Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Spirit and Element, Inseparably Connected, Receive a Fulness of Joy

Latter-day Saints understand that the entire purpose of creation was to enable the spirit children of our Heavenly Parents to progress by receiving physical bodies that some day will be "inseparably connected" with our spirits. (See D&C 93: 33-34 and 138: 17). This is why it is through the gift of procreation that "the earth might answer the end of its creation" (D&C 49: 16). A fundamental task of this life is to perfect the union of spirit and body.

Accounts of the Satanic rebellion against God in Abraham 3: 22-28 and Moses 4: 1-4 add another layer to our understanding of the nature of the trial we face in this life related to achieving the union of spirit and body. Satan told God, "I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it." This, explained God, was an attempt "to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him."

A further layer of understanding is added in the account of the Fall of Adam and Eve. After Satan tempts Eve, and she and her husband partake of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, "the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons" (Gen. 3: 7; also Moses 4: 13). God's first question to Adam and Eve in the aftermath of the Fall was related to the primeval shame that followed the partaking of the fruit: "Who told thee that thou wast naked?"

The Book of Revelation describes how, after the Great War in Heaven, Satan "was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him" (Revelation 12: 9). Revelation describes Satan as "the accuser," which "accused [the righteous] before our God day and night" (vs. 10). He is described as a "persecutor" of the righteous, who "makes war" upon them (vss. 13 & 17). He is able to do this because of great worldly power that is granted him for a time. Something of the power that was granted to Satan is captured in a phrase used by the apostle Paul to describe him: "the god of this world" (2 Corthians 4: 4). Satan is in league with "the rulers," with the "powers and principalities" of this world, with "spiritual wickedness in high places" (Ephesians 6: 12).

Incredible as it may seem, it was God's plan from the beginning that we be tried in a world in which Satan was not only free to tempt us, but in which Satan, for the most part, rules. As C.S. Lewis pointed out, we who are faithful live, in essence, "behind enemy lines," awaiting the return of Earth's rightful ruler. How can we hope to survive? "By the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of [our] testimony" (Rev. 12: 11). These are our only weapons in this fight.

If Satan is engaged in a war against God in which Earth is temporarily enemy-occupied territory, certainly the stakes of that strife are related to the goal and purpose of mortal existence: the miraculous, powerful, and joyful bond between spirit and flesh, on which eternal "fullness of joy" is predicated.

Fullness of joy comes when body and spirit are in harmony, when neither disregards the needs of the other. In this sense, our bodies and our spirits are entered into a kind of marriage with each other. Actually, I'm convinced that a number of passages in scripture discussing "marriage" relate metaphorically to this union of body and spirit. Certainly, marriage as a literal institution, in which spouses covenant with each other both physically and spiritually, is the perfect expression of the metaphorical "marriage" between body and spirit. The marital relationship demands the same kinds of balance and harmony between physical and spiritual needs that all of us must achieve -- married or not -- in order to achieve the fullness of joy.

In the ancient world, the physical was seen as having feminine qualities and the spiritual was seen as having masculine qualities. Thus, when the apostle Paul, for instance, speaks of the ideal relationship between husband and wife, relating that the wife is to "obey" the husband, while the husband is to "be considerate of" the wife, he is also speaking very aptly of the kind of relationship our spirits ought to have with our bodies. Spiritual requirements must be obeyed, but the spirit cannot exercise tyranny over the body. Rather, it is to nurture, meet the needs of, and strengthen the body. In real marriages of husbands and wives, of course, it is the responsibility of both husband and wife to obey the spirit and nurture the flesh.

I remember as a kid going on a tour in Finland of a Russian Orthodox Museum. There was a section of the museum where implements of torture were on display in some glass cases. I'd heard tales of the Inquisition, and wondered if these were some of the tools of its trade. But there was no Inquisition in Eastern Orthodoxy. No, these implements of torture, I learned to my surprise and horror, were used by Russian monks on themselves. The purpose was to "mortify" or deaden the flesh to any instincts toward (sexual) pleasure. This was a powerful object lesson to me of the extreme antipathy to physicality and sexuality in the European culture of the middle ages -- the culture that, in many ways, was the matrix for modern Western understandings of the world.

To quote The Family Guy, "it seems today that all you see is violence in movies and sex on TV." So we might wonder how our modern culture of sexual permissiveness could possibly be related to the body-hating culture of Europe five hundred years ago. Our culture seems to be the opposite of that one. But in fact, opposites are usually flip sides of the same coin. When we examine the roots of modern pornographic, "anything goes" culture, we see that it emerged as a form of rebellion against body-fearing prudery and repression. Both represent modes of body and spirit relating to each other that are out of harmony.

We still see the imprint of body-denial in the majority of Christian churches, especially those strongly influenced by European culture. We see it in theologies that deny the literalness of the physical resurrection, as well as in the demonization of the flesh. When sexual urges in and of themselves are characterized as evil, we see this in action.

The scriptural texts I discussed at the beginning of this essay give some inkling about the nature of Satanic dominion in the world. Force or coercion, shame, accusation or humiliation, and persecution are clearly identified as tools of Satan. Force is how Satan told God he would rule the world, and now cast out into the world and ruling it as "occupied territory," he has been true to his word. Satan of course does not have dominion over our souls; that's what God prevented in the beginning when he rejected Satan's proposal for achieving salvation; it's what Christ achieved through the atonement ("the blood of the Lamb"). Satan may rule the world, but he cannot rule us against our wills.

It should be evident, when we understand the nature of the bond between body and spirit, why Satan's plan could never work. Force cannot produce harmony. And it is only through harmony that perfect union can work. D&C 121 alludes to this, when it states: "Thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever" (vs. 46). This suggests that what dominion God has over the elements -- and whatever of the nature of God's dominion we are able to achieve -- is based on love, not force. Love is literally the organizing principle of all creation.

Gays and lesbians have been the victims of our culture's sexual repression in a special way. The severing of the harmony between spirit and body has created fundamental anxiety in our culture that causes us to lie to ourselves about the nature of our desire. One manifestation of this is the projecting of one's fears about one's own sexuality on those who are sexually "other." So gay men and lesbians have become a foil for our culture's anxiety about sex. Gay sex, in our sex-hating culture, is the ultimate evil. It's the kind of sex that Satan has and promotes. So no repression of homosexuality is unjustified.

Just by virtue of being gay, we are not immune to this anxiety. In fact, we are more vulnerable to it than people who are not gay. We are vulnerable to this kind of anxiety in exactly the same way that little black children in our culture prefer white dolls over black dolls, because they think that black dolls are "ugly." The culture's projection of us as demonic isn't something that just goes away when we come out. Understanding this is a crucial aspect of the journey each of us must take toward self-knowledge.

That journey, in other words, specifically means wrestling with the cultural lie that we are demons incarnate and not human beings having both spirits and bodies that require the same kinds of harmony that everyone else requires. Our struggle is a special one, because we have to strive to find that balance both in our own psyches as well as in a culture that does everything it can -- that uses every Satanic tool of shame, hate, persecution, humiliation, and coercion -- to keep us unbalanced and use us as scapegoats.

I am now speaking from personal experience, offering the word of my own testimony in regard to my understanding of the nature of the battle. Once I understood this and began to live it, I experienced in unprecedented ways what exactly is meant by those simple words "fullness of joy." I've experienced both kinds of imbalance in my life -- the imbalance of letting one's life be run by one's sex drive, as well as the imbalance of denying any rightful place to the sex drive. The pathway to balance is precarious and frightening. There are demons of all sorts in our way, trying alternatively to frighten and tempt us.

My way through literally has been by "the blood of the Lamb" and by my testimony, which teaches me patience and kindness, beginning with myself and then reaching out toward others.

5 comments:

EL said...

Patience and kindness toward ourselves is perhaps the hardest to learn.

J G-W said...

Indeed!

Jon said...

John, you constantly crank out brilliant material. Thank you. I think it's helpful to provide historical context. I think we look at how things are now and assume that's how it's always been. I hope your hair recovers quickly:)

J G-W said...

Jon - Heh! My hair looks even worse now post washing. Amazing how washing makes a good haircut look bad, and a bad haircut look pitiful. But thanks for the feedback on the post..!

Alan said...

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