My discussion of masturbation has clearly hit a raw nerve in some quarters. Let’s remember how this got stated. Philip Blosser had launched an attack on sola Scripture by, among other things, charging that the Protestant rule of faith leads to liberal morality, and he cited the shifting Protestant position on masturbation as a case in point.
I simply took issue with Catholic moral theology at this juncture. What is surprising is that anyone would be surprised that I might take issue with a point of Catholic moral theology.
Let’s recall that while the Reformation is best remembered for theological controversies over sola fide, sola Scriptura and the like, another central concern of the Protestant Reformers was sexual ethics. The restoration of a Biblical view of sex and family life.
It’s easy for some of us to take this for granted because we are historical heirs of that tradition.
I’ll begin on a high note with Frank Turk. As was to be expected, he, along with Tom R, is the most reasonable of my critics.
 You asked, "Are you suggesting that it’s sinful for man to want to make love to his fiancé, and that his desire only ceases to be sinful the moment they tie the knot? Surely that’s not your position."
“Yes, that is my position.”
Sorry, but that’s way too Manichaean for my blood.
“If a Dad wants to kill the man who murdered his son, that's sin; if a judge orders the execution of the murderer, that's not sin but justice. Same act: different context -- even if the motive of ‘serving justice’ is inside both.”
Well, the problem with this illustration is that I don’t think it’s wrong for a man to want to kill the man who murdered his son.
And it isn’t intrinsically evil for him to actually kill the man who murdered his son. In the OT we had the avenger of blood.
This doesn’t mean it would be the right thing to do under our own system of justice, where that is delegated to second parties.
I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this, because it’s just an illustration. But it does illustrate a lack of common ground.
“Here is, I think, the problem -- you equate the matter of ‘having children’ and ‘having sex’.”
No, I don’t equate the two. What I did was to tick off three normal, ordinary reasons that a man, especially a Christian male, would want to marry a woman. I didn’t equate them, although, in this case, they are naturally interrelated. But the motives are distinguishable.
“There's not question that you must have sex to have children -- but the pre-marital notion of ‘I want her to be the mother of my children’ is not a euphemism, even if some treat it that way.”
I never said it was, and I don’t see the relevance of this observation to the issue at hand.
“Motherhood is more than being the object of sexual fantasies, and choosing a woman who will make a great mother is more than making sure she'd satisfy one sexually.”
This is both a false dichotomy and a misstatement of my position. And, frankly (pardon the pun), it shouldn’t be necessary for me to exert so much effort to defend the obvious.
But let’s take a contrasting example. Especially in the past, when there was more of a social stigma attaching to sodomy, homosexual men used to marry women just to keep up appearances. They would lead a double life.
But aside from the other immortalities involved in this arrangement (hypocrisy, sodomy, infidelity), it is wrong to marry a woman if you cannot love a woman the way a woman was meant to be loved.
It wrongs her to marry her if you don’t feel the way a normal man would feel about a woman. She’s entitled to a husband who covets her for being all that a woman can be, and only what a woman can be.
I don’t know why I have to belabor these elementary truisms.
I think part of the problem is that some Christians are overreacting to our licentious culture. And in their reactionary stance, they don’t make adequate room for God-given sensuality.
“Let's also be clear about this: any man is going to have sexual desires for any woman in the right circumstances. The issue is if those circumstances are not just useful or practical but morally correct. It is not morally correct to have sex outside of marriage -- not outside of a marriage which exists, and not apart from a marriage which does not exist. Sex outside of marriage is morally wrong. I am sure you don't deny this.”
“However, if your point is that the desire is neither moral or immoral but neutral, I'd have to think about this some more.”
No, that’s not my point. The desire is either moral or immoral.
“ Regarding Mt 5, the only way to say what you are saying here Steve is to say that fornication is not wrong. If fornication is not wrong, then the argument is yours: if it is wrong, then even if the specific example Christ makes in Mt 5 about adultery is only about married people, the precept has to be applied to the sexual sins unmarried people will encounter.”
This raises a valid issue. Several points:
i) We need to begin our interpretation of any given passage with what that passage has to say. Taking it on its own terms. Paying careful attention to the specific wording and literary allusions.
The Scriptural prohibition against fornication should not dictate or prejudge the interpretation of Mt 5:28. We first need to listen to what that text has to say about itself.
ii) Adultery and fornication are both analogous and disanalogous. They are analogous inasmuch as both are sexual sins.
But if doesn’t necessarily follow that if extramarital desire is a form of adultery, then premarital desire is a form of fornication.
a) For starters, what makes extramarital desire illicit is that you are already in a committed, covenantal relationship.
For a married man to, fantasize about a woman other than his wife involves an alienation of affections. He no longer covets her. Rather, he covets another woman. He is defrauding her of the emotional fidelity he owes her, and vice versa.
That is not analogous to premarital desire between a single man and a single woman.
b) In addition, in the economy of God, premarital desire is meant to be directed towards a state of matrimony, and not away from it.
This takes its point of departure with generic sex appeal. Why do men in general take an interest in women in general? Well, there’s more than one reason—but this is one of the reasons.
It is then supposed to move from the generic to the specific. A particular woman as a particular object of affection. A potential or prospective mate.
Christians shouldn’t be uncomfortable about stating the obvious. And we shouldn’t cede the ground of natural, normal sensuality to the unbelieving world.
“It's not enough to say, ‘well, Scripture is silent on such a thing’.”
But, of course, that’s a straw man argument because this is not all I’ve said on the subject.
“Scripture is silent on the use of the dagger in murder -- and they had daggers in those days. Does that mean we can interpret that killing with a dagger is OK, or does it mean that we can understand the precept that unjust killing is murder -- whether it is done by a rock, a sword, a knife or an arrow?”
A poor comparison. We all agree that murder is a sin. Therefore, the fact that the methods may vary is inconsequential.
“There are things in Scripture which can be understood even if they are not explicitly worked out for us to the most obvious degree.”
Once again, this is true. But in that event, people need to lay out a cogent argument for their inferences.
DAVE ARMSTRONG SAID:
“And another thing: what the hell difference does it make to the discussion if you or I or all of us here reading and commenting (including women: let's not leave them out, as if this is only a "guy thing"!) have committed this sin or not? How is that the least bit relevant? __So, e.g., if you condemn Catholic commenters as hypocrites, if they happen to admit that they committed this sin, why could they not come right back (on the same kindergarten-ethics basis) and condemn you as rationalizing sin and calling evil good for self-interested purposes if indeed you are doing it yourself? This has nothing - NOTHING - to do with the merits of the case pro or con.”
i) Actually, I offered a detailed reply to this question in my response to Alan. You’ll notice that Dave simply disregards my reply, and instead launches into a hysterical tirade.
ii) I’m not particular concerned with the rather banal issue of hypocrisy per se.
Rather, as I already explained, the question of hypocrisy goes to the issue of whether the critics have a viable code of conduct.
A point of inconsistency can be relieved in either of two different directions. It’s hypocritical for a white supremacist to inveigh against miscegenation if he has a black mistress on the side.
This doesn’t mean that he should be a more consistent white supremacist. Rather, he should achieve consistency by ditching his racism.
If people have a code of conduct that they can’t live with, then they may have the wrong code of conduct. If their ethical ideal is simply unlivable, then it may be unlivable because it is unnatural.
Christian ethics is not supposed to be utterly impractical or unrealistic.
“berny, paul wrote in romans that if your conscience tells you something is a sin (even though it is not), if you do it you have sinned. so listen to your guilty feelings.”
This oversimplifies what Paul has to say about the weaker brethren. Indeed, Paul makes the point that guilty feelings can arise from faulty theology. And the lingering guilt is a sign of spiritual immaturity in this particular respect. We need to correct our theology and outgrow our false guilt.
There are many legalistic theological traditions that saddle believers with a false sense of guilt. They pile on a backbreaking load of extrascriptural prescriptions and proscriptions. This needs to be challenged, not codified and canonized.
DAVE ARMSTRONG SAID:
“The two are ethically similar if not identical insofar as they both separate ejaculation from its proper sphere (in the context and act of intercourse, open to procreation, which is its deepest ontological purpose).”
What about a wet-dream?
“Onan deliberately removed himself from proper sexuality and ‘interrupted’ it with de facto masturbation.”
That’s eisegesis, not exegesis.
“Homosexual sex, or sodomy, is another instance of the same. They are all essentially the same on a moral plane because they deny the divine purpose of sexuality: procreation.”
So infertile couples should divorce? When a wife passes her childbearing years, the husband should dump her for a younger woman and sire more kids by his second (third, fourth, fifth…) wife. Is that it?
“Besides, most Protestants are no more opposed to contraception than (many) are to masturbation.”
“You may say this is solely contraception and has no bearing on masturbation at all, but even if one grants that (I don't, per the above) you still have to explain how the Bible explicitly condemns it and Onan winds up dead. Theories about his failure to do the levirate duty, etc., fall flat with cross-referencing, as I showed, particularly in my longer paper.”
i) To begin with, why should I care for what a Catholic layman has to say? Dave doesn’t speak for the Magisterium, now does he?
ii) And while we’re reading his paper, we might also want to read a few standard commentaries on Genesis.
Notice that Dave simply disregarded the exegetical argument which I reproduced from the commentaries I quoted.
“So you are in a position of defending a sexual morality that IS explicitly condemned in the Bible, in the case of contraception (specifically an old variant of it: coitus interruptus).”
i) Only on your blatantly acontextual interpretation.
ii) However, Dave does us a favor by pointing out that there is an analogy between support/opposition to/for contraception, and support/opposition to/for masturbation.
Many Evangelical critics of masturbation are, indeed, rather inconsistent on this point.
“Any way you slice the cake, the Protestant who has (knowingly or not) caved into the sexual revolution in part, has severe biblical problems to contend with.”
i) This is another part of Armstrong’s rhetorical shtick: pretend that challenges to Catholic views of contraception and masturbation automatically represent a capitulation of the sexual revolution, rather than a course-correction on the basis of grammatico-historical exegesis.
Over the course of 1500 years, the church piled up some traditional misinterpretations of Scripture. It’s necessarily to clear away the debris. And the job is still a work in progress.
“One may abstractly or conceptually distinguish the two, but it doesn't follow that 1) they were not both condemned by the ancient Jews, or 2) that Genesis 38 has no bearing on masturbation at all.”
Notice the bait-and-switch:
i) The fact that they may both be condemned in Jewish tradition doesn’t mean that you can use one as an interpretive grid for the other.
ii) Jewish society was a tribal society. The land belonged to the clan. That’s a major reason for levirate marriage. It was adapted to the socioeconomic conditions of the time.
Onan was depriving his sister-in-law of her property rights. Her livelihood. Her chance at having legitimate offspring who would support her in her own old age, as opposed to selling her body as a prostitute to keep from starving. That’s the ANE background of Gen 38.
Fr. Brian Harrison did a huge study on ancient exegesis of Genesis 38: "The Sin of Onan Revisited": http://www.rtforum.org/lt/lt67.html__He showed that your overall contention is incorrect and that the Talmud also associated masturbation with the condemnation of Onan: "
6. In the parable of the sower, the idea of seed which falls upon the ground, rather than in it, symbolizes a fundamental sin: rejection of the Word of God (cf. Lk. 8: 5-6, 12-13). In Hebrew poetic thought a woman's body in its capacity for fruitfulness and motherhood is sometimes alluded to under images of a "garden" in which seed is to be sown (cf. Song of Songs 4: 12-16; 5: 1; 6: 1-2). Indeed, the very fact that in Hebrew the same word (zerah) is used for both 'semen' and 'seed' suggests that the potential for fruitfulness is understood as essential to any sexual activity."
Okay. So the Lucan version of parable is a really an allegory about the sin of masturbation. That’s very creative. Who would have known?
What a pity that in the two standard commentaries on the Gospel of Luke, which also interact with the synoptic parallels, as well as other Catholic scholars (e.g. Lagrange, Cerfaux, R. E. Brown), neither Fitzmyer nor L. T. Johnson discern the esoteric meaning of this parable.
"The Encylopedia Judaica (Vol. 4, p. 1054, article "Birth Control") states: "Jewish tradition ascribed the practice of birth control to the depraved humanity before Noah (Gen. R. 23: 2, 4; Rashi to Gen. 4: 19, 23)." (For further confirmation of Jewish views on this point, cf. H. Hirsch Cohen, The Drunkenness of Noah [University of Alabama Press].) The Encylopedia article adds that on the basis of Gen. 38: 9-10, "the Talmud sternly inveighs against 'bringing forth the seed in vain', considering it a cardinal sin (Nid. 13a). . . . Strictly Orthodox [Jews], . . . for religious reasons, refuse to resort to birth control." In the same Encyclopedia, under "Onanism" (Vol. 12, p. 1495), it is stated that the act of Onan "is taken . . . by the Talmud (Yev. 34b) to refer either to unnatural intercourse or (cf. Nid. 13a) to masturbation. The Zohar [a 13th century work] expatiates on the evil of onanism in the second sense." Other works by Jewish authors corroborating this tradition include D. Feldman, Marital Relations, Birth Control and Abortion in Jewish Law (New York: Schocken Books, 1974) and J. Cohen, 'Be Fertile, Increase, Fill the Earth and Master It' (Cornell University Press, 1989).
i) No one denies that Gen 38 has reference to contraception. That isn’t the issue. The issue is what makes contraception illicit in that particular situation.
ii) Even if some post-Biblical Jewish traditions gloss Gen 38 as a case of masturbation, that doesn’t make it valid exegesis. Why doesn’t Armstrong quote from a major Jewish commentary on Genesis like Sarna’s?
Likewise, why isn’t Armstrong quoting any contemporary contemporary Catholic commentaries on by major Catholic OT scholars?
Fr. Harrison summarized: " The classical Jewish commentators - who can scarcely be accused of ignorance regarding Hebrew language, customs, law, and biblical literary genres - certainly saw in this passage of Scripture a condemnation of both unnatural intercourse and masturbation as such.
i) Dave has cited very little supporting material to document the masturbatory interpretation. Instead, he’s tried to obfuscate the issue by amalgamating different sources that say different things.
ii) It’s quite possible that a Medieval Jewish commentator like Rashi would be ignorant of ANE culture. That’s about 2500 years under the bridge.
A typical traditional Jewish commentary puts it thus: "[Onan] misused the organs God gave him for propagating the race to unnaturally satisfy his own lust, and he was therefore deserving of death." And this is undoubtedly in accord with the natural impression which most unprejudiced readers will draw from the text of Genesis 38."
If this is typical, then it’s typically wrong. It’s clearly out of context.
On the one hand, it’s oblivious to the framework of levirate marriage.
On the other hand, coitus interruptus is scarcely the most satisfying form of sexual expression. It’s only used as a contraceptive measure, and not because it’s more pleasurable.
Moreover, Joseph Schenker is the Professor and Chairman of the Department Of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Hadassah, University Medical Centre, Jerusalem, Israel, wrote: "The collection of semen can present problems because of the prohibition against masturbation and "seed wasting". Masturbation is strictly condemned by the rabbinical sources: "Thou should not commit adultery, neither by hand, nor by foot". Coitus interruptus, or withdrawal, and the use of condoms are generally prohibited on the basis of the Biblical injunction against "spilling of the seed needlessly". "http://www.obgyn.net/women/women.asp?page=/eago/art13 See the texts in the Babylonian Talmud itself: Niddah 13a / 13b: http://www.come-and-hear.com/niddah/niddah_13.html
i) This is irrelevant to the original intent of Gen 38.
ii) It also illustrates a point of tension in Catholic moral theology. On the one hand, we’re told that masturbation is wrong because it thwarts the proper purpose of sex, which is procreation.
On the other hand, when masturbation is used in the service of artificial fertilization, in the case of couples who are unable to conceive by natural means, it is still treated as immoral.
This involved what is known as the "levirate law": the duty to produce offspring with the wife of a dead brother. But this is not why God killed Onan, since the penalty for that was public humiliation and shunning, not death (Dt. 25:5-10). Context also supports this interpretation, since immediately after this (Gen. 38:11-26), is the story of Onan's father Judah refusing to enforce the law and allow his other son, Shelah to produce a child with Tamar, his daughter-in-law. He was afraid that Shelah would be killed like Onan and his other wicked son, Er (38:7,11). Judah acknowledges his sin in 38:26: "She is more righteous than I, inasmuch as I did not give her to my son Shelah." He wasn't killed, so it is unreasonable to contend that Onan was judged and killed by God for the very same sin that Judah committed (in the same passage). Onan was judged for contraception (sex with the deliberate intent to unnaturally prevent procreation).
i) To begin with, it’s unsurprising that we find some detailed differences between patriarchal common law and the Mosaic law, for the patriarchal honor code is a social custom, whereas the Mosaic law, to the extent that it codifies and canonizes preexisting social mores, also reformulates them in a more nuanced fashion. The Mosaic law doesn’t merely rubberstamp tradition.
ii) Armstrong’s interpretation is incoherent, for, on the one hand, he contends that Gen 38 doesn’t have reference to levirate marriage since refusal is not a capital offense in Deut 25; on the other hand, he also says that Shelah doesn’t suffer the death penalty for refusing to honor the custom.
So, in basing his argument on the respective penalties, Dave, to be consistent, would have to deny that Deut 25 is also dealing with Levirate law.
iii) The sin of Onan was to game the system by pretending to honor the law when he was really dishonoring the law.
“It only is in modernistic Christianity and biblical interpretation; this is the problem. Fancy that!: Steve Hays, the victim of modernism in both sexual morality and hermeneutics. How ironic…”
i) Catholic casuistry is far from treating every case of conscience as indubitable. Just consider the debates over Probabilism, Equiprobabilism, and Probabiliorism.
Does that represent a surrender to the sexual revolution?
ii) Let’s also not forget that Catholicism represents a moral compromise. It arbitrarily distinguishes between natural methods of contraception and artificial methods of contraception.
That's right. The liberals make the same exact argument about kids having sex: they'll do it anyway and can't control themselves so we must let them do so and no longer say it is wrong. This reduces human beings to the level of the brute beast. Nice going there. They give them condoms: you wink while little boys play with themslves and arouse fantasies and improper sexual feelings. Let 'em dop it. This is pure sexual revolution thinking, through and through. It's not traditional Christian or biblical teaching, by any stretch of the imagination.
i) Dave is now descending to pure demagoguery. I said that we shouldn’t automatically give into our feelings because some of our feelings are irrational or unjustified. We can’t always avoid having certain feelings, but we can avoid acting on them. And I gave false guilt as an example.
Dave turns this on its head, as if I said we should automatically act on our irrepressible feelings, which was just the opposite of what I actually said.
ii) Dave also has a rather odd view of young children who explore their anatomy. Does he really thing that a two-year-old who “plays with himself” is indulging in sexual fantasies?
Evidently, Armstrong subscribes to the Freudian thesis of infantile sexuality, which is the basis for organizations like NAMBLA.
Nice going there. This is pure sexual revolution thinking, through and through, it’s not traditional Biblical teaching by any stretch of the imagination.
JUAN RIVERA SAID:
“You know guys, I guess you're right. Since you would only be considered ‘unclean’ in the OT, it's really not that big a deal. I mean, you didn't have to slaughter an animal over it. God just declares that you're ‘unclean’. Only ceremoniously so. I guess I'm just being prudish and uptight about the whole thing. No Christian man should have a problem with being declared ‘unclean’ by his God...”
Having backed himself into an untenable corner, Juan is now being silly as well as inaccurate.
i) Does he think that defecation, menstruation, and conjugal relations are sinful? Or does he draw a distinction between ritual impurity and intrinsic evil?
ii) And, no, you didn’t have to slaughter an animal for the types of ritual impurity we’re talking about. Rather, a ritual ablution is all that was required.
“Let's see Steve, when you use your sex organ, is it sex?”
Well, that all depends. What you call the sex organ has more than one function. I don’t equate urination with sex, do you?
I’m sorry to inflict this on the reader, but that’s what happens when people back themselves into a corner. They flail about for any argument, however desperate, to extricate themselves.
“Steve, does a man consciously and purposefully initiate a wet dream? A wet dream may be the result of lust in a man's heart, but it is not a conscious act, is it?”
i) Now he’s shifting ground. His original objection to masturbation was that it violates the procreative purpose of sex.
Since that argument doesn’t work for wet-dreams, he’s having to shift gears. But, in so doing, he’s tacitly withdrawn his original argument.
ii) He’s also adopting the Arminian principle that only conscious sin counts as sin.
“And I'm Reformed and a Calvinist, btw, not Pentacostal.”
In that event:
i) You should appreciate the ethical difference between the moral law and the ceremonial law.
ii) You should avoid an Arminian definition of sin.
iii) And you should avoid a Pentecostal epistemology, which—to judge by your statements thus far—is your operating epistemology.
“Was Paul's answer in 1 Cor. to fast and pray when faced with sexual temptation? No, he said "it is better to marry than to burn". I don't recall him saying, well, if you can't find a wife, look for a nice, quiet dark place and Onanize it.”
He was addressing the case of those who felt an irrepressible urge to marry, not with those who couldn’t find a wife.
“What is God's intention with regard to sex, Steve?”
What is God’s intention with regard to wet-dreams, Juan?
“You asserted that necrophilia is dealt with in Scripture.”
No, I didn’t say that. You denied that Scripture addressed the question of necromancy. Two problems:
i) The Bible does address necromancy.
ii) Necromancy is not a form of sex.
The only form of neco- sex would be necrophilia—although that is not discussed in Scripture.
So what are you referring to? To judge, both by you previous statement and your present statement, you don’t seen to know what you mean.
“The reason I am animated about this topic Steve, is because I know that a lot of young men struggle with this. There are guys out there like Berny that have guilty consciences with regard to it. And this isn't like being afraid of heights, some irrational fear you have to deal with. This is a moral issue before God, and guilt is involved because man knows in his heart it is wrong.”
A man’s heart is hardly the measure of morality. There are legalistic denominations that think it’s sinful to take a sip of communion wine. So they substitute grape juice.
A Christian conditioned by this unscriptural tradition may feel conscience-stricken about imbibing communion wine.
If he feels in his heart that communion wine is sinful, is that an objectively valid argument against the use of communion wine? Or must that question be settled on exegetical grounds?
“But don't cause others to stumble because, while the biblical principles about sexual purity are all around you in Scripture, you just didn't come across the ‘word’.”
A straw man argument, since the silence of Scripture was never framed with reference to the absence of a particular word.
But what is far more likely to cause others to stumble are extrascriptural legalisms.
“Ought the man of God be chained to his libido and his penus? Or is he in union with Christ?”
It would be difficult to come across a finer example of a false dichotomy than this monkish antithesis.