Sunday, March 14, 2004

Dr. James Dobson Sanctions Masturbation

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.


D said...

You went through all the trouble of reasoning against Dobson's standpoint on this issue and didn't provide a shred of Scripture in your entire commentary - and that is evidence why NOT to be Catholic. The Catholic church doesn't preach or teach the Word of God (The Bible), it preaches its own doctrine (mortal sin, praying with the saints, hail mary, the list goes on). So it's not surprising that someone would use prominent figures in Church history instead the Scripture to prove that masturbation is wrong and provide evidence for Catholicism.

I'm not arguing your point about masturbation being wrong. Anything can be addictive, thus making it wrong. You should, however, listen to more on Dobson's reasoning for his standpoint on the subject to find out why he believes what he does and what his EXACT standpoint on it is before simply posting that he "SANCTIONS" it.

As for where you stand on it, what does the Bible say about it? Study it and find out!

Randy said...

But this is precisely why the bible cannot be the sole rule of faith. It does not directly address masturbation or pornography. Should we tell teenage boys to simply read the bible and decide for himself if these are OK. I know when I was a teen I needed some clear direction. We have an amazing ability to rationalize. Having major Christian thinkers give contradictory answers does not help.

Ken said...

But this is precisely why the bible cannot be the sole rule of faith.

This is a bogus argument!

It does not directly address masturbation or pornography.

Obviously, it does not have to mention the exact words; but anyone with a brain and heart can see that Matthew 5:28 condemns both masturbation and pornography in principle. Those two things don't happen without mental lust. (except nocturnal emissions) Any mature Protestant evangelical teacher/pastor/elder who believes the Scriptures and is walking with the Lord can guide teenagers through this.

Erwin Lutzer had some great advice on this issue in his book, "Living with your passions".

I disagree with Dr. Dobson on this issue also; but it is not a mortal sin in the Roman Catholic sense.

D makes a good point that Dr. Dobson was very specific about it and you (Dave A.) did not really explain how careful Dobson defined it; and he did not condone lust with it. (although I don't see how it can be separated from it.)

Normal men will always struggle to some degree with lust. They should strive for holiness, but if they fail, there is always confession, repentance, and trusting Christ's once for atonement. I John 1:5-10; - 2:1-3 is sufficient for good teaching and guidance in this area (with lots of other Scripture); Sola Scriptura

not necessary for all the morbid introspection and false RCC sacerdotalism and mortal sins teachings. Ridiculous!

Dave Armstrong said...

You . . . didn't provide a shred of Scripture in your entire commentary

Sheer nonsense. I alluded to Genesis 38 and Onan and cited Martin Luther commenting on it. I have written at length elsewhere about that.

Maria Alexandra said...

There are some references

Dave Armstrong said...

The source at the URL above is so ignorant about the nature of Christianity and biblical teaching, that it classifies Mormonism as a "conservative Christian church." Read at your own peril.

frank said...

Matthew 5:28

The Bible does specifically address masturbation. What do we men think about when we "pleasure ourselves?" Football? As much as I love football, I would have bigger issues if I was thinking about Eli Manning in the shower.

The issue here, and the reason Dobson is reluctant to condemn masturbation, is becasue christianity would rather "poll the audience" on certain abrasive issues than go to their Bibles. Whether catholic or evangelical, our churches struggle with this. (As an evangelical, my opinion is that most of us trust in our intellectual understanding of God far more then we actually trust in God leading to a distorted and sometimes banal and apathetic brand of christianity.) Dobson's rationale here is absurd and disturbing. We cannot justify an issue based upon the actions of the majority. Far more college students engage in sexual activity then abstain from it. Should we condone this too? It troubles me how closed our minds become the minute we decide to be "open minded." ... and I am only 23 yrs old... I am going to be one bitter senior citizen.

Dave Armstrong said...

Glad to hear of your agreement.

rhino61466 said...

Regarding masturbation 50% of all Christian pastors believe it is ok as long as it is not used in excess or with pornography, while the other 50% of Christian pastors believe it is a sin. I personally believe that the Bible may or may not address the issue directly. Anyone can pull a verse dealing with lust and say this is why masturbation is wrong. The problem with that is what about nocturnal ejaculation which automatically occurs even when one does not fill their mind with perverse images? Also you can find just as many verses that can be used to support masturbation; for example, Proverbs 5:15-17. Using the Onan example against masturbation is completely inaccurate. It is based off an inaccurate translation of original scripture. The Onan story tells through correct translation that Onan refused to ejaculate into his brother's widowed wife. Pregnating your brother's widowed wife was jewish custom detailed by God so that he widow would have heirs to land and livestock. Onan basically pulled out before ejaculation because he wanted to inherit his brother's property which angered God. His "spilling of seed on the ground" has been deemed an inaccurate translation by most Christian churches. I believe much like Dr. Dobson, that God leaves masturbation up to the individual. As long as it is not done in an adulterous way, becomes an addiction, or utilizes pornography it is ok. Let us remember that partaking in anything on this earth to much becomes a sin. Eating and drinking too much is glutony which is a sin. I don't think everyone should masturbate it is a persnal decision and if addiction is part of your personality refrain from it. We like to attack masturbation because it deals with sexual pleasure and unfortunately sex (even in marriage) has become taboo to discuss in Christian circles even though it is a gift from God. If you do your research you will find that demonizing masturbation originally came from the gnostics about 70-80 yrs after Christ. Christians did not want the pagan gnostic beliefs to look "holier" than Christianity so mainstream churches began preaching against masturbation like th gnostics did.

Dave Armstrong said...

The problem with that is what about nocturnal ejaculation which automatically occurs even when one does not fill their mind with perverse images?

That is not considered a sin (in the Catholic view) because no willful decision is involved.

I answered the lame arguments regarding Onan elsewhere in lengthy papers.

Masturbation is wrong on the same grounds that homosexual acts or contraception are: recourse to unnatural methods that run contrary to natural law: which is that the sexual act is and ought to be connected to at least the potential for procreation.

Since masturbation is a selfish act completely separated from reproduction and the union of a man and wife, it is intrinsically sinful. Period.

This ain't rocket science. People know this instinctively. They only unlearn because of our sex-crazed culture and giving into lustful desires.

rhino61466 said...

SHould the Catholic church stop serving wine at communion because afterall wine leads to alcoholism? No that is absurd. Which is why one can't apply the same error ridden logic to masturbation. There is a difference between dogma that is preached and what the bible clearly states as sin; for example, homosexuality is an abomination yet masturbation was not mentioned in that verse or any where else in the Bible.

Dave Armstrong said...

The passage on Onan contains more than enough info. Your explanation doesn't cut it when all relevant factors are considered. I have already refuted your objection in other papers on the Onan passage.

rhino61466 said...

I didn't realize some Catholics still try to pass off contraception between a married couple as a sin. That isn't even being close to biblical. This idea came from the fact that if married Catholic couples used contraception the Catholic Church would lose power, influence, and money because there would be less future converts in the next generation. I find it ironic when you attacked the mormon church. I don't believe the mormon church is Christian because they basically make things up that ARE NOT in the Bible and try to pass it off as truth. Hmmm what other mainstream Christian church has done this? Oh I know the Catholics did with paying your way into heaven, telling everyone our solar system revolves around the earth because they misinterpreted a passage in the Bible. There are several other examples of the Catholic Church doing this. Don't be so hasty to pass judgement on the mormons without removing the plank from one's own eye. Basically my point is just because a mainstream church says something does not make it true especially if it it nowhere in the Bible.

Dave Armstrong said...

Keep raving on if you wish. There is no dialogue here. The fact remains that being against contraception is not just a "Catholic" thing, but a Christian and biblical thing. That's why all Protestants and Orthodox as well as Catholics, thought it was a grave sin until 1930, when the Anglicans first allowed it for exceptional cases only.

Now we see that most Protestants have caved in to the spirit of the age and have adopted pagan, heathen sexual morality in this area.

Historically this was NOT the case at all.

plantit said...

Something I haven't seen developed in any recent arguments, but that I was first set onto by C.S Lewis, is the fact that Contraception was considered as a form of witchcraft in the old and new testament. ( you can check history and Jewish commentaries to confirm this). So one reason it isn't specifically called out in the bible is because any of the chemical forms of contraception used were witchcraft
and therefore stoning offenses.

Farshid said...

"Now we see that most Protestants have caved in to the spirit of the age and have adopted pagan, heathen sexual morality in this area.

Historically this was NOT the case at all."

That is interesting because the masturbation and contraception (with married couples) becoming a sin was taken by Orthodox Christians and Catholics from the Gnostics. A self-proclaimed pagan religion.

Dave Armstrong said...


This is correct. There were portions used to kill babies, and that was considered part and parcel of sorcery and witchcraft.


Sheer nonsense. The "Catholic Church hates sex" canard is old, tired, and inanely asinine. We don't hate sex; we hate perversions of the natural and proper function and nature of sex. The world has perverted the great gift of God, and we see the fruits all around us.

Ben m said...

Hey Dave,

Never ends, does it?

So what's next? Perhaps some mumbling about the "evil" Pope and his "inverted cross"?

Jordanes551 said...

The Gnostics were a self-proclaimed "pagan" religion? Really?

Also, it seems most unlikely that, say, the Gnostic sect known as the Carpocratians regarded masturbation (or any other sexual sin, for that matter) as sinful. Also, some Gnostics were opposed to procreation or had disdain for it, so it seems they didn't object to marital contraception.

Farshid clearly doesn't know anything at all about the Gnostics.

rhino61466 said...

Consider this, as I mentioned earlier is gluttony not wrong? The Bible does condemn it. But does that make all eating wrong? If it did, we would all die of starvation. Obviously, we need to eat. Eating by itself, does not constitute gluttony. Gluttony is when we eat more than we need to, much more. It is when our appetites and desires become insatiable and out of control. That is when eating becomes a sin.
Drinking wine or other alcohol is not a sin. But drinking too much certainly is. We can overdo many things and become obsessed with them or get out of control. The problem is moderation and balance. When we loose moderation and balance, we get into trouble. It is absolutely essential that we have appetites. Hunger tells us to eat so we do not die. Thirst tells us to drink so we do not die. Sleepiness tells us to sleep so we can rejuvenate. And in addition, God, Himself, placed within us a strong desire for the opposite sex so that we would be certain to reproduce. That was God's will and desire that we do so, according to the rules He set out for us. So having a desire for the opposite sex, or being attracted to the opposite sex and finding them deisrable and appealing, finding their forms beautiful and compelling, or desiring sexual activity are not wrong or improper desires. They were placed there by God. The problem is keeping them in balance and control. If they get out of control or obsessive, then we have a real problem. That is when a healthy appetite or interest in the opposite sex constitutes lust. Lust is the extreme appetite for sex and sex activity. In fact, activity is the real essence of lust.

Dave Armstrong said...


Jordanes551 said...

Drinking wine or other alcohol is not a sin. But drinking too much certainly is.

You're on the right track, Rhino. You just need to follow the logic to its proper conclusions.

Sex is not sinful of itself, just as eating is not bad but gluttony is, and drinking wine is not bad but drunkeness is.

Eating as an end in itself IS a sin -- a form of gluttony. So too is sex as an end in itself a sin -- and contraceptive sex is sex as an end in itself, since its fullest and highest intents are being deliberately thwarted, just as the Roman barfitorium thwarts the proper end of eating and perverts eating, and amputating a healthy limb thwarts the proper end of surgery and actually perverts it.

Lust is the extreme appetite for sex and sex activity. In fact, activity is the real essence of lust.

Wrong. Jesus said when a man looks on a woman with lust, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart. The essence is not the sexual activity, because he has not yet had sex with her and many never have sex with her at all, but he already has lusted for her (or rather, lusted for sex with her). The essence of lust is not any action, but the inordinate desire for something that is good in and of itself.

Jeff said...

I think the Rev. Brian W. Harrison does a great job of showing how the biblical passage on Onan's sin of "spilling his seed" on the ground had been universally condemned by God's people from at least the time of the earliest of the Sacred Scriptures, the Book of Genesis:


I certainly disagree with those who claim that masturbation is categorically "not a mortal sin". It is certainly true that there are 3 requirements:

1857 For a sin to be mortal, three conditions
must together be met: "Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full
knowledge and deliberate consent."131

But I think one would be hard pressed to claim that masturbation is not "grave matter" given the Church's constant teaching on the subject as spelled out in the Catechism:

2352 ..."Both the Magisterium of the Church,
in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly
maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action."138 ...

2396 Among the sins gravely contrary to chastity
are masturbation, fornication, pornography, and homosexual practices.

But I think it should be pretty clear even to non-Catholics who dispute the teaching authority of the successors to the Apostles. At least I would think that would be the case for the "Bible Christians" who accept the inerrancy of the Sacred Scriptures which tell us of what Our Lord thought about Onan's sin:

"And therefore the Lord slew him, because he did a detestable thing." Gen 38:10

"Detestable" is pretty strong language and Our Lord only would have slain him as an example to the people if He considered it a very important (ie. "grave") matter.

adam k. said...

How can you say with 100% certainty that masturbation is a direct abomination to God when it is not directly mentioned in the bible? What is the main cause of pre-marital sex? Natural, raging hormones, which God designed. If masturbation can be used as a way to help overcome the temptation to have pre-marital sex (which the bible directly addresses as a sin), I would think the church would be for it.

As for the argument about a man spilling his seed, if you don't ejaculate, sperm exits your body through your urine anyway. Also, how can a man sin if he ejaculated in his sleep (a wet dream), and had absolutely no idea what happened?

Telling a man or child it's wrong & shameful to masturbate when God has designed their body to produce raging hormones is not right.

I feel sorry for your children who you make feel shame for no biblical reason...

adam k. said...

Masturbation becomes wrong the second it involves lust. Masturbation, if used as a way to avoid the sin of pre-marital sex, should not be demonized by Christians. God allows Satan to tempt us, but he also gives man a way to resist those temptations.

Weather a person masturbating is a sin or not, is not on us to judge. Man cannot know another man's heart. Only God can know if a person is using masturbation as a way to escape the temptation to have pre-marital sex or if he's using it for his own perverse reasons.

Dave Armstrong said...

Involuntary reactions to dreams are not sins. So that;s out of the way . . .

Here are my papers providing biblical data against masturbation:

Did Jesus Condemn Masturbation? It Appears So (Striking Talmudic Parallels to the Sermon on the Mount)

Debate on the Morality of Masturbation and Whether the Bible Condemns It (Onan) (vs. Steve Hays)

Response to Steve Hays' Further Defense of (Oops, Sorry, "Neutral" Stance on) Masturbation

Dialogue: Why Did God Kill Onan? Why is Contraception Condemned by the Catholic Church?

David A. Morse said...

If you believe masturbation is a sin that is your right. I disagree with you and agree with Dobson on only this issue.

My main disagreement with you is that you often teach that its not only a sin but that its a mortal soul killing act.

Such a teaching can lead a young horny teen with the idea that they are already damned no matter what they do.

I kbow that most actions and thoughts humans have can be sins in the right context. Even thinking thoughts of another woman is cheating on your wife or husband. But nowhere is it said to be a sin that can never be forgiven. I have read accounts of suicides of boys that failed the temptation, prayed and failed. They believed as Dobson warned that God could never love them. The guilt and shame ended in death.

Dave Armstrong said...

Of course it can be forgiven, like any other sin; so what you present is a false dilemma. Forgiveness awaits. God is merciful, and the Catholic Church teaches that He is, and that confession can liberate anyone from the terrible burden of guilt.