Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Matthew 5: Christine O'Donnell, the Bible, and Masturbation

Another Wednesday morning, another surprising primary upset for the Tea Party. Last night, insurgent candidate--and Sarah Palin endorsee--Christine O'Donnell pulled out a six-point win over establishment favorite Michael Castle in the race for an open Senate seat in Delaware. (That's her on the left, in a Washington Post photo.)

But The New York Times reports that many Republicans are glum at the news, because they believe O'Donnell's views are too extreme to appeal to the general electorate. Maybe they're right: O'Donnell's on the record as opposing masturbation, of all things!

CNN cites an old MTV interview in which O'Donnell comes out against sexual solitaire on Biblical grounds: "The Bible says that lust in your heart is committing adultery. [And] you can't masturbate without lust." And an interview appearing in today's Guardian suggests that she hasn't backed away from her position.

The candidate's engaging in some exegetical acrobatics here, but at least she's quoting a real text--Matthew 5:28, in which Jesus says, "everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart."

But context matters, and Jesus is not forbidding masturbation in this passage; he's warning people away from the thorny path to infidelity. Here's the full quote: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery'. But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Jesus's point, I think, is that fantasies matter: if you're lusting after your neighbor's husband or wife, you're already on a slippery slope toward trying the trick.

So technically, I suppose O'Donnell could argue that Jesus is discouraging sexual fantasies here. But masturbation? Not explicitly, so far as I can tell ...

However, if O'Donnell really wants to campaign on the Bible's distaste for autoeroticism, she'd be better off going to the old classic: Genesis 38. In this chapter, God smites a man named Onan because he "spilled his semen on the ground" (38:9)--hence "onanism," a mostly arcane synonym for masturbation. (Most scholars now argue that Onan is killed because he refuses to impregnate his wife--not because he likes pleasuring himself. But I'll leave that quibble for a later date.)

But for now, I'm going to go ahead and advise O'Donnell to keep this plank--no pun intended--out of her platform. It's a non-starter on Biblical and political grounds. Polls suggest that 90% of men and 65% of women masturbate regularly. I wouldn't want to work against those types of majorities.


  1. I spilled mine on the floor this morning. And might I ask you this Sir Joshua, can a man masturbate WITHOUT picturing the neighbor, girl on bus, co-worker, maid, waitress, third-cousin or any female body that is not his woman's? I would argue that O'Donnell may just understand that anytime you hit a solo home run your bat is your minds eye, and that eye almost never focuses on what you could be hitting in real life.

  2. Touche, sir. Your point is well taken. :)

  3. This might be well after the fact, but seemed perhaps (crudely) worthy of attaching to this discussion:

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