Friday, December 08, 2006

Discussions About Christian Sexual Morality and Marriage with Atheists

By Dave Armstrong (12-8-06)

This topic always generates all sorts of controversy; never fails. This took place in a thread at Debunking Christianity. I was foolish enough to think I could get somewhere with sociological data, in dealing with sex and societal trends regarding same. It seems not. But you never know. Some seed of doubt may have been planted one or two readers. If so, my frustration and weariness with the continual misreprentation of traditional Christian views on sexuality will have been worth it .

The atheists' words will be in the following colors:

John W. Loftus: orange
Martin Wagner: blue
Daniel: brown
trinity: green
Bruce: purple

Christians feel guilty about their sexual fantasies, and are afraid to bring them up to their spouses, so their sex life goes dull after about seven years of being married.

Is that so? Wow, I never knew that. I've been very happily married 22 years and to my knowledge sex is still pretty fun and passionate for now three times your predictions, and still going strong.

And it's not just me. Many studies have shown that strongly Christian couples are among the most sexually happy marriages: a lot more than those of the swingers and advocates of free sex and so forth. It's a known fact that promiscuity before marriage tends to adversely affect monogamous relationships, because one is always fantasizing about the others and comparing them, etc.

God designed sex for one couple, married for life. That is what works best, and there is much secular sociological data to support this.

Likewise, all the things Christians believe in (stable marriages, two-parent families [i.e., male and female!], no divorce, mother staying at home if at all possible, etc.) are now known to be far healthier for children (studies on the adverse effect of day care are now coming out).


* * *

As for this "secular sociological data" which you don't cite, I can cite the Barna Research study that showed divorce rates for conservative Christians were higher than those of other faith groups, as well as atheists and agnostics.

Yeah, I know. I've written about that myself: even in my last published book.

But you have to control for seriousness of religious fervor. When you do that, and you look at couples who, e.g., pray together, do devotions or Bible studies together; go to church every week, etc. the divorce rates go down to 5% or 10%. That's a very significant statistic indeed.

Without trying to refute your correlation, just pointing out something important: people who do any activity very regularly show the hallmark(s) of devotion and discipline. It could be thought, and I am not aware if such studies are done, that the same correlation may also hold between X and low divorce rate, where X = exercising together regularly, eating at least 4x a week together, setting aside "date nights", being Buddhist and doing yoga together, being Hindu and praying to Shiva, being atheists and attending a UU church...etc.

I think this is an important consideration in evaluating the likelihood of divorce by criteria that demonstrate the ability of the couple to maintain discipline in their routine and a degree of devotion to each other.

Just a thought.

I agree that many factors could contribute to happy marriages. Common interests are obviously one (whatever they are). When I said regular prayer and Bible study and so forth, I meant that more in the sense of "indication of strong religious commitment" rather than "shared activity" (though it is that too).

As a general observation I would point out that Christian moral teaching fits in perfectly with how we feel ourselves to be; our needs and wants.

Most of us feel that one partner is best for us. That's Christian teaching.

No one thinks divorce is a good thing. That's Christian teaching.

Adultery seriously injures the wronged party. Christian teaching says to not do it, as one of the most serious sins.

Try to talk to your wife or husband about numerous sexual conquests or escapades before you met; see how well that goes over. Christian teaching opposes fornication and restricts sex to marriage.

You men: go suggest to your wife that swinging or wife-swapping might be fun. See how well that goes over. Women want you to be devoted to THEM, and them only, and for this to last forever. Christianity opposes that; but "open marriage" says otherwise. who says that marriage is to death? You know who. Everyone wants that, ideally, yet when we come along and try to make it binding, so it can have every chance of succeeding, everyone thinks it's legalism and unreality. No; it is exactly reality, to make binding what everyone claims they want and want to try to achieve.

I was watching a special on the Beatles' wives, and it said that George had a crush on Ringos's wife Maureen and suggested one night that they swap wives. Everyone was shocked, and this documentary said that contributed to the downfall of Ringo's marriage (Maureen died of leukemia at age 47, by the way).

Everyone knows that George's wife Patti was the cutest by far of all the Beatles wives. :-) :-)

And likewise, John told his wife Cynthia in 1968 that he had slept with about 300 women. That went over great. Why is that? why is it that premarital or extramarital sex is glorified by our culture, yet if someone tries to DO it they often get in big trouble with their spouse? Christianity is the belief-system that says that we should stick to one person (of the opposite sex: a whole other discussion). It's almost self-evident that this works out best. Everyone knows it.

People may choose divorce if their marriage is a failure, but no one wants this, and no one sets out in a serious relationship with separation as a serious option. Almost all of us have that yearning to find one person and make it work forever (as a million love songs are about).

So Christianity simply says what we already know (part of a larger argument I've been having with DagoodS: that Christian morals build upon natural law and morals, and what every human being knows within himself).

I could go on and on with this, but you catch my drift . . .


* * *

And certainly if you controlled for premarital sex, that would be highly significant, too (there is no doubt in my mind). In other words, for those who truly believe and consistently live out Christian morality (for the most part: as we all fail now and then), there will be an impact on marriage as in all other parts of life.

Those who don't do that shouldn't surprise us if they fall prey to all the prevailing societal trends. Christians are famous for that. But it makes no sense to critique Christianity for failures that occur precisely because folks aren't following the very Christian teaching that would make a difference if it was faithfully followed.

Baby - bathwater . . . .



http://biblicalcatholicism.com/


* * *

What exactly is this "Christian morality" of which you speak,

Traditional Christian values: that the secular world is so furiously against these days.

and is there any reason to suspect that it's any more conducive to marital bliss than a non-religious ethical system based on reason and humanism?

I don't know. I was simply responding to John's claim that Christian morality made scarcely any difference and that sex in Christian marriages fizzles after seven years (dunno where he got that). I was repeating the studies I have seen many times through the years that this isn't the case; quite the contrary.

E.g., there is related research that shows how cohabitation before marriage is statistically more likely to coincide with later divorces than ton lower them (as the fallacious "try before you buy" sexual outlook would have us believe). I can't help it that the studies back up traditional Christian morality. They show what they show, whatever any of us may think about the results.


* * *

In my baptist upbringing we was always told that sex is naughty, dirty, etc. Whenever people were kissing on TV, we'd have to cover our eyes. After being told that your whole life, you believe it. Then all of a sudden on your wedding night, something formerly so bad becomes something you are supposed to share with your life partner. That's really messed up.

Yes it is. It's asinine, stupid, and idiotic in the extreme. I was never taught these ridiculous things in the circles I moved in (which incorporate many parts of Christianity).

It's not Christian or biblical teaching, which holds that sex is good and great, and was created by God for procreation and pleasure, but under certain limited conditions, due to the human propensity for selfishness and lust and destructive tendencies.

To merely limit something is not to equate it with wickedness. No one thinks hot dogs are wicked because everyone should limit how many they eat at a time. Conversely, no one argues that kissing is a good thing and so consequently sets out to kiss every female in a stadium of 40,000.

There are limits to every good thing. Sex is no exception. Human experience has shown that faithful monogamy works best. If you doubt this, then go cheat on your husband or wife and see how they feel about it. It's instinctive; innate. We all feel this. Yet Christians get a bum rap because we teach that sensible limits to sexual expression are binding, and their violation sin.

But in any event, the real Christian teaching on sex is not what these clowns you grew up with teach. Every belief system (including atheism) has its fringe elements and corrupters, too.


* * *

Of course there are all sorts of reason for happy (and bad) marriages. I've always been an advocate of multiple causation for most things. I was responding to John's running-down of the Christian marriage ethic, as if it makes no difference. I didn't claim that no one besides Christians could possibly have a happy marriage.

* * *

Sacred implies that it is some sort of gift from God, overriding the biological basis for our sex lives. It is also used to coerce women (and men as well,

Yeah, right. Okay, try this with your wife (if you're married): tell her that you think sex has no higher ontological meaning or mystical essence of uniting people and making them feel an indescribable oneness (let alone sacredness). Rather, it is simply a biological need and she serves as a convenient biological conduit to fulfill your need to have nerve endings feel wonderful and to give you physical pleasure.

That's all it means. It has no meaning beyond that. See how well that goes over.

Now I happen to think that if these feelings are so strong and well-nigh universal, that there truly is some basis for them besides mere coincidence or supposed social conditioning.

We've had now 40 years of the sexual revolution and 200-300 years of increasing secularization of western civilization, but I see no sign of human nature changing, or acceptance of promiscuity and so forth. Women still feel exactly the same as they always have. Men, too, are just as hurt by adultery as they always were.

Promiscuity and sexual conquest may be glorified in male locker rooms or basketball courts or when women are acting ridiculous and going to see the Foxy Frenchmen or a Brad Pitt movie or something, but at ground level it is still as ugly and as dreaded as ever.

Christianity is trying to spare people tremendous pain by enforcing the rules of common sense morality. You would think that people could figure out just from reason and experience that there is something to this: that Christians and other "traditional" religions were onto something profound and right, and have some wisdom to give to humanity. But the sexual drive and secular societal conditioning is far too strong for many people to get over. So they go and make the same mistakes. And they mock Christian values because, in my opinion, they know down deep that they are right, but find them difficult to live by.

That's why G.K., Chesterton famously said: "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried."

* * *

But the act of having sex outside of marriage is not in itself immoral, does not make one impure, does not damage any future marriage(s) . . .

Ah, but it does do damage; this is what you don't understand. Setting traditional Christian sexual morality aside for a moment (it's not required for my argument here to succeed), there are known consequences to lots of premarital sex and cohabitation. It tends to lead to (strictly based on scientifically-controlled polling) less stable marriages, more sexual dissatisfaction and a higher likelihood of divorce.

This is almost my entire present point. The mounting sociological, psychological, societal, and experiential evidence is great testimony that traditional sexual morality works best: even for those aspects that all you sexual libertines
[by this I did not mean to imply all atheists: only those who recognized themselves in the description] pride yourself on for being so superior to us fuddy-dud, killjoy, puritanical Christians: like longterm enjoyment of sex.

Disagree with him on any part of his recipe for marital perfection, and you're a "sexual libertine".

Is there any reason we shouldn't categorically dismiss you as an idiot from here on out?


Christian morality: lived out consistently, with understanding and dependence on God for the grace to carry it out, works. It works because it is true (not the opposite, or mere pragmatism). If you want a happy marriage, be very selective, keep your pants on till marriage, find a mate who feels the same way, be sure you are temperamentally compatible (and as many other ways as possible), and that is the recipe for success.

In other words, "Be perfect! Like Dave!"

Okay Dave, find me one of these studies you're not citing which shows that no marriage in history in which both partners remained virginal until their wedding day has ever ended in divorce, and that no marriage in history in which at least one partner had at least one premarital sexual experience has ever not ended in divorce, and maybe we'll take your bizarre notions about human relationships seriously. Until then, you just sound like a weirdo with some major sexual hangups to us. But then, we're all libertines, so that figures, eh?


Of course it has to be consistently lived. One could do all that and later, someone falls into lust or irresponsibility or substance abuse, or someone has a serious mental breakdown, and then factors other than Christian influence are introduced and everything can change. But the traditional morality by itself can only be a positive force for lasting, fulfilling relationships.

* * *

So explain why Christians get divorced more. You're avoiding this like a kid who doesn't want to brush his teeth.

Hardly; I already answered it; one has to control for the variable of how vigorous and serious the commitment to Christianity is: then the divorce rates go WAY down.

These ideas are hardly unique to Christianity, Dave.

Didn't say they were, so this is neither here nor there.

Try to talk to your wife or husband about numerous sexual conquests or escapades before you met; see how well that goes over.
Clearly no sensible person would, Dave. Most adults go into a monogamous relationship with the understanding that their new partner has a history, and has had previous partners. If you're starting a new relationship with someone, why would you talk about past relationships? You clearly don't have a good grasp of how people outside your little circle conduct relationships,

That had nothing to do with my line there, which was rhetorical and challenging to non-Christian sexual mores and ethics.

I was taking the question a step further: not dwelling on the obvious, as you want to do, making out that I am some backwoods naive simpleton. I was at least as sexually liberal in my past as many of you are. I've been around the block. I've lived and believed all that nonsense.

So what I'm doing is asking, "why is this a problem if in fact, promiscuity and lots of free sex is such a good, wonderful thing? Why is it that it can potentially become a problem in later marriages, and it is a no-no subject if it is so wonderful? Why is it that we all have that drive to be the lone loved one of our mates, yet at the same time liberal sexual morality does everything it can to undermine that goal, by promoting free, irresponsible sexuality?"

and like many religionists you have a skewed, black-or-white version of the world in which everyone exists at the end of one of two extremes. Here, you're either a blissfully happy monogamously married sexual saint, or a wild and uncontrollable libertine into wife-swapping and sex with anything that moves. You don't seem to have much experience with actual, you know, people.

Good grief. It just never ends, does it? It doesn't matter what we Christians argue; how nuanced we present things; how many times we make clear that we don't think all atheists are wicked and evil; you'll still accuse of the same idiotic attitude.

Some Christians hold to this position, but they are in the minority, and I am not among them, as I repeat till I'm blue in the face around here. But you seem new, so it's the same old nonsense: you meet a Christian and assume he is exactly like the fundamentalist wacko stereotype that does exist, but which is not representative at all of Christianity as a whole. I ain't a fundamentalist; never have been. I was raised in a liberal Methodist home, became a secularist for ten years, then an evangelical Protestant, and then a Catholic. At no time was I anything like a "fundamentalist."

You clearly don't even understand my argument, because (typically of a certain kind of atheist) you casually assume that I am an idiot who lives in a naive Christian bubble. If you could get past all your stereotypes, I think you'd discover that we actually have a lot more in common than you imagine. I know it's tough but I believe you can do it. You have it in you. You just need a little encouragement to do better.

And yet people who adhere to this belief system have less success with their marriages than people who don't. Ahh, the cognitive dissonance. If Dave won't address it, maybe it will go away.

I already did. In charity, I will assume that you simply didn't read my post where I stated that.

Just keep telling stories about crazy promiscuous rock stars as if that proves a point. Also, keep trotting out false choices and either-or fallacies like this one: . . . Again, you seem to have little experience with how men and women actually interact sexually, outside of your own marriage that is.

That's untrue, as already explained. But even if I lived in Antarctica and never saw a woman in my life, that wouldn't change the fact of scientific polling data, which is what it is regardless of the past sexual history and understanding or lack thereof, of the person who presents it.

The more you keep cheerleading for the alleged moral superiority of your belief system the more it sounds like you're doing so in an effort to hide from uncomfortable facts. I believe it's called "whistling past the graveyard", or in this case, "bedroom".

Right. Why is it that I wrote in my most recent published book, The Catholic Verses (look it up on amazon): "[D]ivorce rates among Evangelical protestants are virtually as high as that of the general public" (p. 205)?

The only ignoring going on here is your butchery or confused noncomprehension of my argument.

Do you agree with the statement that all instances of divorce and remarriage constitute adultery?

Of course not. That's why we Catholics have annulments to look into what the situation was, that may have been a serious mitigating circumstances.

Do you believe wives should always be submissive and accept an inferior role to that of their husbands?

The same Paul who taught that also taught (in the verse just before): "Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Eph 5:21-22), and three verses later that the husband should love his wife the way that "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." Being willing to be crucified for someone else doesn't exactly strike me as a totally dominant superior-slave relationship. It is not at all, rightly-understood. I've never forced my wife to do anything. We decide things jointly.

And do you agree with Paul that ultimately, sex is just a really really bad thing to do,

I don't agree, because Paul never taught this. It's a gross distortion; typical of atheist "exegesis."

but people should marry anyway, only to avoid going to hell for fornication?

Lust is not the same thing as sex. Premarital sex is different from married sex. The same act can be good or bad depending on circumstances. You think not? Okay, then why is rape wrong? Why would incest be wrong, or sex with an eight-year-old. That's all the same act, but it is wrong in one instance and right in others. We simply say sex outside of marriage is another time that sex is immoral.

I don't see much "common sense" in that "morality".

It would help considerably if you actually understood it in the first place, rather than lash out at it before you even know what the opposing view holds. It's easy for me, on the other hand, to critique the usual secular view of sex, because I used to hold it myself. Nothing like firsthand experience to make one understand something.

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