Thresholds of Offense

is offended

There’s been a lot of discussion lately on the AML-List, and even on the FAIR Board, about a new film Richard Dutcher is making. Allegations about the film range from claims that it will be a fairly hard nudie/slasher flick with both graphic violence and sexuality to other reports that it will actually probably be PG-13.

I thinks it’s all pretty much speculation at this point, but what actually interests about some of the discussions are some of the assumptions made about what is and isn’t appropriate content. Now, between the blogs and the AML-List, it seems we’ve had the discussion of suitable content nearly a hundred times. But I think that in almost every case, the discussion eventually degenerated in an analysis of exactly what various General Authorities have or haven’t said about the rating system of the Motion Picture Association of America.

In the midst of all the ratings discussions, it seems we’ve still never really ever actually gotten to the big questions. Is there anything that really does constitute objectionable material and how would we know it? I think the best thing I’ve read on media consumption was written by William last year, but today I want to pursue the question a bit further.

I swear I am not making the following story up, but I did hear it third-hand, so take its accuracy with a grain of salt. Apparently, an author had written a novel wherein two characters got married and, after the wedding, go off to the hotel. The last line of the scene or chapter had the groom picking up his bride, walking into the hotel suite, and then kicking the door closed behind him. Covenant, the publisher, insisted that the line be removed because of its sexual suggestiveness.

A quick thought experiment: suppose we have a booklet containing 50 different passages, each describing the events of the aforementioned honeymoon night. Each passage is numbered 1-50, and each becomes a little longer and slightly more explicit in its description of the evening’s events. For example, passage #1 could simply say that the couple waved goodbye to their family and friends after the reception. Passage #2 says the same but mentions them driving up to the hotel. Passage #3 adds the offending line brought up above. Passage #4 goes one line further, perhaps saying that he set her down and they kissed. Passages 5-50 go on as such until 50 is the most explicit, most gratuitous, most distasteful passage imaginable. I suppose that if you were a really good writer, with an especially perverse imagination, you could stretch the scale from 1-100, making each passage only minutely different.

Now suppose we took this booklet of passages and told people to read it, but to stop reading as soon as they were offended or didn’t feel comfortable reading anymore, and then note what number they last read.

I’m quite sure that if you handed this out to all the members at church you would get widely differing results. Apparently Covenant seems to think that some of their audience would actually stop at #3. I also believe that if you did it with General Authorities, you would still see a range of responses. I would imagine Elder Packer would stop pretty early. But I tend to think that some of the other apostles might go a bit further. I wouldn’t be surprised if each of the apostles stopped at a different number.

The question is: who is right? And is there a right? Where would Jesus stop? And is the number that Jesus stopped on THE correct place to stop, meaning all who stop sooner are prudish and all who stop later are perverse? More importantly, how do we know where Jesus would stop? The traditional response is that the spirit tells us. But if there were an objective truth which could be discerned by the spirit, everyone who had the spirit with them would stop at the same number. And from what we do know about the varying watching and reading habits of faithful members, is that everyone has a different threshold of offense.

Other variables make the situation more complex. There is, of course, a difference between explicit and distasteful, and I think we all have different thresholds of acceptability for each of these. Some people are quickly put off by explicit material itself, even if relatively tasteful in form and content. Others have a lesser degree of tolerance for distasteful material, even if it’s not particularly explicit. People vary in their tolerance of sexual material, violence, language and even thematic elements. Intensity and frequency of these aspects also creates a divergence of opinion on their appropriateness. Another interesting variance is the difference between visual and textual elements. We are generally much more permissive of content on the page than on the screen.

With all the variables involved in whether or not a work is suitable for consumption, it seems very nearly impossible to make an objective judgment of any kind. If anyone thinks they have a rationale that works consistently (even within themselves) I would be interested to hear it.

It is a commonplace that many members of the church judge members who are more permissive of explicit material than they are, but I have found that those very people are just as judgmental of the more conservative members for their prudishness. We all seem think our threshold of offense is sensible and that anyone on either side of us is off the mark.

I’m not arguing here for complete relativism: I do think there are arguments against both extremes of tolerance and intolerance, which I won’t go into at the moment. But I’m wondering if it’s possible that each of us really do respond to external stimuli in different ways and that, as such, we probably all actually do have different limits to our tolerance of the media. That being the case, I think it’s possible that the Spirit really could respond to each of us differently as to what we ought or ought not engage.

But that’s not a very fun answer. Is there any way we can go about objectively determining inappropriate content? Even if just for ourselves?

31 thoughts on “Thresholds of Offense”

  1. I don’t know that there’s any way to approach appropriate or inappropriate in an objective way. I think the two words are mutually exclusive. As for determining just for ourselves, we may be able to determine what’s appropriate, but then that will change over time. It certainly has for me. What I’m willing to watch now is different from what I was willing to watch shortly after I was converted, which was different from before I was converted. People’s tastes change as they grow and mature spiritually. I tend to think that it’s all subjective, which means it can’t be objective….my two cents.

  2. Bsically, Mormonism is a fake religion- a cult- with no basis in reality.

    We have magic salamanders, fake planets (Kolob), gold plates that no one can read (or find)
    we get to be our own gods of our own worlds when we die. An on and on and on.

    All of this BS.

    Sue in Los Angeles

  3. Susan:

    A Motley Vision welcomes participation from all types of Mormons and those interested in Mormon culture; however, this is not the place for discussion of the truth claims of the LDS Church or other theological matters — there are plenty of other blogs and message boards and chat rooms across the Internet for that.

    AMV is for productive discussion of Mormon culture.


    Excellent thought. As I mention in the post you link to, I think that we all have different (innate and learned) tolerances for content. I think your points about judging are right on. But I doubt that this is a problem that is going to go away soon.

    Artists and consumers like to whine about it too much.

    Really, I think much of the problems here aren’t related to LDS Church discourse about the topic, but are rather are a byproduct of LDS cultural production being such an immature market.

  4. I was introduced to Richard Dutcher in Dec. 2003 when he was seeking funding for his movie about Joseph Smith, which as we know never got off the ground. During a speech he said he disliked working with LDS actors because, one, they wanted to be paid to much, and two, they thought he was too edgy. He said he had a couple of actors quit “Brigham City” because they thought he was making an evil movie (having never seen it, I have no informed opinion).

    He also said he couldn’t see a way of making a movie about Joseph Smith any tamer than a PG-13 because, in order to show the “real” events, it was necessary to go into PG-13 territory. It was clear this was because he wanted to concentrate on the persecutions and mob violence; showing the suffering of the Saints was a major goal.

    The difficulty of being tasteful and accurate at the same time is a particular hardship when working with film. Books are vehicles for ideas, and they need not always be visual ideas. As the honest student of American history must confess, the type of “expression” the Founding Fathers wanted to protect protect was the exchange of political thought, which was why it protects “speech” and “the press,” the media for words. There is no mention of art or visual expression, which did indeed exist at that time.

    Among those who cannot discern between speech and expression, I’ve heard the criticism of the prophetic prohibition on R-rated films: “If you made the Book of Mormon into a movie, it would be rated R.”

    Unfortunately, we have learned from sad experience that if just anybody makes the Book of Mormon into a movie, you instead get a fiasco that no one can be offended by because no one bothers to see it. But my first response to such a wild claim is, “Tthat’s why it’s a book.”

    I think most questions about taste come down to the author’s skill in portraying ideas without portraying every pixel of reality. Some authors choose to depict scenes and themes that require more pixels than they’re willing to fill in, which is a bad idea (Robert Marcum’s A-Team style, deathless battle scenes come to mind).

    I think some plots can’t move without depicting a little seedy stuff, but all too often authors and directors have plots that don’t justify a viewing, let alone the inclusion of anything edgy.

    Too many of our authors who like to wrestle with dark themes are like John Steinbeck and other brave-new-era writers who figured edginess was an end in itself. Steinbeck in particular — with a slew of less skilled imitators to follow — crowed about how he was “exposing” middle-class hypocrisy. This justified him and others writing books showing people at their worst.

    This is nothing but wallowing. It’s degrading and pointless.

    But consider a book such as “Camilla,” the authorized biography of Camilla Kimball, wife of the prophet. It is amazingly frank about details that today are completely avoided in such authorized biographies of church figures, perhaps inspired by the actions of President Kimball himself in being brave enough to mention the unmentionable in order to drag it out of darkness and call people to repentance (see Miracle of Forgiveness).

    I have just finished proofing Brother Brigham by Michael Martindale, and it is a book I cannot praise enough. It is far more detailed about intimate things that I would probably ever consider writing myself, but after finishing it I cannot criticize it because its scenes and observations have a deliberate and worthwhile purpose. I don’t believe Martindale is just trying to prove he isn’t squeamish. And he does observe certain limits.

    This cannot be said of any other book I’ve read that got so edgy. And farther than that, regarding the contents of the book, this deponent saith not.

  5. Great post, Eric. Your thought experiment seems to undermine your search for objective criteria. Along those lines, I think the best we can do is refer to our covenants, scriptures, and modern prophets–and from there compile a short list of things that all who take the church seriously would agree upon. Pornography, for example. Other than that, I do think we are left to personal judgment and following the spirit.

    Religious art that goes too far to either extreme fails to properly address major themes like mortality and its suffering. Art can’t say much about the Atonement if it fails to somehow capture the darkness that Christ overcame, and there is no such thing as a redemption story without a descent into death and hell. Likewise, sexuality is significant in Mormon theology. Aside from being laughably puritanical, cutting the image of newlyweds crossing the threshold of a hotel room betrays a failure to appreciate the theological significance of sex: shame instead of joy. In short, I think serious art may need to go further up Eric’s scale than many members may find comfortable. I think both the church and the market for Mormon art will recognize this as they mature.

  6. I am glad that Susan stopped by to straighten us all out. If only she had been there in Jackson County or at least Nauvoo before my ancestors went through all that trouble being persecuted and crossing the plains.

  7. (Regarding No. 5) So, pursuant to Eric’s inquiry, can you deduce an objective rule from your experience with Brother Brigham? You seem to be saying that you can tolerate more “edginess” if it is rendered with a certain level of technical quality and/or substantive importance. Is it a sliding scale (i.e., less quality and/or importance = no “edginess” tolerated, but great quality and/or importance = substantial “edginess” tolerated)? I wonder if this sort of calculus accounts for the seemingly large body of squeaky clean yet bland stuff out there.

    [Also, deponents further saith “naught,” not “not.” And neither the drafting history nor the circumstances of the adoption of the First Amendment tell us much about the founders’ intent. People draw inferences and concoct circumstantial cases that serve their normative fancies, but there is no definitive answer. Moreover, the founders use of the general term “speech” without further qualification (the founders could have protected “political speech” if they had so intended) certainly lends itself to expansive interpretation.

    Prior to roughly the 1950s, the First Amendment speech clause’s general language was given a more limited reading: under a variety of tests speech interests were balanced against other interests. Since then, the speech clause has been expanded to a general rule with few and limited exceptions. Perhaps this expansion has gone too far. I am not uncomfortable with the abstract idea that certain types of expression merit no protection. However, my deep skepticism about the ability of government agencies and judges to decide where the line between protected and unprotected speech lies leads me to prefer the present general-rule approach. Moreover, the general-rule approach shifts the moral burden from government agencies to individuals to choose wisely and bear the consequences of their choices. Agency is risky–some will be lost–but it is the better plan.

    The claim that the First Amendment should protect only expressly political speech, advocated most famously by Robert Bork, is riddled with problems. As noted, it lacks the unambiguous historical provenance its advocates wish they could claim. Second, a narrow, express-political-speech-only rule would undermine a key structural assumption underlying the Constitution: representative democracy functions best in the presence of broad and open public discourse. Drawing the line between express political speech and other expression (e.g., art, philosophy, history) is also problematic: virtually all expression is informed by and tends to support one political outlook or another. And a rule that protects insipid campaign speeches but not subtle political commentary in plays or novels would be unwise and ultimately destructive.]

  8. S.P.,

    Sorry you find it so painful to refer to me by name, and must instead refer to me by posting number. And I guess I must have really gotten under your skin for you to pick my piece apart so much.

    I don’t accept that “saith naught” is the proper use; where I’ve encountered it the usage is “not,” and from the construction that makes sense. If I simply say I will say nothing, naught is appropriate, but to state I will say nothing further, not is just fine.

    A Google search also shows that web references to “deponent saith not” are 772, but only 20 for “deponent saith naught.” Since there is nothing grammatically incorrect with my usage and it is cited 38.6 times more often than the usage you favor, I think your point cannot be established.

    As for me applying a sliding scale, you are correct. I also very much like your words, “I think the best we can do is refer to our covenants, scriptures, and modern prophets–and from there compile a short list of things that all who take the church seriously would agree upon. Pornography, for example. Other than that, I do think we are left to personal judgment and following the spirit.”

    In fact, your explanation may be better than mine. For literature there have to be some hard and fast rules, while in other things there is inspired judgment.

    As for a sliding scale, we are willing to have our own or a child’s bodies exposed to the eyes a stranger — a doctor or nurse — because it is necessary for restoration or preservation of health, and there is no way to accomplish the overarching need without giving other considerations lower priority. Similarly, a gynecologist is going to get an eyeful of stuff that would normally be forbidden.

    So we ask ourselves, and prayerfully seek guidance in deciding, whether we are being healers and teachers with the tools we think we must employ. And if it’s not something we can do in the name of the Lord, we don’t do it.

    I did not say the First Amendment doesn’t protect any other type of speech besides political, but its purpose, as even you seem to indicate, was to protect the interchange of ideas. Without the ability to discuss philosophy and history there is no political speech.

    In Volume 1 of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire he observes that the office of censor — once considered a proud and vital office in Rome — was used in vain to attempt to restore public decency. That office is only useful when upheld by a widespread sense of propriety, when used to punish the disturber of the peace. Gibbon said a censor cannot return a society to decency, and that in fact censors would be more likely to cause mischief than do any good by trying to do so.

    Unfortunately the elitist atheists on the court in the 1950s decided to impose their views on the Constitution and did away with the censors. The result, decades later, is a society that cannot be protected from itself because it has been too deeply corrupted.

    When society has well understood standards of decency there is no danger in having judges enforce those standards. But we are fractured and undermined by multiculturalism and relativism and the biggest danger today is the censorship of religious expression and the ability of a man to speak or advocate his conscience in contradiction to the established secular-humanist order of the universities and the governing agencies.

    I propose to you that the founders’ use of “speech” without further qualification only lends itself to an interpretation of all things that can be considered speech, but hardly has rooom for the broad interpretation applied to it today. It is precisely because the word “speech” does not enclose prurient performance that intellectuals substitute the term “freedom of expression.”

  9. Regarding whether there can be a sliding scale of what’s considered appropriate — and S.P. properly understands that I would base such a hypothetical scale on the importance of the plot/subject matter, and whether that seamy material is necessary to depict and carry it forward — we must also acknowledge that it would need some limits.

    Throughout the Scriptures recurs the theme of things so holy that either they must not be spoken of out of place, or even that they are incapable of being spoken of in human language. Further, there are areas of darkness the Lord does not usually take us. The sufferings of the damned are uncommunicable. The fate of the Sons of Perdition is known only to those who inherit it, and even a short vision of it cannot be allowed to linger fully in the mind of the viewer.

    While we all need a healthy respect for the powers of darkness, it is dangerous to become fascinated with them. There is more power in well-preserved innocence than in a personal acquaintance with darkness that comes through degrading experience. Innocence is considered dangerous because it can lead to being victimized, but as Elder Maxwell so aptly said, “What is the value of being street smart when you’re on a road to nowhere?”

    The question we might put to ourselves when depicting darkness in order to be able to show the contrasting ascent from hell, is, are we trying to immunize the reader with an innoculation, or with a full-blown exposure to the disease followed by life-saving intervention? It’s true that every smallpox survivor was immune to the disease, but the certainty of scarring and the risk of death hardly justified deliberate exposure.

    Are we sure the germs in our syringes will stimulate antibodies while causing only a mild fever? If administered to the young and the weak, would they be at risk?

    If Deseret and Covenant err in favor of doing no harm, they are following the first rule of Hippocrates, and erring on the side of spiritual safety. If we go farther in our thirst for adventure, we do so at some risk.

  10. I follow the teaching that says we should follow the guidance of the spirit, and not of the MPAA board, and I do believe that the cutoff point is different for everyone, and changes over time for the same person. I would be willing to see any Richard Dutcher film, just from the good things I’ve read of him around the blogs. I’ve yet to see any of his movies, unfortunately. But someone who is a good artist is not going to suddenly go all gratuitous on us, I don’t believe.

    See, the things I find most objectionable of all are things like Disney’s version of Pooh, which totally trashes and spoils one of my favorite precious memories of childhood stories. Their treatment of the Jungle Book I don’t want to even mention, as it makes me sick. At least pornography labels itself as such, and lets people choose not to watch it.

    My sensibilities are pretty delicate in some ways. I don’t watch tv at all and don’t understand how the rest of you can stomach it, it’s so bad (aesthetically bad, not morally bad, I mean.) I can’t bear schmaltzy music, of the sort they play on elevators, because its bland nothingness is an insult to music. I freak out and have to leave stores, and quit exercise classes who play bad popular music, including oldies and classic rock. But, for instance, the band Nine Inch Nails, which to some is edgy and over the line for use of profanity, to me is excellent art, honest and true. Other bands I like are Tool, Nirvana, Radiohead, System of a Down, Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and others who because of language would be considered objectionable to many LDS. Lawrence Welk, on the other hand, can send me screaming from the room.

    I’m not craving adventure, simply something excellent, and of good report, and lovely, and true. For me this means reading books instead of watching tv, and listening to good music instead of dreck. That’s how I read the teachings of the church, and with them I highly concur.

  11. Mr. McConkie:
    I am glad to use your name. I stopped on the other thread when I got the impression that you didn’t appreciate me referring to you by name. Perhaps I misunderstood (really, I’m not trying to be difficult or unfriendly…)

    I am glad that we seem to agree about a lot here. So I won’t dwell on the many points on which we certainly disagree. (Again, perhaps not surprisingly, you take stands so sweeping, so completely unencumbered by nuance, I feel compelled to respond. Particularly so when the question involves a subject in which I have specialized education or at least some personal experience. Not to worry though. I will just register here a general objection that you and I probably disagree and leave it at that! I’m not saying I won’t renew the objection from time to time. This is not a cold shoulder, but an olive branch.)

    Incidentally, I am not passionate about “naught” or “not.” I can only comment on the usage in the jurisdictions in which I have practiced. Whether “further I say nothing” or “further I say not” is better grammar, well, I guess we’ll have to disagree on that too! Still, I would not be surprised if “not” is not a corruption of “naught” adopted fairly recently (in development-of-legal-institution time) in many jurisdictions. Undoubtedly the work of elitist atheists. But like I said, I am not sufficiently passionate about the issue to spend another minute of my life on it.

  12. If I can add my two cents:

    I’m a Covenant author, and one that has occasionally butted heads with the managing editor over what is considered offensive or inappropriate. And while I don’t agree with all the final decisions they’ve come to, and I can say with a fair degree of certainty that their decisions have less to do with dictating morals than they do with appeasing an extremely conservative audience.

    While it could be argued that less-bland books might attract a new audience, the current Seagull-shopping readers seem to have very definite likes and dislikes. I myself have gotten angry letters from people who think even my mild books are too controversial. One woman was upset that the male protagonist was somewhat noncomittal in his romantic relationships (because a good priesthood holder wouldn’t act like that). I had complaints that another character wasn’t paying attention in Sacrament meeting.

    Ultimately I think that this ends up being more of a business decision than a moral one. It’s easy for authors and artists to complain about their artistic vision being dampened, but a publisher is making a major investment, expecting to turn a profit. While we shouldn’t be content with bland, soulless books, authors do need to be mindful of what their goals are: if we want to be martyrs for our art, then we can go ahead and publish risky books containing less-than-zealous material; but if we want to be at least moderately successful (financially), then we’re stuck making compromises.

    (That said, if someone has a great idea on how to expand the LDS fiction audience, I’d love to hear it. Right now LDS authors seem to be a pack of hungry dogs fighting over too-little food.)

  13. Robison:
    Thank you for your insights. Those complaints gave me a good chuckle. I am not surprised that a significant part of the audience is “extremely conservative.” But what about all of the faithful members who are less extreme? To what extent do the extreme conservatives and letter writers of your comment represent the majority of the actual or potential audience?Could they be a minority enforcing compliance with standards that foreclose the development of works that would find a broader audience?

  14. Preston M—which Justices were atheists? They’re all elitists, that goes without saying, how else do you think they’d be on the court?

    Robinson W—thank you for clarifying that which I have always suspected: conservative morals in LDS kitsch culture are more about greenbacks than godliness. Of course, I am not saying that your books are worthless kitsch (though I haven’t read them). Indeed, I think kitsch can have inherent value, but that’s another discussion.

    Eric—this post is fantastic. I think the brethren don’t draw a line in the sand on these issues for two reasons: 1) they would be constantly re-drawing it because any objective standard would be inextricably rooted in cultural context that would be unworkable in other times or places, and 2) we have the responsibility to “receive the holy ghost” and use that guidance to determine what is good for us to see. If I have the spirit, I can feel what is immoral or degrading, I don’t need it to be defined.

  15. JKC,

    I can’t say which ones were atheists, but while that may indicate I’m speaking from bias, I would challenge anyone to establish the theism of the Warren court’s leading lights based one their conduct and comments on and from the bench.

    A Supreme Court judge need not be an elitist to fill an elite position. An elitist, as I mean to apply the term, is someone who believes his own viewpoint should be the rule no matter whether rooted in tradition or law. Elitists do not hesitate to impose a brave new order whenever they have the power to do so, whether or not they have the legitimate authority or right to do so. Elitists who are not in power complain about the powers that be and wish the world to accommodate and recognize their greatness.

    Thanks for the olive branch, S.P., and please forgive me for expressing offense where none was meant. I accept that you will disagree with me when I make sweeping statements, and welcome your explanations of those disagreements.

  16. Good comments, everyone. Thank you.

    I’ve been thinking about Elder Bednar’s talk yesterday in relation to this. Of course, Bednar’s use of the word “offended” was in a somewhat different sense than the sense in which we use it now, so I admit that there’s a bit of equivocation in trying to apply his talk here. But even still, I’m thinking it largely applies.

    Elder Bednar said, “Ultimately it is impossible for another person to offend you or to offend me. Believing that another person offended us is fundamentally false. To be offended is a choice we make. It is not a condition inflicted or imposed upon us by something or someone else.”

    The only real difference I see in applying this here is that, in relation to the media, at times it may be that the choice to be offended is indeed a good choice (read: porn or the particularly distasteful). But I think that reminding ourselves that our offense is actually a choice could help us be more patient with materials that may initially rub us the wrong way.

  17. “Could they be a minority enforcing compliance with standards that foreclose the development of works that would find a broader audience?”

    Good question, Shawn. My feeling is that the answer is yes. That’s why I think Bigelow’s Zarehemla Books could be a really successful venture if well marketed.

  18. Preston M—the elitist comment was joke, really, but thanks anyway; I think you make a good distinction regardless. If nothing else, at least it’s a thoughtful criticism of the court rather than a dismissive label (judicial activists).

    More to the point, my asking the question about which justices were atheists was less actually directed at the atheism or theism (or deism) of the Warren Court and more at the point that I don’t think it matters. You probably disagree and that’s fine, but I don’t see why judge needs to subscribe to a particular religious belief in order to apply statutes and constitutional doctrines in a religiously tolerant but ultimately secular republic. But this is probably not the right place for a church and state discussion.

    Eric—another fantastic comment. I was a bit troubled by Elder Bednar’s comment—I immeadiatly thought of things that deeply offend me (blasphemous references to the Savior or abuses of human rights, racism, etc.) and reflected that these things offend me not because I choose to be offended but because they offend the ideals that I hold. But then I further reflected that these ideals (even the ones that have a spiritual basis) are still a choice for me, so in a sense, even though I am bound by conscience to accept certain ideals that can be offended, I am choosing to be offended. I like the way that your comment clarified that that choice to be offended can indeed be a good choice. It makes me wonder what Elder B would think though, if an inactive member said that he chose to be offended because the way he was treated at church was offensive to the spirit—he’d probably tell him (lovingly) to get over it and reclaim the blessings of the gospel. Does that means that when we are offended by other things (porn, etc.) that we should just get over it and move on, or that we should dwell on fixing the problem? The GA’s sure seem to dwell on it in conference every year.

  19. “It must needs be that offenses come, but wo unto him by whom the offense cometh.”

    The word “offense” in that sense, as I understand it, refers to an injury. I suspect that we err when we decide to be emotionally injured by others’ words and actions, particularly when no harm is meant or no real harm is done.

    The excuse for most people who attack religion in general and the LDS church in particular is that they have been offended, or that religious people exercising their lawful and rightful rites offends them.

    It is essential that we understand that this kind of offense is a choice, very different from the offense we suffer when we are deprived of something that is rightfully ours, invaded in person or property, or wrongfully abused.

    The term “offended” today merely means “I didn’t like that,” and the claim of personal injury is the justification for imposing the wishes of the offendee on others.

    And I, too, am glad for the distinction made in these posts, that it is right to choose to be offended by some things. And there are some things — namely pornographic — that do injure by exposure. Exposure to opinion or information is something else, but imagery that is not meant to communicate but only to arouse is an injury we should do everything possible to avoid.

    And as writers, there is imagery we should do everything possible to avoid setting in front of our readers when it is not strictly necessary for the advancement of a worthy goal. “Woe unto him by whom the offense cometh.”

  20. When all is said and done, and Evil Angel comes out of the pipeline, there will be a PG-13 version of it. Just thought you all would want to know…

  21. Preston M—I don’t think many writers (at least not in a mormon context) would disagree with you that “there is imagery we should…avoid…when not strictly necessary for the advancement of a worthy goal.”

    I think the problem, though, comes from what is considered a worthy goal and what is considered strictly necessary to advance that goal. It would be cliche for me to refer to, oh, say Schindler’s List (or the violence in the Book of Mormon, or all the sex and violence in the Old Testament), but I think we can all agree that sometimes shocking, explicit, and even offensive imagery can make a good message even better, or at least more effective, but presumably, there is a point when the explicitness, shock, or offense of the imagery outweighs its utility.

    So when have we crossed that line? I don’t think there’s an easy answwer, but you may be on to something with the “not meant to communicate but only to arouse.” Is it possible to arouse and also communicate something worthy? Or is it possible to arouse without intending to arouse, only intending to communicate?

    Again, I don’t think there is an easy answer, but these are the questions that LDS writers and readers have to at least think about if not answer.

  22. I think it is very easy to arouse without intending to, if we aren’t careful. And the threshhold of where we go too far in our explicitness may be far stricter than what the artistic soul is comfortable with.

    For instance, despite all the references to perversion in the Old Testament, I find none of it titillating. The worst part I can think of (and I’ve just finishing a course of listening to the OT on tape, and have read it through two or three times) is the daughters of Lot, but while the subject matter is disturbing there’s nothing faintly graphic.

    The most visual of the books, of course, is the Song of Solomon. But we have a footnote informing us that, unlike any of the other books in the Bible, Joseph pronounced that one to be uninspired. It really belongs among the apocrypha and has, to borrow and alter a modern phrase, little redeeming spiritual value. Like many artists, Solomon became enchanted with mammaries and found them worthy of his panegyric.

    The most grating of passages are actually those where the language seems very out of place today. The OT has a number of passages where an indelicate phrase is used to identify members of the male gender (he that directeth his urine stream horizontally against an upright structure, or words to that effect), but the one that makes me cringe most is where the woman greets Jesus with, “Blessed are the mammaries that provided you with nourishment,” etc. Yargh! The idea of using someone’s jockstrap (well, girdle) to illustrate a prophecy is perhaps more gut-wrenching, yet that’s just what we get in Acts in the warning issued to Paul.

    Add to this the fact that Christ himself used the gastrointestinal tract as an illustration, saying that whatsoever goes into a man’s mouth is eventually expelled (as poo, of course).

    This causes me to consider that some of our modern standards for what is in poor taste and what isn’t are not based on eternal principles, particularly when it comes to bodily functions that aren’t sexual.

    On the other hand, Joseph Smith said the English-speaking world needed a better translation of the Bible than the 1611 KJV, partly because the authorized version is too gross (can’t remember the exact quote, but that was the message I got from it).

    Hence the inspired translation, in which Joseph Smith straightens out all kinds of things, not just doctrinal statements but lots of lost history. He repeatedly corrected passages that reflected the culture of the world and incorrectly showed people such as Abraham and his servant did using the pagan tradition (which persisted into medieval times) of making an oath by putting a hand to the other man’s testicles (“under his thigh” is the KJV term); instead, they clasped hands. He also clarifies that Paul did not actually urge everyone in the church to routinely greet each other with a “holy kiss.”

    All this has the effect of shaking up my modern assumptions, but also convinces me that no reliable standard is to be found through an appeal to appeal to ancient texts, translations, commentary and inspired revisions. Truly we have to have the guidance of common sense, an awareness of the standards of the culture we live in (LDS culture in particular) and, most of all, the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

    And further this deponent saith naught.

  23. Preston–

    Great comments, especially that we need to apply common sense, a sense of audience, and the spirit.

    I think there are more sexually explicit scenes in the OT than the ones you’ve identified, though they are severly euphamized. Ruth uncovering Boaz’s feet, for example, is a Hebrew euphamism for getting the guy naked.

    So maybe we should just write naughty stuff in LDS euphamisms?

    But it’s late and there’s nothing else to say.

  24. Actually, the most cringe-inducing section in all the scriptures for me is 2 Nephi 3, with its 3,000 repetitions of “my loins.” I can’t imagine standing in sacrament meeting and referring to my offspring as the fruit of my loins; it would be scandalous.

    So what does that mean about our squeamishness regarding anatomy? I have no conclusions.

  25. Chris M.,
    Does that mean that there will be a rated R version as well? Where did you get your info. from?

  26. “I can’t imagine standing in sacrament meeting and referring to my offspring as the fruit of my loins…”

    Ha! I can hardly wait until my next speaking assignment!

  27. A widowed high councilor in our stake got re-married and he was a-twitter. He spoke in our ward and said something like, “last night after my wife and I–well, I’ll call it cuddle–we were lying there talking and. . .”

    “I’ll call it cuddle. . .” He will never live that down as long as I’m alive.

    Honestly, I’m so bothered by the censorship you refer to. It’s assinine.

  28. I don’t know if I’m Freudian, but the way the word sounds, it should spell the way I spell it. I don’t use it often because I thought I was cussing, but now that I found it in the dictionary, I’m going to use it more often.

    I learned the word oblique yesterday in my grandson’s 2nd grade class. I thought it meant dense, but it means diagonal.

  29. Have you heard the Glenn Beck radio spots that are running? He call STATES OF GRACE “The best Mormon movie I’ve ever seen” and “I saw it and loved it. My family wept.”

    There’s not too many Mormons here in Illinois, but that ad has certainly caught the attention of all the Evangelical Christian listeners who are fans of Glenn Beck.

    I bought the movie because of an Evangelical listener who told me about 1)Glenn Beck being a Mormon, and 2)Glenn quoting all these critics hailing it as the best Christian cinema has to offer.

    So my neighbor (the Evangelical Christian) buys it, we watch it and we love it. He even thinks the movie has now converted me to “true grace.”

    I very much believe that STATES OF GRACE has the rare – and historic – potential to break down many of the long-standing barriers separating mainstream Christians from us. Mitt Romney’s impending presidential campaign has already started to focus national media attention on the LDS Church in ways and at levels not previously seen. I’ve seen the polls suggesting that a significant percentage of the Christian base would have issues with Romney’s religious affiliation, and that misconceptions are still rampant as to what the LDS Church believes and stands for.

    Can STATES OF GRACE become the landmark film that Kimball and others have talked about?

    It answers simple misconceptions (ie. polygamy, Mormons dancing and our take on grace) and presents a view of LDS life that has never before made it to the big screen.

    In short, does this film have the potential to actually shift and mold public opinion?

    I may not be as well-versed as all of you, but in my neck of the woods, STATES OF GRACE is a hit among many of my Evangelical friends. I’d love to hear your thoughts…

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