Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tasteful Nudity (i.e., "Evil has unclothed herself")

Last week, there was a blog discussion at Times and Seasons titled "Tasteful Nudity." My post today is a followup to that exchange of opinions. Nothing in this post is intended to be a pronouncement of doctrine. Rather, it is simply a collection of some things I've learned over the years as a Church member.

After the eyes of Adam and Eve were opened, they knew that they were naked and they "sewed fig-leaves together and made themselves aprons" (Moses 4:13, Gen. 3:7). Not satisfied with aprons, God made coats of skins "and clothed them" (Moses 4:27, Gen. 3:21).

Today, after six thousand years, endowed members covenant to wear a special garment that represents that coat of skins. Properly worn, the temple garment shows us which parts of the body should be kept covered. The garment covers nakedness that should not be exposed in public. Keeping our bodies appropriately covered is modesty.

Last October, Russell M. Nelson quoted the First Presidency on this subject:

"Some members do not fully understand the covenant they make in the temple to wear the garment.... The fundamental principle ought to be to wear the garment and not to find occasions to remove it.... The principles of modesty and keeping the body appropriately covered are implicit in the covenant and should govern the nature of all clothing worn." (Ensign, Oct. 2010, 47.)

"Modesty is the foundation stone of chastity," said Elaine S. Dalton, Young Women General President. (Ensign, May 2007, 112.)

James E. Faust also linked modesty and chastity:

"In forsaking the great principle of modesty, society has paid a price in the violation of a greater but related principle—that of chastity." (Ensign, May 1981, 9.)

When we use the power of procreation only within the bonds of marriage and when we think and speak of it with reverence, we are keeping the law of chastity.

Until about fifty years ago, modesty and chastity constituted the standard of decency throughout the Judeo-Christian world. For many centuries, these Biblical concepts also determined the English definition of pornography. As far as I can tell, every dictionary of the English language published anywhere in the world before 1957 equates obscenity with offensiveness to modesty and/or chastity.

A technical paper prepared for the 1970 President's Commission on Obscenity and Pornography reports that this country had experienced a tremendous shift in standards. The report explains that the degree of pornographic explicitness had increased steadily over a ten year period until material previously found on the pornographic frontier was, in 1970, being widely distributed in mass media.

In other words, by 1970 the level of explicitness previously available only on the black market was being sold openly and above the counter to the general buying public. In the years since, this downward shift in standards has accelerated and gained momentum.

From God's point of view, the standards of modesty and chastity are still in place. But the world, on the other hand, has developed an enormous tolerance for immodesty and unchastity.

The following statements are typical of how the apostles, prophets, and other Church leaders have reacted to this shift in standards and the abandonment of modesty and chastity:

Thomas S. Monson (just last month): "We have come to the earth in troubled times. The moral compass of the masses has gradually shifted to an 'almost anything goes' position. I’ve lived long enough to have witnessed much of the metamorphosis of society’s morals. Where once the standards of the Church and the standards of society were mostly compatible, now there is a wide chasm between us, and it’s growing ever wider." (Ensign, May 2011, 66.)

Gordon B. Hinckley: "In literature and art there has been a shift in standards. Across that educational landscape there have been change and modification—everywhere except in the eternal truths of God." (Ensign, Jan. 1994, 2.)

Gordon B. Hinckley: "Nakedness or near-nakedness has become the hallmark of much public entertainment." (Ensign, Aug. 1989, 5.)

Joseph B. Wirthlin: "Forms of pornography that would have made us blush and turn away in shame in 1947 are now thrust at us openly in printed and audiovisual material." (Ensign, May 1987, 30.)

Boyd K. Packer: "Evil has unclothed herself and walks the streets in brazen, impudent defiance." (Ensign, Sept. 1973, 38.)

Boyd K. Packer: "[Jesus] would think there is a place for art work of every kind — from the scribbled cartoon to the masterpiece in the hand-carved, gold-leaf frame. But I am sure He would be offended at immodesty and irreverence in music, in art, in poetry, in writing, in sculpture, in dance, or in drama." (Ensign, Aug. 1976, 65.)

Silvia H. Allred (First Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency): "From the beginning, the Lord has asked His children to cover their bodies. After Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit, their eyes were opened and they became aware that they were naked. Adam and Eve tried to cover themselves with simple aprons made of fig leaves. But the aprons were not enough, so the Lord made them more modest coats of skins. (See Genesis 3:7, 21.) God had a higher standard then, just as He does now. His standards are not those of the world." (Ensign, July 2009, 28.)

First Presidency (to priesthood leaders worldwide): "We reiterate our concern over the decline of moral values in society." (Ensign, Apr. 1999, 80.)

First Presidency (to priesthood leaders worldwide): "We note with alarm the continued decline of moral values in society." (Ensign, Apr. 1994, 76.)

Richard J. Maynes (of the Seventy): "As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we need not be surprised or discouraged by the rapid decline of moral values in our day. Rather, we can take hope by remembering that ancient prophets accurately predicted today’s social conditions and that modern prophets continue to warn us about those conditions." (Ensign, Oct. 2008, 50.)

Ezra Taft Benson: "'Thou shalt not commit adultery' [and] 'Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife.' (Ex. 20:14, 17.) Here God gives the great law of chastity.... Never in this generation have morals been so loose as now.... The curtain of modesty has been torn aside, and in play and book and movie and television, in magazine story and picture, even magazine advertisement, immorality stands out in all its vulgarity and rottenness." (New Era, July 1978, 37.)

Joseph Fielding Smith: "The Lord gave commandments to ancient Israel that both men and women should cover their bodies and observe the law of chastity at all times. I am making a plea for modesty and chastity." (New Era, Jan. 1971, 5.)

Yes, sadly, it has become fashionable to be immodest. But God's Prophets will surely continue to counsel God's children to be modest and to "walk out ... if what is being presented does not meet Heavenly Father’s standards." (For the Strength of Youth, 14, 17; see also True to the Faith, 107.)

Much more so today than when Boyd K. Packer first said it, evil has unclothed herself and does walk the streets (and the bloggernacle) in brazen, impudent defiance.

In modern Israel, there is no such thing as "tasteful" public nudity.


Blogger Tim said...

R. Gary,

I'm curious on your take of "The David." Have you seen it? (I mean actually seen it in person). Is it nudity? Is it inappropriate?

5/11/2011 05:25:00 AM  
Blogger Steven Montgomery said...

Great post Gary! Keep up the good fight!

5/11/2011 06:12:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Tim: Good question. A similar question was asked at Times and Seasons last Friday: "Gee. Then I guess all those pre-1957 Renaissance painters-of-nudes (you know, the ones whose images are studied so freely in so many BYU humanities classes) were peddlers of obscenity."

Let's suppose a Church member today could sculpt like Michelangelo. Do you think the Church would commission a row of sixteen statues for the plaza in Salt Lake City, statues of the Latter-day Prophets each similar in size and pose as Michelangelo's David? I think not.

Spencer W. Kimball was Prophet in 1977. His July First Presidency Message contains the following. As I am wont to do, I'll follow the Prophet:

-------------- quote --------------
The Italian painter and sculptor Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), with his masterful and wonderful technique, made his portraits, figures, and designs true to life. His Mona Lisa is celebrated, and in it he was striving to catch the fleeting manifestations of the secret soul of his attractive and winsome subject. He seems to have given inspiration to Raphael and others of the great.

During one of our visits to Copenhagen, we were excited and inspired as we drank in the beauty of Thorvaldsen’s Christ and the Twelve Apostles. We wondered if anyone, anytime, could produce a greater masterpiece, and yet time may surprise the world. Can you see statues of the Lord, his prophets, and his disciples? There are many martyrs and prophets of the centuries who have never been so honored.

Michelangelo (Buonarroti—1475–1564) thought of himself only as a sculptor. He was called upon by Pope Julius II (in 1505) to build a great monument which the pope desired to have finished within his lifetime. This monument was never completed, and the controversies which arose embittered a large part of the great artist’s life. His 3,500-square-foot painting in the Sistine Chapel is said to be the most important piece of mural painting of the modern world.

To be an artist means hard work and patience and long-suffering. This artist said, “I am a poor man and of little merit, who plods along in the art, which God gave me. … I am more exhausted than ever man was.” And when we see Michelangelo’s masterpieces of art, we feel as did Habakkuk:

“Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvellously: for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you.” (Hab. 1:5.)

But then we ask, “Can there never be another Michelangelo?” Ah! Yes! His David in Florence and his Moses in Rome inspire to adulation. Did all such talent run out in that early century? Could not we find an embodied talent like this, but with a soul that was free from immorality and sensuality and intolerance?
-------------- end quote --------------

5/11/2011 07:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hadn't realized that Michelangelo was immoral, sensual, and intolerant.

5/11/2011 12:03:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Anonymous: You are free to disagree with Kimball. He also said, "Take a da Vinci or a Michelangelo or a Shakespeare and give him a total knowledge of the plan of salvation of God and personal revelation and cleanse him, and then take a look at the statues he will carve and the murals he will paint and the masterpieces he will produce."

5/11/2011 12:11:00 PM  
Anonymous cadams said...

There ought to be a place for the nude in the Restoration. One of the most powerful images of the female nude that I have ever seen was in the Church Art Museum, as part of the larger Rembrandt etchings exhibit some years ago. It also contained Durer's "Harrowing of Hell" etching, which included a marvelous image of a nude Eve. It was one of the most stunning images of a frontal nude female I've seen; and my viewings have included many studies in the museums in Europe over the years.

Not so aesthetically pleasing, but still enjoyable for viewing, was the frontal nude image of Pocahontas that I saw in the BYU Museum of Art; there have been other similar nudes there as well over the years.

Also, in the celestial room of the Salt Lake Temple, on the railing of the stairs leading up to the elevated sealing room, there is a sculpture of a Raphael-like putto (a boy angel). He is partially nude, including a fully nude buttocks.

Pornography may be impossible to define, because for every person spiritual light may be manifested in different ways. It may be that, for example, a reformed pederast may refrain from worshiping in the SLC temple: because for him, a putto is something objectionable to the Spirit.

5/11/2011 02:25:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

cadams: At one time there was a huge disconnect between what Church leaders taught and what the Church's bookstore chain was selling. For an unknown number of years prior to 1978 until sometime during the 1990s, Deseret Book followed (at a distance) the moral slide in our society made possible by changes in obscenity law.

During the 1980s, I strenuously objected. In fact in 1995, the Salt Lake Tribune said I was "perhaps the most outspoken proponent of ditching fiction at Deseret Book." Typical of the Tribune, it was a misrepresentation of my actual proposal which was to have them "ditch" soft-porn fiction.

Deseret Book refused over and over to remove "hard R" fiction from their stores, claiming they had the full support of their board of directors whose chairman and one other member were apostles.

"So buzz off, Gary," is essentially what they said. "You're just a prude."

And so it went for well over a decade with dozens of letters that went back and forth between me and Deseret Book. There were also cover letters from my bishop and stake president that went with my own letters to one or the other of the apostles.

It was confusing to some because during those years, Deseret Book stayed well within the law.

Question: What did it mean that one could purchase soft-core pornography from a Church owned bookstore? Did that nullify or even modify the pleadings of the apostles and prophets to avoid pornography?

My point is this: It doesn't matter what you saw or where you saw it. The position of the Church is found in the teachings of its apostles and prophets, and nowhere in any Church publication has any of them said Spencer W. Kimball was wrong. Please cite official LDS media where any of them has contradicted any of the quotes in my post.

Within today's obscenity law you are correct, pornography may be impossible to define. Biblical standards — the Lord's standards — are not nearly so confusing.

Regarding the temple cherub, you have GOT to be joking!

5/11/2011 05:33:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Seriously, cadams, how is a cherub even relevant to this discussion?

5/11/2011 05:46:00 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

The question of obscenity as it relates to "The David" is a bit of a red herring. That sculpture is complete, and we honor that artist as great at his craft.

The prophets' teachings today regarding modesty are for us to live and apply. We cannot (nor should we) change the great works of art. But we also need not be constrained only to mimic them.

5/12/2011 09:31:00 AM  

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