Sunday 16 December 2012

Alcohol: men, women and Mormons


One obvious and uncontroversial fact about Mormons is that they are one of very few groups in the modern world who have, by and large, wholesome and sustainable aspirations relating to marriage and family.

And a high proportion of Mormons live by these aspirations.

How does this work, how do they manage it?

Here are some speculations (and they are speculations).


The root of it seems to be religious - and relating to the distinctive religious doctrines and emphases of Mormonism.

But many mainstream Christians have similar aspirations to Mormons, yet utterly fail to live by them - and most Christian denominations have long since given-up trying to resist the sexual revolution.

My guess is that Mormonism has certain interlinked features which enable it, uniquely among Christian (or near-Christian) denominations to achieve what they believe.


For young men the fact that Mormonism is a Patriarchal religion is a guarantee of significant status for all men: this is enhanced by the fact that a married man is normally expected to be the priest for his wife and family - a divinely-ordained and honoured position.


Why would a man, qua man - and not specifically as a Mormon - want to remain chaste and marry early and stay faithful to a Mormon woman.

(Bearing in mind that a high status Mormon man would usually be surrounded by non-Mormon opportunities for extra-marital sex, and for marriage.)

Perhaps because - assuming he does indeed want to marry, and stay married, and raise a family; then Mormon women are more likely than average to be chaste and faithful and orientated to motherhood (in so far as upbringing can influence a person's behaviour).

Mormon women are also expecting to marry while young, while non-Mormon women often delay marriage.


But what of Mormon women?

As a rule, Women control the sexual marketplace: they are the gate-keepers.

So, it is the behaviour of Mormon women that underpins the success of the Mormon system of marriage and family.


The difficulty most religions (or cultures) have is retaining young, attractive women within the faith, when they are in demand with men of any and every faith.

For example, an exceptionally attractive woman from almost any background or group can (unless there are enforced social prohibitions) often marry almost any man, no matter high status. So a beautiful slave, chorus girl or gypsy can (and did) sometimes marry a Lord, King or Emperor. 

What stops the most beautiful Mormon women marrying high status men outside the faith (and undermining the whole system)?


Usually, this problem is dealt with by extreme coercive and perhaps violent sanctions against those women who look outside the faith for partners or husbands: but this is emphatically not the case among Latter Day Saints.

So, if there are not strong sanctions against marrying-out; then there must (it seems) be strong incentives for the most beautiful Mormon women to marry -in - to marry only other Mormons, and indeed the most devout of Mormons 

So why do Mormon women choose to remain chaste until marriage, and then marry a Mormon man, and stick with him, and (usually) have a large family?


Part of the answer involves the Mormon prohibition on alcohol; because alcohol is a thing which (even in moderation, but especially in excess which is ever more common) enables female promiscuity.

This is my tentative explanation.

Most women are naturally chaste. In modern Western society, this has been continually attacked for many decades by unprecedented levels of propaganda from the mass media; but one neglected factor in the increased promiscuity of non-Mormon women is alcohol.

Alcohol removes inhibition; indeed alcohol is strategically used - by seducing men, but more recently especially by women themselves - to remove inhibitions. Without alcohol, most women find it very difficult (psychologically difficult) to be promiscuous - even when they consciously 'want' to be


Therefore, I think a necessary (not sufficient) factor in the chastity of Mormon women, is the prohibition on alcohol; and therefore prohibition is a necessary factor in the success of the Mormon system of marriage and family (but specifically for women). 

It is the absolute prohibition on alcohol - in the context of the Mormon religion, and the social system - that enables most Mormon women to live-up to the high Christian ideals of their society.



JP said...

I think there are strong sanctions against marrying out. Mormons who leave face ostracism from friends and family, plus pressure from friends, family, and church officials to return. The fear of ostracism is especially intense in Utah itself, and of course women are undoubtedly more vulnerable to this kid of collective shaming than men.

This is a copy of an LA Times article:

"LA Times Cover Story, 12/1: Mormons who quit church ostracized
December 1, 2001
Losing Faith and Lots More

Mormons who quit the church find themselves ostracized by friends, co-workers and even families.

By WILLIAM LOBDELL, Times Staff Writer

SALT LAKE CITY -- It took 16 months for Suzy Colver and her husband to work up the courage to officially quit the Mormon church, worried about what would befall them once word of their defection spread through their Mormon-dominated town of Ogden, Utah.

They didn't have to wait long. Instantly, Colver said, her family became the neighborhood pariah. She lost every one of her Mormon friends, even though she'd been a leader in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' prestigious Relief Society. She wasn't asked to volunteer at her kids' elementary school anymore. Her decision was so unspeakable, she said, that when her brother-in-law visited he was afraid to even acknowledge it, despite the coffee maker on the counter and bottle of chardonnay in the refrigerator--both Mormon taboos.

"If Mormons associate with you, they think they will somehow become contaminated and lose their faith too," Colver said. [JP" They are right!] "It's almost as if people who leave the church don't exist." Colver, a 33-year-old mother of three, was among a group of ex-Mormons who gathered here recently to wrestle with problems that plague some who leave the church but remain in Utah and other communities heavily dominated by Mormons: rejection from Mormon spouses, children and relatives; the disappearance of Mormon friends; the end of a social life; a sidetracked career."

Bruce Charlton said...

@JP - you support my argument.

What you describe is not, not NOT an extreme sanction.

An extreme sanction is threats of torture, mutilation, rape and murder - backed up by actual examples of this having happened to known people within your religious community.

This is common practice in the UK today, with hundreds of documented examples of the threats being carried out - plus doubtless thousands of other examples kept within the community.

The sanction of ostracism by co-religionists cannot be regarded as extreme (certainly is is not regarded as sufficiently extreme in other religious communities) in a nation where it is trivially easy to leave a community, move, set-up a new life elsewhere (the US is the most mobile society in the history of the world).

And throughout history attractive women have frequently left their communities, traveled abroad, left behind everything in order to marry a high status man.

JP said...

I agree it is not extreme, but it is in my view sufficient to deter many women from leaving.

People in the USA can move anywhere - in theory. In fact, they are reluctant to move away from friends and family even when they are not religious. Whenever my company examines moving facilities for cost reasons, it is a given that a certain number of employees simply won't relocate. They'd rather get a new job near friends and family. This would apply even more strongly to a family-centric and church-centric group like the Mormons.

In the USA, it is trivially easy to obtain alcohol. So what is it that causes Mormons to follow this rule along with all the others? Again, the threat of ostracism from friends and family.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JP - I think you are reversing causality.

Think about it; consider the numerous counter-examples where religions cannot prevent apostasy of attractive women (without very aggressive sanctions).

And consider that (compared with the likes of Amish or Ultra-Orthodox Jews) Mormons are exceptionally integrated into US society in their work.

I'm not sure how far you would want to push this; but an explanation that Mormons are able to maintain health marriage and family life *because* they deploy exceptionally strong sanctions against women is just plain wrong.

Wm Jas said...

Marrying out of the faith does not equal leaving the church; apostates may be ostracized, but those who marry out of the faith are not.

One strong incentive to marry within the faith is the doctrine that "salvation is one by one, but exaltation is two by two" -- that marriage in the temple (i.e., to a Mormon in good standing) is necessary for theosis.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JP - "In the USA, it is trivially easy to obtain alcohol. So what is it that causes Mormons to follow this rule along with all the others?"

It is easy to obtain alcohol - but there are actually plenty of groups, and plenty of individual people, who enforce a prohibition on alcohol (at least among those of European, Asian or Middle Eastern descent - where populations have been historically agricultural and exposed to alcohol) - and without recourse to draconian sanctions.

A desire for alcohol is qualitatively different from sexual motivations.

as said...

Mormon men themselves are very good-looking.

Samson J. said...

I wonder if this is an argument, then, to banish alcohol from my home and teach my daughters to be wary of it. Truth is, I likes a glass of wine, or a beer, but I'd give it up if it helped my daughters' future.

Peter said...

Very insightful.
I have long been interested in Mormon religion while admiring aspects of Mormon society.
A conundrum: Is the Mormon society, along with Mormon prohibition, possible without the Mormon scriptures? By this I mean not only the King James Bible, which is the preferred Mormon translation, but the unique Mormon writings? Considering this question would seem to have important implications for those who wish to imitate aspects of said society.
Additionally, did you know that in the United States, Mormon society is seen as resembling an earlier epoch of American culture, the nineteen fifties, in terms of both aesthetics and morals?

Bruce Charlton said...

@SJ = I think it is worth considering.

@P - I think that is an open question - but if mainstream Christians were prepared to learn from Mormons (instead of treating them with condescension or disdain) we might find out.

JP said...

Additionally, did you know that in the United States, Mormon society is seen as resembling an earlier epoch of American culture, the nineteen fifties, in terms of both aesthetics and morals?

Mainly in the sense that PC culture regards both Mormons and the 1950s as hateful, regressive, patriarchal, racist, etc etc etc.

The Crow said...

Good stuff Bruce.
Often, it is the obvious that proves so elusive.

Boethius said...

Bruce you said in other blog that Mormons would become the dominant ruling elite in 100 years.
Why do you think that?Is it because of eugenic fertility?

joetexx said...

Dr. Charlton, Mangan has already commented on your post and has sparked quite a discussion.

Matthew C. said...

The Baha'i Faith, in which I was raised, has a blanket and severe prohibition on the use of alcohol.

I never understood it, and felt it was out of place and out of touch, for my entire teen and adult life. That is, until I realized -- only a few months ago!! -- that alcohol is precisely and exactly what makes it possible for women to become sluts.

And there can be no doubt at all that female promiscuity is a complete and utter disaster for civilization.

Hurrah for the Mormons!

Peter said...

To Jp,
I think that's true JP, but I personally see them as sharing many positive qualities.

Valkea said...

JP is right, and to a slightly lesser extent, Charlton is right too. The same thing applies to Hutterites. Ostracism is the core principle together with prohibitions to exogamy. For Hutterites there is no salvation outside Hutterite groups and Hutterite Christianity. Hutterites drink a little bit of alcohol now and then, but this is done inside the colonies, not in bars outside the community. On average Hutterites drink less than one bottle of beer/ week. Sligthly more alcohol is consumed in big Hutterite festivals. Absolutism is frowned upon. Above average alcohol consumption is more strongly prohibited. Hutterite women are not good looking, and Hutterite Christianity downplays the significance of outward appearances. Informal, non-work related contacts to outsiders is discouraged or prohibited. Etc.

MC said...

This is not bad speculation. I'll submit my own:

All of Christendom used to have a self-reinforcing social norm of chastity. Decades ago, after Mormons ceased polygamy but before the sexual revolution, no one would have thought to distinguish Mormons from other denominations by pointing to their sexual norms. There was little difference.

So what happened? Everyone else got pulled by the tide, while the Mormons stood firm. Why? Probably because God is more "real" in Mormonism than in most other Christian denominations, and therefore his commandments are of much more immediate concern.

We have a God who has appeared to prophets in physical form in the last two hundred years, not millenia ago. The men who stand at the pulpit in Salt Lake City and tell young men and women to be chaste? They aren't mere preachers, they are "prophets." When the Prophet stands and tells "all worthy young men" to serve a two-year mission, it isn't him talking but God, in a sense.

It seems to me that this is a huge conceptual difference that suffuses every element of Mormon life, and makes it possible to resist the cultural forces at play. Although we don't resist them entirely, of course.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Boethius - Yes, the argument was based on the nature of Mormon fertility (especially Mormon elite fertility) combined with the above average intelligence of Mormons; contrasted with the ultra-low fertility of the current ruling elite. This would be amplified by strategic alliance among elite Mormons, contrasted by short-termist selfishness among the secular elite.

@Valkea - Interesting comparison - but the contrast between Hutterites and Mormons is more striking than the similarities.

Ostracism is clearly NOT the main factor - as confirmed by WmJas in the comments above - he is an ex Mormon missionary but no longer active in the LDS church, and is both informed and objective.

@MC - Thanks for the comment; I'm sure you are correct about the need for a real religion to 'suffuse' every element of life, and that the concrete and personal nature of Mormon theology is vital in that respect.

Indeed, this was confirmed for me by finding the same (or very similar) pattern of marriage and family among UK Mormons as among these the the American heartland:

Thus Mormonism does 'scale-up'- and all of these plantations must have begun with such low numbers that they lacked the complex social support mechanisms of mature Mormon communities - therefore for some decades at least, the planted churches must have been sustained by their faith, and by the positive aspects of their faith (not by threats of ostracism from a valued community).

Do you have any observations on the alcohol question in relation to marriage and family? I drank alcohol for most of my adult life, but had to stop for health reasons (migraine) more than a decade ago and have personally experienced (and observed) the profound difference of life including and minus alcohol.

Many social situations look and feel very different when you are stone cold sober, than when you have even a small amount of alcohol on-board. It is a *very* powerful drug, with multiple effects.

Over the past 20 years the amount of deliberate, planned binge drinking in the UK - and especially among women, including middle and upper class young women - has grown to extraordinary levels - and I infer that this has facilitated many undesirable social trends.

But maybe the problems relating to marriage and children kick-in at even much lower levels of safe social drinking among women (e.g. just a glass or two of wine); especially teenagers and young adults.

MC said...

"Do you have any observations on the alcohol question in relation to marriage and family?"

For my male Mormon friends and me, sexual temptation was far stronger than alcohol or drugs, but for women the causality may be just as you say- otherwise chaste young women having their judgment impaired by alcohol, leading to sexual transgression. I'm not the most well-informed about that scene, having never had a drop of the stuff. I will say that the plenitude of wholesome, bright young women made staying in easier (and continues to bless my life). Even if I didn't believe in Mormonism (I do), I would probably want my daughters raised Mormon.

I think that the first part of your article is more important; that men occupy a place of honor in Mormonism that was utterly common decades ago but virtually alien to the west nowadays. The universality of priesthood ordination among Mormon men is probably the primary cause of that. Women respect their husbands in a way that is incredibly out of step with the modern world.

Bruce B. said...

My guess is that it’s the Mormon Church’s status as the “one-true-Church.” You don’t leave the one-true Church. Yes, I know the Catholic Church is also a one-true-Church church but they don’t really act like it any more.

Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

Thank you very much for that insight about Patriarchy and the status of Mormon men as divinely appointed priests and fathers-heads of family.

In my opinion, men living up to such roles is a determining factor for women, including the most attractive ones, to consider the men with great respect. If they have been raised by honorable fathers, women are normally more attracted to honorable adult males and less likely to fall for machos, effeminates, perpetual teenagers, cads and jerks, most of all if they are alcoholics or addicts. A woman who is not a fool (I have been for a time, I can make the difference) naturally wants to remain chaste if she is celibate, and raise more than two children with a respectable and faithful husband if she is called to marriage, as can be observed elsewhere than Mormonism.

Forbidding alcohol has in effect been a very good means to ensure men and women can tell right from wrong all the time. The truly extraordinary thing for me is that Mormons have been able to enforce this prohibition on men as well as women, for whom fear of ostracism is sufficient. I now understand that it was by means of young men looking up to become a respected priest and husband, thus ensuring a real personality-building self-esteem.

As for the superior to average IQ, as I remarked on another thread I think it is linked with a morally good life, which Mormons have obviously, and which do not seem greatly impaired by the less rational tenets of their religion. If their abandonment of polygamy demonstrates a capacity of theological development, I think, however, that Mormons would be more intelligent still if their theology was more rational.

Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

@Bruce B.
You are right, but the small proportion of real Catholics remaining are as good Catholics as you can come by.

The others are still nominally with us because there is no ostracism in the Catholic Church, however happy we would be to see the back of many of them. Even then, it does not entail social ostracism nowadays if it did in the past.

Ariston said...

I grew up around Mormons; in practice—even among "good Mormons"—the prohibition on alcohol is about as well–observed as it is amongst other American sects which prohibit it (which are, I should note, numerous). There's statistically significant cheating, especially among men when outside of the house. (I was recently watching a documentary that was taking place amongst some very serious LDS types living in an LDS town… and it included a visit to a bar outside the town with a few of the men, even though they knew the thing was being filmed.)

Mormon group–retention is in part due to the threat of family alienation, but it is more due, I believe, to the support shown towards young married couples and the networks in place for finding work for young Mormon men, and so forth. There are clear, tangible benefits to being Mormon and marrying–in, especially if you are a young woman who wishes to get married and have children young, which is normal. In a broader sense, people remain Mormon because it's good to be a Mormon. There is social cohesion and community within the LDS that is lacking elsewhere, and Mormons know it— and their converts do, as well.

Bruce Charlton said...


Of course, all the statistics show the same picture - there is a large quantitative reduction in divorce, earlier marriage, larger families etc. There are exceptions, people don't usually or always live up to their ideals. There are gradations of devoutness.


"people remain Mormon because it's good to be a Mormon. There is social cohesion and community within the LDS that is lacking elsewhere, "

Yes, that is the egg; but what is the chicken that lays the egg? That is the point of the post - how did Mormons stand firm when all about them went with the flow?

There used to be Mormon type social cohesion (family-centredness) all over the US, when that was the norm. Now it is the persecuted exception - but Mormons still hold to it.

That is, I believe, the Mormons special witness, why the religion was inspired and survived - and why we need to learn from them.