Why Sex is Making us Morally Stupid

C.S. Lewis, writing on June 3, 1956 to a man who asked him about masturbation, offered the following striking and relevant advice:

For me the evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another (and finally in children and even grandchildren) and turns it back: sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides. And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no real woman can rival. Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover: no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity. In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself. Do read Charles Williams’ Descent into Hell and study the character of Mr. Wentworth. And it is not only the faculty of love which is thus sterilized, forced back on itself, but also the faculty of imagination. [Emphasis in bold added]

Obsession with the sexual life is obsession, in the end, with the self—it is a pure expression of the incurvatus in se, what in George MacDonald’s thinking is “The one principle of Hell is—I am my own.” When my sexuality is the measure of my life and relationships, then I am also removing from influence those people who would challenge me into real mortification. I have elevated my flesh in such an idolatrous way that any call to the willed death of the body is viewed with horror and suspicion. But the deeper danger of such lust, according to Lewis, is what this process does to my imagination. If my job is to extend beyond the prison of myself, and if my faculty of imagination is one of the key areas of my mind given to my by God to accomplish this task, then imaginative activity which corrupts and retards this process is a profound danger.

Claustrophobic Man Sitting

When the pursuit of bodily pleasure dominates a life, that person’s intelligence becomes suspect, and in time inevitably crippled. I was struck by this clearly while recently reading through Josef Pieper’s A Brief Reader on the Virtues of the Human Heart. He writes that “an unchaste will to pleasure has the tendency to relate the entirety of the sensory world, especially sensual beauty, to only sexual lust.” The unrestrained desire for pleasure begins to work its way through the perceptions of the individual until the sexual appetite defines all other appetites. Lust becomes synonymous with pleasure. Pieper continues, “Only a chaste sensuality can achieve true human capacity: to perceive sensual beauty, such as that of the human body, as beauty and to enjoy it, undisturbed and unstained by any selfish will to pleasure that befogs everything, for its own sake.” The mind which is dominated by porneia [the Greek word for sexual immorality], by pleasure, sees in bodies only objects for consumption, sees in women only opportunities to express itself in lust. Pornography’s unique power is in its ability to render the irrational rational. The consumer of porn maps onto his or her mind not only a set of images, but a certain way of thinking, and those pathways are carried away from porn and applied in the rest of life. Lust in this way inevitably cripples moral knowledge.

Why should this be the case? Because the eyes are the organ that perceives beauty. When the eye is no longer searching for beauty itself, but seeking to map onto the world an expression and application of its own lust, then that lust in time warps perception of the good. What is best, and what is preferable, become enslaved to my personal desires. Pleasure makes subjectivists of us all. In turn, with beauty and good both soured, the capacity to apprehend truth is also corrupted. In this way, a man or woman who is led by his or her sexual desire is engaged in a process of dehumanization. After all, who would fail to agree that a crippled capacity for beauty is dehumanizing? He who suffers porneia to thrive in his life is being reduced to brutishness and eventual stupefaction.

Disintegration_Cyril Rana

Flickr: Photo by Cyril Rana

Lest you think this simply academic, this diminished capacity for moral knowledge has been on vivid display in churches which have chosen to affirm what is traditionally, and Scripturally, considered to be sexual deviance. The general convention of the Episcopal Church, after the US Supreme court ruled Gay Marriage to be the law of the land, immediately introduced new services and prayers to bless such unions. One such prayer, introduced at that time, is recorded by Robert Hart, writing in the March/April 2016 issue of Touchstone Magazine:

An Episcopal priest named Kimberly Jackson, of the Diocese of Atlanta, read a prayer to begin their version of communion: “Spirit of Life, we thank you for disordering our boundaries and releasing our desires as we prepare this feast of delight: draw us out of hidden places and centers of conformity to feel your laughter and live in your pleasure.”

God, then, conveniently affirms our choices and “releases our desires”—He gives us what our warped imaginations desire. The result, today, is not only that such unions are blessed, but churches have paved the path for openly gay clergy to rise to the highest ranks of church office. Moral corruption is pervasive, and the capacity to see such corruption is curtailed. It is doubtful that the Church has faced since the days of Arius a crisis of moral knowledge more serious than the one which confronts it now.

Church_on_fire_Credit_butterbits_via_Flickr_CC_BY_SA_20_CNA_8_3_15

Pieper concludes his argument about purity and vision with the following phrase, “only he who looks at the world with pure eyes experiences its beauty.” Purity of sight is a necessary precondition to the apprehension of beauty, and thus by proxy of both goodness and truth as well. And yet, in a very real way it is impossible for humans to achieve perfect purity of sight, if only because, as Jeremiah says, “the heart is deceitful above all else, and is desperately sick” (17:9). The wickedness which corrupts my capacity for beauty, goodness, and truth, is born from within me. From whence will we find help to resolve this dilemma? Jesus’ words in the sixth beatitude come to mind—“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Purity precedes the vision of God—but purity is impossible on my own. Therefore I must request help from outside myself. In this, I think Jesus has also spoken an irony—it is not only that the pure will see God, but those who set their gaze upon God who will be rendered pure. The solution is to get our eyes off of ourselves and onto the ultimate source of goodness, truth, and beauty.

For too long we have allowed ourselves to imagine that there is a divide between our sexual purity and our capacity for moral intelligence, between our sexual conduct and our pursuit of knowledge. Silently, as we allow ongoing and unrestrained life to our lust, we are also strangling our awareness of the beautiful, the true, and the good. Only a sight that is reaffixed on the beauty and holiness of God will be able to rescue us from the horror and stupefaction of our own persistent and self-serving inward gaze. Only a renewed commitment to God as He is, and not God as we want Him to be, will rescue the Church from its frightening trajectory towards apostasy.

Pray for your Pastor

We should seriously consider dressing like this for Church.

Paul closes his letter to the Church in Ephesus with some advice regarding spiritual warfare—advice which pertains not to special periods of spiritual attack in the life of a Christian, but to each and every moment of life as a follower of Jesus here on earth. Borrowing, no doubt, from the image of the Roman soldier who is guarding Paul, he offers believers a set of armor of their own—belt, shoes, breastplate, helmet, shield and sword. And then he gives them a command: to pray, always.

But Paul’s closing word to the Ephesians is a prayer request. He says (Ephesians 6:19-20), “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given to me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”

“Pray also for me.” If we keep Paul’s overarching image of warfare as God’s people, then these prayers are in keeping with this warfare. Think of it this way: in every army there are officers, commanders, and generals, and when Paul asks that we pray for him, he is asking that we pray for those in command above us in the faith.

Paul, of course, is dead, but the principle he taught remains true. And what that means for us, as a lesson for today, is that you must pray for your pastor, that prayer for your pastor is a critical aspect of Spiritual Warfare. And of course, I don’t mean just your pastor alone, but also to pray for every ministry leader above you.

The Pastor's fall affects many others.

Why do you need to pray for your pastor? Because in spiritual warfare your pastor is the most likely to be attacked, the biggest spiritual target. And the truth of the matter is that when the Pastor falls it hurts everyone in the Church. When you fail, O Ordinary Believer, it may hurt a few people—but consider the tragic ripples when a pastor falls. Remember Ted Haggard. Remember Jim Bakker. Remember the pastor you knew in your hometown who fell, spectacularly, from grace. The pastor is the biggest target because if the devil can get at him he can hurt a host of people. Then, where there was once faith, doubt can grow. Where there was once security, fear can set in. Where there was once comfort, there is now insecurity.

This, I believe, is a reason why James says (James 3:1) that “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” To step into a position of leadership in the church is to invite the attack of the enemy and the scrutiny of the flock. Whether you like it or not, you are now not just a Christian but also a special example; one that will either bless or tarnish God’s reputation in the world.

Therefore, if you are going to be an active participant in the warfare of the Church, if you want your church to survive and thrive against the schemes of her enemy, then you’ve absolutely got to pray for your pastor.

What should you pray for? There are five requests to make on your pastor’s behalf. These are (in no particular order):

1. Pray for purity.

A pastor is just as susceptible to sin as everyone else in the Church, no matter how holy he appears on a Sunday morning. He wrestles with a rebellious thought life, the flesh he inhabits, and pretty much every sin you can imagine (not usually all at once!). Pastors need purity so that they can effectively lead their flocks. Furthermore, don’t wait for your pastor to fall into sin to begin praying for his purity—instead, pray proactively for your pastor’s purity right now.

2. Pray for Encouragement.

The biggest struggle I face as a pastor is discouragement. Everyone else sees one picture of the church—the outside image—but I see the innermost depths of my church. I know everything that we could be, all the ways we fall short, and it is worth mentioning that in general the work to which a pastor is called is itself an overwhelming task. After all, we are charged with saving the world through the preaching of the gospel. And who is sufficient to complete such a task? The very nature of the work makes it so that it is far easier to see failures than successes, and Satan, the accuser, uses this disparity to create discouragement. I’m struck by the fact that when Paul writes his request for prayer he himself was in prison, and I expect that from within his grim prison view he was tempted toward discouragement. It’s a good bet your pastor needs some encouragement, too.

3. Pray for Boldness.

In every age of the Church there is a continual danger that ministers will preach a comfortable gospel rather than a true one. That we will, not heeding the warning of 2 Timothy 4:3, preach what the itching ears of our congregations desire to hear, rather than the words that God Himself would have us preach. And so we need the prayers of our people so that we will, in every circumstance, regardless of opposition or opinion, of popularity or political correctness, of attendance or success, be emboldened to preach boldly, as fools for Christ, what God asks us to preach. To pray for boldness is to pray that your pastor will serve God rather than anyone or anything else.

4. Pray for Wisdom.

Your pastor has a host of difficult decisions to make—about the direction and the future of your church, about the goals of your fellowship, about what to teach and preach, about who to encourage and who to discipline, about how to counsel this person and rebuke that one. And therefore your pastor desperately needs wisdom in matters of judgment, of discipline, of encouragement, and of teaching.

5. Pray for him to be Filled with the Spirit.

It is a simple thing to say, but we often forget it: if I minister by my own power, I will grow weak, but if by God’s power—by the power of the Spirit—then we will be strong (note especially the shift from singular to plural there). Your minister burns out when he ministers by his own power; he is renewed when he ministers by the Spirit’s power. Furthermore, if I am filled with the Spirit, then I will work harder to get you filled and everyone else in the Church as well. Your minister’s filling is an important path toward the filling of your whole church.

If you have never prayed for your pastor, take a moment and pray for him now along these lines. Better yet, take a moment and send him a note to tell him you’ve prayed for him. Write these five requests out and add them to your daily or weekly prayers. I’m certain your pastor needs it. I most certainly do.