Sunday, January 25, 2009

Understanding Perversion Biblically

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!--Isaiah 5:20.

...for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret.--Ephesians 5:12.

Here is something that screams out for the curmudgeon to condemn: a new book that "sympathetically" interviews and analyzes those in the grip of sexual perversions: foot fetishism, pedophilia, bestiality, etc. Of course, The New York Times gives it a favorable review.

One can scorn this with a shiver or go deeper philosophically--not by exploring the details of these demented desires, but by placing it into a worldview and historical context. The very concept of perversion vanished when objective moral norms disappear or are viewed with suspicion. Hence, the fear of being "judgmental" or "censorious." The only solid source and reliable ground for moral norms is our Creator and Designer, who knows us through and through. We are "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139) and some things fit our design plan and other do not. Some activities and desires go with the grain of creation and others--those discussed in his book, a kind of anthropological voyeurism--emphatically do not. Yet because we are given genuine agency by God, we can chose to saw away against the grain of our nature and that of culture as it should be in God's sight.

To oversimplify a bit, ever since the Kinsey Reports of 1947 and 1953, sexual activity has been uprooted from moral norms. Although famously flawed, that study--based on a naturalistic worldview--claimed that kinkiness was less rare than was thought and was certainly nothing to condemn. Sexuality is placed in the realm of openness, experimentation, and freedom. The "sexual revolution" (really a devolution) of the 1960s worked out the implications of this, as does the push for same sex marriage, the omni-availability of pornography on the Internet, and so on.

In a nutshell, moral categories are dissolving into cultural contexts and personal preferences. It is all rooted in a slow, but titanic shift from a Christian worldview to a moral naturalistic one that favors relativism and personal expression over moral objectivity and its resulting judgments of right and wrong, virtue and vice, the good life and perversion. The very concept of perversion requires an antecedent standard or norm from which something deviates. Biblically speaking, perversion should be understood in theological terms, not merely sociological or psychological ones. Social science or philosophy deracinated from a fixed moral order cannot make moral judgments, it can only speak of various patterns of thought and behavior. The is refuses the ought; they are strangers, unrelated and unrelatable.

Given the brokenness and alienations of the world, what is truly perverted may become tolerated for even praised. Contrariwise, what is objectively good can come to be scorned as perverted and narrow: insisting that moral demands remaining chaste before marriage (heterosexual monogamy) and then sexually and emotionally faithful within it (no adultery).

But added to these consideration of creation (the norms for life based on God's character and our nature) and fall (the perversions of asserting our "rights" against God), is the wonderful reality of redemption. God in Christ offers forgiveness and a right standing with himself to those who recognize their waywardness, turn from it, and lift the empty hands of faith to receive the gift of eternal life from Jesus Christ. But without an understanding of creation and fall, the very concept of redemption cannot be fathomed.

America and the West is becoming increasingly perverted--and increasingly unable to even consider the category of moral perversion against any objective and God-given standard. We should have compassion for those twisted by abnormal desires and those defaced by aberrant behavior. They are made in God's image and should receive our love and concern. But we cannot bless the thing that perverts and pervades our culture: everything is relative; you cannot judge; you cannot offer objective, moral truth. May God have mercy on us and renew us again.


Jeremy said...

Not surprisingly, the author of the book punts (albeit in a qualified way) to genetic/biological determinism: our genes determine our neurophysiology, and our neurophysiology determines our passional life. Clearly, one can't be held accountable for her genes, thus she can't be held accountable for her erotic desires.

If this is really the case, then I can't but think that these sexual deviants are morally depraved. Given my being determined to be this way, I wish people would quit trying to change my brain, um, I mean mind.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

Right. Impersonal determinism leads in the same immoral/amoral direction--and no one can live consistently with this idea.

Brian Baker said...

A well-written and much needed article in this licentious world.

Yes, if genes determine ones own neurophysiology, then there shall be no justice served in a judicial system either. If a woman gets raped, blame it on the rapists genes. Don't place him in prison--he cannot help what he did. If a serial killer gets caught, don't place him in prison either. Instead, study his genetic structure first, for it is likely that he was genetically inclined to carry out these actions.

Lord, please help us all.

Steve Schuler said...

As pertains to the matter of sexual perversion, immoral or ammoral behaviour, and religon, I can't help but comment on the recent reappearance of Ted Haggard into public awareness. While I do not hold Haggard's behaviour as representative of all of Christianity, I do call into question the ability of Christian ideology or identification to provide the solution to humanity's immorality. Years ago you asked me not to judge or evaluate Christianity based on the behaviour of Christians, something I am was not, and still am not, able to do. It seems to me that a division of the philosophical world into a Christian/Naturalist dichotomy is overly simple and therefore false. While I wish that Christianity, or any other religious system, provided evidence that spiritual and moral healing was possible through adopting or adhereing to it, I do not see that as being the case. As always, I remain perplexed but still enquiring into the problems of human existence. I still try to understand the instuction of Christ, but can not seem to abide Christianity, if that makes any sense...

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that it's considered immoral to objectify a person for carnal moments, but it's not an immoral notion to consider ourselves obectified from our genes.