Scriptures and Theology
Activity and Lesson Ideas
Intelligence & Affection or Knowledge and Love:
Parley P. Pratt
A Mormon Concept of Human Sexuality
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for allowing us to post a copy of this important lesson. For other
enlightening interpretations of LDS theology, please go to
Reform Mormonism Gospel Doctrine.
Sunday, October 03, 2004
"For the joy of human love..."
(From the hymn "For the Beauty of the Earth")
Most contemporary Mormons are renowned for their overly conservative
approach to human sexuality. In recent decades, the leaders of Mormonism's
larger denominations have tended to align themselves with Evangelicals
and Christian Fundamentalists in their views on this subject.
This is surprising considering that during the 19th and early 20th
centuries what most set Mormons apart from others was their radical
view of human sexuality. As the character of an LDS missionary in
the recent film "Latter Days," states: "Our ancestors were the original
Early Mormons believed that not only was sexuality a human attribute,
it was also an attribute of the Gods. In fact, it was only through
sexual union with another that an individual could progress towards
Godhood. Within Mormonism marriage was not a rite administered by
the Priesthood--as in Catholicism. Within Mormonism, marriage in fact
became an Order of the Priesthood (See Doctrine & Covenants 132)--the
highest Order. Thus, sexual union within marriage became the highest
expression of religion.
Last week we explored the Mormon doctrine of the human soul--which
is the union of the spirit/mind and body. Early Mormons also taught
that there was no such thing as "immaterial matter"--meaning, that
everything--including the spirit--has a material existence. Such a
doctrine completely undermines the traditional notion that the human
body and the human spirit are in conflict with one another; that the
spirit is good and the body is somehow bad. These unique Mormon doctrines
set the foundation for early Mormonism's positive view of human sexuality.
Nowhere is the early Mormon view of human sexuality presented more
thoughtfully than in the writings of early Mormon Apostle Parley P.
Pratt; therefore, in this week's lesson, we have printed below extracts
from his writings.
"Intelligence and Affection" was published in Nauvoo in 1840, and
was distributed by the Mormon press and the Mormon missionaries as
being representative of the liberal and enlightened Mormon views on
human love and sexuality. "Intelligence" refers to the rational processes
of the human mind, while "affection" was a euphemism not only for
familial love and the love between friends, but also sexual love.
Excerpts from this classic early Mormon missionary tract are presented
below. One wonders how contemporary Mormon attitudes towards sex might
differ if more people were familiar with the writings of Parley P.
Pratt and other founding fathers and mothers of Mormonism.
Knowledge & Experience: The Foundation of Love
"The human mind in infancy, like the body, is small and weak indeed.
It neither possesses intelligence [knowledge] or affection [love]
to any great degree; for the latter is the production of the former….
"The infant mind commences to expand, and continues to enlarge itself
just in proportion to the truths that are presented for its food,
and the time and opportunity it has to digest and comprehend them.
If unassisted by other intelligences, it expands but very little,
--all its powers remain in a great measure inactive and dormant.
"For instance, let an infant be cut off from all communication with
other intelligences, let it grow to manhood entirely alone, and it
still knows little more than in infancy…
"It is true, that, in this life the progress of the mind in intelligence,
is not only gradual, but obstructed in various ways. It has to contend,
not only with its own prejudices and the errors of an opposing world,
but with innumerable weakness, temptations, cares, and troubles with
which it is continually beset...
"In infancy, our love is as narrow as our intelligent capacity. But
as our intelligence increases, so our affection grows, till from knowing
and loving our mother, we begin to know and love the circle of our
immediate kindred and family…As we advance in the knowledge of all
our social connections, duties, dependences, relationships, and obligations,
our affections still increase…Thus love, or affection is dependent
upon knowledge, or intelligence, and can only be increased by an increase
"These two principles [knowledge and love] are the foundations, the
fountains of all real happiness.
Parley P. Pratt went to great lengths to link love and sexuality with
the mind and with knowledge. What does this link say about the nature
of love and emotions?
Pratt makes the case that an individual's emotions and sexuality are
linked to his/her environment, experiences, etc. while growing up
and maturing. In other words, the foundation of one's emotional makeup
and sexuality is individualized and subjective.
If this is true, what would this imply about the various "commandments"
regarding human sexuality that traditional religions often seek to
enforce upon all of their adherents? What would this imply regarding
the concept of "sexual morality" in general?
Sexual Repression/ Resisting Human Love
"Some persons have supposed that our natural affections [sexual feelings]
were the results of a fallen and corrupt nature, and that they are
'carnal, sensual and devilish,' and therefore ought to be resisted,
subdued, or overcome as so many evils which prevent our perfection,
or progress in the spiritual life. In short, they should be greatly
subdued in this world, and in the world to come entirely done away.
And even our intelligence [knowledge] also. Such persons frequently
inquire whither they shall recognize their kindred or friends in the
life to come. They also caution themselves and others, lest they should
love their child, their companion, their brother, sister or mother
too well; for, say they, if you love them to well it will offend your
God and he will take them from you.
"Such persons have mistaken the source and fountain of happiness altogether.
They have not one correct idea of the nature of the enjoyments, or
happiness of heaven, or earth; this life or any other. If intelligence
[knowledge] and affection [human love] are to decrease to such a low
ebb that we shall neither recognize or love our kindred and friends,
then a stone, a block of wood, or a picture on the wall is as capable
of the enjoyment of heaven as we are.
"So far from this being the case, our natural affections [sexual feelings/human
loves] are planted in us by the Spirit of God, for a wise purpose;
and they are the very mainsprings of life and happiness--they are
the cement of all virtuous and heavenly society--they are the essence
of charity, or love; and therefore, never fail but endure forever.
"There is not a more pure and holy principle in existence than the
affection which glows in the bosom of a virtuous man for his companion;
for his parents, brothers, sisters, and children….
"These pure affections are inspired in our bosoms, and interwoven
with out nature by an all wise and benevolent being, who rejoices
in the happiness and welfare of his creatures. All his revelations
to man, touching this subject [human love, human sexuality] are calculated
to approve, encourage and perfect them; that man, enlightened and
taught of God, may be more free, more social, more cheerful, happy,
kind, familiar, and lovely than he was before; that he may fill all
the relationships of life, and act in every sphere of usefulness with
a greater energy, and with a readier mind, and a more willing heart.
Celibacy & Self-Denial
"All the monkish austerity all the sadness and reserve, all the unsocial
feelings and doings of priests, and monks, and nuns; all the long-facedness,
unsocial sadness, groanings, sighings, and mortifications of secretaries,
whether ancient convents, where men and women retire from all busy
scenes and pleasures of life, to live a life of celibacy, self-denial
and devotion; and whether in the more modern and fashionable circles
of the camp meetings, or the 'mourners bench.'
"All these, I say, are expressly and entirely opposed to the spirit
and object of true religion; they are so many relics of superstition,
ignorance, and hypocrisy, and are expressly forbidden and condemned
by our Lord and Savior.
Discussion Questions: Can you think of any ways in which celibacy
and a negative view of human sexuality are linked to superstition,
ignorance and hypocrisy?
Consider this: in Catholicism, one takes a vow of celibacy when entering
the highest order of the Priesthood. Yet within Mormonism, the highest
order of the Priesthood is the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage.
What does this say about the Mormon view of human sexuality?
Being Dissatisfied with Yout Nature/ Praying for
God to Change You
"In all these things, man has mistaken the source of happiness; has
been dissatisfied with the elements and attributes of his nature,
and has tried, and sought, and prayed, in vain to make himself into
a different being from what the Lord has wisely designed he should
"...The man who, through a mistaken zeal, or through the influence
of ignorant teachings or incorrect traditions, so far mistakes the
object and purpose of his being, as to withdraw from all these; to
shut himself from the world, and seek to overcome and subdue the natural
affections [sexual feelings] with which God has endowed him, is not
a religious man at all. On the contrary, he is opposing the will and
commandments of God and neglecting the duties of religion…
How do the ideas expressed above resonate with the religious concepts
your were taught while growing up?
Why is your reaction to these ideas now?
Study Yourself, Know Yourself
"Man, know thy self,--study thine own nature,--learn the powers of
thy body,--the capacity of thy mind. Learn thine origin, thy purpose
and thy destiny. Study the true source of thine own happiness, and
the happiness of all beings with which thou art associated. Learn
to act in unison with thy true character, nature and attributes; and
thus improve and cultivate the resources within and around thee. This
will render you truly happy, and be an acceptable service to your
God. And being faithful over a few things, you may hope to be made
a ruler of many thing...
Don't Pray that Your Natural affections Be Changed;
Pray that they Be Increased
"Know then, O' Man, that aided and directed by the light of heaven
the sources of thy happiness are within and around thee. Instead of
seeking unto God for a mysterious change to wrought, or for your affections
and attributes to be taken away and subdued, seek unto him for aid,
and wisdom to govern, direct and cultivate them in a manner which
will tend to your happiness and exaltation, both in this world and
in that which is to come. Yea, pray to him that every affection, attribute,
power and energy of your body and mind may be cultivated, increased,
enlarged, perfected and exercised for his glory and for the glory
and happiness of yourself, and of all those whose good fortune it
may be to be associated with you…
If one prays that one one's sexual affection be strengthened and increased,
what might this indicate about one's conception of God? One's conception
of human nature? One's conception of human relationships and human
love? One's conception of the body and mind?
In your own past, would this approach have helped or hindered you?
The Eternal Exaltation of the Human Mind & Body
"Having discovered and set forth in plainness the origin, purpose
and destiny of man's physical organization and the powers, attributes,
energies, affections and capabilities of his intellect, we find him
standing erect in God-like majesty, with organs of strength beyond
the reach of death: and powers of thought, capable of spanning the
heavens, and comprehending all things..."
When envisioning humankind's eternal destiny, most religious traditions
focus on spirituality--meaning, immateriality. The above description
is radically different--with its celebration of both the physical
body and the mind. What is your reaction to the ideals expressed above?
ABOUT REFORM MORMONISM
While other denominations within world-wide Mormonism have, over the
past century and a half, retreated from the liberal, optimistic view
of human nature and human sexuality embraced by many first generation
Mormons, Reform Mormonism embraces this view. When contemplating human
nature and human sexuality, Reform Mormons tend to take a more rational,
Reform Mormonism rejects the idea that God has legalistically issued
a set of commands regarding human sexuality to which the individual
must render mindless obedience. Such a notion seems out of harmony
with the broader implications of Mormon theology--that there is no
inherent contradiction between the mind/spirit and the body; that
the individual is an eternally free and autonomous entity who, being
in the image and likeness of God, has the ability to grow in knowledge
and eventually progress towards Godhood.
"The Book of Mormon" teaches that men and women are that they might
have joy. Joseph Smith taught that "happiness is the object of our
existence." (Interestingly enough, Joseph wrote this in a letter dealing
with marriage and sexuality.) Sexuality plays an essential role in
human happiness and fulfillment. One's sexuality is not something
to be sacrificed, repressed or overcome.
REFORM MORMON THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK:
May every affection, attribute, power and energy of my body and mind
be cultivated, increased, perfected and exercised for the glory of
God, and for the glory and happiness of myself and those in my life.
To respond to some of the questions raised in this Gospel Doctrine session, or to make a comment or ask a question, email: Reformmormonsaol.com.
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LINKS TO SUGGESTED READINGS & MATERIALS
Related to this week's lesson
Photo & Biographical information on Parley P. Pratt
On the writings of Parley P. Pratt
"The Essential Parley P. Pratt"
"The Essential Joseph Smith"
"Rational Theology" by John Widstoe
"The Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion" by Sterling M. Mc Murrin