By Dave Armstrong (3-14-04)
First of all, let me make it clear that I love Dr. Dobson and have the greatest respect and admiration for the man. He's done more good in his lifetime than all of us put together will ever do. He has been almost a prophet-like figure in our time. So it greatly pains me to have to point this out. But on this issue he is, sadly, dead-wrong.
My wife Judy and I were watching an otherwise excellent, at times funny and heartwarming, and insightful video series of his tonight on how to raise boys (we have three, along with our little 2 yo daughter). He stated outright that with regard to masturbation, he did not take a position that boys should be told it was wrong. By strong implication then, he does not think it is wrong. I was aware that a friend of ours had read as much in a book of his recently (the name escapes me).
His reasoning was quite curious: he claimed that probably (close paraphrase) "99% of boys do it and the other 1% are lying" (which was a bit of news to me since I grew up never having done this). Then he said that if we tell boys it is wrong and that God disapproves, what happens to those [implied multitudes] who aren't able to stop? They grow up thinking God hates them or that they are some miserable, shameful, dirty creature that belongs under a rock. Therefore, let them do it . . .
On the surface, this appears reasonable. However, when scrutinized, it breaks down almost immediately. It is essentially a secular libertarian, or even utilitarian argument, not a Christian one. Dobson contradicted his own reasoning of no more than five minutes previous to these comments, for he was decrying pornography and contended that one exposure of it in a 13 year-old might wreck their whole life and begin a lifelong addiction.
As pornography is addicting, so is masturbation, and often they coincide (as we know from learning about President Clinton's phone sex with Monica Lewinsky). Yet Dr. Dobson has not, to my knowledge, suggested that pornography ought to be freely available, as a good thing, lest those who can't break the habit feel condemned and worthless and turn against God as a result.
I doubt that he advocates free availability and moral sanction of cocaine and heroin, or that he approves of alcoholism (or that he would oppose remarkably successful programs like AA). I don't think he has taken a position that homosexual acts are permissible and moral simply because the lifestyle is extremely hard to break (as we know it is). So why does he make an exception for masturbation? Who knows? He acknowledged that there were probably many in his audience that night who disagreed with him, and he was clearly somewhat uncomfortable taking the position he did.
The Catholic Church disagrees, of course, It regards masturbation as a mortal sin. And it will continue to do so, no matter what the prevailing zeitgeist may be. If something is wrong, it's wrong. What period of history (or cultural decadence) we happen to be in has no bearing on that wrongness.
Masturbation is a form of non-procreative sex. It perverts sexuality and has an adverse effect on proper, healthy sexual development. It turns sex into something entirely selfish, rather than giving and other-directed. This "if it feels good, do it" mentality is in perfect harmony with the sexual revolution and humanist ethics and hedonism, but in perfect disharmony with traditional Christian sexual morality.
If even a marvelous man like Dr. Dobson can fall into this sort of elementary ethical contradiction and misunderstanding in such a sexual matter, then that is a truly frightening prospect. And (dare I say it?), having a strong Church authority is precisely what prevents these "slippery slope" descents into sexual compromise (even with the best of -- thoroughly mistaken -- intentions, as I'm sure is the case here).
Who in Protestantism can authoritatively tell Dr. Dobson that he is wrong in this matter? If someone has, God bless them (certainly many Protestants remain opposed to masturbation, as I was in my Protestant period), but it has had no effect, since he is still teaching this. If no one has, then I think that is symptomatic of the decline of traditional morality in Protestant ranks (as in Catholic as well -- but it has not changed our official teaching).
A good and influential man is thus sanctioning a practice which was regarded as a mortal (soul-threatening) sin in traditional (and current orthodox) Catholic Christianity and an exceedingly serious and defiling sin in traditional Protestantism. Martin Luther described the sin of Onan, in spilling his seed on the ground (traditionally applied to masturbation), as follows:
Onan must have been a malicious and incorrigible scoundrel. This is a most disgraceful sin. It is far more atrocious than incest and adultery. We call it unchastity, yes, a Sodomitic sin . . . That worthless fellow . . . preferred polluting himself with a most disgraceful sin to raising up offspring for his brother.
(Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 38-44; 1544; LW, 7, 20-21)
John Calvin, in his Commentary on Genesis, stated: "It is a horrible thing to pour out seed besides the intercourse of man and woman."
This is literally calling evil good. Is Dr. Dobson that divorced from Christian history and the history of moral theology, I wonder? In most cases, he is an advocate (and an eloquent one at that) of traditional sexual morality. Why does he switch gears then when it comes to this sin? Your guess is as good as mine.