Most of us will have a discussion on chastity in Priesthood/Relief Society meetings this weekend – 20 or 30 minutes of discussion, and we’ll call it good (bad, indifferent). In 1921, the adult Sunday School classes, focusing on the Ten Commandments all year, would spend three full months (with breaks for Fast Sunday, Easter, and Mother’s Day), discussing for an hour or more each time, the seventh commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery.” Beyond a brief introductory statement, there is little guidance as to doctrine or data — the lessons are based entirely on questions soliciting group discussion.
The lessons aren’t that good – the ideas are buried behind language that is both dense and curiously ornate — and I’ll be surprised if anyone reads them all, but I’ve entered them all below so that you can skim through and get a general idea of the topics covered. Some highlights:
The author laments that the old “adultery is next to murder” rhetoric is dying out. (ha!)
Classes were expected to be frank enough that there is a recommendation that men and women hold separate classes for at least part of the time.
Lots of discussion of passion and sex-drive here — is there anything comparable in church today??
Although there are frequent uses of words like “eternal” and “God-given” and “prophets” and “commandments,” the lessons have a distinctly Progressive Era social-work flavor to them, with (to me) very little resemblance to the spiritual/worthiness/purity flavor that makes up modern lessons.
Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery.
General Topic for February/March: Aim and Intent of the Seventh Commandment.
General Topic for April; Normal and Abnormal Sex Impulse or Desire.
General Topic for May: Causes of Sex Delinquencies.
Sunday, February 20, 1921
Lesson Topic. Meaning and Scope of.
Any doubt as to the meaning and scope of the Seventh Commandment is removed by the reference to the same, in the “Sermon on the Mount.”
“Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt not commit adultery, but I say unto you, whosoever looketh upon a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” Matt. 5:27, 28.
“But these things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart come forth evil thoughts … these are the things which defile a man.” Matt. 15:18, 19.
The passion of “lust” enkindled by thoughts lewd and unchaste – by imagery licentious and debauching – is defilement aimed at by the Sinai “Law of cleanliness.”
There may be no overt act – no outward observable signs – yet the soul is being debauched by a consciousness teeming with the poison and filth of degrading desire.
It is in this that we observe the extreme fineness of the mesh of the Divine law as set over against human law.
The “seventh command” strikes at defilement in its beginnings and at its seat. It weighs direct against the very source of corruption. “Be thou not defiled” means spirit or soul defilement. “Be thou not taken in adultery” means “keep thyself unspotted” – debase not neither pervert the deepest laid and most sacred instincts of this human life.
This, men and women, is the “purging edict” of these “Divine Commands.” this is the searchlight set on Sinai to sweep the lustful filth from the hearts of men through all the generations to come.
The crime of “adultery” has been so narrowed up – so smudged and smerged [sic — smirched?] – so belittled and bedimmed, that today its poisonous trace and mark seems everywhere. And in this same everywhere it steals about unlabeled and unfeared.
By man’s law this snake of lewdness is barely “scotched” when seen; and all the while it’s being housed and nursed and allowed to play almost at will in the imaging chambers of the souls of men.
1. What reasons can you give for the order in which this commandment occurs? Or what relation does it bear to the preceding and the succeeding commandment?
2. What was the occasion for the Savior’s pointing out the scope and meaning of this injunction? Or what interpretation had been given this prohibition at the time of Christ?
3. Point out the principal differences between adultery “at law” and adultery as aimed at in the Divine Code.
4. What do you understand sexual morality to include?
5. What evidence have you that the seventh commandment was intended to cover the entire field of sexual morality? Or point out what sexual offenses, if any, are not met by this edict?
6. Does the keeping of this commandment mean the suppression of sexual impulse, or does it refer to its control and direction aright?
7. What would explain the fact that mental lewdness or unchastity of thought is among the most common of moral ills?
8. Why is this condition so impossible of limitation by restraints such as are set up in criminal codes?
Sunday, February 27
Lesson Topic. Violations
I. Without overt act.
While it is that unchastity of mind only that expresses itself in an overt act that gives offense at law (human law), with the Great Law Giver the mind state itself is a violation of the Seventh Command.
For he that “looketh upon a woman to lust,” etc., is already an adulterer. The conscious state – that imaged setting of unchastity in one’s own mind is an offense in that it ignores and disregards the injunction to refrain – from defilement. In other words, it is defilement. It is the unclean – the adulterous condition of mind inveighed against in this order of restraint.
It is just that state of being wherein emotion gives way to degrading passion, and where affection steps aside for lust.
The crime of it all lies in this slip of consciousness to the lower or baser levels of feeling and desire. In this descent there is plainly observable a sickening moral slump of a human soul.
Impulse – wholesome and creative – instinctive and God-given – reaching up in its climb to the heights of pure desire and hallowed companionship – slips downward into the mire of sensuous yearning in a mad reach toward the mirage of the “debauch.”
And so the law of God is broken and the soul of man defiled.
1. Confronted by the fact that sexual desire is a normal, natural creator-planted impulse and that it accompanies the highest functioning of our physical life, how would you explain its condemnation and its classification as something debasing or even criminal? Or, at what stage, or, under what conditions does it cease to be an impulse natural, and wholesome, and moral, or beyond what point, or apart from what course does it become a degrading passion? In this connection attention is called to question 6 previous lesson.
2. What about the contention that sensuous desire must be personal, that is, one must “lust after her” to invite rebuke? Or, is there such a thing as an impersonal lewdness of mind?
3. What is the distinction between sexual desire and affection for?
4. In the light of the Sinai Decree are the two lawfully separable? Or, in other words, is there a lawful place for sexual desire except in conjunction with true affection or love for?
5. Point out in what respects the perverted sexual desires of the human fall far below the mating instinct or impulse of many of the higher animals.
6. May there not be an accompanying mental infection incident to the prostitution of mind which is comparable with the loathsome infection incident to the corresponding prostitution of the body? Carefully selected and discreetly handled illustrations or concrete cases may well be used to make the application in each instance.
Note. – Tact and good sense are indispensable to these discussions, and if deemed advisable separate classes for men and women may be used for the discussion of certain phases of the Seventh Commandment.
Sunday, March 13, 1921
Lesson Topic II. Violations. 2. Physical Phase of.
Sex passion as registered in the physical self is a direct sequence of the mental state. The body is little more than a recording film. We trace in the flesh and blood the story of the inflamed mind. Passion’s disorder within is observed in physical disorder without. The creeping flame of sensuousness searches the body through and through, and the active energies of life’s functions rush blindly to the carousal.
And so the sexual debauch inward becomes a riot of physical functions outward.
Then it is that physical delicacy as well as spirit sanctity is fouled and even the gifts of man the animal are laid waste.
To sum up it can be said that in no phase of human life is the self-executing character of a retributive justice more unmistakable than in the physical markings which proclaim a breach of the Seventh Commandment.
1. Show the impossibility of the sex impulse or desire stopping at the boundary line between the mental and the physical self.
2. Is it not a sex impulse only as it functions through the courses of one’s physical life?
3. Is there a conscious process of our life more completely bound up and tied in with the physical self?
4. Will this explain the impossible secrecy of repeated violations of this command?
5. What delusion is there in the so-called concealments devised by man?
6. What can be said for the offender who essays safety in the caution against infection or disease?
7. What are the physical impairments apart from such?
8. What contribution is the delusion referred to in 5 making toward a disregard of this command?
9. What is the result as to the physical self apart from disclosure of any kind whatsoever to the public?
Sunday, March 20, 1921
Lesson Topic. 3. Sex-Impulse or Desire.
1. Its Deeply Imbedded Instinctive Character.
The degrading connections with which one is wont to associate sex-impulse makes a thoughtful study of this sublime attribute imperative.
Sometime, somewhere back toward the beginning, the yearn for existence or being was planted deep down in the soul of man. At the same time there arose from man’s cradle of fears, that ghost of ghosts – extinction. As nature abhors a vacuum so man hurls himself against that yawning space – non-existence.
Far aback in the unlighted past “omniscience”: decreed that in this life duration was to be had only through change. Facing this change man challenges lives from the beyond that his succession be not lost. Thus true to his ego – true to his God – true to that bent and trend of sex-impulse born – he multiplies life and laughs at the “Fates of Death.”
Sex impulse then is the recoil of life triumphant. Sex impulse is the leap from generation to generation. Sex impulse is the cry that harks back from life to life and echoes on from life to life over and across the eternities ahead.
If one could break the wax of social custom with which his ears are sealed he might hear the exalting cry of sex impulse coming up from the very depths of creation. He might sense its prophecy of the eternity of that life known as human life. He might feel in that glow of consciousness accompanying sex desire a flame kindled by the Almighty. In all and all he might be lifted up rather than dragged down.
1. Explain why and how social prudery signals us away from a frank and wholesome study of sex impulse.
2. Why is a discussion or exposition of this and related matters left to those sitting or operating in the social swamps of life?
3. To what extent is the claim for privacy to be allowed?
4. Is there some strange mystery which if revealed sweet modesty would take flight?
5. What is the relation between sex impulse and that first command to man, “Multiply and replenish,” etc.?
6. Mention some evidences of its deep seated character.
7. What marks sex impulse in man as distinguished from sex instinct in animals?
8. Why its degradation in man as against normalcy in animals?
Sunday, March 27, 1921
Lesson Topic. III. Sex Impulse or Desire.
2. Its Essential or Vital Character.
The reach out for self extension is one of the first acts denoting being or the existence of the living thing. It is the correlate of self preservation. Reproduction is the highest form of self extension. Sex impulse lies both at the beginning and at the bottom of reproduction.
It was considered too essential or too vital to the procreative plan to be left to the rational process. So we find it imbedded deep down in the lower levels of existence. Impulse and instinct or instinctive impulse sets in motion the urge of sex desire.
It is in this automaton of existence that the Creator planted the things that could not be left to chance. As into the body came the breath of life there came also the urge to the struggle to continue that life.
Sex impulse comes to us as the very spirit or mood of the creative act by which we came to be.
The first lurch of life forward is impelled by the urge to perpetuate self.
With the last leaf of the plant falls the seed into the earth mould below. Life begins and life ends in that self-same yearning for existence to go on.
Sex desire in the human is the sublime fruitage of maturity. It comes at the climax of physical being. it is the one place where the function of self rises to the highest level of self, and reproduces a self in its own likeness.
And so it is in the passion-heat of sex impulse, with being at the full, that the links of man’s endless chain are forged. not only is the sex impulse in its fruitage essential to being and to continuity of life, but it is essential tow ell being.
He who would raise his body to its full creative strength must find that body charged with procreative power. In other words sex impulse is essential to life on life’s dynamic side.
For the very surge and grip of being is pushed or tightened by its glow.
In the physical self it adds manhood to man and it adds womanhood to woman. for in this life of ours the load and drag of sterility is hard to bear.
1. What is the relation between reproduction and self preservation?
2. Explain how and why the wisdom in fixing sex impulse within the measures of instinct. Or what the danger in leaving it to the intelligence of the human being?
3. Why the coincidence in time between normal action of sex impulse on the one hand and the reach toward maturity on the other? Or why is it set when life is at the full physically rather than mentally?
4. What are the general physical effects incident to sterility or impotency? Note. Let the reply be based on facts discreetly put. Avoid wild speculative discussions.
5. What would you list s making up manhood? What womanhood? Physical? mental?
Sunday, April 10, 1921
Lesson Topic. III. Abuses of Sexual Impulse or Desire.
1. Close proximity of the normal. and abnormal.
The power to build implies the power to destroy.
That same possession which holds the God-given secret of life, holds also by that same charm the tokens of death.
The same magic that kindles the flame of creative human life may also light up and inflame the way to life’s debauch.
Right here lies the paradox as between man and beast. In the animal-beast instinct lights procreative fires and they burn to their fulfillment. While in the animal-man instinct may light the fires, but erstwhile a diseased and morbid mind may feed the flames. And so that God-set sacred fire of sex impulse, given to rise and fall in creative cadence, may be fanned and winnowed by passion into such a fury as to take the very temper from the steel of soul. And what it does to the body let the close observer of physical human wrecks describe.
1. Show by illustration how the power to build implies the power to destroy. how the power to invoke life implies the power to stay life. How the power to do is in general commensurate with the power to undo, etc. Confine this discussion to physical life.
2. How is it the sources of life and the causes of death lie so near each to the other? Or, how tampering with these sources amounts to cavorting with death. Or, how the sacred caution as to life si itself lined with the fear of death? Discuss at length the close and immediate relationship between physical life and physical death.
3. Discuss and show, by illustration, the evidences of a normal functioning of the sex instinct in the animal or beast.
4. Explain why in the case of the human being we find a persistent tendency toward excesses. or, how is it the human being may cease to be a normal animal or an animal without a normal sex instinct or sex desire? Or, what are the factors in man, which in the matter of sex impulse or desire, tend to sink him far below the level of the beast? or, why does the urge of the procreative passion drive on and on into a wild riot or debauch of human emotions?
5. What in general is the significance of that great tragedy depicted by Christ in the burning words, “whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart”?
Sunday, April 17, 1921
Lesson Topic. III. Abuses of Sex Impulse or Desire.
2. What is the test of normalcy?
At what point does normal sex desire end? At what point does “lust” begin? Upon the answer to these “hang all the law and the prophets” as touching the command “Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery.”
As observed, sexual impulse, as such, is a normal, natural, God-given expression of life. Moreover it is an essential, inseparable part of life. In its function it represents the climax of physical being.
Of all this the laws of instinct and of impulse abundantly testify and eternally proclaim. And upon it all God’s first driven by its own self seeking and self serving, is headed toward a prostitution of the highest function of life.
In other words “love” – that love which would express its fealty in the eternal pact of marriage – that love which fixes itself – that love that clings and holds – that love that worships the purity of the subject of its affection – that love that glories not in self but in the other – that is the love that gives sanction, and sacredness, and divinity to sex desire. Possessed of such mood and motive there could be no such thing as “lust.”
1. To what extent can our lack of control of sex desire be charged to heredity?
2. Where not suppressed by training or environment have you observed an absence of the mating instinct? In other words, can such instinct be regarded as a fixed instinct and variable only in degree?
3. Explain in what way and to what extent the marriage pact is an expression of the mating instinct.
4. Show to what extent sex desire as an incident, or a fulfillment, or as a functioning of the mating instinct precludes the elements or factors that go to make up “lust.”
5. Is the fact of isolation from or in conjunction with the emotions arising from the mating instinct an infallible test as to the character of sex desire?
6. Is it not a matter of common knowledge that in the average human the sex impulse or desire asserts itself rather indiscriminately and promiscuously and apart from the emotions attending that which moves within or toward a marriage relationship? And, this being true, can it be said that such a seeming automatic or irresistible impulse and one so common to human kind, is both lustful and degrading?
7. Is the fact that a tendency is general, of itself an evidence that it is not attended with danger?
8. Is not the obvious and every day result of this sexual desire promiscuously directed a complete justification of the Savior’s interpretation of the Seventh Command?
9. If sexual desire unattended by higher or more controlling emotions were to be taken as a matter of course for which our instinct as given us is chargeable, what, if you can describe it, would the end be?
Sunday, May 8, 1921
General Topic 1. Causes or Sources of Sex Delinquency.
Sub Topic 1. Ignorance.
a. Absence of Knowledge of.
b. Presence of Fiction about.
Sub Topic 2. Decline of the Public Moral Sense.
Sub Topic 3. What are our Defenses?
Sub Topic 1. Ignorance.
The saying, “There is no Sin but Ignorance” has a strikign fulfillment in the realm of the uncontrolled sex desire.
The boy or the girl – the man or the woman who faces the inciting revel of sex desire, unconscious of its value, its meaning, its delicacy, its sacredness, will soon join in its riotous excess.
While sex functioning is deep laid in the processes of life, sex incitement is set near the surface. in the animal it may end as it seemingly begins – in the physical; but in man it may end not at all – save in exhaustion. Intelligence is the governor – the balance – the control. True, sex sensations may have their source in the mind’s imagery – but the imagery itself is controlled by the mind.
One of the first inscriptions to be written on the mind tablet of the boy and the girl is that his body or her body is the holy of holies – the housing, the abode, the temple, the sacred instrument of an eternal soul; that it is of all things earthly God’s greatest gift – a gift struck off in form – in fashion – in function as eternal as it is divine; that to tarnish the flesh is to stain the spirit and that to corrupt the spirit is to defile the flesh.
Is not the parental offense of the age disclosed in the fact that the boy of 14 and the girl of 14 pass on unheeded and unadvised? Not unheeded, perhaps, nor unadvised by the moral leper, or the social parasite, or the gossiping dispenser of their corrupting wares; but unheeded and unadvised by the lives that gave them life.
1. What should the boy of 14 be told?
2. What should the girl of 14 be told?
3. By whom or through whom should this information come?
4. May the time of frank discussion or disclosure be postponed?
5. What about the excuse, “Oh, well, they already know.” Is it safe to assume that they know?
6. What is the significance of the expression “worldly wise”? Contrast such “wisdom,” so-called, with the elementary truths as to life.
7. How many parents have the vision and the fitness of mind to reveal sex mysteries aright?
8. What about the idea that the less noticed and the more mystery the better?
9. What can you fight misinformation with other than with information?
10. Why is it we hear remarks on every hand that a study, or a discussion of sex impulse, or sex desire, or reproduction, is a discussion of the “bad”? Has the “Divine Mind” erred in making it a part – an inseparable – an indispensable part of our life and of our being?
11. From whence comes the smutty – the vulgar – the obscene and the filth of it all?
12. What is the censorship of our blind prudery accomplishing?
13. If our religious philosophy does not afford relief whose ideals will?
14. If the whole is left to the accident and the chance of the boy and the girl getting wisdom from the rancid stream of current gossip, who is responsible?
Sunday, May 22, 1921
Sub Topic: Decline of the Public Moral Sense.
There is no parent of the elder groups who has not observed a gradual lessening of public condemnation of sexual wrongs. The “Adultery is next to murder itself” anathema is fast fading to a dimness that threatens extinction. The cruel horror of it all has passed. The recoil of the social sense at such offenses is less and less observable. Marital infidelity is merely a part of the routine as the divorce court grinds merrily on. It is only the prominence of the parties; it is only the fat harvest for the news-monger and the inciting big fee for the lawyer that brings the unusual spread of printer’s ink. It is not the gravity of the offense but the racy privileges of exploit that invite our attention.
The cynic has said, it is not from the offense but from the publicity that the sinner recoils. But even now publicity is not so bad as in a recent case it has given the surviving actor a much larger earning power. It almost seems that crime is being cast in the mould of “heroics” and given its niche in the spotlight of the filming world.
1. Explain how “frequency” tends to lessen the shock to our moral sense.
2. Is it the news of the world now as against the news of the village then that adds to the frequency of crime and not the per cent of crime itself?
3. Does the newspaper, the movie, and other means of exploiting the doings of men fix our moral gauge or does our own moral standard fix the standard for the news sheet and the movie? Or, are we getting only what we are asking for?
4. Explain how the once stage indecencies are now considered decencies. Make application of the cause to all similar effects as observed in the dress, or rather undress – the dance – the cabaret, etc., etc.
5. How much of it all is traceable to the home?
Sunday, May 29, 1921
Lesson Topic. What are our defenses? Or, What are our means of relief?
If sex morality is on the wane, if the Seventh Command is being more and more ignored, the real problem is just what can we do to stay the tide?
The emphasis in these brief outlines and discussions has been placed on our failure to know ourselves. Our lack of consciousness of the real meaning and significance of sex factors and sex functions. Our disposition to drop into the world drift which looks upon sex desire and sex function as a something to be screened off and set apart for passions revelry or as a sort of private reserve for pleasurable delinquencies.
In other words, our cry is “back to fundamentals” – back to the underlying principles of life – back to a place where life in all its functions appears as good, as wholesome, as pure, as sacred, as divine.
Our aim is toward the positive, not the negative as some of our critics have inferred; and that positive is a true conception of self and a true recognition of what God intends us to be and to become. that given, or that had, our contention is that we are already “over the top;” that without it safe pilotage is impossible and that with it our way is certain; our course fixed; our safety assured.
This, then, is the problem: “how can we get the message over?” How can we drive home the slogan, “Man know thyself?” How can we give body and soul the regard and the charm of a thing sacred, a thing eternal. For it is this vision and this alone that can resist the tide along the so-called “social way.”
1. When should we sit down with ourselves and with the lives next to us and review the a, b, c of existence – the simple story of life?
2. When should we sit down thrilled with consciousness of the Fatherhood of God and the sonship of man and write our vision and our inspiration in the imagery of the lives about us?
3. When should we in the communion of the home bare and bow our heads – overwhelmed by a gratitude for the gift of life, for the temple of flesh and blood raised over that soul by the hand of God?
4. It is said by specialists that all such visions of the child of seven are sexless. Is this not the more reason why the vision should then be had?
5. What is the gain of having sex passion come as an incident to life’s true ideals rather than as a mysterious urge toward the false ideal of self gratification?
6. Can it be said that the boy or girl seven to twelve is incapable of true idealism or a conception of the simpler philosophy of life?