Sex as Truth

December 12, 2011 | 30 comments
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Joseph Spencer, in his encouraging response to Taylor Petrey’s Dialogue article, “Toward a Post-Heterosexual Mormon theology,” makes the following claim:

Now, before I take up my quibble, I want to make sure I’m not misunderstood. In arguing on behalf of eternal gender, I do not mean to suggest that there is nothing problematic with the way Latter-day Saints talk about gender. I entirely agree with Petrey that “LDS theology faces serious credibility issues by continuing to hold to precritical assumptions about sexual difference.” I offer no defense of natural or inherent sexual identity. My argument is rather that the theological gesture, made in the Proclamation on the family, concerning eternal gender can be utilized as a theological resource against naturalism or inherentism, rather than interpreted as an attempt atsecuring naturalism or inherentism. And I want to claim further that the fully faithful tone Petrey strikes in the first two parts of his essay might only be sustainable in a critique of gender if eternal gender is taken as an existing idea to be rearticulated in more expansive terms and not as a theological faux pax to be abandoned.

On this point in particular, I think Spencer is on the right track: what if, as Mormons, our valorization of sexual difference as “eternal” is actually revolutionary rather than conservative?

What follows is a rough attempt at framing a possible approach to sexual difference that treats this difference as a truth the gospel aims to produce rather than as a fact that is already given. (Warning: the essay is thoroughly speculative and – this may be a deal breaker – some French philosophy ensues.)

———-

I’ve long been puzzled by the consistent association of Mormon beliefs with all things “conservative” or “traditional.” The core of the Restoration, it seems to me, is its commitment to a set of revolutionary beliefs about the nature of God, the meaning of life, and the potential of human relationships. We do not wish to turn back the clock or retreat to an earlier day. For Mormons, even the Fall is fortunate and progressive.

Writing from Liberty jail in the spring of 1839, this must have been painfully obvious to Joseph Smith. In Section 123 of the Doctrine and Covenants, Joseph writes that the spirit of the devil has “riveted the creeds of the fathers, who have inherited lies, upon the hearts of the children, and filled the world with confusion, and has been growing stronger and stronger, and is now the very mainspring of all corruption” (123:7). The traditions of men, he continues, are “an iron yoke” and “a strong band”—indeed, “they are the very handcuffs, and chains, and shackles, and fetters of hell” (123:8).

These considerations lead me directly to the question of marriage. If Mormonism is revolutionary and non-traditional in any respect, it is so in its doctrine of eternal marriage. We claim not only that marriage is central to the meaning of life but, more radically, that it is also central to what it means to be God. Our position is that marriage, rather than simply being a social and economic necessity or a path to finite satisfactions, is the very door that opens onto infinity.

If we have anything uniquely powerful to declare to the world, it is that, through an eternal marriage, Christ promises us the love, grace, and freedom that can only be received if the fisted grip of tradition is loosened, opened, and offered to God.

For the sake, then, of exploring the possible meanings of an eternal marriage, I propose the following four theses:

1. Eternal marriage is God’s kind of marriage, a marriage characterized not simply by an infinite duration but by an infinite fidelity to the truth of one’s word.

2. The “traditional” meanings and functions ascribed to marriage are insufficient because they are firmly grounded in finite interests rather than an infinite fidelity.

3. Eternal marriage breaks with the traditional finitude of marriage because it is the active production of an eternal truth about sexual difference.

4. Sexual difference, as the making of an infinite truth, is a spiritual difference that exceeds the finitude of biological conditions and inflects the unity of “eternal life” into the infinite Two of “eternal lives.”

1. Eternal marriage is God’s kind of marriage, a marriage characterized not simply by an infinite duration but by an infinite fidelity to the truth of one’s word.

I’d like to begin with a remark frequently made by Bruce R. McConkie about what Mormons mean by “eternal life.” With his eye on Section 19 of the Doctrine and Covenants, Elder McConkie argues that, “as used in the scriptures, eternal life is the name given to the kind of life that our Eternal Father lives. The word eternal, as used in the name eternal life, is a noun and not an adjective. . . . He being God, the life he lives is God’s life; and his name . . . being Eternal, the kind of life he lives is eternal life.”[i] Elder McConkie’s suggestion is that we understand the “eternal” in “eternal life” as an indicator of the quality of the life in question rather than as a characterization of its brute duration.

Eternal life is eternal, not just because it is infinite, but because it is infinite in a particular way. I would suggest that the primary sense of eternal is this: the word eternal fittingly describes God’s kind of life because God’s life is, above all, characterized by an infinite and unconditional fidelity to the truth of his word. Here, “eternity,” “fidelity,” “truth,” and “word” form an indivisible constellation of crucial concepts where each is needed in order to properly understand the others.

Now, apply this characterization of “eternal” life to “eternal” marriage.  Just as an eternal life is God’s kind of life, an eternal marriage is God’s kind of marriage, a marriage characterized above all by an infinite fidelity to the work of making a truth out of one’s word.

2. The “traditional” meanings and functions ascribed to marriage are insufficient because they are firmly grounded in finite interests rather than an infinite fidelity.

Traditionally, marriage is not eternal. Rather, the traditional meanings of marriage can be broken into two segments, both of which are rooted in finite interests: (1) marriage as a hub of economic exchange and social production, and (2) marriage as an expression of preference in the pursuit of personal satisfaction. These traditional meanings are not bad in themselves, but they are certainly not eternal in the sense described above.

First, consider marriage as an economic and social machine. In her excellent and comprehensive study, Marriage, a History, Stephanie Coontz explains that “for centuries, marriage did much of the work that markets and governments do today. It organized the production and distribution of goods and people. It set up political, economic, and military alliances. It coordinated the division of labor by gender and age. It orchestrated people’s personal rights and obligations in everything from sexual relations to the inheritance of property.”[ii]

In this sense, marriage was traditionally not a private affair of primarily personal interest. Rather, marriage served as a social, political, and economic hub for the production of goods and the distribution of social roles. “Certainly,” Coontz continues, “people fell in love during those thousands of years, sometimes even with their own spouses. But marriage was not fundamentally about love. It was too vital an economic and political institution to be entered into solely on the basis of something as irrational as love.”[iii]

The re-centering of marriage in the “irrationality” of private, personal preference is a relatively recent phenomenon. It is only in the eighteenth century, and only in very limited circumstances, that people “began to adopt the radical new idea that love should be the most fundamental reason for marriage and that young people should be free to choose their marriage partners on the basis of love.”[iv]

Further, it is important to recognize that, if, today, we experience an instability in the meaning of marriage, it is a result of this shift. As long as marriage is fundamentally a public affair serving social and economic interests, then these social and economic obligations do themselves work to stabilize the meaning of marriage.

However, Coontz argues, “as soon as the idea that love should be the central reason for marriage, and companionship its basic goal, was first raised, observers of the day warned that the same values that increased people’s satisfaction with marriage as a relationship had an inherent tendency to undermine the stability of marriage as an institution.”[v]

In other words, it is the proposed centrality of personal, romantic preference that has allowed the meaning of marriage to be called into question. The fact that it has become a personal choice, rather than a social and economic necessity, is what undermines its stability. If this connection is not recognized, then we will miss the irony involved in unreflectively arguing for the return of stable, “traditional” marriages: to argue for the return of this traditional stability is to argue that marriage ought not to be centered in personal choice.

The Mormon doctrine of eternal marriage does not prescribe a reactionary “return” to a household based economy. Our claim is not that time must be rolled back, but that it must be pushed forward. Marriage must become something that it has never been. It must become eternal.

3. Eternal marriage breaks with the traditional finitude of marriage because it is the active production of an eternal truth about sexual difference.

There are two parts to this thesis: (1) the claim that an eternal marriage is eternal by virtue of its producing a certain kind of truth, and (2) the claim that the specific truth in question is the truth of sexual difference. Both are complex and it will be necessary to treat them one at a time.

First, the claim that an eternal marriage produces a truth that would not exist, at least not in the same way, without it. Here, truth should not be understood as a correspondence with something already and necessarily the case. Such a truth could be “eternal” only in the banal sense of having a brute duration.

Rather, the kind of truth in question is the kind of truth appropriate to both dramatic conceptual invention and the truthfulness of a promise. This is a truth appropriate to God’s being eternal: a truth that, like a promise, must be created and that, also like a promise, is sustained only by an infinite fidelity to the words thus spoken.

One way to mark the difference between a banal truth and a properly eternal truth is proposed by the contemporary French philosopher, Alain Badiou. Badiou proposes that we refer to banal truths as “knowledge” and reserve the word “truth” for what is eternal. While both knowledge and truth are essential, the difference is this: whereas knowledge is relational and conservative (i.e., “traditional”), truth is nonrelational and inventive.

Think of knowledge as a grand, encyclopedic repository of everything that we understand about ourselves and the world around us. This encyclopedia of knowledge plays an important part in shaping our understanding of the world not only because it conserves information but because it also orders this mountain of information into manageable categories. Knowledge files the facts away, making sure that everything that has a place finds its place. Knowledge, however, is incomplete. And it is incomplete not only in terms of its content but—and this is of much greater importance—its categories are incomplete as well. In other words, there are some things for which knowledge, because it is finite, has no place prepared.

This brings me to a definition of truth: truth is an invention that exceeds the given, finite categories available in the encyclopedia of knowledge. A truth, rather than being amenable to traditional categories, literally makes a difference.

For example, imagine the world as it was known by Europeans before Copernicus. The earth was taken to be the center of the universe around which the sun, the stars, and the planets turned, each embedded in rotating spheres. For a long time, this view functioned as the most amenable way of organizing all available information about the heavens. Nonetheless, anomalies in the orbits of the planets continued to defy explanation and, for the sake of the “encyclopedia” of knowledge, some information had to be excluded altogether from the increasingly inadequate model. The Ptolemaic system simply had no place for them. In 1543, pressed by the necessity of more adequately accounting for the aberrations, Copernicus initiates a revolutionary shift in the very structure of knowledge by proposing a crucial difference: the universe must be understood as heliocentric. However, the proposal was not, in itself, enough. In order for the difference to be sustained and extended in opposition to the inertia of tradition, the truth required a relentless fidelity.

Truths, then, when first produced, initially show up as a break, a gap, a hole in the finite system of fixed relations and banal exchange. Truth interrupts the smooth circulation of meanings and monies. Where knowledge is relational and operates to conserve the sameness of established categories and connections, truth is a kind of difference or nonrelation that disrupts the status quo by forcing our attention to the gap or difference around which the system will need to be reorganized.

As a result, to argue that eternal marriage ought to be understood as a truth is to argue that marriage ought to be understood as the introduction of a difference, of a nonrelation, or as an experience of a break in the finite organization of the world.

4. Sexual difference, as the making of an infinite truth, is a spiritual difference that exceeds the finitude of biological conditions and inflects the simplicity of “eternal life” into the infinite Two of “eternal lives.”

But what sense does it make to speak of eternal marriage as a nonrelation? Isn’t marriage supposed to be a relationship that completes us, that fills in our gaps and covers our emptiness?

The difficulty is this: we tend to think about romantic love as a union that completes us by giving us our “better halves” because we tend, even in the Church, to consistently reduce the unconditional truth of the eternal to the conditions and categories set by personal preference. Personal preference defines marriage as an experience of completion and satisfaction because it understands marriage as a kind of economic exchange conducted for the sake of mutually satisfying a set of shared interests.

I am not arguing against interest, relations, and satisfactions per se. Knowledge and economy are the very stuff out of which the world is made. Nonetheless, I do want to argue against the reduction of life to preference and satisfaction. In this sense, an eternal marriage marks the intervention of something excessive and unexpected, something that interrupts our satisfactions. To undergo the eternal is to undergo something of an entirely different order than preference, pleasure, and satisfaction. Marriage, if its meaning is to be refounded in the infinite, must likewise break with the conservative order of economy.

That eternal marriage is structured by an irreducible difference is, I think, the very heart of what Section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants means to convey when it cites the substance of John 17:3—with, however, a single crucial difference.

In the middle of an extremely important discussion of the new and everlasting covenant of marriage, verse 24 cites John 17:3 in the following way: “This is eternal lives—to know the only wise and true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent.” The difference is this: in John, eternal life is singular. In the context of eternal marriage, eternity splits and pluralizes eternal life into eternal lives. My argument is that this pluralization refers, first and foremost, to the way that marriage transforms human sexuality from a merely biological difference into a truth that is both spiritual and eternal.

Everything said beyond this point depends on the following proposition. Human sexuality is not reducible to biology; rather, human sexuality is irremediably grounded in the symbolic, spiritual dimension of the “word.”

I take this position to be the essence of a Mormon understanding of human sexuality. Gender, as the Proclamation on the Family reminds us, is “an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose,”[vi] and, as such, it is fundamentally a spiritual, rather than a biological, distinction. To say that human sexuality is not reducible to biology is to say that it is not reducible to hormones, genitalia, instincts, pleasures, or emotions—though, again, this is not to deny their constitutive importance. The human experience of sexual difference is human (rather than animal) only to the extent that it is interwoven with our symbolic, spiritual grasp of the world through the word.

If sexual difference is a difference ultimately rooted in the “word” rather than in biology (and, as a result, is a difference that does not necessarily map neatly onto obvious biological differences like differences in genitalia), then what is this difference? It is not sufficient, in order to consider sexual difference as a potentially eternal truth (at least in the sense sketched above), to treat the difference as a difference locatable within the confines of the order of knowledge and tradition. Rather, sexuation, in order to be thought as a truth, must be more radically rooted in two discrete relations to this symbolic order.

Here, the thesis is that, in relation to the symbolic order, there is both a masculine position and a feminine position and that these positions are incommensurable. The claim is this: the feminine mode of grasping the symbolic, the feminine way of knowing the world, is fundamentally different from the masculine position, and vice versa. It is this difference that constitutes sexual difference as more than biologically meaningful.

In the course of our everyday lives, the difference between these sexuated positions tends to disappear in the swirl of interests, preferences, and satisfactions. This is not to say that we do not distinguish between men and women during the course of an ordinary day, but that men generally relate to women simply on the basis of interests grounded in their own masculinity, not in an experience of the incommensurable difference between the masculine position and the feminine position. Women are not excluded from the masculine encyclopedia of knowledge, nor are men excluded from the feminine system of symbolic classification. However, in the normal course of everyday life, men simply appear to women in the orbits assigned to them by a feminine cosmology and women simply appear to men in the orbits assigned to them by a masculine model of the universe. However, like the unexplained aberrations in the orbits of the Ptolemaic planets, these respective positions necessarily exclude from their field the other sex’s unaccountable symbolic position. In other words, men, for instance, certainly appear within a feminine logic, but the idiom of their own masculine logic is not likewise translatable.

I have pressed what is an extremely complex thesis about the nature of human sexuality into such a cramped space for the sake of making an argument about the meaning of eternal marriage.

Eternal marriage, rather than being the mutual satisfaction of sexuated interests and preferences, is an interruption or a calling into question of these preferences by the incommensurable logic of the other sexual position.

Love is an experience of the nonrelation of sexual difference. It is an exposure to the gap in being human that is human sexuality.

In an eternal marriage, the hegemony of our respective symbolic positions is broken by an excess for which we did not and cannot account. The eternal does not valorize the integrity of the individual nor celebrate the synthesis of two individuals into a greater whole.

Instead, eternal marriage is a declaration of persistent fidelity to the discovery that there are two—that there is not just life (singular) but lives (plural). This revelation, the insertion of this sexual difference, the splitting of my One into a shared fidelity to the Two, is the key to the highest kingdom in the celestial order.

The maintenance of this fragile Two in its difference is arduous. The constant temptation is for one of the two positions to subsume the difference of the other under its own preferences and thus heal the breach. This is precisely what happens, for example, in any kind of chauvinism, male or female. However, the moment when this rapprochement is accomplished, the eternal has been once again reduced to an economy of interests and satisfactions.

As a result of this particular danger, eternal marriage, as the production of a truth about human sexuality—the truth that there is a sexual difference—must proceed in a slightly different way than was indicated by the Copernican model. In the previous example, Copernicus produced a truth about the nature of the universe as heliocentric when he forced the inclusion of the differences excluded by the Ptolemaic system. In this sense, Copernicus effected a new synthesis by reordering the logic of astronomy. However, such a “synthesis” of sexual difference is, here, precisely what must be avoided in order to remain faithful to the discovery of the Two that is love. Indeed, as incommensurable, a synthesis of the masculine and feminine positions is impossible without disastrously reducing the difference of one to the homogeneous logic of the other.

Fidelity to the difference that is human sexuality does not manifest itself in trying to overcome sexuation by “getting to know” the other position, but in dedicating itself to a joint re-investigation of the world in light of the fact that there is such a difference. In this way, eternal marriage is revolutionary because it breaks the world itself in two: there is the world before the intervention of sexual difference and there is the world after it.

What we make of our lives in both making love and in making a truth out of love depends on how faithful we remain to the eternal work of uncovering and carrying through all of the consequences of this incommensurable sexual difference.



[i] Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1995), 237.

[ii] Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy or How Love Conquered Marriage (New York: Viking, 2005), 9.

[iii] Coontz, Marriage, 7.

[iv] Coontz, Marriage, 5.

[v] Coontz, Marriage, 5.

[vi] “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Ensign, November 1995, 102.

30 Responses to Sex as Truth

  1. Kent (MC) on December 12, 2011 at 11:06 pm

    Much love for this one Adam!

  2. Jacob on December 12, 2011 at 11:36 pm

    Loved this the first time I read it and so very relevant now. You’re a treasure, Adam.

  3. John Tracy Cunningham on December 12, 2011 at 11:42 pm

    Well done, Adam! May we, then, go a step or two farther and say that “successful” eternal marriage is necessary for exaltation because only within such a marriage can the world be correctly understood and therefore controlled? The male and female “positions” of themselves are incapable of so doing. And being “incommensurable”, the two positions cannot be combined into one intelligent being. There must be Two, not One. And, I venture to say, not Three, as such is not observed or revealed. And more, Two admits of progeny of infinite same-species physical variety, which One does not. And I will go out on a limb and speculate that the same applies to spiritual variety, i.e., unique personalities. Again, well done!

  4. Thomas Parkin on December 13, 2011 at 4:03 am

    I can’t respond at length, because T&S filters me 75% of the time.

    There is so much great stuff here. And some I’d have to think longer and harder on. And some I think is unnecessary.

    I think the traditional intuition of unity is closer: that is, that mutual apprehension of truth (the eternal) bridges all gaps. Thus there is a unity of all Celestial beings. What, then, makes the marriage of greater worth than these other relations? It is simply a matter of friendship as we intuit it (the same sociality that exists here exists there, except accompanied by everlasting burnings): there remain difficult to define individual characteristics in beings, and the reality of individual identity, including, among many other things, proximity, means that we prefer one to others.

  5. Thomas Parkin on December 13, 2011 at 4:12 am

    Preference itself being just one more thing swallowed by the eternal. That is, our preference may once have been a finite thing, subject to whatever vagary of the finite came along. But no longer.

  6. Eric Nielson on December 13, 2011 at 7:33 am

    Very nice. Thank you for writing this. It needed to come from someone like you.

  7. Stephen M (Ethesis) on December 13, 2011 at 9:16 am

    So many sf writers have posited multiple sexes. Slime molds in our world have fifty or so (the number depends on who is counting). So much of our biology is obviously irrelevant (do you need to have two eyes, or even to see, to be able to be saved in the kingdom of heaven?), so much of what passes for sexuality is biological and subject to manipulation (it is easy enough to make people asexual, for example).

    Which has caused me to wonder how much of what we conclude necessarily follows, how much is unsupported inference as to sexuality. Is sexuality “merely” duality? Is it some sort of spiritual system for avoiding accumulations of genetic damage?

    Part of the problem in most explorations is that, biology aside, men and women really are not that different. Which leaves most analysis either reducing matters to implications of biology, or abandoning difference altogether.

    I’m very curious to see where you go with it all.

  8. Rosalynde Welch on December 13, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    As a general rule, I think I prefer finitude to infinitude, even when it comes to the cruel determinisms of biological gender. Nevertheless, this piece made a huge impression on me when I first heard it, and I’ve come back to it often.

  9. Rosalynde Welch on December 13, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    Thomas, I’m really sorry you’re being harrassed by the new format, we’re working to try to make things easier for our readers. Are your comments simply not showing up on the site? We’ll try to fix it, if we can.

  10. Andrew S. on December 13, 2011 at 5:05 pm

    Yeah, like most things Adam writes here, I have no idea what he’s saying. Good job (I think?)

  11. Thomas Parkin on December 13, 2011 at 6:19 pm

    Hi Rosalynde,

    Thanks! This actually goes back to the old format. One day T&S just started filtering my comments. At first I thought I’d ticked someone off. *smile* I’d really love to post here more often … if for no other reason than to clarify my thoughts in response to Adam’s astonishing ability to do philosophy.

  12. Kaimi Wenger on December 13, 2011 at 7:17 pm

    Something in our settings has been kicking your comments into moderation. Let me see if I can figure out what’s going on.

  13. Kaimi Wenger on December 13, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    Huh. Well, I just tried to post a comment using your settings (e-mail, name, website) and it went through okay. So maybe whatever the problem was has now been fixed. If it continues, I’ll take a look again and see if I can’t figure out what’s going on.

  14. Thomas Parkin on December 13, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    Thanks, Kaimi.

  15. DLewis on December 13, 2011 at 10:19 pm

    Great post, Adam. I’m really drawn to the idea of “eternal” marriage being about difference as much as unity. Marriage points us to the limitations of our individual experience and forces us to re-think our personal desires, priorities.

    I do think Stephen M brings up an important point, though. This essay seems to rely on a strong dualism of the sexes that perhaps claims to set biological characteristics aside, only to bring a male/female standard back in. I can’t help but feel you’re overemphasizing difference too much. My other question would be the implications of this: if this difference is not rooted in biology, could it exist between two men, or two women? Is this difference merely grounded in “not-mine” or “not-me,” or is it ontological?

  16. Andrew S. on December 13, 2011 at 10:39 pm

    Bouncing off of DLewis and Stephen M (although I still can’t be sure exactly what Adam was meaning), it seems to me that we could talk about difference without placing sexual difference as a premium.

    Talk about “infinity” reminds me of what little I’ve overheard of Levinas through blog posts…and in this case, it seems that some of the message is the same…Adam says:

    eternal marriage is a declaration of persistent fidelity to the discovery that there are two—that there is not just life (singular) but lives (plural). This revelation, the insertion of this sexual difference, the splitting of my One into a shared fidelity to the Two, is the key to the highest kingdom in the celestial order.

    The maintenance of this fragile Two in its difference is arduous. The constant temptation is for one of the two positions to subsume the difference of the other under its own preferences and thus heal the breach. This is precisely what happens, for example, in any kind of chauvinism, male or female. However, the moment when this rapprochement is accomplished, the eternal has been once again reduced to an economy of interests and satisfactions.

    I imagine this to mean something like this: through interacting with the “other,” we have a temptation to treat it as a totality that can be boxed up (“reduced to an economy of interests and satisfactions”), but in reality, it is an infinity (“eternity”).

    My deal is, as I commented on another (LDS) blog post series that used this lofty philosophy jazz to create a foundation for marriage…is that it doesn’t seem to necessitate a man + a woman being marriage.

    In other words, men and women aren’t infinities because a man is different than a woman. Men and women are infinities because a person is different from a person. You need to give a reason *why* sexual difference should be focused on above and beyond every other difference between people.

  17. Thomas Parkin on December 14, 2011 at 5:03 am

    “*why* sexual difference should be focused on above and beyond every other difference between people.”

    Possibly because it is a duality that cannot be reconciled within the individual himself through the gospel process of integrating the personality. The strong question remains: what is the difference between male and female? For me, these cannot be defined except by their names. We generally think that as we strip away cultural markers assigned to gender we find no lasting difference between the sexes. It may be, however, that stripped of all markers there lies a deep and fundamental metaphysical difference that cannot be defined beyond the fact of its existence, and cannot be reconciled except through marriage. In other words, what if we find, when we dig to the utter bottom of our person, if there is not an unalterable aspect that is sex. This is pretty much the traditional view, I know.

  18. Thomas Parkin on December 14, 2011 at 5:10 am

    “This is pretty much the traditional view, I know.”

    However, I leave off role. It is clear that all divine traits are to be developed by both the male and female. A Father is not less nurturing than a Mother, and a Mother not less authoritative. The only role that I would leave to male and female as such is the fulfilling of the lack of the sex in the partner.

  19. michelle on December 14, 2011 at 5:57 am

    “You need to give a reason *why* sexual difference should be focused on above and beyond every other difference between people.”

    I really liked this piece, but felt it was lacking answers to this question. And I don’t think you can talk about marital sexuality in our doctrine without talking about the power of procreation and the importance of children, in what God’s life, eternal life entails. (I’m not trying to suggest any doctrinal stance on how eternal procreation happens, just saying that eternal creation and nurturing of life appears to me to be as much a part of eternal life as eternal marriage is.)

    It’s interesting to me to ponder that God’s work and glory — His life — is focused on His children. That suggests to me that eternal marriage — eternal lives — will continue to include a significant focus on not just Two, but on the family. Even if you consider gender roles in the Proclamation, they ultimately exist with a focus on the well-being of children, not primarily of balancing needs of the parents (even though the latter is often the focus when gender roles are discussed).

    I’m not nearly as articulate as Adam is here, but I would be interested in hearing him explore and expand upon this facet of the eternal purposes of marriage. Again, I don’t think you can talk about sexuality and its eternal purposes without talking about the creation of life and the importance of children/parenthood in God’s plan.

  20. Andrew S. on December 14, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    re 17,

    Thomas (and to an extent, later on, michelle),

    But even Stephen’s point regarding this topic hasn’t been addressed. “Possibly because it is a duality” fails to capture that duality may be reducing something far more complex.

    I mean, you say,

    “We generally think that as we strip away cultural markers assigned to gender we find no lasting difference between the sexes. It may be, however, that stripped of all markers there lies a deep and fundamental metaphysical difference that cannot be defined beyond the fact of its existence, and cannot be reconciled except through marriage.”

    So, now, you’re pinning things on a shadowy *possibility* of deep, fundamental, metaphysical difference that you would have never have recognized but for cultural and biological markers.

    (Why do I suspect you’re doing this: because you won’t do the same for other possibilities. E.g., the possibility for deep, fundamental, personality differences. Because there’s not really something cultural or biological to embed the idea that people may be fundamentally, deeply unique, you don’t even think to base your process of difference discovery on these traits.

    Think about it this way…suppose that we need relationships/marriage in order to discover [and discover how to interact with] the deep and fundamental metaphysical difference in a person. To focus on sexual difference — or to frame the fundamental metaphysical difference in a person on sexual difference to begin with — ignores the possibility that there are deep and fundamental metaphysical differences in people because they are different people, different subjectivities, different consciousnesses and instead assert that deep down inside, the fundamental metaphysical differences are because a man is a man, and a woman is a woman. So, when you strip all the “fluff” away [since we're just looking at "deep metaphysical differences"], you would say that at the end of the day, you have identical men and identical women, but that men and women are not identical to each other. Why not instead posit that you have non-identical men, non-identical women, because *people* are not identical to each other?

    It seems to me that — constantly — the reason people don’t want to do that is because of cultural and biological baggage about sex that goes deeper than our baggage about personality. In our predominantly heterosexual [and certainly heterosexist] world, we see sex as the starkest source of difference…and [most of y'all] are attracted to that sexual difference.

    But this model just doesn’t fit for everyone. Individuals are more complex [at least, in this life] than the duality implies.

    Somehow, people want to shift to a kind of, “But that’s how it SHOULD work…even if mortality/fallen world means it doesn’t work like that somehow.” But unless you want to go to some kind of natural law argument, then you’re probably forced to Think Of The Children. But when you think of the children, you’re doing so out of considerations of biological baggage surrounding children — that children arise because of a man and a woman biological, so therefore, man and woman must be important eternally above everything else!

    But the ramifications of eternal increase, children in the eternities, etc., hasn’t really been settled. It’s not a bygone affair that there will be viviparous birth or whatever.)

    Well, that was the longest parenthetical ever.

  21. chris on December 14, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    As to the why gender gets focused on certain ways, often it’s obviously heavy handed cultural bias. But this post is trying to get beyond that and see the deeper meaning (instead of just assuming it’s wrong full stop and inadvertently throwing the baby out with the dirty bathwater), for which I’m grateful. I think the question of why sexual difference should be focused on above and beyond every difference is really phrasing the question in a way that supposes a certain answer. Clearly it’s not focused on above and beyond, say atonement, charity, revelation, scripture reading, etc, but anytime you do focus on sexual difference, the definition of focus implies excluding surrounding topics.

    It’s my opinion that at the heart of the matter, when we get things right, and even when we get things wrong (based on a grain of truth at the center), the difference has to do with what God wants us to get out of this life and what will be the most good for us in this life in an eternal sense.

    If we suggest we’re all the same, well, then we all need to learn the same lessons in the same way. But that being the case, the plan of salvation would be very poorly designed indeed because we clearly get placed in a seemingly infinite number of circumstances in this life. Of course, there are some big picture principles, which we each need to learn as a common foundation. I am not sure if we eternally start out the same, but it seems true that we eternally must end up being one with the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost — they are one and invite us, male and female, to be one with them.

    It seems highly likely that there is something a woman benefits from eternally in what they learn through the process of experiencing life as a woman, and men likewise.

    A key part of that learning would seem to include the realization at the end of this life we’ll look back upon our experiences after our eyes have been opened and behold the evidence in our mortal lives of so many things we did not see originally but can now rise to higher heights with the new found light.

  22. Andrew S. on December 14, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    Maybe I’m speaking Chinese…

    The two options aren’t “Men and women are different” and “we’re all the same.”

    “Men and women” isn’t the only counterpart to “we all.”

    It could be that “we’re all different” without that difference being predicated on the narrow dimension of sex (e.g., “men and women.”)

    Or, to put it in a way that might be a little more familiar:

    It seems highly likely that there is something an individual benefits from eternally in what they learn through the process of experiencing life as unique individuals, and other individuals likewise.

    A key part of that learning would seem to include the realization at the end of this life we’ll look back upon our experiences after our eyes have been opened and behold the evidence in our mortal lives of so many things we did not see originally but can now rise to higher heights with the new found light.

  23. Thomas Parkin on December 14, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    Andrew,

    A difference in sex does not preclude other differences. If you look at some of what I wrote on BCC recently, you’ll see that except for those virtues that are perfected in the being of Christ, I like to allow that all other attributes are likely to be different and individual. Not only is sex _not_ a matter of perfectibility, but much or even most of what we are is not a matter of perfectibility. (We do not become more man or woman, or less, precisely because these are bedrock attributes, not subject to change – at least outside the finite. I’m also totally open to a kind of Aristophanes way, it seems possible to me that a male would find completion in another male – either as an exalting relationship or not.) So that diversity by sex is only one of many ways in which we remain diverse.

    Also, I think you’ve made too much of my saying “may be”. This is all “may be” in this kind of conversation. Pure speculation. But I don’t think it is true that we only intuit sex differences based on cultural markers. The intuition – my intuition – is that sex differences exist even when stripped of everything used to define them. Which is way of saying they go all the way down. I don’t mean to say that they are the only things that go all the way down, or that they encompass the totality of our need. (And, also, as believers I think it is right to give some weight – not necessarily decisive – to the Proc, tradition, etc.)

    My only real question is: what does a finished human look like? In what ways are they complete in and of themselves, and in what ways do they still need others? Apparently we are not sufficient to our own holiness, but still in need of others even at the highest level of potential salvation. Marriage being, apparently, a very important expression of that need.

  24. Andrew S. on December 14, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    23,

    Thomas,

    You ask, “What does a finished human look like? In what ways are they complete in and of themselves, and in what ways do they do they still need others?”

    Suppose we accept that we are not sufficient to our own holiness and that we are still in need of others even at the highest level of potential salvation. I don’t find that controversial. Then, we have a broad expanse of possibilities to talk about what ways we need others. (As you say, it’s all “may be”s). Marriage can be one of the things we focus on, but how narrow are we going to get there? Marriage just between a man and a woman? Or is it marriage between two unique individuals? or are there possibilities for something greater (as evidenced by our history with polygamy that we still don’t really know how to process)?

    Maybe we need a community to be “finished.” Maybe sexuality — homo, hetero, bi, and otherwise — is just one way to entice us into beginning communities that we need to. (Because, let’s face it, people are annoying. In fact, everyone, including myself, is annoying in a unique way. Maybe it’s better to say that “annoyance” is our reaction to the *difference* in others that we can’t put in a box or eliminate? But if this is so, how do we learn to appreciate difference? I think that something like love is the way to first begin to appreciate that difference — it allows us to take the first step, kinda like a leap to faith, at working with difference rather than shunning or abandoning it. And right here in this life, we aren’t really great at loving universally, so maybe it’s best that we practice with a small community [e.g., "nuclear family"] so that as we develop, we’ll become better at extending to a larger and larger community.

    If that is the case, then we should at least think really hard about whether we want to discourage certain people from finding relationships. We should think really hard about whether we want to say, “OK, it’s really important for you to have another person for you both to grow…BUT since you’re into the wrong sex, you should learn how to be alone instead and hope that it’ll all turn out for the better in the future.”)

  25. Howard on December 14, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    We must be spiritual infants or toddlers compared to Heavenly Father how many of us live the beatitudes or even try to? How many of us love our fellow man or love unconditionally? The gospel is revealed a little at a time because we’re simply not ready for more. What will we find in the sealed portion of the plates? We have a long long way to go to become godlike. Sorry but I doubt that our toddler view point is of much use in debating a question like this.

  26. Alison Moore Smith on December 14, 2011 at 9:33 pm

    Adam, great stuff. Where was this posted before? It’s my first view. Much to think about.

  27. Bradley on December 14, 2011 at 11:00 pm

    When I was sealed to my wife, I received confirmation that the part about being reunited on the other side of the veil is true. So yeah, I agree that our marriage will last forever and be eternal. There are many possibilities that go with this.

    Is opposite gender a mandatory part of celectial marriage? Sometimes nature zigs when it’s supposed to zag and you get a woman in a man’s body or man in a woman’s body. I know of sealed couples where one of them fits that description.

    Who am I? Am I a single me, a self-aware instance of a multiple me, or simply a part of God under the illusion that he is not?

    Reincarnation is not part of our doctrine. We have no business going there until we grow up a little. That doesn’t mean I rule it out. What if I want to experience Earth life in different genders?

    All these things I don’t think invalidate the premise of the formation of an eternal relationship.

  28. michelle on December 15, 2011 at 2:49 am

    “To focus on sexual difference — or to frame the fundamental metaphysical difference in a person on sexual difference to begin with — ignores the possibility that there are deep and fundamental metaphysical differences in people because they are different people, different subjectivities, different consciousnesses ”

    I think this is a really good point, and I think that does come into a marriage to be sure — there are plenty of differences that two individuals bring into a marriage that transcend and extend beyond whatever sexual/gender differences exist.

    But I don’t necessarily read Adam’s piece as saying that sexual differences are the *only* differences that matter or invite us toward Eternal Lives. But I think they are an important something to ponder in a marriage, and I like where Adam has gone with it here (even as I think it’s incomplete without exploring the procreation/parentdhood side of things). I also like how he challenges the cultural models of sexuality, personal fulfillment, etc. that I think aren’t really explored enough in our culture. Sexuality is often framed in terms of rights and pleasure (sometimes even in marriage, let alone outside of its bounds), rather than responsibility and eternal progression.

    “It seems highly likely that there is something a woman benefits from eternally in what they learn through the process of experiencing life as a woman, and men likewise.”

    I think this is an interesting thought. I also there may be more to it, along the lines of the fact that in God’s work, “neither is the woman without the man, nor the man without the woman, in the Lord.” I think God’s work benefits in important ways from men and women learning to come together, in whatever differences may exist, be it from biology, cultural background, assigned roles/responsibilities (e.g., having priesthood office and not), etc.

    Of course, we also benefit from coming together as just humans who are different (again, to Andrew’s point, a point that I think is explored beautifully in 1 Cor 12), but I still think there is something particularly important to the plan (even as I know I don’t really understand it) to having men and women work as partners (in marriage and in the Church) that, in its own right, matters in the plan and in our progression. (The quote that always comes to mind is from Sheri Dew: “No marriage or family, no ward or stake is likely to reach its full potential until husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, men and women work together in unity of purpose.”)

  29. BHodges on December 20, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    2. The “traditional” meanings and functions ascribed to marriage are insufficient because they are firmly grounded in finite interests rather than an infinite fidelity.
    Traditionally, marriage is not eternal. Rather, the traditional meanings of marriage can be broken into two segments, both of which are rooted in finite interests: (1) marriage as a hub of economic exchange and social production, and (2) marriage as an expression of preference in the pursuit of personal satisfaction. These traditional meanings are not bad in themselves, but they are certainly not eternal in the sense described above.

    I particularly appreciate this point, but it also makes me uncomfortable with some of the statements church leaders have made in the wake of the Prop 8 stuff. The argument is advanced that marriage is a very old tradition, that marriage is a pillar of society which must be upheld, etc. Such a view privileges the sort of “traditional” marriage which you think eternal marriage is supposed to be a radical corrective for, no? And what about the gospel’s collapse of the sacred and secular, so to speak?

    How do you deal with such arguments by our church leaders?

  30. BHodges on December 20, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    Also, ditto to the observation of DLewis and Andrew S. regarding the assumed gender distinction underlying it all. It seems the “Other,” not either the “Man” or the “Woman” could just as well fulfill the sort of role Adam describes here. Where is Adam? Come and talk!

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