I’ve decided to fight the forgetfulness of a blog by resurrecting a couple of old posts in time for the anniversary. In this April post, I admit that social pressures against sinful behavior are painful and unmerciful to the repentant sinner and unjust to the person who acts from pathology and not from sin. And yet . . .
Eat, Drink, and Fling
What’s mercy for the early bird’s not mercy for the worm. So I’ve favored strong social norms against immoral behavior: they bruise the repentant sinner but give the young and the weak a better chance of avoiding the sin. If you want to avoid bruises, fine, don’t sin in the first place. Now Gordon Smith relays a suggestion that these norms may do not only unmercy but also injustice, because our norms assume that all bad behavior is voluntary. It is not.
Take philandering, say, a grave evil. We Mormons condemn it and put social consequences on its practitioners. But some men might get caught up in the net of social condemnation who just can’t help themselves. Some men, say, might have such an overriding urge to philander and an upbringing so little-calculated to teach self control that they can’t help but philander (The same may be true, mutis mutandi, for some people with homosexual attraction or violent tempers). I don’t know how many men fall into this category. Only God knows whether our free will is a flame or a flicker. But among the billions of mankind and the millions of the brethren there must be some who only have pathologies where the rest of us men have sins. They cannot help having flings more than we can help eating or drinking.
Our social attitudes condemning immoral behavior and treating it as voluntary certainly help the majority of men. They need the spur to righteousness that consequences provide. They need a clear societal voice contradicting the devil’s whisper that chastity and fidelity must be impossible because they are hard. This majority of men benefits greatly. The men who cannot help themselves do not. They get all the scorn and the fury and the self-hatred but none of the benefits. I feel for these men. I want to keep up our social scorn for sexual sin but I feel bad making the people who can’t control themselves suffer in innocence so that other men do not perish in promiscuity.
I draw this consolation: I think of the resurrection day. I think of these miserable men, brought despite themselves to face the throne of Grace. I see the King there, asking them if they have any desire to end their sins. They turn their heads, thinking they are mocked. Of course they do! but its hopeless. He asks again. Some answer. And all in an instant the chains they thought were as integral as bones are lifted from them, they stand in wild surmise and freedom, can it be, can it be, and now they dare to look up. They see the tears in the Face. Then their eyes are opened and they see a great concourse of Saints, of the holy and mighty ones, who are praising them and giving thanks, and they know that these Saints are those who were able to overcome the flesh while in the flesh, and they know in an instant that these Saints were saved because they, the chained ones, bore the burden of the sin on their own backs. Now the chains are broken. Now the backs are straight. Now they join the Saints.
Do read the multiple high quality comments from Kristine HH, Julie in A., Clark Goble, and Gary Cooper. They’re the best part of the original post.