Devilish Arts

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Given the continued attention the world and its lusts are paying to the subject of robosex and virtual sex, and the almost entire lack of preparedness on the part of the Church, I thought I should repost this piece from a couple years ago. robo-marriage

C.S. Lewis was not just a winsome and engaging writer, a popularizer of theological topics. He was also a prophetic writer who saw and understood the foundational issues.

In That Hideous Strength, Ransom says this about the inhabitants of Sulva, our moon.

“On this side, the womb is barren and the marriages are cold. There dwell an accursed people, full of pride and lust. There when a young man takes a maiden in marriage, they do not lie together, but each lies with a cunningly fashioned image of the other, made to move and to be warm by devilish arts, for real flesh will not please them, they are so dainty (delicati) in their dreams of lust. Their real children they fabricate by vile arts in a secret place.”

Seventy years ago, Lewis knew more about virtual sex, and robosex, and the rising tide of pornification that is gradually submerging our culture, than do many Christian leaders today, alive in the time when it is actually happening to us. The issue is not knowledge of the technology; the issue is knowledge of the heart of man. And what cannot be seen with a prophetic heart will never be seen with non-prophetic eyes.

Let me set a scenario twenty years from now and ask what should be done about it in the courts of the church. And then, having rendered what you think the decision ought to be, try to work through a detailed and reasoned defense of that decision.

A woman in your congregation wants to file for divorce because she discovered that her husband, while away on a business trip, visited a sexual theme park, at which place he was hooked up to a contraption that enabled him to have virtual sex to the point of climax with his choice of porn stars, or even with cartoon characters. The husband admits the visit, but says it was “just entertainment.” The wife insists that it was adultery, pure and simple, and that she has biblical grounds for a divorce. Do you grant permission for the divorce? Further, if the man remains unrepentant, do you excommunicate him for his sexual uncleanness? The answer, in case you were wondering, is yes and yes. Do the answers change if his escapade was with Jessica Rabbit? The answer is no, it doesn’t.

The case is extreme, and in order to defend our answer we will have to show our work. I should add that while the case seems extreme now, it won’t seem that way twenty years out.

But we shouldn’t give such easy answers because we have flattened all things sexual into one all-purpose sin. There really is a difference, for example, between lawful erotica and porn. The writer of the Song of Solomon wrote some poetry that insinuated his sexual imagination into the sexual experience of other people, and these other people, the readers, are not married to him. There is therefore a lawful use of sexual imagination that encompasses more than two married people with the bedroom door closed. But what is the line?

In the making of actual porn, actual people are involved, and their involvement is sin. That means the consumption of such porn for personal gratification involves the consumer in the same sin, extending it by means of his voyeurism. But a sex scene in a novel is different — I am not saying it is necessarily better, but rather that it is different. In such a case, the additional participant is the imagination of the author. The same thing goes for animated work — no actual people are represented in the final product. At the same time, an actual person, the animator, is very much involved. The same principle extends to the software engineers and technicians who build sexbots or cyber-cathouses.

A child’s joke asks what the difference is between a mailbox and a hippopotamus. “I don’t know, what is it?” “Well, I sure am not going to send you to mail any letters!”

A written sex scene, designed to entice a reader into a “follow-your-heart” ethic, even if adulterous, is wicked, even if it is not very steamy. Another sexual scene, designed to exalt marital love, and which successfully does so without luring the reader into envy and discontent, is entirely lawful. The issue is not the presence or absence of someone else’s sexual imagination. The issue is whether that imagination is governed by God’s standards for the world.

So arts are lawful. Imagination in the realm of sexual matters is also lawful. It becomes unlawful when they are devilish arts. It becomes unlawful when they are wicked imaginations. If you don’t know the difference, then we are not going to send you to mail any letters for us.

“There are many devices in a man’s heart; Nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand” (Prov. 19:21).

“Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions” (Ecc. 7:29).

What is the purpose? What is the end? What is the point? Let us end this meditation with two quotations, one from Lewis and the other from the apostle Paul.

“Literature exists to teach what is useful, to honour what deserves honour, to appreciate what is delightful. The useful, honourable, and delightful things are superior to it: it exists for their sake; its own use, honour, or delightfulness is derivative from theirs.”

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Phil. 4:8).

Accept this principle, and do as you please.

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DrewJ
7 years ago

When Jesus said that divorce was permitted for fornication, I don’t think he meant fornication of the heart. That is too broad.

Jane Dunsworth
Jane Dunsworth
7 years ago

Drew, if you’re responding to the theme park example, it seems the very question is whether that was merely fornication of the heart. I would suggest going somewhere and paying to do something definitely puts it outside the realm of only the heart.

Roger Ball
Roger Ball
7 years ago

The answer, in case you were wondering, is yes and yes. I’m not sure I follow this. I don’t believe this man is altogether innocent of adultery, but is he guilty enough. It sounds like you’re saying, that desire alone, if it can be proven, would be grounds for divorce. The reason I limit the man’s behavior to “desire alone” is because no actual intercourse between consenting human partners took place. Would you not be overstepping your authority if you were to grant a divorce based upon a married man being caught in the bathroom with a magazine? The Bible… Read more »

John Barry
John Barry
7 years ago

DrewJ,

Jesus doesn’t say divorce is permitted for fornication. He says, “whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” He is saying that a man who remarries after divorce commits adultery, with one exception.

How could Jesus be saying that he permits divorce when he has just said, “What God has joined together, let not man separate”, and “from the beginning it was not so”?

So neither actual porneias nor looking at a woman with a view to lust (which is adultery) are biblical grounds for divorce.

Rob Steele
Rob Steele
7 years ago

Recommended reading: Charles Williams’ Descent into Hell. The succubus thing is eerily prophetic.

Reuben K.
Reuben K.
7 years ago

The Sulva passage from “That Hideous Strength” is one of the most chilling of many from that book that lace my blood with frost. Merlinius Ambrosius unfortunately learns that even in Lewis’s day, the arts of Sulva were practiced in Logres; how much more so now. Maintaining all of the requisite discernment and nuance, I think I can safely say, as a man, that the majority of male adulterers -by which I do mean those guilty of the type of sexual perpetration that justifies a divorce- remain convinced that their particular situation was not really adulterous. And also the majority… Read more »

Johnny
Johnny
7 years ago

We’re soon to be at a crazy point where the scenario you describe is common. When the worlds of porn and video games collide, it may very well be that the only people reproducing are those with religious reasons for abstaining from robots. Maybe that grand Postie vision ain’t as far away as we think.

John Barry
John Barry
7 years ago

Doug,

The one who divorces his or her spouse “on biblical grounds” is sinning–by breaking the marriage vow. But this is really not the topic of your post, the import of which I appreciate.

Happy New Year to all your clan!

Robert
Robert
7 years ago

HELEN O’Loy by Lester del Rey 1938. A story of a man falling in love in a mutually affirming relationship with the family domestic robot. Required reading when I was in high school.

Robert
Robert
7 years ago

I thumbed thumbed through such a theme park book a couple of years before I became a Christian. Can’t remember the author no R the title

Matthew
Matthew
7 years ago

A written sex scene, designed to entice a reader into a “follow-your-heart” ethic, even if adulterous, is wicked, even if it is not very steamy. I was assigned Kate Chopin’s “The Storm” in two classes last semester. I may or may not (definitely did) have used the words, “emotional-porn” with “no moral resolution” making it “a story without much point at all except for an insinuation from absence that such things are non-consequential,” when taking it up with my professor afterward. I didn’t seem to make a noticeable ripple upon the pond then, but I appreciate reading some agreement on… Read more »

sean carlson
sean carlson
7 years ago

Good post. What about separation before divorce? Shouldn’t we extend some oppurtunity for the marriage to be saved ( no matter how certain the conclusion seems )

Swithun
Swithun
7 years ago

Doug,

Do you have any examples of lawful erotica with the exception of the Song of Solomon?

Jill Smith
Jill Smith
7 years ago

I don’t want to venture into the realm of unseemly speculation, but I honestly can’t see much difference between the virtual sexual encounter in Pastor Wilson’s encounter and what a person might do with a porn movie and sex toys or a blow-up doll. It is sexual sin to be sure; I believe it violates the marriage covenant; it is clearly adultery by the standard our Lord has given us. But should the church recommend the dissolution of marriages based on a spouse’s sins with pornography or onanism as opposed to clear cut adultery with a real person? If an… Read more »

JohnM
JohnM
7 years ago

Jill Smith,
I agree with what you say, or else the divorce rate is actually way too low. There’s yes that’s adultery and then there’s stone cold went and did it adultery and the difference matters.

Jane Dunsworth
Jane Dunsworth
7 years ago

There’s yes that’s adultery and then there’s stone cold went and did it adultery and the difference matters. I agree with this but the question is where the line is drawn. It’s not as obvious to me as to some others here (apparently) that the sine qua non of the distinction is the involvement of another actual human person in the sexual act itself. The case being described is someone “stone cold going and doing it” — someone actively exerting himself to seek sexual encounters via third parties outside the marriage. While I understand the the distinction between a virtual… Read more »

DrewJ
7 years ago

It kind of makes me wonder at what point this principle might apply:

Leviticus 20:15
And if a man lie with a beast, he shall surely be put to death: and ye shall slay the beast.

Jill Smith
Jill Smith
7 years ago

Jane, I think you make an excellent point. Seeking out the virtual environment is a step farther down the primrose path than stumbling upon a porn movie on cable and then staying to watch. Driving across town to an XXX video store is more of a transgression than finding an old magazine under the bed and deciding to have a look. But I am not convinced that any of these constitutes adultery that breaks the covenant. But, if I were married to a person who did these, the distress I felt about these infidelities would reflect how deliberate they had… Read more »

JohnM
JohnM
7 years ago

In considering where the line might be drawn lets start with a question that might seem beside the point: In all this discussion of who is or is not actually guilty of adultery, why is the who always assumed to be a man? Jill Smith mentioned blow up dolls – the use of which strikes me as just a particularly repugnant form of what is politely called self abuse, but they do involve something simulating involvement with another person. Kind of like a robot would. Sex toys of the kind made for women are also designed to be highly simulative… Read more »

Steve
Steve
7 years ago

With regard to the verse where Jesus permits divorce, isn’t the translation sexual immorality and not adultery? This would seem to suggest permission for a divorce for something less than adultery. If a man catches his wife making-out with another guy, or a woman catches her husband having sexually explicit chats via the internet, I would say that meets the criteria for divorce.

However, I’ve noticed nobody has pointed out that although divorce is allowed in certain situations, Reconciliation and forgiveness should always be “plan A.” After all, we’re all an adulterous bride ourselves, are we not?

JohnM
JohnM
7 years ago

Steve,
Whatever term Jesus used I think the Greek translation is porneia. In Matthew 5:32 the NIV has it is “sexual immorality”; the KJV as “fornication”; the NASB has it as “unchastity”, but as “immorality” in Matthew 19:9.

For my part it isn’t that I want to excuse impropriety, indiscretion, and indecency, it’s just that I think in our culture, even in the church, the school of Hillel has been in session for way too long.

Jane Dunsworth
Jane Dunsworth
7 years ago

The concern that such things could be made into an escape clause for easy divorce is duly noted, and taken seriously. However, if the biblical intention is that such things really do break the covenant and absolve the injured party from a requirement to sustain it, that needs to be taken seriously, too. There are almost always two ditches to fall into.