Causing Others to Sin

May 26, 2004 | 84 comments
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Kristine raises some interesting points in her discussion of modesty. The comments (which have been very interesting so far) have made me reflect on an argument I often hear raised by church members:

Women shouldn’t wear revealing clothes, because that will make men think unchaste thoughts about them.

(This particular argument isn’t in the comments to Kristine’s thread; Ben Huff comes somewhat close, when he argues that women have a heavier modesty burden than men, due to the sinful nature of the world).

As I’ve suggested before in comments on this blog, I don’t find this reasoning to be particularly convincing.

An initial problem is that it is entirely possible — quite easy, unfortunately — to think unchaste thoughts about women who aren’t wearing revealing clothes. If someone feels like having unchaste thoughts about a woman, it probabl doesn’t matter much what she’s wearing. There may be a way to so disguise the female form that it becomes all but impossible to entertain sexualized thoughts (such as a burka). But short of that extreme (and hopefully no one is advocating that), it’s pretty easy to see women as sexual objects, and to notice their attractiveness and sexual potential, no matter what they’re wearing. Sorry to burst everyone’s bubble on that matter.

(I know, this is a more-or-less empirical argument in an area where empirical evidence is hard to muster. I’ll invoke fuzzy data here, and say that this comes from personal experience and observation, and discussion with friends. In addition, a few possible supporting points might be (1) the fact that comely sister missionaries (who dress very modestly) inspire unchaste thoughts in others (per my own mission experiences — including conversations with lots of mission comps — a large number of elders have crushes on sisters, and they aren’t all based on the sister’s personality and testimony); (2) the success of movie stars who were viewed as sex symbols at times when censors kept skin off of the screen. Any other ideas?)

Second and more importantly, this attitude is a cop-out. Women are responsible for men’s sins, it tells us. Men can’t keep their minds out of the gutter, and it’s all the women’s fault. Slap some clothes on, lady, you wouldn’t want to cause someone to lust after you!

This strikes me as precisely the wrong attitude about sin. Men are adults, they are independent actors with minds of their own. They know right from wrong, they know the commandments and their responsibilities, and they have a duty not to sin. If they fail in this duty, the fault is theirs. Placing the burden on the women strikes me as the sort of “blame everyone except the actor” attitude that conservatives so often accuse liberals of. “It’s not my fault that I had bad thoughts, judge — she had a skimpy top on!”

The ridiculousness of this approach is obvious when we compare it to our attitudes about other sins. After all, we don’t tell people, “Don’t accumulate property, after all, you might cause someone to covet.” We don’t say, “Don’t drive a fancy car, after all you might cause someone to steal it.” And we don’t say, “Don’t guard that bank vault, you might cause someont to murder you.”

Don’t charge someone for a purchase, you might cause him not to pay his tithing. Don’t score that touchdown, you might cause the other team’s player to use a bad word. Don’t drive too fast, or too slow, or too in-between, because you might cause someone to get angry. Could it be any more ridiculous?

The idea of blaming women for men’s lust seems to be a gender-specific way to collectively pass the buck. Women — a group historically powerless and underrepresented — are held responsible for sexual sin; men — often the instigators of sin — are blameless.

And I don’t buy that. I believe too strongly in personal responsibility to accept such reasoning. If I have bad thoughts about a woman, I need to recognize that those thoughts are my fault — however she is dressed.

This argument is not to say that there are not important reasons to be modest. Kristine discusses this well in her post. Modesty is a good thing — it teaches self-respect, it honors our bodies, it follows the commandments.

But I don’t think that modesty needs to be taught “because it will stop men from having unchaste thoughts (about the woman in question).” The place to stop men’s unchaste thoughts is with the men who are having such thoughts.

84 Responses to Causing Others to Sin

  1. cooper on May 26, 2004 at 12:31 pm

    For once, Kaimi, I completely agree with you!

  2. dan w. on May 26, 2004 at 12:31 pm

    Those who were at byu a few years ago will fondly remember the one strap backpack controversy in which some men complained to the daily universe that women should not wear them as they accentuated their breasts and caused them to have unchaste thoughts.
    I agree that it’s silly.

  3. Julie in Austin on May 26, 2004 at 12:33 pm

    amen

  4. Kristine on May 26, 2004 at 12:35 pm

    and hallelujah!

  5. Bob Caswell on May 26, 2004 at 12:37 pm

    Kaimi, this may just be me, but for some reason, ever since I’ve been married, having “bad thoughts” about women seems to never happen. I’ve heard the classic stories of a GA seeing a pornographic picture on accident only to find it popping into his mind the next time he tries to pray. That is supposed to remind us that we are all susceptible at any stage in life (especially men). But somehow I feel like these kinds of stories almost facilitate an environment for married men to have “bad thoughts”.

    I guess all I am saying is that I’ve watched movies with my wife where I’ve seen another woman’s breasts on screen. I suppose I’m supposed to close my eyes and duck my head down. But when I don’t, it’s not like it takes me weeks to get images out of my head. On the contrary, it takes hearing that GA story for me to say to myself, “Oh yeah, when was the last time I saw another woman naked or immodest”. Then I can get the picture in my head. But even then, a woman’s body, big deal. Am I the only one here? Am I just kidding myself? Is this some form of being desensitized? When is a thought technically “bad”?

  6. D. Fletcher on May 26, 2004 at 12:40 pm

    I agree, but can I add to the confusion?

    Several of the LDS wives I’m close to have confidently told me (each separately) that it is the biological imperative of the female to do whatever the male requires. In other words, they are powerless to say no to sex, when asked. So, according to this, it is completely up to the men to be chaste, because the women have no control over this function.

    I repeat, I have heard this from several women. What are they teaching out in Utah? (and Guatamala)

  7. Logan on May 26, 2004 at 12:46 pm

    What?! A liberal who believes in personal responsibility?

    Kaimi, I (for more than once) completely agree as well. It’s one thing if a group of bikini-wearing women tied a man down and danced suggestively in front him for the express purpose of “causing bad thoughts”, but I think we often implicitly think of a young woman wearing a sleeveless shirt to school as the same thing.

    As someone who is fairly “radical” on the issue of modesty, I do want to point out that I think there are good reasons to be modest. And I certainly realize that how we dress can send signals to others. But I feel strongly that “causing others to sin” isn’t the reason to be modest.

    Good point, Bob. Although I thought it was my day to be the radical one. (If we’re both too radical on the same day, I worry that we may get our site blacklisted ;))

    And heck, since I’m already at it . . .
    D., my relationship in that way with my wife is fantastic (I don’t mean to make anyone blush), but I promise you, my wife is not “powerless to say no to sex, when asked.” What are they teaching out in Utah (or wherever they got it) indeed.

  8. Frank McIntyre on May 26, 2004 at 12:51 pm

    In Romans 14, Paul taught that although it is no big deal to eat certain things, don’t do it when around those members who still followed the Mosaic law, because it is uncharitable to weaken them doctrinally.

    “But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.”

    Thus one should be mindful of how one’s actions affect other’s testimonys. It is a principle of charity. One needn’t appeal to anything more than that. Paul sums up in verse 20:

    “For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.”

    Let me just second that last part– it is evil to eat with offence. Because it is uncharitable to those who are tempted or hurt spiritually by such things. And note that this is on a subject where the action is clearly not bad in and of itself. It is only bad because it hurts the weak among us.

    Naturally, whether or not to perform this kind of charitable act depends on how much it helps others compared to how much it costs you. Since we are to be modest for other reasons, the cost is close to zero.

    You argue that the benefit is low because one can think immodest thoughts regardless. I find this argument painfully inadequate. One can sin in thought no matter how people are dressed or not dressed, but if it were just as easy one way as another, what would be the point of pornography? The idea that nudity or revealing attire is entirely unrelated to sexual thoughts is wildly off-kilter and one you surely do not believe.

  9. Ryan Bell on May 26, 2004 at 1:09 pm

    I feel like I’m stepping into a trap here. . .

    I was surprised to see that no one disagrees with Kaimi. I’m not saying I disagree, but I do think the analysis is overly simplistic.

    Scenario: woman wears revealing outfit. Man passes her, ogles, entertains an immoral thought, sin occurs. Kaimi suggests that the sin is the entirely the fault of the man. I completely agree: the man will be 100 percent accountable for that sin.

    And yet, I’m not ready to say that every sin has only one cause, or only one perpetrator. Kaimi, your intentionally ridiculous examples actually don’t strike me as that ridiculous. In fact, I would suggest that it’s not always a good thing to build an enormous house, for the very reason that that can cause one’s neighbor to covet. Am I crazy for thinking that? I know I’ve heard others express the same sentiment before.

    Please do not mistake me for saying that the man’s dirty thought is the woman’s fault. Again, he’s entirely accountable for that sin. But are we ready to say that the woman played no part in that at all? Saying that she was a part of the overall package of stimuli :) isn’t goint too far, is it? And why on earth wouldn’t she be held accountable for a sin (lack of modesty) that leads, even indirectly, to another’s sin (lust), even when the man had the full choice not to engage in it? I’m not seeing it.

    I agree, Kaimi, that men have far too easy a time sexualizing women, even when they model perfect modesty. But what of a man who doesn’t do that when women are modest, and who wishes to avoid such thoughts. When that man is confronted with a woman whose attire presses the issue, is that woman not to blame in the slightest?

    Of course it’s the man’s responsibility to control himself. And of course he’s wholly accountable for his sin. But there are proximate causes, even indirect ones, and I believe the Lord takes those into account. For the same reason, the pornographer is vicariously responsible for the sin of the viewer (even though the viewer is fully accountable himself), and the guy who baits another guy into a fight is vicariously responsible for the sin of the other fighter (even though the fighter is fully accountable himself). Is this such a controversial point?

  10. Sheri Lynn on May 26, 2004 at 1:19 pm

    I was a nonmember for 27 and kept company with a crowd that didn’t exactly have Gospel standards. Okay, now I follow counsel of modesty, but I recognize it as being as much a cultural thing as a religious thing. Maybe more.

    I still haven’t acquired the ability to be offended at nudity in appropriate contexts. A young teen at a ward swim party, however, was wearing a shockingly transparent bathing suit, and that DID bother me, especially when nothing was done about it. I wasn’t afraid for the souls of the men of the church–I was afraid she was going to attract dangerous attention. She should have been given a big t-shirt or something and told that her suit was not acceptable in context–there really is no context in which a child should be wearing sexy clothes–if we mean the doctrine ‘save it for marriage,’ anyway. Had I at nearly 40 been wearing that suit, it probably would have been just as disturbing, but in a totally different way!

    Violence and humiliation have always bothered me far more than nudity…I never could watch a horror movie. But I saw BLUE LAGOON when I was 12 and it became a sort of ideal model for me of what married life ought to be like (since MY parents never expressed affection toward one another in front of us!) Silly movie in many ways, so laugh at me, but its R rating doesn’t make the same kind of sense to me that most R ratings do. In Germany and Turkey we’d see little kids running around naked, and it didn’t bother anybody. Here it’s a different thing. I’ve heard some sisters condemn Anne Geddes as a child pornographer.

    I don’t think I have the same capacity to tempt men that I used to have and that’s a good thing–it makes it easier to have friendships with men and women both, and really makes life easier in many ways. A pretty young woman who dresses in tight, trashy clothes or does attention-seeking things like body piercing, is limiting her ability to relate to other people in non-sexual ways. She may not, however, have the wisdom to appreciate that yet, and time will probably give it to her if she gets a testimony of the value of modesty. If nothing else, Mother Nature will generally hand her some reasons to cover up, if she survives long enough.

    Sexy clothes worn in public say “I’m available for casual sex under certain unspecified conditions.” They’re meant to make men circle around. That’s the only reason for wearing such. We don’t have to go to a Taliban extreme here; our culture has comfortable norms for what “sexy” and “modest” clothing means. Note however that flashing an ankle at someone was once considered suggestive behavior.

    I automatically assume that a woman who dresses like that knows not what she does. The burden of sin is on those of us who understand, if we do not live by the laws we are given even when it IS hot and muggy.

  11. John H on May 26, 2004 at 1:19 pm

    Kaimi, I agree completely. The Sugar Beet had a hilarious comment in a recent issue, but it also seemed (sadly) to reflect the attitude of some (hopefully a minority) of men in Utah. A BYU student said, “It’s a woman’s job to remain modest enough so I’m not tempted, but be sexy enough for me to want to marry her and have babies.”

    Bob Caswell: I’m actually the same as you. Maybe I’m desensitized, maybe I’m a bad person – I don’t know. But the reality is, I just don’t get as offended or all up in arms over a bit of nudity in a film as much as people expect me to. I might think it’s unnecessary or inappropriate, but I don’t have the problem with T & A flashing in my head every time I try and pray, or take the Sacrament, or teach Sunday school. Unless a scene in a film is particularly over the top, to the point of making me uncomfortable and turn away, I’ve forgotten about it by the time a film is over.

    This is a dilemma I’ve wrestled with a long time, and I do think it is part of Kaimi’s post: What to do when everyone expects you to be offended at something, and you’re just not? As long as I can remember, I haven’t been particularly offended at bad language in films. So that begs the question, what if I’m not particularly offended at the way someone dresses, and they don’t cause me to sin because I’m not preoccupied with thinking about it or lusting after it?

  12. MDS on May 26, 2004 at 1:55 pm

    Let’s not forget our Aaronic Priesthood brethren in this disussion. While it may be one thing to expect adults to bear fully the responsibility for their thoughts and actions, those who have only newly been exposed to the wonders of testosterone and all that goes with it are in a different boat.

    I like Ryan Bell’s argument for a sort of joint and several liability with respect to modesty and the bad thoughts that may result when it is lacking.

  13. BDemosthenes on May 26, 2004 at 2:19 pm

    We had a somewhat lengthy discussion in Sunday School a week and a half ago on Mosiah 11:2 [http://scriptures.lds.org/mosiah/11] which says of king Noah, “And he did cause his people to commit sin…”

    My notion of how to reconcile this verse with personal responsibility is somewhat along the lines endorsed by MDS and Ryan Bell. Multiple people can be responsible for the same sin in some circumstances.

  14. Kristine on May 26, 2004 at 2:37 pm

    Ryan, I think your point is controversial only because it is so gendered–that is, we never hear about how a man might be responsible for a woman’s impure thoughts. Thus, though it is reasonable to suggest joint liability, doing so tends to add the the perceived unfairness of the deal the woman gets in relation to human sexuality–she’s the one who has to be pretty enough to attract and keep a man (I’ve never heard anyone say of a recently divorced man, “well, he really let himself go”…), she’s the one who will endure pregnancy and assume the care of a child that may result from illicit sex, she’s the one who will be labeled “slut” (no equivalent term for men, as far as I know), etc. Perhaps Kaimi and others are reacting against that perceived inequity as much as against the line of *reasoning* that assigns responsibility to women.

  15. Sheri Lynn on May 26, 2004 at 2:37 pm

    Just got this from LDS-GEMS today:

    “You have agency–’moral agency.’ You are free to choose your standards.
    [But] the Church you belong to, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
    Saints, is the restored Church. . . . [It] is not a remodeled version of
    another church, It is not an adjustment or a correction or a protest
    against any other church. . . . There was opened to the early leaders
    of the Church the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the standards
    He requires of His disciples.”

    Boyd K. Packer, “The Standard of Truth Has Been Erected,” Ensign, Nov. 2003, 24

    I don’t think it means we need to walk around being offended at what non-members do with their agency. They don’t know better. We’re responsible for what we pay attention to or let into our homes.

    For example, if we’re paying for cable television and that cable includes channels that we cannot in good conscience watch, we are supporting with our labors things that we are not supposed to support, and helping others to sin. That makes us like King Noah, doesn’t it?

    It’s a waste of time and energy to be offended at sins other people commit, especially unknowingly.

  16. Clark Goble on May 26, 2004 at 3:46 pm

    It seems to me that people are overlooking the linguistic aspects of clothing and “body language.” I understand why, but lets consider the *exact* same situation.

    Someone is telling lurid stories about their sexual exploits. This causes someone who is stuck in the room to have improper sexual thoughts. Now who is to blame? The listener or the speaker (or some combination of the two)? I suspect most will say the speaker in large measure. Yet, with women’s dress which can do exactly the same thing, we somehow change the rules. Why?

  17. Scott on May 26, 2004 at 3:47 pm

    I don’t think it’s so clear cut. If a person deliberately tries to provoke or entice, it seems reasonable to regard him as at least somewhat responsible for the results of such action.

    If an ad designer makes tobacco more attractive to consumers, resulting in measurably higher consumption of tobacco, is he not somewhat culpable? If Mr. White walks up to Mr. Black (out of the blue) and utters an inflamatory racial epithet, to which Mr. Black responds with a swift uppercut (which he never would have done, absent such provokation), isn’t Mr. White at least partly at fault?

    I think it’s incorrect to see moral responsibility as a zero sum game (whether “all or nothing” or in a proportionate liability fashion). Assigning blame to a provocateur does not necessarily relieve the provoked party of responsibility. Absolution of a person who intentionally provokes, entices, seduces, or persuades another to sin is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    Scott

  18. Grasshopper on May 26, 2004 at 3:50 pm

    And then there’s also King Benjamin’s admonition:

    “Whosoever among you borroweth of his neighbor should return the thing that he borroweth, according as he doth agree, or else thou shalt commit sin; and perhaps thou shalt cause thy neighbor to commit sin also.”

    But does mean that the borrower has “a heavier burden” than the lender? I don’t think so; I think it’s just a practical caution of the consequences of our actions. Of course we should take such into consideration. But, as I have said before, we cannot allow ourselves to be paralyzed by the potential consequences of our actions. We risk and learn by trial and error (our own and others’).

    Practically speaking, I think this means that men and women both should dress modestly. I don’t think either has a heavier burden.

  19. Kevin Barney on May 26, 2004 at 3:53 pm

    I don’t think even a burka necessarily works. Have you seen the cover of the latest Dialogue? There is a woman (I think in Afghanistan) wearing one, with a child in tow. All you can see are her gorgeous eyes and some funky red socks. But I *still* thought she looked pretty hot.

    I know, I know, men are pigs.

  20. Julie in Austin on May 26, 2004 at 3:56 pm

    I appreciate the point that a decent woman with something to advertise might refrain from said advertisement out of a reasonable desire to help the males around her maintain pure thoughts. Fine.

    But the problem is that the above is about one hair’s breadth away from saying that a scantily dressed woman was raped ‘because she asked for it.’

    In any case, I agree with those here and on Kristine’s thread who claim that the major point of modesty is to show respect for the sanctity of the body, and it is not *primarily* to keep others from sinning. Otherwise, really unattractive people could go completely naked with no problem, right (grin)?

  21. greenfrog on May 26, 2004 at 3:56 pm

    Ryan Bell wrote: “But what of a man who doesn’t do that when women are modest, and who wishes to avoid such thoughts. When that man is confronted with a woman whose attire presses the issue, is that woman not to blame in the slightest?”

    He’s still blaming the victim. If all persons ran around stark naked in our society, he would still be responsible for his thoughts and actions to the same extent that he is (or should be) in a society with different clothing standards. And (empirical though my argument may be) I’d be willing to wager that shortly after moving into such a society, he’d have roughly the same quantity of difficulty in such an environment as he may have in ours.

    “Of course it’s the man’s responsibility to control himself. And of course he’s wholly accountable for his sin. But there are proximate causes, even indirect ones, and I believe the Lord takes those into account.”

    Think about this kind of statement in a context with two additional points considered: (1) Jesus’ declaration about the equivalence of sinful thoughts and sinful actions, and (2) presenting this argument as a defense at a rape trial. Should the Court take into account the rape victim’s attire in evaluating whether to punish the rapist with greater or lesser leniency? That’s not traditionally what we think the law should so.

    “For the same reason, the pornographer is vicariously responsible for the sin of the viewer (even though the viewer is fully accountable himself), and the guy who baits another guy into a fight is vicariously responsible for the sin of the other fighter (even though the fighter is fully accountable himself). Is this such a controversial point?”

    As I understand it, this point carries embedded within it the assumption that causation is determinate, i.e., that one can meaningfully state that X caused Y or, in this case, that X, and Y caused Z. From my perspective, whenever we posit that free will is an element of human conduct, such an assumption is always (and must always be) wrong. As I understand it, that is the nature of free will.

    If, OTOH, we were to posit that free will is not involved in human conduct, then I’d agree that some combination of determinate pre-conditions would result in proscribed thoughts or actions involving sex. But I’d also have to abandon the practice of law, which is, after all, devoted to the principle that it is just to hold people accountable for their own actions. And I’d have to conclude that the resulting action (or thought) must not be sinful, since “sin” is a qualitative judgment based upon the belief that the individual was capable of acting otherwise.

  22. brayden on May 26, 2004 at 4:04 pm

    I can understand Ryan’s reasoning that a pornographer bears some responsibility in the sin of the pornographry-viewer, but it seems like a cleaner argument to simply say that two sins were committed. Each sinner will be held responsible in a different way. But, in no way, do I see pornography as substitutable with the BYU/one-strap backpack weirdosity. I think that’s where Kaimi’s argument is cogent. Men and women are both responsible for keeping their thoughts pure and both men and women are responsible for treating their bodies in appropriate ways. Men who see women with a one-strap backpack and think dirty thoughts have their own issues to deal with. The women wearing those backpacks are innocent of any wrongdoing.

    I also agree with Sherry that modesty is largely a cultural construct. There are many things that women wear that are modest by almost all standards that can still be thought of as sexually provocative and vice versa. Perhaps, as Julie said in the comments section to Kristine’s post, we are meant to be modest not merely to prevent sexual transgression but to demonstrate our willingness to obey.

  23. kaimi on May 26, 2004 at 4:09 pm

    Well, if we’re thinking about it like a tort with multiple causes, in terms of least-cost-avoider, then aren’t men the least cost avoider? After all, women are being asked to constrain their sartorial choices, with possibly negative physical consequences (having to wear hot clothes on the subway in the summer rather than a sun dress, for example). Men are just being asked to control their thoughts.

    In addition, there are a lot of ways that men sexualize women. It can be based on something as simple as a woman’s eyes (as Kevin’s post notes).

    I would contrast Clark’s example by noting that in many instances, women are not overtly seeking to attract any of the impure thoughts that they end up being part of. A woman buys a blouse thinking, “great, this will match the slacks I have” while a guy thinks, “wow, a red blouse, she must want me to look at her chest.” That is, I think that the dialogue of seduction is often not present (or it’s a one-sided conversation).

    Finally, I am dubious of putting blame on women because men are, in the end, the ones with the ability to solve this problem. Men are the ones whose thoughts are at question here. They are the active participants in the sin, and they are the ones who are best situated to deal with it. Any solution that doesn’t begin with them is not addressing the underlying problem, and the problem is still there.

    If I have a house that continually falls over whenever the wind blows, I can hope that the wind will stop blowing, or I can reinforce the house so that it stops falling over. Blaming the wind, or saying, “we need a society where the wind doesn’t blow” is a less effective solution than actually fixing the house — which is in my power to do anyway.

  24. brayden on May 26, 2004 at 4:11 pm

    One more thought – It’s also a little unfair of us to expect women to withhold their natural beauty just because doing so might cause some male somewhere to experience unusual levels of sexual excitement. I enjoy it whem my wife looks attractive. I would hate it if she wrapped herself in some cocoon after our sealing to hide all potential sexuality.

  25. Kingsley on May 26, 2004 at 4:17 pm

    I’d be interested to know if a well-proportioned man wearing a tight shirt has the same effect on a woman as a well-proportioned woman wearing a tight shirt has on a man. The fact that women do carry a heavier burden physically (& the fact that most men have said “The heavier, the better,” leading to the plastic surgery explosion), makes you wonder if women carry a heavier burden when it comes to “dress[ing] modestly” (Grasshopper) as well, at least in certain areas. It’s much, much harder for a man to build his upper body to the point where a tight shirt would heighten his sexual desirableness than it is for a woman, who’s either born with it or can purchase it for a couple thousand bucks. Even if that’s the case, however, it’s men who’ve driven women to the scalpel, & it’s interesting that when letters of the I-can’t-believe-the-tightness-of-women’s-clothes-these-days variety are published in BYU’s Daily Universe, they are inevitably signed by sisters.

  26. Ryan Bell on May 26, 2004 at 4:18 pm

    Thanks all, for thoughtful responses.

    Kristine: I’m not sure how “gendered” my position is. First, it does cast a greater weight on women because men are more likely to sin when provoked by visual stimuli than are women. Inasmuch as women in our culture seem to be catching up, men become equally responsible for controlling their self-presentation. However, even assuming that women never did sin because of how men dress, why would that disprove my argument? The fact that it does indeed put a greater onus on women than men to avoid wearing overly provocative clothing is merely a descriptive fact, not something I’m a fan of.

    Also, I don’t really understand how my take on female modestly is made wrong or right by the fact that there are strong sexual double standards in our culture. I agree that it’s wrong for women to be expected to keep appearances up more than men, etc., etc. But those are norms I would never defend, imposed by society. The norms I’m submitting here are those I believe to be imposed by the Lord– do not do something that could tempt someone to sin. If the roles were reversed, and women started ogling me, I would think I would have a duty not to dress in a sinfully provocative way, for my sake and theirs.

    Julie, I understand the problem, and it is not mine. The fact that some people will take a valid argument and turn it into a misogynistic rant should not be taken to disprove the argument. Again, let me reiterate– I tried very hard in my post to say that the woman’s complicity does not diminish the man’s guilt by a whit– whether in the case of leering or rape. The man remains fully responsible, whether at law or the judgment bar. (and by way of needless dislaimer, I can’t imagine any situation in which you could say a nonconsenting woman was complicit in her own rape).

    Greenfrog, I believe that all of your arguments focus on a misunderstanding of my position, which I addressed above to Julie. Again, the man is fully responsible. The woman’s tempting of him doesn’t diminish his accountibility. It’s not diluted or shared with the woman. She merely brings upon herself a new share of blame, separate and apart from his. The fact that she was the stimulus or starting point for his sinful impulse does not make her the “cause” of the sin in any way that diminishes his own share in it, or his free will. As such she didn’t “cause” it in some philosophically inevitable sense, she merely set off the chain of events that chonologically led up to the sin.

  27. Julie in Austin on May 26, 2004 at 4:25 pm

    Hmm—

    If women can be in some sense liable for men’s impure thoughts, then perhaps they are also liable for making other women feel inadequate, ugly, and depressed.

    (not sure I’m joking)

  28. greenfrog on May 26, 2004 at 4:25 pm

    Ryan Bell wrote: “Again, the man is fully responsible. The woman’s tempting of him doesn’t diminish his accountibility. It’s not diluted or shared with the woman.”

    I’m with you so far.

    “She merely brings upon herself a new share of blame, separate and apart from his. The fact that she was the stimulus or starting point for his sinful impulse does not make her the “cause” of the sin in any way that diminishes his own share in it, or his free will. As such she didn’t “cause” it in some philosophically inevitable sense, she merely set off the chain of events that chonologically led up to the sin.”

    You just lost me. How is her conduct culpable in any sense if her actions did not cause any wrongdoing?

  29. Clark Goble on May 26, 2004 at 4:29 pm

    I would contrast Clark’s example by noting that in many instances, women are not overtly seeking to attract any of the impure thoughts that they end up being part of. A woman buys a blouse thinking, “great, this will match the slacks I have” while a guy thinks, “wow, a red blouse, she must want me to look at her chest.” That is, I think that the dialogue of seduction is often not present (or it’s a one-sided conversation).

    The problem is still linguistic. Suppose someone unintentionally drops the F-bomb during a testimony at church. Whose fault is the offense? The listeners or the speaker?

    The problem is that modesty is culturally determined, just as language is. Part of living in a culture is recognizing the language. So the issue is less those who interpret as sexual signals that society doesn’t that women who dress in ways that society clearly labels sexual. For instance the bare midriff and the jeans so low you have to shave your pubic hair to wear them that low.

    The rape issue is a red herring. No one is saying that the rapist is somehow OK because a woman wore revealing clothing. In particular society doesn’t say that revealing clothing is saying yes to sex. It in fact says the opposite. But take a different linguistic act using clothing. You are alone in a house and a woman kisses you and disrobes. Is that an invitation to sex? I think so. That’s a fairly clear linguistic act. However if she then says no, stop, our society also recognizes that as a clear message to stop. So I honestly don’t see how rape applies. Further some seem to be throwing the rape example out as if it discounts anything the woman is doing. It really is misleading I feel.

  30. Clark Goble on May 26, 2004 at 4:31 pm

    I would contrast Clark’s example by noting that in many instances, women are not overtly seeking to attract any of the impure thoughts that they end up being part of. A woman buys a blouse thinking, “great, this will match the slacks I have” while a guy thinks, “wow, a red blouse, she must want me to look at her chest.” That is, I think that the dialogue of seduction is often not present (or it’s a one-sided conversation).

    The problem is still linguistic. Suppose someone unintentionally drops the F-bomb during a testimony at church. Whose fault is the offense? The listeners or the speaker?

    The problem is that modesty is culturally determined, just as language is. Part of living in a culture is recognizing the language. So the issue is less those who interpret as sexual signals that society doesn’t that women who dress in ways that society clearly labels sexual. For instance the bare midriff and the jeans so low you have to shave your pubic hair to wear them that low.

    The rape issue is a red herring. No one is saying that the rapist is somehow OK because a woman wore revealing clothing. In particular society doesn’t say that revealing clothing is saying yes to sex. It in fact says the opposite. But take a different linguistic act using clothing. You are alone in a house and a woman kisses you and disrobes. Is that an invitation to sex? I think so. That’s a fairly clear linguistic act. However if she then says no, stop, our society also recognizes that as a clear message to stop. So I honestly don’t see how rape applies. Further some seem to be throwing the rape example out as if it discounts anything the woman is doing. It really is misleading I feel.

  31. Ryan Bell on May 26, 2004 at 4:34 pm

    Brayden, I don’t think the BYU backpack issue is that helpful, because my argument assumes the woman’s level of immodesty is sinful. The one-strap thing just doesn’t rise to the level of anything we could all agree was objectively immodest. In my model, the woman must already be sinning in order to take shoulder some blame for having caused the man to sin. If she’s innocently minding her modest business, and the man still can’t keep his mind in control, it’s obviously not her concern.

    Kaimi, that leads to my legal frame-change– think of it negligence terms. Remember Palsgraf?– Once I’m negligent, I can be held responsible for basically any of the foreseeable effects of my negligence, whether you could really say those effects were honestly my fault or not. The woman who walks around in nearly nothing is already negligent. She’s already in the wrong. Thus, we are justified in thinking she is culpable (on her own, not sharing in the guilt of the viewers) for having provided the means by which others could sin.

    Finally, I think the wind analogy is inapposite. The wind is not sentient. If the wind was a moral agent, we would surely say it was wrong for the wind to knock down your house. In the immodesty scenario, it’s obviously the duty of every righteous man simply to solve the problem for himself, by getting his thoughts under control. And that’s my preferred solution as well. However, that does not diminish the fact that immodest women are a partial cause of the problem, are morally accountable, and could help in solving the issue themselves.

  32. Julie in Austin on May 26, 2004 at 4:34 pm

    Clark–

    Hafta disagree. It seems that what we are trying to do here is to determine whether women bear any blame when their clothing choices lead men to sin (from impure thoughts all the way up to rape).

    Rape might be the extreme example, but I think the principle holds.

    While the idea of immodesty justifying rape may seem beyond silly to anyone here, I don’t think we have a large potential rapist pool here. The danger is when the idea trickles over/under/across to others.

  33. Clark Goble on May 26, 2004 at 4:45 pm

    Julie, let’s put it this way. If I say, “think of blue” can you read that without thinking about blue?

  34. brayden on May 26, 2004 at 4:46 pm

    Ryan – Maybe I’m not understanding you here, but it seems to me that to say that “a woman shares in the blame” invites the depiction of blame as some sort of limited entity that can be divided up into portions – like, for example a pie (since we’re all familiar with pie charts.) If there is a sin then there would be x amount of blame to go around. Let’s say that in the case of sexual thoughts instigated by immodest dress, a woman receives 30% blame and a man receives the remaining 70% – unless you also want to allocate some of the blame to designers of fashion or parents who provided the funds to buy the immodest clothing. Anyway, the main point is that the term “share” connotes that something is being divided up into portions. Can you now see why I don’t like this as a description of any kind of immodesty?

    Why not just say that a person is held accountable for the sins which he or she has committed? If it’s a sin to wear immodest clothing then that sin is independent of the thoughts it creates in some other sinner. If it’s a sin to think thoughts about immodest people, that sin stands alone. There are too many opportunities to sin to go around allocating portions of the sin-pie to all those who are somehow “responsible.”

  35. Kristine on May 26, 2004 at 4:53 pm

    Actually, there used to be a horrible story in the YW manual about a girl who chose to wear a mini-skirt on a date. She was almost date-raped, and the story concluded that she wouldn’t have had that bad experience if only she had chosen wisely in her dress. I’m pretty sure it’s been removed from the latest iterations of the manual, but it was there for a long time.

    Additionally, the Handbook of Instructions used to instruct bishops that part of their responsibility in dealing with rape victims was to assess their responsibility, if any, for the rape.

    And, Ryan, btw, I was unclear–your discussion of joint responsibility was careful and not gender-biased in the way some such discussions are. I meant to note that one reason your perfectly sensible position might be in the minority was the reaction against decades of a distorted and gender-biased application of the principle which you stated, rather than against your particular comment. (Hmm. not sure that’s any clearer)

  36. Frank McIntyre on May 26, 2004 at 4:58 pm

    Can our dress affect other’s behavior? “For the Strength of the Youth” says yes.

    “Your dress and grooming send messages about you to others and influence the way you and others act. When you are well groomed and modestly dressed, you invite the companionship of the Spirit and can exercise a good influence on those around you.” (emphasis mine)

    So this pamphlet does put forward how we affect others as a relevant component of why we dress modestly. More generally, Paul in Romans and King Benjamin both agree that how one’s behavior affects another is an important consideration in determining what to do. I see a lot of wrangling about making sure we don’t blame others for our own failings, well yes; that is true.

    But does anybody disagree with Paul and Benjamin? Does anybody think their statements are irrelevant to the modesty issue and if so why? Is there any reason I shouldn’t take the Strength of the Youth Pamphlet at face value?

    I know that there are dumb arguments for modesty and there are ways to use the issue to demonize women (the “she had it coming” arguments). But since when did the mere presence of fallacious arguments invalidate correct ones?

    I am guessing that most people here largely agree about this issue, but that modesty is something of a hobby horse, which is causing the disagreement.

  37. Kaimi on May 26, 2004 at 4:59 pm

    Ryan,

    I think of it more along the lines of Carroll Towing than Palsgraf. It it is a woman’s responsibility to dress in a way that won’t excite impure thoughts, then she has to determine the mental makeup of every man she is likely to encounter, determine where their break points are for impure thoughts (including any unusual ones like Kevin’s burka attraction), and adjust her wardrobe accordingly. That’s a high cost to impose on her. Under Carroll Towing, to simplify, a party is negligent if they fail to take measures to avoid a loss which were not greater than the cost of that loss. I don’t think women are negligent in this situation. I don’t think they have to live their lives to avoid damaging an eggshell plaintiff. There may be some reasonable line (Carroll Towing might suggest that) but that depends on upbringing and cultural attitudes. Beyond certain outliers, like wearing Victoria’s Secrets underwear in public (not something most people do), it’s probably hard to establish an objective standard for “too immodest.”

    Kingsley,

    I think most complaints are signed by sisters because we’re not actually worried about sin, we’re worried about someone’s husband being driven to distraction by some woman not his wife.

    As Kristine sort of notes, this creates an interesting dilemma. Women are expected to be attractive, so that their husband will think they’re cute. But they can’t be too attractive, lest anyone else’s husband notice them. What a mess.

  38. Ryan Bell on May 26, 2004 at 5:08 pm

    Brayden, my use of “share” is too vague, and you’re right that it seems to dilute the blame in a strange and unmanageable way. Coincidentally, I just finished an entry at my own blog
    own blog that explains the point better– instead of one pie of 100% blame to go around amongst all the players, there are many pies, some smaller some bigger, but the important point is that the man keeps 100% of his own blame pie. This is getting weird.

    Kristine, thanks for the clarification. I agree that it’s difficult to even address issues like this without sliding into some of the more fraught issues, like those that have come up tangentially here. I hope my take won’t be read to put me in the category with the run of the mill chauvinists. Why is that you and I always end up involved when concepts related to misogyny come up? :)

  39. Kingsley on May 26, 2004 at 5:08 pm

    Kaimi: You could follow basic guidelines, e.g. if the tightness of your shirt brings your bra into sharp relief it’s probably too tight, etc. Or Clark’s example: If your pants require you to shave certain areas, ditch them, etc. There are probably some common sense areas.

  40. Ryan Bell on May 26, 2004 at 5:13 pm

    Kaimi, the Palsgraf solution is much more simple than you think it is. Instead of calculating the vulnerability of all possible viewers, you simply resolve never to be negligent. If you are never negligent, harms that come to others by some act related to your behavior are not your fault (assuming we’re not dealing with strict liability– now that would be interesting). Thus, if a woman never dresses immodestly (admittedly a difficult standard to define, but well-enough drawn by the leaders of the church that we can agree on some rough lines), she is never liable for any man’s leering or fantasies. It’s an easy insurance policy, isn’t it?

  41. Frank McIntyre on May 26, 2004 at 5:16 pm

    Brayden,

    The pie is not of fixed size. If ten guys beat up one guy, they are not each only a tenth as responsible. So one needn’t worry about fixed blame to pass around. Further, your argument that an action is cannnot be wrong solely based on how it affects others’ thoughts/views is simply not consistent with Paul’s discourse in Romans 14. Some things are wrong solely and explicitly because of their effect on others’ thoughts and actions. Even if those thoughts are the result of that persons’ weakness.

    Kaimi,

    You concede that there is some standard (Victoria Secret underwear) that would be wrong. Why should that standard be anything other than what is outlined in the Strength of the Youth pamphlet or is required by the temple garment? Those both seem like reasonable points for your legal standard. Since our hypothetical young lady is responsible for those standards because of the sacredness of her body, it is no additional cost for her to also maintain them because of their beneficial effect on the weak end of the male populace.

  42. Ryan Bell on May 26, 2004 at 5:17 pm

    Forgive my ugly attempts at writing code into my post above. I was trying to link to my blog post on modesty, but it just messed up my post. Sorry. Here’s the real link.

  43. Sheri Lynn on May 26, 2004 at 5:18 pm

    A woman buys a blouse thinking, “great, this will match the slacks I have” while a guy thinks, “wow, a red blouse, she must want me to look at her chest.”

    NO NO NO NO NO.

    The woman buys a blouse thinking “Gosh I hope this doesn’t make me look fatter.”

    The man thinks, “Did she just max out the credit card again?”

  44. greenfrog on May 26, 2004 at 5:29 pm

    Have some of the recent posts on this thread de-linked the concept of sin and the concept of causing harm? (Perhaps a discussion for another day — or place.)

    I don’t see how we can simultaneously conclude that a woman’s clothing choice is sinful if it does not cause any harm.

    If it does cause harm, then it doesn’t seem to me that we can plausibly say that the harm is the fault of someone else (who, by definition, didn’t cause it).

  45. MDS on May 26, 2004 at 5:34 pm

    Kaimi, I’m not sure Carroll Towing is any more helpful to an analysis of modesty than Palsgraf, since the use of Carroll Towing would require you to assign costs to the actions at issue here, and that assignment of costs is as inherently subjective as the question of the foreseeable consequences under Palsgraf.

    Even if you do like the Caroll Towing analysis, Hand says we have to look at the level of the damage versus the burden of taking the precaution that would prevent the damage. Since the eternal consequences of sin are spiritual death/damnation, and any burden placed on the woman to be modest is something less than spiritual death/damnation (note that we are using values that I have somewhat subjectively assigned), she should take the precaution to prevent the damage, and if she does not, she is liable.

  46. Gary Lee on May 26, 2004 at 5:51 pm

    I wonder if one of the problems we have here is our conception of sin and the avoidance of sin. If a man would be consumed by lust at the sight of woman’s bare shoulders but is indifferent to a woman dressed on gunny sack, does the woman who dresses in a gunny sack thereby reduce the sinfulness of that man? The man still suffers from the same character defect no matter what she wears and the God who looks upon his heart will surely deal with him in the precisely the same manner no matter how the women who come into his view choose to dress. If that is the case, does choosing to dress one way or another have any effect at all on the sinfulness of that man?

  47. MDS on May 26, 2004 at 5:55 pm

    I don’t think we are arguing at all about the sinfulness of the man. We are all agreed about his state. The question is about the woman and her status before God.

  48. Gary Lee on May 26, 2004 at 6:13 pm

    MDS: I guess I thought that some were arguing that the woman’s conduct was sinful because it caused the man to sin. My point, if I have one, is that her conduct must be judged independently, and his reaction is not a factor in determining whether or not she has sinned.

  49. Kaimi on May 26, 2004 at 6:16 pm

    Or, to ask Gary’s question in an analogy, is it okay to wear skimpy clothes if you’re alone on a desert island? Or if you’re only hanging around with blind people?

    (Which brings to mind the old joke about the woman taking a bath and the blind salesman).

  50. Kaimi on May 26, 2004 at 6:23 pm

    Clark, MDS, etc.,

    If it is the case that a woman who wears skimpy clothing (however defined) is engaging in a dialogue with men — “look at me! sin!” — then why is it not also the case that, as set out in the original post, a property owner is engaging in a dialogue with thieves (“look at my property! steal it! sin!”)?

    As a property owner, do I bring upon myself a share of blame, because I own property that others can observe and covet or steal?

  51. Scott on May 26, 2004 at 6:24 pm

    Immodesty/Rape: As I said above, a lot of this disagreement seems to arise from treating this as a zero sum game. No one is saying that a woman’s immodesty “justifies” (to use Julie’s word) a man’s sin. A man will still have to answer for his thoughts and deeds. But, to the extent that a woman’s attire (a) is calculated to excite sexual reactions and (b) succeeds in that goal, she can reasonably be faulted.

    Intent: Kaimi raises a valid issue by saying that some women lack the requisite intent to be faulted. They don’t dress immodestly in order to titillate, but because they like the look or feel of the clothes. Possibly. But, as Clark said, these decisions aren’t made in a vacuum. A woman who doesn’t know the effect of hip-huggers or a miniskirt has her head in the sand. If a reasonable person would know that a certain outfit is likely to arouse a man, the offender may be found merely negligent–a lesser offense, but an offense nonetheless.

    Freedom: Greenfrog urges a radical notion of freedom, one in which the individual agent is a sort of “unmoved mover.” Nothing external to a person can cause him to behave in a certain way. I think that position is untenable. (I also think it’s unscriptural, but I don’t want to open that can of worms.) Whole industries are built around influencing behavior–whether to boost sales, to get people to laugh, to sexually arouse, to win an election. There are countless voices in the world persuading, cajoling, shouting, seducing, enticing, provoking. While those voices may not have absolutely and universally predictable effects on behavior, they do have effects.

    Sanctity of the body v. Incitement to sin: If admonitions of modesty have to do with body sanctity per se, why did God wait till after Adam’s and Eve’s eyes had been opened before preparing coats of skins? Why could Adam and Eve walk naked and not be “ashamed” before then (Gen. 2:25)?

    Scott

  52. clark on May 26, 2004 at 6:47 pm

    Kaimi, certainly property owners also engage in dialog. The part you and several others are missing is that for communication to be communication it must be *normed*. That is there must be agreed upon meanings. In most societies we are dealing with showing property doesn’t mean others can communicate it. That’s why the rape issue is beside the point. There is no societal agreed upon meanings that legitimize rape.

    As I said, the implication of the position that what any person communicates is irrelevant seems very problematic. It entails, as I mentioned earlier, that a person swearing at church is not sinning but the listeners are.

  53. clark on May 26, 2004 at 6:52 pm

    One other thing. To say that engaging in actions which lead others to sin is not to make the person responsible for that sin nor is it to say that is the only sinfulness inherent in the act. This seems somewhat misleading.

    If I give an alcoholic a drink and he, under imparement, causes an accident, surely I’m not responsible in the same way as the alcoholic is. Yet surely I have led him to sin…

    The problem must be too many lawyers in the discussion… (grin)

  54. Sheri Lynn on May 26, 2004 at 7:32 pm

    The child is not responsible for the sin OR crime of the pedophile–even if she’s wearing scanty clothing or even if she has been sexualized enough that she behaves provocatively. (That is something I have seen children as young as 11 doing. VERY sad. Safer to let them play with gasoline and matches.)

    I do think there’s a distinction between sin and crime that could get lost here. A woman can certainly sin in going to a bar and getting drunk in scanty clothing–without deserving to be the victim of the crime of rape. The rapist’s sin is no more excused than his crime.

  55. greenfrog on May 26, 2004 at 8:14 pm

    Scott wrote: “Freedom: Greenfrog urges a radical notion of freedom, one in which the individual agent is a sort of “unmoved mover.” Nothing external to a person can cause him to behave in a certain way. I think that position is untenable. (I also think it’s unscriptural, but I don’t want to open that can of worms.)”

    You don’t see this question as central to the discussion on this thread?

    “Whole industries are built around influencing behavior–whether to boost sales, to get people to laugh, to sexually arouse, to win an election. There are countless voices in the world persuading, cajoling, shouting, seducing, enticing, provoking. While those voices may not have absolutely and universally predictable effects on behavior, they do have effects.”

    To the extent that those actions *cause* something to happen in or by another person, that other person cannot/should not be held accountable for them. To the extent that the other person exercised free will, then s/he can be held accountable. I don’t see how we can have it both ways.

  56. Kaimi on May 26, 2004 at 8:58 pm

    Clark,

    Let me ask you with this example. Suppose you drive your car to work every day, and it is a particular model. We’ll make it a red Ultima.

    One day, your neighbor approaches you. He says that he is greatly disturbed by the fact that you drive a red Ultima. Your choice of car causes him to crave alcohol. (Perhaps it reminds him of a car he drove prior to joining the church).

    Since he doesn’t want to continue to have these sinful thoughts, he tells you, you need to stop driving your red Ultima. Instead, you need to get another car, one that doesn’t inspire sinful thoughts in him.

    Is this a reasonable request? Are you responsible for your neighbor’s sinful thoughts, due to your decision to drive a red Ultima?

  57. Clark Goble on May 26, 2004 at 10:29 pm

    If there isn’t a societal meaning to the red car then I don’t think it a reasonable request. If it was a societal meaning, then I’d think he was in the right.

    That where I think people are going wrong. They are downplaying or ignoring the fact that meanings in communication have to be agreed upon and that to enter into a society is to agree to act in appropriate ways with respect to those meanings. As I said, the sounds of “f***” mean nothing. In a particular society they have a meaning which would entail being offensive at church. In a society that didn’t speak English they wouldn’t be offensive at all.

  58. Chris R on May 26, 2004 at 10:54 pm

    Clark,

    Sorry for jumping in late, but your position indicates that it is society that creates the sin, instead of sin being constant over time.

    Either a sin is a sin because it is and forever was and will be a sin, or a sin is a sin because of its time, place, or manner.

    I think the key to understanding sin is based upon intent, and soley intent.

  59. Ivan Wolfe on May 27, 2004 at 1:03 am

    Clark-

    In Laotion, it means “to chop”

    I had a hard time getting used to hearing/using that word.

    Just to help emphasize your point.

  60. Jack on May 27, 2004 at 2:55 am

    I think, on a grand scale, its possible for sin to be sin though it may not appear to be sin. Looking at the goings on in society over the last 40plus years, It seems obvious that there is a direct corollary between immodesty and promiscuity. Without going in to the details of how they relate to each other, it’s obvious that the two problems have escalated together (along with others of course) to such a degree that the prophets have felt it necessary to declare serious warnings against them. I think we have to look at the fact that, by in large, it’s a promiscuous society that’s determining the current levels of modesty. Lets then add the question: does society view its promiscuity as sin? If the answer is no, then how does society account for the problems caused by its promiscuity? Well, it doesn’t do it by changing its behavior because it doesn’t view its behavior as sin. And so it plunges into a destructive downward spiral. The final result of destruction will not be mitigated by “meaning in communication” between persons in a society where promiscuity or anything connected with it is not considered sinful.

  61. Jack on May 27, 2004 at 3:18 am

    oops – by *and* large, not by *in* large

  62. Ben Huff on May 27, 2004 at 3:38 am

    Wow, that’ll teach me to tune out for a few hours! It’s revolting to be associated with the idea that women are supposed to take exclusive responsibility for male lust and resulting misbehavior. Of course, this is a complex topic where misunderstanding is to be expected — perhaps the modest (prudent) thing here would be not to have gotten involved in the discussion! But I’m sure I’ll be back in the morning to try to defend myself.

  63. Ben Huff on May 27, 2004 at 3:47 am

    Am I responsible for the scandal if I make a comment that is misconstrued and cited in vague support of something abominable? Or is the misconstruer responsible?

    I’m trying to grin : |

    Mercifully as far as I’ve read the commenters seem to have left me out of the scrap : )

  64. Frank McIntyre on May 27, 2004 at 11:21 am

    Kaimi,

    The red car example is fine, but totally misses the cost/benefit calculations we all recognize. It is very costly to ditch the car. It is not costly to be modest given that one must be modest anyway because of the sacredness of the body.

    The desert island example ignores the fact that we all agree there are other reasons to be modest besides the one under discussion. Thus, if the only reason to tbe modest were its effects on others, then of course it would be fine to be nude on a deserted island.

  65. Ben Huff on May 27, 2004 at 11:44 am

    Bob, not everyone is married to a Bulgarian Love Goddess! Quit the gloating! and congratulations : ) would we were all so well-adjusted (and our circumstances so well-adjusted to us!)

    Kristine, thanks for distinguishing Ryan’s sensible point from the ugly legacy of chauvinism. My *original* comment on Modesty and Shame (the one *before* what Kaimi links to) actually does talk about this from the other side. I have had a few experiences with women taking an inappropriate interest in me (inappropriate, say, because I was a missionary, or because she was married), and it seems to me once I recognize there’s a problem brewing, I am responsible to take reasonable steps to correct it. On my mission I literally wore geeky glasses to try to counter the exotic American factor. In other situations I’ve made a point of being seen with, or talking about, some other woman I was interested in, to try to deflect inappropriate attention. In other cases I have simply minimized my attention to someone. As a garment-wearing man, there’s no covering up left to do, short of wearing a burka, but behavior is equally relevant to modesty, and I will wear dumpy clothes if the situation warrants it.

    Isn’t body piercing gilding the lily? Doesn’t it show disregard for the beauty already there, to try to “beautify” one’s body in that way? Seems to me the *exemption* for the single pair of earrings (not the counsel against more and other piercings, etc.) is the part that most reflects a peculiarity of culture — ear piercing among Mormon women is so prevalent that Hinckley decided not to press the point all the way, but the principle is there. He said, “We do not, however, take any position” on a single pair. And while there’s a place for the “test of obedience” philosophy where we don’t see the point of a commandment or piece of advice, I think there is usually a principle behind it that is worth learning, and then applying more widely. IMO in this case that would be, “Don’t buy into the false, sexualized and commercialized aesthetic of the body that is so prevalent in the world. Rather, recognize the beauty of our bodies as they were created, and respect it in the way you present yours.” My little niece doesn’t need to pierce her ears to be beautiful; she and her ears are already breathtakingly beautiful. Ironically, I think affirming my niece’s beauty without commercialized, etc. “improvement” is *much more* important than stopping her from piercing her ears or wearing makeup or spaghetti straps or whatever, but occasions of correcting her choices regarding such questions of modesty are occasions to teach her about her true beauty and how she should bear it appropriately.

  66. Scott on May 27, 2004 at 11:56 am

    Greenfrog writes, “To the extent that those actions *cause* something to happen in or by another person, that other person cannot/should not be held accountable for them. To the extent that the other person exercised free will, then s/he can be held accountable. I don’t see how we can have it both ways.”

    How about this:

    A person is morally responsible for the
    sin of another if: (i) acting with the kind of culpability required for the sin, he causes or aids an innocent or nonresponsible person to engage in sinful conduct; (ii) acting with intent to promote or assist the commission of the sin, he solicits, encourages, directs, aids, or attempts to aid the other person to commit the sin; or (iii) having a moral duty to prevent commission of the sin and acting with intent to promote or assist its commission, he fails to make a reasonable effort to prevent commission of the sin.

    Is that having it both ways?

    Scott

  67. Kaimi on May 27, 2004 at 12:05 pm

    Ben,

    Perhaps I wasn’t sufficiently clear. I don’t think that you made this argument. A statement that you did make — that women have a heavier burden to be modest — reminded me of the argument, as it has been stated by others. That was the extent of your involvement in my thought process; sorry if I implicated you too much in this discussion (though as you note, commenters seem to be aware that you aren’t being directly cited as an advocate of that position).

    You also write, “I have had a few experiences with women taking an inappropriate interest in me . . .”

    Would that we were all so lucky. :) I haven’t exactly had women trying to break down my door. (See also Nate’s comment to the same effect). But then again, your well-known charm has already noted in by various T & S commenters. (See, e.g., 1 and 2).

  68. Ben Huff on May 27, 2004 at 1:09 pm

    Hey Kaimi, yeah, by the time I read through I was reassured; sorry I was touchy at first.

    Your link to Nate’s comment, which was in response to one by Adam, brings a nice connection on issues of behavior, which are just as important to modesty as those of clothing. Adam’s reference to the idea that men and women who work together are always a little in love makes me think — if we were less starved for real friendship, and if we had more chances to work as a team with our spouses, the satisfaction of working together with someone would probably be less likely to feel like something inappropriate. Modesty (in behavior anyway) would be much less demanding. Yet another upsetting consequence of economic specialization’s disruption of all other human relationships.

  69. Clark Goble on May 27, 2004 at 1:12 pm

    your position indicates that it is society that creates the sin, instead of sin being constant over time. Either a sin is a sin because it is and forever was and will be a sin, or a sin is a sin because of its time, place, or manner. I think the key to understanding sin is based upon intent, and soley intent.

    That really is where the divide comes down to. Is something a sin because of what we do or because of what we intend to do? I reject the idea that sin is simply sin because of our intents. I think things are sins as much because of responsibility for unintended consequences as anything.

    For instance if I never put my baby in a car seat, I think I am sinning in my irresponsibility even if I don’t intend my baby to be injured.

    All that society does is determine the meaning of acts. It is the refusal to acknowledge those meanings that is the irresponsibility. And it is that irresponsibility I think some are trying to avoid.

  70. MDS on May 27, 2004 at 1:37 pm

    Kaimi asked

    “If it is the case that a woman who wears skimpy clothing (however defined) is engaging in a dialogue with men — “look at me! sin!” — then why is it not also the case that, as set out in the original post, a property owner is engaging in a dialogue with thieves (“look at my property! steal it! sin!”)?”

    To keep the tort doctrine theme, it is sometimes the case that a property owner engages in a dialogue with others. For example, the “attractive nuisance” doctrine holds that property owners can be responsible for harms caused on their property to child trespassers because the property owner should reasonably anticipate that the particular dangers posed by their property are so inviting to children that precautions should be taken to prevent those dangers from happening.

    I’m not sure the idea of referring women as “attractive nuisances” will go over too well, although Joseph may think that his experiences with Potiphar’s wife could be described as such.

  71. Gary Cooper on May 27, 2004 at 1:56 pm

    Bob Caswell,

    I think it’s great that you have the ability to see a woman naked or otherwise scantily-clad in a movie and not be affected by it. But, surely you realize that not every man is that strong. I am a convert to the church, and was raised in a home where the Law of Chastity ws *not* taught, in any way, and where pornography was readily available. I joined the Church at age 18, and today, at age 40, despite years of church attendance, scripture study, serving a mission, etc., there are still times when, without seeking it in any way, an inappropriate image will enter my mind from 20 or 25 years ago. Yes, when I’m watching TV and a nude scene comes on or a sex scene, the channel is changed right there and then, and we will not rent or go to see any movie if we find out it has even one nude or sex scene, period.

    I am not alone in this. I literally know dozens and dozens of LDS men over the years that I have discussed this with, as well as many church leaders at the stake and ward level, who agree with me as to both the problem and the solution. Many, many LDS men strive nobly to keep their temple covenants, but still have to struggle with thoughts and memories from the past, not to mention the present.

    Many women just do not understand the tactile and photographic nature of most men’s sex drives, nor the unwanted “total recall ability” of this drive. I do not believe most women and girls who dress improperly, for example, do so to deliberately tempt men. Rather, they are simply saying, “Notice me!” in the only way they have been taught to do so. I feel sorry for them, as well as for so many non-member men, who seem to be like little chiidren in their understanding, or lack of same, of the importance and nature of chastity. That being said, though, the fact is that many LDS men endure a constant struggle to keep their desires, appetites and passions within the bounds the Lord has set, and for them, the casual way in which our society throws sex and nudity about, virtually *forcing* us to see it whether we wish to or not, makes this task so much more difficult. (Which explains why many of the LDS men I know who have this struggle strongly favor increased censorship of public communications, but that deserves its own post…)

    Now, of course, a man is responsible for his own sins, and can’t blame it on a woman, but as has been pointed out by others on this post, a woman’s deliberately dressing in manner as to “tempt” men is really a separate sin unto itself, regardless of how the man reacts. I would add, though, again that I don’t believe most women, and especially most young girls, consciously are trying to “tempt” men with immodest dress. Rather, I think they just want to be noticed, and don’t full fathom the effect this may have on others.

    The difference between how men and women react sexually does seem to place, in today’s world, a semmingly heavier burden on women to “dress modestly/act modestly” than men, and yes, it’s unfair. A typical woman seems to be able to see a handsome man, dressed or undressed in a manner that “shows off” his body, and while perhaps appreciatng the man’s looks, can “shrug it off” with much more thought. Most men, though, can see a scantily clad or nude woman, even for a brief second, but still remember that image years later, without even trying to remember. So, while I think it is inappropriate for a man to go topless in public (I always wear a t-shirt when I go swimming), clearly the social *effect* is not as damaging as a woman’s going topless.

  72. Ethesis on May 27, 2004 at 2:45 pm

    Good point in this one, made me think back …

    [quote]
    “If it is the case that a woman who wears skimpy clothing (however defined) is engaging in a dialogue with men — “look at me! sin!” — then why is it not also the case that, as set out in the original post, a property owner is engaging in a dialogue with thieves (“look at my property! steal it! sin!”)?”
    [/quote]

    When I was first in the DT dorms, in the first meeting where our RA spoke to us, he told us not to leave cash out because on floors where that happened, at least once a semester some paperboy lost his job and got banned for theft. He said we had a duty not to tempt the idiot paperboys.

    I’ve found the same with janitors. Leave small change on the floor, expect it to be gone in the morning.

    At law school the rule was “don’t leave pencils out” — I could leave books, candy, marble statues, etc. but my buddy who left his pencils out (something I never did, I always locked them up) always ended up without them.

    Sure, people ought not to borrow a pencil on the way past your desk and then fail to return it. But they will.

    Paperboys will go semesters without stealing things, but will grab cash money that is left out.

    When my boss’s daughter in 1980 decided to show up at work braless with a transparent top, people thought differently about her (and turned away, no one wanting to get caught staring at the boss’s daughter). She eventually got the hint.

    Much of the problem is that in most cases, people don’t intend the same message. The boss’s daughter for example, only wanted to dress stylishly like she saw in magazines. I run into a lot of that, one person’s stylish is anothers, “oh my gosh” and blush or turn away. A modest string bikini in Brazil isn’t quite the same in Provo, Utah.

    Not to mention, when I came back to BYU for law school, we got lectured about going topless (the guys) while washing cars and such.

    Well, lunch is over, but I’m not sure I see this as a binary question.

  73. Matt Jacobsen on May 27, 2004 at 4:13 pm

    Just wondering, do you consider it a sin for a man to notice that the woman he’s talking to has breasts? Or is it only bad if he acknowledges to himself that she has nice breasts and a great figure? Has he already sinned without even imagining himself having sex with her right then and there? Should he dare to say that she looks good in what she’s wearing? Or is he not allowed to complement a woman’s looks because everyone knows what he’s *really* thinking?

    Just to answer my own questions, I find that there is a real difference between finding a woman attractive and lusting after her. However, the few times I’ve actually told a (lds) woman she looked good, it was a bit uncomfortable. I wish it weren’t that way.

    Along those same lines, I think the line between looking good and being sexually attractive is very thin. I would guess that most of us want to look our best, but that usually means looking attractive, even if we’re modestly dressed. Are we only guilty of causing others to sin if we intentionally want others to have immoral thoughts, but not if we just want them to think we look good? If nine out of ten men looking at an attractive woman don’t have impure thoughts, is she responsible for the one who does? I think this goes back to the question of what the average person finds provocative (i.e. culturally dependent).

    I think someone in the modesty thread talked about how modesty makes sex, or the anticipation or sex, more enticing, while immodesty dulls our senses. If we grew up with a more relaxed ideal of modesty, would we be less likely to get horny thoughts when we see our date’s bra strap?

  74. Jack on May 27, 2004 at 5:43 pm

    I have five daughters. (five daughters!) As they grow older it seems to me that there’s a more fundamental reason for their desires to dress according to current trends than to just being noticed. I think they don’t want to be left out. Teenagers are social animals. It irks me to the core when I think of the total disregard that advertisers (and those whom they represent) have for the effects of there profit seeking on youth. (let alone adults) I think the highest and best use of the “blame pie” would be to take the whole thing and shove in their faces – carve it up how ever you like. (sorry, I’m blowing off a little steam. I understand that it’s a much more complex issue than I make it out to be)

  75. Jack on May 27, 2004 at 5:43 pm

    I have five daughters. (five daughters!) As they grow older it seems to me that there’s a more fundamental reason for their desires to dress according to current trends than to just being noticed. I think they don’t want to be left out. Teenagers are social animals. It irks me to the core when I think of the total disregard that advertisers (and those whom they represent) have for the effects of there profit seeking on youth. (let alone adults) I think the highest and best use of the “blame pie” would be to take the whole thing and shove in their faces – carve it up how ever you like. (sorry, I’m blowing off a little steam. I understand that it’s a much more complex issue than I make it out to be)

  76. g on May 27, 2004 at 8:14 pm

    Scott,

    “…A person is morally responsible for the
    sin of another if…”

    I think your proposed legislation is precisely having it both ways because it attempts to make A responsible for B’s conduct. That makes sense if B is an automobile, or an automaton, but if B is a human with free will, then we suppose that B is capable of choosing to forego evil-doing.

    “…(i) acting with the kind of culpability required for the sin, he causes or aids an innocent or nonresponsible person to engage in sinful conduct…”

    So the first section of the statute you propose suggests that one caused another to do something that the the other was not caused to do (because if the other were caused to do it, then s/he didn’t choose to do it).

    “…(ii) acting with intent to promote or assist the commission of the sin, he solicits, encourages, directs, aids, or attempts to aid the other person to commit the sin…”

    The second section is, in essence, aiding and abetting. That seems to me to be an entirely acceptable rule of law, but it doesn’t mean in any moral sense that I’m familiar with that the actor “caused” the actions of another. If there were such cause, once again, there would be no basis for holding the one so caused accountable for something s/he could not have avoided.

    “…(iii) having a moral duty to prevent commission of the sin and acting with intent to promote or assist its commission, he fails to make a reasonable effort to prevent commission of the sin.”

    Your third alternative, presents several problems. First, it presupposes that one ever has a duty to *prevent* the sin of another. God has forsworn this duty. I can’t think that, having forsworn it, God would impose it on others. Second, it once again disregards the idea that the one to be prevented is engaged in moral agency — i.e., if I don’t stop you from sinning, your sin is my fault. And third, in certain cases, such as those Kaimi posited at the outset of this discussion, adopting such a rule is blaming the victim — you had a duty to prevent me from coveting/raping/stealing from you and you failed, so you are guilty of my sin.

    I’d oppose that kind of legislation.

  77. Gary Cooper on May 27, 2004 at 9:56 pm

    I was reminded just now of a rather humorous story that adds a twist to this discussion, and asks the question, “What does a woman do when she’s beauftiful and sexy no matter WHAT she wears?”

    Early in Marilyn Monroe’s career, a Hollywood executive is said to have stated, in the presence of her agent, “That girl would look good in a potato sack!” This gave her agent an idea, so sure enough, he came out with some publicity photos of Ms. Monroe in a potato sack! I have seen one of these photos, and yes, she did look very attractive…

    I remember that while I was in the mission field, I took a different tack than most of the other elders with regard to the sister missionaries’s looks. I had no hesitation about openly complementing the sisters on a nice dress, a new hair style, etc. That’s how I was before my mission and since, and is what I’ve always believed is appropriate behavior for a gentleman. The other elders treated such behavior with disdain (of course they didn’t bother to open doors for the sisters, or offer them their seats, or anything else, which I thought was atrocious on their part). While they would excuse themselves with, “Guard your heart, elder!”, this struck me as disingenuous cover for the fact that most of them, socially, acted as boors. What really seemed to be the problem, I think, is that they were uncomfortable with how to act around the sisters, as missionaries, especially the more attractive sisters, so they just treated them as “boys”, perhaps less than “boys”.

    Yes, I think a man can encounter a woman, notice in his mind that she is attractive, and leave it at that, without sinning. In fact, this is how I would expect a normal LDS man to act in the presence of an attractive woman. The problem seems to be what a man does beyond that. We live in a wicked world, and no matter what we might prefer, there are going to be times when righteous men encounter women who not dressed as they should be. God still expects us to maintain ourselves in righteousness. That, however does not excuse women who dress or act provacatively *deliberately* to tempt men.

    It is a shame that an honest man, well-meaning, has to be careful about complementing women in the church on their looks, because of the fear of being misunderstood, but still it’s a fact of life, and I for one have just learned to live with it. My wife and I often have discussions in which we’ll say, “Sister so-is very pretty.” “Yeah, she has really pretty eyes, but she’s a little bit too skinny”, etc., but of course my wife doesn’t think she needs to worry about me, yet I still would never say to that sister the positive things I might share about her with my wife, because while my wife would understand, the sister prpbably wouldn’t.

    In any case, the wickedness of our world tends to distort our way of communicating with and viewing of each other. Chivalry is misunderstood, boorishness is enshrined, and outright sinful hubris and false pride is rewarded. Maybe the Church needs to write a manual, “Church Sex Etiquette”. Hmmm….That might not fly, since the first line of Section 1 would probably say, “The word ‘sex’ is overused in our culture, so try to avoid using it.” oh well…

  78. Jack on May 28, 2004 at 12:25 am

    g: While scott’s ideas may not fly in court they make sense to me, in some ways, as a father. I think Scott’s more interested in the moral problems that are attendant to incouraging others to sin or not to sin (that ought to be the question). ok, bad pun. At any rate, when did the courts start caring about morality anyway?

  79. Sheri Lynn on May 28, 2004 at 2:42 am

    Gary Cooper is the first person ever to explain to me why I couldn’t join the church until I was 27. The young male missionaries who tried to teach me really WERE unable to treat me as just a Sister/investigator. They weren’t rude to me after all–they were afraid to get close enough to teach effectively. I didn’t see it! It took senior couple missionaries to reel me in–for a very good reason. They could just teach me. They weren’t worried about the proprieties that so hamstring the young elders.

    Now that I’m 39 and no longer cute, the young missionaries can be gallant and hold doors open for me and treat me like a human being. They didn’t change, like I thought they did–I did. I’m safe now. Hmmm.

  80. greenfrog on May 28, 2004 at 11:16 am

    Jack,

    As a practical matter, I think that I’d be foolish not to take into account how my own actions affect other people. I am convinced that they do.

    But that doesn’t persuade me that I can cause someone else to sin. Sin IMO is a function of free will. Again, IMO, we engage in actions all the time without the exercise of free will. I do not believe those actions to be sin, simply because I think sin occurs only through conscious choice.

    My comments above are intended to point out not that our behavior does not affect others, but that the extreme application of our doctrines (and our proclivity to label certain things as sin) don’t really match our experience and our individual beliefs.

  81. Scott on May 28, 2004 at 12:43 pm

    Greenfrog,

    The principles of liability I listed are a tight paraphrase of Section 7.02(a) of the Texas Penal Code, substituting the word “sin” for “offense” and “morally” for “criminally”. Look at the penal code for whatever state you live in and you’re likely to find similar provisions. The point of the exercise isn’t to set forth a rigorous formula for assessing moral blame, but merely to demonstrate that blaming a deliberate provocateur or instigator is consistent with the moral thinking underlying at least some of our laws–criminal law in this case.

    You write, “I think your proposed legislation is precisely having it both ways because it attempts to make A responsible for B’s conduct. That makes sense if B is an automobile, or an automaton, but if B is a human with free will, then we suppose that B is capable of choosing to forego evil-doing.”

    If that were true, there would be nothing wrong with being a drug dealer, since people are capable of choosing to forego drug use. There would be nothing wrong with being a pimp, since people can freely choose not to use the services of a prostitute. It would be no crime to be a hitman, since people can freely choose not to hire you. If there were no people freely choosing to use drugs, have sex for money, or put out contracts on people they dislike, then there would be no drug dealers and producers, prostitutes, pimps, or hitmen. That style of demand-side mania might make sense in the abstract. But it simply does not reflect the way we think about responsibility. We assign responsibility on the supply-side as well, as reflected in categories (i) and (ii) in the penal code paraphrase I previously posted.

    Of a subsection, you write, “Your third alternative, presents several problems. First, it presupposes that one ever has a duty to *prevent* the sin of another. God has forsworn this duty. I can’t think that, having forsworn it, God would impose it on others.”

    I’m not so sure that God is a principled, hands-off anarchist. But, even if he is, the Mormon Church and American government are not. We do believe in preventing (and punishing) at least some sins. (And, God notwithstanding, Mormons are more inclined than most to use the power of government to prevent sins. So far as I know, Utah hasn’t sent any Libertarians to Washington.) If God refuses to prevent murders, why should we? If God allows child molesters to go unmolested, why should we contain them? If God doesn’t rain hellfire on strip clubs, should we not do anything about them? That’s treating it at the societal level, of course. But, even at the individual level, we recognize responsibility to prevent the sins of others, in some circumstances. Law enforcement officers who, by their inaction, tacitly condone a crime in their presence would be blamed. But, to take it closer to home, what about children? Suppose you have a 9 year-old who often throws rocks through neighbors’ windows, shoplifts, or beats up smaller kids. Does the parent have no responsibility to prevent the child’s sins? What if a parent fails to properly teach a child right and wrong?

    Scott

  82. Jack on May 29, 2004 at 2:09 am

    I think there’s a problem here with meanings. A sin is not always a criminal offense. And to a lesser degree a criminal offense is not always a sin (a kid might get in trouble for stealing a piece of candy at the behest of a bully) It is true that we can’t make another person sin because we can’t force our intent upon them. But, we can *lead* them into sin. There are many examples of this in the scriptures and those that willfully do so will be held accountable. (the sins be upon the head of the parent, king, priest etc.)

  83. Sheri Lynn on May 29, 2004 at 3:58 pm

    Well, if we remember Uzzah, we know that intention and sin do not necessarily have much to do with one another. Uzzah meant no harm, in fact meant only good for the kingdom of God, but he nevertheless broke a commandment so important he was destroyed on the spot for breaking it. When a girl dresses provocatively and her parents permit it, even if they know not what they do, aren’t they just as guilty as Potiphar’s wife? Even if there isn’t a Joseph around to be a direct object of the action?

    What if that was the only time Potiphar’s wife was ever tempted? Does that change how we see her behavior, especially her cover-up of what she’d done afterward, and her misdirected anger at Joseph that caused her to bear false witness?

    Of course that is why we need an Advocate–to plead for us when we know not what we do. I do not however expect such intercession when we know what we do and willfully do it anyway.

  84. Intellecxhibitionist on May 26, 2004 at 6:42 pm

    The Economics of Modesty
    Over at T & S, Kristine started a discussion about modesty, which Kaimi then adapted to his own take on how it’s wrong to blame immodest women for the sins of ogling men. This is an argument that is fraught with weightier issues (woman provoked rape …