With many other Christian traditions, we share the admonition to plainness in speech and other aspects of life: “Let all thy garments be plain, and their beauty the beauty of the work of thine own hand” (D&C 42:40)
For other Christians that admonition is largely a consequence of the fact that they have adopted a Greek philosophical understanding of the body. For most Greek thinkers, what is most real was what is intelligible, and what is most intelligible is immaterial (since materiality per se is not intelligible). As a result, they believed that the body got in the way of intellecting the intelligible. For them, however one was to understand salvation, it was a matter of turning from the sensible world to the intelligible. The body, being part of the sensible world, made that turn more difficult, if not impossible. Based on that understanding, those Christians who rejected ornamentation, whether of the body, of buildings, or of something else, did so because they believed that ornamentation brought attention to the material world and the body and, therefore, took attention away from divine things, things necessary for salvation. For them, the demand for plainness is a demand that we focus on the spiritual rather than on the material, and those two are fundamentally opposed to one another.
(Of course the question of when ornamentation goes beyond what is allowed has historically been a knotty question, as we see in the various iconoclastic movements that have occurred in Christian history. But I don’t think the complications of that history change the question I wish to think about.)
We, of course, do not believe that the spiritual and the material are fundamentally opposed. In fact, though it isn’t clear to me what we mean when we say so, we insist that spirits are material. Whatever else that means, it means that the spiritual and material aspects of our existence are not fundamentally at odds with one another.
How does our understanding of the need for plainness of dress and ornamentation connect with our rather different understanding of the body?