Many Mormons justify violence and immorality in books and film by appealing to scriptures. They say something like, “Have you ever read the last chapter of Ether, or the tale about Ehud in the Book of Judges, or David and Goliath, or Captain Moroni’s battle with Zerahemnah? If there is so much violence in scripture, then violence in media must not be a problem, as long as the consequences are visible.”
A similar argument goes for immorality: “Have you ever read about Judah’s transgressions in the Book of Genesis, or David’s transgression with Bathsheba, or Hosea marrying a prostitute? If there is so much immorality in scripture, then immorality in media is OK, as long as the consequences are visible.” (I am using immorality to mean portrayals of sexuality. For when sexuality is crassly explored in a public venue, beyond the privacy it was divinely intended for, it becomes immoral.)
A great example of this argument was written by a relatively popular Mormon author named Brandon Sanderson. In an interview on the Times and Seasons blog, he said,
“A wise friend (an LDS writer) once explained that in his opinion, glorifying violence or sexuality comes when consequences are removed. The scriptures themselves don’t shy away from graphic content or descriptions (scalps on swords, anyone?) The important issue, however, is that the scriptures show the destructive effect that these things can have, even on the good people who are forced to engage in them.”
This is a clear illustration of this idea. As long as the consequences are made known, then viewing or reading it should be OK. Granted, General Authorities, including, in my remembrances, Elder Ballard, may have made recent statements which can be interpreted to be consistent with this ideology. But perhaps there is a misunderstanding of intent and context.
We should consider is the admonition in the 13th Article of Faith, “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” Notice the Article of Faith does not mention that if there is anything graphic or violent or immoral we seek after these things, as long as it is in the proper context. No, the Prophet Joseph teaches that we seek after virtue and beauty. Now of course, some may say that a book can be violent or immoral to some degree and still be praiseworthy. In whose eyes is it praiseworthy? This is somewhat of a slippery slope.
Why do I say this is a slippery slope? We all know that desensitization is real. We all know someone who doesn’t find the most violent violence shocking, or the most graphic pornography morally troublesome. And the pathway to this line of thinking is desensitization: too many R-rated movies in grade school, or even kindergarten, can have bad results, especially when a strong moral backbone is not included in one’s life. Even with a strong moral backbone, individual choices can offend the Spirit. A great scriptural example of this is Laman and Lemuel, who had seen an angel, but were so wicked they were “past feeling,” that they could not “feel” his words. Likewise, when we choose to view something offensive, the Spirit is offended, and cannot dwell in unholy temples. If we are choosing to be in an unholy temple, then how can the Spirit be with us? If we ignore this loss of spiritual sensitivity, then we do so at the risk of our own spirituality. Where do we draw the line? When have we decided we’ve had our fill of sin or trashy entertainment?
My contention is that what we view pertains to our morality and our spirituality. Yes, Jesus taught that whatsoever cometh out of a man defileth a man, and not what we consume (Matt. 15:10-20). But consider that when we consume (i.e. visually) something violent or immoral, often spirituality is compromised. What we participate in can directly affect our thoughts, our beliefs, and our attitudes. Just as when we read scripture or go to General Conference, our thoughts are uplifted and attitudes can change, so to when we read a book or see a movie or even listen to a particular song, our attitudes and beliefs can be modified; even the slightest modification can be spiritually detrimental. In that way, what we consume can lead to what comes out of our minds, our mouths, and our actions.
And of course whenever we choose to view something, some thought is proceeding out of our mind. If our motivation to view something unclean in not right in the sight of God, then we have, according to the scripture, defiled ourselves, even before we have seen whatever it is we desire. The mere thought, proceeding from our hearts, can defile us, if it is not right in God’s eyes.
That is not to say this is a sole factor in one’s spirituality. But it is a factor, and a significant one considering the focus on media in today’s world.
Creating or recreating violent or immoral content can compromise one’s spirituality, even if consequences are presented. This is not to say that it always does so. But there is always this risk, and to ignore this risk is again, spiritually dangerous.
Why is there so much violence and immorality in scripture, then? Why is that justified? There are several reasons. One is that scripture represents words spoken under inspiration of God. If God commands someone to write something, then that is obviously justified and right. But to suppose that fiction writing (however well-intentioned) is equivalent to scripture is a bit of a stretch for me.
Another is the understanding that some scripture is more spiritually significant than others. 2 Nephi 9 is more scriptural and spiritually significant for us than the numbering of the Levites in the Old Testament, for instance, or the descriptions of David’s warriors. Rarely do we find the violent and immoral episodes embedded in the core doctrinal scriptures. There are exceptions, of course.
Consider the toned-down violence in any recent Church film. Surely that is a guide for how graphic violence should be toned down, even when it is absolutely necessary to tell an important, scriptural story. If it is to be toned down for a scriptural story, then what about an optional, fictional story? Is there a double standard?
Another is the teaching from Mormon (Moroni 7:12-13) that
12 Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually.
13 But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.
Scripture clearly qualifies as inspired of God. We wonder what about the muddled middle, that which mostly persuades to do good some of the time, or just sort of persuades to do good? We remember that there are many doctrines: some are of God, some are of men, and some are of devils (D&C 46:7). Verse thirteen describes the divine doctrine, and verse twelve the devilish. We can imagine there are man-made doctrines as well. It is likely there is some neutral middle ground where individuals are free to act, for it is not meet that we be compelled in all things; else we are slothful (D&C 58:26-27). We are also admonished to judge righteous judgment (JST Matt. 7:1).
Ultimately, we have to rely on our own judgment, based upon our own understanding and experience. If our hearts are true, then we will be guided in the way pleasing to Him. Some decisions may not matter (D&C 62:5). In time, as we spiritually mature, we put away childish things (1 Cor. 13:11). But sometimes we still may enjoy a game of t-ball, metaphorically speaking.