At the beginning of 2009 I published my most inflammatory post ever–the one about the church announcing the addition of an eighth value to the Young Women Personal Progress program, Virtue. I took the press release, which invited parents and leaders “to teach the doctrine of chastity and moral purity to help each young woman to be virtuous,” as an indication that the church and the Young Women program particularly were aiming to put a special emphasis on chastity.
My fear was not only that we’d raise a generation of young women to think “virtue” means only chastity (problematic from an English-language perspective as well as a religious one), but also, even worse, that they would think their virtue was inextricably tied to their chastity, and if they failed to abstain from sexual relations (in all their variety), it would negate or severely diminish their virtue overall. Personally, I am all for classifying fornication as a major sin, as sex is a major thing and deserves a few major sin categories. I am against classifying fornication (much less other varieties of illicit sexual behavior) as the nuclear bomb of sins, something that either destroys your spirituality or taints your soul with Satanic radiation for a half-life of no less than x number of years. Obviously, sexual relations outside of marriage can have devastating consequences (operative word:can ), hence, the major sin. However (as I expounded in a later post), life is complicated, as is human nature. Therefore, goodness is also complicated, and the badness of one specific act is relative to the circumstances and context in which it’s committed. We should not confuse weakness with evil, and we should not confuse innocence with virtue.
As I recall, most BCC readers–or at least the commenters on this particular thread–took exception, if not outright offense, at my argument. They reminded me that virtue entailed so much more than chastity and I was being overly sensitive and/or cuckoo if I thought this was just about keeping our young women virgins.
I will now reiterate what I unsuccessfully iterated the first time. When I hear “virtue,” I don’t automatically assume the speaker means “chastity,” unless the context makes it clear that “chastity” is what the speaker means for me to infer. To me, the wording of the press release announcing Virtue (the Value) implied that Virtue was intended as a euphemism for Chastity. But many of you thought this was delusion on my part. Conveniently, the new Personal Progress books including Virtue had not yet been released, so we were all free to put whatever spin on Virtue and (its press release) we liked.
The general consensus among People Who Disagreed With Me was that virtue just meant Goodness, although there was another, overlapping group of People Who Thought They Disagreed With Me But Really Just Had A Problem With My Tone And Conclusions who held that Virtue was simply a more generally-applicable term than Chastity and encompassed a range of behaviors beyond the mere abstinence from sexual intercourse. I suspect, but can’t prove, that a substantial percentage of People Who Thought They Disagreed With Me were the same folks who took umbrage at Elna Baker claiming to live the law of chastity whilst lying half-naked with a fully-naked man in his hotel room. But if Chastity is really so narrowly defined as “(merely) abstaining from sexual intercourse,” then Sister Baker was absolutely living the law of chastity in that hotel room, and her nakedity therein was irrelevant. Of course, one could easily argue that lying naked or half-naked or any kind of naked with someone whilst in an unmarried state is not virtuous, strictly speaking, and perhaps if young Elna had had the value of Virtue instilled in her as well as the law of chastity, she would not have been in any man’s hotel room, naked or otherwise, and her memoir would be that much less interesting to read. But that’s neither here nor there.
My point–and I do have one–is that the new and improved Personal Progress books (“Now with VIRTUE!”) are coming out, and we should finally be able to settle the question of What Virtue Really Means (In Church, Anyway).
Is it abstaining from sexual intercourse and anything like thereunto, including–but not limited to!–all sexual touching, all sexual situations (e.g. lying half-naked next to fully-naked folks), all sexually explicit or suggestive media, and most-if-not-all sexual thoughts?
Is it just all-around sweet stuff like being honest and industrious and helping old ladies across the street (assuming that would not be too much “like the boys”)?
I do not yet have my filthy mitts on one of these new pink pamphlets of purity promulgation, but I assume that the section on Virtue is very much like unto, if not exactly the same, as the current “Virtue insert” currently available online, which I’ve just now gotten around to reading because after I post something offensive, I need a period in which to recuperate before my interest in re-posting further offensive material can be properly engaged. Here is the Reader’s Digest version of the four required value experiences and the value project for Virtue:
1. Study the meaning and importance of chastity and virtue. In your journal, write the promised blessings of being sexually clean and pure and your commitment to be chaste.
2. When you are baptized and confirmed, you are given the gift of the Holy Ghost to guide all aspects of your life. Read the following scripture references, and identify the promised blessings: John 14:26–27; John 15:26; 2 Nephi 32:1–5; D&C 45:57–59; D&C 88:3–4; and D&C 121:45–46. In your journal, record what you have learned, and write about a time when you felt the guidance of the Holy Ghost.
3. Read Alma chapter 5. Make a list of the questions Alma asks. Answer the questions for yourself, and make a list of the things you can and will do to prepare yourself to be pure and worthy to enter the temple.
4. Determine to partake worthily of the sacrament each week and fill your life with virtuous activities that will bring spiritual power.
The Savior chose to live a virtuous life. Follow His admonition to “learn of me” (D&C 19:23) by reading the entire Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. Liken the scriptures to your life and circumstances. As you read, record your thoughts regularly in your journal. Note the example of the Savior’s life and mission. What did the Redeemer and those who followed Him do to live virtuous lives? At the completion of your reading, record your testimony in your journal.
While it is somewhat telling that the first required value experience is all about chastity, and that chastity is the only aspect of virtue that merits a specific mention, the upshot of the other three experiences and the value project is encouraging. I like that they ask young women to think about the Holy Ghost and how to recognize its influence. I am particularly pleased with the requirement to glean one’s lessons about virtue from the scriptures. In Alma 5 Alma does not specifically mention abstaining from sexual intercourse (no offense to it), but does specifically mention non-sexual sins such as pride and envy and making a mock of one’s brother (or sister, to be gender-inclusive). Certainly the Book of Mormon has somewhat to say about chastity, but it is not the focus of the book as a whole, merely an integrated aspect of what it means to live virtuously.
Which brings me back to my original point–of this post and the earlier one–which is this: What is the point of Virtue, the value? If it is not to put a special emphasis on chastity, is it not somewhat redundant in the wake of those other seven values that pretty well sum up what virtue is? Is it some kind of doctrinal cake-topper? I don’t know, but I’m willing to concede that’s just me being fussy. Again, I have no quarrel with the value experiences and project requirements that Virtue adds to the Personal Progress mix; indeed, I find them pleasing and delightsome. Only a niggling concern that the superfluousness of the eighth value draws undue attention to its one unique aspect (chastity) haunts me.
Fortunately, my own daughter–who enters the Young Women program in a scant three-and-a-half months, promises to have so many problems with the first seven values that she will have no time to process the theoretically troubling aspects of the eighth. But time will tell, as it usually does.
I am most interested in reading about the opinions and experiences of young women and YW leaders. What has Virtue added to the Personal Progress program?