Sex, Puritans, and Ontology

Modified from an older post.

One of the sad ironies of history is that the Puritans are painted as kill-joys, when in fact, among other things, they rejoiced in the idea of sexual pleasure in marriage.  I suppose other Christian traditions assert that sex is a “good” in marriage, but until the Reformation it’s hard to see that in action (any pun in that sentence was mercifully unintended).  We all know Augustine’s hang-ups with married sexual pleasure.  Aquinas simply enshrined those hang ups (read Aquinas’ reasons for why incest between brother and sister is wrong.  He comes to the right conclusion, but gives the wrong reasons for it.  It’s actually hilarious). Well, Aquinas said that if sex happened in the garden, it would have been more physically intense though without bringing irrational urges, if that makes sense.  Anchoretic traditions fare no better.

I attack RTS a lot, and I will continue to do so.  That said, in Covenant Theology class Ligon Duncan made a very astute point.  He noted that the Puritans reasoned that God instituted marriage between Adam and Eve, not for the sake of child-begetting–the text never says that–but for the sake of companionship and completion.

So What of Ontology

Some traditions say that the goal of the Christian is to mortify the passions.  On one level this is good advice.  Unfortunately, included in such a statement is sexual passion in marriage.  Granted, at least in Eastern Orthodoxy, it’s not actually attacked.  However, it is, to borrow some lingo from the Radical Orthodoxy groups, deconstructed and marginalized.   At least it is with the Fathers.  Tertullian, in a letter to his wife, urges imitation of (and he explicitly admits this) the satanic doctrines of celibacy. To His Wife 1.6, Examples of Heathens Urged as Commendatory of Widowhood and Celibacy

These precepts has the devil given to his servants, and he is heard! He challenges, forsooth, God’s servants, by the continence of his own, as if on equal terms! Continent are even the priests of hell! For he has found a way to ruin men even in good pursuits; and with him it makes no difference to slay some by voluptuousness, some by continence.”

Someone might respond that Tertullian was a heretic and not a church father.  That’s technically true, but note two things:  1) everyone appeals to him as a historical witness of post-apostolic practice, and 2) it’s in line with things said elsewhere by other fathers.  We may note several things:   a) the post-apostolic church, with a few exceptions, taught angelic celibacy for men, and b) a positing of this doctrine necessarily makes Paul contradict either himself or the Anchoretic Church.

 1 Corinthians 7:25 Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy. Yet according to Cyprian of Carthage, Paul handed down traditions orally concerning virgins. So, which is it?

Leland Ryken (Worldly Saints) has given us a fine contrast of Puritan and Patristic quotes on sexual passion in marriage:

When a New England wife complained to her pastor that her husband was neglecting their sex life, the session excommunicated the man (39).

Ryken lists a litany of Patristic quotes on married sex as evil, but doesn’t give the sources part of the time.  Some of them, e.g., Augustine, are correct and common knowledge.   We know Tertullian frowned on married sex (even he admits he borrowed abstinence within marriage from the pagans).  Ryken could have delivered the “knock-out” blow had he cited his sources and expanded the list.

Puritan Passion

Pastor John Cotton writes, concerning abstinence within marriage, “The dictates of a blind man…And not that of the Holy Spirit, which saith that it is not good that man should be alone” (quoted in Ryken, 42).  In fact, the Puritans are able to combine the highest and most precise levels of theology with the sexual act itself.   The term “communication” is loaded with theological import, especially as it relates to Christology.  The Puritans applied it to marriage:  “A mutual communication of bodies” (Ames, quoted in Ryken, 43).

I could quote more, but modesty and reserve require me to stop here.  In fact, if I kept quoting the Puritans on sex, Google might list this as an over-18 website!   I am not being irreverent.  This is similar to the charge that the Romanist Thomas More leveled against the Protestants:   they drink liquor and have sex (actually, More was more stern:  “they eat fast, drink fast, and lust fast in their lechery,” quoted in Ryken, 45.


But sex is meant for more than that.  Ryken writes, “William Whately told spouses that marriage ‘will keep their desires in order, and cause that they shall be well-satisfied in each other, as in God’s gifts‘” (45).  In other words, delighting in sex-in-marriage fulfills a number of spiritual duties:  1) it is a means of delighting in God (shades of John Piper’s Christian Hedonism!  Also see Psalm 37); and 2) it orders the sexual urges themselves.

So, against Mark Driscoll and the Moscow, ID/Federal Vision people, the goal of sex isn’t gratifying the sexual urges themselves.  But against the angelic celibacy advocates, married sexual pleasure is also a good.


Turretin on celibacy and Rev 14

No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins

FT offers the standard arguments against priestly celibacy, but he does focus on the objection from Rev 14:4, of the virgins who weren’t defiled with women.  Turretin notes this cannot mean physical virgins for the following reasons:

  1. This would imply that marriage is a pollution, which contradicts Heb. 13:4
  2. This would imply that only the unmarried are saved.
  3. Thus, ruling out several apostles, patriarchs, and quite a few popes (III: 258)!

Thomas Watson on the 7th Commandment

Watson’s treatment of it, like anything else he writes about, is stirring, convicting, and breath-taking.  I plan to outline the chapter (Watson, The Ten Commandments.  Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, reprint 1986, pp. 152-163).

  1. The thing implied is that the ordinance of marriage should be observed
  2.   The thing forbidden is infecting ourselves with bodily pollution and uncleanness.  There is a two-fold adultery
    a.  mental (Mt. 5:28)
    b.  Corporeal
  3. The greatness of this sin:
    a.  breach of the marriage oath
    b.  Dishonour done to God.
    c.  it is committed with mature deliberation
    d.  It is needless, since God has provided men and women with spouses.
  4. Practical Uses of this Doctrine:

    a. The Church of Rome stands condemned.  How can they be holy when the city stews with fornications and uncleanness?
    b.  It is a most common sin of our times (and Watson wrote this 350 years ago!)
    c.  Exhortation on how to avoid this sin:
    (i)  It is the highest sort of thievery, since you are stealing a man’s wife.
    (ii)  Adultery debases a man and makes him brutish
    (iii)  Adultery pollutes
    (iv) Adultery destroys the body
    (v)  Adultery drains the purse
    (vi) Adultery destroys the reputation
    (vii) It impairs the mind
    (viii) It incurs temporal judgments
    (ix) Damns both one and soul and the other’s

Eros and Civilization (Marcuse)

Marcuse reworks Freud’s categories from the individual to society. To paraphrase Henry van Til, Marcuse is Freud externalized. There is a dialectic between the Eros principle and the Thanatos principle. In order for civilization to thrive, it has to suppress the libido, the free drive.

Freud identifies civilization with repression.

The Frankfurt end-game is a “non-repressive civilization” (Marcuse 5). “The very achievements of repression seem to create the preconditions for the gradual abolition of repression.” “The reality principle materializes in a system of institutions” (15). In other words, our continually suppressing the Eros-drive reshapes our very psychology which is further instantiated in institutions. Yet this pleasure principle remains latent in civilization.

Man experiences a dialectical conflict between the “life instinct” (Eros) and the death instinct (Thanatos). Key argument: man’s primary mental processes are sustained by the life principle, which is the pleasure principle. The problem: how can man continue in civilization if civilization is a suppressing of this life principle?

Key argument: correlation between progress and “guilty feeling” (78). Civilization will be violent in its structure because civilization is simply an expanding of the Father-figure, against whom the sons will always war. technology allows man to increase output while minimizing input, thus freeing “time” for Eros. In other words, in previous eras an emphasis on Eros meant denying civilization, but now with technology we can emphasize Eros while promoting civilization (93).

But the “Regime” (for lack of a better word) won’t allow this to continue uncontrolled, for if man is utterly free, then he is free from external control. How will the Regime do this? Possibly by technology, since technology can abolish both the individual and the “social function of the family” (96). Since technology has negated the family, who is the new father-figure? The corporo-capitalist bureaucracy. Marcuse notes, “Social control and cohesion are strong enough to protect the whole from direct aggression, but not strong enough to eliminate the accumulated aggressiveness” (101).

Key argument: Man’s history represents a splitting between the fantasy principle and the reason-principle (142). Man has a divided ego. For Marcuse aesthetics is self-defeating. If art is committed to form, then it is negated for it cannot then pursue freedom. Form = negation.

reason has been reduced to the rationality principle (159). Narcissus gazes into the river, which symbolizes the flux of time. Narcissus and Orpheus represent latent desires which are at odds with rationality-principle.

Kant: the aesthetic judgment is the realm where sense and imagination meet; it is the medium b/t freedom and nature.

Marcuse wants to use Kant and Schiller’s aesthetic to base a non-repressive civilization, one that contains a new rationality-principle. But here is the problem: Marcuse claims to unify art with reason, but most of his discussion (184-185) seems like an antagonism between the two. For Marcuse sees art-beauty as arising from the dark, latent forces.

Combine this with the Eroticization of society where one frees the libido from non-repressive civilization, and you have the nightmare which is modern art. This explains why most National Endowment for the Arts is pornographic and interested in bodily fluids. They take the correct insight that we have these dark, primal forces and they externalize them in society.


(1) Marcuse has put his finger on the tendency of modern industrial world to alienate workers, and this alienation often moves in dialectical ways.

(2) Marcuse points out the dangers of reducing economics to simply raising production while lowering costs–such leads to alienation (156).


(1) As Nancy Holland notes, “ Although scarcity may not have seemed to be an irreducible given when Marcuse wrote his book, the limits of the world’s supply of food, water, energy, and even clean air are now all too obvious” (Holland 76).

(2) As it stands Freud’s apparent definition of freedom is untenable: freedom from authority (be it ego or society) to pursue the id. Such chaos would necessarily reduce to anarchy, which is no freedom at all. How far does Marcuse go with this? I can sense he rejects (correctly) Freud on the personal level but applies him on the social level.

Human trafficking in Israel a $ 1 billion industry

Cjaye57's Weblog


Israel the so-called “oasis of democracy and human rights” been cited by the United Nations and the US State Department was one of the worst offenders in this slave trade, a $ 1,000,000,000 dollar booming industry which continues to this day.

Israel’s sex trade booming – News from Israel, YnetnewsYnet News

Human trafficking in Israel rakes in more than one billion dollars a year, findings in annual parliamentary survey show.,7340,L-3062297,00.html

TEL AVIV – Thousands of women are being smuggled into Israel, creating a booming sex trade industry that rakes more than USD one billion a year, a parliamentary committee said on Wednesday.

The Parliamentary Inquiry Committee, headed by Knesset member Zehava Galon of the left-wing Yahad party, commissioned the report in an effort to combat the sex trade in Israel. Findings showed that some 3,000 and 5,000 women are smuggled to Israel annually and sold into the prostitution industry…

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Situation Ethics (review)

You can summarize Fletcher’s ethic as “Claim love, and then you can use it to fornicate and stuff.”

Even though this book is bad, it isn’t completely bad. The beginning of the book is fairly well-written. I will do my best to outline Fletcher’s position but I will follow with an extended critique.

While Fletcher’s ethics is formally empty, he does explain it (sort of). Situationism: the mean between legalism and antinomianism (Fletcher 26). It has an absolute “norm” (love) and a calculating method (27). All rules are contingent provided they serve agape-love.

What is its method? Fletcher helpfully outlines (33).
1. Only one law, agape.
2. Sophia of the church and culture, containing “rules” which act as illuminators.
3. Kairos: the moment of the responsible self in a situation.

Fletcher identifies his historical pedigree.

1 Pragmatism. In short, he focuses on “satisfaction” as a criterion for truth (41ff). Of course, works toward what? This is the value problem 2. in ethics. Not surprisingly, Fletcher lists “love” as his value.
3. Relativism. To be relative means to be relative to something (44).
4. Positivism. Faith propositions are posited a-rationally. “Every moral judgment is a decision, not a conclusion” (47).
5. Personalism. Love people, not things (50).

First Proposition: Only love is intrinsically good (57).
Second Proposition: “The ruling norm of the Christian decision is love: nothing else” (69).
Third Proposition: Love and justice are the same, for justice is love distributed (87).
Fourth Proposition: Love wills the neighbor’s good, whether we like him or not (104).
Fifth proposition: Only the End Justifies the Means; nothing else (120).

*Fletcher isn’t all bad. He exposes the false promises of historicist ethics. Simply by noting the past one cannot anticipate the right action in the present, given the inevitable unfolding of the past. Basically, Hegel is wrong.

*True, ethical decisions always take place in a situation and context.

*Fletcher reminds us that Victorian social mores are rarely biblical (even if he has the unfortunate habit of labeling his critics as such). Further, though not always called out by him, most of the “horrid” puritanical legalism (in this book) derives not from church law but from secular ethics.

*Fletcher exposes some incoherent moments in Barth’s ethics (62, cf. CD III/4, p. 416-421).

*Fletcher notes some difficulties in Roman Catholic birth-control positions along with some difficulties in NFP (80).

* calls classical pacifism legalistic (83-84). In fact, he has a very perceptive critique of Tolstoyanism: they want love but deny order.

*Says the social gospel is “pietistic” about love (91).

*His criticism of Catholic moralism’s separation of love as a supernatural virtue but justice as a natural virtue is interesting and should have been more developed (93ff).

* He helpfully outlines Chrysostom’s ethics as not confusing ends and means. Fletcher just sinfully rejects it.

The Critique:

(1) Fletcher says we can’t “milk universals from a universal” (27). What he means is we can make principles from “the law of love,” but not rules. But why not? He just asserts this. He doesn’t prove it.

(2) Although this is a minor point, it is worth noting. Fletcher holds to the (debunked) “Biblical vs. Hellenistic” dichotomy (29). The Hebrew is “verb-minded” while the Greek is “noun-minded.” “It doesn’t ask what is the good, but how to do good” (52). But if I don’t know what the good is, rather just labeling it x, then how will I know if I am doing not-good?

(3) Can one really define agape-love without recourse to revelation? Why can we privilege the term agape, itself drawn from revelation, while saying the rest of revelation is off-limits? The apostle John defined love by God’s commandments. Fletcher wants to reject the idea of “unwritten rules from heaven” (30), but without any specific content to “love,” that is just what he has.

(4) Fletcher rejects legalism because of the bad things legalism has done. Francis Kovach draws the following devastating conclusion: “Human laws happen to have had certain undesirable effects; therefore, let’s do away with all human laws” (Kovach 99).

(5) When faced with the obvious question, “So what do I do in situation x,” Fletcher admits the best he can say is, “It depends” (80). Which is another way of saying, “I don’t know.”

(6) Fletcher’s arrogance is obvious. He routinely scorns his opponents as “fundamentalists,” “literalists,” “legalists” and the like. He ridicules those who “Believe in a Fall” (81).

(7) Fletcher holds to utilitarianism and so his position is suspect to all of the critiques of utilitarianism. But more to the point: in his calculus do we evaluate neighbor-good qualitatively or quantitatively? Unbelievably, he even says we can use numerical factors for issues relating to conscience (118). He is actually serious. Even worse, he tells a tale of the god-demon Moloch and sides with Moloch on how many to kill!

(8) More on utilitarianism: who gets to determine what “good” means? Fletcher himself? From where does he get this knowledge? From Jesus and the Bible? Sounds kind of “literalist” to me! Even worse, his position offers no protection to minority viewpoint, since by definition they will never been in the “greater” number. Fletcher defends racial minorities. Good for him, but it’s not clear on his ethics why he can do so, since they are never “the greatest number.”

As Norman Geisler points out, “The definition of “end” is unclear. Do we mean a few years? Lifetime? Eternity? In that case, only God could be a utilitarian and he is not.”

8.1) Another problem with utilitarianism, as noted by Arthur Holmes. What does it mean to “maximize the good?” Do we take the sum of the surplus good or do we just average it across the population? If we talk about the “Greater good,” can we ignore minority rights as long as we maximize the greater good?

“If 100 people each receive 10 bens (units of benefit), then the sum total is 1000 “bens” and the average is 10. But if we increase the benefit for 10 people to 100 bens each, give the next 60 people their original 10 bens, and the remaining 30 no bens at all, then the total benefit is 100 + 600 + 0 = 1600 bens; and the average is up to 16. But the distribution is now extremely unequal. Which of these two is the morally better distribution of benefits” ?

Can the utility principle by itself tell us how to best distribute benefits?

(9) Says Paul was “obscure and contradictory” about the problem of the justice of God (122). In fact, Fletcher formally disagrees with Paul on Romans 3:8. That’s because, per Fletcher, Paul erred in seeing “good” and “evil” as properties, not predicates.

(10) If love is to do the greatest good for the greatest number of neighbors, and Fletcher lists the situation where a group of people are hiding from murderers and a baby starts crying, which would expose the group, then the most loving thing to do is kill the baby. Okay, what if I refuse to kill my baby, did I sin? Corollary: Does Fletcher say I must kill my baby? Corollary #2: What if I refuse? Should the group make me?

(11) Throughout the book Fletcher makes a number of category confusions. This is not surprising, given his lack of ethical knowledge due to his only reading Neo-Orthodox and death-of-God theologians. For example, ethical theories like graded absolutism do not see deception in war as lying.

(12) Fletcher is guilty of circular reasoning:
P1: The end justifies the means
P2: The end does not justify itself
C1: Only love does.
Yet, how can I know the loving action?
P3: Love = greatest good to greatest neighbors. Yet, this is materially the same thing as P1.

Therefore, his argument runs:
Therefore, P1

(13) Fletcher openly ridicules Middle-Class America (137).

(14) He wants to say that “law-based” citizens would have rejected Dr King, yet on what grounds can Fletcher say that? Why can’t the evil-capitalist-white-man say, from his perspective, that the most loving thing to do is uphold segregation? Now, I believe the segregationist is wrong, but I can say, unlike Fletcher, that he is absolutely wrong.

(15) Unless there is advanced cognitive content to what “love” is, then one doesn’t really know what I am commanded to do.

(16) Let’s go back to his consequentialism in ethics. The mainline Protestant denominations more or less adopted Fletcher’s position? How are they doing today, membership-wise? The PC(usa) and TEC are losing members by the tens, if not hundreds of thousands. Seems like they failed Fletcher’s consequentialist test.


While Fletcher highlights some interesting and difficult issues in ethics, he rarely gives solutions (unless it involves extra-marital sex, in which he is always for it). This is not surprising. He cannot give solutions. He cannot give solutions because his criterion for value, “love,” is empty and meaningless.

Fletcher likes to tell “bleeding-heart” stories to show how wrong his critics are. Okay. Two can play at that game, as one reviewer notes. Fletcher tells the story:

A young woman, jilted by her lover, is in a state of great depression. A married man, with whom she works, decides to have an affair with her in order to comfort her. Some, like Fletcher, would argue that what he did might well have been a noble deed, for the man acted out of concern for his friend. What a perverted viewpoint! Here is the rest of the story. The man’s wife learned of his adulterous adventure, could not cope with the trauma, and eventually committed suicide. One of his sons, disillusioned by the immorality of his father and the death of his mother, began a life of crime, and finally was imprisoned for murder. Another son became a drunkard and was killed in an automobile accident that also claimed the lives of a mother and her two children. Now, who will contend that that initial act of infidelity was the “loving” thing to do?

At the end of the day, not only is Fletcher’s ethics morally depraved, it is logically useless. As Erwin Lutzer notes, “It’s like saying, “The only rules to the game is “Be fair!”” (less)

Repost: Against the Neo-Jovinians

Repost, but certain events brought it to mind.  I’ve come across passages in some Canon Press books.  We know that Doug Wilson’s people demean women.  That’s a self-evident truth.  But it’s always jarring to see new evidence to the effect. It’s especially worse when it is by a woman.  It is by someone with the last name “Wilson.”

says the wife’s identity is found (only) in the husband. The husband *is* her.  (p. 62).

she also says that a woman before she got married didn’t have the depth of character and she was so boring.

Those are more or less word-for-word quotes, but given the Canon Press method of citing sources, no need to get too picky.

Jovinian was an intellectual in the ancient Christian world who scandalized everyone by suggesting marital relations and celibate virginity were on the same level.  Jerome responded.  And what a powerful, if hilariously wrong, response it was.  


Now, I believe Jovinian had the better exegesis.  To quote Kelly, when Jerome has a useful card he overplays it, and when he doesn’t have any evidence, he engages in the wildest reasoning (Kelly 186).  Further, I reject a lot of the metaphysical and ethical assumptions behind Jerome’s defense of celibacy.  (Ironically, however, Jovinian’s view of baptismal regeneration was much closer to later Catholicism than Jerome’s view).  


Still, there is something Jerome can teach us.  Sex and feasting don’t exist for themselves.  Even if one doesn’t hold the view that sex is only for reproduction, that doesn’t mean sex is for sex’s sake.  It’s for the uniting and binding together of husband and wife.


We can add another point.  Sex isn’t a panacea for mental illnesses.  This brings us back to the CREC scandal.  The Wilsonistas are wrong to think that:


(1)   “marrying” him off will provide a safe outlet for one’s urges.


I think many critics of medieval celibacy used to think that.  Sadly, this is not the case.  If it were, one could save a lot of people heartache by simply introducing these people to their right hands.  Crude, yes, and some could argue that such an act is immoral, but at least no children are harmed.


Therefore, we have to add another line of reasoning:


(2)  The problem is not built-up sexual tension, but mental-spiritual.  


If it is true that pedophiles are “wired” differently, then it is hard to see how (1) will solve the problem.  


Is the “fallen” (defined as someone who committed a terrible sin but has repented) Christian guaranteed equal access to the marriage/family life?  


Many “Wilsonistas” say it yes.  They assert it but never argue it.  This doesn’t appear to be the Apostle Paul’s position.  The Wilsonistas say, “If you can, and why can’t you?, by all means get married.”  Paul said if you aren’t married now, then you might not need to get married (1 Cor. 7:7-8, 26-28).   We can now add another premise;


(3) There are many good reasons for staying single.
(3*) The Church is not obligated to provide you with a family.


The Wilsonistas will say that married sex provides a legitimate outlet for sexual passion.  That is true in normal cases.   But psychology and counseling have shown that men/women who are addicted to porn do not become unaddicted because they get married.  The problem is still there, even if there is an “outlet” for it.  And the outlet does not solve the problem.


This is also true if the spouse is a convicted pedophile.  Where is the wisdom in his “outlet” providing him with more victims?   Wilsonistas will respond, “Would you deny him the opportunity for a family?”




There are alternatives.  None of them fun, but they are noble and workable.  He can join a monastery in the desert and spend the next 30 years denying himself.  Surround himself with a handful of elderly, cantankerous men who do not put up with nonsense.  And who knows, he might be able to find peace and stillness in a way that he wouldn’t in Moscow, ID.