Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Mormons, Caffeine, and R-rated Movies (Again)

One week ago today, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (AKA the Mormon Church) posted an official announcement to its website, making clear what many LDS faithful have known for years—that caffeine is not forbidden by the doctrines of the Church. As this Salt Lake Tribune article points out, it is a common misconception among Mormons and non-Mormons alike that members of the Church are not allowed to drink caffeinated beverages. I won’t go into the history of why people have come to this erroneous belief. Personally, I’ve always been baffled that the confusion exists among LDS members themselves, as it seems pretty obvious that nothing in our belief system suggests that caffeinated beverages are a product of Satan. Even so, I’ve heard wild tales of Mormons being all but disowned by their families of origin for imbibing the occasional Dr. Pepper. Fortunately I, having been born of goodly parents, was given Pepsi in a bottle long before I could speak. Nowadays, I can’t imagine a heaven without Mountain Dew.

Today, a friend of mine posted the Tribune article mentioned above to his Facebook page. In response, I quipped that all we need now is clarification that adult Mormons have not been prohibited from watching R-rated movies. (I recently wrote about Mormons and R-rated movies. See here.) A well-intentioned member of the Church responded to my comment, saying that she was fairly certain Mormons had been instructed not to watch R-rated movies. I explained that I had not been able to find any quotes to that effect, and I challenged her to provide with me with evidence to the contrary if she could find it. A short while later, this woman posted four quotes that she believed demonstrated a Church-wide prohibition on R-rated films. For the hell heck of it, I’ve decided to put the cited quotations on my blog and explain why they fail to establish that adults have been instructed not to watch R-rated movies. For the most part, I will cut and paste the quotations, along with their citations, exactly as they were provided on Facebook. I assume they are accurate, but I can’t say for sure.

Quote #1
“We counsel you, young men, not to pollute your minds with such degrading matter, for the mind through which this filth passes is never the same afterward. Don’t see R-rated movies or vulgar videos or participate in any entertainment that is immoral, suggestive, or pornographic. Don’t listen to music that is degrading” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1986, 58; or Ensign, May 1986, 45).

This quotation is explicitly directed at the youth, as is clear from the term “young men.” It doesn’t say anything to the effect that adults should never watch R-rated movies.

Quote #2
“What difference does it make why it is rated R? The fact is, a prophet of God has said not to go to R-rated movies. That ought to be enough” (Ensign, July 1998, 16). —Elder Cree-L Kofford of the Seventy.

If you look up the article in which this quotation originally appears, you’ll see that it is immediately preceded by this sentence: “Young people know they should not watch R- or X-rated movies, and yet time after time I hear them say, 'Well it’s only rated R because it’s violent.'” Once again, the restriction on R-rated movies is directed at the youth (or non-adult members) of the Church. What’s more, Elder Kofford is referencing the talk cited in Quote #1. He is commenting on the youth, and he is citing a talk that was directed at the youth.

Quote #3
“It is very unreasonable to suppose that exposure to profanity, nudity, sex, and violence has no negative effects on us. We can't roll around in the mud without getting dirty. It is a concern that some of our young Latter-day Saints, as well as their parents, regularly watch R-rated and other inappropriate movies and videos. One more reason why the devil laugheth, and his angels rejoice (3 Ne. 9:2)” (Elder Joe J. Christensen, October 1996 General Conference, The Savior Is Counting On You).

This is the most promising quotation, as far as establishing that adult members of the Church should not watch R-rated movies. And yet that is not what is being said. In fact, that doesn’t even seem to be the point. Rather, the point seems to be that regular exposure to profanity, nudity, sex, and violence can have negative effects on you. Most of us can agree with that, and yet it doesn’t follow that a person (especially an adult) should never watch R-rated movies. The concern Elder Christensen has is that some people are watching negative things on a regular basis, and this can bring about undesirable consequences. Fair enough. But one might also say, “It is a concern that some of our young Latter-day Saints, as well as their parents, regularly eat candy.” This wouldn’t mean that candy is forbidden. The take-home message, as I see it, is that we shouldn’t be complacent or indifferent as to what we spend our time doing. There should be moderation in all things. If you’re constantly immersed (even vicariously, as with the viewing of a movie) in profanity, sex, and violence, it can dampen your spiritual sensitivity. Those things shouldn’t consume your day. And there are certainly movies with frivolous and excessive profanity, sex, and violence. Making those kinds of movies your only source of entertainment might not be the best way to live your life. But even if we grant all of these things, it doesn’t mean that LDS adults are being told (or even strongly encouraged) never to watch R-rated movies. What’s more, if you look at this quotation in context, you’ll once again see that the message pertains primarily to the youth. When Elder Christensen mentions parents—which he does only in passing—his point seems to be that anyone who carelessly and frequently indulges in certain types of entertainment is putting himself (or herself) at risk. In other words, nobody is immune to the risk of careless indulgence. (It’s worth reiterating that risky behavior isn’t necessarily immoral behavior. Being a fisherman is reportedly one of the most dangerous jobs in America. Yet being a fisherman isn’t obviously immoral.)

Quote #4
“Although there are some uplifting exceptions, in most areas of the mass media there seems to be a declaration of war against almost everything the majority treasures most: the family, religion and patriotism. Marriage is degraded, while premarital and extramarital relations are encouraged and glamorized. Profanity and the foulest of vulgar gutter language bombard the ears of all who listen. Reportedly, in one R-rated movie, the most common, vulgar, four-letter word was spoken 256 times! Human life itself is trivialized by the constant barrage of violence and killings. Remember that anything that is not good for children is rarely good for adults” (Elder Joe J. Christensen, Ensign Nov. 1993, p.11).

This quotation makes reference to one specific R-rated film in order to make a point about the media in general. Nothing here suggests that adults should never watch R-rated movies.

Something I failed to mention in my previous post concerning this topic is that there is actually positive evidence to support the idea that the LDS Church is okay with the viewing of R-rated movies by its adult members. The Church-owned Utah newspaper, the Deseret Morning News, restricts certain content based on religious values. The paper does not allow advertisements for escort services, alcoholic beverages, and NC-17 movies. NC-17 movies are not reviewed by the paper’s movie critic. However, the newspaper both advertises and critiques R-rated movies. What this means is that the Church pays someone to watch and discuss the merits of R-rated films! It would be extremely bizarre of the Church to employ someone to do this if they also prohibit their entire membership from watching these movies. It just doesn’t make sense. At all.

I should mention again, as I did in my previous post, that I’m not suggesting that all adults should watch R-rated movies. My point is only that the LDS Church has not prohibited its adult members from watching these movies. Have I convinced anyone yet? (Sadly, if you already believed this, I didn’t convince you. But chime in anyway.)


  1. Love this post! Right on point!

    1. Great to see you here, Natalie. If I remember correctly, you are not LDS. Were you once? I'm just asking out of curiosity, wondering what mindset you bring to this. You needn't answer if you don't want to (or you could answer me privately on Facebook). Thanks for reading, either way!

  2. I'm glad you're writing this stuff. I think people need to know it. I need to know it.
    I don't worry too much but sometimes it is like I don't want the neighbors to see me buying caffeine or something and that's when things get silly. Or worse.
    When you were here, you said something about there really are only a few things you have to accept to be a Mormon (something like that. Do you remember?) I think you should write a blog about that. :) Just a suggestion. Thank you for your thoughts and insights!

    1. I'm glad you're glad, JoAnna. I think R-rated movies might be my soapbox over the next little while. Since writing the above post, I've gotten into a massive debate (that's probably a generous way to put it) with yet another person on Facebook. She's really raking me over the coals. I think I'd be angry if I weren't so amused. Anyway, I'm sure I'll tell that story here soon enough. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. It seems to me that it would be prudent to teach our children how we feel about these things and then govern ourselves....only ourselves. Why do some people think they can or should speak for everyone else??

    Khrystine had an interesting thought about the coffee and tea issue that is likely not what you would think of. You should ask her about it.

  4. Actually, I don't pay much attention anymore to what a movie is rated. 'Course I don't go see one that often anymore. But I know what I like and generally they all fall into an acceptable rating. It does worry me that there are films out there that can be so very violent and blood-lusting, degenerate, immoral, decadent, indecent, vulgar, filthy, full of lies, etc. I wish no one would frequent these shows...and maybe they would disappear. But it isn't likely.

  5. It is I....mother of you who appears to be showing up as "Unknown".....hmmmm....i must be logged into not-my-own-account. Often happens as the three of us share the same computer here in SLC. Sorry.