Deus Ex Machina

"This is the generation of the great LEVIATHAN, or rather, to speak more reverently of that mortal god, to which we own under the immortal God, our peace and defense." -Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan

Some Unconventional and Disjointed Opinions on Pre-marital Sex, Porn, Moral Luck, Suicide and Shame; Why Pre-Marital Sex is not a Sin

– Unlike most “conservative” Christians, I don’t think pre-marital sex is a sin. The reason is very simple. In the Old Testament, a couple who has copulated before getting married were simply required to marry, but not make any atonement or sacrifice for sin. In most cultures a woman who was pregnant before married was simply discreetly led to the altar with the child’s father. Certainly it was “scandalous”, but that it is a sin is not self-evident to me. (And I doubt a thousand exegeses upon the word “fornication” is going to help us resolve the issue.)

However with the collapse of the social pressure to marry and the rise of contraceptives, we are faced with an unprecedented situation where couples can copulate freely without marriage. The anxiety from this situation has quite naturally lead to the instinctive labelling of all premarital sex as simply “sin” in a ham-fisted attempt to solve the disconnect between sex and marriage by forbidding all sex before marriage. But if it didn’t work in ancient societies, I doubt it’s going to work for our time. (Which is why I don’t think sexual immorality is some unique problem of modernism or whatever. It is a problem as old as the Old Testament. If traditional societies couldn’t get young couples to keep it in their pants, I doubt we’re going to have much success.)

Even though St Paul has clearly stated that the solution to the burning of passion is marriage, the oddity of contemporary Evangelical world is that they aren’t seeking to alleviate or make the conditions for marriage easier to prevent fornication. Unlike both the Old and New Testament which simply prescribed marriage to pre-marital copulators, our Evangelical contemporaries has so moralised the issue that they have simply misconstrued it as a matter of wilful disobedience or ignorance of God’s law rather than a question of empirical conditions. While the age of marriage has arisen because of the expectations to marry later, as well as the skyrocketing cost of starting a family, biology has remained the same and puberty remains what it is. Yet there is no concerted effort towards encouraging younger marriages or making the conditions for starting a family easier (e.g. encouraging living with one’s parents until they can afford a home, providing financial assistance for young parents with children, etc).

Instead, all we have is one long moralistic pontification from on high which goes “just say no”, etc. It is like simply sternly warning a starving man destitute of food to simply refrain from stealing instead of trying to feed him and help him get some employment. Yet for all the moralism of the “conservative” Christian world, there is no real serious thought or effort towards adopting the prescribed solution of both the Old and New Testament. Moralistic pontifications on pre-marital sex is always much easier than contradicting the cultural tides and conditions which makes early marriages impossible.

– As for pornography, I’ve rarely talked (in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever had) about its sinfulness or whatnot even though my fellow Christians often post articles condemning it. The same conditions which gave rise to premarital sex have also given rise to pornography. Pornography is simply a safer and less “costly”, in terms of time, effort and money, method of sexual release. The solution to pornography, or the burning of passion, is again marriage. Absent this, all the moral preaching in the world is not going to solve a thing.

– Most Christians do not understand or grasp the concept of “moral luck”. They think that either moral actions are within the control of our will or we cannot be morally responsible for it (the Kantian “ought implies can” formula). Thus, if I say that external empirical conditions lead to the “sin” of premarital sex or porn, then I can’t possibly be morally guilty or responsible for those acts and it must be perfectly all right for us to indulge in them. But of course we live in a morally complex world. There is no contradiction between affirming the shamefulness, the guilt, or the vice of some acts while acknowledging at the same time that moral virtue and achievement are contingent upon certain external empirical or cultural conditions. There is such a thing as moral luck, where our moral merit or blame is sometimes the result of external factors beyond our control. In Christianese, that’s why we say that our righteousness is the product of the grace of God who freely provides us with these external goods and conditions beyond our will necessary for our moral accomplishment. Our righteousness is not simply a matter of one’s will but the prevenient grace of God.

– In the end, my approach towards pornography or pre-marital sex is the same as that towards suicide. While we affirm that the despair which accompanies suicide is a sin contradicting the command to faith, but nobody believes that a moralistic pontification or preaching against suicide is the solution. A person who contemplates suicide is in such an unusual state or condition that the preaching of the Law is no longer relevant. In the words of the Phantom of the Opera, that person is already “past all thought of right or wrong”. And it is certainly simply inappropriate to thunder condemnations of a victim of suicide after the fact.

Rather, until the time has come when the oppression of our present cultural and economic conditions is removed, we should be like Shem and Japheth who covered the nakedness and shame of their drunk father Noah. They did not lecture their father about the vice of drunkenness nor did they expose and “name and shame” him like their brother Ham, but acknowledging a weakness, they sought instead to cover his shame and not expose him to condemnation for his moment of weakness. I treat pornography the same way. Certainly we acknowledge that it is a vice and a sin, etc. But we must also acknowledge the weakness of will here and the conditions renders it difficult and impossible to resist, and rather than preaching facts which they already know, we should seek instead to cover the shame of the victims and compassionately and gently exhort them never despair of the mercy of God.

But for a rather libertine and “non-judgemental” culture, we are extremely merciless. Every weakness is scrutinised, every sin and vice must be exposed to the light of day and to receive its due condemnation. It’s either perfect conformity or complete liberty, either we practice what we preach to the letter or we do not preach at all. There is no place for imperfect grasping after virtue and for longsuffering of our weakness.

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3 comments on “Some Unconventional and Disjointed Opinions on Pre-marital Sex, Porn, Moral Luck, Suicide and Shame; Why Pre-Marital Sex is not a Sin

  1. Cal
    April 25, 2014

    The deeper and more abiding problem, which makes sex all the more appealing, is the lack of friendship in our modernized and alienated Western society. There is no depth or abiding worthy, people relate to each others as just one more object in a collection used to entertain, stave off boredom, and fill in for the emptiness of a life built on money, image, and the endless ladder of ambition, be it spiritualized or crassly material.

    The fantasies of sex giving fulfillment seem to be a promise, though an empty one at that. The lie lines up perfectly with our hormones. The Church needs to be a fount of fellowship, and that’s the only first step. Not only for the fantasies of sex, found in promiscuity and pornography, but in even suicide. It won’t be ‘the’ solution’, and, as you said, the mercy of the LORD is the ultimate reality, but it’s the way of new creation.

    Jesus called us friends, go and do likewise.

    Cal

    Like

    • Dominic
      April 26, 2014

      The deeper and more abiding problem, which makes sex all the more appealing, is the lack of friendship in our modernized and alienated Western society. There is no depth or abiding worthy, people relate to each others as just one more object in a collection used to entertain, stave off boredom, and fill in for the emptiness of a life built on money, image, and the endless ladder of ambition, be it spiritualized or crassly material.

      The fantasies of sex giving fulfillment seem to be a promise, though an empty one at that. The lie lines up perfectly with our hormones. The Church needs to be a fount of fellowship, and that’s the only first step. Not only for the fantasies of sex, found in promiscuity and pornography, but in even suicide. It won’t be ‘the’ solution’, and, as you said, the mercy of the LORD is the ultimate reality, but it’s the way of new creation.

      The problem really isn’t that so spiritually exalted or philosophically profound. People reach the age of puberty, they get horny, and they are driven to sex. It’s really that simple.

      Like

      • Cal
        April 26, 2014

        Nor is it nearly so biologically reductionist as that. It’s really not that simple.

        Like

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This entry was posted on April 25, 2014 by in Uncategorized.
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