Monday, 18 May 2009

Talking Dirty (Yes, it's rude.)

Death of Onan. watercolor by Franc LanjščekImage via Wikipedia
Dave recently put up a link to a thing called Porn-Again Christian, a leaflet about masturbation and pornography in a Christian context. There's some good stuff in there, but I did find myself disagreeing with quite a few things, and I wanted to mention one in particular:

Many Christian pastors have tried in vain to find a mention of masturbation in the Scripture so they can condemn and forbid it. Unable to find any verses on the matter, some have foolishly used the story of Onan in Genesis 38:6-10 as their proof text. However, the story of Onan says nothing of masturbation. Instead, the story is about a man who died, leaving his wife a childless widow. The dead man’s brother was then expected to marry his widowed sister-in-law, have normal sexual relations with her, and enable her to have children. Although Onan was happy to have sex with his sister-in-law, he would pull out of her just prior to his orgasm and ejaculate on the ground rather than obey God and become a father. To argue against masturbation with Genesis 38:6-10 is as ludicrous as arguing for masturbation like one young guy did with me by quoting Ecclesiastes 9:10, which says, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might."

Now I disagree with the author, one "Pastor Mark Driscoll [of] Mars Hill Church, Seattle", on his take on the passage, but I disagree still more with the tone he takes. People who disagree with him argue "foolishly". He asserts (there is no argument - the relevant verses about the levirate law are omitted) that it has nothing to say about masturbation, rather, that it's purely about his refusal to continue his brother's line. Then he makes an irrelevant and insulting comparison between those who do think that this passage is an argument against masturbation and some guy looking for an excuse to wank in the bible.

Here's the story of Onan:

Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the LORD's sight; so the LORD put him to death. Then Judah said to Onan, "Lie with your brother's wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to produce offspring for your brother." But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so whenever he lay with his brother's wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from producing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the LORD's sight; so he put him to death also. - Genesis 38:6-10

Here's the substance of the levirate law, together with the designated punishment for defying that law:

If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband's brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.

However, if a man does not want to marry his brother's wife, she shall go to the elders at the town gate and say, "My husband's brother refuses to carry on his brother's name in Israel. He will not fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to me." Then the elders of his town shall summon him and talk to him. If he persists in saying, "I do not want to marry her," his brother's widow shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, take off one of his sandals, spit in his face and say, "This is what is done to the man who will not build up his brother's family line." That man's line shall be known in Israel as The Family of the Unsandaled. - Deuteronomy 25:5-10

Onan refuses to "obey God and become a father"
- God kills him.

An Israelite "refuses to carry on his brother's name"
1. He loses a sandal
2. He gets spat on
3. He gets publicly dressed down
4. His family is called "Unsandaled"

Now, I'm sure I lack many of the qualities necessary to become the Pastor of Mars Hill Church, Seattle, but at least I can pick up on the massive disconnect between those two scenarios. Is is possible that there's more to this verse than Driscoll says? Well... yes.

On Driscoll's scheme, the crime is the same in both cases, the refusal to become the father of children by his brother's widow. Consequently, we'd expect the punishment to be the same, but it isn't.

The ends are the same, but the means are clearly different. Onan does take his brother's wife, but the way he gets round becoming a father is to avoid, as Driscoll himself puts it, "normal sexual relations with her". The hypothetical Israelite simply doesn't marry her, and has a lesser punishment. The intent being exactly the same, by elimination the problem must be somewhere in here:

"Whenever he lay with his brother's wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from producing offspring for his brother."

I do know that coitus interruptus isn't masturbation - I'm not an idiot - it's a crude form of contraception, a way of escaping the natural consequences of intercourse. God doesn't seem to be sold on the idea.

Now, I'm dubious about this verse's possibilities as a "proof text" against masturbation, but I do think the following question is worth considering: If God doesn't appear to approve of the distortion of lovemaking within marriage to avoid its natural consequences, can we assume that a husband/wife masturbating themselves or each other to avoid lovemaking altogether, and its natural consequences, is somehow actually better?

Driscoll seems to speak with the voice of authority. Being a Catholic, I'm very familiar with the idea of authority; it's a consequence of Jesus' promises to the Church founded on Peter the Rock would be led into all truth and the Scriptures which call that Church the pillar and foundation of truth, declare that the faith has been delivered once for all and that the teachings of the apostles, whether in writing or by word of mouth, are to be handed down in perpetuity by those who are given the ministry of teaching by the Church.

On the other hand, why should we listen to Driscoll when we can all read the Scriptures for ourselves? Is it because he's the Pastor of Mars Hill, and has presumably been to theological college? You don't need to listen to the Pope; he has a silly hat, and repeats the things that Christians used to believe in the past, before progress happened. Listen to Mark Driscoll. All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others, so when Mark Driscoll says you can have oral sex and masturbate within marriage, case closed.

However the real trouble is not that Mark Driscoll talks as if he's the Pope, but that if, instead of looking for guidance to the community which is the pillar and foundation of the truth, we pull out our bibles and say we can work this stuff out for ourselves, just me and Jesus, we can't help but be our own Pope.
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