They shall not dwell in thy land, lest they make thee sin against me: for if thou serve their gods, it will surely be a snare unto thee.
Scolding the Oppressed
Imagine the following scenario. Let’s say we have a farmer whose crops just recently suffered a severe drought and all of them died, and it just happened that this occurred during a period of economic downturn, the government had just increased taxes to balance the budget. Thus this farmer, having lost his income through a natural disaster, unable to find employment, and needing to pay his taxes, is unable to feed his family and his family suffers from dire poverty and near starvation.
Then imagine that a bunch of Christians, with no doubt the best of intentions and motives, cluck their tongues at this farmer and says that this farmer “hath denied the faith and is worse than an infidel” for he “provide not for his own, and specially for those of his house.” (1 Tim 5:8) What are we to make of such an outrageous condemnation?
It is technically true. All Christian heads of their household do have a duty and an obligation to provide for their own household. But yet that is hardly the point. Yes, he has failed in his duty, but how does your sanctimonious scolding make it better? It is not as if he wilfully abandoned his duty and decided to go and drink away his earnings or throw his household out. His ability to perform his duty is contingent upon external empirical and social/economic factors not within his immediate control. Scolding him for failing to fulfil his Christian duty is not going to help at all without addressing the broader environmental factors at play.
It is astounding that in an age where Christians, and especially Evangelicals, are starting to realise that there are “systems” and socio-economic forces at play which keeps people in grinding poverty and hardship, and that not everything can be reduced to a matter of whether one “works hard” or heaping blame upon their failure to exercise their titanic individual wills to become rich, Christians still seem to retain the same individual omnipotent will mindset with regards to the problem of widespread pornography usage and have simply refused to examine the environmental and social conditions which has lead to its rise, choosing to scold the oppressed will rather than address the root cause.
The Romantic Deprivation of the Biblically Prescribed Cure for Porn
If one were to examine the causes for the rise of porn usage, especially in the developed nations, the causes should be rather obvious. People are forced by changing social and economic environments into marrying later. Many factors of course come into play among which is the default social expectation to get a higher education, the need to work longer in order to afford a home and to support a family because of rising living costs, or simply the social pressure to “not be tied down” so soon by marriage and “to live one’s life first”, “explore the world”, etc, before settling down, all these factors have made early marriages to be virtually unthinkable in developed nations.
The problem is of course that human biology does not change to suit our changing social and economic environment. Puberty continues to occur at the same age and maturity as they have for thousands of years when people married at far younger ages of sixteen and in some cultures, even fourteen. People still will experience sexual drive and desires at those specific ages regardless of whether we are “ready” for marriage in social and economic terms.
Thus, baring the traditional outlets of sexual drive and desires, i.e. marriage, we would naturally seek out the nearest and most accessible sources for such outlet, e.g. pornography and/or premarital sex. Thus, it is not merely the fact that people who now experience sexual drives and desires are denied the traditional outlets of marriage for the release of such sexual pressure, it is also the fact that the sexual pressures are combined with the virtually infinite ease of release at one’s finger tips at the literal push of a button, complete cost and immediate consequence free, which leads to the utterly unsurprising conclusion that porn usage is so widespread and rampant.
No doubt there would be some Christians who would be horrified at such a “fleshy” reduction of marriage to a mere outlet for sexual passion. Marriage is not just for sex! The romantics would cry. How dare I eviscerate such a beautiful ordinance of God to do with the unions of hearts and souls, etc, etc, into something so horribly pragmatic and functional as the mere satisfaction of sexual needs? How dare I suggest that people marry primarily just to have sex?
Excuse me, what else is marriage for? And don’t just take my word for it, this is the command of St Paul as well.
To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
1 Corinthians 7:8-9
Marriage is the biblically prescribed cure for sexual passion according to the instruction of St Paul. No matter how much this command offends our romantic and platonic sensibilities regarding the “beautiful” estate of marriage, above and beyond the mere satisfaction of biological needs, here we have the word and command of St Paul who by apostolic authority dashes every artificial exaltation of the marital estate to transcend the purpose for which it was ordained. It is amazing the lengths which the most bible honouring of evangelicals would go to deny the clear meaning of this passage. The simple fact is that people get horny, and when they get horny, they need to have sex, and to that end, marriage was ordained as a remedy for horniness that they might marry and have sex.
This has been the traditional understanding of marriage for centuries until the rise of late 18th century romanticism with its fantastic notions of love as involving existential perfect unions, etc. For as the 1662 Book of Common Prayer for the Solemnization of Matrimony puts it succinctly, marriage
…was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body.
Thus, both apostolic authority and Christian tradition have always taught that marriage was ordained as “a remedy against sin” and “to avoid fornication”. This the biblically prescribed cure for sexual sin.
What is even more astonishing is that the very same Protestants who would issue the loudest of invectives against the Roman Catholics for “inventing” their own works to acquire grace and sanctification not found in the Scriptures, e.g. rosaries, pilgrimages, acts of indulgences, adoration of the host and invocation of saints, etc, as opposed to sticking to the biblically ordained means of sanctification, e.g. the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments, these Protestants would be the very ones who would commit the very same sin and error by inventing their own rituals and works for the cure of sexual sin, e.g. purity rings and pledges or any other artificial works, rather than sticking to the biblically ordained means of remedying sexual sin, marriage.
I do not deny of course that marriage has other purposes, e.g. cooperation in the maintenance of the domestic household, companionship, etc, or as the Book of Common Prayer puts it, “the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity”. But again, these cooperative purposes and relational benefits and help has nothing to do with silly romantic notions of perfect unions and existential loves, etc, and it is an offence against the Word to allow extra-biblical fantasies override the clear instructions of God.
Consider the following analogy. Suppose there was a destitute man on the brink of starvation who comes to a Christian and asks for something to eat. Then imagine the Christians there replying, “Food is not just for the satisfaction of hunger! That’s such a base and animal notion of eating! Eating is a social and communal act to reinforce fellowship and foster generosity and trust in the mutual sharing of a meal together, etc. It is not mere animal feeding to satisfy a biological need! Come back on Sunday for our church’s potluck dinner and you shall have all you can eat in the company of pious Christian, until then, you just have to fast and hold out until we can eat in a noble and meaningful manner.”
What on earth are we to make of such a reply? This is simply absurd. Nobody denies that eating can have such shared social and communal meanings, etc, but it would be a sin to use those extra connotations to override the much more fundamental needs and purposes for which food and board was given to us, to feed the hungry. Likewise it is an offense against the word of St Paul to employ silly extra-biblical romantic notions to override his explicit instructions and teachings concerning the fundamental purpose and means for the cure of sexual passion, e.g. marriage.
Again, I do not deny that marriage and sex can have all those existential connotations and romantic meanings, etc. There is nothing wrong with enjoying those in a marriage and even seeking to foster it. Just as there is nothing wrong with using some of our food resources to prepare an exquisite dish or for a party and social context, etc. But we must not allow these extra gifts which it may please the Lord to grace a marriage to override the command and institution of God with regards to the primary function and purpose of marriage. As the manosphere puts it, there is a difference between maintenance sex and romantic sex, the former is simply “to scratch the itch” and relieve sexual passion, the latter is about all those romantic, passionate, existential union connotations which a sexual act may have. And there is simply no denial that St Paul does teach that marriage primarily has the former function in mind and even commands that married couples do not deprive each other lest they be tempted by Satan because they lose self-control. (1 Corinthians 7:2-5)
Vain are the Devices of Man to Replace the Institution of God
Given how even churches are in the thrall of romanticism with regards to marriage, churches have added unto the Word of God and burdened the marital institution with more meanings and expectations than it can bear, and in so doing, have forsaken the purpose for which it was ordained. Almost by default, no church would dare to teach that if you feel horny, you should marry rather than burn with passion. No church is going to aid or support young married couples financially who seek to marry young in order to remain sexually pure and honour God’s word. No church (except the SSPX) is going to teach that married couples are to perform their marital duty and give each other sex as and when they are in need of it.
Instead of adhering to the prescriptions and command of St Paul, churches instead seek to invent their own means to remedy sexual sin, and with no doubt disastrous results. Thus, when young Christians do not follow the biblical command to marry rather than burn with passion, but are forced instead to remain single, is it any wonder that they have to resort to sinful and non-prescribed means for the relief of sexual passion when they are denied the biblical and ordained means, i.e. pornography? When husbands or wives are deprived of sex because the other partner decides to disobey God and refuse to perform their marital duty on the pretext of not feeling romantic or preferring fireworks sex and refusing boring maintenance sex or simply out of sheer wilfulness and seeking to use sex as a bargaining chip or leverage, is it any wonder that the deprived party resorts to pornography to relieve sexual passion?
This is not to deny that of course, watching pornography is sinful and that the fact that both the church and husbands and wives have failed to honour God’s word and enable the means of sanctification does not excuse the deed by the porn viewer. But consider the following analogy. A pregnant teenager in church is terrified that she would not be able to provide for her child, she goes to the church for help, but instead helping out by, say, helping her find an adoptive parent for her child or financially supporting her during her pregnancy, they turn her away and condemn her as a fornicator and a sinful woman and that her child is her burden to bear. And then when this teenager aborts her child, the very same church would cluck their tongues in disapproval and condemn her for committing the sin of abortion. Likewise it is with pornography, just as no one denies that the pregnant teenager is under the divine command not to murder her child, likewise are all man under the divine command not to give in to lust and pornography. However, when the church refuses the enforce the biblically prescribed means for the remedy of sexual passion, is it any wonder that deprived of God’s ordinance, their last resort is Satan’s means?
In vain are all the sanctimonious pontifications against pornography when churches are complicit in their refusal to employ and implement God’s ordained means for its remedy! As Christ rebuked the Pharisees,
“Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
“‘This people honours me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honour your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
For St Paul says, if you cannot exercise self-control you should marry rather than burn with passion and husband and wife are to give to each other their conjugal rights lest they be tempted by Satan. But you say, you shouldn’t marry just because you need to have sex and discourage those burning with passion from early marriage, and you also refuse to rebuke rebellious spouses for failing their marital duties, instead you encourage them in their sin and rebuke the needy party for being selfish and thinking only of sex! Thus you make void the word of God by your tradition invented by the doctrine of man, purity rings, abstinence vows, etc, as a replacement for the actual apostolic command of God.
“Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers.” (Luke 11:46)
Kantian Delusions, Omnipotent Wills and Fulfilment of one’s Duty by the Grace of God
Most Christians would instinctively react against the notion that the cause of sin could possibly be due to external empirical factors or circumstances, and that the moral or even spiritual life can be so precariously dependent upon such contingent empirical factors beyond the capacity of one’s individual will. But as the verse at the start of this post acknowledges, even God himself does say that sin can have its root in external causes, and that is why he forbade the pagans from dwelling in the land of Israel lest “they make thee sin against me” by adopting their gods.
But it would be useful instead of investigate the deeper motivations beneath the denial of the role which external empirical circumstances contribute to the moral life, and without those contingent circumstances, the moral life is crippled is not rendered impossible altogether.
The first would be the “Kantian ethical premise”, that is ought implies can. The Kantian dictum basically means that you can have only a duty or obligation to do something provided you have the ability to do it, and if something is impossible for you to do, then you cannot have an obligation to fulfil the duty. Thus to apply this dictum to our present case, if truly all these external factors like late marriages or disobedient spouses render sexual purity impossible, then people will be off the hook for porn watching and they would have an excuse for doing so. But this is clearly and evidently false. Does the fact that external factors like the environment, politics and economics which lead to the farmer inability to be provide for his household remove his obligation from it? Of course not, the farmer will still feel the guilt, the pain and the condemnation for failing to provide for his children and family, even though we know that his failure is due to forces and circumstances beyond his control. Likewise the duty for sexual purity is not lessen nor the guilt and condemnation taken away simply because of these various external factors which renders the duty to sexual purity difficult, if not impossible. This should be self-evident to a faith that does teach that the duty to perfect obedience to God is not taken away simply because it is impossible for us to fulfil it because of original sin and the remaining concupiscence of the flesh.
But a second much more dangerous and insidious reason might be that people are terrified that indeed the moral life may not exactly be within our control, that indeed there might be such a thing as “moral luck”, that moral righteousness could truly be a matter of… God’s grace, dependent upon contingent empirical factors beyond one’s control, subject to to the divine will who alone has command over all these factors, that ultimately righteousness isn’t matter of an act of omnipotent will but a free gift of righteousness from God, subject to his sovereign decision and will. Just as nobody can simply “get a job” sufficient to provide for one’s family simply by an act of will, but is dependent upon a thousand and one factors and conditions beyond one’s control, and all we can do is to pray and hope that God would give us such a job, likewise the moral life with respect to sexuality is also subject to such empirical contingent forces not entirely a matter of an act of will but dependent upon God’s providence and decision to grant one the means of sanctification of marriage and a dutiful spouse willing to fulfil their marital obligations, etc.
For all the pious talk about how righteousness and sanctification is a “gift” of God, ultimately, Christians actually live in mortal fear that this may actually be true, that moral righteousness isn’t within our control or action, but is an all too empirical reality determine by forces beyond us, of which only God is in control of and of which only he alone can turn them for our sanctification and good, that it must really be a free gift and decision of God so to grace us with the ability to perform righteousness through his control of those forces beyond us. So instead we invent metaphysical myths like omnipotent “freewill” which can help us secure our moral righteousness against the caprice of a sovereign God to whom alone it belongs to distribute righteousness, and we twist the meaning of grace as a free gift and act of God into something which God necessarily accompanies with every act of will, etc. While in insurance policies, “Acts of God” refer precisely to those events which are truly accidental and not a matter of necessary consequence, but the grace of God which miraculously empowers our will with omnipotence is not an “accident” or free act of God by a necessary act of God.
Conclusion: Bearing the Guilt till the Event of Grace
Given all these impediment to sexual purity, what can we do in the mean time? Scolding people for watching porn is useless if one doesn’t address the fundamental causes or refuses to implement or preach the ordained means for its sanctification.
I confess, I have no idea myself as I doubt churches are going to be both pragmatic and biblical about marriage any time soon. We can only be patient with those who fall persistently into sin of pornography, absolving them as often as they fall, repent and turn back to God, forgiving them seven times seven times, until at last he answers our prayers for the means of sexual purity, or until death at last delivers us from this body of sin.