How much do ideas about modesty, decency, and obscenity depend on cultural context? Consider that recently, actor Richard Gere was widely criticized in India for publicly engaging in a vulgar, lewd, obscene, immodest, and indecent act. He was burned in effigy, and a warrant issued for his arrest; he was called a sign of decaying morals, and of the erosion of values. What was his crime?
He kissed a woman, on the cheek, in public.
Since that infamous kiss, Gere has been subject to death threats. He faces private legal action for committing an obscene act in public. His arrest has been ordered, and a court has threatened to jail him for up to three months. One politician said that, “If I had been on the dais, I would have slapped him.”
All this for an act — public kissing on the cheek — that’s part of my own regular behavior, and that I see the bishop and other church members and leaders doing as well. I guess we’re all just obscene, vulgar, immodest and indecent folk. I suppose that anti-Mormons need not distribute their latest DVD in India; instead, they can merely tell people that Joseph Smith was known to kiss in public. Three cheers for modesty, decency, and public values.
How much of our own ideas on modesty and appropriate behavior are objective, and how much of them are cultural artifacts? Should the church simply adopt local cultural ideas and values — a hypothetical LDS church in India banning all public kissing? If not, what standard should it adopt? How can we objectively sort our ideas on modesty and obscenity from the cultural context that frames them?