Dr. Shades wrote:A number of days ago, someone at RFM reposted a quote from Tal Bachman made sometime earlier.
The actual post was quite long, but I can abbreviate it effectively enough, I think.
Tal addressed one of the apologists' favorite arguments: The anti-presentist argument. You know, the which goes "It's wrong to judge Joseph Smith by our modern 21st Century moral standards. We must judge Joseph Smith by his own 19th Century standards."
The problem with this apologetic stance, according to Tal, is twofold:
FIRST, this implies that society is becoming increasingly moral as time goes on. Or, in other words, we are all becoming more moral than we were before. HOWEVER, the prophets and apostles repeatedly and obsessively tell us that our society's morals are getting worse all the time, that this generation is more wicked than the one in the days of Noah, etc. So, which is it? Are the apologists right and modern society more moral than ever before, or are the prophets right and modern society is less moral than ever before? [Or is this another instance of Internet Mormonism vs. Chapel Mormonism?]
I haven't read the other posts but I'll chip in. Many of my points have nothing to do with what prophets say. Morality is a complex issue for historians. Maybe it's black and white for some, for those who believe there's an "objective morality". Take euthanasia. Is it right or wrong to allow someone in terrible pain to die at their wish? You'll find division on this question, with both parties claiming morality for their position. Why do we put down animals to spare them suffering, but allow humans to suffer? Is that moral? I don't buy the argument that morality is getting better, but in many ways we have become more ethical
. Slavery was abolished, polygamy has been outlawed in all western countries which follow the Judaeo-Christian ethic. We have more awareness of environmentalism. We have progressed in medicine and science to the point where we now have bionic arms amuptees can operate just by thinking, and their brain waves operate the arm, but we don't know if the person/people who invented this have five sexual partners "on the side". We don't know if they beat their spouses. We don't know if they filter funds from banks through electronic means. Society has generally become "more caring" in most areas, but that's no guarantee that personal morality has improved.
Let me give another angle and example from an Australian sport, rugby league. In the last few years many players have been "outed" for drink-driving, being thugs bashing people at nightclubs, getting drunk and harassing people, and in several cases accused of rape. How come this never happened in the 1940s-80s? Well, it did, but what changed was huge player salaries, up to $400,000 a year, more media scrutiny, and more accountability, drink-drive laws, and women who would speak out now but not in the early days. This gives the perception
that morality has grown worse. It hasn't. It's still the same. Yet, crime has changed in some ways; we can no longer sleep with our front doors unlocked, like many of us did in the 1950s and 60s. But what caused that shift? A larger population, unemployment, the proliferation of new drugs and more pushers. 80% percent of house break and enter has been linked to drugs. Has human nature changed? No, circumstances have. Access to violence and porn in film, video and computer is now at one's fingertips. If someone living in the 19th century had access to all this would they act any differently than someone today? No. Queen Victoria kept nudes in her collections, and Henry VIII had numerous wives. Some Protestant and Catholic priests in the 15th-18th centuries had concubines (for details see Owen Chadwick, The Reformation
). Muhammad married a nine year old girl. Some popes were reported to be incestuous. So did pedophile priests suddenly appear? No. This went on all through the 1950s- 1990s, but reporting, exposure, and more accountability informed us. Have Catholic priests become more moral, yes, and seminary numbers have fallen to record lows. It's hard to find men wanting to go into the celibate priesthood now.
Strictly speaking, it is not incorrect to say that we have become worse, less moral, but that's because we have a greater population, access to more sophisticated ways of crime and immorality. Japan was one of the most prudish societies until about ten years ago, now it has a proliferation and indulgence in porn almost like no other country. What brought this about? Sociological studies and government action. It was discovered that with more porn availability sex crimes decreased
, significantly, so the government acted. One might now say Japan is "disgusting" because of the amount and nature of the porn coming out of there, but as far as sex crime is concerned it's now more moral than it was under porn prohibition and the shame attached to its use before. One might say, from the perspective of a prophet, Japan is heading for Sodom. It's disputable that the proliferation of porn does family life any good. But what does that say about the polygamous nature of males? Does anyone doubt that? How many US presidents had women on the side? Jefferson was mentioned, as he had slave concubines. According to Tal he was "ashamed" when all of this was discovered. But did that alter the facts? Does that alter the fact of what human nature, and particularly the nature of males is? Shame is only the reaction of being exposed for doing something we all like to think "only bad or immoral people do". How many men who criticise Joseph Smith have had adulterous affairs? How many have lied to their wives? Or girlfriends? The question is hypothetical, but maybe you get the drift.
As far as Mormonism can curb immorality, by diverting the sexual drive of males into religious devotion (which sometimes goes overboard, perhaps because of that repression), then it is
getting morally better. So when a prophet says that immorality is getting "worse", he is correct in the sense I mentioned above, but it is getting better for Mormons who abide by the laws of the gospel. So it's not so much "society is getting worse", it's that Mormons are getting better, or it could be JWs, or SDAs, or Christians, with exceptions like Baker, Swaggart, and Haggard. The irony for me, which is what I question, is whether we will have a "better" society with no abortions, no gay marriage, no porn availability, no birth control, etc. Mother Theresa was outspoken about abortion and all of the popes have condemned contraception, which has led to epidemics of unwanted children, AIDS and other sexual diseases killing a continents in the Third World. Men go out and have adulterous affairs without using condoms, get AIDS, and bring it home to their wives. This again is the "Japan equation". Which is worse?
Just some thoughts.