Tuesday, October 1, 2019

What We Lose When We Dismantle Taboos

Suppose I told you that my husband sometimes goes hiking alone with another woman. She's beautiful and just a few years younger than he is. He also has been known to call her and talk at length about what is going on in his life and hers. You might be concerned for the state of my marriage. However, you would be missing an important piece of information. She's his sister.

That sort of information makes a huge difference, doesn't it? It's the difference between appropriate and inappropriate. It's the difference between concern that an affair is brewing and totally normal and acceptable interactions. But why?

The difference is the cultural taboo on incest which allows us the presumption that close family interactions are platonic rather than sexual. Most people think of a taboo as a negative thing, but they are really positive because they are protective. The taboo against incest makes it unthinkable to inject a sexual note into family ties, and this gives us the freedom to interact with family members in close and intimate ways without fear or shame or innuendo or temptation. The taboo protects our family relationships so that we can enjoy one another's company. My husband can go hiking with his sister without needing a chaperone or coming back to an upset and suspicious wife precisely because of this taboo. She's not just another woman. She's his sister. Sisters are not objects of sexual attraction.

Taboos are important for the flourishing of human society. They are not optional. They are vital. What happens when we undermine and break down useful taboos that have been long established is that we diminish our own freedom and the freedom of those around us. We make ourselves more suspicious, more encumbered, and make all our interactions more complicated and tense. In the end, we break down society.

Let's take a look at one such example - the acceptance of homosexuality. In times past, homosexuality was taboo. It was unthinkable for the vast majority of people in society. If people engaged in such behavior, they did it secretly. This shame and revulsion around homosexual behavior has been claimed as wrong and harmful and even repressive, but in reality it was freeing. A taboo against homosexuality allows for the assumption of platonicity in all same-sex interactions. It allows men to be friends with other men and women to be friends with other women without injecting a note of sexuality into those friendships. When we accept homosexuality as normal, we destroy not only the taboo, but also the presumption that same-sex friendships are platonic which derives from it. This breaks down our ability to form and maintain close friendships with others of our sex.

It has long been noted, and sometimes lamented, that men and women cannot be platonic close friends. The question of sex is always an element, no matter how much we might like to avoid it or deny it. Even if the people involved have no sexual attraction to one another at the moment, there is always the possibility that it will develop later and always the concern that other people will misunderstand the relationship or that signals will be misunderstood as sexual cues. This forms a serious barrier to male-female friendships.

Yet when we normalize homosexuality, people of the same sex are no longer seen as being off limits as sexual partners and this has implications for all our future interactions. It produces the same distance and barriers between same-sex friends as men and women have been dealing with since the dawn of time. If homosexuality is normal and acceptable, then same-sex friends have to contend with sexual elements appearing in their friendship. If they do not wish to send sexual signals, it takes a lot more effort and care to avoid them. Once you destroy the presumption of platonicity between people of the same sex, it places distance and caution between them lest other people misunderstand. It makes things more awkward. Every word, every gesture, every expression of affection becomes a potential minefield of complications and misunderstandings. In the end, we usually seek distance to relieve the tension and stress and it leaves all of us more disconnected, isolated, and emotionally poorer.

Our society is breaking down and our people are becoming more isolated, sad, and lonely at least partly because we have been breaking down the taboos that protected us. We tore down the fence without first asking what it was there for. The Sexual Revolution was a society-wide experiment with human nature, and it has failed miserably. The aftershocks are still causing damage. And they're not over yet. Not only is homosexuality becoming more and more accepted and normalized and transgenderism is well on its way, but there are movements beginning to normalize pedophilia, incest, bestiality, and more. Not satisfied with the damage already done, some are attempting to "fix" society by destroying all the rest of the taboos we have left. But rather than the utopian paradise they think they are ushering in, they will produce an utterly broken, dysfunctional society full of absurdity and loneliness. If you want to fix something, you need to have an idea of how it's supposed to work and the limits of what you can do. Neither have been addressed adequately.

One way that we can help to counter this current toward the cultural abyss is to stand up and boldly proclaim that taboos are good and useful because of the boundaries they produce and the safety and clarity they foster - not just for those who are "normal," but for everyone. We have had taboos in place against deviant behaviors to protect us. They provide guideposts to shape our choices and our behaviors. They provide freedom to ignore some options as unthinkable. They foster clarity of communication, without mixed signals and misunderstanding. When we have good taboos that rule out harmful and immoral behaviors, society flourishes. When we tear them down, we descend into madness.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Marry Sooner Rather Than Later

Here is my counter-cultural advice to young singles: Marry sooner rather than later. This is Biblical advice because the Bible specifically tells young people to marry rather than continue to burn (I Cor. 7:9). Most young adults have a sex drive, and this is evidence that they should be moving toward marriage. To delay marriage without cause is foolish at best, and sinful at worst. This principle of moving toward marriage rather than burning with sexual desire was given to prevent sexual sin. It is no surprise that in a society that avoids and delays marriage, sexual sin is rampant. We Christians should not be following the ways of the world that lead to sin and destruction, but rather prioritizing God's ways and wisdom. This principle of moving toward marriage intentionally works out a little differently depending on where you are in relationships. Here are some practical tips to help you move toward marriage in your situation. If you are engaged or very close to engagement because you know who you want to marry, plan a simple, inexpensive wedding in the near future. My general recommendation is that engagements should be 6 months or less. It doesn't take very long to plan a simple wedding. The longer you drag the engagement on, the greater the chances that you will fall into sexual sin. The Bible tells us that it is foolish for a man to work to gain the whole world and yet lose his soul. Similarly, it is foolish to choose a long engagement if that means disobeying God by having sex outside marriage. If you arrive on your big day having stained your souls with fornication, you have lost that which was more important. We should not purposely put ourselves in the position of needing super-human strength to stay sexually pure. Move up the wedding date and avoid the temptation. Prioritize obeying God and don't leave room for sin to creep in. A cheaper wedding is also important. Reducing costs is a good thing anyway as it is wasteful to spend large amounts of money on a wedding rather than investing in the marriage. But it's important to be frugal in order to start your marriage off right. Studies have shown that the greater the amount of money spent on the wedding, the shorter the marriage tends to last. Elaborate and expensive weddings tend to lead to divorce. Invest in your marriage. A wedding is just one day and soon over. You want the marriage to last, so prioritize it over the wedding. That might mean giving up some of your dreams for a fancy, picture-perfect wedding, but that is a worthwhile trade to make. If you are in a relationship, be intentional about marriage as your goal. Dating is often a very fun time of getting know someone, and there's nothing wrong with having fun. But fun can't be your purpose for the relationship. A dating relationship needs a goal, and that goal is to determine whether two people should marry. Marriage should be the underlying question in every dating relationship. Are you compatible on your beliefs, your goals, and your values? Do you work well as a team? Do you resolve conflicts well together? Are you willing to fulfill the duties of marriage together if you marry (including leadership/submission, frequent sex, raising children, faithfulness, communication, and selflessness)? These are the kinds of questions you should be answering about each other and your relationship as you go along. When you pursue the relationship with intentionality, this does three important things for you. First of all, it greatly increases the chances that your relationship will be successful. A successful dating relationship does not necessarily mean you will marry. You might successfully determine that you are not suitable for one another and end the relationship. That is a perfectly valid outcome of a dating relationship and not a failure. If you knew you wanted to marry, you could just skip to engagement. The relationship before engagement is precisely to determine whether you should marry. If you decide not to marry, that gives you information you did not previously have and fulfills the purpose of the relationship. If you decide to marry, then you have also fulfilled the purpose of the relationship by finding that you are ready to move toward marriage with one another. But notice what does not fulfill the purpose of the relationship - aimless fun without assessing one another for marriage. They say if you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time. That is nowhere more true than in a dating relationship. If you have no purpose for your relationship, you will never know if you have been successful or not. And in the meantime, you waste one another's time without moving toward marriage and set yourselves up for temptation without cause. Too many young people find themselves having dated one another for years and yet still don't know whether they should marry. That's insane. The second thing intentionality does for you is that it speeds up the process of finding a spouse. Aimless dating is one of the biggest reasons for delayed marriage in our culture today. Many young people are not serious about looking for marriage, but they play at romantic relationships for years and sometimes decades. They often don't marry until their 30's or 40's, if at all. Marriage prospects grow more and more dim as one gets older and fertility declines as one gets older as well. It is easier to find a good spouse in your 20's, so don't waste this decade. The third benefit of being intentional is that you are more likely to avoid sexual sin. The people waiting until their 30's to marry aren't usually remaining chaste in the meantime. Our sex drives were given to us to move us toward marriage as marriage is the proper outlet for sexual expression. But if we delay marriage, we have all that drive and no proper outlet for it. This leads to great temptation and, for many, sexual sin. We weren't meant to spend decades single and sexless. If that is our lot through no fault of our own, then God can certainly give us strength to be obedient in this area and remain chaste. But it's best to avoid prolonging the temptation. That is why we are told to marry rather than burn. Avoid wasting your time with a relationship that has no purpose as it will not move you toward marriage and this will lengthen the amount of time you will need to say no to sex and increase the chances that you will give in to temptation. If you are not in a relationship, be intentional about looking for a relationship headed toward marriage. In our culture today, it is easy to drift along, thinking marriage will happen one day, but not in any big hurry to find a spouse. This drifting often goes on for years before the person decides to intentionally pursue a serious relationship headed toward marriage. It is not too uncommon for them to find, to their chagrin, that marriage doesn't appear automatically and that their prospects are few when they finally do start getting serious about marriage. What is especially odd about this lackadaisical attitude toward marriage is that it is usually accompanied by a belief that a good marriage partner is really hard to find. When you think about it, that makes no sense. If we really believe a good spouse is hard to find, it seems like we would want to start early and put a lot of effort into it. We might need to be realistic about our preferences and be ready to settle down with the first person who looks like a decent match and is willing to have us. We might even need to go out of our way to visit places where singles congregate, brush up on our social skills, build up a solid marriage resume, and speak positively about our intentions to marry so as to attract the few decent potential mates out there and get a leg up on the competition. Yet this is exactly the opposite of what most people today are doing. Most young adults think of marriage as something to worry about several years down the road, and then only when they find the perfect person who meets their every preference. Delaying marriage and not pursuing it with any great effort only make sense if we believe awesome marriage partners can be had under every bush and around every corner. If there are great numbers of acceptable matches around us and we could marry any time we please because opportunities are so numerous, then it might make sense to put off the search for awhile and be really picky about choosing the best among the numerous good choices. But that is not the world we live in. The reality is that people of good character who wish to marry are fairly few in our culture, and most of us have quite limited options even among them. That is why we can't afford to leave marriage to chance. It can take years to find a good spouse, even if you are actively looking. Not every relationship turns into marriage. Sometimes you have to date several people before you find someone who makes a good match. So don't put off the search. If you find a spouse right away, that's great. Start building a life together. But if it takes awhile, you'll be glad you didn't wait to get started. So, if you want to build a good relationship that is headed toward marriage, how do you prepare for that? How do you find someone to start a relationship with? And how do you attract them? These are all worthwhile questions to answer. This article is already long enough, so I'll talk about that in my next article. ------- Of course, marriage is not the only purpose of our lives. We can still have purpose and meaning in our lives without marriage. But marriage is a good gift from God that forms a means of normal grace for most people. Marriage is a way to fill our loneliness, satisfy our sexual desires, and build the next generation. Marriage gives us a partner who is there for us through the good times and the bad - someone to witness our lives and for whom we can make a difference. Marriage and child-rearing is a means of taking dominion and bringing the world into submission to Christ. It takes our impact for God down through the generations and multiplies it. Marriage is a means of sanctification. It pulls us out of ourselves and teaches us selflessness, patience, gratitude, and generosity. Marriage is a good thing worth desiring and pursuing. It is God's calling for most of us.
Because marriage is so valuable and because most of us are called to marriage, we should be sensible about pursuing marriage. Other things we value we pursue with focus and determination. The effort most put into building a career, for example, is often lauded as noble and praiseworthy. A good job isn't going to land in your lap. You have to go out and build your skills, search for openings, advertise your strong points, and make the choice of which position to accept very carefully. Yet marriage is much more important than a job and more difficult to find. It is worth expending the effort to pursue it intentionally.
"He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD." Proverbs 18:22 "An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels." Proverbs 31:10 "Marriage is to be held in honor among all." Hebrews 13:4a

Friday, September 13, 2019

Homosexuality Derives From a Low View of the Body

Homosexuality, at its root, says that my body tells me nothing about how I should function sexually, and that I can do what I feel like rather than fulfilling the design of my sexuality which is rooted in the biology of the human body. This treats the body as if it is inconsequential and pointless - just a shell of meat that we wear rather than part of who we are. The "true self" in this view is the soul or mind or some non-physical entity that is inhabiting our bodies. The body is viewed as separate and unconnected to the true self, to be used as we please.

This mind/body dualism is actually a very low view of the body compared to the traditional Christian view, which says the body is inherently good, created by God, and part of who we are, not just a shell we inhabit. A lot of Christians today have lost this understanding, but this has been the historic Christian view since the beginning.

This presents a powerful way to reach those struggling with homosexual desires or similar issues (like transgenderism) with a positive message that their bodies are not irrelevant to who they are, but are good and integral parts of their being. Our bodies do have a lot to show us about who we are because they exhibit features that have a design. Behaviors that fit with our design are good and behaviors that violate our design are bad - not just morally bad, but bad for us as well.

Rather than a negative message that they are evil and twisted for having same-sex desires, we can present a positive message that their bodies are good and show them how they should live because of their design. Our design tells us what we should do.

For example, we can study the digestive system to see what it is for and how it works. But that study also shows us good ways and bad ways of treating our bodies. If we eat nutritious food, then our bodies are helped. If we eat junk food or overeat or binge and purge or starve ourselves, these violate the way our bodies are supposed to work and cause harm. We can see that anorexia and bulimia are disorders precisely because they violate the way the body is designed to work.

It is exactly the same with the sexual organs. Our bodies have a way they were designed to work. They are designed as either male or female and the sexes are designed for their sexual organs to fit together and through that action to create new life. Our desires or attractions do not trump the design of our bodies. If we treat our bodies incorrectly, it causes harm.

This is a high view of the body that treats the body as an important part of who we are and which gives us valuable clues about how we should live so that we can flourish. Note that we do not have to rely on Christian moral teaching at this point. This is an argument from natural law, which is accessible to anyone, even if they don't believe the Bible. And that makes it easier to reach those who are not Christians.

It is worth noting at this point that Christian teaching, not coincidentally, is in line with what we can see in nature. This is good evidence for the truth of Christianity. Christian morality doesn't violate our design. It fits perfectly.