The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Monday, February 19, 2007


Over at Red in Roskill I've been having a little argument with my old foe AJ Chesswas.* What started out as a post by Michael Wood about progressive christianity has ended up with AJ and I slugging it out in the comments, arguing about sex.

AJ's position as he puts it himself:

Sex = pleasure, intimacy, commitment and procreation. We dissect this at our

What he means is that sex should always be about conceiving.** AJ further holds that there is an obligation on the married to reproduce, and:

A world that considers a union that is unable to result in the miracle of
life as equal to one that does cannot be seriously considered to be just.
When I pointed out that there is no such commandment about sprogging on the marriage licence AJ counters with the authority of the Anglican prayerbook.

Not surprisingly, I find this ridiculous. To me it seems to be a point of view that not only fails to reflect the reality of sexual practice throughout human history, it is also a sneakily sexist position to hold.

Consider the consequences of a view of sex that sees it as always about conceiving:

  1. Should only have sex when you intend to conceive.
  2. Should only have sex when both partners are provably fertile (depending on the woman and how you would measure, maybe up to a week a month).
  3. No sex (or legal commitments) between partners of the same sex (as can't possibly conceive).
  4. No use of contraception allowed, ever.
  5. Infertile people never allowed to have sex.
  6. Infertile people not allowed to marry.
  7. Masturbation assumedly a no-go also?
We know what a world without contraception is like. Many people still live in that world. It is a place where women's roles are limited by frequent pregnancies and obligations to put childcare and home-making above any other ambitions. I am lucky I don't have to live in that world, and I wish no one did.

I'd really like to know what is actually sinful or wrong about having sex for pleasure alone?

Whether you are heterosexual or not, sex seems to me to be about the four things AJ lists above ("pleasure, intimacy, commitment, procreation" to remind the reader and save you scrolling) but it doesn't have to be about all four all the time.

Update, 19th Feb. 1.41pm: Ok, if you have read this far then you also ought to go read this over at Feministe. It's Jill's response to a Christian man who feels contraception is a sin, but is now in an invidious situation himself, where the only solution seems to be to go down that path.

* Yes he's real.
**I don't think he would disagree with this, but I couldn't find a short quote in comments that reflected this, please AJ do let me know if I've got the wrong end of the stick and I will correct it.


A. J. Chesswas said...

I’m not saying it has to be intentionally about procreation every time. I’m just saying we shouldn’t be trying to exclude that element.

It all comes back to God being the only one who has the right to create and destroy life, to plan it or to prevent it. We know how God has chosen to create new life, and because life is second only to God in sanctity that is partly why sex is also upheld as such a sacred and wondrous thing.

All I’m saying is that if you remove the procreation element then you’re kind of living in a fake zone that doesn’t reflect the reality of what sex is. It’s the naturalist streak in me that makes it such a biggie. It just seems so superficial and contrived to turn sex into something it is not.

People seem to be big on having food “without additives”, organic farming, getting back to nature and all that. Yet when it comes to sex there’s a huge sense of hypocrisy. They drink additive-free orange juice but don’t hesitate to include additives with their sex. It just seems incredibly superficial to me, and very definitely a rejection of God’s wisdom in creating us and designing our bodies.

But to come back to the point, it is more about being open to the procreative element, and at least in a position for things to work out should new life be created. Contraception fails all the times so you should at least be married so you have the commitment to provide a stable home. I’m not as hard-nosed on contraception as I am on extra-marital sex because I think the important thing is being willing and able to embrace that new life should I come about. And such a mentality at least recognizes new life is a part of the whole package. Homosexualism does not, and neither does laissez-faire extra-marital sex.

And if it is simply about being willing to embrace the procreative element, then of course those who are infertile have every right to marriage et. al., and married couples have every right to intimacy even when fertility is not possible.

p.s. great post title!!

Anonymous said...

Deist, out of my bed!

Rich said...

Have a look at this:
from Seattle.

Anonymous said...

Excellent idea. I'd like to see some performance requirements for Deists, like the heaven thing, no photo's and it didn't happen, mmmmkay.

A. J. Chesswas said...

Contraskeptic's website seems a great resource for thinking through the issue. To have that access to the views of Luther, Calvin, Augustine, the Bayly Brothers, Mohler and Piper are brilliant - hopefully you've had a look around and are able to understand a little more that our view is actually grounded in morality, not sexism, hatred or homophobia.

I do think that contraception is probably the biggest and most comment moral dilemma people are faced with today. By that I mean that it is one moral dilemma that is terribly difficult to come to a conclusion on. Most other moral dilemmas are easily resolved by a significant consensus. But the certain sanctity of new life vs. the possible adverse effects on the bearer of that new life leaves a husband and a father with a terribly difficult decision.

Commie Mutant Traitor said...

If infertile couples can marry if they merely want to be able to reproduce, why not homosexual couples who'd like to be able to reproduce? In both cases actual reproduction is equally impossible.

Yes, contraception does sometimes fail, which should be ample justification for christians to use it. If god wants them to have a child, it will fail; it he doesn't, it won't.

A. J. Chesswas said...

I've heard of countless numbers of couples who have been classified as "infertile" yet go on to conceive and have children. I've yet to hear of the same for a homosexual couple.

Single Malt Social Democrat said...

aj, if you want to extend the food metaphor, you could say that food is frequently not about nutrition, and similarly, sex is not always about procreation. When i eat chocolate, it is not because i want the is because of the taste. Sex has a similar aesthetic function.

I also find slightly creepy the implication that individuals sex lives, and reproductive capabilities are somehow collective property, nd that you, or anyone else, has a valid stake in telling people what their sex lives ought to be like.

Also, dont take it for granted that others share your views on god.

Commie Mutant Traitor said...

Ever heard of a woman who's had a complete hysterectomy getting pregnant? Should such women be permitted to get married and have sex?

Span said...

I think before I posted this I probably should have re-read this:
And remember the lesson I learnt there - namely that AJ is not capable of engaging directly with my points in an argument.

Possibly because I am a mere woman. Just a walking womb, who no doubt secretly feels lonely and empty because my uterus does not currently contain a new life. How dare I think with my brain and not my baby-maker!

Ok I am going to stop before I get more offended/offensive.

libertyscott said...

Don't get AJ started on masturbation, oral sex etc. I believe he thinks it should be criminal for people to engage in any sexual activity beyond procreative intercourse within marriage. He believes that church and state should be one and the same, and that law should come from the bible.

You're right Span, AJ can't engage on specific points - when he does he gets angry because he can't face up to his own blind bigotry and desire to be a bully.

Span said...

Libertyscott, I don't agree that AJ is bully, but I do agree that he doesn't seem to be very good at engaging on specific points. I guess this is why so many bloggers, through the ages, have given up on debating with him. I forgot that at my peril.

libertyscott said...

Span he said to me:

"When a person consents to making a bad choice there is a huge duty on us to help prevent them doing it. How much more a duty when we are the one causing them to do it? How much more when as a man we're abusing the fickle choice of women who we know are so easily manipulated?”

If only you knew the repulsion and wrath that is flamed in the belly of a God-fearing man when he hears of a woman being sexually perverted. Get help Scott. That is both an insult, a compliment and a threat.”

This was because he didn't approve of particular sexual activity i participated in with a very willing woman.

I don't know how else to take that language other than as that of a bully. He would pass laws that would send gay man to prison for what they do. That is all in the same vein.

A. J. Chesswas said...

Unlike our friend Scott here I have been specific and engaged with your point. As a result of your post I modified my view slightly in the comments – that sexual activity should be at least accommodating of new life that may result. This means contraception could be used in the context of marriage, because while the couple are trying to avoid conception they are still in a position to be able to provide for and welcome new life should conception occur. And we know conception in spite of contraception is by no means rare, I was talking to a friend recently for whom the pill didn’t even work. But in saying this, my stomach churns at the thought of taking such matters into our own hands. But whether contraception is used or not, the acknowledgement of sex as the sanctioned creative agent for new life means that sex outside of marriage simply makes no sense at all unless you are an anti-family Stalinist.

Now, regarding the discussion you referenced Span, I may have modified my thoughts slightly since that discussion, for that rare bird who is a female that doesn’t want babies. And I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. I do feel a woman who doesn’t want to have babies should make sure this isn’t due to some sort of emotional hurt or scarring, or lack of self-confidence, before she lets it define her life. But clearly there are women called to singleness, and often women for whom giving away the idea of childbearing is a massive sacrifice. A woman who accepts such a calling so that she may pursue other good works should certainly be praised. Both Jesus and the Apostle Paul praised those who were willing to make such a sacrifice, and encouraged others to do the same.

So my line in that argument you referenced, which amounted to “if you’re not having babies then you’re a broken mess”, has certainly been revised a little. But only a little.

Now Scott, to address your entirely unhelpful points which add nothing to the conversation.

I do not believe that church and state should be one and the same. I believe they should worship the same God, but that is quite different to actually integrating two institutions that history shows us must remain separate to fulfill their proper function without corruption. And The Bible isn’t any more a source of law than the law is a source of The Bible.

Finally, I actually don’t mind being called a bully in this case.

The dictionary defines “bully” as;

“A person who is habitually cruel or overbearing, especially to smaller or weaker people.”

While I am not necessarily stronger than you Scott, our creator most certainly is, and I act on his behalf. He is a bully, but only towards those who are bullies themselves. He particularly cares for the poor and the oppressed, for widows, for orphans, and for any person who as a weaker vessel is being abused by those who are stronger. This obviously includes women, and in the context of that statement I made I was addressing the indecent way you were acting towards a particular woman.

You are not the poor and helpless liberal you make yourself out to be Scott. You are a grown man, accountable for your actions just as we all are, probably moreso because of your intelligence and your social position. We are equals, and therefore I could never be a bully. The person you take issue with is rather my Lord Jesus Christ.

Commie Mutant Traitor said...

You seem to be ignoring my point, though. Would you deny marriage and sex to people who _cannot_ possibly conceive, because through mutation, accident, or necessary medical intervention they lack gonads? For such people, conception would be no less miraculous than it would be for a homosexual couple.

When exactly did the creator tell you he wanted you to act as his enforcer? What makes you so sure it wasn't satan deceiving you in to hubris?

The poor and oppressed don't seem to benefit much from the creator's caring.

A. J. Chesswas said...

"For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it." - Jesus, Matthew 19:12

I don't know of that helps.

But I see now, you have a very good point here. If we say that such people can’t marry because they can’t have children then we’re denying them one of those other great purposes of marriage – companionship. And we really would seem like a big bad ogre if we told such people they weren’t allowed to marry. After all, even the most platonic desires for heterosexual companionship are so strong and pleasurable that to deny them would seem to deny almost the very basis of male or female identity. Of course, our sexual identity goes much deeper than whether we’re married or not. Singles are looked down enough without going and making an assertion so isolating and spurious. Yet, just as sacrificing the begetting of children means missing out on a key part life, so does sacrificing one’s marital prospects and to deny that would be unsympathetic to singles whose singeless, while a calling, very often has its moments of loneliness and emptiness.

So, if we can accept a heterosexual couple getting married even when they can’t have children, on the basis that companionship is a crucial and legitimate aspect of marriage, then why can’t we afford a homosexual couple the same right? Perhaps because in the former example we are still accepting the link between sexuality and procreation, because we are talking about the desire of a male for a female and vice-verse. That desire is inextricably linked – biologically, socially, spiritually – to our wiring for procreation and mulitiplication. Homosexuality, on the other hand, clearly is not. On this basis – the link between sexuality and procreation, and the importance of being able to welcome life into a union (on the basis that life is sacred) – heterosexual marriage remains the only legitimate place for sexual expression.

But the, you say, this all seems a bit heady, cold and harsh – you believe that “homosexuals” exclusively have desires only towards members of the same sex, and they cannot deny these feelings and are thus as isolated and empty as those singles I have described above. But then if a single called to celibacy remains so despite their sexual and relational appetities, then why can we not expect the same of a person who feels exclusively homosexual desires. We don’t encourage a paranoid schizophrenic to express their paranoid schizophrenia no matter how deep it is within their identity, and we afford them dignity because we do this. We all agree that such mental conditions are a perversion of what is good and right, including the victim, and all are grateful when the patient is empowered to live a more “normal” life, no matter how hard that is.

Still sounding too heady and theoretical? Well as I’ve said, I’m yet to meet a “gay” who has completely sold out to a homosexual identity. Bisexuality seems much more common. How deeply disturbing.

Commie Mutant Traitor said...

Homosexuals have a desire for companionship - they're not "called to singleness". Homosexual couples are perfectly capable of welcoming life in to their union, and plenty do via sperm donors, surrogates, etc. In a few years it may be possible for two women to have a child together by combining DNA from their eggs. Male-male reproduction is rather further away, but certainly not inconceivable. Sexual desire that cannot lead to children has no link to procreation no matter what resemblance it has to sexual desire that can.

Why is bisexuality a problem? Unless you believe that any random person will do as your life partner as long as they're of the opposite gender, a bisexual person could easily find people of both genders attractive, but find someone of the same gender to be their "soulmate".

A. J. Chesswas said...

"Unless you believe that any random person will do as your life partner as long as they're of the opposite gender, a bisexual person could easily find people of both genders attractive, but find someone of the same gender to be their "soulmate"."

Something gives me the feeling that you've watched a few too many episodes of F.R.I.E.N.D.S. - and then took them seriously!??

Anyway, you've shown above what happens when you take a creator out of the equation - anything is possible. The way he has designed procreation and sexuality has no bearing on the matter at all. Then all of a sudden - hey you don't have a basis for the sanctity of life anymore; now we can legalise and encourage euthenasia, suicide, abortion, designer babies - I know, we could be God ourselves, a little bit of eugenics might be just what we need to perfect the human race...

Hang on a minute, who am I talking to?...

Commie Mutant Traitor...





anyway, back to addressing the point for Span's sake. If you want to ignore a creator, and also ignore anything like the curse, or fallen nature of creation or anything like that, then sure it's all OK go do what you want. But this conversation began at a pretty important blog about a pretty important topic under the heading "Christian"... if this is "Progressive" Christianity then I call heresy and excommunication... Mind you Bishop Randerson doesn't seem to believe in a Creator, and therefore probably not the fall... But that means you throw out good and evil as well really, as objective terms anyway... and therefore "sanctity of life" has to go as well...

Like Single alt said you're talking a whole new religion so don't call it Christianity. And don't expect it to have a lasting effect on civilisation. And don't expect me to support a government built on these sorts of "foundations"...

libertyscott said...

“sex outside of marriage simply makes no sense at all unless you are an anti-family Stalinist.”

There’s a first, I’m a Stalinist, and here I thought opposing all forms of state tyranny was the opposite of that. Interesting universe this.

“do feel a woman who doesn’t want to have babies should make sure this isn’t due to some sort of emotional hurt or scarring, or lack of self-confidence, before she lets it define her life”

Thanks dad, your advice isn’t the slightest bit patronising, oh I guess they can be nuns. The same claim can be made of christians.

“I do not believe that church and state should be one and the same. I believe they should worship the same God”

Same thing, you don’t want the state to be neutral on religion. Just like Iran and the Taliban, just different religions.

“While I am not necessarily stronger than you Scott, our creator most certainly is, and I act on his behalf”

Who made you God's agent? The Pope may challenge you on this. Al Qaeda does the same, it acts on the creator’s behalf. Are you both right? How do I know which one is right? You may both be wrong?

“I was addressing the indecent way you were acting towards a particular woman”

How dare you claim to know what was indecent for another adult? Did she tell you it was? You should talk to her about it, she isn’t a child, she isn’t a victim. Maybe she acted indecently towards me, but your misogynistic view of women always being the victim tells a lot.

“The person you take issue with is rather my Lord Jesus Christ.”

Well I have asked him over many years to contact me directly and enter into a dialogue on these points, I look forward to the response.

“I’m yet to meet a “gay” who has completely sold out to a homosexual identity. Bisexuality seems much more common. How deeply disturbing.”

Disturbing for whom? Disturbing to someone who has as an abiding obsession what consenting adults do in their own bedrooms? Get disturbed about families who are violent and reckless towards each other, get disturbed about children living in families who don’t give them unconditional love, get disturbed about rape, assault and murder. Once you’ve done all you can about those, then ask yourself who everyone else is hurting? If God and Jesus Christ are as powerful and omniscient as you claim, they are capable of looking after themselves.

“If you want to ignore a creator, and also ignore anything like the curse, or fallen nature of creation or anything like that, then sure it's all OK go do what you want”

Yes it is called free will, freedom of religion and the right to not have a religion. Something called the Enlightenment happened, when people wouldn’t get burnt at the stake or imprisoned for the temerity of questioning the teachings of a church, such as how the earth rotates around the Sun. People can live lives of peace and happiness without religious based laws, laws can be based on reason - because it is reason that says that human beings can only maximise their life experiences by respecting the right of others to the same (which means no initiation of violence).

AJ you are a bully indirectly, you want all people of other religions and no religions to be governed by a state that will do violence against those who do not follow the teachings of your religion. Your misogynistic outlook against women indicates you think they can’t consent to what they wish to do sexually with men or women, and you think sex outside marriage makes no sense unless you’re an anti-family Stalinist? Well funnily enough Stalinist regimes regulate sex very strictly, they prohibit publishing any material about it.

Do you believe that adults have the right to freedom of religion, including freedom of no religion, and the right to live their lives in peace?

Span said...

Those still bothering to engage with AJ may wish to know that he has given up blogging for lent:

Not sure if this extends to commenting.

I would also note that poor AJ is a bit later starting - Lent began on Ash Wednesday, which was 21st Feb this year.

libertyscott said...