Let’s consider lust and sodomy in the context of Christian sexual morality.
The meanings of the above terms, lust and sodomy, have been stretched and distorted over the centuries. Lust and sodomy are now catch-all terms that include thoughts, actions and behaviors that are not authentically lustful nor sodomitical. Contemporary dictionary definitions of these words reflect the expansion and distortion from the original and more limited meanings.
Keep in mind the Gospels and what Jesus does and does not say about the married state in the Gospels. He actually very rarely mentions marriage. (I think there is a verse or two on marriage in Matthew.) Jesus did not berate married persons for being married or for having sexual relations in their marriage. You will not find an animosity towards sex within marriage in New Testament times.
Why is lust a deadly sin? What really is lust?
Lust involves covetousness, true lust that is. Why is it condemned and needs to be condemned? Because when one is motivated by lust and fails to practice self-restraint, he (or she) will pursue a course of action, even an immoral course of action, to obtain the object he/she is coveting. Lust is a deadly sin because it can lead one to commit any of these sinful (and harmful) acts: fornication, adultery, sexual assault (rape), etc. (When Jesus condemns lust in one’s heart as being the equivalent of committing adultery, He may have been using Semitic hyperbole to make His point. He must have been condemning true lust, and not mere sexual arousal or desire. If anyone who ever had a sexual thought forfeited salvation and was condemned to the fires of Hell for all eternity, there would be very few souls in Heaven indeed.)
With (St.) Augustine (356 – 430), in the late 4th century, we get the idea that lust (one of the 7 deadly sins) includes sexual arousal, desire and ardor. Thus, a husband and wife are sinning at least venially when they make love within their marriage. Sexual desire, or the sex drive in humans, was thought by Augustine to be punishment for the Fall (in Eden). The purpose of sex in marriage was thought to be solely for procreation (reproduction). Bear in mind that Augustine had been greatly influenced by ancient pagan schools of thought prior to his conversion to Christianity. Some of these schools of thought (Manichaeism, Stoicism, and certain Gnostic sects) held to a very pessimistic view of the flesh and sensual experience. As well, Augustine seems to have been personally bitter due to his mother, St. Monica, breaking up a long term relationship he had had with a concubine. A sour grapes mindset does seem to color his sexual pessimism and hatred of pleasure. (Augustine’s views could not have gained primacy without approval of the Popes of his time (Siricius and others). He was after all only a bishop of Hippo in North Africa. Now he is a revered doctor of the Catholic Church.)
Also in the late 4th century, (St.) Jerome was translating the Bible from the Greek into Latin. This is known as the Vulgate. Translations require a certain degree of interpretation. There does appear to have been some selective editing on the part of Jerome during his translation (as researchers suggest). The sexual aspect of humans suffered as certain Bible verses were altered to cast a more negative light on sex within marriage (the Book of Tobit or Tobias is an example).
It is interesting to note from a historical perspective that the negative view of the married state (because of the sexual activity that occurs in marriage) did not gain ascendency until after the Church had gained power within the Roman Empire. During the persecutions of the first 3 centuries of the Christian era, would many married converts to the banned religion have risked death or exile or imprisonment for a religion that considered them second (or worse) class citizens in the community of believers?
As to the idea that sex within humans is only for procreation, we ask why then do humans have a non-seasonal sex drive? Why can both males and females desire sex and have the capacity for it all throughout the year and not solely during the fertile times of the female? Anthropologists tell us that the non-seasonal (i.e. continuous) sexual interest of the male for the female was the driving force for long-term monogamous pairings of males and females throughout prehistory. It appears that there is indeed a biological basis for marriage that long predates the rise of organized religions throughout the world.
Sodomy is condemned in the Bible. In the Bible, sodomy is almost always defined in the context of homosexual acts. (I say “almost” because I have not read the entire Bible and so cannot speak authoritatively about the term sodomy in every Bible verse it may be found in.) The Maccabean Revolt was in part a rejection of the homosexuality practiced by the Greeks who occupied Palestine in the wake of Alexander’s conquests.
We do not think that true sodomy applies to acts between a husband and a wife. The original condemnation of sodomy was a condemnation of homosexual acts. With the current definition of sodomy which includes oral and anal copulation, loving oral sex within marriage is condemned as sinful. Even when oral sex (fellatio) is performed when the wife is outside of her fertile time and thus no conception can occur, the act is condemned as terribly sinful in some Christian churches. (The story of Onan and the concern over “spilling semen” are not applicable here. Onan was killed by God because he willfully failed to impregnate his brother’s widow and thus violated the custom of levirate marriage which dictated he impregnate her. As well, as a result of Onan’s sin, the widow would be childless and left with no one to support her when she was old. The story of Onan was used by Augustine and by the Catholic Church to terrorize married couples over the centuries into believing that God only endured or suffered the sight of married persons having sex if it was in the service of procreation. We now know that the semen does not contain a fully formed human being. This Aristotelian view of human reproduction has been debunked by modern science in the past 200 years. The human sex cells prior to fertilization are just that – sex cells and not quasi or fractional human beings.) On this blog, in our previous essays on oral sex within marriage, we have rejected this view that oral sex within marriage is sinful. Ordering sex within marriage to procreation when conception is not possible seems to us to be a form over substance argument. But, without this, church authorities assert (and lament) that they have no other argument(s) against homosexuality. See our earlier essay on the true purpose of sexual morality. There are other arguments that can be made against homosexuality.
The stretching of the meanings of lust and sodomy have allowed church authorities to take too severe and too controlling an approach to the regulation of sexuality in the lives of the married faithful. We think this has led to an overreach of Church authority that has done some serious harm over the centuries to married persons. When Christ gave authority to His church, He did not give the Church license to abuse that authority. God is sovereign, not the Church.
Christianity needs to abandon its sex negative message in favor of a sex positive message that says to the world “avoid the sinful and the destructive effects of sex outside of marriage and move towards the good of sexual love within marriage.” Today’s Christianity needs to adopt a more rational, mature and healthy appreciation and understanding of the sexual love between the spouses, and not burden marriage with unfounded inhibitions and prohibitions.
When the hungry person knows where his next meals are coming from, he is less obsessed with this natural need/appetite as he knows it will be satisfied regularly. The best defense against sexual sin in marriage (adultery, pornography. etc.) is to encourage both spouses to be sexually available to each other and to engage in frequent lovemaking. The Church needs to encourage mutually fulfilling sexual relationships in marriage as a means of strengthening the marriage bond between the spouses. (Stronger marriages allow for stable families for better child rearing.) Passionate lovemaking with one’s spouse is not lustful, nor dirty. It is completely natural and is what God intended for the spouses as lovers.
If we consider that extremism begets reaction and extremism from those of the opposing viewpoint, we must allow that Christianity’s extreme take on sexuality for many centuries did contribute to the grotesque excesses and extremes of the so-called sexual revolution that smashed through the dam of personal self-control and personal responsibility in the 1960s in the Western world.
other problematic issues for modern Christianity
There are other problematic issues for contemporary Christianity that we have already discussed in previous posts on this blog. These include eschatological (“rapture”, end times prophecy) Christianity, Christian Zionism, and circumcision (a medically unnecessary procedure promoted in the US during the late 1800s by Protestant doctors who even touted Scripture to support this non-Christian practice). Perhaps, the most problematic issue of all for Christians and Christianity in the modern world is the acceptance of abortion by those who claim to be Christian. Jesus’ 2nd commandment was to love your neighbor. We think that includes your neighbors residing in their mothers’ wombs. Today, abortion is the modern version of child sacrifice to ancient, pagan idols and false gods. These small babies are sacrificed on the altar of “choice”. Just some food for thought and our parting shot.
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