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Light-Mindedness and Loud Laughter: What is it exactly?

All temple attending individuals have asked themselves the following questions in one form or another:

"What does it mean to be light-minded? And, am I not perpetually guilty of loud laughter?"

This article is an attempt to rough out the edges of what these terms mean in order to improve our ability to keep sacred covenants and to, perhaps, lose much of our unnecessary guilt.

The following scripture comes to mind that, perhaps, gets us all wound up and feeling especially guilty:
"Therefore, cease from all your light speeches, from all laughter, from all your lustful desires, from all your pride and light-mindedness, and from all your wicked doings." (D&C 88:121)

Many of us probably attend the temple and, therefore, conclude that we are simply too weak to keep such a commandment. Who really is capable of abstaining from "all laughter"? I feel there are two categories of people who think about this. The first group over-think the commandment and feel guilty over every twinge of laughter they have. The second group has a belief that there must be something more to these commandments, but, mostly, leaves the exploration of such untouched. Their thinking is usually worded, tritely, as "you can live the gospel and have fun". They don't get worked up, but they also don't let their understanding get refined and more nuanced as a result.

In contrast to the scripture above, the following scriptures are instructive:
"... a time to weep, and a time to laugh..." (Ecclesiastes 3:4)
"The righteous also shall see, and fear, and shall laugh at him." (Psalm 52:6)
"Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh." (Luke 6:21)
These scriptures point out the obvious that there appears to be a little wiggle room when it comes to laughter. It is, therefore, axiomatic to conclude that there are appropriate gospel parameters to laughter.

What are the parameters?

First, we get three verses in the Doctrine and Covenants that directly discuss the concept of laughter in a sinful light (see D&C 59:15-16, 88:69, 88:121). Refreshingly, a wonderful BYU Studies article on this topic suggests the following:
"These proscriptions against laughter are contained in instructions on Sabbath observance (section 59) and on reorganizing the School of the Prophets, contexts not always known or remembered by Church members when they encounter these verses in isolation."(1)
In other words, the scriptures might suggest that this commandment depends on the where and when. For further evidence, the following words from the Brethren and LDS scholars are instructive:
"Joyful laughter meets with divine approval, and when properly engaged in, it is wholesome and edifying." - Bruce R. McConkie (Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed., p. 432)
"Humor is a sensible intelligent way to diminish tension and stop overrating the trivia of daily living. The family without it need not be, and the family with it is better fortified for tomorrow." (Ensign, August 1983, p. 67)
"While the gospel is sacred and serious, sometimes we take ourselves a little too seriously." - Glenn L. Pace (Ensign, May 1989, p. 26)
"We better take seriously that which should be taken seriously, but at the same time we can bring in a touch of humor now and again." - Gordon B. Hinkley (Church News, February 3, 1996, p. 2)
"Humor as a reflection of the incongruities of life can be helpful. The living prophets I have known have all had such a sense of humor." - Neal A. Maxwell (Deposition of a Disciple, p. 52)

Laughing, therefore, is encouraged. The 'what' of what is appropriate to laugh at is much larger than what we conventionally think about. It is my opinion that anything that is not perverse, does not put people down, and does not blaspheme the sacred is appropriate humor. The 'when' of when it is inappropriate to laugh is whenever such starts to corrupt our worship and daily living. For example, we can consider these words by Neal A. Maxwell and be self-reflective as to if our humor is spilling into these categories:
"The true believer's humor is the humor of hope and his mirth is the mirth of modesty - not the hollow laughter or the cutting cleverness of despair." (True Believers in Christ, p. 139)
If our laughter is done to bring numbness instead of to bring light, we are probably breaking the commandment to not indulge in loud laughter. This loud laughter is not just loud in volume, but loud in that it crowds out the needed nudgings of the spirit to stir emancipating repentance. Laughter, for when there is 'a time to laugh' (Ecc. 3:4), is a sacred part of God's divine nature.
“[If] there was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.” (G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (London: Moody Publishers, 2009)
"The omission of laughter from the gospels, then, could be evidence for its importance rather than its nonexistence or wickedness."(2)
 "... if God cannot be surprised, then He cannot laugh, and if He cannot laugh, then he cannot weep..." - Steven L. Peck (Gilda Trillim)
The idea is that the Lord's capacity to laugh is an integral part of who He is. It is my opinion that when we come to comprehend the Divine's sense of humor, the better we will understand the nature of those whom we worship. We might even say we are friends with diety once we come to master our sense of humor. In summation, if Enoch could see God weep and then experience the same thing for himself (see Moses 7:28-41), to be consistent with the law of opposition (see 2 Nephi 2:11), then a large part of theosis might also be to experience divine mirth.


This phrase is closely related to the theme of loud laughter, but it's distinct and separate usage in the scriptures should cause us to dig deeper into this concept. The idea has only been expressed three times in General Conference and none of them really give us a deeper look into its meaning. The term is used only once in scripture, in D&C 88:121, and we do not get an unpacked and specific idea about what is meant there. This is not to say its meaning cannot be gained from scripture, but it takes some digging. For example, the following verses possibly give us an idea:
"And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received." (D&C 84:54)
"... cast away your idle thoughts and your excess of laughter far from you." (D&C 88:69)
Light-mindedness, therefore, occurs when one over-focuses on those things that are trivial. It occurs when we know more about what is on Netflix than what is in the scriptures. It occurs when we can quote sports statistics, but not be able to quote one Article of Faith. It occurs, as D&C 84:54 points out, when we treasure the superficial and trite reading of the scriptures and do not engage our mind in worship. The 'intellectually idle' is a synonymous phrase with being 'light-minded'.

As with all things, there are times where the trivial is not bad. In fact, when trivial things are done in their proper time and place, they can be a part of gospel living. For example, it is pretty common knowledge that President Monson had season tickets to Utah Jazz games.

Hugh Nibley ties a bow nicely around this topic:
"As to light-mindedness, humor is not light-minded; it is insight into human foibles…What is light-minded is kitsch, delight in shallow trivia; and the viewing of serious or tragic events with complacency or indifference. It is light-minded, as Brigham Young often observed, to take seriously and devote one’s interest to modes, styles, fads, and manners of speech and deportment that are passing and trivial, without solid worth or intellectual appeal. As to laughter, Joseph Smith had a hearty laugh that shook his whole frame; but it was a meaningful laugh, a good-humored laugh. Loud laughter is the hollow laugh, the bray, the meaningless laugh of the soundtrack or the audience responding to prompting cards, or routinely laughing at every remark made, no matter how banal, in a situation comedy." ("Sacred Vestments". In Temple and Cosmos: Beyond This Ignorant Present, pp. 553)


  1. I have wondered about this for quite some time. Thank you for this excellent exposition.


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