A Difference in Values

The R rated movie debate emerged recently at another blog, so I can thank them for inspiring this post. It goes without saying that what is offensive is highly subjective. Hopefully we as Latter-day Saints would have at least some consensus about some films. Try as you might, justifying a XXX movie is pretty tough to do (and that goes for either the porno kind or the abysmal Vin Diesel kind). But other things are tough to pin down. I had a friend (one who’d been to several R rated movies with me) strenuously object to showing Gone with the Wind at a ward movie night. He was appalled at the scene where Rhett Butler snatches up Scarlett in the middle of an argument, carries her upstairs amid her protests, and insists she needs to be loved. In the next scene, we see Bonnie, the product of the night’s passion. “He basically rapes her and it’s portrayed as romantic,” my friend argued. Those 10 seconds ruined the 4 hour movie for him.

I’ll confess right now, I’m tough to offend at films. Those who are easily offended are quick to label folks like me, “desensitized” (we don’t feel the same way they do, you see). I used to return the favor with labels like “sheltered” and “prude.” Now I just try and appreciate that we’re different.

With that in mind, I’d love to hear everyone’s most inspirational R rated films. The rules are: 1) Unless you are absolutely convinced you’ve got a brilliant, original new point to add to the “no R rated movie” debate, let’s just avoid that line of discussion altogether. Yes I’ve heard President Benson’s talk; yes, I know how crappy the rating system is; yes, I know about . . . yada yada yada. 2) Feel free to disagree with a film selection and tell us why, but please do so respectfully. In other words, don’t just say that you were offended at this film and you just can’t imagine why the rest of us haven’t seen the light like you. 3) Tell us your reasons. Don’t list Zombie Mutant Cannibals 4: Death Rides a Zombie without a little explanation as to why this inspired you. 4) Try and stick to movies that truly moved you – especially movies that changed the way you view life or enhanced your spirituality somehow. I love Stripes just as much as the next guy, but it didn’t exactly change my life. Finally, 5) You don’t have to list only R rated movies, but I am especially curious about movies that might not traditionally be considered inspirational.

I’ll kick it off with a very cliched one, but one that changed my view of war forever: Saving Private Ryan. I can’t explain why or how, but in the first 20 minutes of the film I was overcome with grief. I’d read about World War II, I’d studied it and watched veterans on TV. But that film made the sacrifice so real, so tangible. For the first time I was struck with the knowledge of what war means. I knew as I watched the camera pan across Omaha Beach after the battle, that if I were to go to war, I most likely wouldn’t be a rugged Tom Hanks-like hero. No, I’d be the guy lying face down in the sand in the corner of the screen, next to other nameless, faceless people. Hopefully I’d be lucky enough to still have my dog tags so my family could be notified properly.


  1. Ben Huff says:

    “Homosexuals remind us of sex, which is automatically bad, I guess.”

    D., this is a really cheap way to portray those who disagree with you, especially when you are talking about the T&S discussions. If you’re free to voice such a shallow view of those who oppose gay marriage, then you shouldn’t expect any subtlety of judgement in return.

  2. “if it’s impossible to tell, that means you have no idea whether marriage is weaker or stronger than it was in the past.”

    I think that’s right. I don’t think we can safely say that marriage is weaker today. A part of this problem is definitional — what is an indicator that marriage is ‘stronger’ or ‘weaker’? For example, do more divorces mean marriages are weaker? If divorce were illegal, and couples were forced to remain married, would that in your mind result in stronger marriages?

    Now, the absence of solid definitions shouldn’t deter us completely from talking about making marriages stronger, because that is clearly a desirable goal. But it should make us more careful to jump to conclusions about how effective changes will be or how disastrous societal trends really are.

    As for your contractual parallel: the contract analogy of marriage only takes us so far, because marriage as an agreement is far removed from a contract for the sale of goods or provision of services.

    That being said, permit me to enter lawyer mode: if we are dealing with a contract whose successful completion depends utterly on the good faith and full participation of both parties, and where a desire to exit the contractual framework by either party puts the fulfilment of the contract’s object in jeopardy, then we can say that either party has the ability terminate the contract at any time, even in the absence of breach, because the contract’s object has become impossible.

    No change to the law is required for this kind of interpretation — it is a simple matter of taking the contract’s object into account. In the context of human relationships, the ability of either part to end the relationship at any point is of a similar necessity. In other words, no-fault divorce doesn’t weaken marriage, it acknowledges it for what it is — a human relationship — and keeps it from being mistaken as a common contract.

    Finally, though this was directed at John, I’m glad that you finally properly stated your claim: “The mere fact that your marriage is solid does not mean there aren’t factors at work that weaken marriage.” Why didn’t you just say so in the beginning of your first comment? I think we’d all agree with you there.

  3. “set a good example. show them you love them, etc.”

    I feel your pain but have no idea how church could ever change. The wonderful thing about your statement above is that EVERYONE agrees on it. You can’t argue with clichés like “be a good example”. As I see it, here are the two main problems with what youÂ’re hoping for:

    1) People would *gasp* disagree not just once in a while but all the time. It would be an all out war. Example: Rather than “teach your children modesty” we’d have to discuss the specifics of why my five-year-old daughter can wear a sleeveless shirt and you think yours cannot. This could be an interesting conversation if most Mormons could agree that modesty (or whatever gospel principle you pick) means different things to different people. But oh no, you get into specifics and you’re asking for it. Better to stick with ambiguity so that we’re all happy thinking we’re thinking the same thing somehow. This goes for anything from the WofW to Rated-R movies, etc.

    2) When you dive into conversations that are practical and actually specific, then you have the problem of turning Sunday school into some form of Alcoholics Anonymous. Every third person could/would be sharing how they overcame various sexual (or any other) problems. This already happens enough as it is (just ask Aaron Brown for a story from any of the wards he’s been in). But I think would happen probably three times as much.

    So the question is, how would you suggest having church be what you’d like it to be while dealing with the two problems I listed above?

  4. > However, relative ease or difficulty
    > of divorce isn’t the key to making
    > marriages stronger or weaker.

    I don’t believe I said it was the key, but to deny that it’s a factor at all seems strange.

    There are plenty of stories about people who went though rough times in their marriage, where one or both partners thought about divorce, but they eventually worked things out.

    Making it easier for one or both partners to bail on the marriage during the rough times makes it less likely that the couple can work things out.

  5. > Three different gay couples live
    > within five houses of me – my own
    > marriage has yet to crumble in the
    > face of this terrible threat to
    > traditional marriage.

    I think it’s time to point out that statements like this are completely illogical.

    I’m sure there are plenty of people who live within a few blocks of you who have gotten “no fault” divorces, and your marriage has yet to crumble. Does that mean “no fault” divorce has not weakened marriage as an institution?

    I’m sure there are plenty of people who live within a few blocks of you who have children born out of wedlock, and your marriage has yet to crumble. Does that mean the increased acceptance of giving birth out of wedlock has not weakened marriage as an institution?

    Your statement may be witty and trendy (Wil Wheaton said almost exactly the same thing on his blog a while back), but as an argument it falls completely flat.

  6. D. Fletcher says:

    A press release from the Church today confirmed that the official position is in favor of a Constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage.

    Very sad, since this confirms my own suspicion that I can never go back there, and will never be welcome in any case.

    Very sad.

  7. D. Fletcher says:

    About same-sex marriage, I argued and argued this exact viewpoint (Why does it make a difference to anyone except gay couples? I even think one can believe homosexuality is a damnable sin and still support SSM.) over at Times & Seasons, but I didn’t get very far. Homosexuals remind us of sex, which is automatically bad, I guess.

  8. Ben Huff says:

    Arguments about Coke and R-rated movies are not a waste of time! They may show a certain spiritual immaturity, but dismissing them as unimportant questions I think also shows a spiritual immaturity. Please don’t think I’m being dismissive in saying that, John; we are all spiritually immature, not yet having grown to the stature of our Parents. I think this conversation, where you are questioning the value of conversations about Coke and R-rated movies, is an important conversation. In some sense these may be less important than some other issues, like when it is appropriate to go to war, but they are important, and they are things each of us can do something concrete about, things that factor into our decisions every day. Spiritual immaturity can be annoying, or it can be seen as an opportunity to grow or serve, depending on which end you’re on.

  9. D. Fletcher says:


    I give as good as I get. Over at T&S, I found in several threads, that many of the posters simply hate homosexuals, and the Church supports such a view. In one post, Adam mentioned “containment” of homosexuals, like the ghettoizing of the Jews by Hitler! The same-sex marriage debate becomes personal, and I have a hard time understanding why, and I think John H agrees with me.

    So I have to come over here and complain about over there.

  10. Ben, how would you suggest changing the world wide mentality of pornography? I personally never would have thought of the Matrix example. But now that you do bring it up, my mind is playing tricks on me when I try and lump “Trinity” into the category I’ve generally thought of as pornography. To me it’s almost like putting drinking caffiene into the same category as getting drunk.

    How can these two things be “only a couple of steps farther down the same path”?

  11. Ben, I decided to answer your question about my values and the media separately, since it feels like something of a separate issue.

    On occasion, I’ll get fired up over the media. Actually, I mentioned the Janet Jackson hoopla in my original post, but that stunt bugged me. The event itself wasn’t as troubling to me as was the reaction by some liberals. I’d hear people say, “We live in a world of terrorists, and this is what we’re focused on?” What a silly copout – like our options are either catching Osama or getting Janet’s boob off the tube. Apparently there’s no way we can do both. It bothered me because nobody had a choice. I have cable, and I know what’s on it. I know that Nip/Tuck on F/X doesn’t appeal to me, so I don’t watch it. But I’m not going to throw a hissy fit and spend more time protesting the show than I am reading the Book of Mormon (not that I’m Super Scripture Man or anything). I know it’s there and I really don’t care.

    I subscribe to HBO – Six Feet Under and Deadwood are among my favorite shows on TV. But I have a choice as to whether I watch them or not. And I’m warned ahead of time what’s in them. No such luck with Janet.

    I’m also annoyed at the whole “push the envelope” theory. Studios are filled with morons. They see the success of the Sopranos, Six Feet Under, etc., and they think, “Hey, those shows have sex and violence – that must be what everyone wants!” Nope – we want good writing, quality acting, and decent direction.

    So yes, I do feel a disconnect. But it comes from when I feel things are forced on me, or when I’m being insulted by studio execs. It generally doesn’t come from specific instances of sex, violence, or bad language, because I’m enough of a media geek to already know what I’m getting into. I’m not going to show up at a PG-13 movie and storm out 20 minutes later insisting it should’ve been rated R. (Shameless plug, visit http://www.sunstoneonline.com and read my article on R rated movies – issue 126.)

  12. Ben, I wasn’t suggesting (I don’t think) that no one needs the law. I was suggesting that the State should not keep couples forcibly together. Your argument that marriage is a responsibility, a commandment, etc. confuses the issue rather than clarifies because you fail to distinguish clearly between secular and religious marriage.

    It is not intelligent or reasonable to say that the state is a party to a marriage, or that the related families are parties. They aren’t. There is no privity of contract among them, and they get no say in how the marriage is conducted or where it ends. The State’s role in marriage, as originally inherited from the Church, used to be more involved than it currently is, but as it currently stands, the State sets the regime and rules for marriage, but that’s as far as its involvement can go. At least, that’s the way the law is. Inlaws and unborn children aren’t part of the pact.

    Now, if you want to speak about marriage in a vague social sense, which is what I think you’re doing, then your point may be valid. But not from a legal standpoint.

    What do you mean when you say that the state authority is influential in a marriage? That more people would get divorced if it weren’t such a hassle? That more couples would split up if divorce laws weren’t inequitable in their distribution of marital property? How are those hassles and drawbacks desirable — because they keep people together that don’t want to be together? That sounds odd to me, and certainly an inappropriate level of state intrusion into the bedroom.

    You seem to think that without strong limits on people’s ability to divorce, the world would be thrown into chaos and non-temple marriages would “be left with no standards to look to at all.” I don’t think that’s a realistic perspective. First, the State should not be, and is not, where people look to for incentives to remain married, or to get divorced. It is an administrative body for laws and economics, not for interpersonal relationships. Society is more than well-equipped to keep couples together without legislation. Second, it’s a fallacy to assume that those married outside the temple are not married under a religion or are somehow outside of societal values. I think you’ll find that even secular marriages are (for the most part) quite happy, and that the State thankfully has nothing to do with it.

  13. blaine says: “pornography is at the heart of the vast majority of divorces/adultery, etc. and families falling apart”

    I’m wondering how you know this? (I’m not saying you’re wrong. I personally don’t know what’s at the heart of most of these things.)

  14. Ben Huff says:

    Bob, an immodestly dressed woman is being used to sell the movie. Viewers are being invited to ogle. Sure, it is possible for a person to be *more* immodestly presented than that, but it’s just a more extreme case of the same thing.

    I’m not saying it is wicked to watch the movie because of how she is dressed. I don’t think it is wicked to watch dance performances or figure skating where people are wearing tight, skimpy outfits. But the director could have dressed her more modestly, and I think that would be a morally better choice. And I think a certain caution about the amount of sexualized media one consumes is morally required. I am persuaded that the continual exploitation of sex in the media in ways like this has a degrading effect on relationships between men and women, closely akin to the effects of pornography. Some people may be immune; all the better for them; and I think you, Bob, are probably among them, at least for now. But a lot of those who think they are immune I suspect have merely accepted a degraded perspective as normal, which is very sad.

  15. Ben Huff says:

    Bob, this is tricky because I think it is not morally important whether you cook with wine or not, but I don’t think that means that conversations about whether to cook with wine are unimportant. It’s important to have standards, and it’s important to think about them, and it’s important to get them basically right. The thing about having a conversation about where you draw a line is that for the person having the conversation, it may be in doubt where the right place is to draw it. So a third party might be able to say, “Any of the places they are considering drawing it are fine, and quibbling is petty.” But I’m not sure you can say that until after you’ve been through the conversation. So for those having it, it may be an important process. Those who have already been through it may feel their time is being wasted, though, and certainly there is a limit to how long one should spend on any given issue, to the neglect of others.

    Somebody told me today about pouring vodka into a watermelon.
    Usually I think a little alcohol in food is okay, but I think I would steer clear of that : )

  16. melissa says:

    D – I’m also perturbed by the Church’s support of a SSM amendment. Query though, let’s say that the amendment never comes to pass. Let’s say that SSM becomes lawful and legal in many many states. Since the law of chastity only prohibits “sexual relations outside lawful and legal marriage” (or some such wording), would the Church then amend the Law of Chasity???

    Kind of seems to me that HF would have handed down a timeless Law of Chastity in just the way it needed to stay, regardless of whether some government ever legalized SSM (you know He has that whole perfect knowledge of what will come to pass thing going on for Him.)

    So, if no amendment, then no violation of the Law of Chastity would ensue for a SSM. Am I the only one who has thought of this? Or is this just the really piccune attorney in me coming out?

    Lastly D, only you can determine whether you’ll ever be able to return to a church with such a position, but please know that while the Church is made up of people, not all the people are made up of the Church’s current stances: I know many people who would welcome with open arms – we’re just a little harder to find but, I say modestly, well worth the hunt….

  17. Ditto to everything Kristine has said. Although I may not be “wandering the halls at Sunstone symposiums–or symposia”, I do wander the Bloggernacle in search of people like John H. who seem to believe in the same way I do. These people never seem to be in my ward, dang it!

  18. Eric,

    I think that you are rightfully concerned with helping marriages become stronger (though I’d also say Physician, heal thyself — you single heathen).

    However, relative ease or difficulty of divorce isn’t the key to making marriages stronger or weaker. I’d agree that we don’t want to incentivize divorce — but no-fault doesn’t have that effect. All it does it acknowledge that if both parties don’t want to work at the marriage, the state won’t force them to remain married. That’s the way it should be, and I’ll explain why:

    You rightfully point out that people shouldn’t be forced to remain in abusive marriages. However, this only goes part of the way. People shouldn’t be forced at all to remain married, at least not by the State. To do so would be an incursion into human relationships where government simply does not belong.

    Now if you want to incentivize marriage and deter divorce, there are plenty of other ways to do so — church teachings, quality TV programming, heck, even stand on a soapbox on the corner. But I don’t believe legislation is the answer.

    You might think that this means that we can chip away at the legislation surrounding marriage, where it becomes nothing more than a bloodless, civil pact. That may be true, but it wouldn’t be a bad thing in my mind. The role of the State of Utah in my marriage is miniscule, compared to the temple covenants I’ve made, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Getting my marriage license was an administrative headache at best, and had little to do with how I view ‘marriage’. Allowing for SSM or no-fault divorces or creating a French-style civil pact would not impact how I view my relationship, nor do I think it would greatly influence how the Church and its members view their relationships, because our marriages are based on entirely separate covenants and teachings. This may be what John was getting at — that the way we feel in our culture about marriage has little to do with State procedures or a definition of marriage embedded in the U.S. constitution.

  19. Kristine says:

    Eric, even with no-fault divorce, the bureaucratic impediments to divorce are significant. It’s true that with no-fault, one can usually skip the step of hiring a private investigator to take incriminating photos of the unfaithful spouse, but that seems to be pretty much the only legal hurdle that’s eliminated. If there are children or any assets involved at all, divorce is still a protracted, nasty process. Women (especially if they are mothers) still face almost as significant a financial penalty for divorce as they did in the bad old days; custody disputes are every bit as difficult. In short, I don’t think it’s possible to argue that no-fault divorce laws provide any significant incentive.

  20. Eric, it doesn’t fall as flat as your suggestions that no-fault divorce and births out of wedlock have weakened marriage. What real evidence is there of such claims? There’s not much more logic on your side of the fence, from what I can see.

    The real problem here is that no one knows what influence these factors will have on strengthening or weakening marriage, and there’s no real way to tell, either.

  21. Fair (and good) questions Ben. Let me apologize in advance for my typical long-windedness.

    Let me clarify my original post, then try and answer as best I can. I guess what I’m trying to say is, whether I’m just sitting at home, or chatting with friends on the phone, or checking out Bcc or even T&S, or having conversations at Sunstone, I feel far more at home in the Church then when I’m actually sitting in Church (oh, sweet irony!). It’s also in places like Bcc where I find an important balance to my skeptical, Sunstone side. Good people and thoughtful posts remind me to put away my cynicism occasionally, or in my more extreme moments, my conspiracy theories :)

    At Church, I rarely hear the things that are important to me. In fact, in something of an opposite reaction to the blog posts and email lists I read, sometimes the comments I hear at Church remind me of why I’m at Sunstone, and what annoys me about Mormonism. I can roll my eyes and roll them often, and feel vindicated in my cynicism because I see my concerns being played out before me each Sunday.

    So to quickly answer your questions:

    I feel most at home and in synch with the values of those that are interested in how Mormonism helps RIGHT NOW. Not, “Hey, join our Church and when you die you’ll go to heaven.” Not this “endure to the end” crap. Look, I get that can be comforting in tough times, and it’s even comforted me in a tough time. But “endure to the end” sounds sooooo negative. I’m much more about the “here and now” than I am the hereafter. What does religion do for us right now – because if you’re living an unhappy life, reminding yourself that you’ve just got to endure to the end to achieve salvation, then there’s news I’d like to share: There’s a better way to live.

    The values I have tell me that God is not a jerk. He’s not the old man in the sky waiting to strike you down if you screw up. My values tell me you can live a happy life, and that a happy life comes from placing your values in the right place. I’m a lot happier since I’ve decided, by way of example, that I feel good about myself when I take a sack of groceries to the food pantry once in a while. By contrast, two teenagers who make a mistake one night in the back seat of a car shouldn’t have to feel guilty the rest of their lives – they should forget it and move on. I’m a lot happier since I’ve tried to get involved, even on a very minor level, with a group helping to fight the outbreak of AIDS in Africa. By contrast, who gives a rip if someone drinks a glass of wine? No teenage boy should have to go through the guilt a friend of mine went through (it really is a friend, and not my way of saying it was me :) ) over his homosexual tendencies.

  22. Fair points. I did not mean my father’s experience to be a “blanket statement.” I said in the “vast majority of cases,” meaning just that–the majority. My grandfather was a mission president and said the same thing, that every missionary he had to send home for moral transgression began down the road with pornography. Those are, admittedly, limited sources for such an empirical claim, and the experience of the church overall could be very different. But I don’t think you can ignore such a frequent common denominator.

    Moreover, my comments were not intended to apply to everyone, but only to church members since we were discussing churchmembers’ preoccupation with the media and not everyone’s.

  23. FWIW, I’ve managed to avoid those kinds of topics altogether by eliminating SS and RS from my Sunday meeting attendance. I just go home after SM, and fix the family a lovely lunch.

    I have a lower tolerance for this kind of discussion than many, I think. I’m mostly just all talked out. Rather than make people uncomfortable when they rant about SSM by talking about my favorite cousin and her partner and how they had to move to England to stay together…I just make it very unlikely that I’ll get involved in such a conversation.

    If you can’t ignore the comments, and you aren’t into confrontation, then it’ll be a long, rough road, with head bruises as Kristine described.

  24. Ben Huff says:

    I do think the difference between personal morality and “something else” is important. It’s important for us, on a daily basis, to be somewhat on guard toward the media, because there is so much there that plays to values we don’t share, but yet we can’t entirely opt out. Otherwise, how would we know that people are dying of starvation every day? But I have another question.

    John, where do you feel at home? With whose values do you feel in synch? Where don’t you feel occasionally out of place? Do you feel value dissonance with the media?

  25. I say that pornography is at the heart of all these things because my dad (on the stake high council and has had to sit on on many disciplinary councils) told me that in virtually every single case, the problems started with pornography.

    I should qualify this too. I don’t think that John was speaking specifically about pornography, but about the media and its portrayal of less-than-perfect values. I don’t think that Braveheart or the Matrix or Six Feet Under are at the heart of most family break-ups. So my explanation may not offer much to his exact point. I only mean to use pornography as an example of the media having potentially-disastrous consequences on its users.

  26. I share your frustration. I think that ward discussion tends to focus on what families see as their most pressing issues in their everyday lives. Since extreme poverty is not something that members in suburban or even most urban US wards deal with daily, I think such issues get pushed too easily to the side. It speaks to the church-wide problem of defining our service responsibilities as members very narrowly to include only our church and our families.

    I think the media question, however, should not be so understated. While many (probably most) churchmembers have such a good control on their use of the media as you describe, pornography is at the heart of the vast majority of divorces/adultery, etc. and families falling apart. Since these issues are to most suburban Americans their most immediate concerns, I think the media issue is still important, although I agree it may be overemphasized at the expense of other very important topics.

    I also think that drawing bright line rules and beating them to death is far less effective than teaching the kind of restraint and controlled use of the media as you describe. People should be more informed about the media they expose themselves and their children to and rely less on ratings to determine what they should/should not watch.

  27. Kristine says:

    I think people also like talking about commandments that make obedience clear and measurable. We love talking about the Word of Wisdom because we can make it into a checklist: don’t drink coffee (check), don’t drink wine (check, and bonus points for not cooking with it), etc. It’s much harder to talk about responding to hunger and poverty because it’s hard to know when one is allowed to check off the box that says one has done enough. I love the story Chieko Okasaki relates about her husband Ed, who said that he wished unkindness stank on people’s breath the way tobacco does.

    Homosexuality is, I think, a different case. Since 90-98% of the population is not gay, almost everyone can feel smugly satisfied at his/her “righteousness” on this issue. If that weren’t appealing enough, there’s the oddly titillating aspect of talking about it–sort of the same weird thrill of the forbidden that you got when your YM/YW lesson was about chastity.

  28. I think that the High council example is not representative- in that situtation, at least in my limited experience, the trangressors are asked what led them to the ultimate committing of the sin for which the disciplenary council is called, and pornography is often a convient way to try to justify one’s actions. I think of Ted Bundy and his death row announcement of the evils of pornography, and his offer to go on tour to preach against it. *(Please note that I am referring to one point in this thread and am in no way trying to justify pornography, or say that it has no ill effects)

  29. I would like to disagree with Blaine. I think your father’s experience is not the stuff of which blanket statements can be derived. Not everybody who gets divorced ends up in front of a disciplinary council. MOST people who get divorced don’t end up in front of a disciplinary council, because most people who get divorced are not LDS.

    I have read, many places, that the issue most likely to cause divorce and broken families is disagreement about money.

  30. melissa says:

    In response to Steve’s question above, how about anger, open contention in the home, marriage, family? I’d say that has a lot of local relevance.

    Last I checked, I think it was Ephesians that said something about anger — not coffee — being the foothold of the devil….

  31. John H,

    Oh, if we’re going to talk about classic debating techniques, how about mistating the opponent’s argument? (I didn’t misstate yours, since I quoted it directly.)

    Read my comment again. I did not say one word against same-sex marriage or homosexuality. All I did was point out that your argument was flawed. The mere fact that your marriage is solid does not mean there aren’t factors at work that weaken marriage.

    Nowhere did I argue that because no-fault divorce and out-of-wedlock childbirth weaken marriage, same-sex marriage will also. That, as you pointed out, would be illogical.

    So, either defend your statement by showing how the fact your marriage is solid proves that anything done by anyone who lives near you has no negative effect on the institution of marriage as a whole, or else admit your argument was flawed and stop using it.

  32. Ben Huff says:

    John, I agree the line about enduring to the end can be a huge problem. Sometimes being unhappy is a sign that you’re doing something wrong, but that line becomes a reason to ignore it. Yeah, we tell ourselves if we’re willing to suffer now, then it’ll all be made up in the hereafter, but on my reading of the Book of Mormon, the main reward of the righteous in the next life is more opportunities to live the same kind of love and service. So not enjoying what we call “righteousness” is a legitimate reason to question whether we really have the right conception of righteousness. The letter of the law can tyrannize over the spirit. I’m actually wrestling with this issue in my dissertation : ) that’s how seriously I take it. I think our notions of happiness and righteousness both need to develop through the creative tension between them, for us to arrive at the truth, and at true happiness.

  33. John, I enjoyed your piece. I do feel similar, and find too much time at church wasted on stuff might be important, but not as important as repentance, pure religion, and the atonement. I pray that I can have charity for the people who get on my nerves, and wait for my turn to have my say during a teaching experience or sacrament talk. I feel that if we have these thoughts about more important issues, it becomes our responsibility to share that with our ward; we can’t wait for someone else to do it. Otherwise we might be wasting God’s time.

  34. Kristine,

    > In short, I don’t think it’s possible to
    > argue that no-fault divorce laws
    > provide any significant incentive.

    Well, this is somewhat of a semantic difference, but I am saying that they reduce the disincentive, not that they provide an incentive. And given the huge increase in the number of divorces since no-fault divorce became the norm, I think it’s hard to argue that the ease of getting divorce does not affect people’s choices regarding getting a divorce.

    It’s interesting that you bring up the position of women with regard to divorce. Prior to no-fault divorce, a man whose wife remained faithful to him might have a difficult time getting a divorce so he could marry a younger woman. Guess who benefits most from no-fault divorce? It’s not women.

  35. Measure says:

    Members of the church get worked up about a lot of things…

    I was watching “Brigham City” in the theater, and when the killer was shot at the end of the film, A couple got up and walked out of the theater.

    No doubt they were in church the following sunday talking about how horrible the movie was and how “Righteous” they were for walking out.

    I think it makes people feel better to have something they can feel justified to be outraged about. Something that makes them ‘superior’ because of their supposed virtue. So there will always be something, Gay Marraige this week, something else later on.

  36. Nice comments, John. Ironically, I’ve heard the Church criticized from time to time because it’s too much of a “here and now” church rather than not enough of one. If your faith in the here-and-nowness of the Church ever waivers, go out in the garage and look at your food storage (if you’re like me, that’s three water bottles, crackers, and a box of canned chili).

    I think the issues John H raises partly flow from the “low church” worship style of the Church. In liturgical worship, congregational discourse is the Mass–an elevated (if scripted) liturgy covering, over the course of one year, the basics of “the Gospel” as viewed by that congregation. Sermons presenting gospel values and texts matched to the issues of the day are preached by the minister. No speeches from the hoi polloi to muddy the presentation.

    In LDS congregational worship, by contrast, the inmates run the asylum. It’s all men and women doing their best to be “moral exhorters,” which explains why they look for easy targets to moralize about. So of course a lot of screwy things get said and taught. I get more out of LDS church by tuning out what anyone says and just reading the scriptures. It’s funny to glance around the congregation sometimes and realize how few people are actually listening to the speaker!

  37. Not to bump the ongoing conversation too much, but I’d be interested in hearing which topics John sees as being worthwhile for discussion at church. Starvation/global hunger is noted. What else would you bring up?

    The reason I’m curious is because it seems to me that the discussions you’re frowning over are the ones that have the most immediate local relevance, at the cost of excluding topics with greater overall importance. But that shouldn’t be a surprise — it’s the nature of policy discussions everywhere, and human interaction in general, isn’t it?

  38. Kristine says:

    One more thing: I think that tolerance for (and even love of) ambiguity is largely a temperamental characteristic over which people don’t have a lot of control–most members of the Church (presumably like most of the general population) have a fairly low threshold for ambiguity and are uncomfortable in the gray zones. A few of us (mostly wandering the halls at Sunstone symposiums–or symposia, even there we can find something to niggle about ;)) are oddly comfortable with ambiguity, and distrust closure and clarity. Which doctrines/issues one enjoys discussing has a lot to do with where one fits in this temperamental spectrum. I suspect that education potentially increases one’s tolerance for ambiguity, but not all that dramatically–I know lots of really, really smart people with lots of degrees who like their answers neatly tied up with a bow by the end of the lesson, thank you very much.

    In the “Why the Church is as True as the Gospel” section of my brain, I have a large file devoted to the benefits of dealing regularly with people who like certainty more than I do. Many Sundays I find myself accessing this file by banging my head against the wall after Sunday School :)

  39. p.s. I guess all this thread does is prove John’s point: we mormons like to talk a lot about relatively stupid stuff.

  40. Ben Huff says:

    Please forgive me for one more comment!

    I absolutely agree with John that a big disappointment is the way so many conversations at church are so generic that it seems more like slogan-chanting than a discussion about real life. Now, I happen to think there is a lot of value in just getting together on Sundays and reassuring ourselves that we are doing the right thing, to the extent that what we are doing is better than what “the world” encourages us to do, and this reassurance helps us maintain the tension.

    But I also agree there are serious limits to how detailed we can be in large church meetings.

    Here’s where I think home/visiting teaching comes in, or has a lot of potential to come in. In small groups it is possible to keep the degree of disagreement from ruining the conversation. And, of course, plain old friendships with other church members.

  41. Measure says:

    Responding to Davis Bell:

    Maybe I did judge the “Outraged Couple” too harshly. But they did get up within 3 seconds of the killer being shot, and it was a pretty intense dramatic moment, seeing it for the first time… They may have said something when they stood up that further secured in my mind why they were leaving, but it’s been years, and I don’t remember if or what they said.

    As for righteous indignation, After typing this paragraph a few times I’ve realized it would take another post just to examine all the issues surrounding it. I’ll just say that I don’t like righteous indignation very much at all.

    Of course, I could be accused of this myself against this “Outraged Couple,” now that I’ve posted about it some years later. Stuck in a corner painted by myself, I will now click “ok” and declare my post complete.

  42. Sorry Eric, it’s your logic that’s woefully inadequate here. You’re going down the same path as those that compare homosexuality to alcoholism (those that say they understand that one might have gay tendencies, but that doesn’t mean they should give in, just like a recovering alcoholic shouldn’t give in).

    It’s a classic debate tactic – make a comparison with something that is known to cause social problems or be undesireable for proven reasons. You know we’ll all agree that divorce is generally not a good idea (or at least, the idea of people not taking marriage seriously), and we all agree that children born out of wedlock is hardly an ideal situation. Yet you can’t point to one statistic or shred of evidence that gay marriage has any harmful effects. You’ve made the connection for us that gay marriage is bad, like these other things, but you can’t tell us why.

  43. Sorry, D. I agree that it is a sad day.

    I’m not sure why this latest announcement has me so bothered. It’s not like the Church hasn’t made its feelings clear about gay marriage before now. But for some reason, this seems to make it more official.

    100 years ago, the Church was strongly opposed to any amendment to the U.S. Constitution defining marriage. Oh, how the times have changed.

  44. Ben Huff says:


    Although the healthiest marriages may have no need of state pressure, I don’t think that means no marriages need it.

    The idea that marriage is just an elective relationship between two people is far from a given. For Catholics and Mormons, at least, God is involved as well. And even for total secular humanists, it is intelligible and reasonable to say that the state is a party and/or that the families of the bride and groom are parties and/or that the children (maybe even unborn children?) are parties.

    If marriage is simply elective, why are we commanded to marry? Marriage is a responsibility.

    I used to think I wouldn’t marry anyone who I thought would need marriage law to keep her faithful to me. I’ve changed my mind. People who don’t need a nudge, or even a kick, from authority now and then to live right are few and far between.

    Perhaps for you the authority of the Church is sufficient, so that the state is irrelevant. Excellent! Would we all were so! But I suspect that even among those married in the temple there are many for whom the state authority is influential. More importantly, there are plenty of people who aren’t married in the temple. What about them? Are they to be left with no standards to look to at all?

    It’s just highly unrealistic for you to suggest that because you don’t need the law, no one needs it!

  45. Steve,

    You’re right — I probably should have stated exactly what was wrong with John’s claim, rather than only show it by analogy.

    Your analysis of my contract analogy is interesting, but I think you’re missing my point — again, perhaps because I didn’t state it clearly.

    I’ve never been married, so I can’t speak from personal experience, but I believe marriage is something that both parties must work at in order to make it succeed. (I believe this parallels your idea of a contract in which both parties need to have “good faith and full participation.”)

    Now, imagine that one party feels that the contract isn’t working out all that well. One option would be to try harder to make it work, the other option is to get out of the contract.

    Which course is chosen depends (to some extent) on how easy it is to get out of the contract.

    Applying that back to marriage, it seems reasonable that the amount of effort someone would be willing to put into trying to make a marriage work depends (to some extent) on how easy it is to obtain a divorce.

    I am in no way suggesting that people should be forced to remain in abusive marriages — there is fault there. But even good marriages have their highs and lows. What I am suggesting is that no-fault divorce lowers the incentive for working hard to make it through the lows.

  46. Steve, Melissa mentioned a few things we might talk about. A real discussion of how to be a better spouse/parent might be nice, instead of the generic “set a good example. show them you love them, etc.”

    But perhaps it isn’t even what we talk about as how we talk about it. If we’re going to talk about the media, fine – let’s talk. But let’s actually have a conversation about how we can help our children, let’s brainstorm together things we can watch as a family, let’s have a real conversation about the flaws of the rating system, and discuss reliable sources for learning about the content of films. Let’s not just rag on and on about how evil and despicable the media is. Let’s not name specific TV shows or movies that are evil, and assume everyone in the class feels the same way. Or, we do name specifics, be prepared to have some people disagree with you. Accept that as a difference of opinion.

    If we want to talk about the Word of Wisdom, let’s talk. How about a conversation about exercise, and how we can be healthier people. How about suggestions for juggling a hectic schedule with a good diet. How about NOT talking about how if you so much as look at a beer, you’re practically an alcoholic. Why is it always the 400 lb guy who’s telling us how evil coffee is?

    I’d just like to have a meaningful conversation that could actually help people’s lives, instead of just an hour-long Stewart Smalley affirmation session. That’s what Chuch seems to be to me – a place where we go to remind ourselves of the correctness of our worldview. It could be (and even is, on occasion) so much more.

  47. D. Fletcher says:

    There is some evidence that pornography can save marriages, when used in the bedroom as a sexual aid. I think it is mostly a hinderance to single men when choosing an appropriate partner, because their standards have been skewed by unrealistic expectations.

    One advantage to two virgins meeting on their wedding night is, no expectations.

  48. Um, Measure, that seems a pretty harsh judgment of the couple that walked out of the theatre. First, you are assuming they walked out because they were offended, which may or may not have been the case. Second, even if it that were the case, you assume they publically touted their actions in church the next week.

    While there are no doubt those who use outrage as a way to make themselves feel better about their own spiritual state, do you disallow the reality of genuine righteous indignation?

    John, you pose interesting and good questions. I too have wondered at the lack of discussion and attention given to issues of poverty, etc. I do think that one potential answer lies in the fact that people tend to take their cues from their leaders, and, for whatever reason, poverty hasn’t of late been a marquis issue at general conference.

    (I blogged about this issue under “Spiritual Poverty” at http://intellecxhibitionist.blogspot.com/2004_05_01_intellecxhibitionist_archive.html)

  49. Well, it would be pointless for me to provide evidence before knowing what sort of criteria you would accept for evaluating the relative strength or weakness of marriage as an institution. So, what sort of evidence would it take to convince you? Or are you certain that it is impossible to tell? (If it’s impossible to tell, that means you have no idea whether marriage is weaker or stronger than it was in the past.)

    Even before citing any evidence, it seems fairly reasonable to assume that no-fault divorce weakened the institution of marriage.

    Imagine a parallel situation: A contract between two companies that allows either company to get out of the contract if the other breaches it. Now imagine that the law changes so that either company can get out of the contract even if the other company does not breach it.

    Do you seriously believe that the very idea of contracts would not be weakened by such a change in the law?

  50. Melissa says:

    What about marriage as an ‘institution’ is particularly hot to begin with? The only thing worthwhile about marriage is not whether it is a venerated institution, but whether the two participants treat one another with kindness, respect, love and commitment. I guarantee that a lack of those qualities is what threatens marriage – not whether a homosexual couple down the street has found a measure of happiness together or whether the participants in a heterosexual marriage lacking such qualities can get out.

  51. Wow, Ben, you were on a roll! I really like many of the things you said. About waste-of-time-Coke/R-rated-movie arguments… I don’t necessarily think they’re a waste of time. A couple months ago, a frequenter of the Bloggernacle, Grasshopper, pointed out to me that some Mormons feel drinking decaffeinated coffee is not against the WofW. When I first heard this my initial reaction was that of a typical Mormon: I felt like I had to prove him wrong somehow. But he was patient with me, and we ended up having a great conversation. It was an interesting experience for me. Have I gone out and started drinking decaf coffee? No. And I probably never will but that doesn’t mean I need to secretly (or openly) think of every Mormon who drinks decaf coffee as some sort of unworthy pseudo-Mormon.

    Generally I’m more likely to be in Grasshopper’s position. I watch R-rated movies, I drink Coke sometimes, I like wine in some of my cooking, etc. My point is that I’ve come to terms with myself and my God as to how I should live. When that differs from another person who is of my same faith, why do we have this sense of one-upping each other? As if the Church isn’t true unless you view it through my eyes. I’m guessing this is why John so easily can toss such issues out the window labeling them as unimportant. Why should he ever talk about them? Most aren’t actually willing to have a conversation. They just want to make sure he’s on the straight and narrow, THEIR straight and narrow, for there is no other. So, in this sense, I understand why one might refer to these issues as a waste of time. Am I making sense here?

  52. Kristine says:

    Yeah, vodka in a watermelon would be bad, but what about Jello shots? Does the righteousness of Jello mitigate the evil of the alcohol? Inquiring minds want to know!

  53. Ben Huff says:

    You know what bugs me? The way we talk about pornography as though it were this completely other category, as though for example the Matrix’s “Trinity” character, running around in her skin-tight black outfit, isn’t trading on a cheap, commercialized version of sex. (I don’t mean to attach blame here to the character, but to the movie that presents that character that way) As if a huge amount of the plots of TV shows and movies weren’t based on a totally adolescent view of how men and women should relate. I see pornography as only a couple of steps farther down the same path.

    I think one thing that makes me feel less alienated when I hear speakers or teachers at church say things I think represent something less than a fully mature moral perspective, is I am not there just to learn from them. I am there to serve them as well, and I have to know them to serve them. So hearing what is on their minds lets me know where they are at, and I can use that as guidance to know how I can be a positive influence in their world. I do learn a lot at church to expand my own perspective, but I also expect a large fraction of what I hear to be more for the other purpose, to clue me into theirs.

    I say, “one thing”, but this point about being there to serve I think is a pretty fundamental point about what church is about, for an adult.

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