Saturday, January 12, 2013

Friendly Advice

In the past, I have offered advice to other men on how to avoid acting out on their sexual desires. One bit of advice I have given is that it would be better to masturbate than to run out in some act of desperation to be with another guy. My thinking behind this was that if a person goes looking for sex, they not only sin themselves, but drag someone else into a sinful situation as well. If a person is going to sin, it would be far better for him or her to sin in such a way that only affects themselves, rather than others, too. That was my thinking behind such advice.

I’ve had some conflicting emotions about giving that advice, however, and often wonder if it really is the best advice to be giving. I know there are times when a person trying to abstain from all things sexually sinful can be tempted to a point that is near maddening. If you believe it is wrong to have sex outside of marriage, and even to engage in other self pleasing sexual activities, that can be a very real struggle. It means no sexual pleasure whatsoever. Not only does the mind sometimes work against you in this pursuit, but the physical body can as well. To be more simplistic about it, I’ll just say that it is a tough act—trying to completely abstain from all sexual activities.  A great many priests and nuns have proven it can be done, but knowing that still can be no great comfort to fighting those sorts of temptations when you feel like your mind is being ripped apart on the inside by them. And a person can experience a great deal of temptation sometimes, especially at moments of weakness, such as when feeling lonely, sad, tired, or angry. That’s when a person will usually give in, if they’re going to, and when they fall, they can fall hard.

Imagine a man on a diet, tempted for several weeks to eat something sweet that he knows he shouldn’t. He has a really hard day, comes home really tired, and there on the kitchen table is a piece of chocolate cake his wife made staring him in the face. He tells himself not to eat it, to look away, to leave the room. He leaves. But later as he comes back into the kitchen to get a glass of water, he sees it sitting there again, and deep inside he knows that every time he ever ate a piece of chocolate cake like that before, it always made him feel good somehow. He walks up to the table and has a seat. He drinks his water, telling himself over and over to look away from the cake and ignore it. He finishes the water, and then stands up to put the glass in the sink. But when he does, he notices the drawer of silverware next to the sink. He tells himself that maybe a small bite of the cake would be okay. So, he gets a fork and heads toward the cake, telling himself the whole time not to do it, to stop. He sits back down at the table. He weighs the pros and cons, but he sees that piece of cake sitting there on the table, looking better than anything he’s eaten in weeks now. The sweat begins forming on his forehead, his mind racing, his heart beating loudly, and before he even knows what’s happened, he’s eaten the entire piece of cake, in five seconds flat, and began ransacking the rest of the kitchen looking for anything else sweet to eat as well. Afterwards, he calms down, looks around the room, and realizes what he’s done. Then he feels regret, knowing he did something wrong.

It can be the same for someone trying not to engage in sexual activities when they are so tempted to give into them. And so, when a person feels that they are at that point of no return, I have believed it would be better for them, if they are going to sin, or honestly believe they will not be able to resist for much longer, to build it up in themselves not to bring others into their sin.

The reason I am conflicted about giving such advice though, is because all sin is equally damning. None of it is good for the soul, and all of it separates us from God. So, is it really any better for a person to engage in a sin that only affects him or herself, verses engaging in a sin that affects others as well? There are, of course different consequences for every sin. One sin may cause very few consequences, while another may cause the world to come crashing down on you. So, the weight of certain sins can at the very least feel heavier on you than that of other sorts. But is there really a difference? It’s a bit like saying if a man is going to have sex with someone it’s less sinful if he uses a condom. It’s still sex, with or without a condom. If a person masturbates (believing masturbation is a sin) rather than having sex, is he or she still not engaging in sexual sin? The obvious answer is yes. So, with that in mind, aren’t we really just talking about consequences? It’s not a matter of whether or not one sin is better for you, or less worse for you, than another, but whether or not one sin will be less or more consequential to you than another?

That’s a very different way to look at sin, I think. But still, if a person is going to sin, shouldn’t they try to sin in a way that is indeed less consequential? Is this still good advice to give people?

4 comments:

naturgesetz said...

You certainly have a good illustration of the psychology of temptation in your story of the cake.

I think you are right in your intuition that it is, in principle, better to sin alone than to lead others into sin. But as a practical matter, it is probably rare that one would lead another into sexual sin who had not already sinned in his heart, whereas one who manages to avoid solitary sin by going out to a club, may not actually find a willing partner in sin. So the question is whether the person has sinned in his heart or whether he has walked into the kitchen but is still trying to resist eating the cake. Either is possible.

It's certainly a complex question. But I think a basic principle is that one should not get in the habit of choosing between sins. One should resist sin, not with another sin, but with refusal to sin. Yes, we all sin in one way or another, but it should not be a systematic choice. It should be simply a failure, for which we implore God's mercy and seek the grace to avoid it in the future.

Brandon said...

I think you make a good point about sinning in the heart. And I would agree with you about choosing not to sin, verses choosing a "lesser" sin over a worse one. My first bit of advice to anyone struggling usually IS to just keep up the good fight and put all of their energy into resisting sin. But I do recognize when a person is at a very critical breaking point. It can go either way. They may be able to build it up within themselves, with God's help, to resist and move on, but then they may also not have enough resolve built up to always keep up the good fight, occasionally having failures. In those moments of falling, I would still think it better to choose the lesser of two evils, so to speak. But I think you do make a good point about the sin already being committed in the hearts of those others who would fall into a sinful situation with others.

Thanks for commenting! :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Brandon,

Found your blog and am reading through your posts..interesting.

I'm not coming from a religious POV, so I wouldn't think just faith can help you with this problem (though I don't discount its support); I've read that men approach these issues logically, by analyzing the needs behind the desire, and whys and hows of it. This is of course providing they have an objection/doubt about those desires to begin with.

This site: http://peoplecanchange.com/ is very useful for men like you. It's a men's only group.

The root causes of what you describe are discussed here:
http://peoplecanchange.com/change/causes.php
http://peoplecanchange.com/change/need.php

Brandon said...

Anonymous,

Thank you for informing me about that other site. I'd not heard of it before. And I'm glad you find my blog interesting. :)