Wednesday, May 17, 2006


I use a lot of hyperbole, myself. I'm sort of a drama queen. Things aren't "nice," they're "awesome." I don't get nervous, or concerned, but rather, "scared witless." To be fair, it's not an act. I'm an emotional person. I react fast and hard, and I'm over it, whatever it is, in minutes. I'm quick to anger, quick to beg for forgiveness, and very sincere about all of it.

So, as someone who is given to grand sweeping statements, I am a little unnerved by how irritating I find the Hyperbole of Holiness. The latest annoyance popped up last night, when I read somewhere a reference to breastfeeding as "sacred." Huh? Since when is lactation holy?

The same subject came up over on the DAMU in the form of snarky comments about Russell M. Nelson's new wife. I don't have any direct quotes, and I've never read her stuff. It's not unlikely that what I've read about her writing may have been taken out of context. Even so, I found her purported admonition to remember that God is the third person in the room when you're having sex with your spouse a little over the top.

I think the reason the hyperbole of holiness is so irksome to me is that I'm inherently suspicious of those who live on a "higher plane" than I do. Breastfeeding was a great experience for me, but I wouldn't describe it as sacred...just rewarding. Sex is great, but I don't think of it as exactly "holy," either - maybe "divinely approved," but not holy.

Maybe there are people who are able to sense the divine in everyday matters. I think, though, that by elevating all experiences to the level of sacred, the sacred is rendered mundane.

"Holier than thou" is not a pejorative without reason. I think it makes those of us muddling along in the mundane world, awaiting experiences that we feel are sacred, feel like there's just no point. We obviously aren't on the same level, so why bother?


Sue said...

Great post Ann. When I was a teenager, whenever I asked my mom about the temple or sex (which wasn't often), she would describe them in terms that so elevated the experiences that I was bound to be disappointed. What they did in the temple was incredibly beautiful, and the most amazing, holy experience I would ever have. Actually, it's been my experience that MOST people who describe templework use similar terms. So when I went through the first time, it was an incredible let down. I wasn't prepared, obviously. It was foreign, a little strange, and didn't make a whole lot of sense to me.

Same thing with sex. The first time around - not a joyous, wondrous, holy and beautiful experience - more like messy and painful - at least until we practiced enough to get it right... NOW, it is definitely joyous and beautiful (and a lot of other adjectives), but that isn't what I would want someone to expect their first experience to be like - or they are bound to be disappointed. (Thank goodness I wasn't relying on my mom's input alone!)

Both things have the potential to fit their description on some level. But I think we need to be careful about using hyperbole and let people experience things for themselves.

Regarding the temple, I wish my mom would have said something like, "The work we do in the temple is sacred and important, but it can be confusing, and the things you will see and hear will be new and unfamiliar. Don't be disappointed if it takes you a while to understand and come to appreciate the temple."

annegb said...

Then there is the anguish of not enough female cartoon characters.

annegb said...

You know, I've thought about the spirit world and wondered who else is with us during sex. I pretty much tell them to get the hell out of there.

annegb said...

what is DAMU?

Ann said...

anne, DAMU=Disaffected Mormon Underground. It's like the anti-bloggernacle. It ranges from sites like New Order Mormons, where we're just trying to figure out how to get along with the church, to Recovery from Mormonism, where angry people go to complain. (I'm not bad-mouthing them. We all have our crosses to bear. The harder-edged places are not my cup of tea, though.)

Thanks for the kind thoughts, Sue. I remember the first time I went through the temple, I was kind of overwhelmed, and the matron was really clear that she didn't want to know what I thought...she wanted to know how I felt.

I think the first couple of times through the temple, lots of people think, "What the...?" The build-up can be problematic for people who don't have that shiny happy experience they are expecting.

Mogget said...

God is the third person in the room

This has been bothering me since I read it this AM. I know I'm a pesty NT nerd, but here is Hebrews 13:4 on the subject;

Marriage is honorable in all and the bed undefiled, but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.

I think that's a good way to look at it. In my universe, folks who want to add things to the NT need to first explain why the existing divine guidance is not adequate!


Ann said...

Mogget, I hope I inserted enough disclaimers to reassure that I DON'T know if I'm citing accurately or taking out of context; and I know I'm paraphrasing even if I am.

I think some people enjoy improving upon official teachings. It's an old tradition, dating back at least to the story of Origen's efforts to avoid the "appearance of evil."

Mogget said...

the story of Origen's efforts to avoid the "appearance of evil."

Do tell. I've not heard it, I guess. (If you have the time.)

Yes, I did catch the disclaimers. I'll watch for some more solid info from relatives who will likewise be disgusted if true.

NFlanders said...

I read the quotes from Mrs. Nelson and they were pretty awful. I don't think you took them out of context.

When I showed my wife this list, she couldn't believe it was for real. It's just not normal.

Ann said...

From wikipedia:

Teaching throughout the day, [Origen] devoted the greater part of the night to the study of the Bible and lived a life of rigid asceticism. According to some traditions, he carried this to such an extent that, fearing that his position as a teacher of women as well as men might give ground for scandal to the heathen, he followed Matthew 19:12 literally and castrated himself; this action, if accurately reported, was likely partly influenced, too, by his belief that the Christian must follow the words of his Master without reserve. Later in life, however, he saw reason to judge differently concerning his extreme act. The historical accuracy of this supposed castration has been doubted by some scholars. It has been postulated that this story was circulated by Origen's rivals in an effort to lessen his importance or to otherwise sully his reputation. Rebecca Denova is one such scholar.

Makes God in the bedroom seem downright light-hearted by comparison!

Ann said...

Hey, Ned! Welcome back to your own blog, podner!

I'm not going to go to your link, because I don't want my head to explode. Head explode = bad.

Do any of you agree with my hypothesis that the hyperbole of holiness serves only to make mere mortals feel hopeless?

Or, reading ideas like this, are any readers encouraged to strive for this level of engagement with the sacred? To seek the holy in the mundane?

One of the side effects of my divergence from standard Mormon attitudes and beliefs is a tendency to roll my eyes when people wax rhapsodic about spirachel things. My friend beijing calls it "channeling her inner teen-ager." There are times when that attitude is probably warrented. But there are probably times when I do it and it's NOT warranted.

It's hard knowing where the balance is between hardened and sensible.

Hellmut said...

I agree with you, Anne. On the other hand, bringing a child into the world is a big deal. In that sense, one should not take sex lightly.

The thing that is probably most damaging about declaring sex holy is that rational discussion might become taboo. That will lead to the worst outcomes.

Some of you might enjoy Is Teen Sex Bad? It links to several discussions with researchers who explore why American kids are more likely to get pregnant than their European peers.

The consensus about the problem appears to be that we are giving kids mixed messages about sex. Important reading for every parent.

If we want to protect our children then we need to speak about sex in a very direct, open, and rational manner.

annegb said...

head explode=bad


Mogget said...

Thanks for the Origen story.

It occurs to that I have heard that one. I've also read another one along the same lines, but from the Desert Fathers. Seems these two Copts decided to do the Mt 19 thing to themselves. They got excommunicated in Egypt. So they went to Jerusalem to ask to be reinstated. Then I think they went to Antioch and finally Rome. Then back to Egypt. Turned down every time. Shenute finally let them back in the church after awhile. But it seemed funny to me that they were smart enough to travel the length and breadth of the known world, but not smart enough to recognize figurative language.

Anyway, I read that list posted by Ned. It coulda' some seasoning with the Song of Solomon, but it didn't bother me nearly as much as the doctrine of the divine voyeur.

Ann said...

So, I figured if mogget could read the list, so could I. It didn't bother me much. It's not like there's anything there particularly outlandish or surprising coming from a 50'ish LDS marriage and family therapist.

The LDS have the POV that married sex is good and holy and any other kind is wicked and sinful. That's certainly not a unique POV among conservative Christian denominations.

NFlanders said...

The one that really bugged me was the implication that if you're having "worldly" sex, you're potentially open to pedophilia. These kinds of gross (in both senses of the word) generalizations about "the world" arise when you don't actually know anyone from there.

Also, for me personally, prayer, fasting and scripture reading are not normal parts of sex. But I don't want to judge anyone's kink. (I refuse to use emoticons, so insert a mental picture of a winking eye here.)

All in all, I just think it's a little odd to be taking marriage and sex advice from a woman who presumably hadn't had much experience with either when she came up with her list.

(Sorry for the thread-jack, co-blogger. Don't ban me!)

Mogget said...

Yeah, those are precisely the same two that struck me as particularly weird, as well.

I wonder how the author would react to a good erotic reading of some of the OT's wilder poetry... I mean, it is scripture study, right?

And why would you take advice from someone with no experience? Catholics deal with that issue rather often, I think.

Ann said...

I don't think there's a problem taking advice from someone with no direct experience in the area. I think there's more to sex than the physical act; there are cultural, social, and religious issues that you can relate to and understand without having sex directly.

However, I do think her outline is a good example of "holy hyperbole," but from the opposite perspective - it's painting the "other" as dark and evil and filthy. It seems like she's saying that those people who are having sex other than "holy" sex, are perverted. I'm sure there are some faithful, happily married atheists out there who would be offended that they are being portrayed as just one small step from child molesters.