The Secular Costs of Unchastity — Neal A. Maxwell

Prophet Statesmen, Neal A. Maxwell

There are, of course, some concerns associated with the seventh commandment that we share with the world. Both in the kingdom and in the world there is a desire to avoid the disease that often goes with unchastity and infidelity. People naively assumed that with the coming of antibiotics venereal disease would no longer be a concern. The secularists were wrong again.

A second point of concurrence is avoiding pregnancies in unwed mothers. Unfortunately, when their pragmatism fails, the world’s “final solution” is that Buchenwald for babies—abortion. Abortion, like unchastity, produces, as Jacob so eloquently wrote, conditions in which many hearts die, “pierced with deep wounds” (Jacob 2:35). Listen to these sounds of pain put in the form of questions to me by a young woman who had two abortions:

“I wonder about the spirits of those I have aborted—if they were there, if they were hurt. I was under three months each time, but a mother feels life before she feels movement.

“I wonder if they are lost and alone?

“I wonder if they will ever have a body?

“I wonder if I will ever have a chance again to bring those spirits back as mine?”

Alas, brothers and sisters, “wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10).

A third concern shared somewhat between us and the world is that sexual immorality adversely affects marriage and family life, increasing the spiraling divorce rate. Though, having so said, it is not likely that the world is so concerned with family life that they would yet agree with Charles Peguy’s assertion made earlier in this century that “the true revolutionaries of the twentieth century will be the fathers of Christian families.” (The Passing of the Modern Age, John Lukacs, p. 82.)

Fortunately, the kingdom’s reasons for keeping the seventh commandment go far beyond these three concerns, real as these are.

The primary reason for obedience to all the laws of chastity is to keep the commandments of God. Joseph understood that reason clearly when he resisted the entreaties of Potiphar’s predatory wife (see Gen. 39:9). Joseph, who clearly noted his loyalty to his employer, Potiphar, concluded, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” Joseph’s obedience was an act of many-splendored loyalty—to himself, to his future family, to Potiphar, to God, and, yes, even to Potiphar’s wife!

Many in the world, of course, would not agree with the basic need for obeying God. Yet there is clearly a spiritual ecology that involves human nature and the violation of these laws of nature.

Another major reason for complying is that breaking the seventh commandment evicts the Holy Ghost from our soul. We lose the great value of his companionship, because he cannot abide in a sinful soul. And without his help, we then become less useful, less perceptive, less functional, and less loving human beings. In a sense, we are then on the sick roll in the army of the Lord—and at the very time when we are so much needed.

Sexual immorality is also dangerous because it is so desensitizing. Lasciviousness can, ironically, move people who wrongly celebrate their capacity to feel to a point where they lose their capacity to feel! They become, in the words of three different prophets in three different dispensations, “past feeling” (see 1 Ne. 17:45; Eph. 4:19; Moro. 9:20).

Norman Cousins warned: “People who insist on seeing everything and doing anything run the risk of feeling nothing. … Our highest responses are being blunted without our knowing it.” (“See Everything, Do Everything, Feel Nothing,” Saturday Review, January 23, 1971, p. 31.)

The sensual life as a means of certifying or reassuring to someone that he is, after all, alive is a sure shortcut to the shriveling of the soul. The end of Camelot came with the beginning of the breaking of the seventh commandment.

To celebrate Eros is to ignore Agape, or charity, the highest form of love. The Atonement came through obedience and charity, not a lesser form of love. It was the most selfless and significant act in all of human history, while immorality, on the other hand, relentlessly reinforces selfishness—which already exists in plague proportions in the world. Eros teaches us wrong things, cruel and incorrect things, about the great attribute of love. True love is the centerpiece attribute in both the first and second great commandments—on which every other law hangs! Therefore, to misunderstand the true nature of love is to misunderstand life. To be unchaste, in the name of love, is to destroy something precious in order to celebrate its existence. A rogue policeman is for law and order. Benedict Arnold was for America.

When we lose our capacity to feel, it is because we have destroyed the tastebuds of the soul. We have blunted our capacity to appreciate those refinements, that graciousness and empathy that belong to that better world toward which we are pointed.

Our whole selfish society tends to travel light, pushing away from anyone who might be an obligation—jettisoning “used” friends, relatives, and even partners. This disposability is one of the final stages of selfishness in which the individual is not willing to risk a commitment of any enduring nature, nor to be depended upon for anything. Those whom sensuality has made into such ciphers must remember in their efforts to erase their loneliness by being surrounded by sensations that in the arithmetic of appetite, anything multiplied by zero still totals zero!

Yet another reason underlying the need to keep the seventh commandment is that unchastity lowers self-esteem because we are actually sinning against our nature and who we really are (see 1 Cor. 6:18, 19). In my opinion, we are also breeching previous promises made in the premortal world, promises that are imprinted, subtly but indelibly, in our soul.

Unchastity also impacts severely on others, suggesting wrongly to them, among other things, that everyone is, after all, the same; appetites will prevail and, therefore, one might as well join the march of the lemmings. It is too bad that those who are immoral are not required to submit an environmental impact statement before proceeding. The father who somehow gets the strange idea that his adultery is uniquely justified does not fully gauge the impact of that act upon his wife and children. His letting go takes others with him.

As a bishop of a student ward adjacent to the University of Utah campus about 18 years ago, I tried vainly to hold a young marriage together. The wife had been unfaithful, and as I sought to help and to understand, I learned that as a child this woman had had an adulterous father. Though unjustified, she acted out her feelings about men. What she then did was not love. Several years after my release as bishop, I saw a story in the local paper about her having been picked up for prostitution. I know not where she is today, but I cannot put out of my mind the words of Jacob, who decried unfaithful fathers who had lost the confidence of their children because of their bad examples (see Jacob 2:35).

Likewise, the tens of thousands of young people who are unmarried but living together represent a major breach in the family way of life. The consequences of that breach on our social environment will be felt for generations to come. A wise French philosopher, Bainville, warned, “One must want the consequences of what he wants.” The lines of another Frenchman, La Rochefoucauld, could have been spoken of this experimentation in non-family life when he said, “There goes another beautiful theory about to be murdered by a brutal gang of facts.”

Just as our basic values are interactive, so are our basic institutions. We cannot corrupt our families and expect to have good governments! Once, for instance, we suggest by our behavior that the commandments do not really matter, then it is open season. A parent may wink at embezzlement, the grown child at adultery, and the grown grandchild at treason. If disobedience is not wrong, then each can select which commandments he will break.

Read the full text of Neal A. Maxwell’s 1979 thought pro­vok­ing and inspir­ing defense of chastity here.

Neal Ash Maxwell (July 6, 1926 – July 21, 2004) was an apos­tle and a mem­ber of the Quo­rum of the Twelve Apos­tles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) from 1981 until his death.