Sexual Morality in a Christless World

Sexual morality is undergoing a revolution as traditional morality gives way to something different

“Into the fray steps Matthew Rueger with his book Sexual Morality in a Christless World. Though the last few years have brought us no shortage of books on how to live on this side of the sexual revolution, Rueger offers something unique in examining and explaining the historical and cultural backdrop to the New Testament’s teaching on sexual morality.”

 

The times are changing. Sexual morality is undergoing nothing less than a revolution as traditional morality gives way to something radically different. The former morality, based on the Christian scriptures, is being shoved aside by a new one that not only departs from the Bible, but outright rejects it. Meanwhile, Christians who abide by those traditional sexual morals are increasingly seen as outcasts, backward people dangerously hung up on ancient, oppressive principles. It is all very disconcerting.

Into the fray steps Matthew Rueger with his book Sexual Morality in a Christless World. Though the last few years have brought us no shortage of books on how to live on this side of the sexual revolution, Rueger offers something unique in examining and explaining the historical and cultural backdrop to the New Testament’s teaching on sexual morality. In this way he shows that Christian sexual morality has not always been traditional but was at one time its own revolution. In other words, Christians have been here before, and there is much we can learn from our own history.

Rueger turns first to the Roman context in which the early Christians lived and into which the Bible was written. Here he offers a fascinating, disturbing examination of what Roman culture considered good and normal. “Rome’s sexual climate is a model of the utopia for which today’s sexual ‘progressives’ are striving.” Yet it was hardly utopian. He shows that “In the Roman mind, man was the conqueror who dominated on the battlefield as well as in the bedroom. He was strong, muscular, and hard in both body and spirit. Society looked down on him only when he appeared weak or soft.” Respectable men were permitted to have sexual relations with just about anyone, provided they were the aggressors rather than receivers of such sexual acts.

Marriage existed, of course, but was not first about mutual love, but about the provision of an heir. A far purer form of love was the love of a man for a boy, so a culture of pederasty arose in which adult men carried on overt sexual relationships with adolescent boys. Prostitution was rampant. Rape was widespread and accepted, provided a man raped someone of a lower status. In so many ways Roman sexual morality was abhorrent and one of its most prominent features was the strong dominating the weak.

And then Christians showed up. Christians began to teach that men were to be chaste, that homosexuality and pederasty were sinful, that men were to love and honor their wives, that wives and husbands had equal authority over one another’s bodies. Such teaching was not only seen as repressive, but as full-out destabilizing to the Roman system. No wonder, then, that the whole culture turned against Christians. “Though Christian morality promoted genuine self-emptying love and was positive for society, it nonetheless set Christ’s people against the prevailing culture. Romans did not like being told that some of their favorite activities were displeasing to the Christian God, and they pushed back.” And here is where we can draw important lessons for our day, for today, too, Christian sexual morality is seen as destabilizing to the culture around us, as a serious societal sin.

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