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Is Masturbation a Sin? A Disagreement with Steve Hays

Steve Hays of Triablogue defends masturbation as a good thing here. Matthew Bellisario responds to that here. I weigh in, siding (for once) with Bellisario here. Hays responds to all three of us in one fell swoop here. I’ll let Dave Armstrong and Matthew Bellisario deal with his retorts to them on their own. I’ll consider Hay’s response to me.

[A] guy named Cory also raised some objections. Unfortunately, he doesn’t offer any arguments to respond to. Just assertions.

So, Hays isn’t going to respond to me at all. Darn.

I already dealt with the “lust” objection, both practically and exegetically. Of course, I could always be wrong, but no counterargument is forthcoming from his end.

Oh, whoops! He is responding to me. I’d better start paying attention. Let’s see. He’s already dealt with the lust objection. Unless I’m missing something, he did not deal with the issue at length. This is what he said:

Traditionally, the church has frowned upon masturbation. One reason is the relation between masturbation and lust. This cannot be denied. On the other hand, lust is also aggravated by the absence of a sexual outlet. That is, indeed, in the nature of sexual tension, of a tension between sexual desire and sexual release. Unrelieved sexual tension only builds.

Interesting. So masturbation is fine as an outlet for sexual tensions because otherwise the tensions would simply build and build. This is interesting because the atheist tends to justify things like pre-marital sex, pornography, and other things I would hope that Hays categorizes as sinful by appealing to the same sort of logic. It relies on the false assumption that you can’t deny yourself sexual pleasure.

Jesus would disagree. Paul would disagree.

Jesus asks us in Luke 9:23-24 to deny ourselves. He wants us to lose ourselves to him in order to save our lives. Jesus probably has many things in view here, and lust is probably one of those things. After all, he condemns lust during the Sermon on the Mount.

Paul tells us that to avoid burning with lust, we should marry (1 Cor 7:9)–and that only if we cannot exercise self-control. I don’t recall him telling us to masturbate to avoid burning with lust. This would re-enforce the idea that the only morally praiseworthy sex act is that which takes place within marriage.

Notice what I said first–if we cannot exercise self-control. Note that a Christian who is truly in Christ will be granted a measure of self-control by God; it is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). Perhaps our natural, fallen selves would be incapable of keeping it in our pants. But, the new creation that we have become in Christ is capable of restraint through the Holy Spirit to temper these desires.

He also lodges a last-ditch appeal to tradition. But tradition, at best, has an advisory role, not an executive role. Indeed, he’s obviously quite selective in his own appropriation of tradition on various issue.

Agreed. Tradition does have an advisory role. Which would explain why I would be selective in some regards to apply it. But if there isn’t anything in Scripture to overturn a tradition, such as in this case, why not align with it? This is why I reject doctrines like the rapture, because it has no foundation in Christian tradition. It traces back only to the nineteenth century, and to a dubious understanding of 1Thessalonians 4:15-17.

Here, Hays just seems to have an underlying assumption that if the Catholic Church teaches it, it must be wrong. The thing about any good lie is that it is 90% truth. The Catholic Church isn’t always wrong. Indeed, they may be right in many (if not most) cases. Let’s use the discernment that God gave us to figure that out.

Everything is traditional. Gnosticism is traditional. Docetism is traditional. Arianism is traditional.

Point being, what, exactly? Tradition also rejects those as heresies. Scripture, properly understood, clearly teaches against them. Red herring, anyone?

There’s also his assumption that, in this context, sexual fantasies always involve a strange woman. Well, that’s a very revealing assumption.

Always? Nope, not what I said. I said:

In the case of a married man, I’d venture to say that, while you might think about your wife occasionally while this is going on, it is a pretty good assumption that most of the time you don’t.

The physical act of masturbation itself may or may not be sinful. That isn’t the point. I assure you, the mental imagery that flashes through the mind of the masturbater is sinful. That alone should be enough to condemn masturbation as inherently sinful. [emphasis added]

Sorry, Steve. Selective reading. I’m guessing that most of the time a guy’s wife isn’t flashing across his mind. But certainly not in all cases. I know I fantasize about my wife!

What about a married serviceman on a 6-month tour of duty overseas? Is it wrong for him to fantasize about his own wife?

We can debate that, but my immediate point is that a scenario like this doesn’t even occur to Cory.

I don’t condemn the actual act of masturbation, but the lust associated with it. This scenario did cross my mind, but I didn’t elaborate on it because it is irrelevant to the point I’m trying to make. Masturbation may or may not be wrong in that case. But since the overall evidence seems to point to masturbation being wrong, it is best avoided.

Likewise, does he think single men should read the Song of Solomon? What about single Christians–male or female. Should the Song of Solomon be part of their canon?

If they read it, won’t that appeal to their imagination? Indeed, isn’t the imagery designed to have that effect?

It all comes back to the self-control issue I mentioned above. The imagery in the Song is definately sexual, but one would largely miss the point of it if one were to think it was meant only to talk about sex. There is allegory in the Song, and that is its intended purpose. And, with proper self-control, the images that the Song conjures wouldn’t be a problem.

I’m not sure what the purpose of this tangent on the Song was. It doesn’t seem to have anything to do with anything.

Ad hominem (suggesting that my contention that masturbatory fantasies aren’t likely to be about wives is revealing), misquoting me to make a point, red herrings all over the place:

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About Cory Tucholski

I'm a born-again Christian, amateur apologist and philosopher, father of 3. Want to know more? Check the "About" page!

Posted on March 19, 2010, in Apologetics, God, Heresy, Marriage, Morality, Roman Catholicism, Sin, Theology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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