Love Requited: Fidelity in Marriage

February 14, 2005 | 66 comments
By

In honor of Valentine’s Day, a love simile: If married love were chocolate, it would be have to be a bittersweet dark, because no chalky milk or bland white could adequately convey the depth, complexity, and challenge of fidelity in marriage. Fidelity in marriage is a good thing, a very good thing–much, much better even than dark chocolate, in fact. Elder Holland, as is his wont, has described married love as movingly as anyone I’ve read: in his well-known sermon, “Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments,” he writes of sexual intimacy in marriage,

Such an act of love between a man and a woman is–or certainly was ordained to be–a symbol of total union: union of their hearts, their hopes, their lives, their love, their family, their future, their everything. … But such a total, virtually unbreakable union, such an unyielding commitment between a man and a woman, can only come with the proximity and permanence afforded in a marriage covenant, with the union of all that they possess–their very hearts and minds, all their days and all their dreams. They work together, they cry together, they enjoy Brahms and Beethoven and breakfast together, they sacrifice and save and live together for all the abundance that such a totally intimate life provides such a couple. And the external symbol of that union, the physical manifestation of what is a far deeper spiritual and metaphysical bonding, is the physical blending that is part of–indeed, a most beautiful and gratifying expression of–that larger, more complete union of eternal purpose and promise.

The law of chastity, which President Kimball defined as “total chastity before marriage and total fidelity after,” is a temple covenant, and as such is one of the highest laws by which Latter-day Saints are bound. The law of chastity is a “liminal” covenant; that is, it moves the initiate from one spiritual level to the next. Preceding and presaging the law of consecration, the law of chastity works as a tutorial in consecration, requiring us to dedicate all of our sexual resources to a single person, regardless of the personal cost in fulfillment or desire. LDS scripture teaches that unchastity is a sin second only to murder in gravity–and perhaps in no other way is LDS doctrine and lifestyle so distinct from mainstream law and behavior, in which pre-marital sex has almost no social stigma, much less a seriousness approaching murder. LDS chastity encompasses not only physical intimacy, but emotional and psychological intimacy, as well: D&C 63:16 teaches that it is wrong to “commit adultery in the heart.”

Surely chastity occupies such a high place in the hierarchy of sin precisely to the degree that marriage occupies the supreme place in the LDS concept of exaltation. LDS marriages, historically and presently, serve the same social functions that marriage has historically performed, of course–namely, to ensure and enable patrilineal procreation, to perform privatized economic functions, and to socialize children–but they also, crucially, induct the spouses by means of the sealing ordinance into the exalted patriarchal order. This centrality of marriage in LDS exaltation distinguishes Latter-day Saints from other proponents of “family values,” no matter how neatly our political goals coincide.

But the ideal LDS marriage, in the present day, at least, goes far beyond the mere management of sexual desire: as Elder Holland’s lovely rhapsody suggests, the “totally intimate life” aspires to a totalizing state of union between spouses–spiritual, emotional, social, psychological, intellectual, aesthetic, even. Elder Holland seems to suggest a supplementary fifth function of marriage: to provide a consummate personal fulfillment by means of an all-encompassing unity. Elder Holland’s emphasis on personal fulfillment in marriage is, I think, a relatively recent one, emerging in the last four or five decades as part of the high-affect vision of the family–that is, a vision of the family bound together primarily by emotional bonds of love rather than by bonds of law, religion, or economic necessity. Speaking sociologically, we can see how several traditional functions of marriage–patrilineal procreation and economic efficiency, for example–have largely disappeared in the modern world of ubiquitous birth control and working women; a compensatory emphasis on personal fulfillment, it can be argued, is necessary to keep marriage relevant in a world where some of its structural work can seem less expedient.

Sociology aside, I believe that Elder Holland’s vision of marriage is inspired, and that a couple striving for his ideal of intense unity is more likely to enjoy a successful marriage in today’s world. Elder Holland’s concept of marital unity is based on sex as symbol: into God’s enjoinder to Adam and Eve to “be one flesh,” he reads a symbolic commandment for spiritual as well as physical union in marriage. The Encyclopedia of Mormonism picks up this symbolic understanding of sex: “Mutuality and equality are to be the hallmark of a married couple’s physical intimacy … to be “one flesh” is to experienc an emotional and spiritual unity.” Elder Holland’s reading, inspired as it is, is one that we have come to relatively late: it is difficult to imagine how mutuality, equality and total union could have been the hallmarks of married intimacy in early Mormon marriage arrangements, for example. Whatever the timing, though, it is an ideal that holds immense and inspiring attraction for me.

I’m left with some questions, though, and while the pulpit is not a good place to preach the exceptions or limitations to an ideal, perhaps this kind of discussion can be valuable in less formal settings. In my experience (well, not my personal experience, since I’ve only been married for six blissful years!), even long-lasting and functional marriages encompass deep, even bitter, personal disappointments and long-term division. Does an ideal of self-fulfillment through union equip us to deal with these realities? Would it be helpful sometimes to think of marriage more as a child-rearing partnership, and not expect it to provide us with constant social and emotional fulfillment? And is there a place for friendships with the opposite gender in this ideal of all-encompassing union? What is the value and the danger in developing friendships outside of marriage? What is the best way to experience unity over the long course of a marriage?

Tags: , , ,

66 Responses to Love Requited: Fidelity in Marriage

  1. A. Greenwood on February 14, 2005 at 5:06 pm

    “Even long-lasting and functional marriages encompass deep, even bitter, personal disappointments and long-term division. Does an ideal of self-fulfillment through union equip us to deal with these realities?”

    No. Quite the contrary. Marriage is hard anyway, but its harder when you know that it should be a perfect union. The contrast hurts. I can only say, though, that I don’t think that hurt should be ‘dealt with.’ I think its the price we pay, the cross we carry, for not giving up on the ideal. In some way soldiering on through the anguish is necessary to the goal.

    On your other question, I think female friendships in which your spouse is not involved are difficult to reconcile with the ideal of complete union. In theory, perhaps not, but in practice it seems like trying to be one with your spouse means that all manhood or womanhood gets tied up in them.

  2. JKS on February 14, 2005 at 6:42 pm

    Self-fulfillment in marriage? No. That is not the ideal. Our marriage relationship is not our only relationship. Each of us first of all has a relationship with our Savior that is most important. And while both affect each other, it is our relationship with Christ that is the priority.
    But everything about the gospel and everything we learn from our relationship with our Savior helps us in our marriage. Working on a marriage puts gospel principles into action.
    After our marriage in importance we have our relationship with our children. When we come face to face with Christ, he will ask us (was it Spencer W Kimball that told us this?) about our relationship with our spouse, then our relationship with each of our children individually.
    I don’t think my relationship with my children is only for their benefit. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned and how much I’ve grown spiritually as I’ve dealt with the challenges of motherhood. Of course my marriage has also grown during this time, but as an individual, my spirit has learned so many things. Things I believe my Heavenly Father sent me to mortality in order to experience.
    My husband and I have had our mortal challenges. Several, in fact. I feel our marriage is stronger than it has ever been in our 12 years together. I am confident we will continue to have a successful marriage. But I’m sure we have more challenges to face.
    He and I have learned different things in those times of struggle. Even when the challenge involves your child, each parent reacts differently. Each parent views the problem differently–defines it differently, views different possible solutions.
    I’ve heard that losing a child increases your chance of divorce. I believe it. While there is no one else’s shoulder I would rather cry on, at the same time I know that my husband is not always in the same place as me. And he has a right to his own feelings. There is a danger in expecting your eternal partner to be exactly like you. They aren’t. ANd they are mortal. They have mortal weaknesses. They have their own pain to deal with.
    I’ve told my husband there is no one else I’d rather walk through life with. Even though life has pain. And while I know that he could never be some sort of machine and fulfill my every need or whim, I know that he loves me and he tries. And even when I need something from him, I try to remember that I want to support him and fulfill his needs.
    What more can you ask? How could I ask for more.
    As for friendships with the opposite gender, I wouldn’t risk it. My marriage is too precious to me, too important to me that I’d play chicken with it like that. And it does happen. And usually it sneaks up on someone….they just start to feel closer emotionally to someone else and the rest follows.

  3. JKS on February 14, 2005 at 7:01 pm

    Continued from above

    Marriage is not just a child-rearing partnership. And those who view it like that “we’re just staying together for the kids” are miserable and end up divorcing. In fact my friend said that to me just 6 months before her husband moved out. The kids were not enough of a reason. There are many years, plus eternity that you won’t have your kids around.
    Marriage is what you make of it. And applying gospel principles is usually the way to improve it.
    The most important thing I’ve learned about marital unity is that our Father in Heaven loves my husband. I already knew he loved me. But understanding that as much as he loved me, and as much as Christ loves me, he also loves my husband. How do you think that changes my feelings of anger or resentment over petty little every day things?
    Learning to love your partner with a more Christ-like love is what I believe helps unity. Viewing things as “what would the Lord have me do to help my husband,” I mean, shouldn’t I be the one person on earth that the Lord can count on who loves him and would be there to help him?

  4. Kaimi on February 14, 2005 at 7:36 pm

    Ros,

    I like your discussion, but I have to wonder how much of our marital ideals are actually eternal and how many are our own odd cultural biases that will cause people to shake their heads, a century down the road.

    In particular, is Elder Holland’s summation a statement of an eternal ideal, or of a cultural tic?

    If it’s an eternal ideal, it seems that the vast majority of humankind has a long way to catch up. And early church leaders may be pretty far behind. Do we really think that Brigham Young experiences union of “their very hearts and minds, all their days and all their dreams; they work together, they cry together, they enjoy Brahms and Beethoven and breakfast together” with every one of his plural wives?

    And if not, what does that say about either his marriages, or about Elder Holland’s formulation?

  5. annegb on February 14, 2005 at 7:59 pm

    I’ve said this before, forgive if you remember it, but Judith Viorst once wrote: “marriage is what keeps you together while you fall in and out of love with each other.”

    I’ve been married 23 years, it’s the third marriage for both of us. We married in the temple, had six kids between us, three who lived with us, and brought a baby girl, our blessing, into our home 4 years later. We’ve been through our major personality differences, my son’s suicide, his son and daughter’s addiction, law-breaking, alcoholism, and rebellion, my stepson’s cancer, job and money troubles, and our own aging, not to mention the millions of stresses of everyday life. My husband embodies the word commitment, fidelity. I consider shooting him in the back every once in awhile. There have been plenty of times I would have left for greener grass, but he wouldn’t give up.

    He taught me about commitment. We’ve had a lot of tough times, but we’ve also had some wonderful times. I wouldn’t have had those with my mistaken second marriage, I’m positive. I learned love and commitment are equally important.

    I think every marriage goes through ups and downs, times of disillusionment, distance, and then the good times. For us, the good times make it worthwhile. But I read something awhile back about how often after so many years, the person you’re with becomes the person you’re supposed to be with, simply because you grow together and get used to each other, if you stick it out.

    I can’t overstate sticking it out. I think those ideal marriages that Brother Holland talks about are the exception rather than the norm. If we accept that marriage, heck, guys, LIFE, is hard, it’s easier to cope with, I think. According to M. Scott Peck. and me.

  6. Rosalynde Welch on February 15, 2005 at 12:56 am

    Adam, an interesting suggestion, and a true one, I think: failure to achieve the ideal marriage can motivate us to value the ideal even more. Of course, it can also turn us into bitter cynics, or lead us to blame ourselves or our partners, or…

    As for cross-gender friends, I tend to agree with your hesitance. I have virtually no male friends that I interact with personally–heck, I literally can’t remember the last time I exchanged more than a sentence face-to-face with a man other than my husband! This is partly because of my currrent life stage, and partly because I’m not sure where the boundaries of decorum should be placed. Since I’ve been married, I have had one very fulfilling friendship with an LDS male, a colleague in my graduate program. Discussions with him led to a greater understanding of men’s and women’s experiences in the church–experiences that one often can’t get from one’s spouse, since spouses tend to share perspectives on gender issues. Maybe this kind of understanding can help break down the barriers to understanding between men and women in the church–barriers on display in other active threads around the bloggernacle at the moment.

    Of course, I consider you my friend! Can the bloggernacle itself–or other virtual fora–work to facilitate a less-threatening way for men and women to communicate as friends? Flame fests happen, of course, but I’ve participated in or witnessed some very constructive and instructive conversations between men and women here on T&S and elsewhere.

  7. Rosalynde Welch on February 15, 2005 at 1:06 am

    JKS– Great comments, thanks so much. You’re exactly right, I think, that children introduce a new–and hopefully complementary–dynamic into a marriage. My children are still small, so I don’t speak from personal experience here, but I think sometimes mothers derive most of their self-fulfillment from their children rather than from their marriage. I’m not sure if this is a bad thing or not–but all the parenting magazines say it is! (tongue in cheek) And you’re also right to include the Savior in the marriage relationship: it’s my guess that all righteous self fulfillment, just like all righteous self esteem, should be rooted in Christ.

    Still, though, it seems to me that you locate ultimate self-fulfillment is the slightly-wider circle of marriage, children and Christ. This seems pretty close to what Elder Holland suggests–and seems to me a very noble ideal to hold up.

    By the way, you seem to suggest that you’ve lost a child–and if you have, my deepest condolences. I know a little about that, and I’ve seen the stresses it puts on a marriage; may God comfort your family.

  8. Mark on February 15, 2005 at 1:09 am

    JKS: “After our marriage in importance we have our relationship with our children. When we come face to face with Christ, he will ask us (was it Spencer W Kimball that told us this?) about our relationship with our spouse, then our relationship with each of our children individually.”

    It was David O’McKay:

    http://www.ldssplash.com/gospeltopics/priesthood/stewarship.htm

  9. Rosalynde Welch on February 15, 2005 at 1:15 am

    Kaimi: my feeling is that it’s an inspired cultural tic. An emphasis on self-fulfillment through unity makes marriage relevant in today’s individualistic society, and it encourages people to marry even though it’s no longer socially necessary.

    People are always discovering the “birth of the modern family” in their particular historical period–the moment when husbands and wives began to love each other, and parents began to love children. While I’m suspicious of overarching accounts of “human nature,” I think that familial love has probably existed transhistorically (if unevenly, of course!): I’m always moved by the accounts of the early apostles tearfully leaving their wives to serve missions. Still, though, I think you’re right that BY did not understand the physical union of sex to symbolize a total psychic union: the poor polygamous husband would become decidedly schoziphrenic under those conditions. Polygamy–whatever its merits, destiny, or meaning–would be distinctly anathema to our current ethic of totalizing mutuality in marriage.

  10. Rosalynde Welch on February 15, 2005 at 1:23 am

    Thanks, Anne. As always, I learn from your vast experience–and I honor the trials you’ve gone through and the tenacity of your faith and fidelity.

    Yes, marriage is hard–I think that message often comes across. “But it’s worth it” always follows soon after–and I believe that it is. But I appreciate how you’ve nuanced what “worth it” means, and how that “worth” is often not measured in personal fulfillment or happiness.

  11. Andrea Wright on February 15, 2005 at 2:30 am

    “Would it be helpful sometimes to think of marriage more as a child-rearing partnership, and not expect it to provide us with constant social and emotional fulfillment?”

    When I focus on getting constant social and emotional fulfillment from my marriage, my vision narrows and I’m often left feeling very unfulfilled. Anytime one is focused inward I think it’s hard for anyone or anything to one’s needs. When I focus on what I can do better as a spouse and mother my fulfillment overflows.

    So, I guess what I’m trying to say is, the less I worry about my needs the more they are met.

  12. João Fernando da Almeida e Pais da Silva on February 15, 2005 at 3:42 am

    Since when did mormons start celebrating Catholic Saints???????

  13. Audrey on February 15, 2005 at 6:39 am

    I agree with JKS in the idea that forming or maintaining close emotional relationships with a person of the opposite gender can be dangerous. When I was 14-years old, the Young Women’s president and the Young Men’s president in our ward decided that they were in love and both divorced their spouse to marry each other (each couple had three young children at the time). They were friends, both struggling with their marriages, and a friendship turned into a romantic attachment. This caused a ward-wide uproar, but my parents took the time to use this as an important example of why you don’t foster and develop close personal relationships with members of the opposite gender after marriage. This crucial lesson as a youth served me very well during my pre-marriage working girl days when it would have been easy to expand frienships/relationships with the married male coworkers that I admired, and kept me cautious to keep the friendships I had developed with single male coworkers in the right perspective after I was married. I think it is very easy when you’re facing emotional stress or distance in your marriage to turn to the comforting friend (the one that you don’t have to live) with for support.

    I would also like to make a point that I feel that a lot of women lose out on improving their relationships with their husbands because they are sharing and drawing emotional support from their female friends or relatives rather than their spouse. So many times I hear women sharing things with me that I wish they would share with their husbands (and I do try to encourage them to do so). It seems to me that marriage is a long process of opening up and coming to know one another, discovering the vast complex universe that is another person, through all the trials and challenges that we face. The more we can learn, open up, share with one another, the faster our marriage will be deepened and strengthened.

  14. Rosalynde Welch on February 15, 2005 at 8:56 am

    Andrea, as always a great perspective. I like your point about the trouble with “turning inward”–and I think so much of the “take time for yourself/follow your passion” advice for mothers so common in popular outlets is highly misguided, likely to produce much more dissatisfaction than anything else. On the other hand, I have been greatly blessed in my life to be able to find satisfaction and stimulation in an avenue outside of marriage/family, in a unique situation that did not compete for the resources I should be dedicating to them (I’m talking about my graduate training here)–and, in all honesty, it provided me with something that I simply could not have gotten from my relationship with husband and children, something integral and very positive. I wish more women could find opportunities like these–suited to their own desires and strengths, of course! I think my mother’s highly successful work as an institute teacher and public speaker has served the same purpose for her, providing a kind of validation and self-development simply not available in that sacred circle of husband, children and the Lord.

  15. Rosalynde Welch on February 15, 2005 at 8:58 am

    By the way, Andrea, were you up with a child at 2:30 this morning? (A comment after midnight from me is a sure sign that my children are having trouble sleeping!) Hope you get a chance to rest today!

  16. Rosalynde Welch on February 15, 2005 at 9:12 am

    Bom dia, Joao! I tried responding to you in Portuguese, but for some reason the filter wouldn’t allow me to post the comment in Portuguese. Are you Portuguese or Brazilian? How did you find Times & Seasons? I served a mission in Porto, Portugal, and we’ve got a few other Portuguese speakers floating around here, too.

    Not to worry, Mormons don’t worship Catholic saints! But American Mormons do celebrate mainstream American holidays, of which Valentine’s Day is one.

    Adeus!

  17. Rosalynde Welch on February 15, 2005 at 9:27 am

    Audrey, a sobering and instructive tale. It’s difficult to imagine how much damage and heartache resulted from the choices of those two people. I think you point to a crucial caution: one ought not turn to a member of the opposite sex with one’s own marital problems–and a huge red flag ought to rise over a friendship if you feel tempted to use it for that purpose.

    Recently I’ve encountered in a few unreliable places like “Parents” magazine and “The Today Show” the idea that spouses will inevitably, over the course of a marriage, experience interests and crushes on other people, but that this is no reason to doubt or flee the marriage. My marriage is still young, so I don’t know whether this is good advice or pure bunk: on the one hand, it seems like a recognition of this (if it is indeed true) could help people like the ones you describe realize that their feelings do not necessarily represent a fated destiny; on the other hand, it seems like it could excuse or allow one to dwell on unacceptable feelings. What do you think?

  18. charlene on February 15, 2005 at 10:52 am

    It’s been a little surprising, and I guess disturbing as well for me, to see how many people have been saying that cross-gender friendships after marriage aren’t such a good idea. This makes me a bit nervous, as because I’m working in a field that’s vastly male-dominated most of my acquaintances and close friends are male.

    These friendships have never gotten in the way of my relationships, though (although I’ve never yet been married, and I can see there must be more tensions and stresses there, not to mention kids!). Thinking about it, I came up with a couple of reasons why: 1) Some hard limits to the friendships, like: No matter how close friends we are, I will *never* touch another guy. (Except a hug, if I haven’t seen him in a long time, of course!) This is partially from Mormon conditioning, partially my non-affectionate family, and partially scientist/engineer culture where casual touching is Just Not Done. (Once a bunch of us physicists were hanging around with a female economist who kept *touching* the guys, and I was really weirded out!) 2) Although I’ll have intense and personal discussions with my male friends, they are always intense discussions about *things* or *ideas* (how would we change the school system? what was the real message of that talk?) as opposed to *feelings* or personal issues. 3) I never talk to any guy about anything I wouldn’t want to repeat to my fiance (and usually do repeat, unless I forget). 4) If I sense that the guy is getting a crush on me (which happens much more frequently than the converse, in this male-dominated world), I run away, or start blabbing about how wonderful my fiance is :)

    What all this boils down to, I suppose, is perhaps partially that I have a different definition of “close cross-gender friendship” than others do; is this true?

  19. pd mallamo on February 15, 2005 at 11:35 am

    Kaimi cut to the core of this issue by referencing early Mormon practice, which is so far from Holland’s ideal that his ideal seems to have originated somewhere in lala land – it’s way over the top, like a great deal of Mormon rhetoric. Two books informed my concept of LDS marriage: Religion and Sexuality by Lawrence Foster, and, of course, In Sacred Lonliness – The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, by Todd Compton. The early Mormon leadership practiced polygyny and polyandry and would likely be doing so today if not for the federal government. Behind our starry-eyed rhapsodizing and, frankly, our BS about marriage and gender relations, are hard truths, especially for women. We would do better first to clear the air, then see where we stand, both as couples and as couples within the framework of the church. I don’t see any value at all in cheerleading.

  20. Christian Cardall on February 15, 2005 at 11:55 am

    Excellent post (as always), Rosalynde. You have a knack for touching nerves—at least mine. I think I have several things to say, but because of time constraints (and for ease of digestion) I’ll have to spread them out over at least two comments. This first comment: Why I’m not sure Elder Holland’s view can be relied upon, at least in toto. Later comment(s): Some tentative answers I might give to the questions in the last paragraph of your initial post.

    Rosalynde (initial post): Elder Holland’s reading, inspired as it is, is one that we have come to relatively late: it is difficult to imagine how mutuality, equality and total union could have been the hallmarks of married intimacy in early Mormon marriage arrangements, for example. Whatever the timing, though, it is an ideal that holds immense and inspiring attraction for me.

    Rosalynde (#9) Polygamy–whatever its merits, destiny, or meaning–would be distinctly anathema to our current ethic of totalizing mutuality in marriage.

    The shifting perspectives of our eccesiastical traditions upon marriage:
    For believers it is tempting to chalk it up to continuing revelation, with current views (say, Elder Holland’s) being the `most perfect thus far.’ But there are three reasons that make it difficult for me to accept this uncritically.

    The first is that because of the tension between restoration and continuing revelation, it is far from obvious that Elder Holland’s answer is the `right’ one. I agree with your assessment that earlier Mormon views are difficult to reconcile with Elder Holland’s view. However, polygamy was central to 19th century Mormon identity, being a sine qua non for exaltation; it was given up reluctantly, and it seems probable that the leaders making the change thought it was temporary; and it is still with us in doctrine (in our scriptures) and practice (in serial sealings). Given this, we would have to allow the possibility that it is a most sacred and holy principle to be restored at the proper time, but that for now—in the context of our unavoidable engagement with the world—pearls cannot be cast before swine, so to speak.

    Let me be clear that I’m not advocating this view; I’m simply pointing out that while it may be convenient to assume that whatever is currently stated is the closest approximation to The Truth that has ever been around, we cannot be completely untethered from our past; there is, at the very least, an unavoidable hysteresis (to borrow a term from physics).

    The second reason is quick (and is, in fact, another instance of hysteresis): This `Symbol’ portion of Elder Holland’s alliterative triad (Souls, Symbols, Sacraments), rather than being unmistakable revelation, carries a whiff of belated importation of contemporary cultural values regarding what remains worthwhile about marriage in today’s world.

    The third reason is possible incoherence even in current `revealed’ views. It’s not obvious how Elder Holland’s ideal can be reconciled with President Faust’s teaching in a recent leadership conference, referred to on the Divorce thread:

    “Also disturbing is the shift in attitude about the purpose of marriage. More and more young people view marriage ‘as a couples relationship, designed to fulfill the emotional needs of adults, rather than an instituion for bringing up children.’ The pursuit of such ’soul-mate relationship[s] may [well] weaken marraige as an instituion for rearing children.’”

    Is Elder Holland’s `Symbol’ the very thing President Faust is attacking?

    This whole comment might be considered useless in that it doesn’t attempt to actually answer Rosalynde’s questions. But I thought it worth highlighting the fact that her important questions arise not so much from a direct confrontation between our doctrine and the world’s views, but from tensions inherent in what is typically taken to be revealed material, both historic and current. So where does that lead me in answering the questions? To be, er, revealed later… ;)

  21. cooper on February 15, 2005 at 12:14 pm

    After thrity years of marriage I can honestly say that what kept me together, while I yearned for success and stature, was knowing that I could rely on one person in this life. I carefully chose him, knowing I would make a forever commitment, and it has been the best roller-coaster ride of my life.

    Victor L Brown published a book back in the seventies entitled “Human Intimacy”. It is one I recommend to everyone. It help the reader come to an understanding of the real, true, relationship we all seek. It will help prevent those cross-gender train wrecks that happen so often, when one is seeking for, and not obtaining, intimacy in a marriage environment.

  22. Andrea Wright on February 15, 2005 at 12:15 pm

    Rosalynde, I wasn’t up with a child, but they’re definitely at least partially responsibile for my wacked sleeping habits.:)

    I agree that there are certain kinds of outside activities that enhance our marraiges and some that erode it.

    I think the ideal marraige is made up of a combination of things we experience together and things we bring to it from what we experience seperately.

  23. Rosalynde Welch on February 15, 2005 at 1:28 pm

    More great comments.

    Christian, I don’t disagree with your reading–indeed, I think we reached substantially the same conclusion–except in your assumption that cultural embeddedness compromises the significance or authenticity of continuing revelation. Yes, Elder Holland’s vision of how and why marriage should be arranged is related to contemporary cultural values, as was Joseph’s and Brigham’s, and yes, this leads to contradictions in the “hows” and “whys” we hear over the pulpit: as I’ve argued before, I think it’s naive to be shocked at the social construction of church and doctrine, and, on the other hand, I think it’s equally naive to enshrine social construction as the new gospel (note well: you, Christian, are neither kind of naive!). Why shouldn’t a recognition of cultural embeddedness shake our faith in the efficacy of revelation? First, one purpose of revelation is to locate and position–to embed–God’s people in a culture in a certain way; naturally, this will lead to mutually constitutive vectors of meaning extending from church to world and back again. Second, and you know this well, revelation is mediated through translucent–not transparent–revelators, themselves embedded in a social context. It’s my view that continued prophetic revelation is remarkably effective in conveying *what* God’s will is with regard to essential saving functions of the church, but that the “hows” and “whys” of those “whats” are less important and, thus, conveyed with less clarity–or with an inconsistency that responds precisely to the inconsistency of social context. Under this view, the “what” that Elder Holland, Elder Faust and Brigham Young all share is that God really, really cares that people marry: it’s the sealing ordinance itself that is so crucial, that must be preserved and performed (and, incidentally, this is hardly a socially embedded view in today’s world!). The social organization that results from the sealing, and the way that organization is understood and experienced, has been highly variable across history, which leads me to believe that it’s far more flexible than we assume: we needn’t insist on an inexorable teleology nor a tragic hysteresis when dealing with various social forms. That is, neither Elder Holland nor Brigham Young need be closer to the “eternal ideal”–they both just need to make marriage relevant and functional at the moment, in order to encourage people to marry correctly. It’s my secret suspicion that we haven’t yet seen an earthly model of the kind of “eternal relationships” we will enjoy in exaltation, simply because gender problems have been so prevalent across history.

  24. David King Landrith on February 15, 2005 at 4:27 pm

    Elder Holland’s talk strikes me as a weird combination of yuppie suburban breakfasts, cry-fests, and metaphysical bonding or blending. I suppose I’m alone in finding it a little creepy. Needless to say, this type of imagery doesn’t really resonate with me.

    But I like some of what you’ve said here, Rosalyde, I am reminded of “Fiddler on the Roof.” When Tevya’s two oldest daughters persuade him to bless their un-arranged engagements because they love their betrothed, he asks his wife Golda, “Do you love me?” over and over until he gets a straight answer. At first Golda tells Tevya to buzz off, “For 25 years I’ve washed your clothes, cooked your meals, cleaned your house, given you children, milked your cow. After 25 years why talk about love right now?” But finally she reflects, “Do I love him?… For 25 years I’ve lived with him, fought with him, starved with him. 25 years my bed is his. If that’s not love what is?… I suppose I do.” In the end, when it’s determined that they do love each other, they say, “It doesn’t change a thing, but even so, after 25 years it’s nice to know.”

    This, of course, is just a play, and I don’t take it to portray how arranged marriages really work. Even so, I believe that it illustrates three points. First, that marriage is a partnership and a union that often has much bigger fish to fry than what is encompassed by romantic love or physical intimacy—and this is, in fact, what makes it work. Second, that love is a verb of action, and as such it is realized in doing and not in being. Third, although it may not sound exciting or glamorous or imaginative, and although quality time is all the rage, there is something to be said for quantity time, which is to say, companionship.

  25. Christian Cardall on February 15, 2005 at 4:40 pm

    Rosalynde, good response, points taken.

    It’s my view that continued prophetic revelation is remarkably effective in conveying *what* God’s will is with regard to essential saving functions of the church, but that the “hows” and “whys” of those “whats” are less important and, thus, conveyed with less clarity–or with an inconsistency that responds precisely to the inconsistency of social context.

    Such faith I’ve not seen in all Israel! This is an interesting but (seems to me) unorthodox view—usually a strong selling point of the gospel is that it does answer the “whys” and “whats”. It’s supposed to explain everything, make everything clear, answer the Terrible Questions. If I recall correctly, Brigham, for example, was so strongly attracted to Joseph precisely because he could tell him concrete realities about God and heaven, instead of leaving everything hazy and mysterious. They seemed so willing to go out on a limb and spell out ontological details. I guess time has shown that to be a prophetic occupational hazard to be avoided these days; but on the other hand, isn’t that why we `pay them the big bucks,’ so to speak? Are prophets only good for regulating behavior, not for revealing the true nature of things?

    The truth-finding tactic of distilling the generic kernels (sorry for the garbled/mixed metaphor) that remain the same across time is interesting, but a little disappointing that it should be necessary. We have the benefit of looking at, for example, 19th century experience to inform our views; but should I lament the fact that those living at the time had to sacrifice without that benefit, and that we have to make choices in the here and now without the benefit of hindsight? I thought that was the very thing prophets were supposed to save us from.

    And finally, you’ve reminded me that I need to finish my response on some other thread about the place and limits of social construction. And I think I owe you at least one other response previous to that one…I think about accoun Sorry. :( I don’t mean to be flaky, I’ve still been thinking about those things. I wish I had more time. Some responses take time to ponder (at least for confused dolts like me), but the fast pace of life in general (not to mention the bloggosphere in particular) tends to sweep one along.

  26. Christian Cardall on February 15, 2005 at 5:09 pm

    I had an incomplete second sentence in the last paragraph. It should have read “And I think I owe you at least one other response previous to that one…I think about accounting for the experiences of converts.”

    Just to crystallize the concerns I expressed in the other two paragraphs: I don’t know how workable the idea of separating the “whats” from the “whys” is. This inseparability is evident in President Packer’s aphorism: Talking about doctrine (the “whys”) influences behavior (the “whats”) more than talking about behavior influences behavior. And I think the currently understood “whys” have inevitable consequences in real peoples’ lives—who people get sealed to and what behavior that entails, who works outside the home and who stays in the home, etc.

  27. Naomi Frandsen on February 15, 2005 at 7:26 pm

    I’m going to try to engage with Christian and Rosalynde’s discussion of whats, whys, and hows. If I write fast enough, maybe I can make my point before the conversation turns entirely too philosophical for my abilities. Christian, it sounds like you had difficulty accepting Elder Holland’s description of marriage as the most reliable statement to date (#20) because of its contradiction with past pronouncements on polygamy, its flavor of contemporary social construction, and its contradictions with current pronouncements by other General Authorities. Rosalynde, you responded by saying (#23) that our understanding of revelation should be more nuanced to accept and understand the process of current social influence on these transluscent prophets, seers, and revelators. Specifically, they teach whats (sealing covenants are essential to salvation), but the whys and the hows bear the marks of whatever the current society needs to be persuaded to marry. Finally, Christian responded (#25 & 26) that whats and whys can’t be separated, and one of the special capabilities of seers is to provide teleological whys. Phew–I hope I followed the argument accurately. I’d like to suggest an alternative reading of the differences between Elders Holland and Faust: Elder Faust is, in fact, much older than Elder Holland, and they bring different experiences with and expectations of marriage into their comments. Furthermore, their audiences were undoubtedly different, and I think prophets’ words are always most (or at least more) fully understood in a complete rhetorical context. If Elder Faust was speaking to the Priesthood in general conference and if Elder Holland was addressing marriage-wary young single adults, I would fully expect different messages from them. Finally, I think that their comments are both harmonious with perhaps the ultimate “why” of marriage in our late 20th-century/early 21st-century day, namely, the Proclamation to the World on the Family. That document outlines both the recreational, love-affect aspect and the “patrilineal procreative” aspect of marriage. And I think that while The Family Proclamation is certainly a product of its time, it’s also a self-conscious effort to provide some of the Joseph Smith-esque truths of eternity that Brigham Young loved so much.
    Since I’m not married, I’d better not venture beyond these rather dry, impersonal miscellany :). But from my perspective of 9 months in an office (not male-dominated, but all of the men working there were married), I might add that the reward systems and goal-oriented ethos of an office can sometimes lead to coworkers feeling more like a team than spouses. I’ve often wondered what could be done about that, short of restructuring our economic system and going back to cottage industries. Finally, I might mention that as a single woman, I’ve always considered that the “complete fidelity after marriage” applies with equal force to me, even in my single status. My way of supporting the institution of marriage (which I do support and believe in) is to frequently invoke the relationship when I’m speaking to the individual (this is similar to Charlene’s comment, #18). However, my experiences interacting with young divorced men (of whom there is a significant number in the Church) has occasionally been a little problematic.

  28. Christian Cardall on February 15, 2005 at 8:46 pm

    Naomi, you make a good point about rhetorical context.

    In that quote, President Faust was speaking to one of those satellite leadership broadcasts. I remember him speaking on another occasion, at BYU; he brought his wife up to the pulpit, and they oozed marital bliss; different message (or at least emphasis)! Also, President Faust has spoken in conference of the blessed richness (my words, I can’t remember exactly how he put it) of being married for a long time, and being sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise.

    Elder Holland first gave that talk as a BYU devotional (with me in attendance as a freshman—I’m dating myself), but he also gave a version years later as a conference talk. It might be interesting to look at any differences.

    Now, in reality I don’t think there are any big differences of opinion between Pres. Faust and Elder Holland on this. If they read the exchange above they’d probably look at each other with puzzled expressions and say, “How can anyone think we disagree?”

    Part of what’s going on is that any interesting subject has some inherent tensions—that’s why it’s interesting—and these can get caricatured when people with analytic tendencies get going. (In real life, emotions play an important role in papering over these tensions and ensuring we actually do something, instead of falling victims to a paralysis of analysis. The tensions are still there, often unexamined, but still we plunge ahead with life.)

    Also, I agree with the point you raised in connection with the Proclamation, about the statements being different aspects of the same thing—the proverbial blind men describing different parts of the elephant and thinking they’re in disagreement about what an elephant is. After analysis should come the synthesis: Hopefully, after the reductionist tension-highlighting exercise, eventually a greater appreciation of the entire elephant comes into view. But the elephant may come out looking different than you initially expected!

  29. Kannie on February 15, 2005 at 9:08 pm

    Just a thought re: Pres. Faust’s “marriage isn’t just about the couple” and Elder Holland’s description of how fulfilling marriage can be for a couple — I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive or contradictory at all. Let’s step out of the zero-sum “us vs. them” mentality. We know that we find our own eternal life when we lose our “lives” in the service of the Lord, i.e., the service of others. In what other setting than the family can we learn and practice so completely the principle and ideal of service? (We keep hearing this in Conference . . . ) By serving our family, we find our own self-fulfillment, as the Lord intends for us to find it. In regard to childbearing, that marriage is not solely about the couple does not preclude that couple’s growing together and enjoying each other’s company. Don’t we all lament that so many couples are too hesitant and preoccupied with their own “happiness” (as they see and pursue it) as a couple — whether financially, emotionally, or whatever — to raise children? Anyway, just a thought. Also, different audiences do sometimes receive different angles on instruction, but the doctrine doesn’t change simply because one angle is in the spotlight. If we had to hear all the finer points all the time, we’d never leave Gen. Conf. — we’d be hearing the entire Plan of Salvation explained in detail by every speaker. :-)

  30. A. Greenwood on February 15, 2005 at 9:13 pm

    Reading the last three comments, I have been edified. Thanks Naomi and Christian, and thanks Kannie for tying it together in a way that the Spirit approved of, at least to me.

  31. Adam Greenwood on February 15, 2005 at 11:56 pm

    John Finnis (and so probably St. Thomas or Aristotle) says that the highest good humans can know is Friendship, and the highest form of friendship, he says, is sacrificing everything together to achieve a common end. I believe he is mostly right, and that Kannie is correct that perfect union can only come if the couples are trying to accomplish something.

  32. Rosalynde Welch on February 16, 2005 at 12:13 pm

    Thanks, everybody, for harmonious and thoughtful comments! A few more responses (and sorry for the delay).

    Charlene, I’d guess that the success of your cross-gender friendships has a lot to do with your status as professional colleagues: this provides a basis for conversation and relation other than simple maleness and femaleness, which tends to dominate male-female relationships in the absence of other social dynamics. As I said above, since I’ve been married the most rewarding friendship I’ve had with a man was with an colleague in my graduate program (also LDS), and I really cherished it. I wish there were a way for LDS men and women to have more relationships like this, but our joint interactions through church callings tend to be superficial or highly mediated so, in my experience, this happens rarely. Of course, this is a good thing, in some ways, as it certainly prevents some inappropriate relationships that could develop; on the other hand, I wonder whether it contributes to a climate of mystery and otherness that exacerbates lots of gender relationship problems–both intimate and hostile!

  33. Rosalynde Welch on February 16, 2005 at 12:26 pm

    DKL, thanks for the contribution. And to quote a lyric from “FOTR”–how charming! And relevant. Your three points are well-taken: shared achievement, shared experience, and shared self-interest vie mutual obligation are the ties that bind strongest, probably. It’s a little painful to forsake the excitement and sweetness of the new romantic relationship, but one must, in order to “know” after 25 years, like Golde.

  34. MDS on February 16, 2005 at 12:46 pm

    Reading Rosalynde’s last comment, and not having gone back to review DKL’s earlier post, I found myself wondering what the Fellowship of the Ring had to say about marriage. :)

  35. Rosalynde Welch on February 16, 2005 at 12:55 pm

    Christian, I am a merciless usurer, and I will exact full payment with interest on those responses you owe me! Maybe we can negotiate a little, though, since I’m pretty sure I owe you one or two responses, too.

    You force me to retract, or at least qualify. Let me clarify my points about whats, whys and hows a little: I didn’t mean to suggest that “whats” are merely behavioral regulations, and the “whys” and “hows” the supporting doctrine; as you point out, doctrine and behavior cleave messily from one another. Nor am I suggesting that the former are uniformly essential and the latter are uniformly disposable: one disposes of prophetic utterance of any kind at one’s own peril, I think. I’m talking instead about classes of statements: assertions or claims, grounds, warrants, qualifiers. It’s the claim that’s the “what”, and the other elements the “whys” and “hows”. Interestingly, Elder Holland in his talk explicitly identified the class of statement he was making: “I wish to speak, to the best of my ability, on why we should be clean, on why moral discipline is such a significant matter in God’s eyes. … I wish to try to give at least a partial answer to “Why be morally clean?’” Joseph Smith made the prophetic claim that the BoM is an ancient document–even though he may not have fully understood the grounds, warrants or qualifications of that statement; examples could be multiplied. The point is not that prophets are not inspired about the hows and whys, or that they shouldn’t attempt to address them–such attempts are often enormously helpful for many believers, as was Elder Holland’s talk for some–but that we would do well to understand their statements in their proper rhetorical context.

    (Yes, yes, I know–this makes the true disciple a student of language and not of physics… but I’ll debate you on that one later!)

  36. Rosalynde Welch on February 16, 2005 at 1:05 pm

    Naomi, great comment! I would just take issue with one thing you said: that the Proclamation is the ultimate “why” of our time. On the contrary, it seems to me that the Proclamation scrupulously avoids whys and hows (and this is not a complaint!): gender is eternal, but it’s not specified why or how. Homosexuality is wrong, but it’s not specified why or how. Fathers have the responsibility to provide and mothers have the responsibility to nurture, but it’s not specified how or why.

    I don’t want this to turn into another Proclamation discussion–and I want to reiterate that I don’t see this as a weakness in the document! On the contrary, I think it gives it a certain humility, to accommodate increasing knowledge, and a certain flexibility, to accommodate changing social conditions.

  37. Sheri Lynn on February 16, 2005 at 1:27 pm

    Responding to Charlene: I have a close and decades-long friendship with a male other than my husband. He and I are politically completely different. He generally despises religion and mine in particular. Yet I know I could always ask him for help, and I enjoy talking to him. We never violate the intimacies of our marriages by discussing anything our spouses couldn’t see. We know that we could. There is even some attraction there, or used to be. But the friendship is valuable because we protect it and our marriages by preserving boundaries there. His successes in life inspire me and encourage me, and we support each other when life challenges us. Were we in physical proximity to each other, the no-touching rule would certainly be in place, and we would probably make a point never to be alone together. The appearance of evil can lead to evil even with no intent.

  38. Christian Cardall on February 16, 2005 at 2:33 pm

    Rosalynde, no need to debate. We can agree that everyone should study language—after they study physics (need to know how to create worlds, after all!)

  39. Mark Martin on February 16, 2005 at 2:35 pm

    The comments about having (or whether to have) both male and female friends outside of one’s own marriage seems to suggest a possible future post and thread. As a working man, I get to have substantial interaction with adults, both male and female. Eating lunch in the cafeteria with mixed company enables me to hear about the lives of several different people, and to consider their perspectives and attitudes.

    When I’m married, since I’ll still need to be a bread-winner, I will still have access to these limited friendships which provide meaningful adult discussion. If my future wife chooses to spend much of her time at home, I do not want her to miss out on opportunities to discuss various topics with both men (besides me) and women. I’d be interested in a discussion on positive ways to provide such opportunities for both spouses, while safeguarding the sacred trust and oneness of the marriage relationship.

  40. Sheri Lynn on February 16, 2005 at 3:03 pm

    The rule I was taught as a new convert is that male and female adults should not be alone with one another unless closely related. This prevents action on any temptation that might arise, inhibits gossip, and generally decreases opportunities for sins. It’s a good and useful rule of thumb. I absorbed it so well I’m uncomfortable being alone during an interview with a bishop or SP. If I go into a man’s office, I always make sure the door is open behind me. That protects everyone involved.

  41. Christian Cardall on February 16, 2005 at 5:25 pm

    On second thought, we can leave it at “everyone should study language”—provided we remember that the language of the Gods is physics!

  42. Rosalynde Welch on February 16, 2005 at 5:37 pm

    Very cute, Christian. Did it really take you all afternoon to come up with that one? (teasing!)

  43. Christian Cardall on February 16, 2005 at 6:22 pm

    Actually, I’ve been doing some mind-numbing tensor analysis all afternoon (that, and some tedious debugging, looking over the shoulder of one of my postdocs—nothing more annoying than trying to help debug code when you don’t even have your damn hands on the keyboard, all while the parallel file system response is intermittent!). And in the midst of the unrewarding misery, the epiphany came: Physics is the language of the Gods, and I felt whole again.

    You know, kind of like when you start changing a poopy diaper, and you hear a crash downstairs heralding the shattering of the fancy glass pitcher full of orange juice that your three-year-old tried to get out, and when you finally get back upstairs you find poop smeared all over the walls, and then the epiphany comes: Raising children is the work of the Gods! ;)

  44. Naomi Frandsen on February 16, 2005 at 7:05 pm

    I think you’re right about the Proclamation, Rosalynde. I guess I was thinking of the Proclamation in terms of some of Joseph Smith’s discourses on eternal truths–the King Follet discourse, lectures on faith. These writings are different in many ways, but the statements about eternal identity and purpose seem to support and provide a stable background for some of the reiterated whats that prophets give us in the form of commandments.
    Christian, I’m now very excited for motherhood–thanks for that inspiring anecdote :).

  45. Rosalynde Welch on February 16, 2005 at 7:06 pm

    Christian, how did you know?!

    Actually, the crash is likely to come while I’m on the treadmill, berry-colored lipstick is the wall-art medium of choice, and my epiphany is usually, “The Gods order in Chinese on Wednesdays, right?”

  46. JKS on February 16, 2005 at 7:11 pm

    Charlene,
    You are engaged. You are not married. I remember being engaged. I felt completely comfortable hanging out with single male friends. I wasn’t dating them, they knew I was engaged. There was no flirting or anything. No big deal.
    You’ve already noticed that you have started to establish some boundaries, that I think you will find will continue once you are married. After I was married the boundaries naturally became more definite. There were things that I naturally didn’t do anymore. I acted more married once I was married, if that makes any sense. My comfort level around men changed.
    Friendships naturally evolve and change as your life changes. Some friends you are friends with because of convenience–you work together etc. When you switch jobs your friendship doesn’t always last. SOmetimes your lifestyles match–if you both have babies together you get together in a mom’s group. If your husband’s get along you will get together as couples. Friendships naturally change and evolve. The benefit is that you are always making new friends! Keeping in mind that you never want a male friend to become a danger to your marriage means that as you make new friends and decide which friendships to strengthen, you won’t be thinking “I think my male neighbor and I should play tennis together every Wednesday morning because we both like tennis.” You’ll be thinking “I think my husband and I should invite our neighbors over for dinner” or “I think I’ll invite my female neighbor to a play that we might both enjoy and become better friends.”
    Make sense? Its more an attitude than arbitrary rules. None of my happily married friends see it as a restriction.

  47. charlene on February 16, 2005 at 9:40 pm

    Yes, JKS, I was wondering how different being engaged and married is, in this respect. On the other hand, I read the bit about “…my male neighbot and I should play tennis together every Wed. morning” and started giggling: that would never even occur to me! Whereas inviting my female neighbor to a play sounds like a good idea… So you’re right, I’ve already internalized a lot of it. On the third hand (I’m running out of hands) a lot of my interests are distinct from those of my fiance (not to mention my work), and so I *will* spend a lot of time with guys without him, in these specific contexts. (Rosalynde, I think you’re absolutely right about the professional interactions. I noticed something funny the other day– my best male friend besides my fiance, I could tell you what he thinks about any subject relating to physics or politics or religion (Sheri, like you, we often disagree), but I have no idea what his sister’s name is!) But yeah, it’s always kind of a relief when the single ones manage to find girlfriends and we can do things as a couple as well :)

  48. Sheri Lynn on February 16, 2005 at 10:02 pm

    Oh, yeah. I don’t think I could remain friends with Howard if he weren’t happily married. Emphasis on the HAPPILY. If he developed problems in his marriage then our friendship could become dangerous, or if both of us had a spat with our spouses at the same time, we’d probably avoid each other. I could probably tell him anything, but propriety protects us from being too intimate.

    So does his voting record. Haha.

  49. Christian Cardall on February 17, 2005 at 1:37 pm

    Another screed that does not yet answer Rosalynde’s questions, but hopefully kicks the can a little further toward that goal:

    One point of view coming out of the discussion so far is that we’re still in the dark about many aspects of male/female relations, both in eternity and in the here and now. With regard to what our eternal natures are and what our relationships and intimacies might be like in eternity, much has been traditionally assumed based on earthly experience; but in fact, few explicit details have been clearly revealed. And while prophets have been consistent on the reality and importance of eternal relationships, some important specifics of our practices and motivations have changed materially with time, often as a delayed response to surrounding culture, rather than clear prophetic visions of eternity leading the way. Like Paul candidly admitted in times past in connection with understanding ourselves, even the prophetic leaders seem to be seeing through (or in) a glass darkly—maybe, translucently.

    But we have to live and make choices in the here and now, in the face of incomplete information. Where else can we turn? To the obvious second-string source: the philosophies of men, mingled with rock music lyrics! I’m not entirely joking—perhaps an evolutionary perspective can give us some insight on our mortal natures, if not our eternal natures—and suggest what might be molded from the biological and cultural legacies developed and received to date. And pop culture, for all its shortfalls, is nonetheless a vast repository of common experience waiting to be mined for nuggets of wisdom. Typically we bemoan the mediocrity of the masses and the sinfulness of the world; it’s tempting, and also useful in important ways, to be academic, cultural, and ecclesiastical elitists. But I also believe in—or at least have hope for—the baseline competence of humanity in the aggregate, and wish to learn from it.

    In terms of religious doctrine, this last point could be couched as a willingness to recognize and learn from a common wisdom arising from the divine nature (and Spirit of Christ, if you like) in all people, in addition to special revelation to special people, which seems to be relatively rare. In fact, there’s been some consensus here that this is an appropriate source drawn upon by our leaders in connection with the matters at hand. It is analogous to the approach of BYU professor Paul Cox’s discipline of ethnobotany: waiting for the high priests of the pharmaceutical industry to deliver the life-saving tablets from on high (pun intended), while valuable, is not the only possible approach; one can observe the jungle-dwellers who have been using nature for centuries, and see what substances they’ve discovered in their long history of trial and error that might prove medically useful.

    I’ve spent all this time justifying the possible utility of alternative (even secular) perspectives, both elite and plebian; I hope in a later comment or two to explore whether they can shed any light on Rosalynde’s questions.

  50. Rosalynde Welch on February 17, 2005 at 4:28 pm

    Christian, I sense that you’re leading me down the primrose path toward… evolutionary psychology (da-DUM! scary silent-movie organ blast here). I have a heritable mistrust of evolutionary psychology in my discipinary genome, but recently I’ve been reconsidering; I’m willing to listen. It’s my sense, though, that evolutionary perspectives are themselves a darkling glass, in (or through) which the observer sees her own image, or her own view of the world. And as for an aggregate divine nature of humanity leavening the cultural bread, I don’t reject the possibility. But again, I think this method is likely to reveal our own inclinations mroe than anything, since we can so easily dismiss what we don’t want as “natural man.” So persuade me otherwise, especially if you can draw in Billie Holiday, the Counting Crows, and Franz Ferdinand.

    On the (in)specifics of eternal relationships, I’ve always been struck by the breadth of Joseph’s revelatory claim that the “same sociality that exists among us here will exist among us there”: that sociality includes “All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations,” and seems, in this formulation, to extend far beyond the couple marriage relationship. This is not to diminish the importance of the primary marriage sealing–in fact, it increases its importance, since the marriage is the portal into eternal sociality–but it seems to suggest a far broader range of intimacies and relationships than we (or I) usually associate with eternal families.

  51. Christian Cardall on February 17, 2005 at 5:02 pm

    Rosalynde, I tried to choose my words carefully: “…what might be molded from the biological and cultural legacies developed and received to date.” I’m no expert in your discipline (or evolutionary psychology, for that matter), but naively I would expect this statement to provide ample grounds for engagement with your discipline. (Exactly what name do you give your discipline, by the way?)

    Regarding evolutionary perspectives as a dark glass, merely revealing our inclinations. First, to me evolutionary perspectives seem to tie a lot of things together nicely, but I recognize this may be in the eye of the beholder. The only other thing I can say now is that, while I would like to be convinced otherwise, I fear the charge applies with at least equal force to `revealed perspectives.’ Of course, this constitutes the underlying substratum (redundant there, I guess) of the unfinished discourse between us, the elephant lurking prominently in the threads we’ve left dangling so far (sorry for the mixed metaphor!). It may take awhile to work through it, but I hope and expect my thinking will be fruitfully expanded/pruned/clarified in the process.

    On the “same sociality”, I got the impression previously that you were doubtful about sexuality in eternity; what does “same sociality” imply about this? Similarly, how do promises to the righteous unmarried that they will enjoy `every blessing’ denied them in this life bear on this question?

  52. Rosalynde Welch on February 18, 2005 at 2:41 am

    Christian, disciplinarily speaking I’m in early modern studies, which of course makes me an early modernist–but usually I just say “Shakespeare,” which has all the cultural cache with none of the wearying detail. Not unlike the way you’d say “Andromeda Galaxy,” I expect. And your words were well-chosen; Shakespeare and Andromeda have plenty of space to engage. (By the way, my resistance to evolutionary pscyhology does not extend to evolution generally, with which I am quite comfortable–which is not to say knowledgable, sadly; I agree that evolutionary perspectives tie many things together usefully, which is why I have been reconsidering evolutionary biology and psychology of late.)

    And of course you’ve negotiated a transaction that is all to your advantage: I suspect that you are eminently capable of convincing me of… whatever the point about relationships is you plan to make with evolutionary perspectives, whereas it is, in the end, outside my power to convince you to accept revealed perspectives! As Agrippa learned, one can only “almost persuade” another to faith. Ah well, I’ll enjoy inspecting that elephant anyway…

    Now for the interesting stuff, sociality and sexuality and eternity. Human sexuality functions in mortality to reproduce human bodies, and since we will not be reproducing human bodies in exaltation, it seems reasonable that exalted sexuality will change somewhat, too. Of course, there are a few other reasons one might want to preserve sex in the eternities! And Mormonism’s embodied God suggests that divinity and appetite are not inimical, as does our spirit-body monism. So I take “same sociality” to mean that intimacy and relatedness will persist, and godly appetites be sated, but not necessarily in identical manner; frankly, I hope celestial sex is a somewhat more mutual experience than earthly sex can sometimes be.

  53. Russell Arben Fox on February 18, 2005 at 7:39 am

    “And Mormonism’s embodied God suggests that divinity and appetite are not inimical, as does our spirit-body monism.”

    Rosalynde, just a quick point (and my apologies if it’s something you’ve argued for earlier; I haven’t followed this thread as closely as I might have). I’m not sure there’s any reason, based on the revelations anyway, to believe this to be the case. Do resurrected beings get hungry? The New Testament depicts the glorified Christ eating, but that seems to have more a matter of evidence-giving than need-satisfaction. I think we need to be careful not to read more of our own common-sense take on embodiment into our theology than is warranted; we simply don’t know if glorified bodies experience appetite, time, or space at all like our bodies do. Jim put it this way in an essay of his:

    “Latter-day Saint doctrine is that the Father and the Son have bodies: ‘The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also’ (D&C 130:22). At first glance this seems straightforward: the Father and the Son are embodied. However, it requires very little reflection to begin to wonder what that means….The bodies of flesh and bone with which I am familiar do not shine, have blood, cannot hover, can be wounded and die, must move through contiguous points of time-space–in short, they are not at all like the bodies of the Father and the Son. So what does it mean to say that the Father and the Son have bodies? In fact, does it mean anything at all? When I use the word body in any other context, I never refer to something that shines, can hover, is immortal, and moves through space seemingly without being troubled by walls and doors. Given the vast difference between what we mean by the word body in every other case and that to which the word refers in this case, one can legitimately ask whether the word body has the same meaning in this case that it has in the others.”

  54. Rosalynde Welch on February 18, 2005 at 8:45 am

    Good point, Russell (and Jim); it’s my instinct as well to be cautious in making assumptions about divine embodiedness.

  55. Jim F. on February 18, 2005 at 11:10 am

    Just to be sure avoid misunderstanding by someone who reads the quotation that Russell gives, but doesn’t go to the essay he links to, let me add several quotations from it:

    One cogent response to this problem has been to argue that in our talk about divinity we use analogies: I know what it means for a human to be just. When I say that God is just, I mean that he has what I call justice, but that he has it to an infinite degree. He is so much more just than I that I probably do not really understand his justice, but because I do understand justice in human terms, I can imagine something of what his justice must be like. However inadequate my imagination of his justice may be, it is not meaningless. Thus, on this view, though I don’t understand well what it means to say that God has a body, I understand enough about human embodiment to say meaningfully that God has a body. When I speak philosophically about divine embodiment, I always only begin with what I know about human embodiment and extrapolate from there. My extrapolations may turn out to be wrong and they will certainly turn out to need improvement as I receive the responses and criticisms of others, but they are the best I can now do philosophically.

    The scriptures tell us little about what it means to say that God has a body: as far as I can tell, only that he looks like us and, perhaps, that Christ’s body was necessary to him so that he could show mercy and work the atonement. Latter-day revelation indicates that we must gain bodies if we are to fulfill the purposes of our Heavenly Father, but it is not obvious what that implies about divine embodiment. Philosophical reflection may take us beyond these points and may help us think about what it means to speak of divine embodiment and find ways of understanding the concept, but it remains only philosophical reflection.

    Joseph’s [revelation] may also remove God from philosophical discussion, not by making it impossible to speak of him philosophically, but by making it very difficult.

  56. Christian Cardall on February 18, 2005 at 11:10 am

    Russell, trying to understand how the phenomena you describe fit with the known laws of physics is enough to make any physicist throw up her hands in bewildered surrender; I can imagine that the same might be true for philosophers. It would be comfortable in many ways to reduce the First Vision, Moroni, etc. to intracranial multimedia presentations. But subsequent prophets (I can think of Presidents Hinckley and Grant, off the top of my head) seem to insist on a literal physical presence in the grove, and the tangible concreteness is what we have traditionally prized about Joseph (and the earliest Christians, whose doctrine he restored): we assume physical hands of resurrected beings ordaining Joseph and Oliver, we take Joseph literally when he says `God is a man in yonder heavens—that is the great secret!’ How far can we go in philosophizing and theologizing this concreteness away before we’re guilty of the heretical watering-down we accuse Hellenizing apostate Christianity of?

  57. Christian Cardall on February 18, 2005 at 11:15 am

    Thanks, Jim, I’m one who hasn’t yet taken the time to read the whole essay before commenting. I find your last sentence in #55 cryptic, and am curious to understand it. (Of course I should have read the whole essay before asking.)

  58. Jim F. on February 18, 2005 at 11:28 am

    Christian, the short answer is that we don’t presently have the philosophical categories and concepts for talking about a being like God as Mormons understand him. One conclusion from that could be that there is no such being, but I think that assumes too much about existing philosophical categories. The other possible conclusion is two-sided: (a) there are no philosophical categories adequate to talking about such a being, or (b) there may be such categories, but we don’t have them. For lots of reasons that are impossible to explain in a venue such as this, I think that a is a real possibility. But we cannot know whether a is true, so we have to assume b, trying to figure out what those categories might be–if we are going to think about God philosophically. Some of us are afflicted with the disease that demands that kind of thinking, but I don’t think it is something that everyone must do.

  59. Russell Arben Fox on February 18, 2005 at 12:51 pm

    Christian, ditto everything Jim just wrote. Also, more to the point, my comments and quotation from Jim’s paper followed a suggestion by Rosalynde that, since resurrected beings and gods are embodied, they must therefore have some sense of physical and sexual appetite, since that’s what bodies are like. I replied that we don’t know that much about heavenly bodies, and Rosalynde agreed. It’s a huge leap, I think, to claim that someone who doubts that heavenly bodies experience physical appetites is also possibly doubting the concreteness of the spaciality of God’s glorified physical presence (and hands, for that matter).

  60. Christian Cardall on February 18, 2005 at 1:01 pm

    Jim, I have now read the essay. Having little exposure to philosophy means that I’m not prepared to fully appreciate it, especially on a first reading, but I can see you’re not in the least doing the “Hellenizing” thing—seems like the opposite, actually. I was intrigued by your footnote about why we might be considered “a-theists.” Given the wide gulf in philosophical underpinnings, I was puzzled by existence of Robinson’s Evangelical/Mormon `How Wide the Divide?’ book (though again, I haven’t read it). I’ve thought that if I ever took the trouble to set up a blog, the title “Mormons and Atheists: How Wide the Divide?” would be a catchy title for a post.

    But I also appreciate the point in your comment #58, that our present inability to fully rationalize `God as Mormons understand him’ within our current modes of secular learning does not logically entail full-blown atheism (as opposed to `a-theism’). The sobering (for me) follow-on is that while atheism might be an understandable conclusion, it nevertheless remains essentially a choice (maybe temptation), and therefore something for which we might be held accountable.

    (Just to be sure, let no one miscontstrue anything I say here: Jim is not an atheist; as far as I can tell he believes firmly in God as revealed in the scriptures and by Joseph Smith, as can be seen by reading his essay in its entirety.)

  61. Christian Cardall on February 18, 2005 at 1:51 pm

    Russell, fair enough. But while the resurrected Christ’s ability to eat does not necessarily imply that he experiences hunger, it seems natural to suppose that a functional digestive system serves some purpose. Further, Joseph’s book of Enoch shows God experiencing sorrow, and Parley Pratt’s famous description of the Holy Ghost amplifying `natural affections’ seems aimed at human physical intimacy.
    I grant that none of this is proof of the appetites of divine bodies, but taken together it does make the idea that divine beings experience the familiar human array of affects seem like a somewhat natural assumption. I guess I’m curious to know what might motivate a seemingly counter-intuitive postulate to the contrary.

  62. Christian Cardall on February 18, 2005 at 5:25 pm

    Rosalynde, seeking to ameliorate what you perceive to be a disadvantage in this transaction is a brilliant (if transparent) gambit. Don’t think I don’t see what you’re up to, assuming the mantle of an undisputed master, the matchless (and male) Bard, while tagging me as a (female) helpless pawn chained in a power struggle among the Gods that’s far above her pay grade! That’s fine; I think we both understand that introductory icons like “Shakespeare” and “Andromeda” are simply flashed at an early stage of acquaintance to impress and stimulate interest, and do not precisely reflect the rewarding depths of one’s discipline. ;)

    I’m certainly no expert on evolution or evolutionary psychology either. The sum total of my superficial understanding consists of GE biology and Miller’s honors intro to psychology at BYU; occasional articles aimed at non-specialists in Scientific American, Science, and Nature; and single readings of Human Natures by Paul Ehrlich and The Structure of Evolutionary Theory by Stephen J. Gould. (The latter, at ~1300 pages and not exactly aimed at the non-specialist, is for many too long and dense to be manageable, but is ultimately rewarding in my opinion. (Restrain thyself, Brian G.) There’s much to be gained from the first several historical chapters, and Gould’s literary flair and expansiveness make even the more technical later chapters comprehensible to the educated lay reader.) You mentioned in the past some work contra evolutionary psychology, Stephen Rose or somebody? Any particular reference?

    I don’t know if any insights from evolution will turn out to be convincing, but I’m sure that your views are sufficiently graceful and well-engineered to survive any retrofitting that might be needed to accommodate new and convincing evidence. As far as whether a revealed or secular perspective has an a priori advantage in the marketplace of ideas: true that one can only be `almost persuaded’ to faith, but the revealed perspective has its own important structural advantage, the genuine possibility of the last laugh: If it’s correct, everyone eventually will know it; but if the secular perspective turns out to be correct, no one will.

    Finally, regarding the biological asymmetry your mentioned, don’t jump to the conclusion too soon that nature has given half the population a raw deal. Since each half cannot live the others’ experience we can’t really know, but it seems to me there may be a certain compensation. Think integral calculus: the area under a curve with a few peaks of modest amplitude may in fact be equal to the area under a single peak of significantly larger magnitude. Or, to try a geothermal analogy, consider hourly Old Faithful geyser in comparison with a Mt.-St.-Helens-class eruption every few centuries. (Hopefully the disparities in magnitude and time scale aren’t this extreme, but you get the idea!)

  63. Rosalynde Welch on February 19, 2005 at 3:52 pm

    Yes, I’ve always been very good with integral calculus, and the limit of Riemann sum approximations in the problem you propose might indeed suggest a certain parity in peaks, whether functional or volcanic. Of course, the origins of integral calculus are modern: one would have to conclude, then, that the problems of rate and probability solved by modern calculus may have been less satisfactorily resolved for female, uh, mathemeticians preceding the Newton-Leibniz era.

    Why not try an astrophysics analogy, which at least has the virtue of dealing in light years: the short gamma ray burst emited by a giant magnetar flare like SGR 1806-20 is equal to several long gamma ray bursts emited by colliding black holes.

    On the evolutionary psychology issue, there’s a generalist collection of essays titled “Alas, Poor Darwin”, edited by Steven Rose and put out by Random House in 2000; also see Lewontin, Rose and Kamin “Not in Our Genes,” Penguin 1984. (There’s more, of course, but each of these, particularly the first, have good bibliographies if you’re interested in more.)

    By the way, I’m still waiting for your point taken from rock music lyrics–and on that one I won’t let you off with an incomplete!

  64. Brian G on February 19, 2005 at 9:30 pm

    I’m sitting here both scratching and shaking my head. I guess if you cloak what you’re talking about in analogy and rarified vocabulary you can get away with whatever you want, but if you simply and inoffensively mention an unfortunate choice of wording your comment gets erased. What gives?

  65. Christian Cardall on February 21, 2005 at 10:48 am

    As my grandfather would often say, ausgezeichnet! Let’s see, a Ph.D. in early modern studies; not mere working knowledge of calculus, but an appreciation of its theoretical underpinnings; and au courant in astrophysics to boot? Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve got a Renaissance Woman on our hands, a certified polymath. If reincarnation weren’t so doctrinally repugnant, I’d swear up and down that Sophia Charlotte was back among us!

    I had expected to stand down on this particular tangent, but because you brought up astrophysics, you are obliged to indulge me in one last bite at the apple. (You must have known that penetration of my domain would provoke a response—you’re aware that people can be passionate about areas related to their supposed expertise!) If you think waiting for calculus to be worked out was bad, you should know that gamma-ray bursts weren’t even discovered until 1967—and, not surprisingly, that the `index case’ was completely serendipitous. Fortunately, through subsequent familiarity born of arduous research, gamma-ray bursts are now “detected at the rate of about once a day”, thanks to modern techniques. That sounds impressive, but scientists are never satisfied: here you can read about Swift, an expensive government project designed to improve response times from hours or minutes to seconds (your tax dollars hard at work on worthy goals!). The idea is to learn more about the causes of this still-mysterious phenomenon through detailed study of the bursts’ “afterglows” (check the reference, I swear I’m not making this up). The Swift website linked above summarizes the motivation for the work:

    Gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) are the most powerful explosions the Universe has seen since the Big Bang. They occur approximately once per day and are brief, but intense, flashes of gamma radiation. They come from all different directions of the sky and last from a few milliseconds [i.e., barely detectable] to a few hundred seconds [!]. So far scientists do not know what causes them.

    Encouraging that we live in times of such epochal advances, in which neither effort nor expense are being spared until we, um, `get to the bottom’ of this mystery. But don’t let the recent monster outburst of SGR 1806-20 you mentioned raise expectations too high; as one researcher noted in connection with this exceptional outburst, “This is a once-in-a-lifetime event.”

    Moving right along… Interesting to see Lewontin’s name crop up—he is a sometime collaborator of Gould’s, and Gould mentions in passing his unease with too-facile explanations proffered by the sociobiology mongerers. And, the very point of Ehrlic’s plural title “Human Natures” was to argue for the hefty relative weight of culture (and its plasticity), while maintaining a reasonable respect for the lingering effects of the ancient milieu that shaped our ancestors. So these influences on my dilettantish interest are not hard-core biological determinists by a long shot.

    Clawing my way back toward the original post: As you can see I keep getting distracted; my comments have a paradoxical ability to be simultaneously long and devoid of content. It may seem like I’m stalling for time; I assure you that I am. I confess I feel a bit like Jacob: After the long buildup, I’m not sure I can perform as advertised, and that in the end my points will seem anticlimactic.

    But to kick the can a wee bit further down the road, let me offer an earnest towards a more extended discussion, in the form of a precis in which two songs are finally named. First, Van Halen’s “Best of Both Worlds” (lyrics and lyrics and audio sample) inspires a couple of thoughts. Equal parts assertive, defensive, and lamentational, it reminds that in some cases, similar conclusions can be arrived at from wildly divergent worldviews; implicit is a warning that ideologically hegemonic perspectives can be needlessly and tragically divisive. Specializing this general point to the matter of male/female relations, it may be that the very union Elder Holland seeks achieves its apotheosis through bonds that—while permanent or nearly so—are more open, appreciative (or at least tolerant), and generous towards a partner’s needs and desires than the image I derive from your phrase “totalizing mutuality”, which strikes me as suffocatingly dominating and possessive.

  66. Christian Cardall on February 21, 2005 at 1:18 pm

    Sorry for the doubly posted comment—for some reason it didn’t post right away.

    Also, in I messed up the link to the Van Halen audio sample.

WELCOME

Times and Seasons is a place to gather and discuss ideas of interest to faithful Latter-day Saints.