• Lust in his heart…

    Back when I was still a faithful fundamentalist Christian, I spent an inordinate fraction of the time trying to bear these verses in mind:

    Matthew 5:27-28 — King James Version

    27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:

    28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

    Entire Bible study groups have been given over to the subject, not to mention books. It’s really sad to watch men struggle with sexual guilt imposed upon them by faith-based doctrines, but it is not remotely surprising. Christians have a long history of faith-based sexual repression, and we should not be shocked to see them indulging therein.

    Don't look twice, you pervy dudebro
    Don’t look twice, pervy dudebro

    Given this personal background, I am still surprised and appalled to see modern secular people immersing themselves in this same internalized self-immolation, loathing themselves for having perfectly ordinary sexual urges. Even as I write this, I’m having trouble believing that this really happens, but here you go:

    I assume that my “condition” is perfectly normal, because many friends I’ve consulted have admitted that they, too, might have graphic daydreams about a woman they saw for five seconds at a traffic light. And indeed, the academic research on the subject corroborates my informal polling. But I couldn’t get over the cognitive dissonance of the whole situation. How could enlightened, feminist guys like myself put up with these unbidden fantasies that violate our dedication to gender equity and basic human decency?

    There is no way I can convey my complete and utter contempt for this sort of male feminist self-loathing without running afoul of my personal dedication to civility, so I’m just going to say this to Andy Hinds: Have a wank. Have a beer. Get a life.

    Once feminists start making common cause with the Pharisaical puritanism of a certain rabbi from Nazareth, I completely lose interest in hearing them out. Shaming people for having ordinary and perfectly healthy sex drives is not moral progress, it is a two-millennial flashback to the sexual repression of ancient Judaea.

    I’m not generally apt to agree with Amanda Marcotte on anything to do with human sexuality, but at least she manages to understand that the problem is not the indulgence of sexual imagination, but rather the failure to conceal what is playing out in the theater of the mind:

    It’s OK to strip people naked in your imagination, as long as you respect their right to not know that’s what you’re doing. This is accomplished by not gawking, ogling, and drooling, but rather learning to be discreet. Nearly all women and a healthy percentage of men manage to do this every day.

    I’m totally into what she’s laying down here. On that note, I’ll be in my bunk.

    Category: EthicsFeminismMasculism

    Article by: Damion Reinhardt

    Former fundie finds freethought fairly fab.
    • labreuer

      You may enjoy the TEDx talk, The Great Porn Experiment: Gary Wilson. There’s also a quick summary, and a longer article (PDF). It turns out that porn (slightly different from what you describe, but I don’t think too different) rewires our brains, like other addictive behaviors. Now: can behavior less explicit than porn do the same thing? I think it’s a question worth asking.

      With respect to Christianity, I’ve always found the emphasis on sexual purity to be unbiblical. Consider, for example, Ezek 16:49-50.

      Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it.

      I haven’t vetted it, but this page says:

      Classical Jewish texts concur that God did *not* destroy Sodom and Gemorrah because their inhabitants were homosexual. Not at all. Rather, the cities were destroyed because the inhabitents were nasty, depraved, and uncompromisingly greedy. Classical Jewish writings affirm that the primary crimes of the Sodomites were, among others, terrible and repeated economic crimes, both against each other and to outsiders. Saying “God killed them because they were gay” is, to say the least, not the Jewish teaching on the subject.

      Some specifics:

      … they had beds upon which travellers slept. If the guest was too long they shortened him by lopping off his feet; if too short, they stretched him out…

      If a poor man happened to come there, every resident gave him a denar [coin], upon which he wrote his name, but no bread was given [the store owners recognized such coins, and refused toa accept them]. When he died, each came and took back his (denar)…

      A certain maiden gave some bread to a poor man, hiding it in a pitcher. On the matter becoming known, they daubed her with honey and placed her on the parapet of the wall, and the bees came and consumed her. Thus it is written, And the Lord said, The cry of Sodom and Gomorrah, because it is great (rabbah): whereupon Rab Judah commented in Rab’s name: on account of the maiden (ribah).

      Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 109a

      It is my experience that sexuality is elevated when we fail to find ways to bless the world through serving it. We want some sort of satisfaction, so if our ‘work’ in the world isn’t delivering, we’ll get it sexually. This serves an evolutionary purpose and a theological purpose: if you aren’t going to properly take care of the world, at least you’ll leave progeny who might learn from your mistakes.

      This goes interesting places when you think about pastors who preach long and hard on sexual immorality (pun not intended but not unliked). Is it the case that they are failing at their actual mission, know that, want sexual relief, and read that such desire is ‘bad’, then project onto their congregations? I don’t want to say that this is the only reason ever, but it is a valid model. What I do know is that I’ve never heard a sermon where the pastor said that maybe the reason you’re so set on sex is that you’re not finding that ‘workmanship’ or poiema described in Eph 2:10.

      For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

      There, is, of course, a danger with members of a congregation finding their poiema: they might no longer want to be under the thumb of an authority other than Jesus. Some pastors would love this, but sadly, many would dislike it very much.

      • I watched the video, and it raises a few questions. Most obviously, what fraction of the young male population with high speed internet access may be rightly characterized as internet addicts who are rewiring their brains in unhealthful ways? The video seems just a bit alarmist in repeatedly implying that the problem is universal.

        Consider alcoholism as a comparable addiction. A large portion of young people drink alcohol. Some fraction of the drinking population goes on to become alcoholic. It would be wrong to suggest that casual drinkers abstain from strong drink because of the well-documented effects of alcoholism, would it not?

      • labreuer

        Excellent questions. Suppose it’s just fine for some people to look at porn or lust or whatever. Suppose we don’t know who they are. After all, back in Jesus’ day, how well could they know? Is it better to be safe, or let some people get really hurt? I think that’s an interesting question which shouldn’t immediately be dismissed from an individualist mindset. Now, today I’ll bet we have better resources. Then again, there’s discussion in the Bible about not e.g. eating meat sacrificed to idols if someone in your presence thinks it’s sinful. We know that when it comes to alcohol (at least some people willingly abstain around certain people); perhaps it should apply in other areas too—without the sorts of shaming that often go on.

        IMHO, the best way to judge these things is to look at the fruit. Jesus didn’t quite say that lusting leads to adultery, but he strongly insinuated it. Does this mean that lust leads to adultery/whatever in a statistical fashion? If so, is it purely random or is there some pattern? We’re responsible for the things we cause, and something we can cause is to make it easier for someone else to participate in those lustful thoughts and take them further. This leads to questions such as, “What were the seeds of this or that affair? Did it start with some kind of particular thoughts?” And then we can ask: “Does your ‘right’ to lust after others include the ‘right’ to tempt them and cause affairs?” Now of course not every lustful thought leads to affairs, etc. But if someone makes a habit of doing this and then one time, those thoughts do lead to an affair, upon what thought pattern ought we place the blame?

        I see a danger of denial that certain thought patterns lead to certain actions. It is a denial that there are laws of the mind. It would be perfectly fine for these laws to be statistical in nature; we have statistical laws in nature. What I saw Jesus most arguing for was that the mind doesn’t just operate any way we want. Causes result in effects. Denying that cause-and-effect relationship is something we do when we want to engage in the cause but not get the effects.

      • Greetings to my only openly Christian commenter! Good to have you.

        Suppose it’s just fine for some people to look at porn or lust or whatever. Suppose we don’t know who they are. After all, back in Jesus’ day, how well could they know?

        Back in Jesus day, women were stoned for adultery in accordance with Levitical Law, and the problem of pornography (especially as detailed in the abovementioned TED talk) was pretty much nonexistent. Everyday glances at actual people and addiction to pornography are as far apart, in human historical experience, as the invention of the wheel is from the invention of TCP/IP.
        I am willing to entertain the possibility that high-frequency masturbation can in rare cases lead to adverse health effects, but I’ve not yet found any articles which show the indidence rates of such outcomes going up in the industrialized West since the 1990’s. Did you have a particular paper in mind?

        Is it better to be safe, or let some people get really hurt?

        The question assumes that there is a single answer that should readily cover everyone. I’d say that people who have trouble with some particular addiction should try to avoid the source of their addiction, whereas people who can control their impulses should use their own best judgment.

        Then again, there’s discussion in the Bible about not e.g. eating meat sacrificed to idols if someone in your presence thinks it’s sinful.

        There is a modern parallel to this problem when dining with vegans. (Good times.)

        We know that when it comes to alcohol (at least some people willingly abstain around certain people); perhaps it should apply in other areas too…

        If you are asking me to avoid consuming pornography in front of friends and family, you’ve got it. No problem whatsoever.

        Jesus didn’t quite say that lusting leads to adultery, but he strongly insinuated it.

        Which Bible are you looking at? Mine all say he directly equated the two sins, in moral terms, never mind any allusions to causality.

        “What were the seeds of this or that affair? Did it start with some kind of particular thoughts?” And then we can ask: “Does your ‘right’ to lust after others include the ‘right’ to tempt them and cause affairs?”

        I don’t see what this has to do with political rights, but I’d say that there is a huge gap between thoughtcrime and actual crime. Does anyone rob a bank without thinking acquisitive thoughts about the valuables therein? Probably not. Is it okay to think acquisitive thoughts about money leading you to work hard so that you can send your kids to college?

        But if someone makes a habit of doing this and then one time, those thoughts do lead to an affair, upon what thought pattern ought we place the blame?

        The thought pattern that allows for the self-rationalization of the sexual affair, I would say. I’m not about to demonize sexual thoughts in general, since doing so leads to a never-ending cycle of guilt and absolution.

        It is a denial that there are laws of the mind.

        Of course there are general laws of how human brains work, but I’m not seeing anything resembling scientific insights about the field of neurology in holy writ. In your best understanding, when Jesus cast out demons, were those actual demons rather than what we would diagnose today as mental illnesses?

      • labreuer

        Greetings to my only openly Christian commenter! Good to have you.

        🙂 While there are a few Christian sites where good conversation happens (e.g. the blogs of Peter Enns and Roger Olson), I find that I have more interesting conversations on predominantly atheist/skeptic sites. Groupthink and circle-jerking are about the most boring thing in existence to me! :-p

        FYI, in order to keep this post from becoming insanely long, I’m going to ignore some of what you said. Feel free to request I go back and respond to something I skipped over if you’d like, and feel free to do the same in how you respond to me.

        Back in Jesus day, women were stoned for adultery in accordance with Levitical Law, and the problem of pornography (especially as detailed in the abovementioned TED talk) was pretty much nonexistent. Everyday glances at actual people and addiction to pornography are as far apart, in human historical experience, as the invention of the wheel is from the invention of TCP/IP.

        I’ll grant you that pornography is much more intense than everyday glances “strip[ping] people naked in your imagination”, but does that mean the bad thing (described in the TED talk) doesn’t happen, or that it simply has lower amplitude? One of the lessons one could derive from combining Romans 7 with daily life is that sin tends to get amplified until we realize it and choose to do something about it. Or we could just talk about the problem of evil, and how if more people truly had enough of a problem with it, it would actually start going away!

        Now, maybe it’s more like having potato chips here and there—maybe that really doesn’t damage your health, at all. But your attitude here seems to be to accept a null hypothesis of “it won’t hurt”, which doesn’t really seem to be justified. The correct [initial] attitude seems to be “I don’t know what it will do”. Especially given that we know the mind can powerfully affect our physiology (for example, see how bad stress is for you). It is in this light that I see Jesus’ words as hypotheses to test. I see miracles themselves as merely a “HEY, THERE, CONSIDER THIS”—not as ‘proof’ or anything like that.

        I am willing to entertain the possibility that high-frequency masturbation can in rare cases lead to adverse health effects, but I’ve not yet found any articles which show the indidence rates of such outcomes going up in the industrialized West since the 1990’s. Did you have a particular paper in mind?

        Nope, I just keep my eyes perked for when real empirical evidence crosses my path. Your blog piqued my interest; I’m not big on “sexual immorality” or anything like that. I think the American church, and probably Christians since at least the Roman Catholic Church, have focused way too much on sexuality, and not enough on enabling people to thrive and ‘live out their workmanship’ (Eph 2:10). Deprive people of real opportunities to self-actualize and yeah, they’ll go for the highest form of physical pleasure. It’s obvious when one thinks about, but so few like to think, these days…

        Which Bible are you looking at? Mine all say he directly equated the two sins, in moral terms, never mind any allusions to causality.

        This just isn’t a sensible way of looking at it: to consider hatred to be worthy of just as much imprisonment as actual murder. It’s instructive to look at more of what Jesus said, to put those bits in perspective:

        The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Lk 6:45)

        This can be seen way back in the New Covenant passages, like Jer 31:33, which has God talking about putting his ‘law’ on people’s hearts—in contrast to the merely external adornments mentioned in Deut 6:4-9. Even in that passage, God wants his commands to be “on your heart”. In other words, there is letter of the law, and spirit of the law. The latter only happens because you want to get the same thing that the lawmaker wanted—like to stay safe when driving a vehicle.

        To some extent, our current culture accepts the above. But only to some extent. Most don’t accept the “whatever is true/honorable/just/… think about these things” in Phil 4:8. Although some even accept the spirit of this, like Richard Hamming in his famous lecture, You and Your Research, where he talks about the habits—including mental habits—of great scientists.

        So what really seems to be under debate here is to what extent your mental habits play out in life in ‘orderly’ ways, where I mean ‘orderly’ in the sense of “laws of the mind”, which would parallel “physical laws”. Seen in this way—and I could defend that way more if you’d like—Jesus is merely saying that lustful thoughts → lustful actions. Thoughts precede actions. And the more you think about them, the more they’re likely to turn into actions. It’s almost as if continually thinking about something amplifies it in your mind. I’m pretty sure this is a well-known psychological phenomenon. I don’t think Jesus’ claims in this department are all that radical, nowadays. Back then, I think they were, because the Jews thought outward behavior was The Important Thing.

        Of course there are general laws of how human brains work, but I’m not seeing anything resembling scientific insights about the field of neurology in holy writ. In your best understanding, when Jesus cast out demons, were those actual demons rather than what we would diagnose today as mental illnesses?

        So I think it’s important to not judge Jesus’ statements by modern scientific knowledge, in the cases where modern scientific knowledge has built upon his statements. The non-anachronistic thing to do would be to compare his statements to contemporary belief, at least in the best way that we can. Maybe I’m just totally wrong on this, but I’m guessing that the reason Jesus said lustful thoughts are bad is because those around him didn’t want to acknowledge that having tons of lustful thoughts could lead to lustful action. But I’d actually say it’s more than this, too: Jesus wanted people to think about good things, because the more they think about good things, the more they would do good things—out of the abundance of their hearts.

        I don’t have a whole lot to say about the demon exorcism thing. I’m fine with leaving it at “I don’t know”, vs. needing to be an Aristotelian and be able to confidently say, “It’s true!” or “It’s false!” I can say this much, though. Words can be very, very powerful. I had the privilege of helping someone rid herself of some very bad thought-forms by merely talking to her. She had just got her PhD after a grueling time and was in a mentally damaged state; a professor later told me that I likely reduced her recovery time by several months. I didn’t cast out any demons, but I did help destroy some very nasty thought-forms which could ‘take on a life of their own’, as it were.

      • Greetings once again.

        Deprive people of real opportunities to self-actualize and yeah, they’ll go for the highest form of physical pleasure.

        What opportunities for self-actualization have we been deprived of that were readily available to our ancestors?

        Jesus is merely saying that lustful thoughts ? lustful actions. Thoughts precede actions.

        If that really was what Jesus was trying to say, that such thoughts lead to actual sin at some point in the future, you need to get the word out to all the translation committees. From what I can tell, none of them made it clear that Jesus was talking about the future at all, instead, they speak of adultery in the past tense or (rarely) in the present tense.

        New International Version
        But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

        New Living Translation
        But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

        English Standard Version
        But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

        New American Standard Bible
        but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

        King James Bible
        But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

        Holman Christian Standard Bible
        But I tell you, everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

        International Standard Version
        But I say to you, anyone who stares at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

        NET Bible
        But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

        Aramaic Bible in Plain English
        But I am saying to you, everyone who looks at a woman so as to lust for her, immediately commits adultery with her in his heart.

        GOD’S WORD® Translation
        But I can guarantee that whoever looks with lust at a woman has already committed adultery in his heart.

        Jubilee Bible 2000
        but I say unto you, That whosoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.

        King James 2000 Bible
        But I say unto you, That whosoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.

        And the more you think about them, the more they’re likely to turn into actions. It’s almost as if continually thinking about something amplifies it in your mind. I’m pretty sure this is a well-known psychological phenomenon.

        I’m not entirely what “amplifies” means here.

        I don’t think Jesus’ claims in this department are all that radical, nowadays. Back then, I think they were, because the Jews thought outward behavior was The Important Thing.

        The same Jews who canonized Hosea 6:6?

        Maybe I’m just totally wrong on this, but I’m guessing that the reason Jesus said lustful thoughts are bad is because those around him didn’t want to acknowledge that having tons of lustful thoughts could lead to lustful action.

        Had they not heard the story of what happened to King David when he lusted after a woman he saw bathing?

        Jesus wanted people to think about good things, because the more they think about good things, the more they would do good things—out of the abundance of their hearts.

        This sounds unobjectionable, but you’ve yet to show that having a wank is going to lead to bad things or that enjoying GTA V is going to lead to a life of crime.

      • labreuer

        Hello again. 🙂

        What opportunities for self-actualization have we been deprived of that were readily available to our ancestors?

        I don’t really understand the point behind this question. Go back far enough and our ancestors were struggling quite a lot to just survive.

        If that really was what Jesus was trying to say, that such thoughts lead to actual sin at some point in the future, you need to get the word out to all the translation committees. From what I can tell, none of them made it clear that Jesus was talking about the future at all, instead, they speak of adultery in the past tense or (rarely) in the present tense.

        You’re still claiming, “adultery committed in one’s heart” = “adultery committed in reality”. The former is serious, but to claim (if you are) that there’s only one level of ‘serious’ does violence to our ability to talk about human behavior.

        I’m not entirely what “amplifies” means here.

        People generally don’t, say, murder on a whim. Instead, they start thinking about things which lead to murder, probably commit some violence in the meantime, and slowly build up. The more one dwells on something, the bigger that thing becomes. Isn’t this a well known psychological phenomenon? Surely you’ve heard of the phrase, “You’re obsessing about that.”?

        The same Jews who canonized Hosea 6:6?

        “Back then” = “Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ time”. The ancient Hebrews swung back and forth from having a clue that one’s heart-attitude matters (Ps 51:6,17), and thinking that mere temple practice is all that matters (Amos 5:21-24). It’s fun that you mentioned Hos 6:6, given Mt 9:13.

        Had they not heard the story of what happened to King David when he lusted after a woman he saw bathing?

        Hearing does not mean understanding. This can be found in Is 6:8-13, which is quoted in Mt 13:14-15. Surely you’ve encountered people who wanted something so badly that they weren’t able to comprehend something you’ve tried to tell them? “That would never happen to me.” Check out the Milgram experiment, Stanford prison experiment, and The Third Wave. People suck at introspection, and want to think that human nature is much better than it is. Just look at the utterly terrible predictions of psychologist and psychiatrist students in the Milgram experiment—they thought 0.1-2.0% of participants would crank up the shock voltage to the max, while the actual number was 65%. “I would never fail that way!”

        This sounds unobjectionable, but you’ve yet to show that having a wank is going to lead to bad things or that enjoying GTA V is going to lead to a life of crime.

        Usually one can only show things when the signal is sufficiently high. It’s up to you whether you believe that a smaller signal will result in less of the bad thing, or none of the bad thing. It’s your life—unless you screw up someone else’s with an affair. By then, it’s too late. And hey, different people likely have different tolerances. Some people can smoke once in a while and not get lung cancer. I’m not advocating any kind of thought police. I’m merely saying that what we think about actually matters.