Saturday, September 6, 2008

Becoming More Chaste in Thought and Deed

Of all the characteristics I have tackled this year as part of my New Year's Resolution, this is one that is addressed directly and explicitly in my Patriarchal Blessing. (I will address that aspect in my post next weekend, when I address why "chastity" is the focus of my resolution.) The exact wording from the resolution is:

"Become more chaste in thought and deed." It is taken from Matthew 5:27-28, which read thus:
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery. But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.
I shortened my resolution and worded it as "becoming more chaste in thought AND deed" due to the framing in these verses of "adultery" as something that can be committed both physically AND mentally - and because of the underlying foundation of chastity inherent in avoiding adultery.

As I contemplate these verses, the first thing that jumps out at me is that Jesus appears to be doing two things in this statement. First, he is reinforcing the general prohibition against adultery included in the ancient Ten Commandments. Second, however, he is laying out the concept that we (as "living souls" - Moses 6:9) truly are a combination of body and spirit - that something that affects one has a corresponding effect on the other. For those who think of our spirit as something incorporeal and formless, this might be confusing, but for those who envision our spirits as possessing real form and substance (of being "material" in some way) it makes sense to speak of influences on our spirits in the same manner that we understand influences on our physical bodies. It makes sense to speak of addictions to our spirit in the same way we speak of addictions to our physical bodies. Likewise, it makes sense to think of there being a real effect of "visualizing sexual activity", just as there is a real effect of being involved "physically" with sexual activity.

In fact, I believe these verses go beyond a simple "analogy" or "comparison" between the two. I believe that Jesus is teaching in this passage the core concept that "spiritual activity" is actual "physical activity" - again, since our spirits are comprised of "real, actual" matter that simply is too "fine" to be discerned by our mortal eyes. (See D&C 131:7) I believe that Jesus is doing more than merely saying, "Don't even look with lust, because that might lead to adultery in the flesh." Rather, he is saying, "There is adultery of the flesh, and there is adultery of the spirit. BOTH are adultery in a truly "physical" way; both have real, physical effects; don't commit either."

There are three main ways in which I could "look upon a woman to lust after her" in this day and age. The first is in my own direct interactions with those I meet in person. The second is through representations outside my direct interactions, comprised through and presented by visual media of various sorts. The third is one that is not considered nearly as often, but one that is just as important - through the envisioning or replaying of lustful activities within my own mind, independent of exterior stimuli. Each is a challenge for many, but the second is much more easily available in our modern day and society - and the third is common throughout all eras, regardless of available technology. (I will deal more specifically with that aspect and its implications in an upcoming post.)

So, my initial focus with regard to this resolution will be to:

1)become more aware of any situation in my own direct interactions where I might be likely to be tempted to lust - and avoid that temptation in some constructive and intentional way;
2) avoid visual representations (like, at the extreme, pornography) that would do the same thing;
3) either focus all images like those in question in my mind on my wife (with whom "adultery" is impossible for me) or stop such images by substituting something else.

Again, I will post more on each of these focal points in subsequent posts, after dealing with the core concept of chastity.


adamf said...

Let me know how #3 goes, especially the latter part. I have developed a testimony that "singing your favorite hymn" does NOT work, as it tends to associate hymns (or whatever is used) with lustful thoughts. Not good, lol. Often I have found that "substituting" with something else requires physical action, if it is practical.

Papa D said...

adam, serious question:

Are you married? I think one of the mis-applications of this concept is the idea that "lustful thoughts" are "evil" - or that they are forbidden in this passage. They aren't; they only are "wrong" if they are focused on someone other than our spouse.

That has implications that run contrary to much of the overly-repressive, Victorian society that impacted the apostasy in ways few understand - and it is worth considering seriously, imo.

Papa D said...

adam, I know you are married. The question was meant to be rhetorical.

adamf said...

Agreed, agreed.

In some ways being married is a lot easier, having a spouse to direct one's thoughts (or just be completely occupied by, lol!) but it can also be difficult as the weight of a "stray" lustful thought is much greater. That was more what I was getting at. For me, the challenge has been recognizing the line between being attracted to someone else, and sin. Iow we all feel attractions or impulses etc. but often those are easily confused with "sinful" thoughts, as thoughts and feelings are not easily separated.

Papa D said...

adam, you said: "For me, the challenge has been recognizing the line between being attracted to someone else, and sin."

To me, this is another remnant of the apostasy - the vilification of the body. I believe there is NO sin whatsoever in "being attracted to someone else" - or in recognizing beauty around us, including what we perceive as physical beauty. The "sin" consists of taking that attraction or recognition of beauty and ACTING on it - creating a "relationship" out of it. In the case of the attraction, it would be active flirting, clandestine meetings, an actual affair, etc. With the recognition of beauty, it would be conspiring to see that person more often than what would occur normally, actively fantasizing about her, arranging to separate her from her boyfriend or spouse (ala King David), etc.

I had an interesting experience at work while I was in college. I worked at a soda-fountain pharmacy next to the law school. It was just the owner and myself. One of our customers was a young lady from South America, and she was BEAUTIFUL - simply stunning. One day, after she ate and left, I mentioned casually to the owner that she looked particularly lovely that day. His response caught me off guard.

He said, "I thought Mormons didn't notice things like that."

All I could think to say was, "Of course we notice. We just don't act on it in any way."

As to the idea of diverting one's thoughts, especially when single, I have found that I simply need to start thinking of something else. It takes an active recognition of the issue and a conscious decision to consider something else, but I've found that humming your favorite hymn generally provides only a temporary diversion. Rather than "voicing over the distraction" with a hymn, I "change the channel" in my mind.

Papa D said...

I don't remember who said it, but my favorite comment on improper thoughts is, "It's not a sin for an improper thought to cross the stage of your mind. It's only a sin if you let it stay and create a play around it."

Also, I think it is important to place all of this back into the context of the actual passage. The verse says, "looketh upon a woman to **lust after her**" - NOT "looketh upon a woman and recognizeth her physical beauty" or "looketh upon a woman and feels an attraction of some sort". Attraction and/or recognition of beauty are not "lust", and lust is used as a verb in this passage ("to lust") - which means it is a consciously directed action (physical OR mental), according to Jesus.

Rosalie Erekson Stone said...

I'm so glad you included in your comment the sentence: "It's not a sin for an improper thought to cross the stage of your mind. It's only a sin if you let it stay and create a play around it." IMO, this is an extremely important distinction.

If teenagers going through wildly fluctuating hormonal changes think that they must be "evil" if any improper thoughts, or automatic physical reactions, are unwittingly triggered by the sight of a beautiful body, they can needlessly feel guilt. That might eventually lead to their engaging in improper behavior--especially if they think that all random sexual thoughts are equivalent to purposeful sexual actions.

This post has some interesting analysis of Matthew 5:27-28, and your focal points seem like good, practical suggestions on how we can better follow Christ's admonition.

As one who is very concerned about helping children and young people, as well as adults, deal with the overly sexualized culture we face daily, I look forward to your future posts on this subject.

adamf said...

Thanks Ray. I especially liked this line: "conspiring to see that person more often than what would occur normally".

Jami said...

I must add my testimony to Adam's on the "sing your favorite hymn" method. It is horrible to have hymns attached to unwanted thoughts. I found rotating hymns helped a bit; I wasn't as likely to form an association. Ultimately, I went for the get up and do something useful method of thought cleansing. Works well.