Unto the Pure

KC Kern Mormon 18 Comments

Not too long ago I came across an interesting passage in the New Testament that caught my attention and gave me pause. It is found in the obscure book of Titus, chaper 1 verse 15, which reads: “Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled.”

I read it over a few times, trying to make sense of it…trying to see if it was saying what I thought it was saying.

Growing up in the Church, attending Sunday School and Seminary, and being in the LDS community in general, I had noticed that there seemed to be an implication that one’s religious piety and righteousness was directly related to one’s lack of tolerance for inappropriate things.

If you don’t watch R-rated movies, you’re righteous; if you don’t even watch PG-13 movies, you even more righteous; if you don’t own a TV at all because “all there is is trash on these days,” then you’re one step away from ascension into heaven.

I would also hear things like “how easily the spirit is offended,” and how any exposure to any semblance of indecency would put me on the fast track to sheol.

So imagine my surprise when I unfold the word of God and learn that “Unto the pure, all things are pure.” Was I reading this right? I did a little poking around, and it turns out that the Jews of the time of Jesus had a number of dietary and other elements that were classified as “unclean” and/or “defiled.” This reminded me of an oft overlooked vignette found in the Gospel of Mark, chaper 7:14-23:

And when he had called all the people unto him, he said unto them, Hearken unto me every one of you, and understand: There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.

And when he was entered into the house from the people, his disciples asked him concerning the parable. And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him; Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats?

And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.

As I searched for increased meaning on the concepts, I found some commentary from Jamieson-Fausset-Brown, who said this about the Titus passage:

“All things-external, “are pure” in themselves; the distinction of pure and impure is not in the things, but in the disposition of him who uses them; in opposition to “the commandments of men” (Tit 1:14), which forbade certain things as if impure intrinsically. “To the pure” inwardly, that is, those purified in heart by faith (Ac 15:9; Ro 14:20; 1Ti 4:3), all outward things are pure; all are open to, their use. Sin alone touches and defiles the soul (Mt 23:26; Lu 11:41).”

So what was I to think about these passages in terms of the LDS prudishness that I observed often came to define righteousness? While I knew I was to “avoid the appearance of all evil,” I was also aware of a God given capacity to know good from evil, to encounter something, be able analyze it, determine its value or detriment, and then accept or reject it.

I once overheard a dispute between two friends about whether or not a certain movie was appropriate to watch. After some sparring, one of the friends used his trump card with a “would the prophet watch it?”

Listening to this, I chuckled to myself and wondered whether the prophet would really lack the spiritual maturity to recognize, reject and dismiss any unworthy or destructive elements and absorb the good and uplifting elements as they came.

I recognize that there certainly is such a thing as being desensitized, and that certainly is not praiseworthy. But from this scripture I learn that my purity and virtue is reflected in the things I seek after—the things to which I am drawn. If I should encounter something of questionable moral value, I need not feel that the mere exposure thereto is staining me with the blood of Babylon as I dismiss it in search for something more uplifting.

On another occasion, I was in my apartment browsing an old conference Ensign while listening to one roommate talk to another about the some people they had just been around. The roommate who was speaking talked about how offended he was as the immodest attire and the coarse language of those he had been in the company of. As he ranted, I flipped the page of ensign over to Elder David Bednar’s October 2006 talk and read the title: “And Nothing Shall Offend Them.” I smiled, knowing the context of the talk; it was given as a lambasting of less-active members who had their feelings hurt by other members; but since it was so fitting in the moment, I couldn’t help but think that there was a broader lesson to be learned.

With all this in mind, I still believe that for the sake of virtue, there are plenty of activities that should never be engaged in, plenty of movies and videos that are better off unseen, plenty of places that should not be frequented, and plenty of people who’s association with will be detrimental. But if I look around me, and I am unable to see or focus on any of the goodness that is out there, and instead use my energy to count the vices and evils of all I encounter, perhaps I should ask if its not my “mind and conscience [that] is defiled”.

Comments

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Comments 18

  1. Fantastic post KC…and a message that I thoroughly enjoyed reading.

    My wife’s cousin said to me “Steve, you focus to much on the sad and depressing things in the world and you need to be more positive. In doing so you will attract positive things into your life.” Little did I know that she had just read “The Secret” and was about to go through a divorce. Perhaps my focusing on human rights, the poor, unjust leadership etc wasnt so bad…though saddening.

    To me “The Secret” is like any of these self help books….something only used by those who would need psychological counciling. Looking outside oneself is important to maintaining a postive sense of self, something these books implicitly discourage.

    But to counter KC, Did Jesus consider all things as being pure? I dont think he did and I think he was offended on a few occasions according to the NT.

    I think this has a lot to do with persepective and ideals. The gospel requires a sense of moral absoluteness and living according to such.

    One of the most important parts of life is learning to eat and drink with the prostitutes, tax men and Pharisees but not giving into illicit sex, corruption, and hypocrisy. We must learn to be morally absolute and unconditionally loving at the same time.

    Thanks KC.

  2. I think there is a fine line between being easily offended, a title that describes many members of the church, and avoiding things that offends the Spirit of God.

    I’ll give an example. The difference between a movie like Sweeney Todd, which despite its bloodiness and all that, tells a tale that has a moral, and probably one that should be paid attention to, even if its not necessarily the one Hollywood intends, and a movie like the trashy The Condemned which essentially is violence without moral (although it tries very hard to have one, it self defeats).

    Knowing the difference between the two is sometimes difficult, but is ultimately wisdom. No time to post more.

  3. Really nice post, KC. I love thinking about this type of stuff.

    “I would also hear things like “how easily the spirit is offended…”
    What do you think about this? I heard it so much growing up that it felt like walking on eggshells. Basically I gave up worrying about it and just assumed I didn’t have the spirit when I listened to Dave Matthews. 🙂

    “We must learn to be morally absolute and unconditionally loving at the same time.”
    Stephen-That is something I have been working on for quite a few years, I’ve just never thought of it that way, so thanks for putting it into words. I think God has this down perfectly. He is unconditionally loving, morally absolute, and is not weakened by the world. Related to the post about what goes in not being defiling, God sees everything, from all the good in the world, to all the violence, anger, and even pornography (as an example)–and he is not corrupted by it. I think most of us cannot handle seeing a lot of the bad stuff because we are not pure enough. Obviously God can take in everything and not be corrupted.

  4. ha ha 🙂 I just got tickets for a concert in August, so, yeah. Maybe I haven’t progressed since then… And people smoke pot and stuff at those concerts!

  5. KC,

    I loved your post, in fact, I’m saving it for the future in case I need to be reminded. Some thoughts.

    I think that there is an evolution to the process of standing in holy places. Is serving an F-bombing relative who is dying of cancer in a hospital ward where you walk by gore and filth on operating tables standing in holy places? Is reading the Bible or BOM where bloody battles take place (visualized is rated R) standing in a holy place? How about watching a movie where freedoms triumphs over tyranny, and you have to wallow through some R-rated violence to get there?

    All of the answers to these questions can be YES! Now the idea of “would the prophet watch it?” is interesting. The prophet doesn’t do alot of things. I would guess he doesn’t shop at Albertons by himself, or consume hours of vintage Disney princess movies, or tide TRAX in downtown Salt Lake City, or blog for that matter. Part of this has more to do with pursuing more worthy activities related to his calling and position than anything else.

    Finally, the idea of filters versus desensitization. As long as we are sophisitacted enough spiritually, I think we can tread this line. For teenagers and youth I would definitely set strict boundaries and be a bit more Pharisaical. For adults who have leaned to filter, we have more leeway. The trick is to rely upon the Spirit, not a rule. This may lead me AND my teenage son to avoid watching the same movie, but its for different reasons. Conversely, I may be upflifted by a piece of media, where he would feel guilty and dirty from it because he hasn’t developed filters.

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    Author

    Stephen, yes, this being a very complex issues full of nuances, there are plenty of counter points that could be made.

    I think the question here is not whether or not evil exists—it clearly does. Jesus teaches that evil should never be internalized or welcomed into our hearts, and that we should seek after all things righteous.

    I think the issue here is trying to define appropriate behavior for one who is “in Babylon” but trying not be “of Babylon.”

  7. That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.

    Indeed.

  8. KC,

    This is a wonderful piece of interwoven thoughts. I liked that you found some hidden meaning in Elder Bednar’s talk. It was one that rubbed me the wrong way at the time, but you’ve definitely salvaged it for me now!

    Peter,

    The prophet used to shop at Albertson’s alone, at least, according to my friend. He also used to stop by our neighborhood bakery once a month too…Of course, this was before he was the president of the church. Now, Church security has to accompany his wife when she goes to the dentist. Sad but necessary.

    I do love that line “what would the prophet do?” as if he is not as worldly-wise as we are.

    Stephen,

    The Secret is a laughable book. One of our neighbors unwisely presented us with it as some kind of weird missionary gesture for the secret religion or whomever stands behind it.

    Doug G,

    Someone who smokes and has a kind heart will be with Christ in the next life. A non-smoker who is unkind will not. Christ is speaking right to uptight 21st-century Mormons, including me, who look all too much like Pharisees sometimes,

  9. Just a thought before I get on a 8 hour plane ride.

    Our personal road to perfection may or may not include R-rated movies.

    Our destination of perfection probably does not include movies at all, including Legacy and Johnny Lingo. That tends to square with the idea that the Prophet does have a lot of time for movies.

    Great post, KC. I loved it!

  10. Stephen (#1) “We must learn to be morally absolute and unconditionally loving at the same time.”

    Loved that line of your comment. I think that’s our goal exactly.

    And it seems to me that if a good Mormon is truly offended by something someone else does or says, perhaps they ought to take the loving approach of kindly and gently offering some counsel face-to-face, rather than just criticizing the offender behind his or her back.

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    Author

    It appears that the title to Elder Bednar’s talk actually comes from Psalms 199:165:

    Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them.

    I find it of particular interest that this capacity for avoiding offense is here associated with the acceptance of God’s laws.

  12. John Nilsson said;

    “Someone who smokes and has a kind heart will be with Christ in the next life. A non-smoker who is unkind will not. Christ is speaking right to uptight 21st-century Mormons, including me, who look all too much like Pharisees sometimes,”

    I couldn’t have said it better myself…For what it’s worth, I’m guilty as well and just hope that somehow in the future I can find a way of being less judgmental of the outward appearances. Maybe the WoW really is just that, a word of wisdom…

  13. Thank you for this wonderful post! I love it.

    I believe if we are constantly living in the great joy
    and happiness that our Father intended for us, there would just not be a moment of time or space in which to be ‘offended’ by anything. Living in the continual, eternal Presence of God, simply leaves no room for anything other than Purity and Praise!

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