Are we less righteous?

August 6, 2004 | 81 comments
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We often speak about the unrighteousness of our generation and nation, but what do we mean by that? (See here and here.)

Historically speaking it isn’t obvious that North Americans or those on the Americas as a whole are particularly less righteous in sexual matters than were our ancestors. A little genealogy is usually a quick cure for those who think otherwise. Technology has made mass murder possible on a scale impossible before the twentieth century, but I don’t see strong evidence for a claim that we are more war-like than previous generations or nations. Here, too, doing one’s own genealogy is likely to confront one with the realization that our ancestors were often quite blood-thirsty, racist, etc. Or, if we take a comparative approach rather than historical one, and compare the situation as a whole in the Americas with the situation in various parts of Africa, the mid-East, Europe, and Asia, it is difficult to argue that we are more unrighteous than anyone else.

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81 Responses to Are we less righteous?

  1. Eric James Stone on August 6, 2004 at 8:00 pm

    > Historically speaking it isn’t obvious that
    > North Americans or those on the Americas as a
    > whole are particularly less righteous in sexual
    > matters than were our ancestors. A little
    > genealogy is usually a quick cure for those who
    > think otherwise.

    U.S. out-of-wedlock births in 1940: less than 5%
    U.S. out-of-wedlock births in 1998: over 30%

    http://www.heritage.org/Research/Welfare/images/rector0315cht3a.jpg

    Considering that abortion and the birth-control pill have made it much easier to avoid out-of-wedlock births now than in 1940, the claim that the level of sexual immorality is not higher now than in the past seems dubious.

  2. clarkgoble on August 6, 2004 at 8:30 pm

    While I agree with you Eric, the problem I have whenever that idea is brought up is the idea that righteousness is purely a measure of fornication.

    I can sometimes understand why non-Christians and even some Christians wonder about the US as being sex obsessed. i.e. it’s OK if you neglect the poor, promote violence, are selfish, destroy the environment, so long as you only have sex with your wife. Yeah I know that isn’t a fair characterization. However the way we treat the issue often leads to those mischaracterizations.

  3. Eric James Stone on August 6, 2004 at 9:15 pm

    Oh, I’m not saying that righteousness is only connected to sexual activity. Nor am I arguing that our overall level of morality is higher or lower than in the past.

    Also, I am not saying that there might not have been times or places in the past when the general level of sexual immorality was higher than it is now in the U.S.

    I’m just saying that it seems strange to argue that our current societal level of sexual immorality is not significantly higher than in the past, when it is reasonably apparent that it is significantly higher than it was sixty years ago.

  4. clark on August 6, 2004 at 9:43 pm

    The problem is, Eric, that there is more to sexual immorality than just fornication. For instance, what about adults using their power to obtain sex from children? How do we compare 1940 to say 1830? What about sexual relations within marriage.

    For that matter what do we mean by sexual morality? As I said, if we just mean fornication, then I agree. However I’d be loath to extrapolate from 1940 to earlier periods, simply because society was different.

  5. Heidi on August 6, 2004 at 10:14 pm

    Also, Eric, how many couples married real quick to avoid an out-of-wedlock birth in 1940? I know my great-grandparents did (somewhat pre-1940, but still).

  6. Eric James Stone on August 6, 2004 at 10:18 pm

    > The problem is, Eric, that there is more to
    > sexual immorality than just fornication.

    True. For example, there’s the problem of pornography.

    Is there anybody who can make the argument with a straight face that the problem of pornography is not worse now than it was sixty (or even ten) years ago?

    Sure, there may be some aspects of sexual immorality that are less prevalent now than they used to be. For example, I think that spousal rape is probably less common, because our society’s view of a man’s “rights” with his wife has changed.

    Maybe I’m wrong, but I thought it was pretty much a given that social acceptance of a behavior tended to make it more prevalent, and social disapprobation tended to make it less prevalent. And I think its hard to dispute that, in general, sexual behavior that is clearly against the law of chastity has become more socially acceptable in the United States over the last sixty years (and probably longer.)

  7. Eric James Stone on August 6, 2004 at 10:42 pm

    > Also, Eric, how many couples married real quick
    > to avoid an out-of-wedlock birth in 1940? I
    > know my great-grandparents did (somewhat pre-
    > 1940, but still).

    I don’t have the figures for that, but let’s use a little logic.

    Let’s assume for a moment that your implication is correct, and the explanation for today’s higher out-of-wedlock birth rate is due solely to the idea that it’s no longer necessary to get married before the baby is born. In other words, people have been fornicating and concieving their first child at a constant rate over the past sixty years, and the only difference is that they used to get married before the birth.

    Even granting that (ridiculous) assumption, since by definition sex outside of marriage violates the law of chastity, while sex inside of marriage in general does not (with whatever exceptions Clark would like to make), it’s clear that the rate of sexually immoral acts has increased over the past sixty years, just because the rate of marriage before childbirth decreased.

    Of course, there’s a lot more at work than a decline in shotgun weddings. I am merely illustrating the point that you can’t get rid of the increase in sexual immorality by using that decline as an explanation.

  8. Jim F. on August 7, 2004 at 12:03 am

    You can’t see my straight face, so you’ll have to take my word that I have one. I agree that there are problems today that are worse than they were. But I am skeptical that out of wedlock childbirth is as obvious as you take it to be. My data is only anecdotal, but it is not difficult to find a good number of ancestors with children born out of wedlock, multiple families (and they weren’t LDS plural marriages), abandoment of families, time in houses of prostitution (the estimate is that at least one-half of the Union Army had syphilis), etc. And, if as I suggested in the last sentence of my post, we take a comparative look, the U.S. seems (anecdotally again) to be no more promiscuous than most of the rest of the world and perhaps less than in many places.

    However, my point was not a point only about sexual morality. It was a point about morality in general.

  9. Eric James Stone on August 7, 2004 at 1:20 am

    Jim F.,

    > You can’t see my straight face, so you’ll have
    > to take my word that I have one.

    Well, that’s fine, because you didn’t claim the problem of pornography wasn’t worse now than it used to be.

    > However, my point was not a point only about
    > sexual morality. It was a point about morality
    > in general.

    I know that. And, as you mentioned, you were also talking about international comparison as well as historical.

    If you look at my original comment, you will see that I was responding to a specific assertion you made regarding comparative sexual morality over historical periods. Since you referenced doing geneology as something that would demonstrate that sexual morality is similar now to what it was in the past, presumably you were talking about out-of-wedlock births (although I guess you could also have been referring to birth dates less than nine months after marriage) as evidence of past sexual immorality.

    I’ve cited data that shows a more than 500% increase in out-of-wedlock births in the U.S. from 1940 to 1998. That is a significant change. A little anecdotal data about your ancestors doesn’t really counterbalance that, does it?

    I have not argued against your main point that it’s difficult to determine overall morality. We may be less moral in some areas, but more moral in others. For example, I would say that in the U.S., people are a lot less racist than they were sixty years ago. Now, maybe your geneological research turns up some non-racists in your family tree, but such anecdotal evidence doesn’t prove much when compared to the all the evidence of American racism in the 1940′s.

    Now maybe you don’t consider smoking as a moral issue, but it’s quite clear from the evidence that the percentage of smokers in U.S. society has gone down over the last few decades.

    If you want to argue that sexual morality today is no worse than it was in 1940, go ahead and present some evidence that’s more convincing than anecdotes.

  10. Jeremy on August 7, 2004 at 1:22 am

    I too think EJS is too quick to call Heidi’s assumption about out-of-wedlock birthrates “ridiculous.” While social acceptance might make some immoral activities more prevalent, social aversion to the discussion of some immoral activities can also makes them more prevalent. (Thus the late-arriving news, for example, of the extramarital children of Strom Thurmond, Thomas Jefferson, etc.)

    Imagine how much harder it would have been (was?) for a teenage girl thirty or forty years ago to tell her bishop that some churchgoing member of her family had abused her. How many families had that one uncle whose “problem” (say, alcoholism) was mentioned only euphemistically, or, more likely, never discussed at all.

    Also, I think many kids in the younger generation have their parents and grandparents beat in some regards — and I think they probably see a double standard when their elders, in talking about “good old-fashioned values,” refer to a time (the 50s?) when racism was openly espoused in many quarters and passively accomodated in many others, women were assumed to be idiots or compelled to act like them, children were punsihed by their dad’s belt or their teacher’s switch, the mentally ill were considered demonic, etc. etc. The Cleaver Family era was also the age in which the atomic bomb was developed; in which the government conducted the above-ground nuclear tests that they knew would give my dad, my uncle, and thousands of other Downwinders cancer; in which the world’s superpowers threatened each other with mutual nuclear annihilation.

    I also think younger generations are appalled at more seemingly benign kinds of negligence, which can be construed to varying degrees as forms of “unrighteousness,” that were culturally accepted in older generations: environmental contamination by large corporations, lack of product safety regulations, etc.

    This is not to say that I don’t freak out about drugs, porn, and sex, when I try to imagine my eldest son, now six, as a high school student. But I don’t know how unique I will be in that regard, historically speaking.

  11. Eric James Stone on August 7, 2004 at 1:33 am

    Jeremy,

    Heidi’s question was reasonable. The assumption I called ridiculous was not Heidi’s, it was an assumption I made for the purpose of examining the logic of the situation. I took the implication of her question to its logical extreme — what if shotgun weddings accounted for all of the difference in out-of-wedlock birthrates? I then explained how even if that were true (which is, in fact, a ridiculous assumption), sexual immorality still increased over the period.

    So, just to be clear, I was not saying that what Heidi said was ridiculous.

  12. Little Hans on August 7, 2004 at 1:39 am

    I just noticed that EJS’s out-of-wedlock birth data comes from the Heritage Foundation.

    Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s wrong, biased, or doctored, but it does mean we should take a good hard look at it before accepting it.

  13. Eric James Stone on August 7, 2004 at 2:07 am

    http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/tables/2003/03hus009.pdf

    That’s from the National Center for Health Statistics. The file is on the Centers for Disease Control website. It has data for 1970-2001, which just happens to match up with the Heritage Foundation chart’s numbers for 1970-1998. (Which is not that strange, considering the Heritage Foundation chart cites NCHS as the source of their data.)

    Now, of course, the Heritage Foundation may be lying about 1940-1969, as I didn’t find a file for that on the CDC website. Or maybe the 1970-2001 data is false, because the CDC and the NCHS are part of the vast right-wing conspiracy.

  14. Jack on August 7, 2004 at 3:59 am

    In our efforts to overcome the many forms of bigotry that have existed in the past, we’ve somehow managed to give birth to a new form of bigotry. Historical bigotry. I’m amazed at how we can so glibly pass the most damning judgements on our predecessors with out having the slightest notion of what their world view was really like.

  15. Heidi on August 7, 2004 at 12:49 pm

    Eric,
    Your interpretation of my question was what we in the legal profession call a strawman. And as you ably demonstrated, strawmen are notoriously easy to knock down.

    That said, my question was intended for thought purposes only, as statistics tend to be used by some to prove more than they actually do.

    (And Jeremy, thanks for the impassioned defense. It is difficult to keep tabs on one’s blog comments and get 8 hours of sleep at the same time.)

  16. Jack on August 7, 2004 at 1:46 pm

    Heidi: Following a path of logic to its extreme does not necessarily produce a “strawman”. If someone argued that an airplane travelling at the rate of 200 mph could punch a hole through a mountain, it would not be unreasonable for someone else to counter argue with something like “man, even if that airplane were going 10 thousand mph it could’nt punch a hole through that mountain!”. It is not my intention to imply that your arguement is as weak as the example I used above (though anyone is certainly free to judge it as such). However, regardless of its weakness or strength, it is not inappropriate for someone to challenge its logical merits – especially if it is done sincerely.

  17. Kay on August 7, 2004 at 1:47 pm

    After reading a book called something like the History of Courtship in America, I definately reformed my ideas about what it was like in “the good old days” in terms of sexual (mis)conduct. Although I definately agree that sexuality has gone up (I think it would be impossible not to, the way our media is completely sex-saturated), sex before marriage has always been a problem. I remember it being something like 30% of brides throughout American history in general were pregnant when they got married. I don’t remember the exact statistics, but they basically looked at how long from marriage to first child born. But in other topics as well, I found this book highly fascinating and it definately quelled some of my obviously wrong assumptions from the past. Perhaps things have never been as innocent as we assumed, although it seems they are definately not getting better.

    BTW – I think this was the book “Hands and Hearts: A History of Courtship in America” by Ellen K. Rothman

  18. Jack on August 7, 2004 at 2:04 pm

    Kay: Strangely, I find a bit of comfort in learning that the sacred past was rife with its own moral problems. However, I think one of the big differences between current morality (a slight oxy-moron) and that of the past, is that society in general did not consider pre-marital sex a virtue. Today, though it is not necessarily considered (by every quadrant of society) a virtue, it certainly is not considered a vice.

  19. Chris Grant on August 7, 2004 at 3:02 pm

    Eric James Stone wrote: “U.S. out-of-wedlock births in 1940: less than 5% U.S. out-of-wedlock births in 1998: over 30%”

    Little Hans replied: “I just noticed that EJS’s out-of-wedlock birth data comes from the Heritage Foundation. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s wrong, biased, or doctored, but it does mean we should take a good hard look at it before accepting it.”

    “The percent of births to unmarried women rose almost without interruption from 1940 (3.8 percent) to 1994 (32.6 percent).” (Stephanie J. Ventura and Christine A. Bachrach, “Nonmarital Childbearing in the United States, 1940–99″, National Vital Statistics: Reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Volume 48, Number 16, October 18, 2000, p. 2.)

  20. Jack on August 7, 2004 at 3:11 pm

    Chris: With a little post-sixties up-spike on the graph – to be sure. :)

  21. Chris Grant on August 7, 2004 at 3:14 pm

    Kay wrote: “I remember it being something like 30% of brides throughout American history in general were pregnant when they got married. I don’t remember the exact statistics”

    Of women whose first births occurred in 1930-1934, the percent whose first births were premarital or premaritally-conceived: 17.8%

    Of women whose first births occurred in 1990-1994, the percent whose first births were premarital or premaritally-conceived: 52.8%

    (Source: Amara Bachu, “Trends in Premarital Childbearing: 1930 to 1994″, Current Population Reports, U.S. Census Bureau, October 1999, p. 2.)

  22. Eric James Stone on August 7, 2004 at 3:17 pm

    Heidi,

    I’m aware of what a straw man argument is. As it happens, I have a law degree.

    I think Jack has ably demonstrated that I was not using a straw man argument.

    In looking back at what I said, I do see that I worded part of it a bit poorly, and for that I apologize. I did not mean to say that you were attributing the entire increase in out-of-wedlock births solely to a decline it shotgun wedding. Your implication — which I believe is true — was that some of the increase could be attributed to that. It was my choice to assume arguendo that that the entire increase was solely due to that, in order to focus on what effect that would have on the rate of sexual immorality.

  23. Kaimi on August 7, 2004 at 4:48 pm

    Eric,

    That’s a funny first line.

    “I’m aware of what a straw man argument is. As it happens, I have a law degree.”

    I know, you’re saying that we learn how _not_ to make straw man arguments in law school. But as phrased (maybe it’s just me) it seems to be saying:

    “I’m aware of what a straw man argument is. As it happens, I have a law degree. We have _classes_ at law school teaching us how to make straw man arguments. And believe me, if anyone knows how to make a straw man, it’s an attorney!”

    :)

  24. Eric James Stone on August 7, 2004 at 7:18 pm

    Kaimi, I only mentioned my law degree in relation to the starw man argument because Heidi said, “Your interpretation of my question was what we in the legal profession call a strawman.”

  25. Keith on August 7, 2004 at 7:58 pm

    I agree that if we look closely at history, it is hard to see that we are any less (or more) righteous than those of another time. This would be make sense especially if we speak of ‘we’ in global terms.

    But I’m still being nagged by the thought that we, in global terms, have been more highly blessed than many, if not most, ages of history (blessed with things that can allow for much good to be done, both personally and collectively). So if we are turning away from good as others have done, isn’t there a sense in which we have turned away from more and so are less righteous and under greater condemnation? Certainly if that doesn’t fit the world in general, it does fit the saints more. Having received so much, though we may not keep exact pace with the world, we tend to move downward with them in what we do and what we see as acceptable behavior.

    Having given that rather negative evaluation, I do note that I think Latter-day Saints are in a position to do more “law of consecration” kind of good than we have ever been and that much more is being done in this way. Think, for instance, of the variety of ways there are to give now, just on the donation slips alone. Of course, this is not the sole measurement of righteousness, and both personal and collective righteousness are not measurable in many aspects (which may mean aspects of wickedness are not measurable as well).

  26. Jack on August 7, 2004 at 8:40 pm

    Keith, I think you make a good point about being greatly blessed as a society. While it does put us in a position to do greater good, it also imposes greater temptation. There is a constant bombardment of sleeze and filth from the media. A constant tug toward acquiring more wealth and status because of the nature and construct of our “blessed” society. A constant lulling into carnal security because of technology… yahdah, yahdah. I think its quite a trick to stay focused on God while living in the land of bountiful.

  27. Jim F. on August 8, 2004 at 1:58 am

    I like Keith’s way of dealing with the question: two curves, that graphing our righteousness and that graphing our blessedness. Regardless of how steeply downward the first curve slopes (and I was suggesting that perhaps its slope wasn’t as steep as we assume), the distance between the two curves is becoming greater.

  28. Ethesis (Stephen M) on August 8, 2004 at 2:03 am

    Well, I lived on military bases and in Las Vegas while growing up. I’d say in some circles there was a lot of sex and a lot of drug use, but we did not have clubs where the price of admission was giving oral sex in the stair wells.

    Society swings back and forth, but the media appears to be freezing the swing right now in some areas.

    Interesting to see what happens with movies and television in terms of freezing a specific ethos into place.

    Not that I don’t appreciate the desire of those in entertainment to mainstream their behavior.

    I’m really hoping to see people do something for the “lost boys” and to see growing charity.

    We will see.

  29. john fowles on August 8, 2004 at 4:46 pm

    I appreciate this discussion but I think we are so far overlooking some of the more alarming trends in society that are resulting directly from our steady diet of raunchy pornography and glamorization of sex. What was disdainfully considered as a “prurient interest in sex” a couple of decades ago is considered the norm now.

    Jim: if you have teenage kids I would advise you to ask them what they know about “hooking up.” This might not be a huge problem in UT, but it apparently is a growing problem in much of the rest of the country. Kids see themselves as too busy today to have dating relationships, so they are resorting to “hooking up.” This term does not mean what it used to mean when I was in high school. Now when you “hook up” it means that since you are too busy to date, you just pick someone you think is good-looking and hook up with them for a few minutes at or after school, i.e. oral sex or even worse. That’s how important sex is to many people today–it’s just a biological function like going to the bathroom or blowing your nose. It’s just flesh, no real importance, kind of like a fetus in the mother’s womb.

    I think it is wrong to say that society has always been this sex-obsessed but it merely kept quite about it. Sexual morality is not the only indicator, as has been noted, but how can we ignore the signs of the times when people are proudly announcing their own perversions from the rooftops? Things are bad, very, very bad–I don’t see the point in sugar-coating things. Society might not quite be to the point where people are willing to rape male angels (see Sodom and Gomorrah), but just look at the sex offenders and what they do. It is disgusting.

    Jack wrote: Kay: Strangely, I find a bit of comfort in learning that the sacred past was rife with its own moral problems. However, I think one of the big differences between current morality (a slight oxy-moron) and that of the past, is that society in general did not consider pre-marital sex a virtue. Today, though it is not necessarily considered (by every quadrant of society) a virtue, it certainly is not considered a vice.

    This was a good point: I would go further to say that in circles that consider themselves “progressive,” pre-marital sex, especially for women, is indeed considered a virtue because it signifies that women are “in control of their own sexuality,” i.e. that their dads aren’t oppressing them into not having sex until the dad can sell them off to the highest bidder by giving her away in marriage (this was actually how marriage was described by my torts professor). It discourages me to see that many people, even in LDS circles, aren’t willing to see this disintegration of the moral fabric of our entire society, as evidenced by the sexual morality issue.

    I wanted to comment also on one other aspect of Jack’s comment. “I find a bit of comfort in learning that the sacred past was rife with its own moral problems.” I can second this sentiment, but it has always bothered me. When I was in high school, something that bothered me about reading the BoM was that it gave me this sense of comfort because I knew I wasn’t nearly as bad as the BoM people, e.g. when the BoM reports of how the Nephites raped, tortured, and cannibalized the Lamanite prisoner women and children (and ditto for the Lamanites). This thought would strike me continually as I read the BoM in seminary and for personal reading, but it bothered me that I was settling for a “they have it worse than us so we can feel good” type of attitude. And as I got older, I realized that I was mistaken in high school: the BoM people were not necessarily any worse than we are. For instance, what is worse–killing someone else’s children or killing your own children? Human sacrifice or abortion? Subordination of women or objectification/reification of women through pornography? With the death toll from abortion over 40 million now in the US alone, I would say the scale tips toward us being the more bloodthirsty, selfish, sex obsessed, and violent.

    But even if the BoM people were indeed worse than we are (and hence were destroyed), I still find it morally questionable to take solace in the fact that we are not as bad as they were. It is like taking comfort in your neighbor’s failures because they make your own failures seem less prominent.

    How can anyone who is observing the signs of the times argue that we have not already reached the point where the practice of calling evil good and good evil is extremely widespread?

  30. Jim F. on August 9, 2004 at 3:02 am

    John Fowles and others: I’m quite willing to grant that sexual immorality is rampant, though I’m surprised that John thought we have been overlooking it on this thread. It is, after all, the topic of most of the responses. And I wasn’t denying that “the practice of calling evil good and good evil is extremely widespread.” But I read a lot of history and know quite a bit about my genealogy (anecdotal evidence, to be sure Eric James Stone, but not irrelevant, since I assume that my family is representative of many families).

    The more I read history and the more I look at my genealogy, the less convinced I am that North Americans are generally less righteous than previous generations. Nor are we generally less righteous than most other inhabitants on the earth. That is why I asked what it can mean to say that we are.

    It seems to me that Keith’s answer is the most reasonable explanation: whatever our degree of unrighteousness, we are certainly more blessed, and “where much is given, much is required” (D&C 82:3). Even if our commandment-breaking remained at a constant level over time, the blessings we have received would make us more unrighteous than we were previously.

  31. Geoff B on August 9, 2004 at 10:31 am

    In speaking about the righteousness and unrighteousness of a generation, it seems to me there are two aspects that are not getting the attention in this debate that they should: 1)The general degradation of the culture in terms of what we see as entertainment and 2)The 40 million-plus innocent deaths that our government (s) have allowed to happen in abortion clinics since 1973. From the perspective of, say, Isaiah, or Enoch, the thought that we would sit meekly for two hours and watch sex, violence and profanity and then calmly walk home must seem expecially depraved. The same applies to the seemingly serene and heartless manner in which we conveniently allow the excising of innocent lives from womens’ wombs. It is not difficult to see how from an eternal perspective our generation is especially unrighteous.

  32. john fowles on August 9, 2004 at 11:30 am

    Jim: I wasn’t saying that you all had overlooked sexual immorality, but I was saying that if you think that we are not less righteous now than previous generations, you are definitely overlooking some very clear and real developments, such as internet pornography, the existence of which makes me wonder how anyone can think that we are not less righteous. Sure, some people in your ancestry were racist, sexually immoral, had kids out of wedlock, maybe even murdered some people. That is a complete distraction, though, to the issue at hand. They were not huddled in front of a computer gaping at hard core pornography every night. The pornography problem is getting worse rapidly as time goes by. In my email box I get spam emails announcing the newest rape and incest porn sites; the newest porn featuring women with animals as if this sort of thing is perfectly normal now. Please, you cannot maintain that this is not much, much worse than anything that the sinners in your genealogy could have possibly imagined.

    Geoff B.: ditto. My previous post was quite long, so you might not have read it entirely, but that was my point exactly–our pornographic, ultra-violent entertainment and our infant holocaust.

  33. diogenes on August 9, 2004 at 2:40 pm

    I don’t want to minimize the tragedy or ubiquity of abortion in our current society, but much as in Jim F.’s response on sexual immorality, a little serious historical research suggests that abortion and, worse, outright infantacide, were very widely and pervasively practiced by previous generations.

    I think it takes a special kind of narcissism to assert the enormity of our crimes over those of any other epoch (a little like the denizens of Hell in James Branch Cabell’s Jurgen, who ran the poor devils ragged, demanding more torture and punishment in accordance with their over-inflated estimations of their own earthly villany.) The “Saturday’s Warrior” mythos of “God saved the best for last” to some extent feeds this kind of warped hubris, but a lot of it just seems to be historical myopia.

  34. Last_lemming on August 9, 2004 at 3:56 pm

    To those linking our righteousness to the prevalence abortion…

    Does the 17% decline since 1990 in the absolute number of abortions per year in the US say anything about our righteousness?

    How about the 25% decline since 1981 in the ratio of abortions to live births?

    (see http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/policy/abortion/ab-unitedstates.html for underlying data.)

  35. greenfrog on August 9, 2004 at 3:57 pm

    In my view, it is a form of ancestor worship that at its best inflates my sense of my own righteousness and at worst leads me to withdraw from ministering to those in need.

    There are real people suffering real consequences in many parts of the world today. The fact that the tiny percentage of the world’s population that has access to the Internet have encountered sin on the Net says almost nothing about the rest of reality, either today or in prior eras.

    Please, you cannot maintain that this is not much, much worse than anything that the sinners in your genealogy could have possibly imagined.

    As I believe my genealogy extends not for a mere six thousand years, but rather for billions, I’m highly confident that events occurring in as short a span as my life are extraordinarily unlikely to be the most- [insert any adjective you might wish other than technologically developed].

    Perhaps to take this a slightly different direction, since I think that the divergence of views is pretty well established at this point, for those who view the world as more wicked (or, in Jim’s preferred formulation, more divergent from the position on the curve of blessedness) than any other, what utility does that belief have? Are there particular conclusions regarding how we live that we should draw from those beliefs?

  36. Chris Grant on August 9, 2004 at 4:27 pm

    John Fowles wrote: ‘Please, you cannot maintain that this is not much, much worse than anything that the sinners in your genealogy could have possibly imagined.’

    greenfrog replied: ‘As I believe my genealogy extends not for a mere six thousand years, but rather for billions, I’m highly confident that events occurring in as short a span as my life are extraordinarily unlikely to be the most- [insert any adjective you might wish other than technologically developed].’

    Unless you think (literal) pond scum is capable of sinning, it’s hard to see how the allegedly billion-year length of your genealogy is relevant to John’s contention.

  37. Jack on August 9, 2004 at 4:31 pm

    “Even if our commandment-breaking remained at a constant level over time, the blessings we have received would make us more unrighteous than we were previously.”

    Doesn’t this make God a little capricious? Aren’t blessings predicated upon some kind of righteousness?

    On one hand, I think we have to factor in the added weight of trial that comes with the blessing of prosperity. If the trial is greater, then God’s grace will be greater. On the other hand, If we are receiving blessings and then abusing them, then our condemnation will be greater. Thus, what we have is division. We are headed for a day of separation – a “great and terrible day”.

  38. clark on August 9, 2004 at 4:41 pm

    As I said, I’m more that willing to acknowledge that fornication is greater now than in the recent past in America. Ditto with pornography. However I wonder why we exclude things like chld abuse, marrying of young women (i.e. younger than 18 by people in their late 20′s or older), rape, and many other matters.

    I think this thread demonstrates that when we speak about wickedness we, in the church, immediately focus in on immodesty and fornication. I agree those are bad. But we then downplay or ignore economic wickedness, class separation, pride, stealing, violence, destruction of environment and much else. In some of those we are better than the past and in others we are worse.

    Certainly murder and death by violence is amazingly low right now. And, I’d say, that is among the worst kind of wickedness.

  39. greenfrog on August 9, 2004 at 4:49 pm

    Chris Grant: I’ve been taught that both my pond scum-based DNA of today — as well as my pond scum genealogy of the past — have the potential to have joy in our existence. I understand joy to be a function of moral agency, however vanishingly small the degree thereof may be.

    But to my question, what is the utility of the contrary belief?

  40. Geoff B on August 9, 2004 at 5:26 pm

    There are certainly individual statistics that may show things getting temporarily better in certain areas. For example, there may be fewer murders from one year to another. I’m sure that was the case in Noah’s time as well. But, again, where do we stand as an entire society? Let’s hear from somebody who knows better than anybody else on this board, an apostle of the Lord:

    “The world is spiraling downward at an ever-quickening pace. I am sorry to tell you it will not get better,” President Packer, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said from the Conference Center.
    “I know of nothing in the history of the church or in the history of the world to compare with our present circumstances. Nothing happened in Sodom and Gomorrah which exceeds the wickedness and depravity which surrounds us now.”
    Satan, he said, uses every intrigue to disrupt families. “The sacred relationship between man and woman, husband and wife, through which mortal bodies are conceived and life is passed to the next generation, is being showered with filth.”
    Profanity, vulgarity, blasphemy and pornography, President Packer said, “are broadcast into the homes and minds of the innocent. Unspeakable wickedness, perversion and abuse — not even exempting little children — once hidden in dark places, now seeks protection from courts and judges.

    The prosecution rests.

    The entire story can be read at:

    http://deseretnews.com/dn/view/0,1249,595045832,00.html

  41. greenfrog on August 9, 2004 at 5:32 pm

    Geoff B — Does President Packer suggest the utility of this particular belief?

    Also, FWIW, I think that the talk you have referenced should be understood in the context of Elder Packer’s subsequent address at the last General Conference which, to my ear at least, sounded like a retraction of the remarks you have referenced.

  42. Chris Grant on August 9, 2004 at 5:42 pm

    Greenfrog: I’ve heard similar things but can’t say that I understand them. How does a sinful molecule differ from a righteous molecule? In any case, if pond scum has only a vanishingly small amount of moral agency, it’s hard to see how a generation of ancestry that is heavy on the pond scum could be more sinful than a generation of humans.

    As for the utility of belief in the wickedness of our current generation, the most obvious utility would be that if it is a true belief it cautions us against adopting the moral standards of contemporary society. <Insert obligatory Alexander Pope quote and story about slow-boiling (green?)frogs.>

  43. Chris Grant on August 9, 2004 at 5:53 pm

    Greenfrog wrote: ‘Elder Packer’s subsequent address at the last General Conference . . . sounded like a retraction of the remarks you have referenced.’

    You mean the address in which he said things like:

    “We live in dangerously troubled times.”

    “The values that steadied mankind in earlier times are being tossed away.”

    “The moral values upon which civilization itself must depend spiral downward at an ever-increasing pace.”

  44. john fowles on August 9, 2004 at 5:56 pm

    Greenfrog wrote: Perhaps to take this a slightly different direction, since I think that the divergence of views is pretty well established at this point, for those who view the world as more wicked (or, in Jim’s preferred formulation, more divergent from the position on the curve of blessedness) than any other, what utility does that belief have? Are there particular conclusions regarding how we live that we should draw from those beliefs?

    There is a lot of utility to this belief:

    (1) As a member of the Church, you had better refrain from partaking of the salacious filth that is drowning our society;

    (2) As Jack pointed out, a great and terrible separation is coming; we must prepare for it with food storage and strengthening testimonies as a spiritual storage. We will need the extra spiritual strength because I believe that, like the innocents who burned in Ammonihah, just because we are members of the Church, we will not be spared immense suffering together with the rest of a society that has desecrated the sanctity of human life through the reification of sex, which as President Packer pointed out our courts and political system protect, and through the normalization and acceptance of abortion, which strikes at the very core of human life. It seems that sins against life are considered the most grevious of sins, e.g. murder and adultery/fornication (i.e. the means for creating life), and that is a huge indictment on our current society. Thus, when society finally calls down the wrath of God, as in Sodom and Gomorrah, the suffering that even the faithful will have to endure will likely cause many to lose their testimonies and question why God hasn’t spared them.

    Let’s turn the question around greenfrog. What is the utility of the belief that we are no worse now than previous generations? Should it cause us to say “all is well in Zion”?

    Also, one clarification: my incredulity on this issue stems from the assertions that since out-of-wedlock births, infanticide, murder, etc. all took place in our ancestors’ generations, any allegations that our current society is more unrighteous are misplaced. It seems both a useless claim and also consciously blind to the “downward spiral” that President Packer mentioned in his conference talk.

    Yes, there is still much good in the world. The developments in our current society that have enabled such an exponential increase in evil and the normalization of abomination over previous generations has also made much good possible. In some things society has improved, as Clark points out above. But of what use is congratulating ourselves on those items when the rest of the picture looks very bleak and the signs of the time are demonstrating themselves more clearly than ever each year?

  45. Little Hans on August 9, 2004 at 6:17 pm

    “I know of nothing in the history of the church or in the history of the world to compare with our present circumstances.”

    I don’t doubt that Elder Packer believes the situation is worse than ever before, and desires to warn us about all the bad things that are happening around us. That’s his job, and we should certainly take the warning seriously.

    But that’s not really the question, is it? Given that Elder Packer is not, shall we say, the sharpest knife in the drawer, the fact that he “knows of nothing” equally bad in past history doesn’t mean that there wasn’t anything equally bad in past history.

  46. Geoff B on August 9, 2004 at 6:23 pm

    Greenfrog, to answer your question directly, I agree with Chris Grant’s posts and John Fowles’ posts. No need to be repetitive.

  47. Jared on August 9, 2004 at 6:23 pm

    Clark: if we tend to have a knee-jerk focus on sexual immorality and modesty, the most likely reason I can think of is the fact that immodest and immoral images are thrust upon us wherever we roam on our 42-inch high-definition plasma screen T.V. (which I don’t personally own but confess to coveting). Television, as we all know, has only been around for the last 2 generations.

    There is also the links demonstrated between sexual immorality and many of the societal ills you mention, such as child abuse, disease and certainly poverty (although I’ll concede such studies have correlation/causation logical flaws)

    Also, regardless of statistics, the extent to which modern popular culture promotes the notion that pre-marital sex is not only acceptable but desirable is certainly a troubling change from prior generations.

  48. john fowles on August 9, 2004 at 6:43 pm

    Jared makes a really good point. I would add that in addition to the degree that society is worse now (in my opinion at least–Jim, I know that you think your ancestors were pretty much as bad as it gets), the openness of the wickedness is a huge difference from previous epochs in history. We are in a period in which people proudly announce their depravity from their rooftops, so to speak, or at least through their own webcams or their consumption choices.

    Not only that, but society is insisting more and more on teaching such immorality in schools in the interest of putting kids in tune with their sexuality (so as to prevent any possible “homosexual” from being sexually oppressed) rather than in tune with an ounce of self-discipline or discernment. I am not saying our schools should try to teach religious values or religious morals (as a Latter-day Saint who doesn’t want his kids to be indoctrinated with the relativistic and self-serving morals of the evangelical majority I simply can’t support such instruction in public schools), but rather that the schools should refrain from encouraging promiscuity and immoral behavior which the schools do when they reinforce in the minds of the children that there is no right or wrong or good and evil, just light and darkness, disease (sickness) and health, pleasure and pain (a kind of Nietzscheian approach in which the good/evil dichotomy is exposed as false and replaced with the more humanistic notion that the kids will be fine if they just experiment early with their sexuality–but on the one condition that they do it “safely”).

  49. diogenes on August 9, 2004 at 6:48 pm

    Jared writes: “Also, regardless of statistics, the extent to which modern popular culture promotes the notion that pre-marital sex is not only acceptable but desirable is certainly a troubling change from prior generations.”

    I’m afraid that this is a good example of the historical myopia I mentioned before. There are quite a number of instances of prior generations where where pre-marital sex was considered not only acceptable and desireable but even actually required (the !Kung peoples in Africa, for example, and certain examples in Colonial America). Some prior generations wanted to make certain the couple was fertile before they endorsed a wedding.

  50. Geoff B on August 9, 2004 at 7:11 pm

    Diogenes, with all due respect, you are making the mistake of equating the relatively minor actions of small segments of society with the activities of today’s educated elites, who are the primary opinion-makers in our society. There have always been small groups who have promoted sexual immorality within societies (or small societies dominated by immorality). The issue is: what is the acceptable range of discourse in a large, influential society such as the West (US and Europe). By any standard, the acceptable range of discourse has fallen to new lows because of the depravity of entertainment (promoted by the elites), pornography (tolerated and sometimes promoted by elites), use of language, acceptability and promotion of sexual experimentation (promoted by elites).

    The BoM has something to say on this issue: Mosiah 29:26-27:

    “It is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right…and if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgements of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he has hitherto visited this land.”

    The elites in this country are choosing iniquity and trying to foist their view of morality upon the rest of us. We can see from the above what will happen if they are successful.

  51. greenfrog on August 9, 2004 at 7:18 pm

    There is a lot of utility to this belief:

    (1) As a member of the Church, you had better refrain from partaking of the salacious filth that is drowning our society;

    Did you suppose that prior to learning of your opinion of historical moral practices, I believed that I should be partaking of salacious filth? If that was your concern, you may rest at ease. I’ve always thought that salacious filth should be avoided. Heck — I’m a Puritan about such matters. I think that even the non-salacious filth should be avoided.

    (2) As Jack pointed out, a great and terrible separation is coming; we must prepare for it with food storage and strengthening testimonies as a spiritual storage.

    Given that I love my brothers and sisters, it seems to me that I should already be engaged in caring for them and helping them to the extent of my abilities. It seems to me that I should already be complying with the prophets’ directives regarding food storage, whether or not your rather dire views come to pass. And it seems to me that I should always be strengthening my testimony, without regard to what the future may hold.

    We will need the extra spiritual strength because I believe that, like the innocents who burned in Ammonihah, just because we are members of the Church, we will not be spared immense suffering together with the rest of a society that has desecrated the sanctity of human life through the reification of sex, which as President Packer pointed out our courts and political system protect, and through the normalization and acceptance of abortion, which strikes at the very core of human life.

    That’s a very long sentence. I won’t try to address everything in it (I’m not even sure what the reification of sex means, but it sounds dicey). Suffice it to say that it doesn’t sound to me so far like the belief in the impending doom of society really leads to any different conclusions about what more I should be doing today than just living the gospel as best I can.

    It seems that sins against life are considered the most grevious of sins, e.g. murder and adultery/fornication (i.e. the means for creating life), and that is a huge indictment on our current society. Thus, when society finally calls down the wrath of God, as in Sodom and Gomorrah, the suffering that even the faithful will have to endure will likely cause many to lose their testimonies and question why God hasn’t spared them.

    So what does all of that doom-saying tell me I should do differently?

    Let’s turn the question around greenfrog. What is the utility of the belief that we are no worse now than previous generations? Should it cause us to say “all is well in Zion”?

    I think that one only gets to this statement (notwithstanding the favorite hymn) by sticking one’s head deeply into the sand. For example, I see the AIDS crisis in Africa that has deprived a number of countries of upwards of 1/3rd of an entire generation requiring the utmost effort that we who seek to build Zion have. I see the startling numbers of prison inmates on drug charges in our country as a terrible indictment of our society’s management of the situation. Perhaps there are things that we, as Saints seeking to build Zion, can do where others without such spiritual resources have failed. I see the enormous disparities of wealth across the globe as reason for the greatest of concern and attention of the Saints, especially in light of the Book of Mormon’s teachings. I see the ongoing modification of the environment and climate as threatening not only to the lives of my children, but also, in the long term, to international stability. Those of us who believe we are stewards for God should seek solutions to the competing demands of industrial advancement and environmental preservation. I see the dependence of most national economies on continued growth as, effectively, a Ponzi scheme banked on the future; a situation that our understanding of Zion ought to enlighten.

    I think that we as Saints ought to have ideas about these problems that, IMO, loom much larger than dealing with salacious filth that is accessible to the tiny percentage of the world preoccupied by the Internet. The grievous harms to entire societies presented by these threats merit the attention and effort of all of God’s children.

    So no, I don’t think that you should conclude that all is well in Zion. So what is the utility of the belief that we are no worse now than previous generations?

    Just this: by seeing our progress clearly, we can have hope and confidence that we can make the future better than our past has been. Perhaps that view is not moving for some. But if I viewed the world as Elder Packer described it in his law society address, I would find little reason to engage on the enormously important issues I outlined above. I would be more inclined to seal up my ark with my family and wait for the rains to wipe out the heathens.

    Is that ark-building a necessary outcome of a vision of a doomed world? Nope, probably it isn’t. Perhaps such doom-saying creates such temptation only in me. But that’s the way it affects me. And I’ve encountered it frequently enough in conjunction with an “us vs. them” mentality that I’ve come to suspect that they are interrelated. And, so far as I can tell, throughout the scriptures, we’re constantly being reminded that us is them; hence, our mutual need for a Savior.

    Finally, I think the harm of such a view point is captured pretty well in a story about my ancestors’ arrival in southern Utah. When they got there, they asked Brigham Young if they really ought to be planting cherry tree orchards, since it would take so many years before the cherry tree starts would bear fruit, and since it was plainly evident that the world was coming to an end shortly. Pres. Young simply suggested that they proceed with planting the cherry trees.

    I have found similar doom-saying in some of Paul’s epistles, suggesting that Christ’s return was imminent, predicting the supernatural destruction of wickedness, advising people not to marry, calling woes upon women who would be breastfeeding their infants because they would not be able to flee. Paul’s advice, as well intended as it was, may have led people to “build their arks” rather than try to care for their brothers and sisters around them.

    My ancestors were inclined to avoid planting cherry trees because of a similar belief.

    Rather than choosing to withdraw from the world, I understand my commitment to building Zion to be one of engaging compassionately to make the world a better place. Can others reach the same conclusion while understanding the historical facts to be different? Surely. But I keep thinking about those cherry trees…

  52. Bryan Warnick on August 9, 2004 at 7:20 pm

    I agree with Jim that the world seems no more evil now than in previous generations. What is interesting to me is how moral strictness in one area can sometimes in itself breed moral laxity elsewhere. Think of Hawthorne’s novel, The Scarlet Letter. In seems that moral strictness with regard to sexuality in this novel contributed to moral laxity in other areas of life. Indeed, it seems that the very rigidity of sexual mores contributed to a moral laxity in which sins like cruelty and pride were prominent. In my opinion, this sort of thing happens all the time. Thus, it is difficult for me to say that the world is more depraved now than in other time periods — we just bounce from one rigid stance to another.

  53. Bryan Warnick on August 9, 2004 at 7:24 pm

    I agree with Jim that the world seems no more evil now than in previous generations. What is interesting to me is how moral strictness in one area can sometimes in itself breed moral laxity elsewhere. Think of Hawthorne’s novel, The Scarlet Letter. In seems that moral strictness with regard to sexuality in this novel contributed to moral laxity in other areas of life. Indeed, it seems that the very rigidity of sexual mores contributed to a moral laxity in which sins like cruelty and pride were prominent. In my opinion, this sort of thing happens all the time. Thus, it is difficult for me to say that the world is more depraved now than in other time periods — we just bounce from one rigid stance to another.

  54. john fowles on August 9, 2004 at 8:20 pm

    greenfrog: I have found similar doom-saying in some of Paul’s epistles, suggesting that Christ’s return was imminent, predicting the supernatural destruction of wickedness, advising people not to marry, calling woes upon women who would be breastfeeding their infants because they would not be able to flee. Paul’s advice, as well intended as it was, may have led people to “build their arks” rather than try to care for their brothers and sisters around them.

    Ark-building or not (interestingly, what would you have done while Noah built his ark?), Paul’s “doom saying” will still come to pass. His vision extended into the last days, which we are currently in. It is not our fault if Paul’s contemporaries misinterpreted him and believed he was referring to their day.

    Anyway, what I get from your long paragraph outlining the ills of our modern world (listing everything on the current social agenda, from corporations to the environment, to unequal income distribution, except of course the disintegration of anything resembling a moral code that transcends anything more than mere humanism) is that you agree that the world is worse now than in the past. The difference is that you seem to think I want to build an ark instead of helping the Africans. I’m not sure what about my endorsement of fortifying our food storages and our testimonies indicated I wanted to build an ark and sail away.

    You specifically asked what the utility was of calling a spade a spade in our errant society. I answered that we need to refocus our energies on following the prophet by preparing for the separation that will come. I didn’t say it was coming tonight at 5:00 pm or even tomorrow morning. Your reply that we should already be doing those things made me suspect your sincerity in asking what the utility of recognizing the wickedness of our society is. If I had answered that we need to go help the Africans instead of saying that we need to continue in obedience to the commandments and not besmudge ourselves with the works of the world, you would have been satisfied. In other words, the only recourse that to you has utility is exactly what you wanted to hear. Those of us who take the signs of the times as reminders to be rigteous in our own personal lives are inferior beings because you are already doing all those things. But it is true–you are a fantastic example; all I can say is that once I get my level of personal righteousness up to the point that I am sure I won’t be burned with the chaff, then I will probably move to Africa and help all the AIDS victims. But right now that would be unjust to my wife and kids (but of course, it’s probably sexist to suggest that my wife and kids depend on me for their support–if I did move to Africa and try to eliminate the unequal income distribution, my wife could certainly work in her profession and support the kids 100% on her own).

    In short, I’m not sure what about my earlier statements led you to think of the cherry trees–I certainly would never advocate dropping all activity and moving into the bomb shelter just because I think we will soon be obliterated because of our actions. Quite the opposite, we will still be marrying and giving in marriage when the time comes. Whether we are wiped out with the wicked as a pragmatic matter, despite our righteousness, or whether the Lord protects us by some miracle is in the Lord’s will. The important thing is to maintain a level of personal righteousness so that whether it happens in five minutes or thirty years, we will not be disadvantaged in our standing with God. I have a lot to work on there, and so that is the utility of such a realization for me.

  55. greenfrog on August 9, 2004 at 8:49 pm

    *toweling off the sarcasm dripping from the above*

  56. Jack on August 9, 2004 at 10:23 pm

    greenfrog said: So what is the utility of the belief that we are no worse now than previous generations? Just this: by seeing our progress clearly, we can have hope and confidence that we can make the future better than our past has been.

    I like this point of view. It smacks of post-millennialism which, if I had to make a choice, I would prefer over pre-millennialism for the simple reason that greenfrog offers – that “we can have hope and confidence that we can make the future better…”.

    Yes the scriptures speak of a day of separation, but do we really know precisely how or when that will come about? Some of us thought we had a pretty good idea as to how and when the priesthood would be extended to all worthy males. Some thought the civil war was the end of the world. Likewise WWI, WWII and on and on…

    But, while the hearts of so many were failing, the kingdom was rolling forward. And so it will continue according to Daniel’s prophecy. It will fill the whole earth at some point – having overcome all other social/political/ecclesiastical powers.

    Doesn’t this give us a good reason to be positive? It is my opinion that the world is terribly wicked in many ways (which ways have been innumerated on this thread already), but it is also better than it has ever been in so many ways. It seems to me that there must be a possibility that the gospel will prevail in the world. Otherwise, why do anything other than hunker-down in our bomb shelter and wait for the end to come?

  57. Kaimi on August 9, 2004 at 10:45 pm

    I’m with Jim. We’re in a post-Communist, post-Nazi, post-slavery world.

    Let’s see, which was worse, the slave trade, or porn on the internet? I’d have to give that one to the slave trade.

    Which was worse, Stalin’s purges or an increase in out-of-wedlock births? Give that round to Stalin.

    Which was worse, the Holocaust or sex on TV? I’d say the Holocaust.

    Which was worse, Janet Jackson’s boob or Mao’s collectictivization? Britney Spears’ belly button, or the Khmer Rouge?

    In the grand scheme of things, and considering all of the evil that we’ve seen in the last century alone, sex ed and internet porn don’t make the list.

  58. Jack on August 9, 2004 at 10:53 pm

    Having shared some of my positive feelings in my last comment, I would like to add that, as a father of five girls (and one son), I am deeply concerned about the moral decay that is so prevalent in our society. I would hope that we wouldn’t glibly toss it in to the general catagory of “there’s nothing new in all that”. IMO it is major part of the desolating sickness that is covering the earth, and will play a major role in the down-fall of the west unless we wise up.

  59. Jack on August 9, 2004 at 11:03 pm

    “We’re in a post-Communist, post-Nazi, post-slavery world.”

    Some would say that they’re just wearing different colors.

  60. john fowles on August 9, 2004 at 11:18 pm

    Kaimi, we were talking about the USA on this thread, I thought. Luckily for us, we have not been plagued with Stalinism, Naziism, or Maoism. It is true that the USA overcame slavery, and I hail any such progress that we make. I don’t see how that overshadows the wickedness of our society though.

  61. Kaimi on August 9, 2004 at 11:21 pm

    Jack writes,

    “We’re in a post-Communist, post-Nazi, post-slavery world. . . . Some would say that they’re just wearing different colors.”

    Come on. I’ll grant that it’s possible to compare abortion to othe mass losses of life, depending on one’s position on the pro-life/pro-choice spectrum. But most of the carping on this thread has been about increased access to porn, increased sex, sex on TV, sex outside of marriage. Sex sex sex sex sex.

    And I just don’t think that that really compares with the true evils we’ve seen. Show me someone who thinks that sex on TV is as bad as Stalin’s purges, and I’ll show you someone who hasn’t been taking their medication.

    The choice is internet porn or death camps? Bring on the porn!

    Chattel slavery or nudity on TV? Bring on the naked ladies! I would rather have ten thousand naked ladies, dancing in the streets, than a reinstitution of slavery.

    Which is why I think it’s clear: The good from advances in human rights, over the past century and a half, far outweigh the bad from any increase in sexual license.

  62. Kaimi on August 9, 2004 at 11:34 pm

    John,

    Confine it to the U.S., and I still think I’m on solid ground. Compare the two eras:

    Era 1: You can own people. You can buy and sell them like you would a used car.
    And when you own them, you can do whatever you please to them. You can beat them. You can flog them and multilate them. You can brand them like cattle or chop off body parts.
    You can rape them at will. You can let your friends rape them too. You can force them to breed with other people you own, like so many cattle.
    You can separate them from their families on a whim. You can tear a mother away from her two-year-old child and never reunite them.
    You can do all of this (and many people do!) and the law will protect you. It will say that it is your God-given right. Senators give speeches on the floor about the God-ordained right to do these things.
    The people you own were kidnaped a continent away and brought over in indescribably horrible slave ships. Slavers routinely raped the women. They routinely miscalculated food, and so entire shiploads of slaves starved. They routinely threw extra slaves overboard, alive.

    Era 2: You hear about sex in school. You see scantily clad women walking around on the street. You can download porn on the internet. Out-of-wedlock sex is said to be on the rise. There is an increase of sex on TV.
    Homosexuality is legal, and gay marriage may soon follow.
    Abortion is legal.

    **

    I just don’t see that Era 2 wins, in a slam-dunk, as most evil era.

  63. Matt Evans on August 9, 2004 at 11:38 pm

    Yes Jack, they’re just wearing different colors:

    1. 68% of Russian babies are killed before they are born.

    2. 40% of blacks are killed before they are born.

    3. 90% of American babies diagnosed with Downs syndrome are killed before they are born.

    4. Over 1,000,000 perfect American babies are killed every year.

    If God thinks killing Russians, blacks, and people with Downs syndrome at any stage of development is a grievous sin, as the prophets have taught, then perhaps the assertion that the world is increasingly wicked has merit.

  64. Kaimi on August 9, 2004 at 11:46 pm

    Matt,

    That’s an awfully one-note argument you’re making there. (Though, as I already pointed out, it is conceptually coherent, unlike the implications of others that a change in sexual mores — Janet Jackson’s boob, in other words — is worse than slavery).

    Is your assertion that, pre-Roe, the world was not more wicked than it was pre-1865? And, if Roe were reversed tomorrow, would it be less wicked than the world of slavery?

  65. john fowles on August 9, 2004 at 11:59 pm

    Kaimi, if you read my earlier posts, you will see that I was going one step further than Matt even. I was combining both the hyper-sexualization of our society and the abortion issue. I think it is curious that the sex issue has no validity for you but the abortion numbers are “conceptually coherent.” Jack and Jared also combined sexual immorality and abortion as measurements of the hardening of society in wickedness.

    Slavery was a horrible evil, noone is arguing with you on that. But it might simply be comparing apples and oranges.

    I have no illusions: things are going to continue to get worse. Each individual needs to fortify him and herself against the deepening wickedness of our society–and of course make a positive effort too, as greenfrog pointed out. Despite my sarcasm in my reply to greenfrog, I agreed with his/her attitude that we need to try to make a difference. I just didn’t see the point in trying to sugar-coat the present situation though.

  66. Jared on August 10, 2004 at 12:03 am

    Diogenes: I’m not suffering from historical myopia. I’m well aware that throughout human history there have been several societiers more or less immoral than contemporary American society. Given your screen name, I would have thought you would cite the example of ancient Greece, where extramarital sex was accepted and celebrated, especially with young boys (some historians posit that platonic love in Plato’s mind was well, not very platonic). So what?

    This thread is about American society and that is what I am commenting on. You have to admit that sexual attitudes have shifted in the last couple of generations and that is all I argued in my prior post.

    Kaimi: assuming you’re right (and I am sympathetic to your argument), wouldn’t you agree that our current world of sex sex sex everywhere is not a good thing for our society?

  67. Matt Evans on August 10, 2004 at 12:04 am

    Kaimi,

    I have no idea how to calculate the world’s wickedness. My point was simply to show that abortion, which happened within and without America prior to 1973, accounts for far more deaths than anything on your list of past atrocities. Only by dismissing abortion deaths can we plausibly say there are fewer deliberate killings now than in the past. And since the church does not dismiss abortion deaths . . .

    Nor should we discount the Rwandan genocide of 800,000 people, or the female infanticide in Asia (there are 20 million fewer Asian girls than there should be).

  68. Kaimi on August 10, 2004 at 12:24 am

    Matt,

    The church does not dismiss abortion deaths, but it seems to discount them. I don’t believe that abortion is considered murder, for church purposes (i.e., baptism).

    Jared,

    Of course increased sex in society is bad. Come on, I’m not a crazy libertine. (“Sex is good! Party on!”).

    I’m just saying that statements like “modern society is so so wicked, it’s the worst it’s ever been, look at all the sex on TV!” strike me as similar to saying “Shaquille O’Neal is the best basketball player ever, look at how many points he scores!”

    It’s not that Shaq is a bad player. He’s a very good player. But “best ever”? Only if (to use a line from Diogenesis’s argument) you’ve got a serious case of historical myopia.

    Ditto, in my mind, for the present day being the most wicked ever, etc.

  69. diogenes on August 10, 2004 at 1:25 am

    Jared writes: “This thread is about American society and that is what I am commenting on. You have to admit that sexual attitudes have shifted in the last couple of generations and that is all I argued in my prior post.”

    Pardon, but I don’t think this thread is about American society, but about our idiosyncratic claims about unrighteousness. As Jim F. established in his initial post: “. . . if we take a comparative approach rather than historical one, and compare the situation as a whole in the Americas with the situation in various parts of Africa, the mid-East, Europe, and Asia, it is difficult to argue that we are more unrighteous than anyone else.”

    I understand what you argued in your post. My response is simply that a purported shift in behavior over the past couple of decades in a country which, my Chinese and Persian friends are always quick to remind me, is only a little over 200 years old, is not really very significant in the scheme of things, however exercised Elder Packer may become over it.

    As for the Greeks — Nancy Wexler (the anthropologist, not the writer) once commented to me that although homosexual behavior has been tolerated and even encouraged in the majority of societies through most of known history, it has virtually always been with regard to single teenaged males — what Ovid called “the foolish loves of my youth.” At some point the boy was expected to grow up, find a mate, and get serious about propagating the species.

    In other words, her take on our current SSM problem was, that in the vast sweep of history, a great deal of it seems to be about boys who refuse to grow up (and I shall here refrain from a Freudian digression into Peter Pan and what was really going on with Wendy and the “Lost Boys,” although I am mightily tempted . . .) But in any event, as you suggest, it simply underscores that our societal history of disapproval regarding homosexuality is relatively recent, relatively isolated, and, apparently, relatively fleeting.

  70. Jack on August 10, 2004 at 2:48 am

    Kiami: No doubt the world has improved in the ways you have suggested. As the world’s level of consciousness raises toward the values of democracy its tolerance for despotism decreases. This is a big plus. However, democracy has its own bag of problems. It places a greater moral burden on the individual. A government for, by and of the people cannot thrive unless the people are a *moral* people. And a moral people cannot long endure as such with out true religion.

    I would agree that in some ways we’ve become a more *ethical* people – this is good. Nevertheless, our moral fabric is coming apart at the seams. I don’t think anyone can argue that we are fast approaching (if not already there) the season when men will “hate their own flesh”. Think of the increase in broken families and the utter lack of concern that so many divorced individuals have for their offspring. Would it be a stretch to classify abortion under hating one’s own flesh? I don’t think so.

    If pure religion is to visit the fatherless and the widow and to keep ourselves unspotted from the world, how well are we doing? How many divorced men make no attempt at all to see their children? How many are deliberately dodging child support?! How many intact marraiges are plagued with abuse – emotional, physical, sexual, or otherwise?

    Now, I certainly agree that these problems have always existed, but, the thing that haunts me about this generation is our ambivalence toward them. Nay, our promotion of them. It has become a virtue – for a woman in particular as John Fowles has already pointed out – to be incharge of one’s own sexuality. I mean solely incharge. Not even God has anything to say about it anymore. We live in a time when evil is judged to be good and vice-versa. No one believes (well almost no one) that stalinism, nazism or slavery is virtuous. Indeed, it is for that very reason that they did not survive. Yet, today we’ve turned it all upside-down.

    It’s my opinion that we are seeing the beginning of the “abomination which maketh desolate”. Or the exposing of that which is most sacred for all the world to see, which has the effect of leaving spaces, which ought to be sacred, bereft of the Spirit. And when the Spirit ceases to strive with us then we can only look forward to an end similar to that which was met by the Nephites.

    That said, I still have hope of some brightness in the future, because the gospel can overcome all if we will let it.

  71. Matt Evans on August 10, 2004 at 10:30 am

    Kaimi,

    For church disciplinary purposes, the church doesn’t treat abortion as murder. Abortion is currently treated, for church disciplinary purposes, as comparable to torture, aggravated rape or sexual abuse.

    One way in which contemporary abortion is worse than the atrocities like the holocaust or gulag are the huge numbers of people involved. The abortion deaths are not caused by a small minority of powerful and threatening men, but by millions of voluntarily complicit men and women.

    This sheds light on another possibility: perhaps God is more concerned with our median righteousness than our average righteousness, so even after we’ve eliminated the evil outliers responsible for genocide, there is still an increasing number of people who ignore God and his laws.

  72. DaveB on August 10, 2004 at 2:18 pm

    It’s not just that abortion isn’t considered murder “for Church disciplinary purposes.” By far the most plausible reading of official LDS policies on abortion is that, according to LDS theology, abortion is not murder. Morally wrong, often seriously morally wrong, but not murder.

    The Mormon theological consensus that life (ensoulment) does not begin at conception and thus that abortion is not murder gives Mormons a refreshing degree of freedom to exercise judgment on matters of reproductive ethics — see Orrin Hatch’s support of stem-cell research, for example.

    I’m always a bit surprised when Mormon pro-lifers start to base their position on Catholic or Evangelical theological views about abortion-as-murder.

  73. clark on August 10, 2004 at 3:00 pm

    “Clark: if we tend to have a knee-jerk focus on sexual immorality and modesty, the most likely reason I can think of is the fact that immodest and immoral images are thrust upon us wherever we roam on our 42-inch high-definition plasma screen T.V. (which I don’t personally own but confess to coveting).”

    Haven’t been following the thread too closely, but I’d just point out that there is far more violent programming that sexual programming and there is a direct relationship between violent TV and games and behavior.

  74. Jack on August 10, 2004 at 3:48 pm

    “…there is far more violent programming tha[n] sexual programming…”

    True. However, violent programming is obviously fictionalized, whereas sexual programming involves real bodies engaging in real sexual contact.

  75. clark on August 10, 2004 at 6:19 pm

    Jack, you do know that outside of porn movies, they aren’t *really* having sex. Sometimes they may be naked, but typically there is clothing in the appropriate places.

    In either case the “virtual” appearance is quite different. Of course there are gradations. Some shows focus more on sex than others. But then that is true of violence – some shows glorify the violence more than others.

  76. obi-wan on August 10, 2004 at 9:20 pm

    DaveB writes: “I’m always a bit surprised when Mormon pro-lifers start to base their position on Catholic or Evangelical theological views about abortion-as-murder.”

    I’m always disheartened, but unfortunately not surprised.

  77. Jack on August 10, 2004 at 10:14 pm

    Clark, of course I know. I also know that some scenes are so intimate that, with the exception of the director, dp, necessary tech and cast involved, the set is cleared before shooting. Not so with violence.

  78. Matt Evans on August 11, 2004 at 9:09 am

    DaveB,

    The reason I based my comment on the church disciplinary guidelines is because that’s the only context I’ve seen the church address the question of whether abortion is murder. In the paragraph outlining the policy for church discipline in cases of murder, there’s this sentence, “Abortion is not defined as murder for this purpose.”

    I am not aware of the Mormon consensus regarding ensoulment of which you speak. The church’s official position on ensoulment is that it has not been revealed: “It is a fact that a child has life before birth. However, there is no direct revelation on when the spirit enters the body.” Handbook of Instructions, p. 157.

    Orrin Hatch and Harry Reid have a lot of latitude precisely because the church doesn’t have a position. Hatch’s rationale isn’t very persuasive, either. Science will force him to retract his “life begins in the womb, not the laboratory” theory within a matter of years.

    The church’s abortion policy makes no reference to the baby’s stage of development. Abortions done at week thirty six aren’t condemned anymore than those committed at week one. From this we can deduce that either: (1) ensoulment happens very early, (2) in the absence of a revelation on ensoulment, we must recognize the possibility that ensoulment happens at conception, or (3)abortion’s evil does not turn on ensoulment.

    Given that the church has not received revelation on ensoulment, Mormons rely on the same reasoning and principles the rest of the world use to study this out in their own minds.

  79. wendy on August 11, 2004 at 12:02 pm

    “The church’s official position on ensoulment is that it has not been revealed” — Matt

    I think we can make some inferences. My mother had a couple of early-term miscarriages before she had me. She didn’t name them. She doesn’t anticipate being with them in the life to come, and I don’t remember hearing anything in conference to lead her to think otherwise. She didn’t do temple work for them, and my mother is very involved in family history, geneaology and temple work. She didn’t even make note of them anywhere that I’m aware of, maybe a journal if she was keeping one at the time. I think she flushed them down the toilet. Have Mormon women been flushing away little souls?

  80. Matt Evans on August 11, 2004 at 4:35 pm

    Wendy, we can’t infer anything from your mother’s reaction. Many other mothers have named their stillborn children, have had visions of them being together in the next world, grieve for them, and include them in the genealogy.

    Here’s the church’s policy on stillborn children:

    “Stillborn Children (Children Who Die before Birth)

    “Grieving parents whose child dies before birth should be given emotional and spiritual support. Temple ordinances are not performed for stillborn children. However, this does not deny the possibility that a stillborn child may be part of the family in the eternities. Parents are encouraged to trust the Lord to resolve such cases in the way He knows is best. The family may record the name of a stillborn child on the family group record followed by the word stillborn in parentheses. Memorial or graveside services may be held has determined by the parents.

    “It is a fact that a child has life before birth. However, there is no direct revelation on when the spirit enters the body.”

    Handbook of Instructions, p. 157

  81. Kristine on August 11, 2004 at 8:09 pm

    If you’re doing a historical comparison, you can’t easily include abortion as uncomplicatedly on the modern side of the historical ledger. Abortion before “quickening” (usually 16-20 weeks) was surprisingly common in the 17th & 18th centuries, at least.

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