these lines right here. (The rest of the 12 mentions were all stories about young people who either refused to watch or walked out of R-rated movies.)

I’d like to examine President Benson’s quote, though. This is another case in which I would argue for context. First of all, he makes it clear from the beginning that he is speaking “directly” to the young men. Some may argue that if something is told to the youth it ought to apply to the adults, too. But there are many instances in which we protect the children and youth from the grimness of the world because we know they are not yet mature enough to process it. We shield children from the harsh realities of life and death and sexuality. It’s what makes children children. We withhold many things from young people like the right to vote or to drive, simply based on their maturity. There are many books I enjoy as an adult but that I would not feel appropriate for children or teenagers. So I think it’s important to note that this command was issued specifically to the Aaronic Priesthood.


Secondly, President Benson associates R-rated movies with entertainment that is “vulgar,” “immoral, suggestive” and “pornographic.” By 1986 the term “R-rated” had evolved into shorthand for “vulgar movie.” I believe he was trying to express to young men to avoid dirty movies and otherwise immoral media. This was his goal. Does that mean that every single movie that is rated R is immoral, suggestive and pornographic? How does that make sense?

What if the Joseph Smith movie they play at Temple Square received an R rating from the MPAA? Would it suddenly become immoral, suggestive and pornographic? What if Finding Nemo were suddenly re-rated R from the MPAA? Would it become immoral? Obviously not. So the question I want to ask people is: after reading that passage by President Benson, do you feel that his point was to urge young people to not watch immoral or pornographic films, or do you feel his point was to urge all members to start judging the appropriateness of films simply based on their MPAA rating?

I personally believe that that talk had some of the longest-lasting unintended consequences in LDS culture, and that the church has been trying to fix the damage done ever since. This is why, for almost thirty years, the prophets have always, ALWAYS spoken in generalities when it comes to movie--instead of forbidding any certain rating. Again and again they have expressed that we need to choose art wisely on a case-by-case basis and not let others make that choice for us. But most people around here don't buy that.

Freedom of Choice

British Rating System

The MPAA is a man-made committee run democratically and devoid of any divine revelation on what movies ought to be rated. The people on this committee do not hold the same values as Latter-day Saints. So why are we allowing them to decide what is and what is not acceptable for our viewing?

The MPAA decides that the F-word is okay to say once, maybe twice in a PG-13 film. So that’s okay for everyone. But say it THREE times and then it’s R, and that’s definitely NOT okay. (What if the film is about a man with Tourette’s syndrome, as in the case of The King’s Speech?) See, this is the problem with the rating system. The MPAA has no interest in context. It simply observes things happening in a movie and assigns it a letter.

It is also common knowledge in the film industry that many directors will film unnecessary scenes with gratuitous sex or gore only so they can cut them out later in order to make the MPAA think that they are “trying to work with them.” Because the MPAA is much more willing to award the coveted PG-13 rating to a movie that has at least tried to tone itself down as opposed to a movie that argues with it and refuses to cut anything. Think about the implications of that one.


Canadian Rating System

Then there’s the fact that the MPAA is a purely American institution! Other countries have rating systems but we are the only ones that even have these ratings! The letter R here does not mean the same thing in the rating systems of other countries! Oftentimes movies that are rated R here are rated with lower ratings elsewhere, and vice-versa. What does this mean theologically? If I watch The Matrix in Idaho I am, in the minds of some, committing a sin because I went against the direct words of a prophet. However, if I were to watch The Matrix in Canada then I would no longer be sinning because it is not rated R there. It’s not even rated 18-A, Canada’s equivalent to R. It’s rated 14-A, Canada’s equivalent to PG-13. So are Canadian Latter-day Saints not sinning for watching the exact same movie as me? Will God punish me but not them? Did God make Christ suffer in the Garden of Gethsemane for me watching a film based on the rating of some committee in Hollywood?

And then what happens when movie ratings are inexplicably changed? Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho was shown in BYU-Idaho’s film class for over thirty years. It was made in 1960 and therefore not rated. Then in the late nineties it was re-released on DVD and got an R rating. My film teacher told us that he was ordered to not show it anymore. Had they been sinning all those years? I have a VHS copy of the Nicolas Cage movie Valley Girl from 1983. It clearly states on the box that it’s rated PG. There’s sex and swearing in it, though! The DVD copy of the same movie says it’s rated R. Did I accidentally sin? But then take a look at a movie like Titanic! It’s rated PG-13, even though there’s full-frontal nudity followed by a graphic sex scene! Which one is a sin and which one isn’t?! WON’T SOMEBODY TELL ME?!


German Rating System

Caveat

I want to state right now that I understand that many R-rated movies are trash. I’ve seen a LOT of movies in my life. I know what’s out there. Much of it is garbage. Many R-rated movies are pornographic. But I will also say that many PG-13 movies are also trash and also pornographic. And there are plenty of PG movies which, while not pornographic, are definitely garbage devoid of any artistic or cultural merit.

I feel it would be infinitely better for the world if more people spent their time reading books rather than watching screens. I know that if given the choice, though, most people would rather do something passive like watch a screen. But if they're going to watch a screen, why not watch something worth watching? This is where my problem with R-rated forbidders really originates.

Because they:

1. Pretend that their choice is based on church doctrine, when such a doctrine doesn’t exist

2. Try to get others to not watch R-rated movies or insinuate that others are doing something wrong by watching them

3. Happily watch any piece of excrement with the PG-13 label slapped on it, giggling at the poop jokes all the way, never once stopping to question whether or not it’s good or bad, right or wrong.



For some reason it's the people who are the most adamant about not watching R-rated movies that will turn around and watch the most excrement. THAT'S my problem. Because I'm an artist and I like to fill my life with good art. Maybe to other people art isn't very important. They can spend their lives 4-wheeling, avoiding books and watching sports. Fine. But filling your mind with reality television, football games, High School Musical, Glee, Hannah Montana, Dancing With the Stars, etc. is way WAY more damaging than my copy of The Life Aquatic will ever be.

The Heart of the Matter

What SHOULD we watch? It's human nature to crave guidelines and structure in life. This is especially true of Mormon culture. We like having clear limits to what we should and shouldn't do. It makes life a little more stable. Unfortunately some of us crave that same black and white structure when it comes to art, and as a result these people end up stalwartly never watching an R-rated movie but then spending countless hours watching everything else. This is not in keeping with the spirit of the gospel. It's the mindset of the Jews of Jesus' time, where they craved rules upon rules and to have laws for every little thing. It's a lower form of religion, but it's easier than having to think for ourselves.

We are commanded: "seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith." We have been admonished countless times throughout the years to seek out art that will uplift and enlighten us, not degrade. R-rated movies have been mentioned as examples, but seeking out the good and avoiding the pornographic has been brought up in every single Conference since at least 1971. The prophet Joseph Smith summed it up nicely as he quoted Paul in the 13th Article of Faith:

“If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.”

The following are all non-R-rated movies released in the past year. Which one of the following movies would you consider “virtuous,” “lovely” “of good report” or “praiseworthy”?

The Smurfs
Apollo 18
Prom
Abduction
Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked
New Year’s Eve
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Just Go With It
Shark Night 3D
Green Lantern
Twilight: Breaking Dawn
Mars Needs Moms
Season of the Witch
Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son
The Zookeeper
The Roommate
We Bought A Zoo
Journey 2: The Mysterious Island
Jack and Jill

I’m going to go ahead and answer for you. None of them. In fact, all of these movies are the opposites of what we are to seek after. They are not lovely, they are ugly--they are not virtuous, they're dishonorable--nobody makes good reports of any of them--and they are not deserving of any praise. In fact they were all heavily criticized. These films dull the senses, stupify the mind, and desensitize the spirit. And yet I would be willing to bet that there are more people in Rexburg that have seen all of the movies on that list than there are people who have ever watched The Constant Gardner or The Fall or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

It’s very instructive to notice that the Article of Faith does NOT state that we ought to seek after things that are virtuous AND lovely AND of good report AND praiseworthy. It clearly uses the word “OR” and that’s very important. There is art that can be of good report but not necessarily lovely or even virtuous. There is art that can be praiseworthy without being lovely or virtuous. I’ll use Saving Private Ryan as my example here, but many other films will work in its place (The Godfather, The Green Mile, A Simple Plan, The Hurt Locker, Braveheart, Ran, Brazil, Black Hawk Down, The Shawshank Redemption, The Royal Tenenbaums, etc.).



Saving Private Ryan is a film about World War II. I watched it with my father in the theater when I was fifteen or sixteen. I had grown up watching old World War II movies, and so nothing prepared me for what I was about to witness on the screen that night. The first segment of the film is taken up by a massive battle in which the American troops storm the beaches of Normandy. There is nothing but chaos and mayhem and death all around—a hell on earth. The entire film is taken up with the hellishness and brutality of war, but it also contains moments of transcendence in which men band together to help one another. Everyone in that theater wept at some point or another throughout that film. It was a statement on the ultimate sacrifice that so many men gave during the war in order to save their fellow man. Yes, it contained gore and yes it was violent. It was definitely rated R. But was it an immoral film? Was it something that we ought to avoid ever watching?

Perhaps if you feel it would be too much for you, then yes. But as I walked out of the theater that night I remember saying to my father that I felt every single person in America should have to watch that film. That way they could understand what the war was really like.

I would not characterize the film as lovely. Virtuous in its own way, but not lovely. It was very ugly. It definitely is praiseworthy, however. And it definitely is of good report. It is critically acclaimed as one of the best war films ever made.

Some people will argue that even so, the film is too violent and that’s why we need to avoid it. But what is the nature of its violence? And is there something sinful about witnessing violence? Saving Private Ryan does NOT enjoy violence. It is not happy about death. It in no way makes violence look fun or exciting.



“Ah,” you might say, “But neither do the SAW movies! So is it okay to watch violent films as long as they don’t make it look fun?”

No, because the SAW movies are all about exploiting the suffering of human beings to make for mass entertainment. Saving Private Ryan sensitizes the viewer towards violence, rather than DE-sensitizing. It makes the viewer more sensitive about the sanctity of human life and the awfulness of war. The same cannot be said about the SAW movies, which leave the viewer numb and disgusted.

There is also an element of voyeurism in SAW and in most horror films. They are created simply to shock and disgust. They are not art in any real sense. They don’t enlighten, they have nothing to say about humankind. They degrade and debase. They do not uplift. They have nothing to contribute. Saving Private Ryan is a violent film that ultimately has something to say.

You see, violence itself is not inherently sinful. When we watched the terrorist attacks of 9/11, we were not sinning. When a soldier fights in a war and watches other people die all around him, he is not sinning. When the apostles witnessed Jesus being scourged and crucified, they were not sinning. In fact, the film The Passion of the Christ was rated R, and it depicted events that we talk about all the time at church. In the Book of Mormon we read that Nephi was shown a vision of Jesus Christ and his scourging and and crucifixion. It's almost as if Nephi got to see a movie of the events of Christ's life. Was Nephi sinning in viewing such? I doubt it. But some people will argue that watching actors dress up as Jesus and pretending to be scourged, THAT'S a sin. Because a committee rated The Passion of the Christ as R. So watching a replay of the real thing is fine for Nephi and the prophets, not okay for regular folks. Sex and sexuality fall into this same category. For the most part I think we can all agree that gratuitous depictions of sex are not appropriate, but does that mean it's wrong to even IMPLY sex? Because the scriptures, although not graphic, tend to be very frank about sex. He lied with her. She lied with him. They were married and lay together. She had not yet known a man. That kind of thing. So while I don't believe that pornography can be art--there is still a place for sexuality in art. There are no topics that are off-limits for art. Sex, adultery, murder, cheating, lying, stealing, betrayal. These are just elements of the fallen world in which we live. The scriptures are chock full of them. Art just tries to make sense of them.

A tried and true argument is that we just shouldn't be exposing ourselves to bad things like violence because it's not "uplifting" and there's already enough bad stuff in the world, so why watch things that are bad?


Every man, woman and child on Alderaan being exploded

It's a B.S. argument because these same people will then turn around and gleefully watch Star Wars, a film series that includes people being killed by the truckload, torture, an entire planet of people being murdered at once, electrocution, maiming, little furry creatures being killed and several decapitations. So why is violence okay in this case? Because Star Wars is rated PG, of course!!

You know, in their own way these people prove that art CAN contain horrible things and still be worthwhile.

The ironic thing is that the death and destruction in Star Wars is not only entertaining, it seems quite exciting! This is typically the case with PG and PG-13 movies. They make death and killing look like loads of good fun. It’s ironic because movies like Saving Private Ryan get rated R when they attempt to show killing and death in a very unglamorous way, which is perfectly aligned with gospel principals, but then most Mormons will only watch PG-13 movies which almost always glamorize violence. Again, the point of the rating system is to say to the world, “Hey, Saving Private Ryan is not for kids. We’d like to shield them from watching something so brutal. Have them watch Star Wars instead.” Perhaps this is one of the reasons why, as a culture, us Mormons tend to act like children well into our thirties.

"It's a Classic."


When I was serving my mission in New York City we were allowed to go and watch Broadway shows on our preparation day as long as they were on the list of mission-approved shows. I still remember an anecdote about Elder Neal A. Maxwell that got brought up from time to time. I don’t know if this story is true or not, but I have no real reason to doubt that it is. Elder Maxwell was visiting the mission and speaking with the mission president. He asked to see the list of approved Broadway shows. Les Miserables was absent from the list, probably due to the fact that there is a song about brothels in the show. As the story goes, Elder Maxwell told the Assistants to the President: “Les Miserables ought to be on the list. It’s a classic.” There was no further discussion on the matter. From that time forward, it was allowed.

My point is that often times great art will include things that we would not necessarily approve of on their own. Les Miserables has a brothel, but if anything it’s just showing how horrible brothels are. It’s not even about brothels, though. It’s a beautiful story about redemption and family. I will never forget watching the show with my father on Broadway, and how he had tears in his eyes at the end of it. I didn’t fully understand then, but I think I do now. I think Elder Maxwell understood it, too.

When I look at the General Authorities and all of the modern prophets, I think of them as learned men. Wise men. These are men who are well-read, and who are familiar with the great works of literature. But are you telling me they have chosen not to read Shakespeare or Sophocles or Dante or Milton because these authors all wrote stories about murder and adultery and other horrible sins? That is just silly. I think it was Orson Scott Card who wrote, “The depiction of bad behavior is not the endorsement of bad behavior.” Have we forgotten that The Book of Mormon includes the decapitation of a defenseless person who is passed out drunk right in the first few chapters? You can’t simply judge a work of art by the things depicted in it. It is so much more than that. Movies are included in this.

Elder L. Tom Perry once said:

“We do not need man-made rating systems to determine what we should read, what we should watch, what we should listen to, or how we should conduct our lives. What we do need to do is live worthy of the continued companionship of the Holy Ghost and have the courage to follow the promptings that come into our lives.”

Amen. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go watch Blade Runner.



Magic Underwear / Pearls Before Swine

I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is sometimes known as being Mormon, because we believe The Book of Mormon to be holy scripture along with the Bible.

Mormonism isn't the best understood religion in the world. I think we're somewhere between Jehovah's Witnesses and Scientologists when it comes to misconceptions, but I've learned to cope with this problem. Being misunderstood by the world is a universal part of Mormon culture. It informs all of Mormonism.

Mormons have been ridiculed for their beliefs since the day Joseph Smith claimed to have met God and Jesus Christ. We consider ourselves Christian but other Christians mock our beliefs. This gives us a unique perspective on the world. Where other Christian denominations can show solidarity, we are excluded. We're the weird ones.

In my experience, most Latter-day Saints in the U.S. consider themselves conservative and Republican when it comes to politicals. The irony in this is that so many other Republicans and conservatives don't trust or like Mormons. Mitt Romney is a great example of this phenomenon. I'm no Republican, but can you imagine there being any controversy over Mitt Romney if he were some other generic Protestant? He would be hailed as the second coming of Ronald Reagan! Sure, he appears to be well-liked but there's still a lot of apprehension about him. I know it's all because Mormons believe in that crazy Joseph Smith.

That's not all, though. We also don't believe that God the Father and Jesus are the same being. We don't believe the Bible (or the Book of Mormon) is the be-all, end-all of God's word or that it contains everything we would ever need to know about life and the universe. We believe that there are many sacred books in the world written by inspired prophets. The Bible and the Book of Mormon are two collections of these books, but there are many more out there that we don't even know about. We don't believe that any one book contains everything there is to know about God. We believe in personal revelation from God. We believe that we will get to live with God again someday, inherit all that he has, and eventually learn to become like him. We base these beliefs on our interpretation of sacred books but also on the teachings of men we believe to be modern prophets.

These claims are all deeply offensive to many "mainstream" Christians, and so we are rejected by them. Our outlandish claims don't end there, though. We also believe alcohol and other recreational drugs are morally wrong. We believe all sex outside of marriage is morally wrong. We believe that homosexual activity is morally wrong. Because we feel that some natural human impulses are morally wrong we are labeled as close-minded hatemongers by the other side of the spectrum, namely, atheists, agnostics, hedonists, "free thinkers," nihilists and so forth. In short, we are friendless outcasts in this world. Our beliefs offend the religious and the agnostic, liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans. At best we are tolerated by institutions that think they will get our votes or financial support; at worst we are ridiculed and accused of every conceivable evil.

Some might say that the early Latter-day Saint practice of plural marriage is what makes people anxious about the religion, but, as it has been repeated ad nauseam for over a century, the church abolished this practice in 1898. If we held the Republican party or the Catholic church to the same standard as the Church of Jesus Christ then we should be recalling the stuff they were doing in 1898 every time we mention them. We'd have to bring up segregation, racism, the fact that women couldn't vote, the robber barons, etc. There's a lot more I could say on this subject, but I am going to leave it for now in favor of a different topic that's been on my mind.

There is one LDS belief that every group mocks in unison. All the hatred and vitriol against Mormons can be summed up in it. I am, of course, referring to our practice of wearing "magic underwear."

From the Public Relations office of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

"Like members of many religious faiths, Latter-day Saints wear religious clothing. But members of other faiths — typically those involved in permanent pastoral ministries or religious services — usually wear religious garments as outer ceremonial vestments or symbols of recognition. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, garments are worn beneath street clothing as a personal and private reminder of commitments to God.

Garments are considered sacred by Church members and are not regarded as a topic for casual conversation."

Just so everyone is aware, the term "magic underwear" is deeply offensive. I doubt this fact will change anyone's mind about employing the term as a lazy joke, since the kind of people who use the term do not typically care about concepts such as "sanctity," "holiness," or "reverence," but I thought I'd make it clear all the same. That term is made up of two mocking words that are not our own. Mormons don't normally refer to their underclothing as "underwear." Underwear is a juvenile, silly word. It's also a sexualized word. It's a blunt and coarse word. It's a word that used to be inappropriate years ago, and was therefore not said in polite company. Words like "underthings" "unmentionables" "lingerie" "shorts" "intimates" and "drawers" were historically used as a polite alternative to "underwear." "Underwear" is used in this term to demean us. It is to mock the fact that we believe our religious attire is somehow different from the Hanes briefs and dollar-store thongs the rest of America is wearing.

Then there's "magic." If that word implies some kind of impossible power that cannot be explained, then one could say that Jesus healed people through the use of "magic." In the same way, one could say that any unexplained phenomena in the universe is "magic." Dark matter is magic. The evolution of DNA is magic. The Big Bang is magic. But nobody uses "magic" in this way. Magic is associated with superstition and ignorance. Children and tribal cultures believe in magic. Enlightened people know better. Mormons believe that some things are sacred, but we do not believe in magic. The people who use the term against us know this. They know we don't believe in magic. They only use the word magic because they choose to not understand the concept of sanctity. They hold nothing sacred. There is no God to them, no afterlife, no salvation, no ultimate point to reality, nothing. They believe we are all just intelligent animals and that our achievements upon this earth are the only useful thing in the universe. There is nothing greater than this world in their eyes, and there is nothing that exists unless they can immediately perceive it. There is no room for the sacred or the holy in their world-view.

When the adjective "magic" is added to an object, it imbues the object with its own power. When we partake of bread and water on Sundays, we do not say that these items are "magical." In fact, the prayer over the Sacrament says we "bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it" (emphasis mine). The bread becomes blessed and sanctified only when it is partaken of by someone who has made the covenants. Anyone can eat the Sacramental bread. You can be a raging atheist and partake if you'd like. It means nothing until it is "eat[en] in remembrance of the body of thy Son." My point is that we don't believe the bread itself is magical or that it has healing powers or special properties. We believe that we the people are the ones that sanctify things. The bread is sanctified by the Priesthood, who act in behalf of God. Without their action, no sanctification takes place. And even then, just because someone blesses the bread it doesn't make it blessed until the bread is eaten by someone who partakes of it worthily.

The same can be said of the sacred garments. They are not magical objects. They hold no power in and of themselves. We consider them sacred. Their power is manifested when they are worn worthily by those who have made covenants with God. The church stresses that they are personal and private "reminders." Harry Potter's wand is magical. The ring from Lord of the Rings is magical. The garments are sacred.

***

In order to educate and enlighten, I thought I'd post some links to various Wikipedia articles on the sacred undergarments of other religions. I find it telling that nobody makes fun of Orthodox Jews for wearing "magic underwear" (although they do get made fun of for many other things). But I can't even imagine the backlash if someone went around with a sign saying "USE YOUR MAGIC UNDERWEAR FOR GOOD!" at a Synagogue on national television. But the same thing happens when Mormons are in the news all the time, and it's generally understood as "hilarious" or "just a bit of fun." It's shorthand for expressing how those Mormons are crazy backwards weirdos, and yet we live in a world where millions upon millions of people of different faiths act and dress just like Mormons.

So here's a handy guide to either understanding other religious beliefs or spewing bitter hatred on other religious beliefs because "they're weird." Use this information for good!

The Jewish Tallit Katan
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tallit_katan

Orthodox Jews wear it like a T-shirt under their clothing. Highly observant Jews will not take four steps without wearing it because it is a commandment to wear it at all times.

The Sikh Kachchhera
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kachchhera

The Muslim Ihram
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ihram_clothing

Japanese Hadajuban "skin"
http://www.kekkonshiki.org/bride.asp

The Buddhist Antaravasaka
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antaravasaka

Article about Buddhist robes:
http://www.urbandharma.org/udharma10/robe.html

Mennonites:
http://www.mennonitemaiden.com/unmentionables1.html

Further reading:
A wonderful article by Hugh Nibley on the nature of "Sacred Vestments"
http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/books/?bookid=103&chapid=1149