Why are Christians opposed to heterosexual pre-marital sex?
December 1, 2004 2:58 AM   Subscribe

Why are Christians opposed to heterosexual pre-marital sex. I can find some Paul diktats but is that the only problem?
posted by Pericles to Religion & Philosophy (39 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
"...purity and virginity are highly valued before marriage in Scripture. Premarital sex takes away that purity and virginity."
posted by deshead at 3:09 AM on December 1, 2004


Basically Christians believe that if you are chasing your own pleasure you ar enot walking in the path of god. Which is a respectable belief, the trouble is they aren't saving any souls by imposing their preferred behaviour on the rest of society.
posted by Space Coyote at 3:10 AM on December 1, 2004


Well, it's not adultery if neither person is married, & so is not directly contravening any Commandments. Instead, it qualifies as fornication. St. Thomas Aquinas concluded that 'simple fornication' is a mortal sin. It is written (Tob. 4:13): "Take heed to keep thyself . . . from all fornication, and beside thy wife never endure to know a crime." Now crime denotes a mortal sin. Therefore fornication and all intercourse with other than one's wife is a mortal sin.
posted by misteraitch at 3:29 AM on December 1, 2004


So, it's largely Paul (who never even met J.C), apocryphal Tobit, or others' interpretation?
posted by Pericles at 3:37 AM on December 1, 2004


i'm reading a book on the virgin mary at the moment and one of the things it discusses is where this strange emphasis on virginity comes from. unfortunately the book is back in la serena, and i'm now in santiago for two weeks, but iirc it seemed to be mainly down to paul (he wrote to the corinthians, right?).
posted by andrew cooke at 3:46 AM on December 1, 2004


yeah, page 55. go to amazon, search in the book for "paul virginity corinthians". i doubt a direct link will work.
posted by andrew cooke at 3:48 AM on December 1, 2004


and incidentally "only problem" is a bit of an odd way of putting it. this is the root of the tradition, but it's now widely accepted in the culture of the church and - at least for catholics - it's probably referred to in a pile of papal doodahs. this is sociology, not logic.
posted by andrew cooke at 3:51 AM on December 1, 2004


Because of the idea about a husband and wife becoming one flesh, and because of the comparisons Paul makes between a husband and wife and Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:25-33, if you feel like looking it up).

In that context I can't see why anyone who isn't Christian should have any reason to follow those rules, but I think I do.
posted by Jeanne at 4:03 AM on December 1, 2004


The whole "Paul not meeting JC" thing is such crap. Aquinas "never met JC." Augustine "never met JC." That doesn't invalidate their teachings. If you disagree with them, fine. But it's a dumb argument to say "Paul never met JC" and to throw out the teachings.

The question wasn't "what did JC say about pre-marital, heterosexual sex." It was "Why are Christians opposed to heterosexual pre-marital sex."
posted by Alt F4 at 6:59 AM on December 1, 2004


As someone raised Christian who still considers herself a Christian (early 20s am I), I can give you the rundown on some of the reasons (some) Christians are opposed to premarital sex, based on the teachings I have heard throughout the years on this subject (Christian youth groups teach sex, dating, love topics every other day, it seems- I guess sex sells, even in the church!)

I was taught that marriage is sacred- it is two becoming one, as Jeanne said above. Sex is the literal act of that love between two people commited to one another. To have sex with someone not commited to you is going to produce an emotional bond that the relationship is not ready to uphold. This will cause some pain- and God does not want us to suffer pain if we can avoid it, which is why he sets up rules to help us protect ourselves. God loves us so much that he wants us to live a life that honor Him and ensure our well-being.

That's the basic gist of the biblical angle as I was taught it- now of course we were taught of the social ramifications of pre-marital sex- possible pregnancy, STDs, or unbalanced relationships (focused more on sex than love, for example). As someone who has chosen to remain a virgin until marriage, I feel free from a lot of the worries my sexually active friends encounter.

I feel like I'm forgetting some things, so feel free to ask for clarification, if need be.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:38 AM on December 1, 2004 [1 favorite]


So, it's largely Paul (who never even met J.C)

Paul was under the impression that he had "met JC."

Which is a claim that the skeptic would throw out.

But if you are not interested in understanding the Christian perspective on its own terms, then you should ask yourself what the point of the exercise is.
posted by goethean at 8:03 AM on December 1, 2004


It should be mentioned that Jesus railed much more strongly against greed than against lust, a point that might surprise our suburban Biblicist overlords.
posted by goethean at 8:07 AM on December 1, 2004


It is interesting that Aquinas uses Tobit to support his point.

I just read an extraordinarily fascinating book--Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew, by Bart Ehrman--which talks about the roles that apocryphal scriptures played, and didn't play, in the early history of Christianity. I recommend it to everyone.

Pericles, why do Jews believe that "fornication" is wrong? I don't know the answer to this, but my guess is that Christians believe that "fornication" is wrong for much the same reason.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:20 AM on December 1, 2004 [1 favorite]


The root of my question: my niece (who used to live with us) now lives with another branch of the family who are super-fundamentalist christians (Church of Christ). She slept with her fiance, and on Sunday must stand up in their church and apologise to all gathered there for her disgraceful sin.

They do eat shellfish, wear cotton/'poly blend clothes, so I assume that not everything in the Bible is taken literally. They also believe that alcohol is forbidden, which is news to my agnostic ears, so I'm wondering if this is their tradition, or actually in the Bible.
posted by Pericles at 8:34 AM on December 1, 2004


They do eat shellfish, wear cotton/'poly blend clothes, so I assume that not everything in the Bible is taken literally.

I appreciate that you're making the effort to try and understand people who believe differently than you do. That's admirable. But you should know that you don't yet understand nearly enough to begin making pronouncements like the one I've quoted above. For example, in the New Testament, God appears to Peter and clearly and specifically repeals the prohibition on eating shellfish; the implication (in most Protestant theoligies, at least) is that (in addition to health concerns) a lot of the mala prohibita rules God laid down for the nation of Israel were symbolism intended to foreshadow the actions of Jesus. My point is two-fold: first, a literal reading of the Bible does not prohibit Christians from eating shellfish or wearing certain types of clothes; and second, if you're going to try and understand Christian theology, it's going to take patience and more work.

This has implications for your question regarding pre-marital sex. You cannot understand Protestant Christianity just by cherry-picking verses out of the Skeptics Annotated Bible and reading them out of context. It's going to take more work than that. Though the flat prohibition on alcohol suggests that you're not dealing with the most theologically-sophisticated branch of Protestant Christianity, if you try to argue with them on their own epistemic turf without really understanding the issue first, I can assure you'll change no minds and make no friends.
posted by gd779 at 8:51 AM on December 1, 2004 [2 favorites]


Pericles: no alcohol is tradition among many CofCers, but it's hard to lump them all together as there is a great variety of beliefs among people who use that name. Having grown up hearing of the evils of alcohol from some sources, I can't exactly tell you why (obviously I didn't buy whatever they told me). Mostly the alcohol thing comes down to a "good christians don't" issue, which is fairly recent (last 50-75 years or so).

As far as fornication, as stated above, it comes down to the issue of purity. Do what it takes to remain pure. There are all kinds of commands about sexual relationships in the Law of Moses (the ten commandments are important but not the whole law) and these are used as a foundation for determining God's attitude toward sex. Of course, "marriage" as defined by the nomadic people of the early Old Testament is nothing like we view it today anyway, and we kind of pick and choose which prohibitions we keep under the "new law", but it's a starting point, anyway.
posted by wallaby at 8:55 AM on December 1, 2004


I thought that the Church of Christ (which is not to be confused with the United Church of Christ) was always anti-alcohol, and in fact one of the big supporters of Prohibition.

Pericles, I can tell you right now that your approach will NOT change your niece's mind.

Perhaps reading and discussing this article by a Professor of Christian Ethics that challenges what the author sees as limited and counter-productive views on sexuality within Christianity might be a better place to start.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:06 AM on December 1, 2004


Oh, I'm not trying to change anyone's mind. (My niece is frankly terrified, and is marrying the first guy who asked her in order to escape the church, anyway). Just can't understand their rationales (eg, JC turned water into wine, thus it can't be forbidden, right?). Appreciate what you're saying, gd779, btw)
posted by Pericles at 9:16 AM on December 1, 2004


The Church of Christ's prohibition of drinking alcohol (not just drunkenness, which many denominations accept as a sin) arises from the admonition not to be a "stumbling block" to your brother. That is, if your brother has problems drinking socially without getting drunk, it will make his life more difficult if he sees you drinking. Abstaining yourself even if you don't really need to is a way of supporting his necessary abstinence.

Christ's water-into-wine trick was explained away thus: Wine back then was more like grape juice and it took a lot more of it to get you intoxicated, so there was little chance of becoming drunk just drinking socially.

Obviously I think this is all a load of crap today, although due to the fact that I never had any experience at all with alcohol until I was well into my twenties, I barely drink at all today. Just never got into the habit and don't really see any benefit to it.
posted by kindall at 9:47 AM on December 1, 2004


Pericles, religion is not meant to be rational.

(One of the nice things about my religious tradition is its acknowledgement of that--one of my favorite hymns includes the lines "What our reason fails to tell us/Let us grasp through faith's consent.")
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:00 AM on December 1, 2004


Pericles, why do Jews believe that "fornication" is wrong?

The big problem in Orthodox Judaism is that women are unclean after menstruation until they are purified in the ritual bath (mikvah.) Unmarried women and girls don't go to the mikvah, hence they are perpetually unclean and cannot be touched/slept with.

Of course, the reason unmarried women and girls don't go to the mikvah is that they "shouldn't be having sex."
posted by callmejay at 10:34 AM on December 1, 2004


Wine back then was more like grape juice and it took a lot more of it to get you intoxicated, so there was little chance of becoming drunk just drinking socially.

Wine and beer were consumed by ancient people because the alcohol they contained would kill off harmful bacteria. The Roman aquaducts may have reduced the need to drink alcohol by providing clean drinking water, but not everyone had access to Roman aquaducts. Those that did often lived in cities with lead pipes.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:49 AM on December 1, 2004


She slept with her fiance, and on Sunday must stand up in their church and apologise to all gathered there for her disgraceful sin.

Many, if not most, repressives have a very disturbing view of sexuality (see Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, and their ilk for extreme illustrations of this point). This sort of prurient activity (I've heard similar accounts from Mormon friends, and I'm sure it occurs in other denominations) strikes me as rooted in voyeuristic and egoistic impulses, and a fetish for humiliation. Yet more proof that organized religion is fundamentally not about acceptance and "love" but rather concerned with control, with separating people into "us" vs. "them" (insider/outsider) groupings, and with constructing self-esteem via manufactured opportunities to revel in "holier-than-thou" feelings.

I could have no respect for anyone who would consent to participate in such a sick farce.
posted by rushmc at 11:54 AM on December 1, 2004


It is an infantile superstition of the human spirit that virginity would be thought a virtue and not the barrier that separates ignorance from knowledge. —Voltaire
posted by rushmc at 11:55 AM on December 1, 2004


Wine and beer were consumed by ancient people because the alcohol they contained would kill off harmful bacteria.

Oh, bullshit. Wine and beer were consumed by ancient people for the same reasons they're consumed by modern people: 1. It feels good to drink them and 2. It's possible to develop a physiological dependence to alcohol.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:11 PM on December 1, 2004


bullshit

i don't know if it's true, but it's at least common bullshit. searching for "dinking water middle ages beer" turns up many hits on google saying similar things. i believe i learnt something similar at school (it was a disaster when gin was introduced, leading to a series of prints by a famous english artist whose name i no longer recall).
posted by andrew cooke at 1:42 PM on December 1, 2004


She slept with her fiance, and on Sunday must stand up in their church and apologise to all gathered there for her disgraceful sin.

Wow. That's not an orthodox approach to sanctification at all. Does the CofC require that of all sins? Or just sexual ones? Either way, it does violence to the concept of grace and redemption.

Without any deeper knowledge about the nuances of the CofC denomination, amen to rushmc: I could have no respect for anyone who would consent to participate in such a sick farce. Although my beef would be with the church elders, not with the niece. But I think that's what rushmc was saying.
posted by Alt F4 at 1:53 PM on December 1, 2004


Mr Roboto: I'm sure drinking for drunkenness' sake has been a consistent fact of life since ancient times, however, small beer was indeed an everyday drink (even for children, even for breakfast) in England, North America & elsewhere before the introduction of safe, piped water-supplies.

Andrew: are you thinking of Hogarth?
posted by misteraitch at 1:55 PM on December 1, 2004


andrew cooke, you're thinking of Hogarth, who contrasted the wretched inhabitants of Gin Lane with those of Beer Street.

callmejay is kind of right. There is no prohibition on premarital sex in the Torah. But the Talmud and later writings forbid premarital sex. From the soc.culture.jewush FAQ:

The Torah typically frowns on premarital sex. Some extreme statements have even been made, for example, Reish Lakish has stated that even one who sins with his eyues may become an adulterer (Lev. Rabba 23); however, this never became accepted. However, this attitude led to many of the traditional separations between man and women, such as men not walking behind women, men and women being separated on festive occasions and in public parts, and even separate days for visiting cemetaries.

However, this question is not focusing on the traditional separation, but the attitude towards premarital sex. The literature makes it clear that virginity for the female was prized. Intercourse with an unmarried girl generally fell under the concept of Zenut, which was prohibited. If an act of intercourse was intended as an mode of lawful bethrothal, it was considered to be a lawful betrothal (Mishna Kid. 1.1). Although the act was prohibited, children born of such liaisons were free of any blemish, and there was no question of their legality (Kid. 4.1,2; Yev. 100b). Nachmanides was lenient about such illicit unions, and was willing to overlook them (Isaac b. Sheshet, quoting Nahmanides, 6, 398; also 425 and 395).

What about sexual relationships between those who were engaged and might live together for some time. This has been prohibited by tradition (Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha-ezer 55.1). In early times, such intercourse was reported as unobjectionable in Judea, but not in the Galilee (Ket. 7b, Ket. 12a). As for the children, some felt they should be declared Mamzerim (Yev. 69b; Kid. 75a), but this view was never adopted.

Note that the discouraging of sexual relations outside of marriage is a property of all Jewish movements.

posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:12 PM on December 1, 2004


(it was a disaster when gin was introduced, leading to a series of prints by a famous english artist whose name i no longer recall).

Beer Street and Gin Lane, by William Hogarth
posted by kitschbitch at 2:36 PM on December 1, 2004


An extraordinarily thorough scholarly book has recently been published on the topic of beer in the Middle Ages and Renaissance; the blurb for the book summarizes the author's take on this topic thus:

[B]eer in the Middle Ages was regarded as nutritional and medicinal, rather than largely recreational, and was consumed by men, women and children as part of their daily routine. This study of beer and beer-making examines archival material from the Low Countries and England relating to the `business, art and governance of brewing'. Representing an alternative when clean drinking water was not available, a cheaper alternative to wine and a profitable commodity for the state, beer was a necessity for all levels of state and society.

Unless someone else wants to read the bajillions of pages of medieval source material, I'm going to take this guy's word on it.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:47 PM on December 1, 2004


No one should believe things that are "not meant to be rational." That's a huge problem in society (has been forever) and allows for generations to sell violence in the name of religion (from everything to the suicide bomber down to the church making your niece stand in front of them and humiliate herself) to younger generations.

We ought to reclaim some sort of solid intellectual foundation in this world.
posted by xmutex at 3:06 PM on December 1, 2004


Alt F4: As a rule, it is almost exclusively sexual sins that are paraded out in front of the congregation. I've never understood why, but these seem to rank far worse than pretty much any other sins (though Galatians 5:19-21, Revelation 21:8 and others list far more common sins as just as damning). But I have yet to hear anyone "come forward" (the phrase of choice for making a public apology) for lying or envy.

Or drunkenness for that matter...
posted by wallaby at 3:13 PM on December 1, 2004


There are a remarkable number of links to "dinking water". First hit is from Perdue U. Hah!
posted by five fresh fish at 3:27 PM on December 1, 2004



Note that the discouraging of sexual relations outside of marriage is a property of all Jewish movements.


Not the one I was raised in, which was pretty mainstream.
posted by bingo at 6:45 PM on December 1, 2004


What PinkSuperhero said, but maybe I've got a few things to add.

At the core of Christianity and other religions is the idea of the life of the soul, a spiritual life, and a connection with a larger, purer source of that life (in Christianity, this is a connection with Christ and the Holy Spirit). Believers who have experienced it will tell you the fruits of such a life are serenity, joy, charity, patience, longsuffering, perspective, and sometimes, prescient guidance and occasionally miracles. To someone who's tapped and touched that well, very little is more important than keeping that connection alive and flowing.

There's also basic idea that the physical realities of sex and some of the language we've come to use to describing it ("giving yourself" to someone, "taking them") have a real emotional/psychich a This isn't a particular stretch, since many people react to physical intimacy in exactly that emotional manner. So the idea is just a bit beyond that: you're not just messing with another physical sensation/experience available to you, like taste, you are actually engaging in a sacrament with spiritually binding consequences, and to share those symbols without picking up the rest of the reality (which would amount to living marriage vows) results in a kind of disconnection between the spiritual life and the physical, making it more difficult to be spiritually alive. You thus seperate yourself from the afforementioned life of the spirit. There's lots of ways you can do this, of course, sex isn't the only one, but it's a very popular way, and hence it gets a lot of attention.

There's other angles.... excess or wanton indulgence of physical pleasures dulls spiritual faculties, and also sex is one of those things that it's so easy to get attached to that you can put it higher on the priorities list than it should be. So we come to what Buddhists might look at as an attachment problem, or what Christians might warn against with the words "No man can serve two masters" or ten-commandments fans might address with "Thou shalt have no other Gods before me." But this is especially important in Christianity, I think, which teaches that a love of Christ has to be a first priority if one hopes to gain eventual salvation, e.g. an everlasting spiritual life of the kind I described above. Making sex your first God could make that difficult. This is a problem of the type examined at length by C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce, and once again, there's lots of other ways to do this other than with sex, but it's a popular one, and so it gets a lot of attention.
posted by weston at 7:27 PM on December 1, 2004 [1 favorite]


damn, weston. that war allsome.
posted by glenwood at 7:40 PM on December 1, 2004


She slept with her fiance, and on Sunday must stand up in their church and apologise to all gathered there for her disgraceful sin.
This sort of prurient activity... strikes me as rooted in voyeuristic and egoistic impulses, and a fetish for humiliation. Yet more proof that organized religion is fundamentally not about acceptance and "love" but rather concerned with control,


I can picture this motivation taking root in a group, but wanted to note that it's certainly not the only one available for consideration. Some old testament references to ceremonial traditions and language make it clear that private confession to a priest can be done as a means to sharing the burdens of repentance -- personally confronting/admitting error is a lot easier to avoid when it's a personal secret, and easier to come to grips with when there are others who know and are willing to help one walk though change, restitution, and establishing different habits. Group confession and discussion could help in a similar manner. This is one of the principles on which 12 step groups operate.

Not that I disagree that week-by-week divulgence of torrid details in meetings seems like a bad idea, especially if it's compelled or pressured rather than offered as a possibility. Just wanted to point out something to consider before a jump from a set of bad example to generalized negative conclusions.
posted by weston at 7:46 PM on December 1, 2004


have a real emotional/psychich a

have a real emotional/psychic *analogue*. And I probably should have used the word "spiritual" in place of emotional/psychic.

Sorry. Need to learn to use preview better. I'll shut up now, for the moment.
posted by weston at 7:50 PM on December 1, 2004


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