Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Dr. James Dobson Sanctions Masturbation, Part II

By Dave Armstrong (9-7-05)

EL Hamilton's words will be in green.

* * * * * 

In fairness to Dobson, I think his position is a little more nuanced than you've suggested here.

It may be (I hope so). Now I'm curious to find a definite reference in writing. I looked through a few books I have by him but found nothing.

Even in what you've written above, I think that's implied by the wording of "not telling" adolescent boys that masturbation is a sin. I strongly suspect that Dobson is taking some intermediate position that says it can be sinful under certain circumstances.

Maybe. In any event, it is a softening of not only the Catholic position but also the traditional Protestant position (you saw what Luther and Calvin thought about it). Forgive me if this smacks of the all-too-common caving in to the zeitgeist. As the secular society goes, so go Christians, so often. It doesn't take a rocket scientist (which you practically are! LOL) to figure out that this is a compromise, rather than holding firm what Christianity has always taught.

Your objections would still apply to that position, but it couldn't fairly be equated to advocating "free availability of cocaine" or the other extreme comparisons you've drawn.

The degree may be different but the libertarian principle is the same: something is widespread and so we take the view that it must be okay. Instead of "might makes right," instead we have "frequency and commonness makes right." These are not Christian principles, and I think you know this as well as I do.

So clearly Dobson (or at least ministries associated with him) do view "habitual" masturbation as problematic, and are willing to speak against it. That's more moderate than the Catholic position, admittedly, but is nonetheless not quite the same thing as "calling evil good". 

I'd like to learn more detail, if for no other reason than my great respect for Dr. Dobson. As for "calling evil good," if we fail to say that God condemns some sin as wrong, and water it down, and in fact, deliberately refuse to say it (and perhaps assert the contrary), then I don't see much difference. It is a sea change. We don't talk this way about other sins. I'm sure Dobson doesn't advocate fornication and cohabitation. Those sins are extremely common today, even among Christians, so by his reasoning regarding contraception, he would have to also say (it seems to me) that we should refrain from telling the fornicators that they are in grave sin. What's the difference? In fact, by his own reasoning elsewhere, if pornography leads to fornication or masturbation, then it is quite likely that masturbation would lead further to fornication (or adultery, as the case may be), due to the progressive nature of sexual desire (and particularly that desire gone awry). It just doesn't add up.

(After all, it's not as if he's actively encouraging it on any level.)

I don't know. I was careful to state his position in the "negative" fashion that you noted, rather than call him an "advocate." So far, I am going by vague comments in a video, but I know that a friend of ours saw comments in a book, too, and was disappointed because he was teaching his almost-teen son about sexuality and ran across this compromise.

From the standpoint of logical consistency, of course, the Protestant position on contraception really isn't compatible with any absolute opposition to masturbation in the context of a single act, but only with opposition to its inclusion in addictive behavior patterns.

This shows two things:

1) the slippery slope of the game of denying traditional Christian ethical standpoints;

2) inconsistency once again, because if we overcome addiction to nicotine or alcohol or cocaine or heroin or pornography by going cold turkey, why should we think that masturbation (itself highly prone to addiction) should be any different?

So we get completely away from the flame in the other instances, but we keep it at a medium-low flame in this one? That makes no sense. It is literally non sense. All of this madness presupposes (at some level —or, I should probably say, reduces to, once scrutinized) the libertarian mentality and lie that "doing this little thing with your own body hurts neither yourself not anyone else." Well, hogwash (and I almost used another quite appropriate term for this sort of outlook).

If Dobson did take the classical Catholic position, you'd instead be after him for being logically inconsistent with respect to refusing to condemn artificial contraceptives— and you'd have a perfectly good argument to make.

I wouldn't go after him, but after Protestants in general (as indeed I do). My wife and I were victims of this "anti-traditionalist" sexual compromise, too. We used three different forms of contraception in our first six years of marriage. We (in all likelihood) killed our own children, too, as most birth control pills are abortifacients. We didn't know that. We would have stopped using at least the Pill if we had known this fact (after all, we were pro-life activists, and would have been utterly repulsed at the thought of participating in the culture of death like that).

Incidentally, there is some precedent in Christian tradition for Dobson's approach. Medieval guidelines for the penances applied for masturbation were the most severe for men over 20, were more moderate for teenagers, and were relatively mild for boys younger than 14. This seems sensible to me, inasmuch as the motivations for masturbation at a young age are more likely to involve sexual curiosity than entrenched lust— and since young boys are unable to be married, neither is there any sense that the masturbation is "displacing" a more valid expression of sexuality. It might still be ethically preferrable to avoid autoerotic behaviors entirely, of course, but I don't see the basis for elevating every form of premarital sexual self-exploration to a "mortal sin". Here is what the CCC has to say on the subject:

"By masturbation is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure. "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."[137] "The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose." For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of "the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved."[138]

To form an equitable judgment about the subjects' moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety, or other psychological or social factors that lessen or even extenuate moral culpability. "

You appear not to grasp the distinction between subjective culpability and objective gravity of the sin (though I may be misunderstanding you). The former doesn't affect the latter in the least. It is, of course, true, that there are all sorts of factors affecting individual culpability, as you note, through the CCC. People are so ignorant today that they very often can't be in mortal sin by definition because that requires three conditions being met:

1) Sufficient knowledge
2) Grave matter
3) Full consent of the will

Ignorance and disinformation abounds (#1); people don't know or understand the teaching in the first place (let alone the reasons behind it — #2), and addictive behaviors and other psychological factors affect consent (#3). None of this, however, affects the graveness of the thing itself, which is, as CCC states, "an intrinsically and gravely disordered action."

I often have trouble decoding the CCC, but I assume that the references to "affective immaturity" and "force of acquired habit" are not too far removed from the distinctions that Dobson would draw. For Dobson, I assume that the distinction would be between "minor sin" and "not a sin at all", as opposed to Catholics who would be distinguishing only between "mortal" and "venial", with an overall affirmation of basic sinfulness. But Dobson's methodology, that a certain dispensation toward tolerance must be granted to younger persons who are still confused by their emergent sexuality, strikes me as a useful pastoral principle.

It's fundamentally different, because pastoral understanding and mercy depending on age, circumstances, one's background, etc., are one thing, but flat-out denying the wrongness and immorality of the act is another altogether. Once you hold that it ceases being a sin based on circumstance, then you are right smack dab in the middle of situation ethics and ethical relativism (I know: the dreaded word). Dobson said it himself: he would not tell a teenager that God thinks masturbation is a sin.

So what is next? Fornication becomes "not a sin at all" if a young person is screwed-up enough or abused by their parents or had lots of tragedy in their lives? Let them go at it, because now it is no longer wrong? C'mon! All of this is utterly obvious, as far as I am concerned. If one didn't believe that masturbation was wrong, one could still point out that the reason Dobson gives for not opposing it is fallacious, inconsistent, and smacking far too much of libertarian compromise with the spirit of the age. And one could contend that it is inconsistent with his other positions. Inconsistency ought to be closely examined, because it usually indicates a serious flaw in premises or reasoning, somewhere. It's a warning signal.

Oh, and if you really had the discipline to go all the way until your wedding night before having your first sexual climax, then I have to admit that I'm quite impressed (and more than a little jealous). Given the extent to which America media audiences are bombarded with sexual messages and imagery, I would imagine that this has grown much rarer in the last century. Some people are just more suspectible to some sins than others, and apparently you've been granted an unusual resistance to lust. You should feel very grateful to God for that gift, and make sure it doesn't lead you to excessively harsh condemnations of those not similarly blessed.

Certainly it is all God's grace. Let's get this straight, for the record: I am no "sexual saint." I have succumbed to tremendous amounts of lustfulness, as my besetting sin, for over thirty years (only in the last few years is it thankfully receding, due — I presume — to the age I am now: 45). Lust is an interior sin, and it is just as serious (according to Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount) as the outward acts. So I am not excused from my considerable share of "the blame" in this area. I was simply citing my own experience as an exception to Dobson's claim (echoed by a commenter here) that virtually 100% of boys growing up masturbate. And if that was true for me (given my propensity for lustfulness all those years), then I am absolutely positive that there are many many more, because if I could do it (by God's grace), then others can, too.

I was also a virgin when I got married at age 26 (as was my wife), so that is possible, too. This is purely God's grace. I don't want anyone getting ridiculous, thinking this was my doing, or somehow to my (or my wife's) great credit. I could no longer do that on my own than I could swim the Atlantic. The interesting thing to me about all that is that for many years (till 18) I wasn't following Christianity at all, to speak of. And then even for three years after I converted to evangelical Protestantism, I was compromised in my sexual views. If I had had a chance to have sex, I would have, during those years (another long story: has to do with my sensitivity, extreme selectivity in choosing girlfriends, etc. — but my "stubbornness" and "perfectionism" paid off in the end as I have been very happily married for 20 years).

From this, I deduce two things (at least as applicable to myself): 1) grace is given even to those not following Christ, and 2) it is often given outside formal sacraments (this is all good Catholic theology). The only sacrament I had (according to Catholic criteria) was baptism. I didn't have the spiritual benefits of the Eucharist or confession (nor did I believe in either one in the Catholic sense. I was very unsacramental as a Protestant (I was closest to the free will Baptist position). But I was able to hold to this traditional sexual morality. And knowing myself very well, I know it wasn't me. This was God's grace. And I wish to give testimony to it. To God be all the praise and glory.

What God commands, He gives the power to carry out; even with regard to the most extremely difficult issues of sexual abstinence. C.S. Lewis said that the people who really know the power of the devil and temptation are the ones who resist the devil and immorality. This is true particularly in sexual matters. I came to my view that fornication was wrong in the middle of 1980, at age 22 and after three years of evangelicalism. I also knew it instinctively as a child (after I knew the facts of life, of course). But we all know how that can be thrown out the window, don't we?

God lets us know on the inside that something is wrong, but if we refuse to listen to His voice, that can all be discarded with frightening rapidity with the onset of puberty and the emotional, social, and hormonal onslaught of adolescence. Basically, then, I was a sexual liberal in my beliefs (though not practice) throughout the entire 70s.

Once I came to my present views (excepting contraception) in 1980, I still had four years to go till I was married in October 1984 (ages 22-26). Now, if someone wants to understand the power of temptation, try being madly in love with your future wife and not having sex! This was absolutely the most difficult thing I've ever done in my life. But we DID it. And we did because we knew it was right and we knew that God enabled sinners to do what He commands them to do (also the fact that we BOTH believed the same thing, and so could help each other. This is crucial, too). Other than that, forget it! Kiss any resolve goodbye. Our saving grace was that this intense period was for only seven months, because we had been best friends for at least a year previously, and then felt that we were moving into a serious relationship leading to inevitable marriage (else why switch from the existing platonic friendship?).

This was BY FAR my greatest struggle with temptation in my entire committed Christian life (now spanning 27 or 24 years, depending on definition). The trouble today is that people have bought the lie that it is impossible to carry out these difficult ideals of the Christian life (even with God's grace). So they give up. But I think that if people would deepen their trust in God and trust in faith that He knows what He is talking about when He makes His commands, and that He has granted the Church wisdom in proclaiming it, that it would be much different. People have to be willing to follow God and to carry their cross and to take the hard road where necessary. Christianity is not easy. Probably the hardest thing in it is its sexual morality (along with forgiving one's enemies). But faith means trusting that God can enable you to do all this hard stuff.

I didn't mean to get into all that, but I'm confident that readers can see my overall point in all this: trust God and you can DO this. Don't accept the lies of our age. Something can be both very difficult and also attainable; able to be accomplished by the grace of God. With God all things are possible (no?). We claim to have faith and belief in God, yet we will compromise with very little provocation. We don't believe He can give us the grace to persevere. Nor do we believe that we can be restored if we fall (as we all do, in one way or another). The devil gets in there and starts the condemnation trip, then: "God won't forgive YOU, you miserable, worthless hypocrite. Who do you think YOU are, thinking you have the power to overcome your addiction and sin?"

I again contend that Dr. Dobson has compromised on this issue. Masturbation is a dead-end. Nothing good can come of it. I don't wish to comment further on that (others have been doing an eloquent job), but I am asserting the general proposition that God knew what He was doing when He designed sex and made all the "rules" about it, and that if a person follows the guidelines and endures the titanic struggle he or she will be rewarded in the end. I can guarantee that. It works. To the singles out there: abstain from sex before marriage. It may be (if you're anything like me) the most difficult thing you ever do in your life, but you will be rewarded a hundred times over, with a happy, fulfilling marriage (and yes, generally even secular researchers are finding that married sex between those who abstain prior to marriage is more fulfilling and pleasurable than for those who did not and who slept around. Committed Christians are more sexually-fulfilled than the wild free love hedonists. It's true, and sociology has proven it).

The current sexual ethic has not produced the paradise and Utopia that all the "enlightened" sexual liberals in the 60s were "sure" would come to pass. That much is utterly obvious, so I won't belabor it.

Thanks for reading! Sorry foe the length. I'm really trying to cut down!


The key distinction is subjective culpability vs. objective seriousness of a sin. I think you guys have to ask yourselves why the Christian Church was against contraception and masturbation all those long centuries? Was it because they were "puritanistic" or "sexually-repressed", etc. (i.e., the often self-serving stereotype and caricature), or because they were really onto something and perhaps more in tune with God than we are today?

If you want to defend these two practices, then do it (I'm all ears). It can't be done by simply picking at the Catholic system of mortal and venial sins and confession. You need to look at psychological and sociological data, consider the connection between abortion and contraception, and between masturbation and impure sexual fantasies or pornography, or as related to how one relates to a future spouse. Those are the important things here.

We don't say someone is going to hell. We don't claim to know that. The Catholic Church hasn't even said (to my knowledge) that Judas is in hell. As I have pointed out many times, it is, rather, a certain kind of Protestant (especially some Calvinists) who gets into that (I know you are not among them). They send to hell all Catholics, or all who haven't physically heard the gospel, or those who are into some serious sin, when formerly they were ostensibly a good Protestant Christian (or — in extreme scenarios — even Arminian Protestants). For these guys, Catholics engage in idolatry and blasphemy every Sunday, and (acc. to the Westminster Confession) follow the antichrist. Where is the intolerance and "puritanism" here?

So why are you (and Sogn) critiquing us for this? We don't do it. All we're saying is that we refuse to yield up intrinsically disordered and grave sins to the zeitgeist, the polls, or the latest issue of Psychology Today (or Time).

I'm no expert on moral theology or on what might be called "pastoral or spiritual theology" (though moral theology played a key role in my conversion). My job as an apologist is to examine the reasons for why we believe as we do. To examine all the particular cases of how "culpable" an individual is, is an entirely different endeavor, and is as complex as the differing degrees of guilt in a criminal trial. it is hardly even appropriate to discuss in this venue and format, because by its very nature (like annulments) it is highly individualized and not given to generalization.

The bottom line (ethically, which is how I am approaching this) is what is right and wrong, and does it remain so, once it is determined that it is wrong, or does it shift according to the times and fads and whims and fancies and how prevalent a behavior is becoming in a sitcom or a dope opera or on Jerry Springer? If you think masturbation is so wonderful, by all means, make your case, and I will interact with you.

In the meantime, I would agree with you (you basically provided your own answers) that much teen sex falls short of subjectively mortal sin. That doesn't mean that the sin itself is any less grave or that we stop in any way warning them about the gravity of the situation and the peril not only to their future married lives but to their mortal souls.

This is what I don't buy. You seem to be insinuating that because there are many "loopholes" and excuses and extenuating circumstances on a variety of levels with these sexual sins, that therefore, we somehow can conclude that sin isn't sin, or that we can wink at it and be unconcerned with the massive personal and societal consequences that all sin has. "Let 'em sow their wild oats," etc.

This is the premise which I attacked (as a good socratic) in Dobson's stance, and in yours. This is the bottom line, as I see it, and what needs to be argued. If it's wrong, then it cannot be justified. We can have all the mercy and understanding in the world towards individuals (and I try my best to do that — I may sound "judgmental" in certain of my writings, but I am not at all like that in person), but sin is sin, and we cannot compromise in describing it as such.

If it is right, on the other hand, then I need to hear from you why you think so, and how it is that you can so easily dismiss overwhelming Christian precedent.


I'm aware that the Sacraments do not "bind" God, in the sense of restricting the possibility of other avenues of divine grace. But I was under the impression that Catholicism viewed the provision of extrasacramental grace as being triggered only by a status of non-willful ignorance— analogous to the possibility of salvation outside the visible Church being accomplished on account of "invincible" ignorance.

It's not all simply ignorance. There are many avenues of grace, and they are not restricted to the sacraments, which we consider the "ordinary and normative, but not exclusive" means of grace. Besides, we believe that everyone who was baptized with a trinitarian formula was regenerated or born again by virtue of that and received a number of spiritual benefits therein. This occurs ex opere operato. We believe that all married Protestants have received the sacrament of matrimony, just as Catholics have.

I suppose you are probably right to say that it would be "presumptuous" for a Catholic to act as if God was obligated to save anyone outside of the sacramental system— but rather than this being directed as a criticism against Protestants (who aren't really "presuming", in the sense that they don't believe Catholicism to be true to begin with), it seems to me that the greater "presumption" is on the part of Catholics who are supposing that God will routinely elect to save, by means of extra-sacramental grace, large numbers of Protestants who are committing mortal sin.

I don't know who God will save or not. That is not my concern, but His. I can share what I feel I have received from Him, but it's His job, and He is a merciful and just judge (unlike most of us fallen human beings). Isn't it wonderful that God decides, and not us?

But I do know what has been considered sin throughout Christian history, and I know that sins don't disappear in proportion to how many people are committing them. MY job is to point out what we think is sin, and why we think so. If I am correct, I have helped aid people in arriving at a fuller understanding of Christian and Catholic moral teaching. If I am wrong, I haven't really hurt anyone (I might get regarded as puritanistic or merciless — as we see in Sogn's rhetoric —; well, that's a price I am fully willing to pay, if I can proclaim these truths for the sake of souls). It'll all come out in the end who was being merciful and who was indeed following God's true teaching, when all things are revealed. I'm just trying to do the best I can while on this earth.

The debate over masturbation, so far as I can tell, is that most Protestants believe is a minor failing, though still something to be avoided, while Catholics believe it is a serious (mortal) sin.

Once you allow it at all as a moral option or an excusable one, then you have already taken the most dangerous step. Human nature will always create a slippery slope. This is especially true in sexual matters. Do you think it is just a coincidence that the most popular posts I have done so far (judging by response) are on the topics of contraception, abortion, and masturbation? It's always this way. It is always the sexual issues. What do the Catholic liberals continually carp about? Contraception, divorce, priestly celibacy . . .

But it also seems like Catholics also believe that, of the millions of persons who are masturbating without confessing it (sacramentally), virtually none of them will actually be damned. I would argue that the reason why Catholics believe this about masturbation (as opposed to, say, mass murderers or rapists) is that Catholics are quietly aware of exactly the sort of mitigating factors that Protestants are appealing to more directly, in downgrading it to a more minor sin.

Dobson didn't do that. Rather, he said that he would allow the practice. You can't sanction a practice if you think it is a sin (unless you are a "moral schizophrenic").

So Catholics believe that it's a major (mortal) sin that God will routinely opt to treat as if it were a minor (venial) sin,

That's not true. It is an intrinsically disordered, grave sin (just as sodomy or fornication or adultery are). It's not "routinely" treated as a venial sin (which is contradictory), but rather, the subjective culpability is examined, according to the times we live in and how people are affected by the mass defection in sexual matters from moral sanity and Christian tradition. That's why we allow for human weakness, but we don't compromise our doctrine because of the weakness (which is what Dobson and you and many Protestants seem to be doing).

whereas Protestants just conclude it's a minor sin without making an intermediate appeal to discretionary mercy.

Luther didn't think so. Calvin didn't think so. Why do you think it changed so radically? Because we are so much "smarter" and "progressive" now?

I think this is a case where the two positions aren't quite as far apart as the rhetoric suggests, at least on a practical level. On balance, both traditions agree that the effect of masturbation and sexual fantasy is to cause some amount of personal spiritual harm to oneself, but probably not to result in the loss of salvation, or to create a "social debt" that requires concrete restitution. I still think Dave's comparison to championing "free availability of cocaine and heroin" is an overheated one.

You've hardly dealt with my analogical arguments. Rather, you move on to something else. You see the word "cocaine" and get all shocked and alarmed, yet seem to miss the direct analogy I was trying to draw. You haven't shown me that Dobson is making any sense. And if I find a quote of his saying something definite, you may have to revise your position of what he is advocating, even if only by default.

To the contrary, I worry that Dave is granting too much credibility to the argument made by some gay rights activists (such as Andrew Sullivan) that since— as per the Luther quote— masturbation is effectively "sodomy", and society is indifferent to widespread masturbation, then society ought to be similarly disposed toward homosexuality.

I don't read Sullivan. I'm making my own arguments. But sure, he is "right" if secular society is to be consistent. If the idea is to attain sexual fulfillment no matter how, and to hell with Christian sexually-repressed morality, then I see no difference. The ontological and spiritual elements of sexuality have been removed. It is simply about rubbing body parts together and getting off on it. It has no meaning other than sense gratification. The homosexuals can argue that they have committed relationships, and so forth (yeah, I know most homosexuals have only one partner their whole life. Yeah, right. And I am the man in the moon), but that doesn't apply to masturbation, which amounts to an infantile self-gratification.

The Catholic position is that both are intrinsically disordered. They are non-procreative and abnormal sexual acts, because sexuality (like marriage) was designed by God to be between a man and a woman in a committed marriage relationship, and its deepest (but not sole) purpose is procreation.

Asserting that "every sexual sin carries the same gravity as every other sexual sin" is not an argument that will likely result in Protestants resolving the inconsistency by becoming more intolerant of masturbation, but by becoming more tolerant of homosexuality. I think Dave ought to be more careful about conflating sexual pathologies that have more overt sociological consequences with those that don't.

You're just talking past my analogical critique of Dobson. I await your counter-replies to my analogies. For now, I'm not at all sure that you even understood my reasoning. We border perilously on mutual monologue. Basically, you're not interacting with my argument, but only talking "about" it without making an argument. There is a vast difference between the two scenarios.

There are important distinctions of degree that ought to be respected rather than trivialized—
Case in point. What you see as "trivializing," I see as exactly to the point and crucial to the entire discussion, because it gets down to premises.

just as I'm not convinced that it's helpful, even assuming the Catholic position that contraception is immoral, to classify contraception together with abortion as if they both raised issues of comparable enormity.

The two are connected in many ways. There are differences to be drawn, sure (abortion is a far greater evil, I would say). But there is a connection.

;I actually think you have a good point in saying that being intrinsically grave is not the same thing as being intrinsically mortal, and that this might be a sensible solution to the intuitive implausibility of the idea of masturbation being grouped with rape, murder, etc. Everyone knows those other things are deeply evil on the basis of the witness of conscience, whereas the case against masturbation is a more technical one.

You need to ponder what "intrinsically disordered" means. If every time I met someone I immediately put my big toe in their nose, that would be "intrinsically disordered" would it not? If I put dog feces in the mouth of a girl as soon as I started to like her, that would be equally disordered. Now you will say I am making absurd exaggerations, and getting extreme (as is your wont). But exaggerations are necessary (sometimes to the point of shock) to make a point when someone doesn't get the point being made. And that point is this: some things are wrong in the nature of things, and contrary to God's will.

This is how we view masturbation and contraception and sodomy and fornication and any other grave sin. We arrive at these judgments based on revelation, Christian tradition, human experience, sociological and scientific and anthropological data, philosophizing, etc. And we know things from natural law and moral intuition and instinct, and how we feel after we do them (a little phenomenon called "guilt" that our society comprehends less and less these days). But we can unlearn these things, too.

Now note that being intrinsically disordered does not translate into "being equally serious and damning sins." Putting a big toe in someone's nose is not exactly on the same level as slashing their throat or cutting off their nose. Any sane, rational person understands that. So we don't need to argue it. On the scale of things in that light, masturbation is pretty "high." But that makes it no less wrong or disordered or abnormal or contrary to God's will and design for sexuality.

I want to know: do you think it is wrong and disordered or not? Just a yes or no will suffice: not six paragraphs of angels dancing on pins and hairsplitting distinctions.

>So what we really have is a case where a sin is universally grave but usually not mortal on account of near universal defects in "knowledge". I'm still not sure that this helps me much, since I don't think I suffer from any lack of knowledge, but that's already a problem that I've raised in the context of salvation outside the Church. It seems like the more I learn during interconfessional debates, the more culpable I ought to become for my own ignorance.

It depends on whether you accept the validity of the Catholic position or not. If you fully understand it, know it is true, and then willfully reject it, with full knowledge, and full consent of the will, in a grave matter, then you are culpable. I have no idea where you are at on that scale and wouldn't presume to judge. I only know that you are either overlooking, or not comprehending my original argument vis-a-vis Dr. Dobson. That's my primary interest here, not how close to the truth you may be on this or that issue. You want to make this a personal thing. For my part, I am strictly talking about Christian ethics.

To the extent that the obligation to join the Catholic Church will ever deny salvation to any Protestants, I guess it will only affect well-educated Protestants who are familiar with authentic Catholic teaching. I guess it seems like this is another example of the same principle at work. Which still appears to me to be a perverse effect of Protestant-Catholic dialogue.

Why should you care so much about it? If you don't accept our view on this "salvation outside the Church" business, then just ignore it and talk about something else. Why are you so troubled about it, and why do you keep shifting the discussion towards the personal rather than the abstract?

Really, I see the state of modern evangelicalism as more of a counterexample to slippery slope arguments than a manifestation of them. Is there any evidence that the tolerance of evangelicals toward contraception has caused a drift toward a pro-abortion stance generally,

Absolutely. Just look at how one denomination after another caved on abortion. That all started with caving on contraception first (Anglicans, 1930). The two go hand in hand in that mentality, because it is seen that it is "control of one's own body." Even if this goes contrary to God's will, the person doesn't care. They will do what they wish. It is known, furthermore, that abortion follows legally upon the heels of liberalized contraception laws. This was very much the case in the US. First, they had to get rid of Griswold (v. Connecticut, I think it was), in 1965. Legal abortion was arguably inevitable after that, given the increasing availability of contraceptives, feminism, and the sexual revolution.

or that tolerating masturbation is causing greater tolerance of homosexuality.

I don't know if that follows, but it was not my argument in any event. I suggest you go read that again, as you keep drifting further and further away from it.

As usual, I think this is a case where Dave thinks the slope ought to be slippery, but in practical terms it is showing far more friction than the abstracted argument would imply. Which, to me, is a reason to distrust the abstracted argument, and conclude that the slope isn't so slippery after all.

I see. Well, you can think whatever you like, of course, but I want to see you argue your points and attempt to refute mine, rather than continually describe it (or what you mistakenly _think is my position). I am still awaiting that. And that is very "Armstrongian" rhetoric indeed!


I found an excerpt of Dr. Dobson discussing pornography:

Taken from Bringing up Boys by Dr. James Dobson, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

"Many, perhaps the majority of young adolescents exposed to pornography magazines or who watch obscene videos will develop full-blown addictions to smut. It is a huge cultural problem. …
"This pattern [of pornography addiction] is responsible for untold numbers of divorces and dysfunctional marriages. I know this is true because I hear almost every day from women whose husbands are heavily involved with pornography. Availability of the Internet has increased the incidence of this tragedy immeasurably.

" … Selling sex to our children makes a lot of money for a lot of businesses. There’s one reason why we live in the most promiscuous nation on the face of the earth. There’s one reason why we allow sex to be sold to our children: money.

" The results are horrifying. "We live in the midst of an epidemic of diseases, bacteria and viruses which are making their way up to the beautiful and tender reproductive tracts of our children and strangling them towards infertility and cancer and threatening their very lives. …”


I found some solid documentation on this, from one of Dr. Dobson's books. This page is no longer available on the Internet (unless the URL was changed); suggesting that controversy caused the FOTF folks to remove it. But I found it on the good ole Internet Archive.

Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide

My thirteen-year-old son is in the full bloom of adolescence. I'm suspicious that he may be masturbating when he's alone, but I don't quite know how to approach him about it. Should I be concerned, and if so, what should I say to him?

Dr. Dobson Responds:

I don't think you should invade that private world at all unless there are unique circumstances that lead you to do so. I offer that advice while acknowledging that masturbation is a highly controversial subject and Christian leaders differ widely in their perspectives on it. I will answer your question but hope you understand that some Bible scholars will disagree emphatically with what I will say.

First, let's consider masturbation from a medical perspective. We can say without fear of contradiction that there is no scientific evidence to indicate that this act is harmful to the body. Despite terrifying warnings given to young people historically, it does not cause blindness, weakness, mental retardation, or any other physical problem. If it did, the entire male population and about half of females would be blind, weak, simpleminded, and sick. Between 95 and 98 percent of all boys engage in this practice — and the rest have been known to lie. It is as close to being a universal behavior as is likely to occur. A lesser but still significant percentage of girls also engage in what was once called "self-gratification."

As for the emotional consequences of masturbation, only four circumstances should give us cause for concern. The first is when it is associated with oppressive guilt from which the individual can't escape. That guilt has the potential to do considerable psychological and spiritual damage. Boys and girls who labor under divine condemnation can gradually become convinced that even God couldn't love them. They promise a thousand times with great sincerity never again to commit this despicable act. Then a week or two passes, or perhaps several months. Eventually, the hormonal pressure accumulates until nearly every waking moment reverberates with sexual desire. Finally, in a moment (and I do mean a moment) of weakness, it happens again. What then, dear friend? Tell me what a young person says to God after he or she has just broken the one thousand first solemn promise to Him? I am convinced that some teenagers have thrown over their faith because of their inability to please God at this point of masturbation.

The second circumstance in which masturbation might have harmful implications is when it becomes extremely obsessive. That is more likely to occur when it has been understood by the individual to be "forbidden fruit." I believe the best way to prevent that kind of obsessive response is for adults not to emphasize or condemn it. Regardless of what you do, you will not stop the practice of masturbation in your teenagers. That is a certainty. You'll just drive it underground — or under covers. Nothing works as a "cure." Cold showers, lots of exercise, many activities, and awesome threats are ineffective. Attempting to suppress this act is one campaign that is destined to fail—so why wage it?

The third situation around which we should be concerned is when the young person becomes addicted to pornographic material. The kind of obscenity available to teenagers today has the capacity to grab and hold a boy for the rest of his life. Parents will want to intervene if there is evidence that their son or daughter is heading down that well-worn path.

The fourth concern about masturbation refers not to adolescents but to us as adults. This habit has the capacity to follow us into marriage and become a substitution for healthy sexual relations between a husband and wife. This, I believe, is what the apostle Paul meant when he instructed us not to "deprive" one another as marital partners: "Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control" (1 Corinthians 7:5).

As for the spiritual implications of masturbation, I will have to defer to the theologians for a more definitive response. It is interesting to me, however, that Scripture does not address this subject except for a single reference in the Old Testament to a man named Onan. He interrupted sexual intercourse with his sister-in-law and allowed his semen to fall on the ground to keep from producing offspring for his brother, which was his "duty" (Genesis 38:8). Though that verse is often cited as evidence of God's disapproval of masturbation, the context doesn't seem to fit.

So, what should parents say to their kids about this subject? My advice is to say nothing after puberty has occurred. You will only cause embarrassment and discomfort. For those who are younger, it would be wise to include the subject of masturbation in the "Preparing for Adolescence" conversation I have recommended on other occasions. I would suggest that parents talk to their twelve- or thirteen-year-old boys, especially, in the same general way my mother and father discussed this subject with me. We were riding in the car, and my dad said, "Jim, when I was a boy, I worried so much about masturbation. It really became a scary thing for me because I thought God was condemning me for what I couldn't help. So I'm telling you now that I hope you don't feel the need to engage in this act when you reach the teen years, but if you do, you shouldn't be too concerned about it. I don't believe it has much to do with your relationship with God."

What a kind thing my father did for me that night in the car. He was a very conservative minister who never compromised his standards of morality to the day of his death. He stood like a rock for biblical principles and commandments. Yet he cared enough about me to lift from my shoulders the burden of guilt that nearly destroyed some of my friends in the church. This kind of "reasonable" faith taught to me by my parents is one of the primary reasons I never felt it necessary to rebel against parental authority or defy God. Well, those are my views, for what they are worth. I know my recommendations will be inflammatory to some people. If you are one of them, please forgive me. I can only offer the best advice of which I'm capable. I pray that in this instance, I am right.

The entire Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide is available at Focus on the Family's Online Resource Center.

Dr. James Dobson is president and founder of Focus on the Family.

This article was excerpted from Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide by Dr. James Dobson with the permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2000 by James Dobson, Inc. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

See link.


Here's another article on Dobson, where it quotes him, saying:

His counsel on masturbation: "Attempting to suppress this act is one campaign that is destined to fail—so why wage it?" Of course God wouldn't do that and of course Catholics don't believe such a ridiculous thing. So this is neither here not there. If one truly "can't help" doing something (and God knows whether that is true or not), then it can't possibly be a mortal sin because the condition of "full consent of the will" has not been met. Therefore, mortal sin has not occurred and the person is not worthy of damnation. "Conservative" Protestants argue on other (IMO, much more questionable and biblically challenged) grounds. They may say the existence of the sin proves the person isn't following God or "born again" or "saved" or what not, so that he will go to hell on those grounds.

I don't know whether to laugh or cry at the following. Even advocates of this sin can't escape from the self-reports of those who practice it, and their powers of rationalization are unequal to the task:

"After I'm done masturbating I usually feel guilty and don't know why. I know that almost 95% of all men do it, but I still feel guilty. It's like I'm hiding something."

[age 12, Canada]

"How come whenever I'm done masturbating, I feel like I was being stupid and have the urge to put on my clothes immediately?"

[age 14, New York]

[Then the "expert" chimes in]

"That is an extremely common reaction, and it's almost certainly physiological (i.e., physical rather than mental) in origin. For most guys, something just shuts their brain off to sex when they're done ejaculating. For many, this manifests itself in the form of guilt — that you were 'being stupid' (as you put it), or they ask themselves, 'Why did I just do that?' This is all normal, and you'll probably outgrow it as you get older. Some males find less problem with the feelings of guilt if they only masturbate before they go to sleep at night. That way, the body and mind has many hours to chill out before tackling the outside world again."

[and then we are given the testimony of one more poor miserable soul who can't stop his addicting sin because — in all likelihood — no one has the guts to tell him the truth about it]

"Why can't I stop masturbating? If I could go back 2 years, I would not have started to masturbate in the first place. First, I feel guilty. Second, it now takes up a lot of my time. Third, I don't think it has benefited me in any way — it has just made me less pure. I think masturbation is a waste of my time. I don't even really enjoy it, and I feel miserable afterwards. Why the heck can't I stop masturbating?"

[age 17, Nova Scotia, Canada]

The page then sends readers to Dobson's advice on the page I have already cited above.

See link.

And here is an article on

What to Say about Masturbation
Like it or not, if your child has reached middle school it won’t be long before you’ll be faced with the uncomfortable subject of masturbation.

Studies show that most teenagers masturbate. "It is beyond question that the majority of teenage boys masturbate at least occasionally," note Brenna and Stan Jones in their book How and When to Tell Your Kids about Sex (NavPress). The same can be said for girls. In fact, experts believe adolescents are far more likely to masturbate than to become sexually involved. Yet, while many Christian parents have made their peace with talking to their kids about sex and virginity, they often don’t know how to address the more widespread phenomenon of masturbation.

Christian parents should be aware that the Bible has remarkably little to say about masturbation. Some point to Genesis 38:9-10 where Onan is struck down by God because he "spilled his semen on the ground." But in this instance, Onan was not masturbating but practicing a form of birth control known as coitus interruptus. His selfish and deliberate refusal to provide a family for his widowed sister-in-law was considered "wicked in the Lord’s sight."

[that was discussed on this blog at great length — see the link on the sidebar, near the bottom]

In his classic parenting book Preparing for Adolescence (Tyndale), Dr. James Dobson said, "It is my opinion that masturbation is not much of an issue with God. It’s a normal part of adolescence … and Jesus did not mention it in the Bible." [pp. 86-87] To those kids who do to masturbate, Dobson says, "You should not struggle with guilt over it."

If you learn your child is masturbating, don’t panic. Instead, use the opportunity to open a discussion about sex and sexual desire. Being careful not to make him or her feel guilty or more embarrassed, explain to your child that we all have sexual feelings—sometimes intense—and those feelings are a sign that your son or daughter is nearing adulthood.

While masturbation itself might not be a sin, it can involve other worrisome practices. First, masturbation is often accompanied by lust, which Jesus compared to the sin of adultery (Matt. 5:27, 28). Second, teens need to understand that God created sex to be shared by two married people. It’s an act of love. Masturbation, however, is a solitary act, and therefore less than what God wants for us. Finally, help your teen understand that masturbation can sometimes become a consuming habit.

In their book Facing the Facts (NavPress), Stan and Brenna Jones remind adolescents that masturbation is only a small glimpse of what God has planned for their future sexual pleasure.

"Masturbation is surely not the full blessing God wants for our sexuality," they write. "Maybe one reason so many people have confused feelings about masturbation is that it falls short of what God intended for our bodies and feelings."

—Lauren Winner
Writer, doctoral candidate

See link.


Another Protestant site gets it right in responding biblically to Dr. Dobson's view:

"Dobson tells us that masturbation is a harmless inevitability. He could scarcely do otherwise and avoid being a laughingstock among his professional peers. Yet what does Jesus mean when He says that lust must be overcome, even if by removing an eye or cutting off a hand (Matt. 5:28-30)? Although He may not be alluding primarily to masturbation, the passage as a whole clearly condemns any thought or action proceeding from adultery in the heart. A leading concern of Scripture here and elsewhere (1 Thess. 4:3-8; 1 Cor. 6:13-20) is to defend marriage from all rival uses of male sexuality. Masturbation by unmarried boys is one objectionable use because it may foment desire for sexual experience prior to lawful marriage, or corrupt the patient seeking of God's will concerning a marriage partner, or even produce lifelong habits of fantasy and autoeroticism that to some extent take the place of conjugal love (1 Cor. 7:4). Even if masturbation leads to nothing worse, the practice still must be recognized as a sin disallowed by the Biblical standard of absolute purity (Eph. 5:3; 1 Tim. 5:2).

"Dobson is afraid of the destructive consequences of guilt arising from repeated failure in self-control. But any suggestion that a young man should seek freedom from guilt somewhat redirects him from his main goal, according to Scripture, which is freedom from sin (1 John 2:14; Psa. 119:9). It is the destructive consequences of sin that should be feared, and guilt (though sometimes unprofitable) is merely the sign that warns of sin's presence. In minds dulled by modern values, guilt is falsely perceived as the great villain that robs men of easy happiness. But the Christian life does not offer that kind of happiness, always smooth and smiling. Dobson's recall of his own Christian life as an unbroken span of untroubled years is entirely discordant with the experience of others and with the pictures of righteous living found in the Scripture (see Psalms 34 and 73)."

Here's a sensible website which makes the connection between masturbation, pornography, and sexual addiction, and shows how destructive they can be to relationships.

An entire book, entitled, The Most Personal Addiction: How I Overcame Sex Addiction and How Anyone Can Overcome it, by Joe Zychik, is available online.

The website offers a number of observations as to why Masturbation is both wrong and harmful. The Introduction by Paul Cook reads:

"I've been collecting the information for this page over the past 5 years. I've drawn from a combination of sources, including the Bible, my experience as a former sex addict and correspondence with thousands of people involved in various stages of sex addiction. I honestly have not found one long term benefit of masturbation, yet plenty of reasons to refrain from it. Regardless of whether you are a Christian or not, I encourage you to thoughtfully consider the below points about masturbation and how it affects us."

Elsewhere he wrote:

"Masturbation is often that one topic that people (especially Christians) really don't like to talk about. Having been addicted to masturbation for about 20 years, I know the shame that often accompanies this act. I secretly fantasized about sex with women in porn, at school, work and church, and used masturbation to gratify my lust. Though I knew that I was sinning, I tolerated masturbation and lust as acceptable alternatives to pre-marital sex and adultery. It wasn't long before I was hooked on masturbation. Things changed dramatically when God stepped into my life in 1998 and delivered me from masturbation addiction.

In the months and years following this deliverance, I gained peace in my mind and body that I had never known before. My sexual relationship with my wife improved and my thought-life became less saturated with sex. I no longer felt alienated from God. The difference in my life was incredible and I wrote this study to help others find the same freedom God gave me."

Here's nother discussion between two Christians: "Masturbation and Pornography: Wrong or Not?" offers an article by Donna Rice Hughes (yes, that's the woman who was connected with Gary Hart: she is a Christian activist against pornography now):

Pornography's Progressive Pattern of Addiction

Excerpted in part from Kids Online: Protecting Your Children In Cyberspace
by Donna Rice Hughes (Revell, September 1998)

"Dr. Victor Cline, a clinical psychologist at the University of Utah and a specialist in the area of sexual addictions, has observed a four-step syndrome common to almost all of his clients who have been involved with pornography.

Step 1-Addiction. Once consumers of pornography get hooked, they keep coming back for more and more. The sexually graphic material provides the viewer with an aphrodisiac effect, followed by sexual release, most often through masturbation. Pornography gives the viewer powerful imagery that can be recalled and elaborated on with the person's fantasy life. Despite negative consequences, most addicts are unable to rid themselves of their dependence on pornography. Their addiction rules their lives."

The website offers sexual addiction recovery sources, and a listing of Donna Rice Hughes' many articles about protecting children from pornography.


Ken Wilcox said...

I used to think that this was a sin and suffered great guilt as a result. It did not lead to pornography or fornication but was simply a means of relief for me. In fact it may have prevented me from yielding to the clear sin of fornication.

I guess that I engaged in this activity from around age 12 until I got married when the aactivity was segnificantly reduced. My wife, unfortunately, was not so interested in sex and so I used masturbation to remove some of the pressure between events of making love to her. Now she has suffered prolapse and masturbation is the only way I know to get sexual relief. Sometimes I get her to provide iit for me but this has never been satisfactory for her. She does it reluctantly for me but it is difficult to get her involved regularly. Since my sex drive remains very strong I continue to masturbate to relieve the pressure and temptation to look outside our marriage. I thank Drl Dobson for removing the feelings of guilt for something that I am simply not able to control.

Dave Armstrong said...

We can control anything (by His grace and power) that God commands us not to do: "I can do all things through God who strengthens me." I just put up a post recently showing that Jesus condemned masturbation:

Sin will and can only harm a soul in the long run, not help it. God knows best. He created us, and He knows what truly makes us fulfilled, joyful, and happy. Sin ain't one of the sources for those things! And this is mortal sin in Catholic teaching.

Maroun said...

The end does not justify the mean,we cant do bad things because the end is something good .In your case,the end is to remove the pressure,but the mean which you used is masturbation (bad).So no,you cant do it.
God does not ask the impossible,especially when He also gives help and enough power to help us fulfill what He asked us to do.
You also said , that masturbation (did not lead to pornography or fornication but was simply a means of relief for me. In fact it may have prevented me from yielding to the clear sin of fornication.)
Actually , you probably did in your heart and i will explain...If we take different males,and none of them committed the sin of fornication . The first one did not do it,because he did not have the chance,the second did not do it because he could not,the third did not do it , because he was afraid being discovered , the fourth did not do it because the person with whom he wanted to do it was an honest person . Now the fifth did not do it , because he loves justice and loves God and His laws .
As you can see , for us , all of them did not commit adultery , because we can only see the outside , but for God , only the last one was not a fornicator , because He see`s the heart .
So please do not boast that you did not become a fornicator on the outside because of masturbation .
One more thing Ken .As David told you . You should ask God to help you when you are under pressure and not count on yourself to relief yourself .
(Jer.17:5)Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD.
We should never trust any man , nor ourselves of course,because we are also man . But we must put our trust in God and He will help us.
Please Ken, try to understand that i did not say these things to condemn you , on the contrary . And God bless you .