Forty years ago, while reporting on an environmental symposium at a major university, I heard a conversation among colleagues in which one expressed simmering frustration that he could not make any headway with his proposals to stop environmental damage.
With some bitterness, he said he hoped the fossil fuels would all be used up soon because then everyone would be forced to recognize that he had been right all along and they would be forced to do just as he had been advising. The consequences for others or for society as a whole did not seem to concern him.
While I believe strongly in protecting the environment, I could never join a cause led by a person like him. He practiced what I call “toxic activism.”
You know people like him. You’ve met them. At a family reunion they would be the in-law who insists on digging up the hatchet that everyone else in the family buried 30 years ago.
When toxic activists have what they consider a worthy cause, and when they’re in your office, your neighborhood, your church, or your children’s group of school parents, they’ll use that cause to bludgeon you.
No matter what the cause—civil rights, the environment, liberal or conservative politics, gender politics and equality—if your response doesn’t match theirs in intensity, then you obviously are an uncaring and ignorant individual. Ironically, they may accuse you of being so focused on your own small world that you have no time for the more serious cosmic problems that should concern you. Toxic activists are very good at laying guilt trips on others.
There are many people, including me, who would be glad to help correct injustices and help undo damage that has been done in our culture or our environment. I could gladly give money and time to efforts that would help cure some of these ills.
But please don’t come at me with your list of demands. Please don’t tell me what burden of guilt I must accept on behalf of my social class, my faith, or my ethnic group before we can work together on solving the problem at hand. That’s no way to begin a relationship that will require us to trust each other.
What is it you want to happen? Do you want my cooperation? Or are you more interested in scoring some ideological points? If you try to persuade me instead of accusing me, you’re much more likely to win my support. I have time to listen to reason on an issue, but I have too little time to spend it with someone trying to bait me into contention.
Let’s talk. I am completely in favor of “equality,” “justice,” “mutual support,” and “cooperation.” But I am not likely to take up your cause unless I know just how you are applying those terms and what specific outcome you are seeking.
Getting in my face is no way to get into my heart and mind.
In my faith, we have a book of scripture called the Doctrine and Covenants. It is a record of revelations given by God to modern prophets. One of those revelations teaches that power and influence in the hearts of others can never be maintained over the long term through compulsion or domination; this can only be done through persuasion and patience. (See Doctrine and Covenants 121:39-44.)
Look, I’m willing to be your friend. I’d like to help your cause if it is just. But if you want to win my help, present your case and let me decide according to the moral principles that guide my own thoughts and actions. If your course of action agrees with those principles, you’ll have my support.
Perhaps there are areas or causes in which I could do more. Perhaps there are aspects of some problems that I do not understand. I am open to listening and learning.
But I am not open to being threatened or coerced.
I will be the one, not you, to decide on my course of action, because I will be the one, not you, who will be judged by God for them.
One day in in the summer of 1966, I walked through the capital of a Latin American nation during the inauguration of a new president. Armed soldiers lined the avenue into the center of town, spaced about 50 feet apart, to guard against the trouble that was expected.
The election had been hotly contested and divisive. The leading candidate of one party had died under mysterious circumstances, but his brother had stepped in and won the presidency. There were innuendos of corruption on both sides.
There were rumors of a planned insurrection, an uprising to disrupt the inauguration and prevent the new president from taking office. In addition to soldiers and military vehicles in the streets, the air force was on the alert, ready to crush any rebellion.
I congratulated myself on coming from a country where this could never happen.
Now consider January 6, 2021. A mob invaded our nation’s capitol building, known throughout the world as a symbol of law, order, and liberty. The mob’s purpose: Disregard law, order, and liberty to overturn a legitimate election. They were driven by a repeated lie that this election was somehow stolen, and they refused to believe the truth despite repeated vote recounts and reviews that disproved the lie. Greedy political opportunists, people who wanted those votes in a future election, just kept on feeding them the lie.
Rabid partisans on both liberal and conservative sides blame the Capitol insurrection on “extremists.” They’re right. To get a good look at those extremists, they need only gaze into the mirror.
Both major political parties have extremists within their ranks who refuse to consider any compromise. To compromise is to deal with the devil; the hyper-partisans demonize people who do it.
In reality, it is the extremists at both ends of the political spectrum who are doing the work of the devil. Left or right, they would willingly impose tyranny to achieve their ends.
In the 1960s, that Latin American country represented the realities of political extremism.
It was one of several countries under military rule in the region where I lived as a missionary. The military had taken over the government in the name of law and order. Under martial law, people were forbidden to gather on the streets in groups of more than four, so when we left a church meeting, the congregation had to carefully break into small groups. Two people were not allowed to ride on a motorcycle because the passenger, even if dressed like a woman, might turn out to be a gunman with an automatic weapon to shoot up the neighborhood police station. Motorists had to drive with interior lights on at night so that police could see who was in the car. People in public could be stopped and questioned by the military or the police.
I wonder how many U.S. citizens would be willing to live under similar conditions? Those who have demanded that troops be called out to impose martial law on troubled cities in our country should be careful what they wish for.
At the other extreme, communist terrorists in that Latin American country were working to foment revolution and undermine the government.
I once had to help organize a funeral for a member of our church congregation—a father of several young children—who had been assassinated by terrorists. On patrol as a national policeman, he had caught them placing a bomb at the home of a prominent military officer. The country’s military could not root out the guerrillas from their strongholds in the mountains. We saw their spray-painted slogans, often with anti-U.S. messages, everywhere—including across the street from the house where we lived.
One day I met one of the communists dedicated to bringing socialism to the country. He was a well-educated intellectual. We talked to him about Jesus Christ and the holy scriptures, and he replied that he didn’t believe in those teachings. “These are the books I live by,” he said, as he pulled three off his shelf and handed them to me. They were Spanish versions of books that had been published by an economic institute in Moscow, U.S.S.R. They laid out the vision that the communists wanted to impose on other countries.
For a time, I worked in and around a very poor barrio in that capital city. Houses were made of scrap metal and cardboard. The sewers were open trenches running in the streets. Residents could look up from their homes and see the beautiful, artistic building housing the city offices—la Municipalidad. That barrio was nicknamed “Red Square” because some said that all the communists had to do to raise an angry crowd was harangue its people about how they were being exploited by the elites in their country, how the elites should be forced to share their land and their wealth. Sometimes such gatherings got out of hand—which was probably what the agitators intended.
The history of political conflict in that Latin American country was long and tragic, with ugly atrocities committed by both sides as they dedicated themselves to destroying the opposition. (Parenthetically, the U.S. was not an innocent bystander in the conflict, having backed the military government.)
Activists in the United States often assert that freedom of speech includes the right to demonstrate in public streets and areas anywhere, anytime, including in front of private residences. If others are endangered as a result, or if their rights are taken away, too bad. Few of those activists seem willing to acknowledge that when they tap into others’ anger at injustice they may light a fire they cannot control. If the activists have integrity, they will recognize the possibility of hooliganism and take steps to cut it off. And if their cause is just, they will stick to the truth in their protests, offering more light than heat.
Demagogues are skilled at manipulating people’s fears or feelings of injustice. They whip up an angry crowd by convincing people that they are being cheated, that they are being exploited, or that the have-nots are coming to take away what they hold dear—their property, or the place they have claimed for themselves in society. In the Capitol riot, we all saw this demagoguery in action, provoked by a persistent lie—that an election was “stolen.”
Government by, for, and of the people cannot survive in the United States of America with this kind of dishonesty undermining trust in its processes. Politicians who support false myths of corruption for their own advantage are disloyal to the spirit of the Constitution, which I believe was inspired by God.
Surely He would not want His children warring among themselves over who is more fit to rule. Surely He would want us working together to “form a more perfect Union” (Preamble to the Constitution).
The far left and far right extremes in our country are not seeking union. They want dominance for their philosophy and their biases.
I know people of good character and sound judgment on both sides of the political divide who are passionate and firm about what they believe. There’s nothing wrong with that. But once the votes have been counted and recounted and the result is the same, it’s time to work together in a reasonable manner and drop the self-serving myths.
History suggests that corrupt politics and political opportunists will always be with us. But at least for now, in a time of national pain and sorrow, true patriots should be helping with the healing and be willing to move forward.
My smartphone is back. That is a good thing–I think. But there were some blessings in being without it.
The latest automatic software update had blown its mind. The phone developed some kind of electronic neurosis, insisting I could not make calls without a software update, but insisting at the same time that the software was already up to date. After three weeks of struggle, I had to send it away for repair.
Living with a dumb old flip phone for three weeks or more underscored some valuable lessons. One is that I can do without a lot of the fun apps that I have loaded onto my smartphone. Another is that I’ve been missing out on some interesting experiences while my eyeballs have been glued to that small screen.
During the time that I was unable to check the news, Facebook, or email several times a day, I had a number of interesting conversations with my wife or others that would not have occurred otherwise. I enjoyed my surroundings more, both indoors and out. I had more time to think and ponder ideas and spiritual concepts. I found more time for writing. The thinking—meditating—part was especially enjoyable.
I don’t want to give those things up. Now that I have my smartphone back, I haven’t reinstalled some of those apps, including social media. There are some new rules I try to observe, like keeping the phone in my pocket while I’m at the dinner table. I carry around a notepad when I go to the doctor’s office, or some other place where I might have to wait, so I can spend the time writing instead of idly browsing news sites or the Internet.
The idea of giving up the smartphone entirely and sticking with the flip phone is attractive. The main reason I don’t do it is that texting is so hard on that tiny keyboard. It’s much more difficult to respond to family and friends. Secondarily, a smartphone is often the fastest and most efficient—and sometimes the only practical—way to do business these days.
But I think I’m through buying the newest, shiniest, most gosh-golly-awesome smartphone on the market. The device is great for communicating, but too demanding and too addicting. If you run your life using your smartphone, soon you may find that the phone is running you. As I’ve begun using my smartphone again, I’ve turned off as many alerts and notifications as I can.
I enjoyed being able to give attention to the life being lived around me. I enjoyed laying the phone aside to talk with others. I enjoyed writing the old-fashioned way—just me and my thoughts, pen and paper. Sure, I’m using my tablet to type this. But it was written on my notepad while I was waiting to see the doctor.
Some days I’m still not sure about this smartphone. I’m still tempted to dig that cheap flip phone out of the bottom of the drawer in my desk.
Recently, I had a call from someone I love and respect, someone I have not talked to in two or three years. I wondered if we would be able to talk congenially. I have recently responded to some of that person’s strongly worded posts on social media with an opposing political viewpoint.
But we had a fine conversation, expressed our love for each other, and said we really should do this more often. I was grateful it went that way.
These are times of tension, turmoil, and heated commentary about what is happening in our nation’s government and what elected leaders are doing. I have my own strong feelings about developments in Washington that could do long-term damage to the United States.
But there is another national problem that concerns me even more, and so I am doing something I have tried to avoid in this blog. I am repeating a theme I touched on a short time ago: the corrosive nature of hate and anger.
Some who are heavily committed to supporting one party or another seem unable to treat people who disagree with them as human beings—as other children of God. They dehumanize people they see as opponents, and this makes it easy to hate.
Most often this dehumanization begins with labeling: “fuzzy minded liberal,” “hide-bound conservative,” “left-wing do-gooder” “right-wing bigot,” “pious hypocrite,” or “[insert religious affiliation] terrorist.” That individual who disagrees with us may be a loving parent, may do a lot of good in the community, may be a very incisive thinker. But if we give them a pejorative label, it’s easier to tell ourselves they deserve some cruel fate—public humiliation, tragedy, or even death.
These days, it might be good for many of us to review “The War prayer,” in which Mark Twain reminds Christians that wishing evil on our enemies is not a Christlike attitude.
The Master Himself warned us against contention in which we seek to condemn those who disagree with us: “. . . I say unto you that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: . . . but whosoever shall say, Thou Fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” (Matthew 5:22)
Are you in danger of hell fire?
Here are some questions that might help each of us determine whether our political thoughts could be putting us in moral danger. (And I write this knowing that I need to face need these as much as anyone else.)
Do you find yourself wishing that certain politicians of the opposing party could be publicly humiliated, punished, or socially annihilated?
Of course, you would never do anything to them, but would you be secretly pleased if something happened to shut them up?
Do you find opportunities to post cutting or critical things about others on social media? If you actually met them in person—if you sat down across a table from them to share bread—would you say those same things to that person’s face?
The man with the megaphone pictured here was a protester who showed up regularly at a large Church-sponsored religious pageant to protest. We called him “the Screamer.” He stood across the street and screamed vile and vulgar insults at church members attending the event. Much of what he said was lies, all of it intended to provoke contention. He wanted nothing more than to have someone confront or perhaps attack him, because then he could claim to be the wounded party. “See? See what they’re doing?”
In political terms, are you playing the Screamer?
It’s easy to tell yourself, “Oh, I don’t really hate them. I just hate the things they do and say.” If that’s true, then how would you explain those feelings of hoping something bad might happen to keep them quiet?
Would Jesus Christ, or the great law-giver Moses, or Mohammed—or whoever you respect as your ruling moral authority—speak of people in the same way you think of them?
I believe that modern science bears out the danger of carrying around feelings of anger and contention inside us all the time. Maybe that is one reason Jesus Christ warned us about being angry at our fellow beings. If we spend too much of our lives being angry, we will create a little bit of hell for ourselves here on earth, and we will waste time we could have used to prepare for heaven.
The flag pictured here flies over the site of Topaz, the detention camp where thousands of Japanese-Americans were held during World War II for no reason except their ethnicity. The fact that this camp existed is a reminder that our republic is not perfect. Topaz is one of the shameful mistakes in United States history.
Artistry in rusty barbed wire gives a name to the barren site behind the fence.
And yet it is also a reminder that we can and should strive to do better. We cannot erase mistakes, even though we might try. After the war, almost everything was removed at this site except concrete foundations—and yet it is still here, in the memories and in the lives of families who were affected. We can never fully repay victims of injustices in our history for all that they suffered. We must resolve with them that this kind of suffering will not happen again.
Our national experiment in self-government is still young. It was not founded on rule by a familial dynasty, or some oligarchy. It was founded on rule by us—“We, the people”—and so it can still grow as we do. We need to see our country not as a nation that is mature, settled, or fading, but as a country that is still young and vital. We will still have vigorous, sometimes heated, debates about which way to go. In these debates, we must look for the light instead of heat. We are more likely to find that light in the middle of the spectrum rather than in passion or coldness at the extremes.
We need to remember that no single political party holds the key to all wisdom, and that Americans who disagree with us are not the enemy. Our enemies are those who want the American experiment to fail, who tell us we have no right to exist, who try to undermine our freedoms because freedom is a threat to their domination of people in their own countries.
Some years ago, I was strolling up a street in Rome when I saw my flag—the Stars and Stripes—rising above the trees. After a couple of weeks out of the country, I was thrilled to see it. I raised my camera and took a picture. Within seconds, an Italian policeman was at my side asking why I was taking pictures. I explained as best I could. Then, as he let me move on, I saw that the flag was flying over the U. S. embassy. In front of the building, more armed police officers were stationed behind a sandbag barrier, prepared to respond in case of attack. And I remembered that throughout the world, there are people who want to attack what our flag stands for.
It seems commonplace these days to protest injustice in our country by dishonoring its flag. But the flag still represents an ideal for me, one I learned to accept as a child: “. . . one nation, under God, indivisible.” I have watched the changes in world affairs for three-quarters of a century now. I have lived in other countries and had the privilege of traveling on six continents. And still it seems to me that the country represented by that red, white, and blue flag offers the world’s best hope for equality and justice. It’s not perfect. It may never be perfect. But it holds hope for moving in that direction.
So instead of taking a knee, how about extending a hand? I’ll give you mine. Maybe we can work together to solve some of the problems you see. Our work might be hard. We might have to learn a lot more about each other. We each might have to accept that some of our own views need to be altered.
But I’m not giving up on that “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.” If we truly commit to being one nation and try to treat each other as a Heavenly Father would want His children to treat each other, we can do it.
Not seeing that ideal yet? Hang in there. Our experiment is still young.
We were driving through the desert, passing by the dry bed of an alkaline lake in the Great Basin. Fifty feet from the roadway, there was a forbidding desert landscape full of sagebrush and cactus. And yet, at the edge of the pavement there were tall, palm-of-the-hand-sized sunflowers.
I love sunflowers. I never cease to admire the way they can thrive in harsh environments. Their welcome splash of bright color stands out against the muted browns and greens surrounding them, and as a foreground for hazy blue mountains in the distance.
No matter how forbidding the environment in which they grow, they are always seeking the light.
Do you know people like that? I do. Some grew up in very harsh, unloving, even dangerous environments, and yet they thrived. The reason? They sought out the light. They have made productive lives for themselves and made important, lasting contributions in other lives as well.
Does that sound like a Pollyanna outlook? Once upon a time I might have said so, but living with an unfailing optimist for 50 years has changed my thinking. I have learned that always expecting things to turn out darkly does not accomplish anything and may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead of expecting the worst, why not work toward the best possible outcome?
A very wise man I respect as a prophet of God used to repeat this advice from his father: “Cynics do not contribute, skeptics do not create, doubters do not achieve.” (Gordon B. Hinckley, former president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.)
I may be a natural-born skeptic and something of a pessimist, but experience has taught me this: the solutions to my problems in life are found not in lamenting the darkness, but in seeking out the light.
There is a fine museum honoring British statesman Winston Churchill in a place that most Americans would not expect—in heartland America, at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. This is the place where Churchill, invited to America by President Harry Truman, gave his famous “Iron Curtain” speech in 1946.
The speech may have seemed controversial at the time, but Churchill’s views turned out to be prescient. World developments he envisioned came true.
The museum includes a gallery of sculptures of the world leader and accomplished artist.
What interested me most at the museum, however, was the material attesting to the character of the man. Admittedly, I am an admirer. I believe Winston Churchill was one of those historical figures raised up by God to shape his times. But I think anyone would have to acknowledge that Churchill was a man who achieved, and inspired, great things.
In one of the galleries of the museum there stands a photograph of Churchill, the prime minister, with this quotation above it: “Criticism is easy. Achievement is difficult.”
This is the kind of statement that almost demands self-examination by the reader. When I see a problem, do I simply criticize? Or do I try to suggest and support a solution?
Experience has taught me this truth: When you know there is a problem, it does little good simply to comment on it or to criticize someone or something that might be at fault. One who points out a problem ought to feel an obligation to help solve it. Those who look for solutions, as Churchill undoubtedly knew, are those who achieve.
Those who do not look for solutions are often part of the problem.
Long ago I heard these words from a man I regard as a prophet of God, Gordon B. Hinckley: “Cynics do not contribute. Skeptics do not create. Doubters do not achieve” (“Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled,” Oct. 29, 1974, in BYU Speeches at BYU.edu.) Elder Hinckley, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was quoting a lesson from his father. Whether you believe in prophets or not, it is hard to ignore the wisdom and truth of that comment.
As a politician and an experienced leader, Churchill knew a thing or two about being criticized. But he was not deterred from moving forward and achieving things he envisioned. The lesson from leaders like Churchill, and Gordon B. Hinckley, is not to let critics discourage us when we are working toward a worthy, righteous goal.
Another lesson is not to be a critic. Often, criticism is a form or bullying. It does little to shape other people’s lives for good. (And why should any of us feel we have the right or duty to shape someone else’s life the way we think it should be? Most of us have trouble enough managing our own lives properly.) Ultimately, criticism damages humanity as a whole. It would be far better and more useful to spend our time building others up.
When the disciples saw Jesus walking toward them at night over the troubled Sea of Galilee, Peter called out, “Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.” The Lord answered simply, “Come.” And Peter became only the second person known to have walked on water.
Only doubt was able to stop him. (See Matthew 14:26-31).
Let us never be the wind of doubt for anyone.
Let us be the ones to invite others to go forward. Of course, we do not have the divine stature of Jesus, and others are unlikely to walk on water. But with our help and encouragement, they may walk where they never had believed they could go.
Some of you who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints might tune out when I say the robbers’ story is told in the Book of Mormon. But wait—don’t go yet. The story holds a lot of important lessons for our time and our society.
The Gadianton Robbers were bands of criminals who lived among some of the civilizations of ancient America. The robbers sometimes hid in plain sight among the people and covered the crimes they committed with the help of other members of their band. Sometimes the robbers grew strong enough to control their own territories—defying the government, so strong that the army could not go in and defeat them. Sometimes they grew powerful because they infested the government, turning a blind eye to crime and allowing the wealthy to buy justice while the poor suffered injustice at their hands.
The robbers grew powerful with the help of ordinary people who joined in or supported criminal activity because they too could profit from it. Sometimes the criminals fed the desires of those people for wealth and power, or fed their addictions. The robbers decimated societies, bringing down governments. Once they issued an edict to the people of their time: Join us and take part in our activities, and we will support you in them—or defy us and die.
Does any of this sound familiar?
In Mexico and Central America, drug gangs and cartels are so powerful that they are a fact of life for many people. Governments turn something of a blind eye to them because
Violence born in poor barrios of Latin America can easily enter affluent communities in other areas by invitation–when people in those areas buy into the drugs gangs sell, or into their other activities that promise big profits.
defying them can mean death. While my wife and I were living in Central America a few years ago, a well-known judge who opposed gang power was assassinated one evening on her way home from work; a motorcycle pulled up next to her car at a stoplight and she was shot several times. In Guatemala, a young teen we knew spent months recuperating from gunshot wounds he received while shielding a little girl from a drive-by shooting; gang members shot up a neighborhood store, apparently because the owner was not cooperating. Criminals were rarely caught, and if they were known, rarely prosecuted.
One young friend of ours told us that he and his wife were desperately trying to find a private school where they could enroll their three-year-old twin daughters a few years down the road. It would be punishingly expensive. But in the public schools, he said, gangs started recruiting children as early as the second or third grade. Children who refused to join could be beaten or killed, or their families might be targeted.
Gadianton robbers have no particular ethnic or national background. They might be Russian, Asian, or white supremacists. This kind of evil is found in some degree in most countries of the world. It seems to be growing in strength, but particularly in the United States. Is there a solution?
In that Book of Mormon story about the Gadianton Robbers, the people who supported justice and goodness eliminated the robbers among them at one point by preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to them—and converting all of them! People who had never known a better way readily accepted gospel truths when they were taught, and became contributing, productive members of society. Gospel teachings about love and doing good to others turned out to be the most potent weapon the people had against the evil in their society. Generously, this group of early American Christians always welcomed enemies who wanted to change their lives and live the gospel.
Later, faced with that join-or-die ultimatum from robbers hardened in evil, the people refused. Instead, they banded together in one place, pooled their supplies, and waited the robbers out. When the robbers could no longer live by plundering and could not afford to settle in and plant crops for food, they eventually became weak and desperate and the people were able to wipe them out in battle.
So how does the story of the robbers apply to us today?
The way to fight gangs and drug cartels is for all those ordinary people who are supporting them indirectly to stop. Stop buying their drugs. Stop buying their services. Stop profiting from their activities. Deprive them of the money that gives them power. Refuse to take part.
Idealistic? Perhaps. Hard? Undoubtedly.
Once gangs have their tentacles wrapped around someone, they fight against letting go. They have a habit of punishing people who want to walk away from their lifestyle. The criminals will fight back—unless they are deprived of their support and become too weak to resist. They are so entrenched in modern society that it will be hard to freeze them out.
But has anything else worked?
It seems we have two choices. Preferably, we can reach out to those involved in gang activities and try to help them change into people dedicated to building up rather than destroying our society—change into the people our Heavenly Father has given them the opportunity to become.
If that does not work, then those who are not ensnared in the gangs can say a firm “No” to the drugs and money and corruption they offer—avoid being part of the problem—and wait while the gangs wither away for lack of support.
This approach will surely work—if there are enough people left in our society who are not caught up in the corruption one way or another.
When people write or talk about movies these days, they often mention “love scenes.” What they usually mean by that in our day is sex scenes. But those two are not the same thing.
When I think of great love scenes in the movies, I think of the homecoming scene in The Best Years of Our Lives, when Frederic March’s character returns from war and his wife working in the kitchen, Myrna Loy, realizes who is at the door. The power of their facial expressions as they see each other, and their actions, portray love about as well as in any scene on film. Check the movie out; it’s a great one.
And when I think of great movie love scenes, I may think about young Carl and Ellie, in the Disney Pixar movie Up, falling in love, getting married, and setting out on the adventure of life together. That’s love.
Two naked people writhing in bed? No, that’s just lust, and it may have little or nothing to do with love. But it sells movie tickets.
This fact probably helps explain corrupt movie executives who feel they have a right to molest or abuse actresses and actors with whom they associate. Apparently, they feel some entitlement, telling themselves that, after all, they help make these people famous.
The current #Metoo movement in our society, exposing the evil treatment that many women receive in the workplace and elsewhere, may accomplish a lot of good. We can hope it will disabuse many men of the notion that because they are masculine, they are entitled to treat women as objects to provide them pleasure. Certainly men who are guilty of this kind of harassment deserve whatever social or professional ruin comes to them when they are exposed. Many of them belong in prison.
The current movement is a reminder that many of us who are male need to learn better attitudes and greater respect for women, even if we feel we are not guilty of any crime.
Women often say there is never any excuse for harassment of sexual abuse, no matter how they may choose to dress. In this they are correct; they ought always to be safe from the hands, and even the lustful thoughts, of men, no matter the situation, no matter what they may wear—or not wear.
But a girl or woman does not have to live very long in this world to learn that what ought to be is often not the way things are. Many men, motivated by their own weakness and aberrant sexual feelings, convince themselves that the ways in which women dress offer them permission or an invitation. For self-protection, women may need to recognize that there are such men, and to weigh some choices carefully.
Is this fair? No, of course not. But I would still want my wife or my daughter to take care to protect herself from predators in any situation—including those who wear fine suits and spend their days in corporate or government offices.
Now, this is where it becomes tricky for a man to write on this subject. Some will say: “victim-blaming.” No, I think not. Two of my own daughters experienced some harassment in the workplace. My mother, a widowed working woman, experienced discrimination based on her sex. Neither my mother nor my daughters did anything to deserve the treatment they received. Even though no prosecutable offenses were committed against them, those men who did not treat them with respect should have been punished or corrected.
Nevertheless, some women seem to ignore reality in justifying their own behavior.
How else to explain the anger and hurt from celebrity women when their nude photos, either taken surreptitiously or stolen, are widely shared, but who call it “empowerment” when they choose to display their bodies to the public?
However incautious it might have been to allow nude photos to be taken, people have every right to be angry when those photos are publicly displayed without their permission. But when some willingly pose for magazine layouts or other photo shoots that will bring them desired publicity, they say the nudity is OK in this situation because it is their choice. The difference seems to be in who is getting a benefit from their nudity. If they are the ones getting some kind of compensation—emotional, or financial, or both—in exchange for going nude, then the nudity is acceptable. Could someone please explain to me how this is not hypocrisy? They become enablers of the lust that fuels behavior they say that they hate.
If some unknown young actress takes off her clothes, performs explicit sex acts in front of a camera, and gets paid a few bucks, we call it porn and sleaze. If some well-known actress takes off her clothes, simulates sex acts in front of a camera, and makes big bucks, the film may become a blockbuster, and some call it art. But in comparing the two situations, it’s hard to see any difference in the type of activity; the difference is only in the degree of involvement.
It is true that the physical bodies we have are beautiful, amazing creations. They are also gifts from God that are sacred to every individual. They are meant to be shared only in a mutually loving relationship with the person of the opposite sex to whom we have made the public commitment of marriage, intending to spend a lifetime growing together. Sharing the body in any other way or any other context is dishonoring a sacred gift.
Couples who make and keep the covenant of marriage can share a full range of joy together, including physical intimacy. They share all these joys through young love, through the years when children may come and grow up, and through the aging years when the couple may have to lean on each other just to make it through a day.
Marriages like that are where real love scenes happen.