Proper Metaphors for Porn (and Sex)

I attended a meeting recently where a general authority (from the first quorum of the seventy) likened pornography to AIDS. He said something to the effect of, ‘The addiction to pornography is everywhere, infiltrating our society. In my mind it’s worse than the epidemic of AIDS.’ While this certainly isn’t a direct quote, and he probably meant something like, “Porn is a serious problem that corrodes our spirituality”, the metaphor still made me uncomfortable. I realize that he is obviously not equating pornography with AIDS, but it got me thinking about how such language can impact the way we perceive pornography addictions, the way we perceive those addicted to porn, and the way those that are addicted to pornography perceive themselves.

We are a highly metaphorical society. By “metaphor” I roughly mean, to experience one thing in the terms of another. Most general conference talks are structured along the lines of metaphors. A preliminary story is given (say someone’s car breaking down in the middle of a long voyage), and then the terms of this experience become the means of understanding something else (trials experienced on the “journey” of life). The use of metaphors are also emphasized in “likening the scriptures unto ourselves” (to mis-quote Nephi) and in retelling and reenacting the pioneer travels.

Much more could be said about metaphors, but as far as this post is concerned, I’m interested in rethinking the metaphors we use in dealing with pornography addictions. We have come along way from resorting to divorce when an addiction occurs. And now it seems that the predominate metaphor (at least from what I’ve heard) is drug addiction. I have a problem with this metaphor. The problem stems not because there are not important parallels between the two, but I think likening pornography addictions to heroin addictions (for instance) imports a lot of harmful baggage. To be more specific, drugs and sex (I’m assuming here that porn addictions are rooted in sex drives—and addictions) differ in some important respects: We would claim that drugs are always morally inappropriate. Certain sexual acts, however, are appropriate in certain circumstances. We would never speak of a “drug life” with the positive connotations we could employ with a “sex life”. Smoking (and other drugs) is always physiologically bad for the body (except perhaps for certain psychosomatic benefits). But a healthy sex life is a part of a broader notion of “health”. We would rarely say that “heroin is a beautiful thing”, but would certainly claim that “sex can be a beautiful thing.”

So the question arises, what is a better metaphor for pornography addiction? The first thought that comes to mind is a food addiction. I should probably say here that I know little about the specifics of “addiction” let alone food addiction (perhaps someone could correct me where I’m wrong), but I think the metaphor better for several reasons: Certain kinds of food in certain amounts are “healthy” for our body, similar to the way that sex in certain amounts are healthy. Food can be both a wonderful and uplifting experience; and sex can be as well. Too much food, or the wrong kinds of food, can harm us; similarly, too much sex, or sexual perversions can harm us. Of course this doesn’t capture the moral differences between a food addiction and a porn addiction (nor the differences in the way other parties, such as the spouse, are impacted by the addiction), but I think the reason we’ve chosen the current drug metaphors are not because they are more accurate, but because of the moral repulsion we have to pornography—porn is “dirty and evil” like drugs are “dirty and evil”.

BYU’s Dept. of Religious “Education”

I’m sure many of us have realized that BYU’s Religion Department uses the title “Religious Education” rather than “Religious Studies”. BYU-Hawaii even refers to their religion department as “The Department of Religious Education”.

There seems to be a distinction that Church schools are trying to make by differentiating themselves as religious “educators” rather than religious “studiers”. The home page of BYU’s religious department states that their mission is “to build the Kingdom of God by teaching and preserving the doctrine of the Gospel of Jesus Christ” “Education” in this respect seems to be about fostering good members of the Church that are well versed in their tradition. Personally I can see the role for such a program; but are we losing something by “educating” in this manner? I would have to say that personally I left BYU not even knowing how much I really didn’t know. In other words, while I feel like I learned about Mormonism I was completely unaware that there was a world of “religious studies” going on outside of Mormonism; and that Mormonism in all actuality has so few voices taking place in the larger conversations.

The other issue I’d like to raise is, could (or should) BYU ever have a Religious Studies Department? If so how could such a thing ever come to pass? The background behind this question is that Utah State has started a BA in religious studies ( http://www.usu.edu/provost/forms/pdf/USU_religious_studies11_10_05.pdf); and in some regards I can’t help but feel that demand is abundant, and if BYU doesn’t develop a religious studies program they will continue to sit on the sidelines of the conversations about religion which ironically is also about themselves.

Is Every Nation the Gathering Place for its Own People?

The concept of gathering is a central feature of Mormonism. We often talk of the physical gathering of the early saints—a literal move together to establish a Zion-like society. And we talk of the shift, in later Mormon history, where “[e]very nation is the gathering place for its own people” (spoken by Bruce R. McConkie in 1972 and reiterated by Russell M. Nelson in Oct. Conference). But how literally are we to take this? Given recent global trends making “trans-nationalism” more possible, the Chinese Saint (for instance) could very well be born, raised, and die in America without even returning “home” to China. In this light is it still an injunction for the Mexican saint to gather to Mexico? The Nigerian saint to Nigeria? Etc.?

Should we still hold to the notion of “Every nation [as] the gathering place for its own people”? The larger question is how does globalization impact our conception of “gathering”?.]

Do We Really Have a Fullness of Truth? : Dealing with Difference Part III

If you know any Latter-day Saint that has an understanding of religions other than Mormonism (or more often ‘Christianity’ broadly conceived), one of the first questions they are usually asked by other members of the Church, are what “parallels” there are between the other religion and Mormonism.

I have to admit, I’m somewhat bothered by this question. Personally I know I need to accept that for the most part this question is conceived with little ill intent on the part of the questioner; but I can’t help but interpret the question in this respect, “I’m only interested in other religions in as much as they can support what I already believe to be true, could you please tell me how [insert religion here] does that?”

On the bright side, at least the questioner implies that this “other” religion has something resembling the “truth” within it. However, even this admission seems to be tied to the other religion having “fallen away” in some pre-Modern past, yet fortunately holding on to some small vestige of truth while acquiring other “false doctrines”.

I am wrong to feel this way?

Can Mormons see Grey? Dealing with Difference Part II

Roughly speaking we can talk of two different ways of conceptualizing a world imbued with morality—as black-and-white or as shades of grey. In regards to our religion, I see faithful members of the Church in both camps. Those that see in black-and-white, view the Spirit as a power that is either present, or is not. Any given thing is either of God or of the devil. A church is either the church of the Lamb or the church of the devil (1Ne. 14:10). Those that see in grey emphasize parts of the gospel that talk about the good in all things—growth line upon line, and improvement grace by grace. And sometimes of course we fluctuate back and forth between these positions.

To give a more practical example:
The black-and-whites would say that one scene in a movie (be it sexually explicit, violent, or otherwise) warrants not seeing the movie altogether. The greys on the other hand, would say that the one scene, while not good, does not ruin the other enlightening parts of it.

The questions that I’m interested in are as follows:

Is it really the case that Mormonism allows for two different world views? If so, then how should the black-and-whites relate to the greys? Is there something else that holds us together as Mormons besides a common world view (or other parts of a world view larger than what I’ve described)?

Is there a progression involved? In other words, have those that see in grey “evolved” beyond seeing in black-and-white? Or have they simply made a choice to use a different lens with which to view the world—a different, yet equally valid lens?

I certainly have a lot to say, but I’d like to know that there are others out there who are interested in discussing the issue. So please provide some of your preliminary thoughts.

Dealing with Difference: A Taxonomy

How do we as Latter-day Saints reconcile differences? At this point I would like to keep the definition of “differences” purposefully broad. It could refer to opposing opinions of faithful members within the church, historical and scriptural discrepancies, inter-faith relations (hostile or non-hostile), or a host of other scenarios where we are faced with the challenge of dealing intellectually, socially, or culturally with something that stretches our current system of beliefs. In short this is a post about confronting the “other”.

I would like to put forth a few possibilities, and then to discuss the possibility of more possibilities; but more importantly, I would like to hear your thoughts on the ramifications of each option:

Eclecticism: The selective adoption or rejection of specific concepts to the de-emphasis and overemphasis of others. E.g., We have become the “Book of Mormon generation” where the BoM is employed much more frequently than the Bible. In the Bible we emphasis certain portions and downplay others. The Gospels compared with the epistles, for instance.

Ecumenicism: An exercise of faith where God’s omniscience is trusted to somehow tie the differences together into “one great whole”. E.g., Different Mormons can have differing opinions as to God’s relationship with the world he has created. How much does he intervene? How do we explain evil? The scripture mastery verse in Isaiah is usually implied with Ecumenicism: “His ways are greater than our ways.” (pardon my paraphrasing)

Compartmentalism: Different circumstances call for different responses. E.g., In Polynesia, many males wear the traditional lavalava to church rather than slacks. Comparmentalism is also used to explain how early members of the church (or even individuals in the scriptures) did things differently because they were of a different time (drinking of wine for instance). We often employ Compartmentalism with the phrase, “It’s the Spirit that matters.”

Inclusivism: The reworking of the concepts of the “other” in a shared terminology (or often purely in our own terminology). E.g., Most people believe in a supreme being, but we call him by different names.

This list of course may not be comprehensive. It is also somewhat oversimplified, because in reality many of these theories overlap, and may even be used by the same person for the same explanation. Allowing for this leeway, here are some questions on my mind:

What are the inherent strengths and weakness of each approach? For instance, the ecumenical approach opens our religion to all individuals—you do not need any philosophical/theological training to be a Mormon. A garbage man could be a bishop. On the other hand does this lead us to be too dismissive of intellectual endeavors? Does this contribute to the anti-intellectual undercurrent some people feel?

Are there other approaches you can think of? Or some that should be eliminated?

Is the attempt to create a taxonomy built on a false assumption of “systemization” which is antithetical to Mormonism from the get go? In other words is our religion not susceptible to these types of attempts to systematize? Am I missing something by trying this?