Wednesday, June 09, 2010

My Last Word On Biblical Sexual Ethics (UPDATE)

There are times when one reaches the end of one's tether. Last night, I reached mine.
Again, I know I shouldn't . . .

Bubba wrote: "Dan, I'm only now noticing that you're actually defending masturbation as biblically permissible.

It leads me to wonder what sexually deviant behavior you wouldn't defend. "

Masturbation is a sexually deviant behavior, Bubba? Really? A young person, usually quite by accident, discovers that certain actions are physically pleasurable, outside any moral or other context, and you without any warrant of which I'm aware, dare to declare that person deviant.

BTW - please spare me the treatise on how you're right and I'm wrong, because (a) I won't read it; and (b) since I have yet, in my forty-plus years of reading the Bible found anything close to a declaration that masturbation is sexually deviant, I think I'll just let it rest there; and (c) if any of you would actually read what you type - that masturbation is deviant; that gay folks don't love, just lust; that touching yourself violates the equipment manual, but having your spouse do it is fine; that two men marrying is a path to perdition - you might actually realize that anyone NOT of the same ideological bent as you (and some who are!) might just think you are quite out of your collective minds.

You are all far more concerned with sex in its various forms than I, we, and certainly God has ever been. Let us have our deviant sex in peace, and we can all go about our business here.

Please note, dear readers that what prompted this outburst of frustration and dismissal was the declaration that masturbation is sexually deviant. Even typing that little phrase here and now, I cannot, for the life of me, understand how an adult human being can think, let alone live, with that thought as an operating principle.

Please note also that I asked one person - Bubba - who has a habit of writing multi-comment responses to spare his fingers the necessity of typing because whatever he said would be unread. Well, not only does he think most adolescents are sexually deviant, he apparently refused to listen because he went on and, well, you guessed it:


"Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven...

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell." - Mt 5:17-20, 27-30


"You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor." - Ex 20:17


These aren't obscure passages, and if a person has studied the Bible for forty years and hasn't noticed these passages or discerned the implications for the lust that accompanies all but the must naive and mechanical forms of masturbation, then he's beyond help.

Geoffrey concludes by revealing both his ignorance of God and an arrogance that borders on self-idolatry.

"You are all far more concerned with sex in its various forms than I, we, and certainly God has ever been. Let us have our deviant sex in peace, and we can all go about our business here."

God has made clear that He made us male and female so that a man would become one flesh with his wife. He prohibited both from committing adultery and even from coveting a neighbor's wife; if that wasn't clear enough, when He came down and dwelt among us, God Incarnate taught that mere thoughts of lust are as evil as adulterous acts.

To suggest that his sexual behavior is his own business beyond even the judgment of God Almighty, and to imply that God is apathetic about his sexual behavior is to clearly step outside Christian ethics and the Bible's clear teachings.

Geoffrey, about your wanting to be left in peace, no one's stopping you from doing whatever you want, certainly not in this debauched age.

We're just proclaiming what is to be found in God's written word, in the Scripture that Christ Himself affirmed to the smallest penstroke, and we just expect that those who claim to worship God would show some small sign of submission to His revealed will.

If that bothers you so much, maybe you should find a more libertine faith tradition.

Let me state from the outset that, sure, the Bible isn't exactly in favor of folks humping in the streets. I will admit there isn't a verse that says that men having sexual relations is on the up and up. Adultery is surely a no-no.

Here's the thing. Figuring out "what the Bible says" - whether it's about sex, or economics, or suicide, or war and peace, or whatever one's pet peeve/issue may be - is more a game than serious intellectual or spiritual inquiry. It's a game played by those who want God on their side. Whether that side is in favor of stoning people to death for being belligerent with their parents, or setting aside a life of violence in favor of love and justice, there is ample Biblical, textual support for these positions. It's easy enough to find Scriptural support for just about anything, even opposing positions that cancel one another out! That's why it's a game.

Sexual ethics are no different.

There is a way to do Biblical interpretation that isn't a kind of hunt-and-peck searching for a bunch of verses that bolster one's own prejudices and predispositions. It involves, in the first instance, being clear what the Bible is about. It isn't a rule-book for living. It isn't a set of timeless laws that mean the same thing to all readers everywhere.

It is, rather, the testimony of witnesses to God's relationship with Creation. It is the declaration that God does, indeed, love that which God has created, even as that creation has sought to break free from the Creator. It is the remarkable declaration that this love is so prodigal, so boundless, that God is willing, in the Person of the Son, to enter fully in to the life of creation and even surrender that which is most defining about Divinity - Life - in order to bring Creation back in to a full relationship with God.

Now, every ordered community has rules. These rules exist for any number of reasons, usually boiling down to "these are the best way to keep a group of human beings from killing one another." Rules against adultery, for example, keep men from killing other men, or their wives, because of unfaithfulness. Rules regarding sexual conduct in general stem as much from community concern over its continuation as anything else. As a professor Hebrew Scripture pointed out, the injunction against homosexual conduct in Leviticus makes sense if you consider that it addresses the necessity of preserving reproductive viability in a community - the ancient Hebrews - living a marginal existence. While humorous, the song from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, "Every Sperm is Sacred", actually applies here. Men wasting their vigor with one another are not contributing to the on-going life of the future of the community, a community already under various environmental and political stresses. Insisting that sexual relations contribute to new generations of this community makes sense. Putting that insistence in the mouth of God gives it a force that common sense might not otherwise do.

Does this mean we are free to ignore the Levitical injunction against two men lying together? It sits there, in the pages of the Bible, and certainly needs to be wrestled with, along with many other passages whose ethical utility is even more marginal. In a general sense, however, raising this single verse - and the handful of verses that refer even circuitously to homosexual sex - to any place of prominence makes them far more important to any discussion of sexual ethics than they ever had either historically or to the original audience. More to the point, the question that needs to be asked - and always asked in new ways, by new voices - is how do we live with these verses in light of the faith that God's love for us, for all creation as it is is greater than our attempts to corral that love in to new rules? Do we restrain love just because it is love between two women? Do we insist that God does not bless the marriage between two men, even though the Biblical warrant for monogamous marriage is more an assumption than anything one can attest from any direct scriptural evidence (considering the prevalence in the Hebrew Scripture of both plural marriage and concubinage, one wonders how those folks who argue most vociferously about monogamy square those circles; on the other hand, not really).

If one begins with the premise that living a life of graced acceptance means living for others, then much of the discussion of sexual ethics becomes a question of living as sexual beings in such a way that all of us together are more fully human in that capacity as in others. It also means putting sexuality in its proper place in human life. To be sure, it is an important part of being human; it binds relations between spouses and partners. It is the source of new generations. It is an expression of love and the bonds between two people. Yet, it is hardly even the most important part of that bond; nor is it a defining part of being a part of a larger community. The right-wing obsession with sexual ethics creates a situation in which it becomes far more important (to them) than it is in human life.

So, this is the last time (I swear) I will address the question of human sexuality from a Biblical perspective. Beyond these general statements, addressing specific questions - whether of serious matters such as adultery or ridiculous matters such as the moral status of self-pleasuring - is something I just refuse to do. Except to say that these right-wingers seem far more interested in the way other people live their lives in private than most adult human beings of healthy disposition.

UPDATE: Of all people, Mark not only ends the discussion, but inadvertently makes it clear that he really doesn't think gay marriage is a threat to all things bright and beautiful.
For the record, I, personally, am neutral on same sex marriage. I really don't care if these perverts want to pretend they are married. I believe they are not married in the eyes of God. Just because some laws here in the U.S. say they are, doesn't make it true.


They want to be homo, let them be homo. I don't care.

If you don't care whether or not they are gay, and don't care if gay marriage is legal, it seems to me that the entire discussion, including Mark's participation arguing against gay marriage, is void. If he doesn't care whether or not people want to "be homo", my most fervent wish is that he would practice this insouciance and shut the hell up.

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