Monday, November 16, 2009

(Do) I Belong to the Church of Jesus Christ . . . (?)

There is a feeling of belonging that I, growing up as a military dependent to a decidedly non-pro-military social worker, have only rarely felt. In fact, I think it safe to say that the only time I have ever felt that I belonged somewhere was before I was married when I attended the temple. One place I decidedly do not feel a part of a group is in church on Sunday. Although my current situation exacerbates this feeling, it is nothing new.

Once, when I went to attend Conference just after the Conference Center was built, I did not know that tickets were necessary to attend. I found myself standing awkwardly with a group of strangers on the sidelines, watching the-Ones-with-Tickets file into the doors. As I was shunted up through a side door and to the nosebleeds, I got a taste of what it must have felt like to be a Jew in the early stages of Nazi Germany, a segregated person after the Civil War, one of the Untouchables in Indian society, or one of the ignorant converts in a very closely knit religious society. At the time, I had not felt more obviously different from the rest of Church membership than I did that day. When I hear various interest groups—LDS feminists, intellectuals, non-Utah Mormons, gay/lesbian members, recent converts—talk about wanting to feel a part of the Church, my heart resonates with their desires even though I really belong to none of these sub-groups.

I have thought long and hard on feelings of estrangement throughout my life in the Church. It occurs to me that almost everyone feels outside of the group at one time or another. Whether we are different because of age, background, personality, beliefs, skin color, height, or any other factor, we still feel the sharp, cold sting of being other than those around us. Three things have helped me soften that sting.

First, to realize that my feelings belong to me alone. No one can make me feel anything, nor can anyone change how I feel without my cooperation.

Second, that my differences give me the ability to serve in the Church in ways that others may not be able to serve. That might not be appreciated by others, but it is necessary all the same.

Most importantly, that no matter the circumstance that sets me apart from other members of the Church, there is one unifying factor that makes my differences meaningless; my faith in Christ and His prophets. I believe on Christ and rely on Him. I believe that He is working through the leadership of the Church to bring about His great purposes.

It doesn't matter if other members of the Church see me as strange, or hold me in contempt because I don't understand workings of the Church or the gospel of Christ the way they understand it. I know that my Father and my Savior have bonded me to Them through the Spirit. In the end, I am answerable only to Them. That is why I can happily declare that I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I know who I am. I know God's plan, and I'll follow Him in faith.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Why Pornography is Wrong (It's Not Really About Sex)

I have recently gone through a drastic paradigm shift that has led me to understand several gospel principles in a new way. One of these is pornography.

There is a great deal of discussion about pornography in the LDS blog world. At the risk of oversimplification, essentially the discussions involve three basic views. First, that pornography is evil because it exploits women and plays upon natural man drives. Second, that pornography in moderation is not that bad if it helps husbands and wives have a more fulfilling sex life. Third, that there is really nothing wrong with pornography because the women who are depicted choose their careers, and would do it whether or not any particular person used it.

But there is another, more insidious aspect to pornography that I believe may greatly damage the lives of anyone it touches in ways that ripple out to destroy wives, children and friends.

While I have not ever been involved in pornography, there is a certain level of it which cannot be entirely avoided in today's society, so I am minimally familiar with the concept. Generally speaking, pornography involves showing people in various states of undress, or depicting a sexual encounter through stories, but nakedness and sex are not what defines pornography. In fact, pornography can consist of people entirely modestly dressed, and often does. Sometimes an actual sexual encounter does not even need to be depicted or described. Pornography is not nakedness, it is the depiction of forbidden or unattainable sexual desires in a way that allows the viewer or reader to direct the fulfillment of those desires.

When a person views a pornographic picture or reads a pornographic story, they are in some ways putting themselves into the scene. They are able to fantasize about doing something that they cannot do in real life. Essentially all forms of pornography involve having someone else do what you want them to do.

In short, pornography is a way of finding sexual gratification that circumvents the agency of another person. It is about control, not about sex.

In normal, healthy, husband-and-wife sex, two people have to work together to find mutual pleasure and joy in physical expression. That's why it is such hard work, and why so many people struggle with it. It is not that there is anything wrong with the individuals, it is that divinely-sanctioned sex is not meant to be easy. It is not meant to be about fulfilling one's own needs, it is meant to be about seeking ways to meet a spouse's needs. When two people attempt this, there are bound to be missteps along the way. However, when this is done, husband and wife form strong bonds of love as they seek their spouse's needs before their own (very powerful) ones. Sex should be a form of charity held sacred to be performed only between husband and wife, so there can be a bond between them that no others share.

When a person seeks physical fulfillment in ways that ignore the agency of another person, they objectify and thus can manipulate a person (even if it is only in their own fantasy, and even if it is on a strictly limited basis). That person mocks one of the most important laws of God: the law of agency. They then damage their ability to find pleasure in giving, grinding grooves of habit that make it impossible for them to associate sex with selflessness.

Once a person ties their sexual pleasure to control and manipulation, other aspects of the marital relationship assume the taint of a need to control. Then that person can easily begin to see all relationships as relationships of control. When a relationship is about control, it is no longer of God.

If you look at scripture, about Satanic interaction with mankind as compared to divine interaction, you will see that relationships with God never, never violate the principle of agency: of choice and accountability. Satan almost always tempts in one of three ways: by convincing us there is no choice, by convincing us there is no consequence, or by telling us that we do not have to be accountable for what we choose, that it somehow isn't our fault.

Is pornography wrong because it exploits women? Undoubtedly. But it also exploits the viewer or reader, teaching them that joy comes only from control. In the end, that is far more damaging.

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