I’m a sucker for hormones. They get me every time. Cut back my estrogen levels and pound me with the progesterone and I’m gone. The world is suddenly ending, I’m the worst person in it, I’m hugely fat, I can’t sleep enough and my bowels, well, they go skeewampus. I have tracked my feelings and behavior for a solid 6 years and I am still powerless against them. Fully aware that I am in the midst of a temporary hormone shift, I still sigh, cry, want to die, and eat an extraordinary amount of carbohydrates.
In our theology, we believe that agency is as fundamental as Jesus is in our attempts to return to God. We are “free, knowing good from evil, to act for [ourselves] and not to be acted upon.” Indeed (wo?)”men are free according to the flesh (2 Ne 2:26-27).” We are agents unto ourselves (Moses 6:56) and if we do iniquity, we do it unto ourselves because we are free; we are permitted to act for ourselves because God has given us knowledge and he has made us free. (Hel 14:30). I don’t know about you, but when I’m in the throes of a hormone shift, sudden or serial, I do not feel like a free agent.
Now, I do not believe that the two are mutually exclusive, but hormones make it difficult for me to make decisions other than what they are urging me to do. Sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s wrong and sometimes it has no moral significance whatsoever. Hormones cannot dictate behavior, but they can change the probability that a very specific behavior will be emitted in a specific situation, much like mafia bosses.
This is not my field, if I have one of those, and most of my information came from here and here, introductory textbooks to behavioral endocrinology. If I happen to assert that a glucocorticoid does something it can’t or insert a u into our DNA, please let me know. Hormones are “chemical messengers that are released from endocrine glands and travel through the blood stream to target cells where they induce changes in the rate of cellular function (Nelson 9).” Hormones often get out in a predictable fashion, like during a woman’s reproductive cycle, or they make special appearances in response to stressful situations which could vary from someone wanting to beat the crap out of you, to a pesky blog administrator hounding you for a post, to the promise of good (or bad) sex or winning the lottery. In the presence of hormones, here are some very interesting things that occur:
- There is a testosterone threshold in males (human and otherwise) that once crossed sends a monogamous man or species into polygamy.
- The higher the testosterone the thicker and more quickly-growing the beard. He-llo Brigham Young.
- It is commonly known that we have a hormonal “fight-or-flight” mechanism as a stress-response. It turns out that women usually don’t fight or fly but instead “tend and befriend” (Shelley Taylor, UCLA) due to heightened levels of oxytocin.
- Estrogen and progesterone dramatically increase during pregnancy and then both drop drastically at parturition. This drop causes the maternal instincts to love, care for and protect the baby.
- Increased levels of epinephrine make humans remember emotional experiences, images or feelings for much longer and more powerfully than otherwise.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder is marked by very low levels of serotonin.
Now, some of these examples are neither here nor there but they bring up some good questions in terms of agency and the influence of the gift of the Holy Ghost. The other problem is that not all bodies are created equal. Some people have more or less hormone than they should. So… what if Joseph Smith’s revelation on polygamy was partially related to high levels of testosterone, over which he had absolutely no control?
What if Franklin-Covey effective planning principles came about because Franklins, Smiths, Coveys, whomever, had really low levels of serotonin?
Due to some misbehaving hormones, I cannot have children. (Don’t cry for me Argentina, I got over that a long time ago). But is my responsibility, when I marry that non-Mormon, to try in-vitro or hormone therapies in attempts to keep the multiply and replenish the earth commandment? Or is this God’s special plan for me so I should do nothing? I’m not asking for advice, just your take on your understood doctrine.
My father was a diabetic manic-depressive. Should he have taken insulin to make up for his body not making it? (He did). Should he have taken lithium to balance out his brain chemistry? (He did not.) Again no advice, he’s proselytizing to your dead ancestors.
What if a woman’s hormones do not respond exactly right during pregnancy and birth and she has little maternal instinct? What if you don’t have the sufficient mood-stabilizing hormones in your body? Do you take SSRIs?
I do not believe that we are completely subject to hormones. I see a good-lookin’ man, hormones go into my bloodstream and still I keep my hands to myself. I don’t kill myself even though I have devastating feelings during PMS all because of hormones. I do believe however that some spiritual things are hormonal and that other things that we are supposed to control by our God-given knowledge and agency are ruled by our hormones. And I feel stuck, crediting one seems to discredit the other and I don’t quite buy that either.