I wrote in a recent post (”Lust,” June 16, 2015) that “Lust and damaging other people in the presence of lust are separable issues.” Naively, that statement seemed to me to be so simple and straightforward as hardly to merit an argument.
My implication was that it’s easy to tell the difference between (A) feelings of desire and even consensual expression of them, and (B) directly damaging actions such as inflicting pain or raping. I was making the point that A can be moral while B is immoral, and it doesn’t take a philosopher to see the distinction. Therefore, if in a specific instance A co-exists with B, A does not then become ipso facto immoral. In other words, lust is OK, force is not; force being not OK does not then make lust less OK. No matter how heinous B might be, the logic doesn’t disappear. In much of life we make such distinctions frequently, even where considerable danger attends choosing wrongly.
However, my allegation in that post provoked a comment that lust is morally bad because there’s only a “razor thin” distinction from child abuse or other rape. In other words, the two matters are so intertwined or similar that their independence is lost. Let’s see where that kind of bogus reasoning can take us….
Drinking alcohol is morally wrong because there’s only a razor thin distinction between it and drunken spouse abuse. Similarly: Having respectful sex with your partner and marital rape, overeating at Thanksgiving and gluttony, a woman’s wearing a short skirt and being a “fallen woman,” “look[ing] at a woman with lust for her and commit[ing] adultery with her” . . . for in each pairing the former is tainted because the latter might be or might become the case.
Such thinking is ludicrous to the degree that anyone can recognize its silliness. Well, almost anybody. The comment about the post on my blog was based on the same reason it arises as a moral issue in our culture: religion. No surprise. The foolish moral strictures of religion were not developed in careful consideration of human needs, human protection, and human enhancement. Their presumed authoritativeness is that some god must be propitiated, not that they are best for humanity. In fact, whether they are best for humanity—and might even be damaging—is not even a consideration.
Consequently, religion has given us a plethora of frankly risible rules about morals. A person in one religion can see the absurdity in those of other religions, but rarely in his or her own. To discern nonsense in one’s own creed would be tantamount to eating fruit from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” to use a Genesis phrase that at least implies that knowledge is suspect.
The force brought to bear to convince the faithful to keep their blinders on—again, only about their own religion—is formidable and effective. Misinterpreting some authoritative prohibition in the liberal direction might be disastrous (in Christianity, hell awaits), so safety demands that any interpretation be in the stringent direction. Then, to lock all the dogma in place, there is a master sin which makes even innocent questioning suspect. The distinctions between questioning and doubt or, in a next step, doubt and heresy are indeed razor thin, for the risk of slipping over the horrifying edge is terrifying. To the faithful, beyond here be dragons.
I confess to being utterly surprised that anyone would invoke the razor thin argument, for it requires throwing aside reasoning that would be normal in other walks of life. My further astonishment is that cataloguing horrific characteristics of damaging people (B) can be cited as if it strengthens the spurious conclusion that the razor thin argument— contingent on obliteration of a clear conceptual difference—is therefore fortified.
So I am led to reaffirm that lust and damaging other people in the presence of lust are separable issues. No matter what damage to sentient beings (immoral acts) a person inflicts, it is the infliction, not the lust itself, that constitutes immorality.