They say there are three subjects one should never raise at a dinner party: sex, religion and politics. However, since the same social protocols have not yet made it into the blogosphere, and to spice things up a bit, I’ve decided to tackle these hot topics in my next few articles. This month: sex.
Timothy Winter, a leading Islamic scholar and Cambridge academic, recently spoke in an interview with The Independent (August 20th 2010) about what prompted him to convert to Islam. Part of his conversion, he claims, was due to the different attitudes to sexuality between Christianity and Islam. “In a Christian context,” he says, “sexuality is seen as a consequence of the Fall, but for Muslims it is an anticipation of paradise.”
Is Winter right? Is this the Christian view of sexuality? No doubt there are many who share his views or impressions regarding a Christian attitude to sexual pleasure. There have been Christians in every century who, wary of indulging the flesh, have frowned upon almost every activity that induces physical pleasure: sport, music, fashion, dancing, alcohol, enjoyment of food, sex, and so on. However, while it is understandable for a Christian to abstain from any or all of the above for reasons of self control or purity, it is quite a different thing to say that these things are bad in themselves, and to suggest that such a view represents a truly Christian ethos.
Notwithstanding Winter’s expertise when it comes to Islam, I would like to suggest that his knowledge of Christianity is wanting. Christians in the 21st century, or any century for that matter, should respond to his claim that sexuality is ‘post-Fall’ with a resounding “No.” Sexuality, according to scripture, is distinctly pre- not post-Fall.
How do we know this? We know it because Genesis 1-3 tells us that God made the material world, including food, bodies, sexual identity and function, and declared it ‘very good’ (1:31). God blessed Adam and Eve and commanded them to “Be fruitful and increase” (1:28). The picture of life that these chapters present, sees Adam and Eve in harmony with God, with all of creation, and with each other, being both naked and unashamed (2:25). Given that sex is both fundamental to procreation and, generally speaking, extremely pleasurable to the couple that willingly partakes in it, one cannot but conclude that God created the pleasure of such intimacy. It is a corollary of God’s blessing of Adam and Eve’s reproductive capacity that they should enjoy their sexuality. It is God-given.
So where does a view like Winter’s come from? As with so much faulty theology, it stems primarily from a faulty view of God’s character. If, as Christians, we view God as being fundamentally harsh, judgmental and joyless, we, being made in God’s image, will ‘image’ these qualities in our relationships with our spouses, children, colleagues, and with the natural environment. Over the years, many Christians have done just that, presenting to the world a God who is more concerned with ‘correct behaviour’ than loving action, a God who dislikes people and dislikes what they do, a God who despises pleasure in all its forms and finds greatest satisfaction when people do likewise.
A truly biblical view of sexuality, instead, is grounded in the truth that God is a good creator who loves all that he has made, and who delights when we enjoy our createdness. In this light, perversion of sexuality is not measured by the degree to which we enjoy our physical createdness, but by the degree to which we fail to celebrate everything God celebrates, enjoy what he enjoys, and live within the parameters he has given for us to thrive in all our relationships. God made sex not only for the babies that result from it, but also for the candles, dances, well, let’s leave it at that…