More on Hefner & Church Chest Pounding

There have been a few reactions, and some big-ministry commentary I found interesting in the wake of Hugh Hefner’s death, so for those of you who have sex all figured out, this might be self-evident, but I’m guessing that Margaret Meade neurosis-free sexuality is just as much in short supply here as it was in Samoa, so here goes..

A good friend of mine, liked my blogs (1 & 2) on the church and Hugh Hefner, but asked this question:

Do you make a distinction between a natural healthy sexual desire for one’s spouse and pure lust? It has been my experience that “lust kills love” as one is purely selfish while the other selfless. Conversely, true love kills lust. I can only find negative examples of lust in the Bible. Can you clarify your meaning?

I tried to answer that as follows:

Good question. I think that “lust” as Christ used it means a kind of predatory, covetous, improper and scheming desire for “she whom you should not have.” Lust understood as “desire” for your mate doesn’t get much description in church, though it’s seen in Song of Solomon and other places and none of us would be here without it. I think a lot of Christian marriage advice starts to sound very weird without understanding that nothing really happens unless we’re sexually “turned on,” and that this emotion may coincide with “love,” but it has its own reality apart from and vital to “love-making.”

The “lust kills love” line deserves another blog or two. It sets up a kind of comic mental teeter-totter, for men at least:  “Oh, wait, my wife is turning me on, and that’s selfish, so,um, let’s think some lovey-dovey thoughts, and now, hmmm.. not too interested in sex, so let me get the desire part going, and oh, shoot, this is starting to feel like lust again, so…”

The “pure and unadulterated” version of “desire,” even with Biblical definitions is not particularly easy to pin down. After all, even the writer of the Proverbs is contemplating, third person, the glorious reality of a “man with a maid.”  The Song of Solomon lovers are inviting us, after all, to contemplate them, to consider the shaking of trees, the feeling of fruit, the whiffing of apple-breath, the supping of belly-goblet wine, the laying betwixt breasts–and all that other good stuff.

When you read some Christian teachers, however, you get the feeling all of these physical goodies are bad just because they’re, well, physical.  “Lust is just a physical emotion that we act upon when we get caught up in the moment,” writes Dawson McCallister of The Hopeline:

“Lust is an intense sexual desire or appetite that is based on self-gratification and has little to do with true feelings for the other person. As someone once said, “Lust is as different from love as night is from day.”

I’m confused. The Song of Solomon lovers were not “caught up in the moment?”  Their experience was not physical? There was absolutely no gratification of dreaded “self” in their hunger for each other?

If you’ve ever wondered why some Christian couples continue to feel guilt in the bedroom, it might just have a great to do with this strange, ascetic, neo-pietistic counseling.

“Something is wrong here,” says holy husband, “I got hard.”
“Oh, dear,” says his lust-free honey, “stop doing that. It feels too good.”

Even stranger than this, however, was a lamentation by DesiringGod co-founder, Jon Bloom, who used the occasion of Hefner’s death to find something evil in the bossa nova song, “Girl from Ipanema.”  Yes.  Really.  Not kidding.

The song is light and breezy and almost sounds innocent. But it’s not. The song is actually a man’s fantasy. The girl he thinks he loves, he knows nothing about. If she turns out to have a lower IQ than he imagines or a serious medical condition, would he still love her? If she heads to the beach daily to escape the sexual molestation of a relative, or suffers from a subtle mental illness, would he still give his heart gladly to her? This girl is not a soul to him; she is a symbol of something he desires and he projects on her a role in a fantasy of his own creation.

As I’ve written, I don’t mind a round condemnation of Hugh Hefner’s pimping, pandering, and prostituting, but when a man can’t behold one of God’s greatest creations, the female form–the pretty girl walking down the street–and sing a love song about it, we really have descended headlong into the parched desert of “taste not, touch not.”  There’s a simple reality that may be too dramatic for some churched people to understand. Open the centerfold, at least figuratively, and remember that the temple itself is not evil because it was compromised. We don’t forego bread because some people are gluttons or wine because some people are drunks. We don’t pretend that we aren’t physical creatures, because some people are nothing but physical.

Jon Bloom graciously complemented me on my “thoughtful” commentary here, but he could not be more wrong about the nature of love, and the beauty of desire. Young men are drawn to young women because of their beauty, and even their own mental projections (their dreams) about the sort of happiness that beauty might bring to their lives. Yes, the nature of relationships deepen as we learn about their low IQ (sorry, Jon’s fear, not mine), and courtship brings dimension to our ugly “male fantasy,” but God made men visual for a reason. Ask Queen Esther about that. Sometimes God’s people are actually set free by a beauty pageant, by the great things men will do to protect their beautiful women.  (As I write this, I’m fighting back a few tears, contemplating a man in Las Vegas who gave up his own life to save his wife, during last night’s horrible massacre.)

This highest ideal of manhood, this loving your wife enough to die for her, doesn’t just bloom out of the fairy-dust of a Sunday school lesson. It very well may start in a sidewalk cafe, watching a pretty girl walk by in a sun dress. We’re men, after all. We have imaginations. We ponder bliss, but if you follow that bliss, and you don’t shame it, you don’t apologize for it, you just might find yourself with your baby son in your arms, and then your twin daughters on the beach next to you — and a love so profound for your wife that you would die for her, and not be ashamed, in the least, that part of that love was nurtured by nights of laying unashamedly between her breasts.

If you keep shaming men for not being women, if you keep blathering on about the “purely physical,” eventually you’ll get congregations full of very spiritual but sexually frustrated women, (even if a few of them have a penis.)

If you do that, “holy” shepherds, don’t be surprised if there are no men around to help you fight off the wolves.