Do not suppose, because it has been spoken concerning restoration, that ye shall be restored from sin to happiness. Behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness.
~Alma 41:10 ~
I happened to see a sponsored Facebook Ad on my news feed for a blog. The title caught my attention – Wickedness Always was Happiness. The anonymous author appears to lead their readers to conclude that this is one of the most destructive teachings in Mormonism. The writer appears to refer to such teaching as meted out psychological violence by LDS Bishops conducting worthiness interviews. The attempt appears to reinterpret Alma’s sermon where the subject discusses how bad behavior leads to a life filled with sadness, disappointment, and unhappiness. There is no fulfillment in living a destructive life because it takes away our own sense of worth, meaning, and purpose. So much so that it may lead to someone feeling lost, abandoned, and empty.
Despite this understanding the writer at Ex-Mormon Blog: Unvarnished Truths about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints makes quite an incendiary indictment:
The phrase “wickedness never was happiness” is a blunt object that pretentious Mormons use to insult those whom they see as living in sin. … It is used time and time again to counter the lifestyles of non-married and cohabitating [sic] couples, non-celibate gays and lesbians, prideful intellectuals, drug users, college-aged partiers [sic], “Jack Mormons,” people who get tattoos and piercings, coffee drinkers, and anyone else not strictly living a life of obedience to Mormon general authorities. Ex-Mormons who claim to be living happy lives without the church are not believed, because such a claim is anti-scriptural. It is impossible to be happy without the Spirit, the belief goes, thus making ,,, the idea of a “happy sinner” an oxymoron. Since the guidance of the Holy Ghost leaves a person that has departed from the narrow path that leads to God, anyone that believes … to be happy while not also being obedient to God’s commandments is deceived.
First, this appears to negate the reality of how bad behavior leads toward a life filled with sadness, disappointment, and unhappiness. Such a life leaves an individual lacking any fulfillment because of a destructive life.  Additionally, a destructive and/or unhappy life takes away our sense of worth, meaning, and purpose. Finally, bad behavior tends to lead toward a life filled with sadness, disappointment, and unhappiness. In some instances, individuals report feeling a sense of loss, feeling abandoned, and even feeling empty.
Thus, while the writer appears to claim the idea that wickedness never was happiness as one of the most destructive teachings within the Latter-day Saint Faith, we are able to see the truth regarding bad behavior. How scripture is consistent with our modern understanding of how such behavior leads to a life of sadness, disappointment, and unhappiness.
Attacking a Foundational Truth Regarding Sexual Integrity
One thought may sum up the theme and message of the writer’s perspective. That is one is capable of attaining a sense of happiness without obedience to the laws and commandments of our loving Heavenly Father. Much of this comes from a possible spirit of resentment, anger, and even rebellion toward the teachings of the LDS Christian Faith. Set aside the pedestrian shotgun approach to disseminate LDS teachings. The writer appears to flaunt their own arrogant worldview as a modicum of truth. Peddling such falsehoods and opinions as a means to express one’s own disenchantment with their own emotional struggles.
Scripture clearly teaches us how obedience is not something recommended. It does not say that we walk in obedience to God’s commandments as suggestions. The authority of truth speaks explicitly to the reality of how necessary and important our obedience to God is. The last statement of the writer’s post sums it all up:
I believe that the key to overcoming this damaging mindset, besides realizing that Mormon teachings are just fairy tales, is to realize that happiness is won by living an authentic life. If you have to use a measuring stick to convince yourself how happy you are, you will live a life of disappointment. If you need to demonstrate to others that you are living a happy life, you will never live a happy life. For me, the life choices that Mormons consider to be wickedness are the sources of my happiness. My joy comes from not giving a shit.
This statement appears to sum up the individual’s angst against the Laws of Chastity and sexual perversion. Within the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the idea of chastity focuses on the following truths:
Chastity is sexual purity. Those who are chaste are morally clean in their thoughts, words, and actions. Chastity means not having any sexual relations before marriage. It also means complete fidelity to husband or wife during marriage.
As to the claim that sexual sin is a most grievous sin:
In the world today, Satan has led many people to believe that sexual intimacy outside of marriage is acceptable. But in God’s sight, it is a serious sin. It is an abuse of the power He has given us to create life. The prophet Alma taught that sexual sins are more serious than any other sins except murder and denying the Holy Ghost (see Alma 39:3–5).
Within the Protestant and Evangelical Christian movement, there is the idea centering on Sexual Integrity. One such movement is called Every Man’s Battle by the ministry New Life. This ministry focuses on helping men and women who have succumbed to the powerful influence of Pornography. In fact, numerous studies have shown the harmful impact pornography has on adults and children. Not only that, pornography has become synonymous with sexual exploitation and human trafficking. This also includes, what has become known as, revenge porn.
Another aspect concerns the overwhelming increase concerning the sexualization of young women in our culture and society today. The American Psychological Society (APA) published a report concerning this social issue. In the reports Executive Summary we read:
This report examines and summarizes psychological theory, research and clinical experience addressing the sexualization of girls.The report (a) defines sexualization; (b) examines the prevalence and provides examples of sexualization in society and in cultural institutions, as well as interpersonally and intrapsychically; (c) evaluates the evidence suggesting that sexualization has negative consequences for girls and for the rest of society; and (d) describes positive alternatives that may help counteract the the influence of sexualization.
This social issue is not a modern one either. In a 1963 Speaking Out article that appeared in the Saturday Evening Post. Cleo Shupp wrote about Little Girls Are Too Sexy Too Soon. This appears to be a battle that has carried into our modern day culture and society. In Too Sexy Too Soon: A Mother’s Battle Against the Sexualization of Girls article we read:
I want my daughter to be valued for her mind, for what’s on the inside, and for being a good person. I want her to understand that you don’t need to get your value from your looks alone. This can often feel like an uphill battle for all parents when the media is so saturated with these harmful images.
What is the negative impact that this sexualization of our young women has? According to an article posted at Very Well Mind we find the following mental health related issues young women may develop:
- Low self-esteem
- Eating Disorders
- Suicidal Thoughts
- Sexualized Violence
Concerning the impact of over sexualization of our teens Johnny Shannon writes this observation:
Now as we mentioned, teenage girls aren’t the only ones affected by this hypersexualization. Boys are taught from an early age that their role is as the stoic protector and the promiscuous stud. They are encouraged to shove down emotions, “take things like a man,” and get laid as often as possible.
This culture of toxic masculinity can lead to suppressed rage causing men to lash out violently against women. Boys may feel pressured to start experimenting sexually before they’re ready. And men, too, experience body image issues when they compare themselves to superheroes who have the proportions of a Dorito and the muscles of an early Captain America.
As we see, the nature of sexual integrity and teaching of the law of chastity – especially among young people – is quite paramount to the foundation of Christian faith. It is not so much a teaching of oppressing someone. It is not a damaging mindset as the writer of ex-mormon blog insinuates. Neither is this based on fairy tales related to realizing a sense of authentic happiness. Sexual integrity and the teachings of the law of chastity has significant foundation in developing a resilient and healthy lifestyle. One that avoids giving into sexual temptation.
And yet, despite our best efforts, many do falter and come under the burden of sexual transgression. This is the sweet blessings and grace of our Heavenly Father afforded through the infinite atonement of Jesus Christ.
Speaking Truth in Love – What Scripture Really Says
The writer appears to focus on Alma 39 and 41. A sermon Alma gives to his son Corianton. A sermon that the writer presents as a means by which Alma condemns his son and gives an exposition of God’s eternal justice and mercy in punishing sinners. While there is some semblance of truth in what the writer says. Alma 39 delves much deeper into the nature and impact Corianton’s behavior has had.
- Alma does not condemn Corianton for a grevious sexual sin – he calls his son unto repentance (see Alma 39:9
- Alma requests that his younger son seeks the counsel of his older brothers due to his youthfulness
- Alma instructs Corianton to no longer yield himself to such temptations by being led away by vain or foolish things.
- Alma provides insight that because of Corianton’s behavior the message of the Gospel being preached was no longer received because of the behavior his son engaged in
- Alma shares that such behaviors tend to lead away the hearts of many people to destruction because of one’s iniquities.
Alma’s sermon and admonishment to his son Corianton is similar to what the Apostle Paul wrote about in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13. There are two things the Apostle Paul addressed within 1 Corinthians 5:1-13. The first is the report of sexual immorality being done by an individual within the fellowship of the Corinthian Church. Second, is the condoning of such sexual immorality by the fellowship. The problem rested on how the Corinthian Christians may have taken pride in their own sexual immorality and sins.
The appalling sexual sin that Paul was addressing, and even wrote that the pagans found morally appalling (1 Corinthians 5:1), was that of a continual and incestuous relationship between a man and his father’s wife. This may be the individual’s step mother and not his biological mother. Because of this appalling and morally depraved tolerance to an individuals immoral behavior the Apostle Paul wrote how a stern disciplinary action needed to be taken by those within the community:
… you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
He then writes how the members of the Corinthian church are to not associate themselves with someone who claims to be in fellowship with them and yet continue to engage in sexual immorality:
But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
Paul associates the judgment of God upon those outside of the Christian fellowship that engage in such behaviors. Such judgment – Christians are to refrain from engaging in. However, within our community and fellowship, we are to stand in judgment and to call one another unto repentance. This is what we are seeing in Alma 39 where a father is calling his own son unto repentance for sexual immorality. Otherwise, as Paul stated, if one is unwilling to repent, they need to be purged from among the fellowship of believers.
In the King James Version, 1 Corinthians 5:13 says to put away. Today, and within the LDS Church disciplinary council – a member may be excommunicated for such a grievous sin. This is what Paul was referring to when he said for the Corinthian Christians to purge or put away the wicked man.
Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr. makes this observation in his article A Situation of Immorality:
5:4. The procedures for church discipline for this public sin are straightforward. First, the right setting must be attained. Christian discipline is not to be performed in any manner the church desires. It is a solemn occasion when the church is officially assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus (compare Matt. 18:18-20). The apostle assured them that he also would be present in spirit (see 5:3), and that the Holy Spirit’s displays of power would be evident as well (see 2:4-5; 4:19-20). Church discipline is too serious a matter to administer in an ordinary setting.
5:5. Second, the church must temporarily give the offender over to Satan. To do this is to exclude the wayward brother from the Christian community and to treat him “as a gentile or a tax collector” as Jesus instructed (Matt. 18:17), to deliver him into Satan’s sphere of influence (John 12:31; 16:11; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2). Paul used similar terminology to describe other church discipline cases as well (1 Tim. 1:20). The purpose (so that) of this action is the destruction of the sinful nature (sarx). The NRSV and NASB translate sarx more literally as “flesh.” These translations are to be preferred because Paul contrasted the “flesh” with the man’s spirit later in this verse. In Scripture Satan occasionally receives permission from God to test and trouble believers by weakening their physical conditions (Job 2:4-6; 2 Cor. 12:7), so it is possible that Paul referred to this type of destruction here.
In cases of church discipline, the goal of the process is that the person’s spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord. Here Paul used an Old Testament term describing the day on which God destroys all of his enemies and blesses his people (Isa. 2:11-12,17; 13:6,9; Ezek. 13:5; 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:1,11,31; 3:14; Amos 5:18,20; Obad. 1:15; Zeph 1:7,14; Mal. 4:5). The New Testament often uses this term for the second coming of Christ (1 Cor. 1:8; 2 Cor. 1:14; 1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Thess. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:10). Although a true believer under discipline may endure hardship, the goal of that hardship is repentance that leads to salvation on the day of final judgment. Discipline should ultimately be a redemptive act.
It is sadly a harsh truth in our society today when it comes to dealing with sexual immorality. Teaching any messages with scriptural authority against sexual immorality and transgression is considered oppressive and damaging. An even sadder truth and reality is the greatest victory the adversary has attained by deceiving many into thinking that sexual transgressions are inconsequential to spiritual growth and spiritual maturity. Terry B. Ball made such an observation in his article Alma 39: A Model for Teaching Morality that was published in the Religious Educator – 2001:
Some of the adversary’s greatest victories in this dispensation have come as a result of his deceiving so many into believing that violating the law of chastity is an inconsequential offense—if an offense at all. What a victory for Lucifer to have convinced so many that one of the most serious sins they are capable of committing is not really a sin at all! Satan may well relegate more souls to kingdoms that are less than celestial by trivializing the misuse of the power to create life than by any other temptation in his arsenal.
This is evident in our society today. Not only individuals engaged in sexual immorality. The flagrant permissiveness of justifying sexual immorality through normalization of certain sexual behaviors and tendencies. Yet we see such as continuing to be harmful toward the individual, family, and a community at large.
This is summed up succinctly by the BMC Team at Book of Mormon Central – Why Was Corianton’s Sin so Serious?
To be clear, sexual immorality is an enormously harmful sin that can result in excruciating spiritual and temporal consequences. Both ancient and modern prophets have unequivocally condemned sexual immorality and related vices, and the Book of Mormon repeatedly warns all readers against adultery, fornication, whoredoms, lasciviousness, and sexual sins of all kinds (Jacob 3:12; Alma 16:18; Alma 45:12; 4 Nephi 1:16). These and any other types of wickedness become all the more serious when combined with any other dereliction of spiritual or religious duty.
While the writer at Ex-Mormon Blog may disagree with such assessment, the reality is absolute truth on the nature and seriousness of sexual immorality. Yet we need to understand what is at the root of sexual immorality in order to understand how grievous it is. And the root of all sin is Pride. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 1:21-26 the following truth:
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions.
Speaking on this truth is an article over at Desiring God by Jon Bloom. He makes this observation as to the Real Root of Sexual Sin.
Pride is a black hole of consuming selfishness at the core of fallen human nature. Pride’s nature is to consume, to bring into the self. It sees other people, all of creation, and God himself as things to use in service to the self’s desires.
We all know this by experience. We know the more we feed any expression of pride, whether through sex or anger or covetousness or whatever, pride’s appetite grows and urges us to consume more and more.
So just as gluttony or anorexia is pride infecting and manipulating the self’s orientation toward food, or greed is pride infecting and manipulating the self’s orientation toward money, sexual immorality and perversions are pride infecting and manipulating the self’s orientation toward sex. Sexual sin is unhinged human pride rejecting the Creator in order to sexually consume others for the benefit of the self.
The reality is that because of this selfishness and pride – sexual immorality and transgression is just as addictive as alcohol and/or drugs. Individuals suffering from sexual addiction (or sexual dependency) have the following behaviors and characteristic traits:
- Engaging in sexual promiscuity (multiple sex partners)
- Craving sex to the point that it interferes with other responsibilities
- Unsuccessful attempts to cut down on sexual activity
- Spending time in activities related to or that could lead to sex
- Neglecting other obligations in the pursuit of sex
- Continuing to engage in sexual behavior despite detriments to relationships
- Needing to escalate sexual activity to achieve the same, desired results
- Feeling withdrawals, or negative feelings when unable to engage in sexual behavior
This is what scripture reveals to us. The powerful and compulsive engagement in sexual immoral behavior leads toward a life that is unfulfilled. Devastating and impacting with negative consequences. Harmful toward self and others if not interceded and dealt with.
Alma warned his son, Corianton, of the harmful impact his transgression had. The call to repentance and forsaking such transgressions. Dealing with the temptations and looking to his older brothers for counsel and guidance.
Hope, Healing, and Restoration Through Christ’s Atonement
Contrary to the writer at Ex-Mormon Blog: Wickedness never was happiness is not a blunt object that pretentious Mormons use to insult those whom they see as living in sin. Nor is it a belief system that is considered a damaging mindset one ought to overcome. The reality is that there is hope, healing and restoration through Christ’s infinite atonement. This is what the writer appears to miss out on.
The key to overcoming the damaging mindset of justifying sexual immorality and transgression is through a spirit of humility and contrition. Because such is a grievous sin that is rooted in selfish pride – an individual ought to come to a place of brokenness. A place where they are humbled and ready to seek healing and forgiveness.
Nothing speaks more powerfully to the nature of forgiveness from sexual transgression than that of the adulterous woman brought before the Savior. This is found in the Gospel of John 7:53-8:11. Most of us are familiar with this story. Christ is teaching. A woman is brought before him. The religious leaders ask Christ regarding the law and the appropriate discipline of such transgression. Christ bends down, writes something in the sand, and those standing (from oldest to youngest) drops their stones and walk away. Left alone, Christ asks the woman where are those who accused her. She responded that they are no longer present. Christ then says: “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:11).
Some believe that one of the reasons Christ wrote in the sand concerned those who had engaged in the act of adultery with the woman and therefore they were convicted of their own sexual transgressions. This is highlighted over at Got Questions concerning what we are to learn from the episode:
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the story of the woman caught in adultery is how skillfully it illustrates the harmony of justice and mercy in Christ’s salvation. God pronounces judgment on sin but provides a way to escape condemnation (Romans 3:23; 8:1). Jesus does not encourage the sin, but He loves the sinner. The Lord silences the critics of this world while healing hearts that are burdened with guilt and shame. God never treats sin casually but calls sinners to turn away from their old, corrupt way of life (Ephesians 4:17–24).
This is what we take away from Alma’s sermon and admonishment toward his son, Corianton. It is the same principle truth one takes away from the Apostle Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 5. The balance between God’s mercy and judgment. On the one hand – God judges us all equally because of our sinful natures. However, he offers each one of us, respectively, the opportunity to seek out forgiveness and repentance. He calls us to not only repent of our transgressions and disobedience. He calls us to turn from our sins and no longer walk according to the temptations and desires of our hearts. Our Heavenly Father calls us to go and sin no more.
Dealing with Shame, Guilt, and Church Discipline
The writer at Ex-Mormon Blog links to a previous post they wrote concerning guilt and shame when it comes to spiritual and church discipline. As discussed previously, ongoing sexual transgression and immorality may require a serious disciplinary action. Despite this, the writer appears to provide this opinion:
Excommunication is now called “Withdrawal of Membership” in the most recent version of the church’s General Handbook. This is a softening term (most likely settled upon by committee) because in practice, excommunication is like dying. You are cut off from full participation in the church. In a culture of appearances, that is akin to a death sentence. At the very least, your faith community views you with conspicuous suspicion. The excommunicant is not obliged to wear a scarlet letter on their clothing, but he is restricted from participation in the sacrament, can’t offer public prayers, can’t hold callings or lead activities, can’t exercise the priesthood, can’t wear the temple garment, and is banned from giving tithing or offerings (apparently, giving money to the church is a high privilege). Simply put, excommunication is a traumatizing exercise in public humiliation.
The writer continues with their opinion and observation:
The church gaslights its members by claiming that church discipline “reflect[s] the love and hope offered by the Savior to those who repent.” Allegedly, the formal repentance process provides a path for the sinner to engage in “godly sorrow” and thus bring themselves closer to God through the healing power of Christ’s atonement. Church leaders have always described church discipline as a demonstration of the balance of God’s justice and mercy, and a manifestation of infinite love of the Redeemer. Ex-Mormons pejoratively call these meetings “courts of love” as a coping mechanism for what is actually psychological violence. It is difficult to explain to outsiders, but to a believing Mormon, the shame of a disciplinary council is a harrowing experience. It certainly was for my dad, and by extension, for our entire family.
The inflammatory and accusatory condescending attitude is apparent. This is based on the terminology employed:
- Church discipline – to include excommunication – is akin to dying
- Results in being an outcast due to removing participation in fellowship with others
- Traumatizes an individual
- Engages in public humiliation of an individual
- Promotes spiritual gaslighting of an individual under the guise of love and call to repentance
- Church discipline is merely psychological violence
Such inflammatory and accusatory words appear to dissuade from the heart and soul of the Gospel Message of hope and healing. It also appears the writer may be burden with their own exacerbated sense of guilt and shame by projecting the burden toward faithful members of the Church and those in leadership.
Transgression leads to spiritual death
To fully comprehend the nature of sexual transgression we want to take a more appropriate and contextual look at sinful nature and spiritual death. By no means is this an exhaustive treatment on the subject matter. However, the attempt here is to highlight a more correct understanding and nature of how disobedience leads one toward spiritual death.
While we understand that physical death is one of separation. Spiritual death involves the separation of our soul from God. The Apostle mentions this numerous times in the various epistles. For instance, in Romans 6, the Apostle Paul is contrasting the sinful nature to that of the spiritual nature. He provides insight into the nature of God’s divine grace, death, and eternal life. In Romans 6:23, he writes that the wages of sin is death. The Greek used in this passage is misthos (μισθός, οῦ, ὁ) and means what we are paid, or rewarded with. It also means something we are appropriately compensated for because of a particular decision. In the context of Romans 6, Paul is referring to the compensation of our sin. What we are duly rewarded for when engaging in transgression and disobedience.
He further expounds upon this when he states:
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.
Not only is spiritual death something that one experiences in mortality. It is also an eternal principle where in we stand before God and are judged. If we are found to be rebellious, disobedient, and having transgressed the laws of God we shall experience spiritual death (or referred to as the second death). This latter is more permanent than what we experience in mortality (See, Death, Spiritual for a complete scriptural study).
Since spiritual death is something we experience in mortality and immortality we are wise to understand the seriousness and importance to call men and women unto repentance. Not to engage in public humiliation, gaslighting, or even commit psychological violence. It is to call attention to the seriousness of what an individual may experience in this life and in the life to come. It is a call to repent and come unto Christ for the remission of sins. It is a call to seek forgiveness, healing, and restoration of the mind, body, and soul.
Another father spoke directly toward two of his older son’s (See 2 Nephi 113-17):
O that ye would awake; awake from a deep sleep, yea, even from the sleep of hell, and shake off the awful chains by which ye are bound, which are the chains which bind the children of men, that they are carried away captive down to the eternal gulf of misery and woe. Awake! and arise from the dust, and hear the words of a trembling parent, whose limbs ye must soon lay down in the cold and silent grave, from whence no traveler can return; a few more days and I go the way of all the earth. But behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love. And I desire that ye should remember to observe the statutes and the judgments of the Lord; behold, this hath been the anxiety of my soul from the beginning. My heart hath been weighed down with sorrow from time to time, for I have feared, lest for the hardness of your hearts the Lord your God should come out in the fulness of his wrath upon you, that ye be cut off and destroyed forever;
Here we see the call to awake from a deep sleep and that being in reference to the sleep of hell. It is also a call to shake off the chains by which ye are bound because those chains bind us and bring us into a place of captivity. The reference here being spiritual bondage. This inevitably leads one to experience spiritual death. So much so that a person may experience a life filled with unhappiness. Such experience leaves one to experience shame and guilt.
Shame and guilt leads to contrition and repentance
The writer at Ex-Mormon blog appears to share their own personal experience with sexual transgression and immorality. They write:
Feelings of shame were mired with my guilt, and that crept into my romantic life. At times, I felt tempted to “come clean” with my romantic interests so that they would “know what they were getting into.” Prior to my mission, I pressured my freshman-year college girlfriend to join the church so that it would somehow absolve me of having had sex with her before marriage (which, incidentally, delayed for one year my ability to serve a two-year mission). She ended up reading the Book of Mormon, listening to the missionary discussions, and deciding to join the church. But I was demeaned when the missionaries asked me to perform her baptism. I had to awkwardly inform them that I was unworthy to do so.
Shame and guilt are powerful and intense emotions. And there are two forms of shame and guilt we want to avail ourselves in understanding. The first form concerns unhealthy shame and guilt. The second form deals with the healthy nature of shame and guilt in our human experience. This is important for us to comprehend because it defines how we establish our own perspectives when dealing with disobedience and transgression.
In an article posted to the Psychology Today website, Bernard Golden, Ph.D. writes about how one is able to Overcome the Paralysis of Toxic Shame when it comes to cultivating healthy anger. He writes:
I agree with Dr. Brené Brown, who describes healthy shame as being guilt (Brown, 2012). Guilt can be healthy in moving us toward positive thinking and behavior. It is specific in its focus. Shame, when toxic, is a paralyzing global assessment of oneself as a person. When severe, it can form the lens through which all self-evaluation is viewed. As such, some words used to express the emotion of shame include feeling insecure, worthless, stupid, foolish, silly, inadequate, or simply less than.
Everyone experiences shame at some time, but not everyone is ruled by toxic or overwhelming shame. Some researchers suggest that shame comes about from repeatedly being told,not that we did something bad, but that we are something bad. Consequently, it can close us off from accepting any form of positive regard
The nature of Guilt, in a healthy manner, suggests that we are aware of violating some principle or moral standard. An example of this is when a child steals a candy bar from the store. Guilt is the barometer by which we measure our ability to uphold certain standards of behavior. When those standards are violated, we feel guilty concerning the behavior. Shame, on the other hand is the internalization of the behavior. It is our conscience informing us of the behavior. An internal dialogue may be it was bad for you to steal that candy bar. Such is a healthy human experience.
Toxic shame moves from the behavior one engages in to where an individual defines themselves as being a bad person. Unlike healthy shame – toxic shame labels the individual (ourselves) as bad, unworthy, inadequate, stupid. These are couched in telegraphic terms of our own self talk descriptor of I am.
Another way to understand this is that Guilt is an emotional experience we have where we believe our behavior violated a moral standard or conduct. It affirms our own moral awareness of wrongdoing. Shame steps beyond guilt and involves a more deeper sense of self. Shame is the emotional experience of remorse for what we have done. It becomes harmful when we develop a false belief that we are seriously flawed and leads us to seek out a means to be perfect in all things. Toxic shame may very well become chronic and crippling for some.
This resource appears to help contrast healthy shame with that of unhealthy shame:
- You see wrong behavior separate from “who you are”. You may do something bad, but you don’t take that as evidence that you are essentially a bad person.
- You see normal lapses, errors, failures as part of being human. They may act as catalysts, prompting you to make changes toward a more positive direction in life, but they do not overwhelm you.
- You separate bad experiences from “who you are.” Something bad may happen to you or you may be treated abusively, but you don’t assume you deserve such treatment.
- You see avoidance of shame-producing behavior as a way to protect yourself from pain and destruction.
- You see “breaking the rules” a violation of your boundaries – as a problem that needs to be corrected to reduce the discomfort of the shame you experience
- You see your life as valuable, and shame as something built into your being to protect the sanctity of life.
- You trust that shame is a temporary feeling of discomfort, which will dissipate when you move way from “breaking the rules”
- You attempt to live within the boundaries of socially acceptable behavior and take steps to fit into society. You act in ways that protect your privacy, and you practice discretion in your relationships.
- You see wrong behavior or failings as a reflection of “who you are” – your true identity when you do something bad or make a mistake you see that as evidence you are flawed.
- You see normal lapses, errors and failings as the revelation of your true nature, which is flawed, rather than being as part of being human. You may feel overwhelmed when you experience such a lapse because you think it reveals that something is terribly wrong with you.
- You accept part of the blame when others violate you. You see yourself as someone who deserves to be punished or treated poorly.
- You see avoidance of shame-producing behavior or lifestyle as futile since you believe the behavior or lifestyle is the natural result of being the “kind of person” you consider yourself to be.
- Whenever you experience normal human failings, make an honest mistake, suffer a disappointment, violate your moral standards, or have your boundaries violated by others, it may trigger a downward spiral of depression or addictive behavior.
- You regard trying to change your life for the better as living a lie or being hypocritical. You believe that your steps in a positive direction are phony, and you negate them instead of viewing them as evidence that you are capable of changing.
- You may appear to others to be utterly shameless in some or all areas of your life. When you shut down the influence of healthy shame, you lose your strength of boundaries. You may eventually be worn down to the point that you give in to your overwhelming shame and act out in ways that show no sense of healthy shame and no awareness of legitimate moral guilt.
And while shame and guilt appear to coincide with one another. The difference lies in how each one impacts us. Citing a 2005 paper, Annette Kammerer published an article in the Behavior & Society section of Scientific American titled: The Scientific Underpinnings and Impacts of Shame. She writes:
Tangney and her co-authors explained it well in a 2005 paper: “A shame-prone individual who is reprimanded for being late to work after a night of heavy drinking might be likely to think, ‘I’m such a loser; I just can’t get it together,’ whereas a guilt-prone individual would more likely think, ‘I feel badly for showing up late. I inconvenienced my co-workers.’ Feelings of shame can be painful and debilitating, affecting one’s core sense of self, and may invoke a self-defeating cycle of negative affect…. In comparison, feelings of guilt, though painful, are less disabling than shame and are likely to motivate the individual in a positive direction toward reparation or change.”
When it comes to spiritual concerns – shame and guilt are meant to be positive motivating factors toward repentance and forgiveness. When it motivates an individual to engage in the process of repentance, the power of Christ’s infinite atonement effectually restores us back to a healthy relationship with our Heavenly Father, with ourselves, and with other individuals. This includes accepting accountability and responsibility for any church disciplinary action taken. Not to harm us in some way. To call us onto the path of repentance and restoration.
The real psychological violence and devastating harm is done when an individual operates from a spirit of contention and bitterness as a means to justify their ongoing transgression and disobedience. And this does not come from counseling with a pastor, Christian minister, or a Latter-day Saint Christian bishopric or disciplinary council. Psychological violence and devastating harm comes from the inherit lies of the adversary.
McKell A. Jorgensen’s article – Shame versus Guilt: Help for Discerning God’s Voice from Satan’s Lies -writes the following:
Hiding sins from God never elicits true repentance (see Alma 39:8). It can’t. Repentance is only possible through your Redeemer (see 2 Nephi 10:24; Mosiah 16:13; Alma 13:5). You must come unto Him to be made whole and receive complete forgiveness. When shame convinces you to hide your sins from God, repentance can’t occur. Satan wants this. If you don’t repent, if you don’t call on the power of Jesus Christ and the blessings of His Atonement, Satan wins (see Alma 12:35). Christ pleads for you to come unto Him and become better through His grace (see Matthew 11:28; John 7:37). Messing up, learning from your mistakes, and moving forward through repentance is an ongoing cycle on your journey to become like Him.
Joseph Solomon writes this observation in his post Guilt and Repentance:
There has to be some form of guilt in order to ignite true repentance within us. We have to experience some sort of shame in order to be humbled and come back to God.
Ethan Luhman further observes this in his concluding remarks of the article Repenting: Getting Past the Guilt, Blame, and Shame:
Feeling guilty? Want to blame others? Are you ashamed? Repent. Turn. Jesus doesn’t want us to get stuck being ruled by these ruthless masters. Jesus has invited us into a new Kingdom, where there is real hope and abundant life. Repent to get past the things keeping you from experiencing the fullness of God’s love for you. There is a place where nothing evil will rule over us anymore, whether it is a spiritual or physical oppressor. This is Jesus’ Kingdom; it has overtaken the world and continues to bring peace, healing, and freedom into all our lives.
Elder Richard G. Scott spoke on the pathway toward Finding Forgiveness where he states:
The Redeemer can settle your individual account with justice and grant forgiveness through the merciful path of repentance. Full repentance is absolutely essential for the Atonement to work its complete miracle in your life. By understanding the Atonement, you will see that God is not a jealous being who delights in persecuting those who misstep. He is an absolutely perfect, compassionate, understanding, patient, and forgiving Father. He is willing to entreat, counsel, strengthen, lift, and fortify. He so loves each of us that He was willing to have His perfect, sinless, absolutely obedient, totally righteous Son experience indescribable agony and pain and give Himself in sacrifice for all. Through that Atonement we can live in a world where absolute justice reigns in its sphere so the world will have order. But that justice is tempered through mercy attainable by obedience to the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Elder Scott outlines 6 significant components to the process of forgiveness (as presented in Spencer W. Kimball’s book The Miracle of Forgiveness). He further expounds on the nature of repentance and forgiveness of those grievous sins:
Adultery, fornication, committing homosexual acts, and other deviations approaching these in gravity are not acceptable alternate lifestyles. They are serious sins. Committing physical and sexual abuse are major sins. Such grave sins require deep repentance to be forgiven. President Kimball taught: “To every forgiveness there is a condition. The plaster must be as wide as the sore. The fasting, the prayers, the humility must be equal to or greater than the sin.”17 “It is unthinkable that God absolves serious sins upon a few requests. He is likely to wait until there has been long, sustained repentance.”
If you have seriously transgressed, you will not find any lasting satisfaction or comfort in what you have done. Excusing transgression with a cover-up may appear to fix the problem, but it does not. The tempter is intent on making public your most embarrassing acts at the most harmful time. Lies weave a pattern that is ever more confining and becomes a trap that Satan will spring to your detriment.
In my own personal understanding, sexual transgression and disobedience of the law of chastity requires a deep period of mourning and lamentation as part of this process of repentance. Here, I observe the nature of this process as follows:
It is natural for us to enter into a state of lamentations and mourning. Doing so allows us to come to terms with where we find ourselves. Destitute, broken, and perishing in our own suffering and misery. This is no ordinary expression of sadness. To lament and mourn our present state of being – we enter into a sacred and holy grieving process. It is a spiritual turning point that we come to face the Divine and Sovereignty of God. It is through our personal lamentations and mourning that we enter into a sacred and covenanted relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It is our cry of mercy and grace. A cry for forgiveness of the wrongs we’ve committed. The transgressions that weigh us down. Our lamentations and mourning is the loss of who we thought we were. It is the place of emptying ourselves out before God. This moment of lamentation and mourning occurs when we enter into our own personal garden of Gethsemane. It is our progression from despair to hope.
I further expound on this when it comes to our inability to keep such things hidden and secret:
The more we attempt to keep hidden our distress and troubles, the more tormented and increased anguish and misery we may experience. Eventually, we are compelled to openly share those hidden secrets of our distress and discomfort. We confess our lamenting and mourning. Our loss, and the sufferings we are experiencing. Like Christian, he openly disclosed his pain to his family. Whether our family, closest friends, co-workers, and others within our sphere of influence is ready to receive such news and revelations.
As we engage a period of mourning and lamentations we seek to be redeemed from our own transgressions. Our desire is to no longer suffer and instead to receive healing and restoration. Not just being restored from our fallen and carnal state. Not from our disobedience of the laws of God. To experience restoration of peace of mind and relationship with God and others. The process of repentance means we are moving from darkness and obscurity where we experience suffering to the light, grace, and love of our Heavenly Father.
Bruce D. Porter expresses his thoughts on what it means to have A Broken Heart and a Contrite Spirit in his message given at the General Conference of October 2007:
When we sin and desire forgiveness, a broken heart and a contrite spirit mean to experience “godly sorrow [that] worketh repentance” (2 Corinthians 7:10). This comes when our desire to be cleansed from sin is so consuming that our hearts ache with sorrow and we yearn to feel at peace with our Father in Heaven. Those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit are willing to do anything and everything that God asks of them, without resistance or resentment. We cease doing things our way and learn to do them God’s way instead. In such a condition of submissiveness, the Atonement can take effect and true repentance can occur. The penitent will then experience the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost, which will fill them with peace of conscience and the joy of reconciliation with God. In a wondrous union of divine attributes, the same God who teaches us to walk with a broken heart invites us to rejoice and to be of good cheer.
He further teaches us that as we receive forgiveness of our sins, including those most grievous in nature, our broken heart serves as a divine shield against temptation. This only occurs when we walk in the depths of humility. Porter adds a third truth to this. The other dimension of a broken heart provides us a means to have deep gratitude for Christ’s suffering on our behalf.
Thus, shame and guilt ought to motivate us toward seeking forgiveness of our transgressions and disobedience. And it is a sacrifice we offer to our Heavenly Father (3 Nephi 9:19-20). And the best place to see this powerful truth is in the parable of the Prodigal Son. This parable teaches each one of us the rich depth of our Heavenly Father’s love toward us. None of us are beyond the scope of God’s sovereign grace and forgiveness. How the Saviors healing power applies to us in repenting from sexual sin is beyond our very own finite comprehension.
Wickedness Always Leads to Unhappiness
While the contributing writer at Ex-Mormon Blog attempted to provide an unvarnished thought about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints concerning the topic of Wickedness Always Was Happiness – the truth stands. Wickedness never leads to an authentic life of abundance and happiness. Walking in disobedience to God’s counsel and laws are based on carnality of the human mindset. The ego and pride being contrary to humility and willingness. The article is based on mere obfuscation of the truth of sexual transgression and impurity.
The anonymous author appears to lead their readers to conclude that this is one of the most destructive teachings in Mormonism. The writer appears to refer to such teaching as meted out psychological violence by LDS Bishops conducting worthiness interviews. The attempt appears to reinterpret Alma’s sermon where the subject discusses how bad behavior leads to a life filled with sadness, disappointment, and unhappiness. There is no fulfillment in living a destructive life because it takes away our own sense of worth, meaning, and purpose. So much so that it may lead to someone feeling lost, abandoned, and empty.
Only truth prevails in that redemption, the power of forgiveness, and true repentance rests upon each one of us to become humble and rightly and appropriate confess our sins. To fully experience God’s grace in our lives, we come to the realization that many have done so in various recovery rooms and sober support groups. That we namely have become powerless because of our own transgressions and that our disobedience has caused our lives to become unmanageable. The acknowledgement and powerful truth that there is only one true solution to restore us back to a place of sanity and peace. And that this requires of us to give our lives and will over to our Heavenly Father in order to direct and guide us in wisdom and truth.
The real harm is justifying sinful behavior and stand in criticism against appropriate discipline and judgment. My own personal prayer is that we all take the necessary steps to seek out forgiveness in all things and in all way. No matter how grievous our sins may be – to appropriate seek out forgiveness. This is done by being humble, broken, and lamenting over what we have done. Confess to God, ourselves, and another the nature of our own wrongdoing. And the willingness to take appropriate and necessary action to walk in restoration and make necessary amends where needed.
My hope is that the writer at Ex-Mormon Blog reconsiders their perspective. Furthermore, each one of us consider our own perspective regarding how wickedness never leads to happiness. True happiness is found through the infinite atonement of Jesus Christ and our willingness to humbly submit to walk in obedience to God’s laws.
- A destructive life is one where an individual has experienced trauma and is engaged in self-harm, actively using alcohol/and or drugs, engaged in criminal behavior, or engaged in risky impulsive behaviors that may cause harm to oneself or another. Other forms of a destructive lifestyle may be through deceit, manipulation, emotional, physical, spiritual, or sexual abuse. Still, there are those who engage in behavior where their integrity and character is destroyed.
2 thoughts on “Wickedness Always Leads to Unhappiness”
This is quite a long article, and probably didn’t need to be so long to make the necessary point.
I would like to point out some important principles. We all have values, whether we want to or not. We all have core beliefs as well. Sometimes these beliefs and values line up with the Gospel and sometimes they don’t.
When we engage in sinful behavior, and we feel guilty or shame, this necessarily isn’t bad, as discussed in the article. The article talks about healthy shame and unhealthy shame, but doesn’t really discuss cognitive distortions. David Burns has talked a lot about this, in website, podcast and books (Such as “Feeling Good”) and it would have been nice to see that.
Also, a challenge comes when making a decision to no longer engage in that behavior. Some issues, such as pornography, have very little consequences when deciding to end. But, in a sexual relationship, where there might be finances, children and more involved, setting a boundary to end it can be quite difficult. How can anyone deal with this?
I’ve had the challenge of entering in relationships because of emotional needs. Not wanting a sexual relationship and it happened anyway. I had a disciplinary council recently and my Bishop got quite impatient and very judgmental after a few months when I was still in the relationship. Had it not been for a supportive therapist and friends, I could have easily become embittered towards the Bishop. Also, had this person been someone I was really in love with (I really wasn’t in love, but it was an emotional need) being told to end the relationship by my stake presidency would have been a greater challenge.
Fortunately, things worked to my favor. I didn’t want to be in the relationship in the first place and I had a helpful therapist who was able to walk me through the process and give me the needed tools.
My point is that many people in similar situations, without proper support, may become embittered and angry at the church and find a way to continue in spiritually damaging relationships. This article has some effort to try to understand where the anonymous author comes from, but not a lot. There is a reason why they made their decision. They were in a place of hurt and pain and they had to find a way to deal with that pain. It would have been relieving to read more empathy towards the disaffected member, rather than trying to prove them wrong.
The Ex-mormon article does have some valid points. And I think we as a Church, especially Bishops and Stake Presidents, could learn a lot to show more empathy in disciplinary councils. A lot of good has been done, but I feel we have a long way to go. As long as Stake Presidents and Bishops continue to judge others (this is there job, and I’m not against membership restrictions) and hand down discipline to try to “help” members, without really trying to understand “why” they sinned and really considering their feelings, really showing empathy and understanding, we will continue to have more and more people leave the church and write articles on Ex-mormon blogs.
Joe, thank you for commenting on this post. I really appreciate the time and thoughtful response you have provided. I do have to apologize as when I checked the comment section – some how your comment actually was placed in the trash. I normally receive an alert of a pending comment that needed to be approved and did not see any alert regarding your comment. Thus, when I checked and noticed there was one in the “trash” and looked. Not sure the reason it round up there – so again apologies.
I did go through and made some edits to allow a better reading of your comment as well and corrected a simple misspelling.
As for what you have said concerning the length of my response: I do my best to manage and respect what information and how much information may go into any type of posts that I am drafting and writing. I usually spend a week going through and formulating what may be a thoughtful response. Sometimes I may break them up in separate postings because of the complexity and depth of information needed to convey a more thoughtful response.
I am definitely open to feedback in how to be more concise in making certain points in my responses and always strive to improve how I communicate through these posts. Much appreciated.
Yes, when it comes to principles, we all have essential core beliefs based on our own perspectives and perceptions. These shape the manner in which we come to interpret and understand what we are experiencing. Some of those core beliefs are based on false and cognitive distortions most of us have adopted. Albert Ellis mentioned three main “musts” when it comes to irrational beliefs: “I must”, “They must,” and “Life Must”. These false beliefs are part of Reality Emotive Behavior Therapy. They also are the framework of Cognitive and Mindfulness based Behavior Therapy in shifting our irrational thought process to a more adoptive and resilient rational thought process. CBT challenges and attempts to assist in correcting distorted and irrational thinking. Based on Ellis’s understanding
1) I must do well and win the approval of others or else I am no good.
2) Other people must do “the right thing” or else they are no good and deserve to be punished.
3) Life must be easy, without discomfort or inconvenience.
Such core distortions and beliefs is the root of our unrealistic expectations and inflexible perceptions and perspectives.
In my experience, professional and personal, true and authentic core values and beliefs do line up with Gospel Principles and are the main guidelines on how to live and conduct ourselves in relationship to self, others, and our Heavenly Father. The false and cognitive distortions are what places a wedge between ourselves, our families, those within our communities, and in relationship with Heavenly Father.
The next concept, and definitely thank you for sharing your own personal experience here, is that much of our behavior stems from unmet needs. We all, as you have pointed out, have emotional needs. Those needs are either met in healthy ways or motivate us to engage in unhealthy and harmful behavior to meet those needs. There is much on this particular subject and is quite a more complex one to address here. For me, and the way I understand it, sinful behavior one engages in on a consistent basis is motivated to satisfy some need. Whether it is to experience a momentary bliss and pleasure or to escape from painful emotions. Unmet emotional needs is significant within co-dependent relationships. Either we are fulfilling someone’s emotional needs and end up becoming resentful and bitter toward them. Or, we are seeking to find someone to meet those unmet emotional needs and become resentful and bitter towards them when they are not (in our own thought process) meeting those needs.
Yes, without proper support, encouragement, empathy, kindness, and compassionate (essentially unconditional love) there are individuals who continue to succumb to those behaviors, desires, and the like that are harmful. They see no need to seek out help. And even in the most idyllic situations where there is unconditional love and support, some turn away from it because of some inadequacy on their own part and sense of false belief. Inevitably, as you stated, such become embittered, angry, and resentful. Toward themselves, family and friends, Church community, and even God.
And yes, I agree, that it does appear this individual may have been (and most likely still is) in a place of hurt and anguish concerning their own personal experiences and beliefs. All we can do is look to the behavior for what it is. Sometimes, dealing with our pain may cause us more harm than good. Facing our pain and our hurts and coming to terms with it and embracing it and understanding it for what it truly is may be the antidote toward healing.
My point was not so much to be unemphatic toward the individual. It is to call to attention, in the most direct way, the inflammatory and incendiary accusations being postulated by the individual. In all honesty, I’d love nothing more to have a more adequate conversation with this individual to understand such motives and possibly the root cause of their own hurt and hangups. Maybe even come along side with a spirit of understanding regarding potential ways to reach out for healing and help.
On a more personal note, I definitely identify with how one feels heartbroken, disappointed, hurt, and enraged by certain disciplinary actions within the LDS Faith. It is not something that I believe is openly discussed. One thing I do agree with the writer is that there are some Bishops and leaders within the Church where spiritual abuse and harm does happen. Whether it was done overtly and out of a spirit of spite, or inadvertently done out of ignorance. The principle to do no harm applies in those matters of a spiritual nature and we do need to remember that many of these leaders are mere lay folk who may not posses ways to properly and appropriately counsel members in such weighty matters. It is a lot of responsibility to burden such a mantle of authority. Regardless, there still is no excuse and such does need to come to light and appropriately addressed.
That I agree with. There is the reality (as I previously stated) where there ought to be more concern of showing empathy, meeting individuals with where they are at, and approach such serious spiritual matters with kindness, serenity, and compassion. However, there also needs to be the more assertive approach in calling out sinful behavior for what it really is with sternness and authority. Sometimes, that may be what is needed. Hence, the reason I used 1 Corinthians 5. There was no other way the Apostle may have dealt with such weighty matters as to be stern in his rebuke to those within the Corinthian Church. Sometimes, people take such sternness as an offense and develop resentment and anger toward the individuals and even God. In my own experience – these people (and myself included at one time) were operating out of a spirit of rebellion and haughtiness.
Some really good and thoughtful points being pointed out and again thank you for the time to respond and comment.
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