Based on comments received on some recent posts, I believe it is appropriate to re-post this again today - originally posted August, 2006...
This is a long post, so please bear with me.
I have received a LOT of mail regarding the now infamous photo found here. About 90% is supportive, from more "libertarian" type conservatives. About 10% is negative, from more "religious right" type conservatives. That says something about the demographics of my readers, I guess.
I am not here to bash the religious right. I consider myself part of the religious right. But I have a different take on this and other issues than many of my peers. I usually don't talk much about spiritual matters with people outside my closest friends and family. You know that whole "politics and religion" thing. I figure I already talk too much about politics, so I need to REALLY keep religion to myself.
But once in a while, I get inspired to talk a little about what makes me tick on the inside.
I've had a good correspondence with a friend who is a very traditional religious right conservative. There is no need to give out much more detail about the exchange, other than to say that she sees things differently than I do. That's fine, and I respect that. But she has her own tools to spread her beliefs; I have this website. So I get to decide what to talk about.
The "Cliff's Notes" version of the discussion revolved around what constitutes an immoral "sexual" photograph and what does not, in the eyes of God. I maintain that there is nothing really "wrong" with the photo, because it is tamer than what you can see at your local Victoria's Secret store at the mall. She maintains that this is a sign that society is going to hell in a handbasket, because in her younger days, photos like that would have been banned, and good Christians wouldn't have put up with it - and shouldn't today.
You are now up to speed on the conversation. So now I'd like to share the long e-mail that I just sent to her, dealing with God, the law, the foibles of mankind, original sin, the Bible, and where we are headed as Christians and humans. Everything below this is my e-mail:
I have some different beliefs about a few things, and how they relate to that photo.
“Scripture says that God never changes. I'll take him at his word. What he says is right and wrong doesn't change. Society's version of it swings back and forth according to trends.”
The Scripture is correct. Society’s version of it does change. But I don’t think these two situations have to be mutually exclusive of each other. People do change. We get both better and worse as a civilization as time goes by. On the one hand, we develop better systems of government, new ways of understanding the physical world, medicine, technology, communication. These are all good. But we also change, often for the worse, spiritually.
God of course knows this. God knew this from the beginning.
As a mere mortal human, it is impossible for me to fully understand God, for He is Infinite and Unfathomable while I inhabit this earthly body.
Again, God knows this and has known it all along.
I believe this is the reason God has done two important things for man: first, He gave us His Word, through prophets and scripture; second, He gave us His Son, to provide us a path to Him.
I think we can both agree that all this is true… so far…
But where I have a problem with some tenets of today’s Christianity is the notion that what God intended for man 2,000 years ago should be the same that He intends for us today. God may be unchanging, but man is fluid, and therefore man’s relationship to God must also be fluid. And as man evolves, God must raise the bar and ask more of us.
I read the Bible often, but I don’t believe it is perfect.
Now don’t crucify me yet!
Let me explain:
We know that the Bible has been translated, retranslated, edited, restored, etc., over the years. It’s not the Bible’s fault. It is man’s fault. We are flawed, and everything we touch, by virtue of being touched by man, becomes imperfect.
God knows and knew this. God and the Bible even hit on this theme with the story of the Tower of Babel. If we believe the story is true (and I do, although it must, by its own admission, be flawed), then we must believe that anything written since then is flawed because God changed our languages and the ways we communicate. God also gave us free will, and some people over the years, people with the responsibility to translate or edit the Bible, have chosen poorly – look at how different some important parts of the KJV are compared to the NIV. Heck, compare a Catholic Bible to a protestant one!
We also know that the Bible, even in its imperfect form, represents the Word that God gave to the people. But God is infinite and man is not. God has known everything from the beginning. We know only what we know today. And because our civilization changes so much from one era to another, what we as humans need from each other and from the Lord also changes.
A thousand years ago, people with common illnesses needed a miracle from the Lord. I have reason to believe that the Lord worked those miracles. We have documented accounts of people suffering from horrible illness being cured by prayer. But today, we have medicine that can completely heal many maladies that were fatal in the past. Now people don’t need Divine intervention; they need penicillin. Of course, I believe the discovery of penicillin was itself a miracle, with the Lord inspiring Doctor Fleming and guiding him. But my point is that God changed the way He helped man fight illness. Or, to be more accurate, God didn’t change; man and his relationship to God did. And God, being eternal, knew this change was coming and made it part of His long term Plan.
So why must we assume that the Word God gave to man 2,000 years ago must be applied, literally and without change, to man today?
Am I saying we should reject the Bible?
NO, not at all!
But I am saying that we should use the Bible as a guide, but at the same time we should keep in mind that man is different today. The Bible is God’s Word, but it is His Word to the men who wrote it down and the people of their time. If man has changed (and it is indisputable that we have), then God’s Word for man must also change.
When you were three, your Mom told you that you couldn’t eat that cookie because it would spoil your appetite for dinner. And she probably used words like “or else.” You knew what “or else” meant! When you were twelve, your Mom just told you not to spoil your appetite for dinner. You were able to determine on your own how hungry you were and whether or not eating that cookie was acceptable or not. Spoiling your dinner might have led to an “or else,” but merely eating a cookie did not. Of course, if you ate those cookies and spoiled your dinner, you learned not to eat so many cookies. Eventually, you figured out what snacking was acceptable, and what snacking was not. When you started cooking for yourself, your Mom stepped aside and let you be responsible for yourself. If you ruined your own dinner, that was your problem. Pretty soon, you learned how to feed yourself responsibly. Of course, Mom stayed ready to help you when you asked for help, because that’s what Moms do.
This is the way God is with mankind.
When I read parts of the Old Testament, such as Moses establishing the first Judaic law, I question:
Is this Word, which Moses tells us is the Word of God spoken through him, law for all time, or only law for the Jewish people of 1,200 BC? Yes, God spoke through Moses and gave laws to the Jews. But God knew then that man would change. So I have to believe that God gave the Jews laws in order to give them the guidance they needed at that time, but not necessarily for ALL time.
Here is an example:
And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbor’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.
- Leviticus 20:10, KJV
This was the law the Moses spoke to the Jews as the Word of God. At that time, it was the right law, because God knew the needs and flaws of the people. He gave them this law in order to keep the peace and allow jealous men to live and work together without having to keep as much of an eye on each other. But surely this is not what God wants us to do today! Would it be right in the eyes of God for us to publicly stone and kill someone over an affair? Should we execute Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie?
Of course, having an adulterous affair is still wrong and a sin. Men shouldn’t fool around with other men’s wives. But we don’t need a death sentence to discourage this behavior today. And, of course, in the New Testament, Jesus teaches us that we should be forgiving and love the sinner while hating the sin.
We don’t have to execute Brad and Angelina. We can leave justice to the Lord, Who will take care of them in His own way in His own time. It is no longer up to man to impose this justice, as it was when Moses laid down the law.
Did the infallible Word of God change?
When God gave the first law to the Jews, He gave them the law they needed at that time. The Jews were refugees, alone in the desert, on their way to a new land. They didn’t have things like police, courts, lawyers, marriage counselors, psychiatrists, etc. What they had was thousands of people in close proximity who had to get along for survival. If one man found another man with his wife, and became jealous and enraged, he would attack that man in anger and kill him. But then the dead man’s family would seek revenge. Thus there would be a feud, resulting in many more deaths. The social order would break down. The Jews could not have survived to make a homeland. So God, in His infinite wisdom, gave man this law, so that when adultery occurred, the people would be able to enact justice in a manner that would minimize the death. When a man found his wife with another man, he could expose their sin to the people, and the people would impose justice on his behalf. Therefore, the families of the sinners would be forced to accept this justice, rather than seek revenge. It was a rough law as far as the sinners were concerned, but it was far better than what might have happened without the law.
God is a smart cookie!
Now when Jesus came, the Jews had a civilization. Israel had existed for over a thousand years, with systems in place to deal with civil disputes and to help people overcome problems. Plus, it was under Roman control, and Rome provided police and other systems to maintain order. God knew this would come. God knew the people would change. God knew the needs and flaws of the Jews in Israel would be different from the needs and flaws of the Jews in exile from Egypt. Therefore, God knew, even as He gave the law to Moses, that the need for that law would diminish and new laws would come.
Adultery is still a sin, but God, through Jesus, gave us new laws because our needs changed. If a man found his wife with another man, and became enraged and killed them, society had the tools in place to prevent the situation from escalating to a point that threatened the very existence of the community. We didn’t need the same laws, because those earlier laws were given to us to meet our needs at that time. We as a society became more evolved, and therefore God revealed to us new laws, laws we weren’t ready for before.
Love the sinner. Forgive the sinner. Turn the other cheek.
That goes against our "human" nature. No wonder we had to evolve so much before He told us these things!
This is all part of God’s long term Plan.
I believe that part of God’s long term Plan is for man to become so enlightened that we can, of our own free will, live Godly lives without sin, without God having to tell us to. We are far from it, of course. We can’t yet live without sin, so God gave us His only begotten Son to provide Salvation for us.
Like Mom and the cookies, God first laid down a strict law, then taught us to be more responsible using the law as our guide. He’d like to be able to step out altogether, but we’re not there yet. We aren’t yet that enlightened. And of course, even when we are more enlightened, God will still be there to hear our prayers and guide us when we need it. Just like Mom will still be there to answer our own questions (questions like, “how do I get my three year old to stop eating all those cookies?”).
So what does any of this have to do with a picture of a woman?
Yes, you are absolutely correct about an aspect of the photo: it may not be porn, but it IS sexually suggestive. But it is our own free will to think what we want to think about it. There are many people of weaker mind, will, and soul, who will have disgusting thoughts about what they would do with that woman. But then, there are other people who will look at the photograph and think differently. My first thought on seeing it wasn’t that I want to have sex with her. My first thought was that she was an attractive woman, and look at that gun!
I like guns, in case you hadn’t noticed.
There is nothing wrong with beauty, and I admired her beauty, without wanting to have sex with her. OK, so maybe I come off as sounding “holier than thou” because I don’t have the same lustful lascivious thoughts that other men would have. And to be truthful, I am probably therefore suffering from pride for thinking so highly of myself. But my sincere belief here is that the problem isn’t the picture: the problem is the weakness of people who see lust in the picture.
Being a gun guy, I equate this in my mind to gun control: gun banners say that the gun causes the crime; gun owners say that the will of the person holding the gun causes the crime.
Maybe if the Jews in 1,200 B.C. had guns, God would have told Moses to register them and have waiting periods and background checks, because maybe the people of that time were too rash and violent and would have all shot each other (hmmm… sounds like the Middle East today, come to think of it…). Maybe that would have been the best plan at that time, and God would have issued that law to protect mankind from itself. But if a preacher today was to tell us that God revealed to him that guns were bad and caused crime, I think most Christians would reject the notion and discredit the preacher.
That’s purely hypothetical, of course, so we don’t know. But I think it is worth thinking about.
So what about sexuality?
I look back to the Garden of Eden. God made the Garden, and made it paradise and perfect for Adam and Eve. And in this perfect period of bliss, Adam and Eve were, um, you know, nekkid!
So what happened?
When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and became aware of their nakedness, they were ashamed and covered themselves. But why were they ashamed of the bodies God gave them, the bodies God was content to roam naked and free?
I must break from this train of thought for a moment.
I do believe in the Bible. I do believe it is the Word of God (even if it has been butchered by thousands of years of human interference) and that what was written at the time was the right Word for that time. But that doesn’t mean we should believe every word is literal. Man has used fiction to illustrate points since we first learned to tell stories. I believe the story of Genesis reflects God’s creation of the universe, but symbolically. I believe in intelligent design. God said “Let there be light” and we had the Big Bang. God created the plants and the animals, and then man. This follows the pattern of evolution – the difference between the Bible and Darwin being that Darwin foolishly thought it was random chance, whereas the Bible tells us it was God’s Plan to create life, and then man.
God is a lot more complex than a few sentences in a book can covey.
So I don’t believe that the events of the Garden of Eden happened literally. The story is meant to explain things to us in words we can understand, because we aren’t capable of understanding what God really is and does (at least not at this point in our existence).
Anthropologists can show us that our primitive ancestors used to walk around naked, but at some point we decided that after eating that mammoth, we should wrap its fur around us to keep us warm and safe. What did this do to our sexuality? Well, as mature adults, we can safely discuss the matter and say that “clothing gets in the way.” So we began to associate clothing with non-sexual behavior, and nakedness with sexuality.
What else happened in the development of mankind? We began to experience things like jealousy and revenge. So we learned that if a mate walked around naked, it aroused sexual desire in others, which made us jealous and seeking revenge. Therefore, we developed beliefs that we shouldn’t walk around naked around other people, especially if we were the mate of another.
When God created Adam and Eve, he didn’t literally create the first man and woman. This is a symbol: there were humans on Earth before 5,000 B.C. But at some point, humans were touched by God; God revealed a spiritual world; mankind realized that we have eternal souls. Adam and Eve aren’t literally the first humans, but the first “made in God’s image.” They symbolize the first humans to know they have souls and were more than mere animals.
God isn’t some bearded old man Who made Adam look like him physically. God has no physical form. When he made Adam in His own image, He revealed to mankind that we have souls which also have no physical form. That, I believe, is the meaning of the creation of Adam.
And, in the story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden, these first spiritual humans were naked, and this was supposed to be perfection on Earth!
Maybe what we really needed to learn about those fig leaves was that lust is something that is within us, and not a function of the clothing worn around us? Maybe covering our nakedness is necessary because of our original sin, but not because there is something inherently wrong with our bodies?
When Moses gave us the laws, among them were laws telling us to cover up and be modest. Was that an eternal law for all time, or a law that God gave the Jews to give them the tools they needed to maintain order in their society at that time?
Am I daring to suggest that now God wants us all to run around naked?
NO NO NO NO NO!!!!!
If we did that, in our current social state, there would be way too many people with lustful thoughts and society would break down and it would be BAD BAD BAD BAD!
God knows this, knew this, and will continue to know it in the future.
But people change. A woman in bikini was shocking in 1946. Is a bikini shocking today? Well, to be honest, some of the more enticing bathing suits go over the line, in our current society. I think there are plenty of young girls walking around the beach in outfits that make the gun photo look modest. This is a bad thing in our current society because these girls (and I am talking about 13 year olds!) risk running into dirty old men who get full of lust seeing them. It puts children in danger. That's BAD.
But what is the solution? Do we cover up until we look like Iranian women in burqhas? Or, do we drive sin and lust out of our hearts and minds so that the sight of a woman in an extremely sexually suggestive pose no longer fills us with lust?
Neither is realistic. At least not at this time, not in our current society.
But if society changes to a point where shocking attire is no longer shocking, what has really happened? To some extent, we as a society have lost some morality, because some of the people wearing these clothes want to shock, want to seduce, want to invoke sin. But other people who take on the new fashion aren’t doing it for these reasons. They are doing it because it is accepted, because it is the norm, and they aren’t thinking about lust and sin. They aren’t letting this physical thing influence their spirit.
100 years ago, if a woman wore pants and a short sleeved shirt, she was a harlot and a whore. Today, she is normal. Do we need to turn back the clock?
Did society break down because of pants?
Back to Genesis:
When Adam and Eve covered their nakedness, they took a step away from the Lord and towards a life of lust and sin. When mankind evolves to the point where it is commonplace and normal to walk around naked (and based on trends in “fashion” I’d say we are headed there, for good or ill), how should we react?
Some people will say we need to cover up. Others will say we need to accept it and stop being so “moral.” But neither argument is correct. What we need to do is remove the lust and sin from our hearts, so that we will not be tempted.
Again, I am not saying we “need” to move towards nudity or open sexuality or anything like that. I am merely recognizing that society is moving towards this end. Change is inevitable. How we react to change is what defines us.
What man needs, and what I believe in my heart God wants for us, is for us to change inside, and not suffer from temptation and sin. That means, among other things, being able to look at a sexy photograph and not think about having adulterous sex.
If the day comes (and I think it will) when we have evolved (or regressed) to a society without clothing, we are one step closer to God. But it won’t be the nakedness that does it. It will be our ability as a society to function in spite of the nakedness.
Clothes are physical. Sex is physical. Earth is physical.
God is Spiritual.
In St. Augustine’s City of God, he teaches us that man must leave the physical world, the “city of man,” and enter the spiritual world, the “City of God.” But he also warns us that the closer we get to the City of God, the worse the city of man will be. Life on Earth will get bloodier, nastier, uglier, and more evil. We must overcome this in order to be one with God. You can correlate this to the Biblical “end times” where we must suffer at the hands of the anti-Christ and the beast before the Second Coming and Salvation.
With regards to wanton sexuality, society will have to devolve, to become more full of lust and sin, before we as humans can put lasciviousness behind us and move closer to God. Fighting against the change is of no use. The fight must be within us, and how we respond to the change. Again, I look at Revelations as symbolism, not literal prophecy. I believe the message John gave us is that things have to get worse before they can get better, that we must suffer through an age of sin and depravity before we can rid ourselves of sin and be one with the Lord.
Another of St. Augustine’s works is his Confessions. In it, he tells how he lived a life of sin and depravity, and hit rock bottom before finding the Lord and becoming a born-again Christian. I believe his work was inspired by God and his writing was Divinely influenced, just as God spoke to us through the Bible and the prophets. I also believe the Confessions is a retelling of Revelations to a new audience. St. Augustine’s personal journey, his internal battle in which good overcomes sin, mirrors the symbolic battle of God and Jesus overcoming the anti-Christ and the beast. The “end times” aren’t literally the end of the world, but the vanquishing of the unholy from our own souls, and the embracing of the Spiritual World over the physical. The closer we get to this point, the more difficult the internal struggle will become. The last vestiges of evil and sin are the most deeply rooted. Therefore, the last battle will be the worst. What happens within us will be our personal Armageddon.
When a person is able to fully resist temptation, to fully reject sin, and to fully see God in all things, that person has moved past his own “end times” and become one with the Lord. That’s what God wants of all of us.
I’m not there yet.
Hardly anyone is, although some people, like some of our Saints, have made this journey. Surely a few others have done it without fanfare or recognition. Anyone who is truly happy with life, without having luxury or excess, is at least close. But for the most part, man is still far from it.
I’m still far from it, because I still cling to false notions like “having those cookies will make me happy.” I should know that happiness comes from being closer to the Lord, and not from physical things. The emptiness inside me, inside all mankind, comes from keeping God out. Cookies won’t fill the void. At least I have gotten to the point where I know the cookies shouldn’t make me happy, even though I still eat them…
And I do like to think that in some small ways, I have moved closer to the ideal. I’ve at least filled some of my emptiness with the Lord, even if there is still room inside for more. Because of this, because of my own personal progress, I can look at a photo of a woman in a sexually suggestive pose and react differently from other people. I can admire her beauty and enjoy looking at the picture, without wanting to have sex with her. If I do feel something sexual, it is only a desire to have sex with my own wife (or for a single man with a spiritual view similar to mine, perhaps a desire to find a wife). Maybe someday I’ll be able to see a raunchy picture and not feel anything at all, because the photo is purely part of the physical world, just as sex is purely part of the physical world, but true feelings, the feelings that are shared between man and God, are purely spiritual.
I’d like to think that other men can evolve the same way.
But if they can’t, the solution is to help those men be better men, not to remove the temptation. If you are never tempted, you can never overcome the sin within you. I mention St. Augustine a lot because I believe he was the greatest thinker to live since the time of Christ. In St. Augustine’s On Free Will, he teaches us that God has the power to remove all sin and temptation, but does not. God allows sin to exist, because if He didn’t, our ability to live without sin would have no meaning. In order for mankind to become closer to God, to leave the physical world and enter the Spiritual World, we must face sin, and of our own free will, reject it.
This is my belief.
You might find wisdom in my words, or you might think I’m full of crap; but that’s your decision to make and I can’t make it for you.
Therefore, the photo stays, and people can decide for themselves what to make of it.