Friday, 22 April 2016

God and sexual morality

Some people - most modern people, apparently - say that find it hard to believe that God - or, at least, the Christian God of Love - would exclude certain sexual behaviours, acts and identifications: would regard them as sins.

This labelling of sin seems to them arbitrary and unbalanced... it can indeed be made to sound ridiculous, to the point that through the twentieth century official public sexual morality was first - but only very briefly - made 'free', then now it has been inverted, with the 'normal', natural and traditionally Christian sex and sexuality becoming the problem; precisely because Christianity regards some acts and attitudes as sins... 

Of course, this whole matter hinges on the reality and nature of sin; and public discourse has long since regarded sin as unreal (arbitrary, artificially defined and open-endedly subject to re-definition) and has degraded the concept of sin to the point of ridiculousness - or indeed evil. The major modern moral inversion is that those who believe in the reality of sin are regarded as the ones who are evil.

Those who advocate what used to be (not long ago) regarded as sexual sin are nowadays treated as the virtuous ones and rewarded with praise and status (and material goods!) both by official culture and the mass media - they apparently 'solve' the problem of sin by dissolving the concept of sin and making it a matter of personal preference and freedom and the sacred pursuit of happiness. So long as the consequences of some behaiour can be portrayed (in official and media sources) as potentially happy, self-respecting, and kind - then that is taken to be the proof of rightness.

(And any contradictory evidence of consequent misery, suffering, despair following sin... is blamed upon those who 'label' the behaviour as sin. Essentially, this is Catch 22 in reverse!) 

At any rate, in a world of establishment and counter-cultural moral inversion - to focus on the sin of acts and behaviours has become counter-productive - even when true. I think the key to a response is regarding morality positively, as what God most wants us to do.


This differs among Christian churches - which is a source of weakness that has been exploited - but for the CJCLDS it is clear from multiple revelations and the teaching of living prophets that God most wants us to marry (I mean really marry, with a person of the opposite sex), stay married, have children, and live in loving families.

For Mormon believers, the primacy of marriage and family is not some bit of moral teaching 'parachuted' in from above, but something built-in from the ground upwards; from the basic metaphysical understanding of reality: the 'whole' human is ultimately (at some point, perhaps extremely remote, in post-mortal life, when Man has progressed to the fullest divinity) a complementary, irreducibly dyadic combination of an exalted man and a woman bound together by love.

'Celestial marriage' is the aim, and it is the completion, of Man.

This is the clear ideal - and this is what is taught, supported, worked-towards...

Now, there is compassion and help for those (which may be a majority) who for a multitude of individual reasons of many types, cannot do all of this (or indeed any of it) during this mortal life - and there is therefore a second strand of the ideal life of celibacy - it seems that this may be part of God's plan for some individuals during this mortal life, if not eternally.

There is of course the significant matter than the great majority of people will fail to live perfectly by the ideal; they will probably fail many times, in many ways both great and small, and they may not be able to stop failing. These are not 'damned' nor lost to salvation but they are required to 'repent' - i.e. required to acknowledge the ideal and their failure to attain it.

(And not, for example, to say that their failure is actually success; especially not to assert it is a superior kind of success: which is the norm in modern public discourse.)

But it is forbidden to argue and teach that 'other sexual ways' (of any kind) are either equal or superior to that which God has clearly said is the ideal. Anything other than the ideal must be acknowledged as sub-optimal.

The serious sin is not so much in doing otherwise than the ideal, but in assuming or arguing otherwise, or saying that sex and sexuality 'don't matter'; in making laws and regulations on that basis, or in failing to repent (i.e. acknowledge the sub-optimality of) other behaviours. 


I think that sexuality (in our era) shows clearly the two somewhat different requirements for public and private morality. Public morality (as a part of 'politics' - law, regulations, economic incentives etc.) must be, can only be, simple and clear.

If morality is not presented simply and clearly, then it will in practice be interpreted in a simple and clear way - whether we like it or not.

So public morality will always be simplistic and harsh - just as is our current politically correct morality simplistic and harsh, but in an inverted way than the past. And it is the job of individuals to soften and nuance this simplicity and harshness when appropriate, in individual instance, based upon wise judgement and not on rules.

We cannot expect, and we will not get, perfection in attitudes, justice or anything else - there will always be a bias, and we must make a choice of which direction 'the system' is biased towards: morality (as in the past) or anti-morality (as at present). 


For Christians there is the 'problem' of being strong and able to resist being swept into secularism, while remaining compassionate and empathic.

There is no rule for this - but some types of strong Christianity are brittle and if they yield an inch they seem to collapse altogether; while other types seem to be able to be strong without harshness or encouraging hate: strong in will but soft and warm in heart.

I think this ideal of strong-and-loving, tough-and-soft, clear-and-warm... is made easier by regarding sin as failure to live by the ideal, rather than in terms of specific acts and attitudes being sinful in and of themselves.

What has made the modern sexual revolution such a devastating anti-Christian force is that it has managed to reduce sex and sexuality to be considered as discrete and detached acts, which seem trivial and arbitrary, and therefore not the kind of thing to have eternal significance.

Christians should not fall into this prepared trap - but try to make clear (not least to ourselves) that sexual sin is mostly a matter of failing to live by divinely ordained sexual ideals; but this failure is not of itelf the major problem in modern life: the major problem of modern life is denying the truth that God does have a plan, an ideal, for human sexuality and sexual life; and that we know (because we have been clearly told) the basic structure of this plan - and that when we (so often ) fail to live by the plan, we muct acknowledge ('repent') these failures.

But if you don't know, here it is:


William Wildblood said...

An excellent and illuminating post, Bruce. I think it's very hard for someone who is contravening what God most wants us to do, as you put it, in the matter of sexual morality to hear his voice correctly in any other matter since sex is such a deep part of our nature. This is especially the case if we try to justify our behaviour by saying it is not against God's will. We will constantly be looking for excuses to do what we want and still call it spiritually good.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - Glad to find this seemed right to you.

The genuine difficulty is that sexual sins are the besetting sins of our era and the major destructive force against true religion; yet some of the sexual transgressions are very far from being the worst of sins (at least by most people's understanding) - some are indeed significantly the consequence of illness or misfortune or character; so the secular world finds it hard to understand why (traditionalist-type) Christians (and other religions) pay so much attention to sexual sins. (And indeed often mock what they perceive as some kind of hypocritical or salacious Christian 'obsession' with sex.)

The reason is as you say - sex is a deep part of our nature. If we get sex so wrong that we invert its ideals; then this can hardly fail to have an extremely serious and cumulatively-corrupting effect (examples of which are, sadly, extremely frequent - and which I certainly experienced myself as a young adult).

Brandon said...

Dr. Charlton, what are your thoughts on women's suffrage? In your view, was it a net negative for Western Civilization?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Brandon - I am against suffrage as such: I believe voting is evil:

360 Decrees said...

@Dr. Charlton -
"I am against suffrage as such; I believe voting is evil."

I assume the state you envision would include some kind of assembly or parliament (if my vote won't count, shouldn't my Count vote? ;-)), or, if a theocracy, a college of cardinals or council of elders.

Interestingly, our own Alexander Hamilton proposed an elected president and elected senators that would all serve for life. At the 1787 Constitutional Convention he is supposed to have said:

"The English model was the only good one on this subject. The hereditary interest of the king was so interwoven with that of the nation, and his personal emoluments so great, that he was placed above the danger of being corrupted from abroad... Let one executive be appointed for life who dares execute his powers."

Although American rearing has made me a knee-jerk suffragist, you have me wondering what we are really trying to tell ourselves with our famously low voter turnout.

Bruce Charlton said...

@360 - Well, I don't put the cart before the horse. I would first want to see a devout Christian society, then when we have a decent perspective we could see what government would emerge. But in general 'monarchy' - with a monarch who regards himself as a servant of God and Father to the nation is the natural and best form of a large society. It is better if monarchs are not necessarily hereditary but chosen by God. Assemblies are to advise. A well documented example of a recent good society was the Mormon nation of Deseret under Brigham Young - while it was allowed to last. And the hierarchy of the CJCLDS works very well, so far. But that is probably because of the people - not the system. (On the other hand, a bad system - e.g one involving decision making by voting - will work badly, in the end - by having bad incentives and destroying individual responsibility.)