Jesus, Sex, and Morality

If this doesn't get me a million hits, nothing will...

I think it's safe to describe Jesus as asexual in the way we understand and use the term today.[1]

Jesus' attitude towards sex can be summed up thusly: Sex and other sensual pleasures are good and not sinful in and of themselves, but the pursuit of said pleasures can distract a person from loving God, loving their neighbors (no jokes, please; love in the sense of compassion, not passion), and attuning themselves better to spiritual values.  Pursuit of sensual pleasures (greed being #1 with a bullet on Jesus' s/hit parade) comes at a spiritual cost and a cost in interpersonal relationships (some would argue these are one and the same thing)For those who can not voluntarily squelch their sexual desires, Jesus recommends marriage; you will then have a partner and not waste time / effort / energy / focus pursuing a bed buddy.

We can assume Jesus did not mean married life to be one non-stop-ram-a-lam-a-ding-dong but rather a unique and permanent union of a man and woman "with benefits" that allowed them to focus on spiritual things as well.[2]

Jesus warned his followers of not being prepared for the final judgment, be that judgment a personal one after death or the apocalypse.  His warnings had less to do with specific sinful actions but more along the lines of neglect.  In the parables of the foolish virgins and of the wedding guests it was an unwillingness to prepare for or participate in a wedding; in the parable of the sheep and goats it was ignoring of those in need; in the parable of the sower and the seeds it was allowing the cares of the world to overwhelm the Word of God in one's heart.

Hell, it would seem, is for procrastinators.

Jesus never seemed to be philosophically opposed to having a good time; he did decry putting the pursuit of pleasure above pursuit of things of the spirit.  He's not outraged or offended by the two examples of sexual sin he encountered, he was patient and forgiving.[3]

Jesus was down on adultery because he saw it as a betrayal of trust and in First Century AD Judea, a violation of a vow before God.  On the other hand, he was notorious for associating with drunks, whores, and tax collectors, so one feels the actual physical act was of less concern than the personal betrayal.

Marriage also ends at the grave as far as Christ was concerned.  When the Pharisees tried to trip him up with a question of whom a seven-time widow would be married to after the resurrection, Jesus pretty explicitly said the death of a spouse hit the reset button and in the next life there would be no marriage or giving in marriage.[4]

Jesus' single most complex point on sexual morality, however, had to do with the inner feeling of lust.

To even look at a woman with lustful intent was adultery, Jesus taught.  He qualified it to add "in the heart" which implies a casual response ("Leslie looks nice") didn't yet reach the threshold of sin.[5]

For me, this is what's unclear: Was Jesus talking about lust for a particular individual (i.e., "Leslie looks hot; I wanna bang Leslie even though we're married to other people"), lust with an unspecified / unfocused object ("Leslie looks so hot it makes me hot"), lust with a purely intellectual / abstract object ("I know I can't have Leslie and wouldn't betray my spouse, but I can pretend we're having sex"), lust about a possible but as yet unmarried spouse ("I'm going to fantasize about honeymooning with Leslie"),  lust with an entirely imaginary focus ("I'm going to fantasize about my as-yet-unknown future spouse"), or some combination of the above?

This teaching is clearly derived from the Decalogue.  Jesus' great insight was that adultery involved not the act but the attitude; he did not decry polygamous relationships though they existed at that time.[6] He spoke of an ideal bonding, but allowed for forgiveness.

In fact, what Jesus recognized was that an attitude of covetousness -- wanting something when one knows one is not entitled to it -- was the precursor behind sins #6 thru #9.  We are not entitled to kill, we are not entitled to steal, we are not entitled to lie to hurt the innocent or protect the guilty, we are not entitled to invoke God's name as a blessing / endorsement for enterprises of a dubious nature.

Coveting means we believe our sense of entitlement outweighs everyone else.[7] An adulterer believes their right to  feel good / happy outweighs the right of the spouse being cheated on.

And, yes, you can commit adultery without physical intimacy.  Carrying on an intimate emotional relationship is equally bad.[8]

Obsessive control fanatics aside,[9] there is nothing sinful about the physical act of masturbation.  Hey, if you can accomplish it on a purely abstract intellectual level without thinking about another person, go for it.

I combed the InterWebs looking for a family friendly illustration to use for the topic of masturbation and couldn't find one so here's a Soviet spaceflight poster instead.

What one thinks about while choking the chicken (or polishing the pearl, whatever...) is where the danger lies.  I think it's pretty clear fantasizing about sex with an actual person that would involve violating marriage vows (yours or theirs) is sinful.  I can't speak with authority re fantasizing about Li'l Abner or Daisy Mae, two purely fictitious / non-real artistic renditions of certain types of masculine / feminine ideals.

The question of porn (i.e., sex by media proxy) is another issue I have no absolutely clear take on.  I think it's indisputable some forms of porn are inherently sinful.

But is porn then defined by its sinfulness?  I can imagine two identically posed images, one involving real people, another of realistic CGI figures.  Are they both porn?  What if instead of CGI it was an oil painting?  A watercolor?  A charcoal drawing?  A cartoon line drawing?  Crude stick figures?

A paragraph of 50 words vaguely describing such images?  A single word that conjures up a mental image?  Even hinting such words exist?

Depending on your POV, this is either a cute cartoon worthy of refrigerator door enshrinement or as blatant an example of midget porn as one could hope to see.

Truth be told, I am a former pornographer.  I had a brief three-month tenure as an editor at Penthouse Comix that I describe as a 90 day bathespheric excursion into the bowels of Hell.[10]

Now you may ask yourself: "Why the #%&@ would a professing Christian work for a porn mag?"

And my answer is the same as anyone else who's involved in the trade: Because the money is soooooooo damn good.[11]

I also told myself it was okay because we were doing comics, not photography.  ("It's all just lines on paper, folks!" -- Scott Shaw!)  No real humans were required to perform actual acts.

This is a problematic issue: If it is not an inherent sin to draw a picture of two humans killing one another why would it be an inherent sin to draw a picture of two humans schtupping one another?

We are either getting much too worked up over a non-issue or else are ignoring a far more grievous sin.

Now, I want it to be clear that what I worked on was porn as defined thusly:

Pornography is any artistic expression created and / or shared with the specific intent of creating sexual arousal in its target audience.

It was definitely our intent to create artistic expressions that caused arousal in our readership: That was the stated objective and, if I say so myself, we accomplished that task with great skill and aplomb.

Did we lead others to sin because of our actions?  I'm pretty sure we did.  Even if we debate whether getting turned on by a cartoon character is sinful, there's no doubt we were providing erotic fuel for guys (and some gals) to fantasize about people they knew.

Was it as bad as hiring models / actors / porn stars / prostitutes to actually do the nasty in front of a camera?

From a human POV we could argue it wasn't.

From God's POV it was a sinful act and all sins are equal insofar as they separate us from God if we don't repent and accept His grace.

But while our efforts for Penthouse Comix were indisputably porn, how about our work for Penthouse's Men's Adventure Comix (hence PC and MAC)?  The same creative teams worked on both magazines, but while PC was clearly erotic and sexual in intent & content, MAC was more straightforward "I Shot My Way Out Of A Chi-Com Hellhole" stuff.

Were writing and drawing stories about imaginary characters killing their enemies any more / less sinful than writing and drawing stories about imaginary characters boffing their objects of desire?[12]

I think it comes back to desire again.  To watch a film where we develop a hatred for a fictional character that’s so intense we rejoice in that fictional character’s fictional death is no different from watching a film where we develop a desire for a fictional character that’s so intense we fantasize about having a relationship with them.  If it is sinful to hate and it is equally sinful to covet lustfully, then watching action-adventure movies is as inherently sinful as watching porn.

The more you delve into this, the more you think about it, the more you appreciate Christ’s teaching: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.  For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”

We need to mind our own morality first, concentrate on what we are doing / failing to do before we start offering helpful advice to others…much less dictating to them by law.




[1]  I know theologian Matthew Fox has suggested he was a widower because of what Fox perceives as an enlightened attitude towards women.  Interesting idea, but I'm dubious:  There were lots of other widowers without enlightened attitudes in those days and the Gospels refer to his brothers, sisters, and cousins so I don't think they'd leave that little detail out.  Further, DaVinci Code to the contrary, if Christ had been a childless widower, you can bet bogus sons & grandsons & great-grandsons would've been tripping over one another in the early days of the church.  The fact there wasn't isn't proof he wasn't a widower but sure don't work to support that argument.

[2]  I say "man and woman" to quote Jesus accurately; I can not say he meant this in the sense of specifically forbidding same gender relations.  Marriage in his era and place referred to one man and one woman (or two, or three, or four...); it was often contracted between families with little or no consideration for the feelings of the participants.  Indeed, it was not unheard of for a bride and groom to meet for the first time at their wedding!  However, Jesus referred to other pairings without assigning gender to either member, though in context there doesn't seem to be an explicit sexual or romantic connection between the two.  His mention of two people sharing a bed can not be interpreted as a romantic relationship; it was not uncommon in his culture for people of the same sex to sleep together for practical reasons.

[3]  Though he didn't excuse the behaviors.  Forgiveness acknowledges the immorality of an act, it pardons the offender for the sake of a greater good; an excuse negates any question of morality, centers solely on what is pragmatically arguable, and at its extreme allows the perpetrator to shift responsibility by blaming the victim.  This is why forgiveness is far easier to obtain than permission.

[4]  The 64-drachma question is, did this mean there would be no need for sexual / romantic relations because we would be different sorts of beings who no longer required such distractions, or that our love for one another would be so complete / universal / perfect that it would be like the greatest / most perfect love of our terrestrial lives?  I dunno; I'm inclined towards the latter personally but believe whatever God has in store for us in the next life, it will be far better that what we've done for / to ourselves in this world.

[5]  Christ was famously tempted three times to betray his earthly mission.  To be merely presented with the opportunity to sin, to merely consider "If I do x I can get y", does not seem to be a sinful act.  To continue thinking to the degree where one desires the outcome is where sin comes in.  Also, while Christ apparently used the masculine form "in his heart" re lusting after a woman, it's clear he means for this teaching to apply across all orientations and genders.

[6]  One would think God would wish to discourage polygamous relationships because they tend to be about males acquiring more than one wife.  If 10% of the males in a given culture each have two wives, the remaining male / female ration is 90 / 80.  If 10% average three wives the result is 90 / 70; or if 20% of the men have two wives the result is 90 / 60.  These kinds of male / female ratios are not the way to engender (pun intended) a just and stable society.

[7]  We have an entire industry built on the proposition of getting people to want things:  Advertising.  Any advertising that does anything other that announce a product / service, what it does, how much it costs, and where to buy it is in danger of hellfire.

[8]  The line is not necessarily hard and fast.  As more men and women work together, the phenomenon of "office spouses" has been observed:  People of opposite gender who form close bonds for work, bouncing questions and ideas off one another and looking for feedback the way married couples do at home.  So long as the bonding is just about work and does not extend beyond the office, there is nothing wrong in such relationships.

[9]  A church I once attended had a whole quarterly curriculum for young males devoted to the issue of masturbation & why it was A Horrible Horrible Sin.  I read the material and found it to be remarkably creepy:  One detailed description of the proper procedure of masturbation using unguents is bad enough, by the third reiteration of same details I was wondering if the author wrote the book to stop little boys from spanking the monkey or because he liked thinking about little boys spanking the monkey.

[10]  Am I going to write about my experiences someday?  Oh, you betcha:  The first draft is already done.

[11]  I've got lots of excuses for taking the gig -- we were sliding deeper and deeper into debt, we couldn't make our mortgage payments, my freelance career had dried up -- but ultimately they are merely that:  Excuses, not justification.  But more on that in the book to come...

[12]  I understand the argument re live-action porn being a sin while a live-action war story may not be.  The war story is faked:  Violence is choreographed for the camera, the guns fire blanks, the wounds are stage blood, the dead get up & dust themselves off & collect a pay check.  Live-action porn require (usually) actual people getting actually naked and actually bumping actual uglies.  Then they collect a pay check...


The Difference Between An Okay Story And A Good Story

Thinkage [updated]

Thinkage [updated]