Thursday, December 21, 2006

Paul and Sex

Paul the apostle, somehow, is in a 21st century university classroom, taking questions about his writings and the times of the New Testament. His friend, Don, a professor at the university, is assisting.

Dale: (A student at the university) So Paul, I notice that in your writing you talk quite a bit about sex.
Paul: Well, it is an important subject in any society.
Dale: (Being forward) Why do you say that?
Paul: How we deal with sex is a matter of purity.
Dale: You mean that there are right and wrong ways of having sex?
Paul: Yes, if you want to speak of it that way. I am sure that everyone in this room believes that.
Dale: (Smirking) You don’t know some of these guys. Let me tell you some of them will…
Don: (Interrupting) Yes, Dale, we see your point. Did you have a question?
Dale: Sure. I want to know, Paul, why are you so repressed about sex?
Paul: Repressed? How? What do you mean?
Dale: I mean that your attitudes about sex are pretty limiting. You spend so much time in your writings talking about sex, about how bad it is. But in our culture, we see sex as just a means of expression, of communication.
Paul: What did I write that makes you think that I am “repressed” about sex?
Dale: Well, for one, you wrote “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.”
Paul: Where did I write that?
Dale: First Corinthians chapter seven.
Paul: Don, can you help me, here?
Don: (Looking up in his Greek New Testament) Got it right here.
Paul: Of course, I wrote these words so long ago, I need to look at the context. (Don hands Paul the book, pointing at a page.) Oh yes. You modern readers are just so lazy.
Dale: What does that mean?
Paul: You must have all of these marks all over the text. In my day, we didn’t even have spaces between the words or smaller letters—uhh, you call them “lower-case” I believe. We just wrote and the reader learned how to interpret the text without it. But now you must have all of these scribbles throughout the text to help interpret for you—(Paul points at the book he is holding) even in the ancient Greek texts! We had no quotation marks, as you do. The quotes had to be determined by the context. All throughout this letter, I am referring to a letter the church at Corinth sent me, and I make many quotes from that letter. Of course, no one today sees the quotation marks and so they think it is I speaking. As if head coverings for women was MY idea!
Dale: You didn’t write that?
Paul: It was an idea of one of the prophets at Corinth. I was just quoting the passage. You see, in my day, we had to figure out what was quotes and what was not by context. You knew a quote was made because it would be corrected or contradicted right after. You should know that I didn’t agree with head coverings because I clearly wrote, “We have no such custom, nor do the churches of God!”
Dale: I’ve never read that.
Paul: Your translators wrote it down wrong, because they were trying to correct the contradiction. But I WANTED to contradict the idea! This passage you mentioned is the same thing.
Dale: “It is good for a man not to touch a woman”?
Paul: Yes. I was quoting the Corinthians. You can know this by reading the statement which contradicts it immediately after: “Because of porneia, each man should have his own woman and each woman her own man. The man should give what is due to the woman…”
Dale: What do you mean by that?
Paul: It means that the moralists at Corinth were wrong! Husbands and wives should have sex—as often as necessary. The reason I give is because of the sexually open society they lived in.
Don: More open than our American 21st century culture?
Paul: In ways. The Greeks didn’t have as much variety in their pornography, but it was available to see in the public forum. Any man who wanted to be satisfied sexually could just partake in certain temple ceremonies and make a small donation. It wasn’t illegal—in fact, for some Greeks it was their pious duty. Of course, you Americans talk much more about sex and focus on it more. And you seem to have two minds about porneia. On the one hand, you protect your children well from perversity. Thus, sex is rarely in a public forum. And adultery is often looked down upon—when a commitment is made, it seems one should keep it. But the fantasies you encourage! As if masturbating while looking at a photo of a sculpted Venus isn’t a form of idolatry! And the persistent exposure of your women. Any man in the ancient world, living in your culture, would constantly be in search of a prostitute, simply by looking at many of your women walking down the street, let alone how they are dressed on your magazines in every food store!
Dale: Do you see what I mean, Paul? That’s a repressed attitude about sex. And sexist.
Paul: How can I both be opposed to sex AND sexist?
Don: “Sexist” means that you promote a male point of view to the degradation of the female point of view.
Paul: How am I this way of being “sexist”?
Dale: You complain about how women dress. They should dress as they like and a man should keep his thoughts to himself.
Paul: Yet you think the thoughts, correct?
Dale: Well, if I see a sexy girl, I might fantasize a bit…
Paul: Is it not natural for a man to be sexually stimulated by a woman who is dressed so “sexy”, as you say?
Dale: Of course, but that doesn’t mean that we should be coming on to every sexy girl we see.
Paul: Of course not. But do not women know that when they are dressing “sexy” that they are encouraging thoughts about sex? Thoughts of adultery, or porneia?
Dale: What is porneia?
Paul: The kind of sex that God is offended by. Incest, sex before marriage, homosexuality…
Dale: I ain’t thinking about a guy when I see a beautiful gal…
Paul: No, no. It is just a kind of porneia. (Looking at the crowd before him) You women, why do you dress “sexy”?
Bette: (Standing up) Look, Paul, we’re not interested in having every man around us be running to the nearest cold shower. We just want to look attractive.
Paul: To look attractive, is that to get attraction? You want people drawn to you?
Bette: Sure. And it’s both women and men. If a woman comes up to me and says I look nice or the dress is cute, I feel good about myself, but I don’t think that I’ve turned her on.
Paul: But if a man says you look beautiful or “sexy”?
Bette: I feel good because someone noticed me. Not because he’s stimulated.
Paul: But you know that you have stimulated him?
Bette: Well, probably, if he says something.
Paul: And perhaps he might fantasize about you?
Bette: Nothing wrong with that, as long as he doesn’t come on to strong for me.
Paul: And if the man feels it is wrong to fantasize about any woman he finds “sexy” that is good, too?
Bette: He should learn to control himself better.
Paul: And you are denying his maleness in saying that. Isn’t your statement “sexist” as well? Look, I am not telling you how to run your society. That is your business. But recognize that with our humanity, it is very difficult, almost impossible for a man to remain pure in a society that glorifies sex.
Dale: But perhaps your code of purity is too regimented.
Paul: This is what you do not understand. It is not my “code”. It is God’s standard of purity. My job, as a pastor and an apostle is to assist people to stand before God to receive God’s blessings. To help them live freely before God without guilt and in pleasure. God, however, has said that the one who partakes in porneia without repenting cannot stand before Him, unless they are repenting. The impure cannot see God. Thus, to help my people remain before God, I must help them find avenues to remain pure in a society that glorifies the impure. And having sex with one’s life partner is one way of remaining pure in this world.
Dale: But don’t you see the contradiction in that? Sex is the answer to keeping free from sex?
Paul: God created sex. Sex is not dirty or impure in and of itself. But God created in sex the seed of commitment. Sex is supposed to build an ongoing relationship. To tear sex away from commitment between a man and a woman is to destroy it. Sex isn’t the problem for God. Porneia is. People who have sex can stand before God. But people who destroy the God-created commitment that is within sex are not pure and so cannot see God.
Don: So sex that is good is…
Paul: Sex that is pure is sex that is used to build commitment to a life-long partner of the opposite sex. (He sighs.) Why do you have so many words based around the word “sex”? It is the immoral fascination with it, or is it just lack of imagination?

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