Sunday, January 14, 2018

Adversity and Overcoming it

Image result for jesus in gethsemane
I have been assigned to speak on the subject of the various types of adversity and how to overcome them. Before speaking about the various types of adversity, it would be useful to have a working definition of it. Elder Bruce R. McConkie defined adversity (or more properly afflictions) in the following way:
Afflictions include sorrow, adversity, tribulation, calamity, and trouble-all these are the common lot of mankind; they are an essential part of this probation. (Mormon Doctrine, pg. 26, 2nd edition, Deseret Book, 1978)
If we accept Elder McConkie's definition (and I find it very commendable), then we can accept that adversity is synonymous with the word suffering. All of us suffer at one time or another, whether we are rich or poor, bond or free, or any type of gender. There is a saying that in life only two things are promised: death and taxes. This is partially true, but not entirely. You may not live to the age of having to pay taxes, but you will live long enough to suffer. So perhaps the two things really promised in life are suffering and death. Even a pessimist like myself finds this very bleak.

While it will be generally conceded that we all suffer, perhaps of even bigger importance is why there is human suffering; or more particularly in the moment of suffering the question comes across as "Why am I suffering?" While I cannot fully answer that question, I would offer the following advice to the person who is comforting the person suffering (and if I recall my baptismal covenants correctly that is all of us who have taken upon ourselves the covenant of baptism [Mosiah 18:8-9]) Recall the story of Job, a just man who suffered greatly. His friends interpreted his suffering as a response to his sinfulness because a just God would not cause a righteous person to suffer. Job, knowing that he has done nothing that warranted his immense suffering, rebuked their arguments as trivial on the grounds that he knew he was a righteous man, though he could not understand why God was allowing this to happen. At the end of the story God agrees with Job that he had been righteous, but rebuked him for questioning his judgement (Job 40: 8-9) A similar thing happens in the New Testament. After encountering a man who is born blind, the apostles ask the Savior whether this man is suffering for his own sins or the sins of his parents. The Savior responds that the young man has not sinned nor his parents, and heals his blindness (John 9:2-3).

The lesson for us in these two events is that we do not have the complete information as to why someone is suffering, and to speculate about it will likely lead to more suffering for someone who needs to be comforted. President Monson wisely said "Never allow a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved." We who are tasked with comforting the afflicted should worry more about how we are going to help the person rather than worry about why it happened in the first place.

As for the person who is suffering who is asking the question "Why me?", allow me to give the following recommendation. We would do well to remember that nowhere in the scriptures is it promised that life will be fair. Part of our suffering is brought upon us by thinking there is always a reason for suffering and we then think of ourselves as Sherlock Holmes, trying to figure out the the why question rather than thinking about what we can learn from the experience. The Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus said this:
Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can't control that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible. (The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness, pg.3, HarperCollins, 1994)
We cannot control what happens for the most part; we only have control over ourselves. So, when we suffer (as we all will) we need to focus more on what we can do rather than looking for someone or something to blame, which I admit is much easier in theory than in practice. At any rate, it is foolish to blame either God or the universe for our suffering. God did not promise us a fair life before we came to this Earth, yet we accepted the challenge anyway. The universe is not an agent, so when we ask it "Why me?" it will not bother to respond "Why not?"

Now that I have dealt with the why question of suffering, the question remains of how can we endure suffering. Before answering this, I would point out that enduring is more than simply surviving. Surviving means that we allow things to happen but don't bother to learn from it. Enduring means that while we question why we suffer, we know that there is something we can learn from the suffering. Enduring is active, surviving is passive.

Perhaps the two greatest examples of enduring adversity come from the two greatest men who have ever lived but perhaps suffered more than anyone else: Jesus of Nazareth and Joseph Smith, Jr. While in Gethsemane and suffering pain unimaginable (Doctrine and Covenants 19:16-18), Jesus asked that his pain and suffering not come. But, he was willing to submit to whatever needed to happen. Jesus' response is remarkably stoic in nature; he does not want to suffer but realizes that he cannot control that. What he can control is how he responded to the suffering. He responded by accepting it and learning from it. We should do likewise.

Joseph Smith's suffering was different, as was his response. In section 121 of the Doctrine and Covenants, he, like Jesus, cries out to God to end his suffering, even going so far as to ask if he is still there (Doctrine & Covenants 121: 1-4). The Savior responds that if the Prophet endures his suffering, he will be exalted in the end (Doctrine and Covenants 121:7-8). Or to put is as the German existentialist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche did, whatever does not kill us will make us stronger. This way of overcoming adversity is saying that we must suffer in order to become the kinds of people that the Lord would want us to become.

In closing, the Savior was asked by a rich man what he must do in order to obtain eternal life (Mark 10: 17-21). Jesus responded that the man would have to pick up his cross and to follow him. The path of the Savior is one of pain and suffering. The only perfect man who ever walked the Earth suffered more than any of us, and we cannot call ourselves his disciple if we are not willing to suffer and endure to the end as he did. But, we do not have to do so alone. As a disciple of Jesus Christ, I pledge to all members of this ward that if they need a friend in their suffering, I will do everything in my power to be there for them in there time of need. And I am not the only one. The Savior suffered so that you will not have to suffer alone, and no matter what happens he will always be there for you as he has been there for me.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.




Friday, January 5, 2018

Friday Traditio: Thomas S. Monson

Image result for thomas s monsonAs noted earlier this week, Thomas S. Monson, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for nearly a decade, passed away. Normally, one would think that a man renown for his kindness and charity would be allowed to pass quietly and his family would be allowed to grieve without complaint. But, the New York Times had other plans. In writing an article about him shortly after his death was announced publicly, the Times decided not to focus on the good things this man did during his tenure, but instead decided to point out the fact that under President Monson's tenure, homosexuals were persecuted and the LDS Church did not open the priesthood to women. Fine obituary remarks indeed.

First, let me say that this is insensitive, not because I am a Mormon, but because when someone has died it is common courtesy to speak about the good they did, not what they failed to accomplish. Keep in mind the man, by secular and religious accounts, was an honorable one. Why bring these things up as soon as he dies? Even if I were a critic of someone, I would also realize that there are people who are in pain with that person being gone and I could for the sake of decency hold my tongue on such things for a time.

But to the points made in the article, it is true that homosexuality was talked about often during President Monson's tenure (though not that often by President Monson himself) and women were not ordained to the priesthood. To the first point, most Christian Churches hold that homosexual activity (not being a homosexual) is a sin, so Mormons are hardly unique in that regard. I would also point out that the Church did reach out to the LGBT community in more healthy ways during President Monson's time in office (of course this is not mentioned in the article).

As for women not being ordained, there are two points I would like to make. First, those who believe that the LDS Church has no unique priesthood authority have nothing important to contribute to the conversation on this matter. (It seems rather trivial to demand that women or anyone else be given a power in which one believes does not exist.) Second, while it is metaphysically possible for women to be ordained, it would require a revelation. So, in other words, it was not President Monson's decision to make; it was out of his hands.

I, for one, am grateful for President Monson's example and accomplishments during his tenure (his lowering of the missionary age, his testimony of the Book of Mormon, and his care for others as just three examples). In honor of his life, this weeks traditio is my favorite talk of his. Hope you all enjoy it.


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Farewell President Monson

Image result for thomas s monson youngMost of my generation of Latter-day Saints who have been life-long members grew up with Gordon B. Hinckley as their prophet. I did not join the LDS Church until 2009, just slightly over a year after Thomas S. Monson was sustained as the 16th President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. So, President Monson to me is the same as President Hinckley to the rest of my generation. Sadly, he passed away yesterday at the age of 90. While his passing saddens me and he will be dearly missed, I am grateful he is reunited with his beloved Francis again. I have seen how dearly he misses her, and I am sure she was overjoyed to see him again. I look forward to speaking to both of them in the future.

Not only was President Monson the only prophet I have known, but with his passing there are no living apostles who were present for the 1978 revelation that extended the priesthood to all worthy males. As someone who is impacted by that revelation, this is the end of an era.

Many posts will be made about President Monson by other bloggers, so I will keep my thoughts brief. The greatest lesson I learned from President Monson was the importance of serving others. Before becoming a Latter-day Saint, I had not heard much about serving others in the church I grew up in. However, once I joined the LDS Church I heard about it often. I was impressed with how much President Monson often went out of his way to serve others, especially considering this meant that he had to take more time away from his family. He always put the welfare of others ahead of his own. That is truly remarkable in an age where some say that selfishness is a virtue.

President Monson, it was an honor to sustain you as a prophet, seer, and revelator. As in all areas in which you served, you served with all your heart and soul. I hope I can serve in my assignments with the same selflessness and vigor in which you served in yours. Farewell President Monson. I will miss you brother.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Word & Object upcoming news

Image result for new years resolution memeBefore I begin this post, I want to thank all of my readers. Thanks for your constructive comments and feedback. I truly believe that I have become a better writer and thinker because of you. 2017 has been a great year, and I am cautiously optimistic that 2018 will be even better.

In the coming year I plan to post 3 times a week (Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday). This will be difficult, but I always welcome a challenge. I plan to finish the CES Letter series (in case you did not hear, Jeremy Runnells recently released CES Letter 2.0), as well as writing more on topics relating to the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of science, and meta-ethics. My friend, Jaxon, has requested that I write a post on interracial marriage within Mormonism, so I will do that soon as well. Speaking of Jaxon, he recently sat down with John Dehlin on Mormon Stories Podcast. I have not yet gotten around to watching the four-part series (I will also do that this week), but for those interested it can be found here. I say this sincerely: Jaxon is one of the brightest minds in Millennial Mormonism and it is a privilege to be his friend. While being very intelligent, he manages to remain humble and open to other points of view. Hopefully, I am following his lead in that regard, I will keep trying.

In addition to posting more regularly, I am also co-authoring a book with my friend, Robert Boylan, (who blogs here and whose book on Sola Scriptura can be found here, as well as his book on Mariology) on the relationship between Mormonism and Christianity. I am excited to work on the project, and like Jaxon I consider Robert indispensable to Millennial Mormonism.

Again, I want to thank all of my readers. Word and Object would not exist without you. I wish you all a happy new year and hope that however you celebrate the upcoming new year that you do so in a safe and responsible manner. If you have new year's resolutions and don't fulfill them in the coming week, I dedicate the picture above to you... :)

Friday, December 29, 2017

Friday Traditio: Hilary Putnam

Image result for hilary putnamIf there is a school of philosophy that is uniquely American it is the school known as pragmatism. While the term "pragmatism" is used in our everyday vernacular as meaning doing that which is the most practical, pragmatism is as robust a school of thought as any other; Bertrand Russell remarked in his autobiography that the pragmatists (whom he called the American Realists) were doing the best philosophy of the 20th century. Strong words coming from one of the greatest philosophers of all time.

Pragmatism, unlike other schools of philosophy (such as logical positivism) is not dead. Many current philosophers are pragmatists or neopragmatists (Daniel Dennntt, Robert Brandom, Simon Blackburn) and some that who have recently passed away were also pragmatists (Richard Rorty, W.V.O. Quine, Hilary Putnam). Ludwig Wittgenstein, who is considered to be the greatest philosopher of the past 200 years, is also considered a pragmatist by some (Putnam).

Discussing the classical pragmatists (C.S. Peirce, William James, John Dewey) in this weeks traditio is Hilary Putnam. Putnam had a profound interest in the pragmatists and wrote several books on them (Pragmatism: An Open Question and Pragmatism as a Way of Life). In this lecture he considers the classical pragmatists and there contribution to philosophy. While Putnam is considered and did consider himself a pragmatist, it should be remembered that he did not agree with them on everything (especially their account of truth).


Friday, December 22, 2017

Friday Traditio: Willard Van Orman Quine

Image result for willard van orman quineAs many of the my readers know, recently I changed the name of this blog from Realism with a Human Face to Word and Object in honor of the late philosopher Willard Van Orman Quine. Besides David Hume, no thinker has had as much influence on me as Quine. To me, Quine is the model philosopher; showing charity to arguments he disagrees with, building powerful arguments of his own, and being a first-rate writer. In addition to all this, Quine managed to be a conservative while being at Harvard for 70 years (as a student and professor). Let that sink in.

Most of Quine's early work was in formal logic, taking many of his views from Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead (the latter was his dissertation adviser at Harvard). This work is very technical and is not easily accessible to the layman, though Quine does write in such a way that even non-specialists can get the gist of what he is saying. The essay that had the most impact on me was Two Dogmas of Empiricism, where he talks about the analytic/synthetic distinction and reductionism. While I do maintain the analytic/synthetic distinction in some form (as did Quine) and am a reductionist in many respects (as was Quine), I do see that the distinction is not so clear cut as thinkers such as A.J. Ayer and Hume thought it was, and reductionism is a metaphysical idea rather than a purely scientific one. Also, like Quine I do not see a sharp divide between philosophy and science; I see philosophy as the abstract part of science and as continuous with science.

In this weeks traditio, he sits down with philosopher Bryan Magee to discuss some central aspects of his philosophy. Hope you all enjoy it.


Saturday, December 16, 2017

Mormonism and Masturbation (Part 4)

Image result for masturbation memesPurity, Modesty, and Moral Ambiguity
A quick word on purity and modesty and how it’s negatively feeding into our perception/paradigm and preventing healthy solutions. These are probably two of the most ambiguous terms I hear in the context of sexuality. Possibly due to the misunderstanding of lust and coveting in Matthew 5:27-8, purity is most often used in the context of naiveté. Jason A. Staples Ph.D., Professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at NC State University addresses this topic well here: “Whoever Looks at a Woman With Lust”: Misinterpreted Bible Passages”. Also see “Modesty: I Don’t Think it Means What You Think it Means” by Rachel Held Evans and “The Costs of Misunderstanding Modesty” by Julie de Azevedo Hanks.

Our current paradigm, I believe, is a product of our reincorporating 1700’s ideas into our cultural belief system. A phrase parents use in “sharing too much” with their children, they must “protect their purity.” Some parents have described how exposure to various media and forms of pornography puts their children’s purity at risk. The “For the Strength of Youth” (FSOY) reinforces this idea in its section on “Sexual Purity”, it reads;

Do not do anything else that arouses sexual feelings. Do not arouse those emotions in your own body. Pay attention to the promptings of the Spirit so that you can be clean and virtuous. The Spirit of the Lord will withdraw from one who is in sexual transgression.

Avoid situations that invite increased temptation, such as late-night or overnight activities away from home or activities where there is a lack of adult supervision. Do not participate in discussions or any media that arouse sexual feelings. Do not participate in any type of pornography. The Spirit can help you know when you are at risk and give you the strength to remove yourself from the situation. Have faith in and be obedient to the righteous counsel of your parents and leaders.1

I believe there is great wisdom in the cautions given in this guidance. While at the same time it seems to communicate a confusing paradox. It placed parent and youth in a potentially in a double bind predicament. Will discussing sexual development, sexual desire, exploring concerns, curiosities, questions, discoveries intentionally or unintentionally lead to “arousing sexual feelings”? As loving parents, we would never want to make our children impure. I have worked with youth and adults who “remove” themselves from therapeutic discussions involving sexually related topics. One wife experienced this paradox when she sought out help for “intimate issues” in their marriage, but refused to discuss or explore any sexually related details.  Unfortunately, soon after she stopped coming to therapy.

Biologically, pubescent youth will, without any intent at all, experience arousal. It’s not just expected, it’s normal and healthy, YAY their body is functioning exactly as designed. Will discussing sexuality lead youth (or adults) to experience some sort of arousal? Maybe, yes. This predicament appears to leave parent, youth, and leaders with ONE option, “Have faith in and be obedient to the righteous counsel of your parents and leaders.” Which is to not do any of the above or anything that will potentially increase your temptation.

As one insightful YSA woman observed; “Leaving all the confusion, arousal, blame of inadvertent arousal, and curiosities to fester inside the child in silence. Building up fear in the child of themselves, their body and the thought to seek answers. Resulting in the child either repressing the natural curiosity that it is to understand their body or seeking the answers out through individuals who may not have the right intentions in mind - or accurate understanding of it themselves (kids to kids or kids to porn, or to experience it themselves just to understand).”

Under this interpretation, I do not fault parents’ fear of harming their child's purity.

But I don’t believe this is the intent of the message of sexual purity. I don’t believe it discourages meaningful, preparatory discussions with our children or those we have stewardship over. The above message is a warning against engaging in sexual relationships. The FSOY is providing a definition of sexual purity in the context of physical relationships with others. “Do not have any sexual relations before marriage, and be completely faithful to your spouse after marriage. Do not allow the media, your peers, or others to persuade you that sexual intimacy before marriage is acceptable.”

As for; “Do not do anything else that arouses sexual feelings. Do not arouse those emotions in your own body.”  At best, this is confusing and at worst fosters anxiety, depression, guilt and sexual dissociation. This can lead to tragic consequences which are medically substantiated and unfortunately occurred in the case of Kip Eliason, in the early 80’s.

The Church has made leaps and bounds in updating its material and pulling away from the moral absolutes of President Kimball and Elder McConkie, not to mention the decades of Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone’s personal mission to purge masturbation from the earth, with his quoting from President Clark and teaching medically incorrect information. In a somewhat bizarre lecture to a group of LDS counselors at an Association of Mormon Counselors and Psychotherapists (AMCAP) Elder Featherstone makes some bold and impossible-to-substantiate claims about the missionaries he presided over. Further he called a married couple to repentance for participating in masturbation together as a couple.2 This interviewing behavior appeared to be in conflict with a First Presidency letter in January 5 and October 15, 1982. “When interviewing married persons, the one doing the interviewing should scrupulously avoid indelicate inquiries…” and interviews are to precisely follow as outlined in the “temple recommend book.” That no one should ever “inquire into personal, intimate matters involving marital relations between a man and his wife...if in the course of such interviews a member asks questions about the propriety of specific conduct, you should not pursue the matter…”.

Nonetheless, the hard hitting, absolute statements made in the 60-70’s has made it culturally difficult to part from. Ironically, as often as we boast in the uniqueness of our faith by repeating the Prophet Joseph Smith: “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.” we are a very directive people. We crave black and white answers. These absolutes are spoken with such conviction as to either be interpreted as doctrine or literally taught as doctrine. As in the case of this mission president in 2003, who is teaching “doctrine” while clearly not knowing what he is talking about. Saying “the brethren call that “self abuse” instead of masturbation. It’s a little softer word. It’s more dignified.” What’s even more surprising is that this mission president is also an OB/GYN physician. He should know better. “It’s more dignified”? Culture is difficult to change. But these statements are becoming less and less frequent. Is anyone else excited we haven’t heard a single mention of porn in priesthood conference the last couple years?! Why? Because it’s a poor, in effective approach.

Therefore, simply saying “Do not do anything else that arouses sexual feelings,” etc., is confusing and sets youth up for failure. Based on following comments, and our cultural understanding of purity, ANYTHING can arouse sexual feelings. For a 14-year-old boy, mind pumping full of hormones, walking into a donut shop can elicit all sorts of sexual feelings. Not to be silly, but real and honest. Does that innocent boy now swear off all donut shops? By the way that’s a real example. Youth (and adults) struggle to differentiate between intentional arousal and the biological experience they are naturally having.

I have often wondered why the Lord would “bless” a child so young to experience something so powerful as sexual desires and arousal. One youth expressed, “I’m two different people; the worthy priesthood holder passing the sacrament. The other, a dark, isolated kid who enjoys these ‘feelings’.” 

Furthermore, what FSOY doesn’t address is what to do when you do nothing that “arouses sexual feelings,” and a young boy has an erection for going on for hours and all he did was wake up. What about the young girl who experience “butterflies” in her stomach and can’t seem to shake the urge. Furthermore, and I say this in the most sincere and respectful tone, have faith and be obedient to what righteous counsel of parents and leaders? Even if the child was unashamed and fortunate enough to have adults in their lives who could discuss the topic, what are they putting their faith and obedience into?

As a result you leave children with a couple of options. One, somehow completely suppress the feelings. Two, spend years battling the compulsion. These are such negative perspectives and have lasting consequences as previously discussed. There are more options than sucky choice A and sucky choice B, as my wife so often says.

Solution: Real Self-Mastery Cultivating Sexuality

Masturbate. Yes, masturbate.

Learn your body, cultivate and master your God-given desires as early as possible. Rejection, suppression, and ignoring are not tools of self-mastery. We treat sexuality as an exception to the concept of self-mastery. We have convinced ourselves that it’s a gateway drug to all sorts of illness, addictions, and selfish behavior. We shouldn’t tell people they can’t pray if their prayers aren’t in harmony with God’s will, that they are in danger of the “sin of the Zoramites.”  We don’t tell people they can’t bear their testimonies because what they’re sharing is not really a testimony. We don’t tell people they can’t eat if they don’t know how to eat healthy; at least we shouldn’t. You might say, it’s different, it doesn’t involve those powerful sexual chemicals. If that’s true, ALL the more reason to learn and master earlier on.

Self-mastery is a physical discovery of limitations and passions through intimate knowledge of oneself. Why is it any different with sexual desires and masturbation? I would argue that forced abstinence from masturbating is just as sinful as those who say that doing it is, because you are not valuing, understanding, nor mastering the body God blessed you with. Why have we pulled away from the healthy understanding of this concept taught in the 1920’s? Because modern day Tissots, Kelloggs, Martens, and organizations such as FTND have convinced us that sexual desire is the “New Drug”!

What I am not saying:

Free-range masturbation. That is not self-mastery. It’s interesting, when I teach self-mastery, it’s often interpreted as “no limits,” but when I work with clients on fitness, diet, or emotional behaviors, it’s well understood what self-mastery is in those cases. When I say, “you need to master your anger,” no one has yet snapped at me (fortunately) saying, “how dare you say it’s okay for me to be angry.” Yet that’s what people both hear and believe is being communicated when the topic involves masturbation.

Self-Mastery: Specifically.

Although the concept is simple, the concept needs to be adapted to various situations: personal, biological, and emotional needs. These will not be covered in this post, but will be addressed in my book. After identifying four general concepts, I will suggest what that might look like for an individual, parents, and leadership in general.

The goal is to bring souls closer to Christ, by cultivating sexuality through self-mastery.

  1. The Lord must be included in every step of the process.
This should go without saying. But the paradigm change since the 1920’s has changed the way we include the Lord in the cultivating of sexual desire. Instead of praying to remove sexual desire, pray to understand it, to value it, to learn it. Whether it’s for yourself or in teaching your kids. Confront the awkward with the Lord. Call it what it is, don’t make up words. Discuss masturbation (and sexuality) openly with the Lord and your children.

  1. Track baseline.
One of the most ridiculous concepts I hear people convey regarding masturbation or sexual drive, is that it's the same for everyone. This is communicated in the idea that everyone is to be absinate from masturbating. This is a form of perfectionism and prevents an individual from learning and mastering their own body. Learning and understanding your sexual desires in between you and the Lord. Discover how your body and mind function at its best, this is critical in our sexual development and happiness.

When I began to improve my physical health, I made the mistake of just hitting it as hard as I could, as long as I showed up at the gym, I was good. I would eventually get frustrated I wasn’t make the expected progress, burn-out or get injured. Without making a plan and tracking my progress I was setting myself up for failure. I had no clear data to assess and understand how to improve. Working out would become dreaded and feel impossible. Many make the mistake believing the idea, “just don’t masterbate because its a “sin” the goal is just to abstain”. Those who are not successful with this rejection method may move on to tracking “failures”, or duration between episodes. But this would be like me just walking in to the gym and running 20 miles or lifting 500 lbs when I’ve never done either. Then tracking how many times I failed to run 20 miles or lift 500 lbs.


When one decides with the Lord that a behavior needs to be mastered, tracking allows for meaningful discovery. Here is an example of how to track this in a spreadsheet. Each of the following are column headers, which are tracked daily.

Important: Spend 2-4 weeks tracking behaviors as typically engaged. That's the baseline. Sometimes individuals start recording during a time of forced abstinence. This skews the data and doesn’t accurately reflect and individuals starting baseline.

Date
Pornography (Duration in Minutes)
Masturbation (Frequency)
Kneeling Prayer (Frequency)
Scriptures (Duration in Minutes)
Gospel (General Study: such as preparing for Sunday School lesson. Duration in Minutes)
Workout (Duration in Minutes)
Connections (Meaningful interactions: Duration in Minutes)
Temple Attendance (Frequency)

Key Measurements and Concepts: These are NEVER to be used as a form of punishment. Success is celebrated in the context of self-mastery, NOT merely abstinence. Although abstinence, in the case of porn, might be the ultimate goal, success in self-mastery is celebrated by following a plan and or the reduction in a specific behavior. This will be further explained in the next section.

  1. Measure performance and report.
The importance of measuring is being able to see things “as they really are.” Too often I have met with youth and adults who express their “addiction” has caused them to fail again, only to discover they had AN episode of porn or masturbated. Not to dismiss their very real concern, but the way in which they viewed their “failure” was horrifying and only contributes to the problem. I then ask, how long has it been since you engaged in the behavior? Depending on the individual, they may say a month, a year, or years. Then I reply, then it appears you’re successful!

This inability to see success in sexual struggles, I believe, has been exacerbated by the misuse of D&C 82:7. Which again, oddly enough only ever seems to be used in the context of sexual sins. It reads,“but unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God.” Therefore, individuals feel they have never made progress. Their belief is real, individuals hold to decades of sexual “sin” because of a new occurrence. No wonder there is such a sense of hopelessness in conquering this issue. This scripture, used in this context, was popularized with “Miracle of Forgiveness,” but is a misuse of this scripture and misrepresents the atonement.  Stephen E. Robinson and H. Dean Garrett, in their “A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants” address this misunderstanding.

“Doctrine and Covenants 82:7 must be understood against the backdrop of Mosiah 26:30: "Yea, and as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me." Faithful Saints need not fear that their occasional weaknesses will put them outside the covenant and the power of the Atonement. On the other hand, those whose loyalty is to their sins first and to Christ second, third, or not at all, need not expect to be shielded from justice in any degree for all they may have done in this life. If we sin, we must repent. If we sin often, we must repent often. But we must never let go of the rod, never shift our commitment from Christ to our sins. Finally, should we repudiate our covenants, thus losing the shield of the Atonement, not only will our former sins return but they will bring with them a disposition to evil even greater than before (see Matthew 12:43-45).”4

In the case of masturbation, it provides a biological baseline from which we can more effectively address and learn unique individuals behaviors. It becomes a beautiful, respectful discovery of one's individual sexual desires. This data can now be specifically discussed with the Lord in individual prayer, allowing the Lord to guide your mind and heart in areas that are determined in spirit of cultivating and self-mastery. This is usually a private matter, in which one is returning to the Lord and learning. However, in cases where one feels they need extra support a therapist, or a loved one, can review the data to help see potential issues the individual is struggling to see.

For example, one individual couldn’t understand why they were increasing an undesired behavior, at what seemed to be random times with no obvious triggers. When the data was graphed by date, two things became clear. The frequency of undesired behavior occurred in proportion to the individual's fitness and time connecting with others decreased. It was obvious after the discovery, but when you are in the emotion of the struggle it's difficult to make those observations without the data.

  1. Out of the best books - Study and learn body
Learn about your body, it's beautiful and awesome. No matter your age, single or marriage. Find the best that experts have to offer. Become familiar with your arousal cycle and desires. As you learn to cultivate your sexualality. Your confidence and desires will become a wonderful and positive experience. For those feeling a need to improve their impulse control. In combination with learning your body, tracking the above data becomes an educational experience and exercise in cultivating God-given desire.

There are many great resources. But a few I recommend;

Jennifer Finlayson-Fife, Ph.D
LDS Relationship and Sexuality Counselor

And They Were Not Ashamed: Strengthening Marriage through Sexual Fulfillment
by Laura M. Brotherson
Link: http://a.co/aPExHqZ

Kristin B. Hodson

Real Intimacy: A Couples' Guide to Healthy, Genuine Sexuality
by Thomas G. Harrison et al.
Link: http://a.co/hlVLj2i

Individuals
Hopefully you see your body and its arousal as beautiful and not something to fear. However, if you have decided with the Lord that there is a need to improve impulse control. Find power by using a loving strategy and reclaiming agency, instead of just shear will and rejecting of the desires. Stop punishing yourself. Learn yourself. Identify and build on the successes. DO NOT use fear or pain of any kind to motivate you. For example; instead of going for abstinence, identify your baseline in masturbating. As you track your behavior, let's say the data shows that on average, you masturbate once a day. Therefore, in prayer and learning your body you’ve determined that twice a week is a more healthy behavior for you. Schedule and plan the masturbation.

Yes, you heard me correctly. Schedule and plan the masturbation. This is absolutely critical, I can’t emphasize it enough. The old broken approach of aversion concepts and sheer willpower ignores everything beautiful about desire and biological function. Even in the cases of replacing arousal and desire with other good things, to distract yourself. You are not actually learning about your desire or mastering it. Your biological sex drive is individual, and those who say you can live without sex and everyone can be abstinent is akin to saying everyone can live off of 1000 calories a day. Yeah, maybe, but should they? Each individual is different. You must learn your body with the Lord and with the best science and medical information has to offer. But more importantly, you are actually now reclaiming your agency!

One can say, CHOOSING to be abstinent is using your agency. Yeah, then go choose to live off a 1000 calories a day, that makes just as much sense. No, the power in scheduling and planning the masturbation is that you are taking a proactive, line upon line, approach. There is little to no learning or self-mastery in the abstinence approach.

In the case of Kathryn, shared at the beginning, she has completely rid pornograhy out of her life, after almost two decades of “failure.” It was by learning, understanding, and mastering her sex drive. Scheduling planned masturbations gave her power to withstand impulse control issues in the moment, knowing she would be able to masturbate and cultivate her desires in the way she and the Lord dictated, at a specific time.

When one starts this approach, maybe they have a history of porn associated with masturbating and they battle pornographic thoughts during masturbation, the goal is to reclaim that beauty in sexual desire. This can be done by praying before engaging in the masturbation. Are we not to include the Lord in all things? The fact many find the concept of including the Lord as weird is evident of the adversary's success at making sexual desires a dirty thing. What better way to prepare individuals to include the Lord in marital sex. A formal prayer may not need to continue with every scheduled masturbation, as long as the pornographic is disentangled from the Godly.

Parents

Teach and prepare your children for the experience of sexual desire. The best way to do this is naturally and daily in your interaction with your spouse, let your children observe how you discuss it with each other. Confront the awkward and make it beautiful. My wife and I have openly discussed details of sex (not our personal acts of sex), in front of our children from a young age. Integrating it this way creates a very comfortable environment; it allows them to learn and know it’s safe to ask questions. The whole idea of “age appropriate,” conversations around sex, I feel, is a fear-based concept. This fear or concern of conversations being age appropriate I believe, prevents us from speaking openly in general. It’s the sit down, focused conversations, that I believe are inappropriate and create more awkwardness.

When addressing your child’s sexual desires and masturbation, focus on the beauty of desire and emphasize how amazing those feelings are. Offer them insights to how we are to learn and master our bodies. Celebrate with them that they are experiencing this new phase of life and how much more amazing it will be if mastered and learned. Offer something similar to the above four concepts to support their development.

Remember the case of the young man who was trying to pray his erection away? He has reclaimed a joy and peace he had lost, by cultivating and masturing his desires with the Lord. He again, loves attending church and has found a new confidence.

No mention of sin. No need to “stop it.” Masturbating isn’t the sin; avoiding self-mastery is. Approaching it this way will empower youth to feel in control of their desires. They will not see their desires as a curse but a blessing from God. It will also teach them that they are in control of their own sexual experiences. Porn will have less power and influence and they will learn how to honor, master, and respect their sacred sexual experience. They will treat their dates and future spouse with the same respect as they have learned to treat themselves.

Leadership

Teach the concepts of self-mastery to the parents. There is absolutely no need for you to dive into these topics in detail in an interview. The best and most efficient path to success is changing the culture of how parents teach sexuality to children. Stop telling youth it's a sin. They already believe that and that's why they are in your office. Telling them that again doesn’t improve health or faith. Educate parents, help them understand the importance of restorying beauty in sexuality and desire. Be the example of confronting the awkward and making the taboo easy to discuss. Help parents understand the importance of healthy, loving, respectful sexual education. Provide them with the concept of cultivating and measuring - being able to see things “as they really are” - for the purpose of self-mastery.

Avoid abstract timelines. Although I don’t believe it's within the stewardship of the leader to counsel on the biological functions of their ward members. Some insist on giving “spiritual” challenges and goals. Such as, “go without masturbating for two weeks.” This is ironic, since I often get push back for my approach of scheduling masturbation. But isn’t that what these leaders are telling them to do? Are they telling youth to abstain for 14 days and on day 15 they may reward themselves with a day of masturbation? No, no they’re not. Again, it's confusing and makes no sense. The child or adult struggling knows that, at least subconsciously. As a result, the individual doesn’t hear 14 days, they hear eternity. This is why most who get that challenge rarely can make it 14 days. It’s nonsensical.

As you already know, your role is a spiritual counselor. Therefore, if you feel the individual is struggling with sexual self-mastery, do not call it an addiction, you don’t know that. I also caution against immediately sending them to ARP or some other 12-step program; especially if it's a kid, I caution against programs like Sons of Helaman or Daughters of Light. If you sense the issue is significant, encourage the child to discuss with their parents. Without breaking confidentiality, do your research, find a therapist who understands this concept. Let the therapist determine if the what is the behavioral or mental health issues. Unfortunately, some children don’t have parents capable of teaching these concepts. Where appropriate, provide the above structure and insights in a group setting where that child can be present.

Important note on consistency and sustainability.

For those leaders who are working with individuals on their spiritual development, I share this insight: some individuals tie their “church” performance to their ability to abstain from an undesirable behavior. One of the reasons I track scriptures and gospel study is to observe this pattern. What I have found based on the data thus far, is those who increase their time spent in gospel-related efforts more than ~15-20% experience equally undesirable results as those who decide to discontinue continue with their religious behaviors. My theory is twofold; first, is the new years resolution effect. Feeling a rekindle of hope the individual recommits with increased dedication. Some try to match their dedication with their missionary years and others, some vague perception of what constitutes the ideal amount of gospel study. This new surge of activity, is neither consistent or sustainable. Like those that flock to the gym in January, the majority are gone in February. When the rekindled hope begins to fade and the intensity begins to become more difficult to maintain. They emotionally and spiritually associated it with faith.

The second, individuals begin to associate their increased gospel performance as a repellent to their undesirable behavior. This is due to a false association between success in sexual self-mastery and their time involved in gospel works. For example, one adult male was reading his scriptures daily, for more time than most scholars I know. One day he came in reporting he didn’t do as well as expected in masturing his behavior, to which he said, “only if I read the scriptures for another 15 mins today.” Routine, meaningful gospel study is more important than more of it. Even if that individual is only studying 30 minutes, two days a week, I would rather see that individual maintain that routine than have them believe that more gospel study will “cure” them of their behavior issues.

Conclusion
In language much more poetic, Adam S. Miller in “Letters to a Young Mormon”, expressed the concept of cultivating and Christlike self-mastery beautifully when he said;

“Caring for the hunger will take practice and patience. Be kind to yourself as you stumble through. In church, we say: learn to be chaste. This is right, but we have to be clear. Chastity, as a way of practicing care, doesn’t purge or deny this hunger. You are chaste when you are full of life, and you are full of life when you are faithful to the hungers that root it.

To care for this hunger, you must do just as you did with the others. You cannot get rid of your hunger either by pandering to it or by purging it. Both strategies deny hunger and leave you undead. Church-talk about sexual purity is meant to keep you close to life and warn you against trying to end your hunger by carelessly indulging it. And trying to get rid of your hunger by purging it, even for the sake of purity, will just as surely leave you spiritually dead as indulging it. The measure of chastity is life, and life, by divine design, is messy. If used without care, aiming for purity is as likely to maim you as save you. Don’t become a slave to your hunger and don’t try to make a slave of your hunger. Slavery is sin, and sin is death.”5

The goal is to bring souls closer to Christ, by cultivating all things including sexuality through self-mastery. Both unbridled indulgence or abstinence are unhealthy in sexual development and have negatively affected many in their faith and marriages. Those who have embraced a self-mastery approach with masturbation have reported a greater feeling of joy and faith in Christ. This is the goal, the hope. Sexuality should not be a scary, awkward, resented, or a painful experience. It’s beautiful and God-given. Let’s teach, model, and communicate joy in the sexual experience.




Endnotes

1.  https://www.lds.org/youth/for-the-strength-of-youth/sexual-purity?lang=eng
2.  Featherstone, Vaughn (1 October 1990). "However Faint the Light May Glow". Issues in Religion and Psychotherapy. 16 (1): 65–66 http://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1311&context=irp
3.  Thomas S. Monson, in Conference Report, Oct. 1970, 107
4.  Stephen E. Robinson and H. Dean Garrett, in their “A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants” (4 vols. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2004], 2:12-13)

5.  Miller, Adam S.  2014, “Letters to a Young Mormon” pg 62