On sexuality, human incompleteness, and ribs

In my last post I used the occasion of Fred Phelps’ death to comment on our tendency as Christians to use “Love the sinner, hate the sin” rhetoric to define our positions on certain kinds of sins and those who commit them, but then to forget to actually see the people who are doing the things we don’t like. I neglected to mention that this particular failing is not limited to Christians who are opposed to homosexuality, though they’re the ones most likely to use the “Love the sinner, hate the sin” line; I’ve heard plenty of people write off racists as unworthy of human consideration because of their racism, for example. That’s not really my point today, but maybe I’ll write a post about it eventually.

No, my point today has to do with an implication–which I hope is not intentional on anyone’s part–of an argument some Christians use to support their opposition to homosexual activity.

The argument is rooted in the account of the creation of the first man and woman, found in Genesis 2. Briefly, the story is that God creates the man out of clay, then takes one of the man’s ribs and makes the woman from it. As Genesis 2:24 explains, “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” (NRSV). This “becoming one flesh” is generally understood to refer to the sexual union.

Now, plenty of Christians take the Genesis account of creation literally, and plenty take it allegorically or in some other figurative manner. I’ve heard this argument used by people in both camps, though, so I’m addressing anybody who uses it.

The argument itself runs like this:
1. God made woman out of a part of man.
2. Therefore, man without woman is like a man with a rib missing, and woman without man is like a rib without the rest of the person.
3. In the “becoming one flesh” of the sexual union, a man-without-a-rib is physically united with a rib-without-a-man, forming a complete person.
4. But (3) is only true in heterosexual sex. When two men have sex with each other, the union is between two men-without-ribs, and when two women have sex with each other, the union is between two ribs-without-men. Either way, the result of homosexual sex–or, for that matter, sexual activity involving more than two persons, regardless of their sexes–is not a complete person but some unnatural monstrosity. (Christians don’t usually phrase it that way, but that more or less captures what they’re thinking.)
5. Therefore, the only form of sexual union that makes people complete, as God created us to be, is sex between one man and one woman. And since the Bible makes clear here and elsewhere that God intends marriage as the only proper context for sexual union, the one man and one woman had better be each other’s spouses.

Quite apart from any other reasons you or I may have for disagreeing with this argument, one of the reasons I’m convinced it does not accurately reflect God’s creational intent for us is what it implies about singleness.

See, the argument only works by positing that a man who has not become one flesh with a woman or a woman who has not become one flesh with a man is incomplete. But that means that, so long as I remain unmarried (assuming I follow the no-sex-with-anyone-you’re-not-married-to rule), I remain short a rib. I remain incomplete. And the only way for me to rectify that problem is to marry a woman and become one flesh with her.

Now, I’m plenty eager to do just that, when the time is right and the relationship is right. But am I less than fully human in the meantime? And what of men and women who remain single by choice or out of some necessity–are they doomed to a life of incompleteness?

By the logic of the argument outlined above, the answer to both these questions is yes.

Through much of its history, the Church, at least in the West, has vaunted the celibate life as “perfect” and denigrated the married life as merely “permitted.” But, thanks in part to its embrace of certain ideologies concerning sex, many contemporary Western churches have swung the other way, and are now putting far too much pressure on the single members of their congregation to marry. Pressure and haste are hardly ingredients for stable, happy marriages, but huge numbers of Christian twenty- and thirty-somethings are nonetheless desperate to find partners and tie the knot as soon as they possibly can. There are other reasons for this pressure as well, but it’s hard not to think that one significant factor is the knowledge, drummed into them over the years, that to be single is to be incomplete, less than whole, less than fully human.

That’s something I’m not willing to say about any human person.

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