Harm vs. Purity

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Harm vs. Purity

Post by hawkgrrrl » 10 Aug 2018, 16:30

I did this post on BCC this week, thinking about the false equivalency in the story about the girl assaulted at BYU-I who was drinking. Her attacker outed her to her bishop for drinking, and she was suspended for two semesters. (The school has amnesty for victims, and the school acted appropriately within Title IX, but the ecclesiastical endorsement is a loophole to that amnesty).

Regardless of the specifics of that situation, it occurred to me that some of what's so off (to me) about how we talk about sin in the church is that I usually think of sin in terms of harm to others, and many people at church view sin as something that makes them impure. Jonathan Haidt talked about the difference between those focused on harm and those focused on purity, but I hadn't made that connection to how we talk about sin and repentance before. Here's a link to the post (which unfortunately has devolved into some weird porn blusterfest): https://bycommonconsent.com/2018/08/07/harm-vs-purity/

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Re: Harm vs. Purity

Post by Heber13 » 10 Aug 2018, 18:41

It's a very good post. Love it.

Why then, is sex a sin in all cases?

A couple has sex once before marriage.

They don't tell anyone. They try hard to be careful and not let it happen again. No other partners. No disease. No pregnancy.

They get married in the temple.

Wherein is the sin?

Where does the line get drawn for sin or not sin? When there is no harm, is there a foul?

Is there a thing such as a "close call..but no sin"?

The husband is alone for the weekend. Wife took the kids to the in-laws for a summer break, he stays home to work. Friday night...all alone...he goes out to eat and has a few beers. No alcoholism. Do drunk driving. No meeting others and having affairs. Just beer.

It isn't repeated when the family is around.

No harm to anyone, except a few brain cells.

Luke: "Why didn't you tell me? You told me Vader betrayed and murdered my father."
Obi-Wan: "Your father... was seduced by the dark side of the Force. He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed. So what I told you was true... from a certain point of view."
Luke: "A certain point of view?"
Obi-Wan: "Luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to...depend greatly on our point of view."

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Re: Harm vs. Purity

Post by dande48 » 11 Aug 2018, 05:59

Personally, I don't think defining a sin as something that does harm to others is a very useful guide. It focuses too much on the direct effects of an action, rather than the action itself.

-Adultry. The adulterers are never caught, keep quiet, and no disease is passed.
-Embezzlement. An employee takes money from an organization. Money no one would miss or really notice was gone.

Many sins are more geared towards self harm and degredation. Since we all undoubtably affect one another, even when the effect might not be clearly apparent, many "victimless-crimes" do have victims.
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Re: Harm vs. Purity

Post by felixfabulous » 11 Aug 2018, 06:39

Love this post. If you have read Marcus Borg’s Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time” he does a great job of talking about how 1st century Judaism was a purity system and how Jesus disrupted the whole idea of a purity system (he disregarded table coustoms, interacted with the impure, etc). Our whole view of sin and morality is very legalistic and puritanical. I love the harm to others approach you point out. I’ve also heard people talk about sin as disturbing shalom or the peace that holds the world together. I like that too.

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Re: Harm vs. Purity

Post by LDS_Scoutmaster » 11 Aug 2018, 21:31

Interesting article. I love the harm idea of buddhism.

If we had all of our lives and private practices opened up for viewing and scrutiny, it would appall everyone who viewed it. Yet each of us does and do things that to us seem natural, normal, even justifiable as to not a social norm, but not inherantly bad.
It becomes glaringly obvious that we are in the wrong when we realize that we are being viewed by others. Our imperfections are suddenly all to raw and unbearable to view, even by us, moreso by the viewer.
So then is the imprefection just as bad if it remains unviewed? Say the imperfection causes no harm to self or others if it is unviewed.

Case in point; a man and woman are hiking in a less populated area and assume that there are no others in the area. The are on park land, and in a valley spotted with trees and surrounded by other valleys. The day is warm and as they hike the man removes his shirt. Assuming that there is no one else to view them should the woman remove her shirt as well if she wanted to?
Scenario 1, she removes her top and they walk among the trees. As they approach closer to the trailhead they both don their shirts and leave.
Scenario 2, she removes her top and as they round a bend on the trail, a policeman is hiking towards them. Technically she is braking the law of "indecent exposure" in both sceanrios, but only on the second would it then be considered wrong?
The law is the law regardless of whether or not the act is viewed. But punishments are affixed only if the act is viewed.
Are the punishments there to punish the individual or to correct the individual?
If to punish, then the viewing of the act should be inconsequentual.
If to correct, consider the next scario.
Scenario 3, as they hike along, a jogger comes towards them, thet see him coming, don their shirts, and say well maybe we should keep our shirts on on this trail.
The fact of being spotted and not punished was in and of itself a correction.

Scenario 4, the approaching jogger is himself a nudist although now clothed so he doesnt care that he sees anyone along the trail not fully clothed. Would ths then justify the couple to continue?
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Re: Harm vs. Purity

Post by Reuben » 12 Aug 2018, 10:54

I loved this article. I hadn't thought of framing the issue this way.

I think it's often necessary to judge the wrongness of an act by some standard of purity. An obvious example is Typhoid Mary. Less obvious examples have nothing to do with health. Here's one most people don't think of: in writing software, is it okay to define a function that receives all of its arguments in global variables?

If you're a software engineer, you probably wrinkled your nose, or expressed disgust in some other way. Of course that's not okay. Why? Well, you could give reasons, but the one that came to mind first was probably just that it's kind of gross. Why is it gross? Proximally, because you've been trained to think it's gross. Also, it imposes its grossness on other parts of the project. It contaminates them.

It's actually okay sometimes, but there had better be a good reason. And it will always "smell." (Yes, that's a technical term.)

We can learn to be disgusted by anything. I think we use this as a mental shortcut for all kinds of things, many of which act like a contagion. But when we do, we have to be careful. In a lot of people, disgust is powerful. I think we have to be especially careful with using it to determine who is in our tribe and who isn't. The rules of contagion, where contact spreads impurity of some kind, can lead us to fear outsiders, and punish insiders out of proportion.
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Re: Harm vs. Purity

Post by LookingHard » 12 Aug 2018, 19:45

Reuben wrote:
12 Aug 2018, 10:54
in writing software, is it okay to define a function that receives all of its arguments in global variables?
I would assume suggesting this HAS to be a violation of this groups boundaries. :D

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Re: Harm vs. Purity

Post by dande48 » 13 Aug 2018, 06:31

LookingHard wrote:
12 Aug 2018, 19:45
Reuben wrote:
12 Aug 2018, 10:54
in writing software, is it okay to define a function that receives all of its arguments in global variables?
I would assume suggesting this HAS to be a violation of this groups boundaries. :D
LOL! This made me squirm.

To take the analogy a step further, there's a reason why that sort of code "smells". There are reasons why any programmer is trained to avoid global variables as much as possible. Maybe there are lots of commandments which are just social constructs, but there are often reasons (and sometimes very good reasons) why they became social constructs.

My point is, I don't think it's wise to dismiss a commandment/law/social standard, without thoroughly understanding why it was implemented in the first place.
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Re: Harm vs. Purity

Post by Curt Sunshine » 13 Aug 2018, 12:46

This is such a tricky issue, and it can he extremely unhealthy (emotionally and/or physically) at either extreme.

I hate the way we emphasize and teach strict "purity", and I truly loathe certain elements, but I have no problem with the idea of a Law of Chastity that has a lot of our current elements embedded within it. For example, I have seen and studied what has happened and is happening in the field of adolescent sexuality enough to be opposed to eliminating a focus on healthy sexuality that includes abstinence and fidelity as a core component.

My biggest issue is related directly to harm vs. purity - and what each extreme brings to light about priorities. Highly conservative groups tend to focus on obedience to purity norms, and they tend to value purity and consequences of impurity above impurity and avoidance of those consequences. For example, in practical terms, they value sexual purity so highly that they would rather someone "pay" for impurity (e.g., get pregnant and face a greatly diminished life experience) than allow impurity to go unpunished (e.g., using contraception or getting an abortion). Accountability is seen as important physically, not just spiritually. It isn't that God will hold someone accountable; it is that people representing God must do so, as well.

That is very different than the highly liberal position that sex is a personal decision that is nobody's business but the person or people involved. This view says how often and with how many people someone has sex is not subject to restriction or input from anyone else - at the extreme, even the other people involved. Accountability be damned, the point is enjoyment in the here and now, subject only to natural consequences. If someone can avoid natural consequences (e.g., pregnancy, STDs, divorce, permanent injury, etc.), there is no real harm.

Reasonable people can disagree with each other on either side of the middle. That fact too often gets lost in the rejection of the extremes and the too-quick tendency to characterize everyone who disagrees as being at an extreme.
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Even if people view many things differently, the core Gospel principles (LOVE; belief in the unseen but hoped; self-reflective change; symbolic cleansing; striving to recognize the will of the divine; never giving up) are universal.

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Re: Harm vs. Purity

Post by Roy » 13 Aug 2018, 13:39

Thank you for framing it this way Curt. I agree that even good principles can become harmful if taken to extremes.

I also appreciated this comment from the blog post.
Purity and avoiding harm are both useful concepts when we’re analyzing sin, but even better is asking what kind of behavior will most help us strengthen bonds of love and friendship. This question puts both the purity model and the harm model in a different light.

More than fastidiously avoiding sin like some game of spiritual "floor is lava", we can positively work to help and support one another motivated by love and mutual respect.
"It is not so much the pain and suffering of life which crushes the individual as it is its meaninglessness and hopelessness." C. A. Elwood

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"I struggle now with establishing my faith that God may always be there, but may not always need to intervene" Heber13

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