Book of the Week: Sex Ethics & The New Testament

Book of the Week (Monday 29 June 2020)


Raymond F Collins

One of my primary motivations for studying Theology & Religious Studies was my desire to learn more about human morality and ethics. I am absolutely fascinated by the way in which human societies create rules and regulations for their citizens to follow. It fascinates me to see how different rules have been invented by different social groups, and I am always intrigued to find out how people in the world today make moral decisions. What are the biggest influences on their morality? What teachings, concepts and ideas inspire their moral thinking? Where do people turn to when they need moral guidance and direction?

For hundreds of years, the Christian Church has had an extraordinary monopoly on Western morality. The Church has singlehandedly shaped the moral compass of the Western world, with Church teachings governing the moral conduct of citizens for centuries. One area of morality in which this influence is very apparent is sex ethics.

The Church has not held back with its teachings and views on the morality - or lack of morality! - of sexual acts and practices. Sex before marriage, cohabitation, adultery, homosexuality, divorce and sexual promiscuity have all occupied the attention of Church leaders for hundreds of years. Michel Foucault famously wrote about the relationship between sex and power, and it is very clear that the Church has sought to assert its power, control and authority in the world by controlling people's sexual practices and expression.

I am always fascinated to explore the Christian influences on modern day sexual ethics. When we want to get to the very heart of Christian ideas, we always impulsively reach for the New Testament. However, despite the Church's fascination with sexual ethics, the New Testament actually has surprisingly little to say about sexual morality. Jesus in particular has very little to say about sex ethics - he tells those about to stone a woman to death for adultery that 'he who is without sin may cast the first stone' (saving her life and forgiving her sins). He says absolutely nothing at all about homosexuality or same-sex relationships, which makes a complete mockery of attempts to criticise homosexuality with a Christianity-based argument. We see a little more on sex ethics from St Paul, who made it very clear in his many letters that all kinds of sexual behaviour were sinful. The fact that the Church today now cherry-picks which sexual acts it decides to condemn is therefore nothing but ludicrous - there is no credible grounding, for example, for the Church's modern day criticisms of loving same-sex relationships and promiscuous sexual practices.

So I discovered this classic book by Raymond F Collins and simply had to get myself a copy - I love to roll up my sleeves and get into the heart of the debates around sexual ethics and Christianity. As I say, the Western ideas on sexual morality and ethics have all been shaped by the Christian Church - in order to understand modern-day attitudes to sexuality, it is essential that we understand the origins of these beliefs as they are found in the 2,000 year old teachings of the New Testament. I am therefore excited to spend my week devouring this insightful, enlightening and challenging read on the New Testament teachings that have shaped contemporary sexual ethics.

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