Mormon Morality Is Complicated


Stories like this have the effect of portraying the Mormon Church as some kind of moral dinosaur.  The story is a bit more complicated than that.

Natasha Helfer was much criticized within the Latter Day Saints for espousing  positions that were directly in conflict with Church teachings, such as okaying masturbation for her clients, or refusing to see pornography as some kind of terrible sin.  She has also readily recommended contraception which, again, is a terrible violation of Mormon morality.

Morality Nutcase?

So, LDS as some kind of morality nutcase totally out of step with American life?

Not at all!  In the 1950s, everybody believed in these Mormon prohibitions, not because they came from LDS, but because everybody agreed that masturbation was terrible, that contraception violated God’s plan, and that pornography was so dreadful that even putting dirty pictures in the mail should qualify you for Federal time.  The entire society believed these precepts, in other words, not just the Mormons.

It’s Hard to Imagine

People, today, simply cannot fathom the storm of disapproval that greeted the introduction of the contraceptive Pill in the early 1960s.  Sexual images are currently so widespread on TV and in the press that we find it incomprehensible to remember that severe disapproval greeted any imaging that went beyond the family TV serial, “Ozzie and Harriet.”

And as for masturbation:  the subject could not be  publicly discussed.  It was “the secret sin,” and it had been castigated by physicians for at least a century (“causes madness”) and by prelates since time out of mind.

Mormon Elders Held Onto Mainstream Views

These Mormon doctrines were, in other words, mainstream. What happened was that, starting in the 1960s, the mainstream ditched them while the Mormon elders — certainly the Mormon Church in Kansas — held onto them. Society changed, the Church didn’t.  Today, the Church is very much out of step with the march of American life.  And there is a whole generation of Mormon youngsters  who are increasingly uneasy about sex prohibitions that are now considered antediluvian.

I feel a certain sympathy with these Mormon elders, not because of their views, but because of their adherence to principles.  They are, on the whole, decent men and women.  This,  in a society where ethics are becoming “situational ethics,” and principles really a matter of convenience.

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