Chastity, morality, and free agency are each enormous topics. Much has been written on the subjects by philosophers, religious leaders, and people, throughout history. I don’t pretend to be the expert on these subjects, but I do want to share a few thoughts on the subject, from the perspective of a “Mormon”, or member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. My views are of course my own, and not the official position of my church.
I think it is important to recognize that chastity is important to many different people, for many different reasons. “Mormons” believe in a God who provides direction for us here on earth, and we base our position on revealed divine will. We believe that God expects certain behavior when it comes to our bodies and our procreative powers. Though we are not perfect, we set our expectations based on what God has commanded.
Those not professing any religious belief may believe in different levels of chaste behavior based on societal benefit, personal interest, health, or other benefits. Certainly, those who profess a belief in God are not the only ones that value abstinence before marriage, monogamy, and other pro-chastity stances. There are many who see value in chastity.
The main difference is the strength of the foundation. If a person bases their behavior on a perceived benefit, the perception may change over time. Societies, which at one time may have highly valued chastity, may decide that the value is out-modded, old-fashioned, or no longer logical. Individuals who saw the reasons for monogamy may stray from that thinking, entirely changing their idea of what is right and wrong.
In the faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, we have a very strong belief in the concept of “free agency,” or the right to choose for one’s self. We believe that mankind was given the gift and ability to make choices, setting them apart from the beasts and all of God’s creation. It is an enormous power, one that cannot be taken away by anyone.
Ultimately, we each have the power to choose, and no amount of oppression can truly remove that power. Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor, comes to mind: a man who certainly could have felt that his choices were entirely limited by others, found in the depths of oppression the reality that his power to choose could never be taken from him.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
-Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
When it comes to chastity, individuals and even societies can choose to do whatever they want. They can choose to base their laws and actions on what God has revealed. Many societies do this now, and many have done it in the past. They can choose to base their laws and actions on perceived benefits, popular opinion, etc. Many also do this, and have done this throughout time.
I believe that individuals are absolutely free to do as they choose when it comes to morality. However, that does not make their choices right, good, or acceptable. I believe that what society accepts, and what God accepts, are two different things. As everyone makes their choices, I do not feel that I should be forced to accept or celebrate those choices, just as I do not believe anyone should be made to accept or celebrate my choices.
Currently, from my own point of view, society does not seem to place much value on chastity. Extramarital sexual relations are commonplace. Pornography is rampant. Adultery is all over the tabloids, and our media is rife with individuals that seem to place no value on monogamy or chastity. In my own lifetime, I have watched a steady and measurable decline in television broadcast standards, media standards, and even the standards of people I know.
While changes in beliefs and expectations may swirl continually in society and in some individuals, it is my hope and prayer that those societies and individuals will understand that many who believe in God also believe that they are not at liberty to change His rules, laws, and commandments. We simply cannot accept what they can accept. We simply cannot celebrate what they can celebrate. For us, the foundation for the law of chastity has not, and will not change.
If anyone has questions about “Mormon” beliefs concerning chastity, and why it is so important to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, please feel free to ask away. I always encourage and appreciate conversation that encourages, uplifts, and builds understanding, regardless of differences.