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Sexuality and Christian belief (Was: Homosexuality and the Bible)

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I really didn't think this would be a point of debate.

I believe you.

Rev. Scanlon's comment is perfectly defensible (as Attica has anticipated). Sexual intercourse "exclusively for the sake of pleasure," i.e., reducing sex solely to the satisfaction of appetites and the thrill of sensible enjoyment, is pure egotism, or at best purely animal, less than fully human and personal. Another person becomes a mere instrument of my pleasure; I use her, and/or she uses me. The supra-sensible aspects of sexuality: the specifically personal and relational, the total gift of self, the celebration of the marital bond, the renewing and deepening of emotional intimacy: all of this is discarded.

This is certainly the point that Pope John Paul II is making in the remark you quote from his General Address on concupiscence. Here is some of the context you are looking for:

[Lust] reduces the riches of the perennial call to the communion of persons, the riches of the deep attractiveness of masculinity and femininity, to mere satisfaction of the sexual need of the body (the concept of "instinct" seems to be linked more closely with this). As a result of this reduction, the person (in this case, the woman) becomes for the other person (the man) mainly the object of the potential satisfaction of his own sexual need. In this way, that mutual "for" is distorted, losing its character of communion of persons in favor of the utilitarian function. A man who looks in this way, as Matthew 5:27-28 indicates, uses the woman, her femininity, to satisfy his own instinct. Although he does not do so with an exterior act, he has already assumed this attitude deep down, inwardly deciding in this way with regard to a given woman. This is what adultery committed in the heart consists of. Man can commit this adultery in the heart also with regard to his own wife, if he treats her only as an object to satisfy instinct.

JP2's comments here draw on his (no pun intended) seminal work Love and Responsibility, a groundbreaking work of Catholic thought on sexuality interpreted through the tools of personalist philosophy.

The sixth-century quotation from Pope Gregory does offer more grist for your mill, with an important caveat: The same Rev. Scanlon essay from which your quote comes cites this passage from Gregory as an example given by some dissenting Catholic theologians as an example of erroneous teaching in the ordinary Magisterium (i.e., day-to-day teachings of the pope and bishops).

Rev. Scanlon challenges this interpretation of Gregory, and defends the quotation, but notice what both sides take for granted: that the notion of pleasure itself as a corrupting influence in marital sexuality is contrary to Catholic teaching. Even if that's what Gregory meant, and Rev. Scanlon disputes that, neither he nor his dissenting opponents argues that Church teaching is that.

So. We started with a slur about "the men who framed these official positions for the Church," and you've specifically indicted "Church teaching." What you've produced so far is a) a 20th-century papal quotation that manifestly doesn't mean what you think it means and b.) a disputed 6th-century quotation that everyone seems to agree either doesn't mean what you think it means or means something contrary to Catholic teaching.

Neither source, by the way, is official Church teaching. (Rev. Scanlon also points that out about the Gregory quotation.)

Edited by SDG

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So. We started with a slur about "the men who framed these official positions for the Church," and you've specifically indicted "Church teaching." What you've produced so far is a) a 20th-century papal quotation that manifestly doesn't mean what you think it means and b.) a disputed 6th-century quotation that everyone seems to agree either doesn't mean what you think it means or means something contrary to Catholic teaching.

Neither source, by the way, is official Church teaching. (Rev. Scanlon also points that out about the Gregory quotation.)

Those dont work for you? (perhaps the JP2 quote doesn't work for me either) Here's some "Free, Total, Faithful and most importantly Fruitful" counsel from Pope Paul VI:

11. The sexual activity, in which husband and wife are intimately and chastely united with one another, through which human life is transmitted, is, as the recent Council recalled, "noble and worthy.'' (11) It does not, moreover, cease to be legitimate even when, for reasons independent of their will, it is foreseen to be infertile. For its natural adaptation to the expression and strengthening of the union of husband and wife is not thereby suppressed. The fact is, as experience shows, that new life is not the result of each and every act of sexual intercourse. God has wisely ordered laws of nature and the incidence of fertility in such a way that successive births are already naturally spaced through the inherent operation of these laws. The Church, nevertheless, in urging men to the observance of the precepts of the natural law, which it interprets by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life. (12)

This dovetails nicely with Reverend Scanlon's summary as well as my previous statements.

Pope Paul VI concludes:

If they further reflect, they must also recognize that an act of mutual love which impairs the capacity to transmit life which God the Creator, through specific laws, has built into it, frustrates His design which constitutes the norm of marriage, and contradicts the will of the Author of life. Hence to use this divine gift while depriving it, even if only partially, of its meaning and purpose, is equally repugnant to the nature of man and of woman, and is consequently in opposition to the plan of God and His holy will.
Edited by Greg P

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All of this is perfectly straightforward Catholic teaching that I have defended many times on this board, and will continue to do.

None of it says anything about "issues" concerning "sexual arousal and pleasure even within the bounds of Church-ordained marriage between man and woman," a "very clear line of caution and fear about arousal outside of procreative sex" and "seeking pleasure for its own sake," a "razor-thin boundary between disordered sexual appetites and true marital intimacy," etc.

In fact, it looks to me like "pleasure," "arousal," "disordered appetites" and so forth aren't even mentioned in the quotations you give.

So your claims in this connection regarding Catholic teaching continue to be unsubstantiated.

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None of it says anything about "issues" concerning "sexual arousal and pleasure even within the bounds of Church-ordained marriage between man and woman," a "very clear line of caution and fear about arousal outside of procreative sex" and "seeking pleasure for its own sake," a "razor-thin boundary between disordered sexual appetites and true marital intimacy," etc.
Oh I disagree in the strongest terms. The language of Paul VI is clear enough for me: marital sexual pleasure that deviates-- even partially-- from strict procreative engagement is "repugnant" and in "direct opposition to the will of God.", which is what I've been stating from the outset, albeit in more derisive language. According to you, pleasure-seeking in marriage for the purpose of satisfying the appetites or for the mere "thrill of sensible enjoyment" is "less than fully human". Frankly, that closely mirrors my characterization and criticism of the Catholic position, but is actually far more negative and telling than anything I've said. Edited by Greg P

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Oh I disagree in the strongest terms. The language of Paul VI is clear enough for me --marital sexual pleasure that deviates-- even partially-- from strict procreative engagement is "repugnant" and in "direct opposition to the will of God.", which is what I've been stating from the outset, albeit in more critical language.
According to you, pleasure-seeking in marriage for the purpose of satisfying the appetites or for the mere "thrill of sensible enjoyment" is "less than fully human".
It's fascinating to me how you subtly manipulate both my language and Paul VI's to imply that we've stated things we haven't.

I honestly have no idea what you mean by "strict procreative engagement"…or how you think it relates to what Paul VI said regarding the "intrinsic relationship" of sexuality "to the procreation of human life"…or what either of these has to do with your original claims about pleasure and arousal in Catholic teaching. (Again, for the record: pleasure and arousal: not mentioned in the quotations you cited.)

Unlike Paul VI, I am alive and here, and I'm able to tell you, to your face, that "pleasure-seeking in [marital] sex for the purpose of satisfying the appetites," which for some reason you think I am against, is in fact perfectly lawful, and I would consider it ridiculous to say otherwise.

How you read my emphatically italicized "reducing sex solely to the satisfaction of appetites and the thrill of sensible enjoyment," and come up with "pleasure-seeking in sex for the purpose of satisfying the appetites," I have no idea. Best guess: Perhaps you glossed over "reducing," and don't fully appreciate what I mean by "reductionism." (Still baffled how quotes that don't mention pleasure or arousal support claims about pleasure and arousal in Catholic teaching. No guesses there.)

Would it help if I said, "So, in your opinion, love and caring and emotional closeness and so forth are all totally optional, as long as you're getting your tingles?" Not that I really think you think that. But that's because I'm, you know, making an effort to understand you.

Edited by SDG

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SDG wrote:

: Exactly. My main concern is to maintain that a person's sexual identity is what they were conceived as; if there's an ambiguity going back to conception, then there is a definite case for maintaining that, for instance, an XY apparent-female could be actually female.

Well, as noted elsewhere, I don't share your certainty that the creation of a new genetic matrix *itself* defines personhood per se, so I naturally don't share your certainty that any given *part* of that matrix automatically defines personal attributes such as gender.

: She does, however, have fallopian tubes — and a normal uterus. Lacking ovaries, she can't ovulate — but through egg or embryo donation she can often achieve pregnancy and childbirth.

So having a vagina wouldn't make her a woman, but having a uterus would?

: While Catholic moral theology doesn't support egg or embryo donation, the fact that it's possible at all — that she naturally possesses a reproductive tract that can nourish embryonic life to childbirth — is pretty much proof that she's a woman, defective Y chromosome notwithstanding.

For some reason this reminds me of our discussion a decade or so ago re: the studies which indicate that women who swallow their partner's semen are marginally less likely to miscarry. Catholic moral theology doesn't permit oral sex, but apparently it has its procreative applications...

: "Reducing sexuality or gender identity to chromosomes" sounds to me like "reducing humanity to genetics."

Well, yeah, that's what you say the modern pro-life movement is founded on, right? Conception itself being the start of "personhood" etc.?

: Obviously there is more to humanity, and to sexuality, than genetics.

There is more than the start, yes; that's why it's called the start. But genetics is, indeed, where you seem to start.

: An entity conceived with a human genome is a human being, and will not grow up to be a giraffe or a Vulcan.

And then there's Spock, who is half-Vulcan and half-human... smile.png

: However, if there are other conditions where ambiguities in morphology stem not from some genetic mutation or defect present at conception, but purely from later environmental causes, then I'm going to continue to maintain that a person is the sex they were conceived as (with the following caveat).

But how would anyone know the difference? Maybe nowadays we'd catch it during a routine MRI or something, but until very very recently, no one had any way of knowing whether a living "woman" had a uterus without ovaries, or a vagina without a uterus, or whatever. I have a hard time believing that Christian moral theology would now require us to declare that hundreds, if not thousands, of Christian marriages that existed over the past two millennia were "invalid" because of factors that absolutely no one could have known.

Greg P wrote:

: Who has the right to remove anything from the table of a monogamous, married couple's intimacy? Where genitalia or mouths "should" go or where ejaculate must be judiciously deposited on threat of the churches harshest condemnation?

For some reason this reminds me of the sex debates we had in one of the earlier versions of this forum, about a decade ago. If memory serves -- and forgive me, SDG, if it's *not* serving right now -- I asked at one point where the Catholic emphasis on semen-going-where-it's-got-to-go left the question of cunnilingus, whether performed by married heteros or whatever, and I believe SDG said he'd get back to us on that... and I don't think he ever did.

J.A.A. Purves wrote:

: Chesterton and Belloc were both very enthusiastic about sexual pleasure within marriage.

Huh. My sister is a *huge* Chesterton fan, and I remember her telling me ages ago (after reading one of his biographies) that she figured Chesterton might have gained as much weight as he did because his basically asexual marriage left him to pursue other pleasures, such as food.

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I honestly have no idea what you mean by "strict procreative engagement"…or how you think it relates to what Paul VI said regarding the "intrinsic relationship" of sexuality "to the procreation of human life"…or what either of these has to do with your original claims about pleasure and arousal in Catholic teaching. (Again, for the record: pleasure and arousal: not mentioned in the quotations you cited.)

Unlike Paul VI, I am alive and here, and I'm able to tell you, to your face, that "pleasure-seeking in [marital] sex for the purpose of satisfying the appetites," which for some reason you think I am against, is in fact perfectly lawful, and I would consider it ridiculous to say otherwise.

How you read my emphatically italicized "reducing sex solely to the satisfaction of appetites and the thrill of sensible enjoyment," and come up with "pleasure-seeking in sex for the purpose of satisfying the appetites," I have no idea. Best guess: Perhaps you glossed over "reducing," and don't fully appreciate what I mean by "reductionism." (Still baffled how quotes that don't mention pleasure or arousal support claims about pleasure and arousal in Catholic teaching. No guesses there.)

I have to admit, over the years, I got the distinct impression that you did feel that sex for the the sake of a couple enjoying being together, with no real goal of making a baby was misuse of the act. So, I appreciate the clarifications you have been making.

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I have to admit, over the years, I got the distinct impression that you did feel that sex for the the sake of a couple enjoying being together, with no real goal of making a baby was misuse of the act. So, I appreciate the clarifications you have been making.

Thanks for your thoughtful engagement, Thom. Having debated the opposite side of the contraceptive issue as a young Evangelical, and having my misunderstandings of the Catholic stance and mistaken conceptions of what I thought followed from it patiently clarified for years by a brilliant Catholic thinker, until I finally came to grasp its integrity and coherence, I can well appreciate how odd this worldview looks at first from the outside, and how natural and, indeed, inevitable misunderstandings are, in a dominant culture so antithetical to it, as well as the effort that is needed to empathically enter or recreate a worldview so deeply at odds with the larger culture.

To hopefully bring some partial clarity, and illuminate a bit more how one thing fits with another, let me point out, first, that Paul VI, in the quotation given above by Greg from the crucially important document Humanae Vitae (aka the big bad contraception encyclical), notes that marital sex remains legitimate even when "it is foreseen to be infertile. For its natural adaptation to the expression and strengthening of the union of husband and wife is not thereby suppressed."

Although he emphasizes the specifically personal, this is not to the exclusion of pleasure and libido, for the pope has already noted that married love is "fully human, a compound of sense and spirit," adding, "It is not, then, merely a question of natural instinct or emotional drive," but "also, and above all, an act of the free will…so that husband and wife become in a way one heart and one soul, and together attain their human fulfillment." This language of "not merely…but also" clearly acknowledges the legitimacy of the the lower, animal aspects as well as the higher personal and spiritual ones. Man is both body and spirit, and what is "fully human," including married love, touches both spirit and body, rightly so, and it's right that we should desire it for the sake of both.

Note also that in the same passage quoted by Greg, Paul VI goes on to insist that "each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life." What does this mean?

Clearly it doesn't mean that there must always be a "real goal of making a baby." The pope has already acknowledged the legitimacy of marital sex when it is foreseen to be infertile. No one can have a "real goal" of achieving the impossible.

Moreover, Paul VI doesn't just give permission to keep on having sex during the infertile periods as long as you're doing your reproductive duty during the fertile periods too. He specifically states that it can be legitimate to deliberately refrain from sex during fertile periods and enjoy it during infertile periods for the sake of spacing births:

If therefore there are well-grounded reasons for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances, the Church teaches that married people may then take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile, thus controlling birth in a way which does not in the least offend the moral principles which We have just explained.

Permit me to table for now a complete discussion of the inevitable follow-up question "How is natural family planning different from contraception?" For now, here is the key point I want to make: For Paul VI, the practice of having recourse to the infertile periods in no way contradicts the "intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life" that must characterize every sexual act.

Let me try to shed some light on why.

First, for all that can be said, and truly said, about sex from a personal, spiritual or sensible perspective, let's not lose sight of the fact that at the end of the day (or whenever we do it) we're talking about the use of our reproductive systems.

In true coital union, a joining or uniting of male and female reproductive systems takes place, forming what I've called in the past a single reproductive super-system. Man and woman thus joined form a teleological unity, a unity with an inherent biological purpose and meaning in the nature and design of our bodies, male and female.

The forming of this shared reproductive super-system constitutes a shared reproductive act. Even when actual reproduction doesn't take place or isn't possible, it remains a shared act with a reproductive teleology or meaning — an act that, biologically, exists and is something our bodies can do because procreation. (By contrast, the juxtaposition of reproductive and digestive systems, at either end and regardless of the sexes of the partners, has no teleology, no inherent purpose, forms no teleological unity.)

True conjugal union is a total exchange of selves, emotional, physical, spiritual, in which both spouses fully give themselves to each other without any deliberate reservation or obstacle. Among other things, it always entails both spouses sharing fully with one another the totality of their reproductive powers at that moment — whatever they may be. They may be zero. The husband may be sterile. The wife may be at an infertile time of month, or past menopause. She may be pregnant. It doesn't matter. Whatever the state of their reproductive powers, they share them without reservation or obstacle.

In true conjugal union we say, "Here is everything I am!" Not "Here is everything I am but not really!" Not "Let us be completely joined except here is a barrier that will remain between us and prevent us from fully giving or fully receiving!"

I say this, not as a complete argument against contraception (although it's the groundwork of the argument), but simply to emphasize how the nuptial act can possess an "intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life" even when there is no "no real goal" (or even possibility) of making a baby.

Sex is as multifaceted as human nature. At its best, it touches us on the level of instinct, appetite, emotions and senses; it is personal, relational, spiritual, visceral and even sacramental. It is the satisfaction of a drive, an expression of intimacy, a renewal of the marriage convenant and a damn good time.

All of these are goods. All of them are to be valued, and any of them can be a legitimate motive for wanting sex at any particular time. To try to clarify what I meant by reductionism, I needled Greg above about "love and caring and emotional closeness and so forth" being "totally optional, as long as you're getting your tingles." That doesn't mean there's anything wrong with wanting tingles, or that they aren't a legitimate reason for wanting sex. (Likewise, wanting a baby can be a legitimate motive, even if, say, the couple happen to be exhausted and not in the mood, not motivated by appetite or even, at that moment, by desire for intimacy.)

Edited by SDG

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It's fascinating to me how you subtly manipulate both my language and Paul VI's to imply that we've stated things we haven't.

And it's fascinating to me how you dodge the clear implications of your Churches teaching on marital sexuality and appear to feign bewilderment because you perhaps dislike the way I state things or because I use my own terms to parse the legalese of Church positions/statements. When Pope Paul VI calls a certain sexual practice between husband and wife "REPUGNANT" and in direct OPPOSITION to God's holy will, some bottom-line parsing of the political sub -text is required. For those of us who are not practicing Catholics, that interpretation is possibly going to sound coarse or derisive.

How you read my emphatically italicized "reducing sex solely to the satisfaction of appetites and the thrill of sensible enjoyment," and come up with "pleasure-seeking in sex for the purpose of satisfying the appetites," I have no idea. Best guess: Perhaps you glossed over "reducing," and don't fully appreciate what I mean by "reductionism." (Still baffled how quotes that don't mention pleasure or arousal support claims about pleasure and arousal in Catholic teaching. No guesses there.)
Well I read that exactly as written, which is why I included the word "mere" in my response to your statements. Since you think I'm so off base here, maybe you could simply clarify whether "reducing sex solely to the satisfaction of appetites" would mean passionately engaging in sexual practices that exclude coitus.

If not, how does one actually know precisely, when they are full of desire and want to be passionately sexual with their spouse, whether or not they are "reducing" sex as you state? Is it an issue of manners? Proper level of tenderness and decorum?

Would it help if I said, "So, in your opinion, love and caring and emotional closeness and so forth are all totally optional, as long as you're getting your tingles?"

Sex is without question about love, caring and intimacy. But sex is also about passion and pleasure. Any notion forwarded that sex between two people involves some tidy recipe of love, caring, nurturing with a pinch of passion is a preposterous one. Sex is messy and complicated. Sometimes sex is just about f*cking or having fun, even when you deeply love your spouse. Catholics theology as I understand it does not allow for this-- the religious, procreative component must always be present.

Unlike Paul VI, I am alive and here, and I'm able to tell you, to your face, that "pleasure-seeking in [marital] sex for the purpose of satisfying the appetites," which for some reason you think I am against, is in fact perfectly lawful, and I would consider it ridiculous to say otherwise.

So let's not beat around the bush. A simple yes or no is sufficient.

1) Can married Catholics freely engage in sexual activities that exclude coitus without sinning? (that would be "pleasure-seeking", btw)

2) Is a Catholic permitted to use sex toys?

3) Engage in mutual masturbation?

4) Anal sex?

5) Analingus?

6) Cunnilingus alone?

7) Fellatio alone?

8) Any role-playing or fantasy that does not involve coitus?

9) Use any form of bondage, restraints or spanking?

Edited by Greg P

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And it's fascinating to me how you dodge the clear implications of your Churches teaching on marital sexuality and appear to feign bewilderment because you perhaps dislike the way I state things or because I use my own terms to parse the legalese of Church positions/statements.

If by "use my own terms to parse the legalese of Church positions/statements," you mean "introduce new concepts that I am interested in, such as pleasure and arousal, into passages that are talking about the procreative meaning of marital union and don't mention the subjects I am interested in," I can assure you, my bewilderment is genuine, not feigned.

Not that I'm unwilling to read between the lines, as I hope is evident from my reply to Thom. When the text talks about "sense and spirit" or "natural instinct or emotional drive," I'm willing to infer that pleasure and arousal are part of the discussion.

But when you trumpet a passage that talks about the procreative meaning of marriage without mentioning pleasure and arousal as proof for your claims regarding pleasure and arousal in Church teaching, I admit: I'm stumped. Squint as I may, the concepts of pleasure and arousal do not appear before my eyes in the passage you cite. Whether that means I'm "dodging," or that you're pitching wild, I leave to each to judge for himself.

When Pope Paul VI calls a certain sexual practice between husband and wife "REPUGNANT" and in direct OPPOSITION to God's holy will, some bottom-line parsing of the political sub -text is required. For those of us who are not practicing Catholics, that interpretation is possibly going to sound coarse or derisive.

When the Pope calls certain sexual practices repugnant and in direct opposition to God's holy will, I stand with him 100 percent, without dodging. What the repugnance of certain sexual practices has to do with your claims about pleasure and arousal in Church teaching remains an impenetrable mystery to me.

Perhaps it has to do with what you call "bottom-line parsing of the political subtext." Is that how you find pleasure and arousal in passages that don't mention them? By bottom-line parsing of the political subtext? I hadn't realized that pleasure and arousal were political subtexts, or particularly political subjects at all.

("Bottom-line parsing." Nyuk nyuk nyuk.)

Well I read that exactly as written, which is why I included the word "mere" in my response to your statements.

Yes, that bit was better, because you included the word "mere."

Since you think I'm so off base here, maybe you could simply clarify whether "reducing sex solely to the satisfaction of appetites" would mean passionately engaging in sexual practices that exclude coitus.

No. These are two separate issues. They don't mean or entail each other.

For instance, a one-night stand may reduce sex solely to the satisfaction of appetites, but it doesn't necessarily exclude coitus. Conversely, sexual practices might be subjectively full of emotional and relational significance to the participants, but still exclude coitus.

Both would be wrong, to be sure (at least if by "exclude coitus" you mean culminate in some form of non-unitive activity, i.e., deliberately excluding the teleological unity of male and female and substituting some other act instead). But not because either is the same as the other.

If not, how does one actually know precisely, when they are full of desire and want to be passionately sexual with their spouse, whether or not they are "reducing" sex as you state? Is it an issue of manners? Proper level of tenderness and decorum?

How do you know when you're using someone and when you're loving them? I'm not sure how to answer that. Some people just do, I guess. Others don't care. Those who care but can't tell might try prayer and spiritual direction. (Maybe that's too glib an answer, but I don't get the feeling the question was all that serious.)

Sex is without question about love, caring and intimacy. But sex is also about passion and pleasure. Any notion forwarded that sex between two people involves some tidy recipe of love, caring, nurturing with a pinch of passion is a preposterous one.

You have something against pinches of passion? Nyuk nyuk nyuk.

Sex is messy and complicated. Sometimes sex is just about f*cking or having fun, even when you deeply love your spouse. Catholics theology as I understand it does not allow for this-- the religious, procreative component must always be present.

I'm not sure what this means. For one thing, does "religious, procreative component" mean two components or one? It seems strange to me to label the procreative dimension of sexuality "religious." It never occurred to me that the idea that there is a procreative component to sex was a religious idea. As far as I know, it's pretty uncontroversially accepted in the scientific community that -- and these might not be the exact words a scientist would use, but I think I've got the gist right -- nature invented sex to keep the babies coming. That's not something we picked up from the Bible or Church teaching, as far as I know.

Nor am I sure what "must always be present" means. Say, rather, we must not deliberately act to exclude or impair any essential aspect of the sexual act. Take my example of the tired couple who don't really feel like doing it but have been trying to conceive. Maybe under the circumstances they don't enjoy the sex the way would otherwise. That's fine. But to take deliberate action to prevent enjoyment of sex? For example, to perform non-therapeutic surgery on a healthy girl to thwart her future enjoyment of sex? Monstrous. Likewise, for instance, non-therapeutic surgery on a healthy woman (or man) to thwart their ability to be fertile.

The specific sexual practices you list have been amply discussed by Catholic sexologists. I'm familiar with the basic shape of the discussion and can offer some basic parameters and particular opinions, but ... later. (Even though it means passing on another "nyuk nyuk nyuk" over your reference to "beating around the bush.") I've given way too much time to this as it is and there's still too much on the table.

Edited by SDG

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Perhaps it has to do with what you call "bottom-line parsing of the political subtext." Is that how you find pleasure and arousal in passages that don't mention them? By bottom-line parsing of the political subtext? I hadn't realized that pleasure and arousal were political subtexts, or particularly political subjects at all.

Sex as politics and sexual trends as emblematic/symptomatic of power relationships in society has been a significant component of post-modern political discourse since Battaille and Foucault.

But... I would suggest that sex only becomes the realm of political discourse in that way in the absence of vision for a more substantive and holistic politic. I do also think that there is a subtle, but important political exchange that happens in Paul's evocation of the church as the bride of Christ and the use of this metaphor as the base metaphor for husband/wife relationships. Here, the very concept of marriage within the church is lifted out of its Jewish and Greco-Roman moorings and reconceived of as a part of the redemptive work of Christ in the world. It is a relationship that mimics the "given-ness" of Christ to the world - or even a visible representation of God pro nobis. In these terms, Paul describes marriage as a relationship that embodies the topsy-turvy politic of the cross, in which power imbalances dissolve under successive waves of mutual self-submission.

So this whole question of marriage is a very political question, though in a keenly Augustinian or Anabaptist sense, depending on which way you swing there.

One problem I have with the tenor of your approach, Greg, is that it seems to lack an appreciation for the committed sexual relationship as a place within which God offers healing and redemption from our broken sexualities and our broken sexual biographies. The NT talks about sexual sin differently than it talks about any other sin because it involves our very bodies. Sexual deviance and indiscretion become embedded in our ongoing experience of the world/relationships, our sense memories of sex, and can have significant ongoing physical affects on our health and vitality. My response to someone struggling with homosexuality is the same as to someone struggling with pornography or adultery or any other manifestation of our inherent physical and mental brokenness.

The conversation you are having with SDG is an attempt to force a theological tradition into a mode of accommodation to what is perceived as a social advance in understanding and enjoying our range of sexual possibilities. This desire to claim, retool, and celebrate a liberated sense of sexuality has sex entirely backwards. It turns it into a hobby at best and a political enterprise at worst. Even before we begin to broach the question of what sort of sexual practices are acceptable or moral or good - one has to recognize that sex is a gift (which I think SDG would describe in terms of sex as a "good" and sex as "natural") and sexuality is a space in which we are able to experience the generosity and grace of God and life with and for each other. Any conversation about sex and sexual behaviors that starts anywhere else is doomed to failure.

Edited by M. Leary

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Thanks for your valuable contributions, M.

Sex as politics and sexual trends as emblematic/symptomatic of power relationships in society has been a significant component of post-modern political discourse since Battaille and Foucault.

Good point. I did have that in the back of my mind while I was writing (though I only know Foucault, not Battaille). I wrote it anyway, partly as a kind of act of resistance (your "political enterprise at worst" is what I had in mind there), and partly because that's just not what's going on in Paul VI.

One problem I have with the tenor of your approach, Greg, is that it seems to lack an appreciation for the committed sexual relationship as a place within which God offers healing and redemption from our broken sexualities and our broken sexual biographies. The NT talks about sexual sin differently than it talks about any other sin because it involves our very bodies. Sexual deviance and indiscretion become embedded in our ongoing experience of the world/relationships, our sense memories of sex, and can have significant ongoing physical affects on our health and vitality. My response to someone struggling with homosexuality is the same as to someone struggling with pornography or adultery or any other manifestation of our inherent physical and mental brokenness.

This is a very important point, and I'm chagrined that I've left it on the back burner for nearly this whole discussion. I've been emphasizing the holistic dimension of the historic Christian and Catholic sexual ethic, but the other side of the coin is human fallenness and the fallenness of the world, the disorderings of our passions, and the way that the very intimacy and power of sex makes sexual transgressions so destructive.

Both are points of sharp contention with the sexual consumerism of the post-sexual revolution worldview, which simultaneously glorifies and domesticates sexuality. Sex is an unqualified good; sex is there for us to enjoy; sex belongs to us. The idea that we are compromised from the start; that we are in need of tutelage, of discipline, of correction, of healing; that our natural and spontaneous responses may not be the most helpful or healthy -- this is square-peg thinking in the round hole of modern thought.

The conversation you are having with SDG is an attempt to force a theological tradition into a mode of accommodation to what is perceived as a social advance in understanding and enjoying our range of sexual possibilities. This desire to claim, retool, and celebrate a liberated sense of sexuality has sex entirely backwards. It turns it into a hobby at best and a political enterprise at worst. Even before we begin to broach the question of what sort of sexual practices are acceptable or moral or good - one has to recognize that sex is a gift (which I think SDG would describe in terms of sex as a "good" and sex as "natural") and sexuality is a space in which we are able to experience the generosity and grace of God and life with and for each other. Any conversation about sex and sexual behaviors that starts anywhere else is doomed to failure.

Very well said.

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When the Pope calls certain sexual practices repugnant and in direct opposition to God's holy will, I stand with him 100 percent, without dodging. What the repugnance of certain sexual practices has to do with your claims about pleasure and arousal in Church teaching remains an impenetrable mystery to me.
You act as if I'm the first person you've ever encountered who thinks the Catholic Church has a serious issue with sexuality and pleasure. The sexual practices being condemned by the Church in the strongest terms are the ones that offer optimal arousal and "sensible enjoyment" for married couples. They remove from the table the natural, free and pleasurable acts that most loving couples share-- placing those who don't obey these strictures under harsh condemnation. Yes, when the Holy See says something is repugnant and an affront to God's holy will, is there really any harsher judgment?

Contrary to the relentless political spin and despite centuries of dense theological discussion by the Church, this is still largely a list of sexual do's and don'ts. Even a cursory glance at Catholic forums and discussion groups highlights this. Good Catholic people desperately want to know whether such and such a private sex act between married persons, is acceptable before God. Oral sex? When is it foreplay and when is it masturbation? Can i touch my wife's anus as foreplay if she likes that? Can we use sex toys in our romantic times? People ask these questions because they don't want God to judge them. They don't want to sin. So back to my original point, it is VERY much about guilt and fear. Very much about control and where God wants mouths and body parts and what should be done with them.

Are you saying you won't, or don't have time to answer, those nine simple yes or no questions? It would put to rest most of this current discussion.

Edited by Greg P

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I've generally avoided this thread, but have checked it a couple of times in the past couple of days. Since I haven't tracked the full discussion and don't plan to go back, I raise this point gingerly:

Is the thread title reflective of where the discussion is right now? I'm seeing pointed questions about heterosexual married couples. That's not at all what I expected when I clicked on the latest post(s) here, although I can see how the latest posts might have grown out of the thread subject.

If the thread has morphed into something different, something broader, perhaps the thread title should be changed to reflect that.

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One problem I have with the tenor of your approach, Greg, is that it seems to lack an appreciation for the committed sexual relationship as a place within which God offers healing and redemption from our broken sexualities and our broken sexual biographies. The NT talks about sexual sin differently than it talks about any other sin because it involves our very bodies. Sexual deviance and indiscretion become embedded in our ongoing experience of the world/relationships, our sense memories of sex, and can have significant ongoing physical affects on our health and vitality. My response to someone struggling with homosexuality is the same as to someone struggling with pornography or adultery or any other manifestation of our inherent physical and mental brokenness.

This is a very important point, and I'm chagrined that I've left it on the back burner for nearly this whole discussion. I've been emphasizing the holistic dimension of the historic Christian and Catholic sexual ethic, but the other side of the coin is human fallenness and the fallenness of the world, the disorderings of our passions, and the way that the very intimacy and power of sex makes sexual transgressions so destructive.

For me, this is where I find some trouble with the Christian tendancy to lump stuff together. I see large chasm between, say, pornography and adultery versus Homosexuality. To have the same response shows one of the failings I saw within the church. A one size fits all approach to issues. "Sin is sin." I saw pastors and other church leaders give the same advice to gay friends they would for any other issue someone struggled with. It was often "pray, go to church". And these things were not resolving the problem. Avoiding the potential temptation did not do them good, because their romantic inclination was towards their own gender.

With pornography and adultery, a person is still functioning within the parameters of their sexual identity. The guy looking at pictures of naked women is usually functioning within the area of their general disposition. Same with the adulturer. The guy with romantic leanings towards men is being told that this specific part of him is what is wrong. You can say looking at porn or adultery are improepr use of sexuality-but you are not denying the validity of the impulse...their heterosexuality. Homosexuality is not an act, it is part of a person's sexual identity in ways that adultery and pornongraphu are not.

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One problem I have with the tenor of your approach, Greg, is that it seems to lack an appreciation for the committed sexual relationship as a place within which God offers healing and redemption from our broken sexualities and our broken sexual biographies. The NT talks about sexual sin differently than it talks about any other sin because it involves our very bodies. Sexual deviance and indiscretion become embedded in our ongoing experience of the world/relationships, our sense memories of sex, and can have significant ongoing physical affects on our health and vitality.
I can certainly appreciate that redemptive philosophy even though it hasn't been my experience at all. I'm tremendously empathetic to people who have endured abuse or other damaging experiences that have affected them sexually. I guess, in the very specific sense, I dont approach marital sex from a point of "brokenness" , whereby intimacy is a channel through which can God can potentially heal me. Although that concept is certainly a beautiful one.

My response to someone struggling with homosexuality is the same as to someone struggling with pornography or adultery or any other manifestation of our inherent physical and mental brokenness.
I take issue with this reasoning. Sexual orientation cannot be equated with a particular habit-- sinful or not-- or moral choice. I don't believe a homosexual orientation is by definition representative of defect or mental/physical brokenness.

The conversation you are having with SDG is an attempt to force a theological tradition into a mode of accommodation to what is perceived as a social advance in understanding and enjoying our range of sexual possibilities. This desire to claim, retool, and celebrate a liberated sense of sexuality has sex entirely backwards. It turns it into a hobby at best and a political enterprise at worst.
Our earlier discussion of homosexual orientation perhaps fits into this idea of new ideas and "social advance in understanding", but what is "new" or liberated (in the socio-political sense) about married heterosexual couples engaging in oral sex or other forms of mutual pleasuring? The public discussion of it may be new, but such practices are as ancient as male and female. The conversation SDG and I have been having over the past few days, which is tangential to the issue of homosexual orientation, is not my attempt to liberate traditional values or battering-ram new ideas into the norm. Fellatio and other sex acts that produce arousal and orgasms outside of coitus, are enjoyed by ALL the married people I know, christian or otherwise. In fact, I will go so far as to say NONE of my Catholic friends obey the Churches teaching in this area. (As an aside, I'm told it is widely disregarded by all but the most conservative) That doesn't make it moral, for the sake of this debate, but it does dispel the notion that these acts represent some new liberated form of sexuality brought about by the erosion of traditional morality or any similar notion.

Even before we begin to broach the question of what sort of sexual practices are acceptable or moral or good - one has to recognize that sex is a gift (which I think SDG would describe in terms of sex as a "good" and sex as "natural") and sexuality is a space in which we are able to experience the generosity and grace of God and life with and for each other. Any conversation about sex and sexual behaviors that starts anywhere else is doomed to failure
I don't think any of us involved in this discussion are starting from a radically different vantage point, other than what you describe. I think the way you frame that sounds a little over-wrought and religious, but it's fine. Talking about the theology of sex sometimes seems a bit like writing a dissertation on skydiving or hang gliding. Edited by Greg P

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You act as if I'm the first person you've ever encountered who thinks the Catholic Church has a serious issue with sexuality and pleasure.

Oh, I've encountered people who say almost anything imaginable. I will say you're the first I've encountered who claimed that the Church's issues with pleasure and arousal were patently obvious on a "bottom-line parsing of the political subtext" of Humane Vitae. smile.png

The sexual practices being condemned by the Church in the strongest terms are the ones that offer optimal arousal and "sensible enjoyment" for married couples. They remove from the table the natural, free and pleasurable acts that most loving couples share-- placing those who don't obey these strictures under harsh condemnation.

This is the language of sexual consumerism, taking no account of the broken, disordered condition in which we find ourselves, a point to which M. Leary has helpfully recalled us.

Can you stop plowing ahead like a bull demanding to know where the walls are, and try to explore a different way of thinking about sexuality and human nature? Or do you insist on seeing everything only through your paradigm of liberty versus restriction?

Contrary to the relentless political spin and despite centuries of dense theological discussion by the Church, this is still largely a list of sexual do's and don'ts.

Reductionism flattens everything. Everything looks 2-D to a one-eyed man, and you can't convince him otherwise. To a Freudian or a Darwinian materialist of a certain school, all the frivol of romance, falling in love, passion and emotional intimacy, not to mention commitment, fidelity and the whole social structures of marriage and family, are all just subterfuge of the libido, byproducts of the biological imperative. Music, culture, art -- it's all really about nothing more than men wanting to get into women's pants. What does one say to that?

Even a cursory glance at Catholic forums and discussion groups highlights this. Good Catholic people desperately want to know whether such and such a private sex act between married persons, is acceptable before God. Oral sex? When is it foreplay and when is it masturbation? Can i touch my wife's anus as foreplay if she likes that? Can we use sex toys in our romantic times? People ask these questions because they don't want God to judge them. They don't want to sin. So back to my original point, it is VERY much about guilt and fear. Very much about control and where God wants mouths and body parts and what should be done with them.

Are you familiar with Kohlberg's six stages of moral development? People are at all different stages in their moral, personal, psychological and spiritual developments. Fear of punishment and wanting to know the rules serve a purpose at a certain stage of development, but in themselves they aren't maturity.

A mature Catholic vision of human sexuality, such as John Paul II explores in Love and Responsibility, is not based on rules, guilt or fear. You can keep tearing it down to that level, but you inevitably diminish what it is.

Are you saying you won't, or don't have time to answer, those nine simple yes or no questions? It would put to rest most of this current discussion.
I'm saying I think "putting the discussion to rest" isn't especially constructive if all it means is now you have the list of rules you want to define as the Catholic teaching on sexuality.

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Homosexuality is not an act, it is part of a person's sexual identity in ways that adultery and pornongraphu are not.

See below.

I take issue with this reasoning. Sexual orientation cannot be equated with a particular habit-- sinful or not-- or moral choice. I don't believe a homosexual orientation is by definition representative of defect or mental/physical brokenness.

Which is a common move, to separate personal identities from the actual constitution of the world - when in fact, as PTC has often pointed out, what you are describing as a "homosexual orientation" is the abstract manifestation of and experience of a wide array of genetic, family-of-origin, social, and environmental factors. These factors also happen to be the very factors that construct any other identity: the addict, the gambler, the coal miner, etc... But to single out the "homosexual orientation" as something that has a certain sort of privilege by which it escapes the criticism that can be leveled at every other "identity" that is constructed out the same mess of factors is irrational. And... it has the odd effect of reducing one that has a homosexual orientation to a body with a defining orientation. We are more than that.

So I can hear your criticism, and understand where you are coming from. I would just rather perceive people through a broader set of lenses. I agree, Thom that the "all sin is sin" canard does a lot of damage to people. I would counter that with something like: "all people are people" and go from there.

I think the way you frame that sounds a little over-wrought and religious, but it's fine. Talking about the theology of sex sometimes seems a bit like writing a dissertation on skydiving or hang gliding.

Yes it is overwrought and blessedly religious. No quibble there. But a "theology of sex" would actually derive from the most fundamental concepts of Christian theology, such as the incarnation itself. As Christianity is a religion about the body in a way few religions are, this whole sex thing is pretty crucial.

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M. Leary wrote:

: Which is a common move, to separate personal identities from the actual constitution of the world - when in fact, as PTC has often pointed out, what you are describing as a "homosexual orientation" is the abstract manifestation of and experience of a wide array of genetic, family-of-origin, social, and environmental factors. These factors also happen to be the very factors that construct any other identity: the addict, the gambler, the coal miner, etc... But to single out the "homosexual orientation" as something that has a certain sort of privilege by which it escapes the criticism that can be leveled at every other "identity" that is constructed out the same mess of factors is irrational. And... it has the odd effect of reducing one that has a homosexual orientation to a body with a defining orientation. We are more than that.

I agree with all of this -- and not just because you cited me! -- but for me, the question has always been "What do we *do* about this abstract manifestation and experience of a wide array of factors?"

In my (post-)evangelical days, I sometimes made an analogy between homosexuality and poor eyesight: with apologies to my LGBT friends, I take it as a given that neither of these things is part of God's creative intent, but I *also* take it as a given that people who have these conditions will have to live with them for pretty much their whole lives. The recent development of laser eye surgery aside, the person with poor eyesight has long had the option of wearing glasses, instead of pretending that their eyes are all right; could some similar sort of accommodation be made for LGBT people as well, without asking them to pretend that they are *not* LGBT? And if so, what would that sort of accommodation look like?

Or to put this in more biblical terminology: Do we risk losing any wheat if we throw out the tares?

My apologies if that's yet another tangent off of a tangent off of yet another tangent.

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Which is a common move, to separate personal identities from the actual constitution of the world - when in fact, as PTC has often pointed out, what you are describing as a "homosexual orientation" is the abstract manifestation of and experience of a wide array of genetic, family-of-origin, social, and environmental factors. These factors also happen to be the very factors that construct any other identity: the addict, the gambler, the coal miner, etc... But to single out the "homosexual orientation" as something that has a certain sort of privilege by which it escapes the criticism that can be leveled at every other "identity" that is constructed out the same mess of factors is irrational. And... it has the odd effect of reducing one that has a homosexual orientation to a body with a defining orientation. We are more than that.

This is all very well said. For a particular application of this, see my earlier post on "minor-attracted people," e.g.:

Obviously acting on pedophilic attraction may well have a different moral status from acting on same-sex attraction, from the perspective of the ethic of adult consent. With respect to the roots of attraction in nature or nurture, though, and the extent to which they are or are not reasonably described as an "identity" or "orientation," I suspect they are more or less comparable. That one is stigmatized and pathologized while the other is not I'm inclined to ascribe, not to objective measures of health or pathology, but solely to the ethic of adult consent -- and I think the incipient movement to rehabilitate the experience of "minor-attracted people" has a stronger relative case than might be suspected (a fact often obscured (for many reasons I really, really hesitate to write this, but there is something to it) by the sometimes exaggerated demonization of pedophiles as monsters or predators).

At this point it looks to me like the growing weight of evidence and expert opinion favors my view. Minor-attraction is as much an "orientation" or "identity" as same-sex attraction, even if our culture still maintains, due to the ethic of adult consent, that those with pedophilic attraction must not act on their inclinations, while those with same-sex attraction can.

FWIW. Incidentally, Thom, note my differentiation of different kinds of sin: both pedophilic acts and homosexual acts are sinful, but not in the same ways. It is certainly not the case that "sin is sin" and one size fits all.

So I can hear your criticism, and understand where you are coming from. I would just rather perceive people through a broader set of lenses. I agree, Thom that the "all sin is sin" canard does a lot of damage to people. I would counter that with something like: "all people are people" and go from there.

Nice.

Yes it is overwrought and blessedly religious. No quibble there. But a "theology of sex" would actually derive from the most fundamental concepts of Christian theology, such as the incarnation itself. As Christianity is a religion about the body in a way few religions are, this whole sex thing is pretty crucial.

Yes. Fundamentally, Christianity is not a set of rules, a set of beliefs about God, or a way to get to Heaven. Fundamentally, Christianity is a new way of being human. Jesus doesn't just reveal God to man; he reveals man to himself. In Jesus we understand in a new way what it means to be human, what it means to have a body, what it means to be created male and female. Christian theology is not a department or branch of human thought or endeavor; it embraces all of life, including sexuality (thus theology of the body).

Edited by SDG

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I haven't posted here since 2010, but I am so glad this thread has been resurrected. It is challenging and informative.

In my (post-)evangelical days, I sometimes made an analogy between homosexuality and poor eyesight: with apologies to my LGBT friends, I take it as a given that neither of these things is part of God's creative intent, but I *also* take it as a given that people who have these conditions will have to live with them for pretty much their whole lives. The recent development of laser eye surgery aside, the person with poor eyesight has long had the option of wearing glasses, instead of pretending that their eyes are all right; could some similar sort of accommodation be made for LGBT people as well, without asking them to pretend that they are *not* LGBT? And if so, what would that sort of accommodation look like?

This is exactly what I said in 2010! I think I referred to the idea of using crutches or having diabetes. People misinterpreted that as my suggesting that homosexuality is comparable to a disease, but that wasn't my point. There are a growing number of LGBT Christians who would willingly concede that homosexuality is "not part of God's original design," but more and more of them are asking, "So what?" We embrace, sometimes by necessity, lots of things that are not part of God's original design and that are the result of our common fallen, sinful condition.

I still struggle with the issue of choice in this debate. Here's the famous passage from Romans:

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

To me, this sounds more like Paul is addressing sexual addiction Certainly, there are straight people who engage in every type of heterosexual debauchery imaginable, and eventually grow tired of it. And so they look for new and different forms of stimulation, including with those of the same gender, to try and recreate the sexual "high." This is classic addiction behavior.

...But this is NOT the experience of any homosexuals I know. They didn't "exchange" or "abandon" anything. They have always just been the way they are. Being physically and emotionally attracted to someone of the same gender, and feeling better able to connect in that way, regardless of whether you act on those feelings physically, seems to be a different experience entirely from what Paul is describing.

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...But this is NOT the experience of any homosexuals I know. They didn't "exchange" or "abandon" anything. They have always just been the way they are. Being physically and emotionally attracted to someone of the same gender, and feeling better able to connect in that way, regardless of whether you act on those feelings physically, seems to be a different experience entirely from what Paul is describing.

I have found the case often to be they struggle and struggle to exchange or abandon their feelings for the same sex and believe if they just commit to a heterosexual relationship, eventually they will exchange their homosexual desires for heterosexual desires.

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...But this is NOT the experience of any homosexuals I know. They didn't "exchange" or "abandon" anything. They have always just been the way they are. Being physically and emotionally attracted to someone of the same gender, and feeling better able to connect in that way, regardless of whether you act on those feelings physically, seems to be a different experience entirely from what Paul is describing.

I have found the case often to be they struggle and struggle to exchange or abandon their feelings for the same sex and believe if they just commit to a heterosexual relationship, eventually they will exchange their homosexual desires for heterosexual desires.

Exactly. If the sin in Romans 1 involves exchanging something that is innate for something that is unnatural, then that puts a really different spin on things like reparative therapy, etc.

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The famous passage from Romans 1 is perhaps the single clearest non-acceptance (I don't like the word "condemnation") of homosexual activity in the entire New Testament. (The Old Testament has even sterner stuff, but then, it's the Old Testament: it's sterner in general, and a lot of its rules don't apply to Gentiles anyway.)

But the passage from Romans 1 is also quite striking because it means something quite different, within its context, than what many of the people who quote it nowadays want it to mean.

First, Romans 1 portrays homosexual activity as a *consequence* of, or even a *punishment* for, idolatry; when Paul says people "received in themselves the penalty for their perversion", or however the verse goes exactly, the "perversion" he's referring to is *idolatry*, not homosexuality; homosexuality is the *penalty*.

What's more, Paul then goes on to rattle off a long list of sins (including gossip!) that deserve *death* -- which seems, to me, to be a much harsher "penalty" than same-sex attraction.

And then, beyond *that*, Paul launches straight into Romans 2, where he says we have no basis for condemning those awful pagans because we, ourselves, break God's law all the time, and by condemning those pagans we show contempt for the riches of God's kindness, patience and tolerance (or words to that effect; I'm going by memory here).

On top of all that, the fact that Paul links homosexual activity to idolatry has led some people to wonder if Paul has particular sexual cultic practices in mind, while others have pointed to the fact that pagan culture in general accepted a certain amount of de facto bisexual activity, which raises the question of how applicable his comments in that context might be to our own current context.

These questions are not *quite* as pressing if one comes from a more traditional church culture which has developed its theology and morality beyond the original scriptures. But for sola-scriptura-ists, well...

At the very least, it isn't the "clobber passage" that some people seem to want to make it out to be.

(And I love the fact that this passage includes the Bible's only reference to lesbianism. Paul's feminism -- his tendency to include women as well as men when considering matters that affect them both -- strikes again!)

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