Monday, June 2, 2008

Comments on "Sex, God, and Marriage"

Several times I’ve seen Google Ads for a “Free ebook on handling sexuality in a way that pleases God”, called Sex, God, and Marriage. I hate that book.

The book, written by Johann Christoph Arnold, claims to be a book that will help people deal with their relationship. I guess that’s what it is trying to do too, and of course I don’t have anything against that. What I do have something against is how they express themselves.

The book blatantly ignores the common knowledge that no two relationships, and indeed no two people, are the same. They are not saying “You should try this” and “This might be a good idea”; they are telling people that there is one and only one thing to do, and that if they don’t, then God Almighty will be very cross with them.

Words like “sin”, “abomination”, “perversion” and “demonic forces” are thrown around a lot, and I see this as a problem. The book has a very impressionable target audience and it is very authoritative in its style; the author clearly think that he both knows and speaks God’s own will, it is riddled with bible quotes and there is a foreword by Mother Teresa.

Couple this with that the book tells us that virtually everything that has to do with a normal, healthy sexuality is in some way sinful and dirty, and I strongly suspect that it leads to some very confused and ashamed youths. Their bodies are telling them one thing, the Word of God (by proxy of Mr. Arnold) tells them another, and when they can’t keep themselves from “sinning” they are likely to get very ashamed and depressed.

Here is an illustrating quote from early on in the book:

“Perversions – masturbation, homosexual practice, pornography, premarital sexual intercourse, divorce and remarriage – have become increasingly accepted“

And he says that as if it is a bad thing!

I admit that I’ve read far from the entire book. But I did read some of it, just because my first glance at it bothered me so much. I hate it when people preach intolerance and ignorance under the guise of religion. Religion gives people such a good defense against rational discussion.

I will now pick on this book a bit by giving you some quotes from the parts that I read, and my own sinful comments on those quotes.

Wives, for their part, should give themselves in love to their husbands as they are able, even if their joy in doing so is not the same as it was in earlier years (1 Cor. 7:3-4). Otherwise a husband may be tempted to seek other outlets for his sexual impulses.

The amount of sexism in this single quote confounds and angers me so much that I feel the need to make a numbered list of things that bothers me about it. Remember kids, numbered and bulleted lists are fun!

  1. The bible verses in question don’t say that at all, at least not according to my reading of them. In my interpretation they are actually very much for equality in a marriage. Of course this is also an example of why have such problems with books like this; the authors always seem so sure that their particular interpretation of their Holy Texts is correct, and they feel entitled to condemn and command people in accordance to that particular interpretation.
  2. Saying “A wife must give herself to her husband whenever he wants it; God says so” is just so completely wrong, in so many ways, and almost any moral standard would agree. According to my personal moral standard it is certainly unjustifiably evil. But it’s usually glossed over as pretty much ok as long as it has religious basis; after all “we must respect their beliefs”.
  3. The whole quote also works under the assumption that sexual urges is a very male thing. This is a very outdated view, from the time where the entire female sexuality was suppressed by society (which it still is to a much lesser degree), assuming that women don’t crave sexual pleasure and release. This is of course patently false; women have their sexuality just like men, and if the man’s lust dwindles before the woman’s (which is in fact very common), she will also be “tempted to seek other outlets for her sexual impulses”. But the author ignores this and says that only women have the obligation to keep up with sexual relations to keep their spouse happy.

Also, this quote says that if people don’t get sex, they will seek other outlets for their sexual impulses. Oh, cue the loud interjections of surprise! Of course people do that. But the author wouldn’t have to order wives to give themselves to their husbands against their will if he didn’t spend much of the rest of the book condemning masturbation.

Of course, the author tries to subvert the image of him as a sexist pig several times, by claiming that he is all for equality in relationships. But I feel that his heart isn’t really in the whole equality-thing. There are several quotes along the lines of the above one, and the fact that he sees fit to include wonderful Bible verses such as “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything”, from Ephesians 5:22-24.

In some school districts an appreciation and understanding for the homosexual lifestyle is encouraged: it is, our children are told, a perfectly acceptable alternative to heterosexual marriage

Again: they say that as if it is a bad thing!

The whole book contains numerous examples of gay-bashing. The author does his best to deny this in one section, saying that everyone is a sinner and that he’s not advocating judging homosexuals worse than other sinners. That would be all well and good, but I have a hard time believing him when he just goes on and on about the abominable sin of “homosexual conduct”; he really does seem to have a big giant stick up his ass about it, and he really does seem to judge homosexuals harsher than all the other sinners.

For instance, Mr. Arnold says:

“In Leviticus 18:22-23, God calls homosexual intercourse an abomination: ‘Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.’ And in Leviticus 20:12 we read, ‘The penalty for homosexual acts is death to both parties. They have brought it upon themselves.’ Let those who discount such prohibitions and warnings by explaining that we are now ‘no longer under the law, but under grace’ then explain why incest, adultery, bestiality, and human sacrifice are not to be ignored. All of these are condemned in the very next sentences”

I guess what he is trying to say that if we take one part of the bible to heart, then we must take it all. Since we still condemn things like human sacrifice we must also condemn homosexuals; they are both in the same chapter of the Holy Book, after all.

So, let’s see what else Leviticus tells us.

Well, shrimp and other crustaceans are of course an abomination (Lev. 11:10), as is “every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth” (a very exact definition indeed!) (Lev. 11:41) and they should not be eaten. Likewise we should not eat swine or touch their carcasses, since they are unclean (Lev 11:7-8). Naturally you should never wear a garment made from both linen and wool, nor plant two different crops in the same field (Lev. 19:19). And don’t forget that you’re not allowed to cut the corners of your beard (Lev. 19:27) or get tattoos (Lev. 19:28).

Now, I would say that today very few consider these things serious crimes or sins, and I would guess that Mr. Arnold himself rarely crusades against shellfish or clothes made from mixed fabrics. But for some reason he seems to think that the brief mention of homosexuality is still very important. I can’t for the life of me understand how he knows which verses are important and which are not, though.

In many curricula students are graphically taught (sometimes by way of films) about various sexual practices, including masturbation, and about “safe” sex. [...] Some schools even have students pair off to discuss topics such as foreplay and orgasm. […] Abstinence, if not entirely ignored, is mentioned only in passing.

Oh great, another proponent of abstinence only sex education. These people seem to believe that kids actually won’t have sex if we just tell them to abstain. They think that there is no need to tell people about things like sex and protection, because if we just preach abstinence they won’t be having any sex anyway.

Mr. Arnold seems convinced of this, and says “All the same, there is a danger in giving a child too many biological facts about sex. Often, a factual approach to sex robs it of its divine mystery” and “Haven’t we seen by now that knowledge is no safeguard, and that sex education as taught in most schools has only increased sexual activity?”

Seriously people; we live in a world where there are Catholic priests who rape children. If we can’t get every priest, people who have taken holy vows and gone through lengthy training, to act in even a halfway decent manner, then who the hell do you expect to get every kid to go against their natural urge to have sex?

Sexuality is one of the strongest, most noticeable parts of us, especially in young people. Young people have sex; that’s just the way it is. Not everyone, but very many. The “don’t tell them anything about it”-line just seems stupid and dangerous when considering that. Surely telling them that if they have sex they should use protection and so on, isn’t a bad idea?

I am not against teaching abstinence. Of course abstinence is always the best way to avoid both STDs and unwanted pregnancy. Most kids don’t want to abstain, but some might and it’s not a bad thing to tell them that it might be good. But it’s the abstinence only thing that gets to me.

Abstinence only education is what has given many Florida teens the belief that drinking a cap of bleach will stop HIV, and that Mountain Dew and marijuana can stop pregnancy, as reported in this news story.

Many abstinence only-proponents claim that if we tell kids about anything more than the bare necessities about sex, they will invariably be sex-crazed maniacs and there will be tons of teen pregnancies and abortions.

I’m not so sure about that though. The Netherlands, for example, is a very liberal country with comprehensive sex education. If you look at the statistics cited in this Washington Post article, you see that they have just a fraction of the teen pregnancies and teen abortions that the United States has. This article shows some more figures for the Netherlands, which shows lower rates of STDs too.

Yes, statistics lie. If you don’t know the whole cultural context for figures like this, the statistics are somewhat worthless, I realize that. But, the most important thing to note here is that the abstinence only-proponents often claim that a more comprehensive sex education invariably leads to higher rates of STDs and teen pregnancies, and we can clearly see that isn’t true.

I am of course far from alone in thinking that abstinence-only education is bull. Here are some resources found on the Wikipedia page on abstinence (sources available on the page for anyone who does not trust this):

“Abstinence-only education has been criticized in official statements by the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, the Society for Adolescent Medicine, the American College Health Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Public Health Association, which all maintain that sex education needs to be comprehensive to be effective.”

Of course, there is another type of people also against comprehensive sex education in schools. They claim that schools shouldn’t teach kids about sex, because that’s their parents’ job.

I kind of agree that parents should teach their kids about such things. But it is a fact that far from all parents will do that. We do not live in a perfect world, and most parents are too embarrassed about the subject to mention it more than in passing. Did the parents of the aforementioned Florida teens take their responsibility to teach the kids about sex, protection, and basic common sense? I wouldn’t think so. If they had, those kids wouldn’t be drawing from their repositories of unsubstantiated rumors and feel “oh it’s ok that we didn’t use protection; good old bleach and Mountain Dew will cure all!”

Kids are imperfect, parents are imperfect. Schools are very far from perfect, but at least it’s a somewhat controllable institution that can be used to propagate vital knowledge (one might even assert that it is a primary function, of sorts, for schools).

Young people underestimate the powers of the demonic forces they allow into their lives when they give in to impurity. Take masturbation for example. […] Increasingly, parents, educators, and ministers of our day claim that masturbation is healthy and natural; many see it as just another form of stress release.

Apparently, we are supposed to tell kids “Absolutely no sex! Sex is deadly and wrong and sinful”, then tell them “Oh, and don’t masturbate either! That’s unhealthy, unnatural, and such a bad sin that you let demonic forces into your life if you partake in it!”

So, we are actively trying to traumatize them? Seriously; as previously mentioned, all young people have strong sexual urges. That’s how a species survives, and it’s of course entirely natural. Besides there being numerous health benefits to masturbation, people will always want to masturbate just because that’s how we work. So, when young people are told by someone speaking for the Supreme Authority that all of their urges are unhealthy, unnatural, and somehow related to demons, how do you think that they will feel lying alone in bed at night, fighting said urges?

And if we are now aiming for decreased sexual activity among young people, and they are told that masturbation lets in demonic forces in their lives (while pre-marital sex is just a normal sin), do you think that they will be more or less likely to have sex, rather than masturbate, to handle the sexual urges?

To me it feels like young people masturbating gives them great opportunities to get to know their own bodes, get sexual relief, stress release, pleasure and entertainment without any risk of STDs or unwanted pregnancy. But of course there are always people like Mr. Arnold who thinks that’s just all too good and want to stop it.

Contraception undermines the fulfillment and fruition of two who are one flesh

The guy who wrote this book really hates contraception. The whole “spilling one’s seed without the intention of knocking someone up” really gets to him, and he seems convinced that all relationship failures are because of people having sex to actually enjoy it.

Every time he mentions contraception he uses quotation marks around the word “safe” in “safe sex”, using scare quotes tactics to drive home his point that he doesn’t consider safe sex safe at all. This is another pattern of behavior that I really hate among people like this.

Yes, no protection is 100% perfect. People like Mr. Arnold tend to severely exaggerate the risk of failure, but the truth is still that condoms don’t work every single time.

The important point is though that people will have sex. People will also have sex with partners whom they can’t know are “clean”, they will have sex at times when pregnancy is unwanted, and they will do so regardless if there is protection available or not. Now, a condom protects against STDs and unwanted pregnancy almost every single time, so of course it’s a very good thing to use them.

But when people like Mr. Arnold keep exaggerating the failure rates many seem to think that it isn’t worth the bother. When things start heating up and the young couple realizes their lack of condoms, some seem very liable to think along the lines “but people say those things don’t work anyway, so screw it”.

Of course, the Catholic Church is famous for aggravating the problems of HIV and poverty in many areas, by actively campaigning against condom use. Mr. Arnold seems keen to join in that fun; wanting to help spread venereal disease and contribute to the problem of overpopulation. What a man.

Only a few decades ago, transsexualism – the practice of undergoing a surgical male-to-female or female-to-male sex change – was unheard of. Today this godless practice is gathering momentum across the western world. The enormous cost of these surgeries alone is a crime against humanity when one thinks of the widespread hunger and poverty in the Third World and in our own American ghettos.

This statement really saddens me. Saying that sex reassignment therapy is a “godless practice” is just evil. People born with the wrong physical gender sometimes really do need those operations to be able to live with themselves. Telling those who need it that it is godless, and in extension a crime against humanity, is something I just find sick.

Every year many transsexuals are killed because of the social stigma against them. Guys like Mr. Arnold certainly aren’t helping by telling people that they commit crimes against humanity… It would sadly not surprise me if he has at least one murder on his conscience, by someone who took his words to heart and thought they would rid the world of a dangerous threat.

What would we be if God had not breathed his breath into us? Darwin’s whole theory of evolution, by itself, is dangerous and futile because it is not God-centered. Something inside of us cries out against the idea that we have been hatched by a purposeless universe.

Why do certain religious types feel the need to drag the theory of evolution into absolutely everything? This was supposed to be a book about relationships and sex, but the author obviously thought that it was incomplete without some evolution-bashing, no matter how much of a non sequitur it is.

The theory of evolution is a bit of a favorite of mine, as far as scientific theories go. I could write a whole post just on how certain religious groups misrepresent the theory (and I probably will some time), but for now I’ll try to keep myself short.

I just want to say that, yes, it is totally true. Evolution is not God-centered. Mr. Arnold is right about that. This does not, however, mean that it is incompatible with religion, nor does it try to “disprove God”.

Scientific theories are the conclusions and predictions that come naturally and logically from observing and examining observable reality. God is by definition supernatural and not included in the natural, observable. You can’t make any accurate predictions starting from the premise “God did it”, so science does not concern itself with Gods.

This does not automatically mean that scientists try to say that there is no God, or that the universe is purposeless, or that we came from nothing. It only means that God is not useful in science since it does not involve anything that can be measured and quantified. Very many scientists, and very many evolutionary biologists, are religious. Many are not religious. Religion and science have very little connection to each other; stop trying to make science out to be some evil, atheist plot.

I’ll leave things at that. I know that most of the book’s target audience will never read this post, but I still wanted to give my thoughts on the book. Hopefully the people reading this post understand what a stupid and potentially dangerous book it is.

Note; as I didn’t read the whole book myself I might have been unfair towards it in some case. If you suspect me of malicious quote mining, feel free to check out the book for yourselves; it is free after all.