Forgive me, Father, for I have touched myself

Tomorrow is the start of Holy Week, a time when it’s especially important for Catholics to confess their sins and do penance. Let’s take this week to briefly examine some of those sins—sins that are part of the dogma of what is considered a “liberal religion” in America. (Remember that Catholicism is the biggest single faith in our country, with 68 million American adherents. And in 2008 there were 1.166 billion baptized Catholics worldwide.)

Today’s sin is masturbation. I was just talking to a friend who is an ex-Catholic, and was surprised to learn (yes, I’m theologically ignorant) that the Catholic Church still considers masturbation as sin.  Not necessarily a mortal sin, mind you, for those will send you straight to hell if you don’t confess them and are absolved, but a venial sin, which will land you in purgatory if you die without having confessed it. (There seems to be some understandable consternation among Catholics about this ambiguity, since masturbation, like divorce, is considered a “grave sin,” and such sins, if committed willingly and with full knowledge of how bad they are, become mortal sins.)

I believe it was Hitchens, in God is Not Great, who pointed out the fortuitous juxtaposition in standing human mammals of the hand and the genitals.  Their natural conjunction is what is forbidden to Catholics.  It’s not clear to me where this dictum comes from.  The story of Onan, who spilled his seed on the ground, referred not to masturbation but to coitus interruptus, which is still a sin.  But Aquinas, one of the great heroes of accommodationists, certainly considered masturbation a very grave sin—more sinful, in fact, than rape.  (Aquinas lovers always neglect this, of course.)

The official dogma of the Catholic Church, as embodied in the Catholic Catechism, is clear on the seriousness of wanking:

2352 By masturbation is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure. “Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.” 137 “The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose.” For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of “the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved.” 138  To form an equitable judgment about the subjects’ moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety, or other psychological or social factors that lessen or even extenuate moral culpability.

The context dependence of sin makes for interesting confessions.  As Wikipedia notes in describing how to confess these sexual sins:

However, many sins are described as “grave sins” or “grave offenses” in the Catechism such as extramarital sex,[4] divorce[5] and masturbation.[6] These sins must be specifically confessed and named, giving details about the context of each sin: what sin, why, against what or whom, the number and type of occurrences, and any other factors that may exacerbate or lessen one’s responsibility and culpability that the person confessing remembers. Roman Catholic belief holds that mortal sin can vary somewhat in seriousness, and thus canon law only lists some of those that are more serious.

Now, imagine having to go to a priest and not only say that you’d “touched yourself,” but then hearing the old pervert inquire as to how many times, where, when, and whether you were looking at Playboy or thinking about a good Catholic girl.  This seems more like an excuse for priestly masturbation than for the exculpation of sinners.  Why on earth would the circumstances make such a difference?

All of this shows the total folly of Catholic dogma.  Masturbation harms nobody and yet it’s considered a moral matter—one so severe that unless you confess (and experience the shame that goes with that), you’ll fry for eternity.  And note that this is still the prevailing dogma of the Church—it has not changed, even though most rational people now see masturbation as harmless.

Conclusions:

  • For those faitheists and accommodationists who bridle at seeing religion as child abuse, consider what it means to tell a child that masturbating is a grave sin, and that unless you fully confess every act, with all the juicy details, you may wind up in hell.  For some vivid testimony about the effect of such policies on children, read Miranda Hale’s post, “A dirty little girl, hanging her head in shame.”  She is just one among thousands who have spent much of their lives tortured by Catholic dogma. Yes, it really is child abuse.
  • For those who, like William Lane Craig, say that morals come from God, let them justify the prohibition of masturbation. “God says so” is a very lame reason for that. Sam Harris is right in saying that “sins” like that having nothing to do with true morality. They are simply ways for the religious hierarchy to control its flocks.
  • Catholicism, though a “liberal” faith, still has the power to torture and abuse its adherents.  So much for those who tell us that while species of religion like militant Islam or fundamentalist Christianity may be harmful, that’s simply not true of the cozy, liberal, and mainstream faiths of America.  And, of course, we know about the other Catholic “sins” like condom use, divorce and the like.  Liberal faiths often do have their harmful aspects!
  • For those who, like Clergy Letter Project, or Peter Hess, (the Director for Religious Outreach of the National Center for Science Education) parade the Catholic Church’s official (but hedged) acceptance of evolution as something in which we should rejoice, let them remember the other things that are also official policy of the Catholic Church.  I find it hypocritical to praise the Vatican for its stance on evolution while keeping mum about all the other dogma that is far more destructive than simple creationism (cue Nick Matzke here).

I conclude that, even considering its policies on masturbation and birth control alone, the Catholic Church is one of those religions that poisons everything. In fact, if there really were a just and loving God, he would see the Catholic Church as evil.

108 Comments

  1. Posted April 16, 2011 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Non-Catholics can have no idea how much pain and suffering this can cause a Catholic teenager.

    • Nathan H.
      Posted April 16, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

      And some ex-Catholics. I read the post Jerry linked to, and it surprises me how far removed I was from all that when I went to CCD.

      My Church wasn’t just liberal, I guess, but almost Unitarian Universalist liberal. To give you an idea: my mom’s dad is a Catholic Deacon. He does NOT believe in Hell.

      Let me repeat that:

      He does NOT believe in Hell.

      The priest I grew up with? Didn’t believe in Hell. The Nuns who were my teachers? No Hell.

      This was, I promise you, a Roman Catholic Church. I met Pope John Paul II at this church in Trumbull, CT. And yet I never experienced any of this. I never experienced guilt or shame. I was even encouraged to question! (To a point; the CCD’s head Nun told my parents she was afraid I would become an atheist… many years later, and she was right! Who’da thunk it?)

      Maybe it helps that my dad’s side of the family is Jewish. We converted when I was 13 and even had a Bar Mitzvah, and now my dad is Jewish clergy. So perhaps having Judaism on the other side tempered the Catholic dogma a bit.

      I don’t know…

      But my experience just was not so bad…

      • GraemeL
        Posted April 16, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

        I think the cut-off point was somewhere between 20 and 25 years ago. Before that, Hell was a real place with fire and torture. Then things changed and church teaching became that Hell wasn’t a physical place, but a separation from God.

        So kids by church teaching today don’t get anywhere near as much terror of sin drummed into them.

        As far as I’m aware, the previous Pope believed in the separation from God as Hell, but the current one has said that Hell is a real place (presumably with fire, brimstone and pitchforks).

        • Draken
          Posted April 17, 2011 at 7:21 am | Permalink

          You mean the sales rep for this side of the Galaxy from God, Inc. did not get clear and direct instructions as to the nature of one of their finest sales items, Hell? Then what about the instructions on masturbation?

          • NMcC
            Posted April 17, 2011 at 9:49 am | Permalink

            From the souce quoted:

            “2342 Self-mastery is a long and exacting work.”

            At first glance I thought the word work said ‘wank’.

            • NMcC
              Posted April 17, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

              ‘Souce’ above should be ‘source’, of course.

    • Posted April 17, 2011 at 5:20 am | Permalink

      The doctrine certainly isn’t limited to Catholicism. I was a bible-thumping evangelical in high school, and spanking the monkey was a strict no-no. I went through a lot of mental anguish over it. I remember my girlfriend once ashamedly “confessing” to me that she engaged in “the long M word.” Which did not, of course, spur thoughts of repentance in my mind, which led to yet another sin to confess. Non-catholic kids are certainly tortured by this as well.

  2. Posted April 16, 2011 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    On Masturbation: “Life is a job. You get $14.50 a day, but after you die, you have to pay for your sins. Stealing a hub cap is around $100. Masturbation is 35 cents (it doesn’t seem like much, but it adds up). If there’s money left when you subtract what you owe from what you’ve earned, you can go to heaven. If not, you have to go back to work. (Sort of like reincarnation — many nuns are Mafia guys working it off.)” Father Guido Sarducci

  3. Posted April 16, 2011 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    Ex Catholic here. 30-35 years ago, this was me:

    He is right about one thing: this IS the Chruch’s teaching. True, many priests don’t accept this and will tell you so, IN PRIVATE. Why they remain in the church, I’ll never know.

    • Posted April 16, 2011 at 10:02 am | Permalink

      God damn, but that’s obscene.

      b&

      • BradW
        Posted April 17, 2011 at 7:46 am | Permalink

        Since there doesn’t appear to be a “God”, he/she/it can’t damn anything. Wouldn’t a more proper term be something on the order of “Cosmos damn”, or “Nature damn”?

        • Diane G.
          Posted April 17, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

          Note–when we say, F*** you, most of us don’t mean that literally, either…

          ;- )

      • BradW
        Posted April 17, 2011 at 7:48 am | Permalink

        Especially if you’re a “true” and “good” atheist?

      • Erin
        Posted May 13, 2011 at 2:23 am | Permalink

        Isn’t it though. I tried to make a comment on youtube – they didn’t like it I don’t think. I’m an ex-catholic and a wonderfully happy atheist now. I have nothing but derision for religion.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted April 16, 2011 at 10:21 am | Permalink

      As ex-RCC I enjoyed this: God Will Not Be Mocked…But Michael Voris is Fair Game

    • Tulse
      Posted April 16, 2011 at 11:10 am | Permalink

      As an ex-Catholic who grew up with guitar masses and other liberal American Catholic trappings, I am delighted to have folks like Voris state very clearly what the church’s positions actually are. It’s like he’s pulled the friendly mask off of the church, and shows the ugly truth.

      • Posted April 17, 2011 at 4:27 am | Permalink

        Oh yes, I remember the “folk mass”, the 10pm college campus mass, etc.

    • moseszd
      Posted April 16, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      I love this guy! He’s a hat full of crazy.

    • Draken
      Posted April 17, 2011 at 7:33 am | Permalink

      Go to Google and start typing: “Michael Voris is”… Google can read my thoughts.

  4. Posted April 16, 2011 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    Can you think of a more powerful way of controlling humans than by so tightly controlling — and restricting — their sex lives?

    If you have the power to direct and prevent even masturbation, you have the power to make your flock do just about anything you can imagine.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • BradW
      Posted April 17, 2011 at 7:57 am | Permalink

      When are we going to have sperm and egg police?

  5. Tim
    Posted April 16, 2011 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    No thread on this subject would be complete without Monty Python’s view: every sperm is sacred.

    • GraemeL
      Posted April 16, 2011 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      You just have to learn to use the system against itself…

      Link, because I’ll probably mess up the embedding.

      • Tim
        Posted April 16, 2011 at 11:08 am | Permalink

        The growing suspicion one gets while watching this that it is going to end just as it does ends does not diminish the pleasure of the ending!

        • SaintStephen
          Posted April 16, 2011 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

          Most excellent. Thanks for that.

      • Posted April 17, 2011 at 4:26 am | Permalink

        🙂
        I love it!

      • BradW
        Posted April 17, 2011 at 8:04 am | Permalink

        Just too, too funny!

        There’s always a way to work the system.

        Ramen!

  6. Posted April 16, 2011 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Masturbation sometimes comes with its own psychological insecurities and social fears (not everyone experiences them). For religion to add to these insecurities and say without any real biblical justification that masturbation is a sin only makes the psychological problem worse. In reality, the subject is not broached by the scriptures even once. Therefore, if you can find peace in the action, have at it. Just don’t let it control you.

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted April 16, 2011 at 10:34 am | Permalink

      Thanks for that. We were all getting worried here. But if you say it’s ok with the bible, then it must be.

    • Insightful Ape
      Posted April 16, 2011 at 10:58 am | Permalink

      “Masturbation sometimes comes with its own psychological insecurities and social fears”.
      Speaking of experience here?

    • SaintStephen
      Posted April 16, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      In reality, the subject is not broached by the scriptures even once.”

      I’m not sure what reality has to do with scripture, but I think ‘it must be pointed out’ that the men who penned scripture had their other hands available…

    • Posted April 17, 2011 at 6:01 am | Permalink

      As long as one can masturbate without lust, it’s biblically OK. Otherwise, Jesus said that you must cut your member (or at least your hand and possibly eyes) off to avoid being thrown into hellfire.

      • Grania Spingies
        Posted April 17, 2011 at 10:37 am | Permalink

        I’m more interested in knowing whether its physically possible than biblically ok.

        How does anyone manage to masturbate without lust?

        That’s like smoking without inhaling. Or drinking without swallowing.

  7. Posted April 16, 2011 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    Every sperm is sacred.

  8. Rieux
    Posted April 16, 2011 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    This is important and well put, but I would add as a sort of caveat that I’m not sure how widespread the notion that the RCC is “liberal” is. Perhaps this is the consequence of my being brought up religiously by “the enemy” (liberal-leaning mainline Protestantism)–but I would never refer to Catholicism as something that’s widely purported to be a “liberal” religion.

    It’s easier and quicker to list the elements of RCC doctrine/practice that ARE liberal than the ones that aren’t, right? Certain charitable efforts, opposition to the death penalty, a pacifism of a kind (e.g., opposition to some significant recent American military adventures), lukewarm acceptance of evolution… anything else?

    So I certainly agree with Jerry that anyone considering the RCC “liberal” is seriously mistaken–but within my limited and anecdotal (and Protestant-inflected) experience, I know very few people who are in need of that particular correction.

    • Posted April 16, 2011 at 11:58 am | Permalink

      What I was going to say. I hope no one thinks of the Catholic church as liberal. (Tony Blair, we’re looking at you.)

      • Grania Spingies
        Posted April 16, 2011 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

        Indeed, the Church certainly doesn’t think of itself that way either.

        But sections of the Catholic laity imagine that it could be one day. They are fortunate to live in secular, tolerant parts of the world, and they enjoy the freedom to choose how they live their lives. When Cherie Blair decided to go public about her adventures with contraceptive devices, she did not need to fear any future reprisals beyond perhaps an embarrassed look from their parish priest and slightly grossed-out readers of her memoirs.

        They fondly imagine that their experience is what the Catholic church is all about these days. They could not be more wrong.

        • Rieux
          Posted April 16, 2011 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

          Maybe that’s it: maybe the folks in need of hearing the point Jerry makes here are liberal North American (or European?) Catholics themselves.

      • HenkM
        Posted April 17, 2011 at 7:57 am | Permalink

        NO church is liberal.

        Almost per definition.

      • BradW
        Posted April 17, 2011 at 8:20 am | Permalink

        Well I don’t know; seems to me that radical “Islamists” and radical, right, xtians might make the RCC appear “liberal”.

        Of course then you have the problem of the radical “RCC” members to add to the mix.

        • Rieux
          Posted April 17, 2011 at 10:26 am | Permalink

          I think what HenkM, Ophelia, and I are arguing, though, is that the term “liberal” can’t just be a relative term. I mean, sure—compared to (say) Opus Dei, nearly every other Catholic (and indeed Christian) is, relatively speaking, liberal. But it would be silly to assert that, say, Michele Bachmann is “liberal” just because she’s not quite as whacked-out theologically as Opus Dei (or al Quaeda or what-have-you) is.

          At some point, “liberal” has to have some concrete and absolute-as-opposed-to-relative meaning. Otherwise it’s pretty much useless, and anyway it fails to reflect the way Jerry used the word in the original post.

  9. Posted April 16, 2011 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    I like the way it was put by Darrel W. Ray in his book “The God Virus.”

    (Paraphrased)
    Prohibiting natural urges is a way to keep people in the guilt cycle. You convince them that masturbation for example is an immoral sin. They commit the sin and then feel the guilt they felt as a child who stole cookies from the cookie jar.

    The only way to feel better is to go to church and have your sin forgiven. You leave feeling cleansed and fantastic, but it has also reinforced the idea that your natural urge is wrong.

    Soon enough you give in to your natural urges again. You feel guilt, and you return to your religion to feel better. Your religion is simultaneously the source of both your happiness and your misery.

    It’s just a way of keeping people “topped up” on their delusion.

    • Ken Pidcock
      Posted April 16, 2011 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

      It’s just a way of keeping people “topped up” on their delusion.

      There is a lot of that, isn’t there?

      • Tim Harris
        Posted April 17, 2011 at 12:13 am | Permalink

        And then of course you can’t enjoy anything without that delicious dollop of guilt – certainly that seems to be the case with some Catholic acquaintances of mine. ‘When stiff and sore and scarred, I take away my hand… the hurt is not enough…’

  10. Posted April 16, 2011 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    In addition to watching you masturbate, Father Ceiling Cat needs to know why you masturbate, against what or whom you masturbate, the number and type of occurrences of your masturbation, and any other factors that may exacerbate or lessen your responsibility and culpability in this act of masturbation.

    (Forgive me the silly comment- I’m completely burnt out on writing about Catholicism/sin/guilt, etc. in a serious manner. (See link in Jerry’s post for an example) It’s exhausting after a while. :/ )

    • Posted April 16, 2011 at 11:44 am | Permalink

      Nothing to forgive. I rather like the poetry of masturbation exacerbation.
      🙂

    • SaintStephen
      Posted April 16, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      “Silliness” is only a venial sin, so no worries.

    • Posted April 16, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

      I read the post and found it surprizing. Almost fifty years ago, I spent 4 years, from 8 to 12, in a catholic boarding school and never experienced what you relate.
      I went to confession every thursday morning, and was in a hurry to go: the nuns thought it was a reason strong enough to allow us to leave the study room. I left the first one, my friend Anna followed me some minutes later, and we spent 2 hours hidden in the church, without being monitored.
      I never felt guilt of anything, and confessed the list of sins that was in the catechism book in order to get the priest’s signature on my exit-form.
      As for the masturbation, no-one ever told me one thing about it. It was forbidden to sleep with the arms under the covers. Despite my questions, I was never told why. I ended finding it myself. Would I have made experiments without the proscription?

      • Tim Harris
        Posted April 17, 2011 at 12:15 am | Permalink

        But isn’t it chiefly male masturbation that so exercises the priests?

      • Marella
        Posted April 18, 2011 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

        Forbidden to sleep with your arms under the covers? That’s a new one. I hope it was nice and warm wherever you were. I have seen a movie where the girls at a catholic boarding school had to have a bath with a smock on so they couldn’t look at their own bodies. I thought that was pretty ridiculous but then later I wondered if it was to protect them from voyeuristic nuns. The whole institution is completely fucked in the head.

    • Posted April 16, 2011 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

      It’s alright Miranda.

      You’ve contributed more than your share to exposing this evil institution.

  11. Rootboy
    Posted April 16, 2011 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    Catholicism says that there are only two acceptable times someone, male or female, may orgasm: 1) PIV sex between a husband and wife with no contraception, and 2) nocturnal emissions. #2 is grudgingly allowed since you can’t control those, and a sin must be intentional. Obviously if you’re not married then #1 isn’t available to you.

    This is because any sexual activity that is not “open to the possibility of new life”, i.e. could cause a pregnancy, is sinful. Because that’s not what God made sex for.

    My theory was always that in a society without the availability of widespread contraception, using the fear of God to restrict people’s sexuality could have been a way to prevent the spread of disease and unwanted pregnancy. These days that’s completely unnecessary, but since God’s absolute decrees of right and wrong can’t be seen to have changed over time (though of course they have in other matters…), and more importantly since this highly restricted view of human sexuality is an effective means of control for the world’s most centralized and bureaucratic religion, the church sticks with it.

    Also tied up in here is the idea that all pleasure must come with a cost. Eat too much and you’ll feel sick or get fat; have sex and get sick or unwantedly pregnant, etc. Masturbation has no obvious earthly costs, so there must be a heavenly one.

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted April 16, 2011 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      “using the fear of God to restrict people’s sexuality could have been a way to prevent the spread of disease and unwanted pregnancy”

      It is more likely that it was a way to demonstrate your absolute power over people. If you could control their sex lives – one of the most basic biological and enjoyable functions they had – then you really controlled them.

    • Tulse
      Posted April 16, 2011 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      There’s probably a bio-memetic component to the ban on contraception — if your religion has more kids that other religions, you will simply swamp them demographically. (An example of this is in Israel, where the family size of both the orthodox Jewish and the Muslim populations threaten to swamp the more secular Jews). So those faiths that ban contraception will be more successful (at least under certain conditions) than other faiths.

      • Diane G.
        Posted April 16, 2011 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

        This.

    • Ken Pidcock
      Posted April 16, 2011 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

      My theory was always that in a society without the availability of widespread contraception, using the fear of God to restrict people’s sexuality could have been a way to prevent the spread of disease and unwanted pregnancy.

      More to the point, controlling sexuality allows a society to maximize its fecundity and stay ahead of its losses to warfare. Keep your young women sexually enslaved to your old men, and you’ll be able to withstand the slaughter of enough of your young men to defeat your enemies.

      Ain’t religion special?

    • Posted April 17, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

      These are true questions:
      If “any sexual activity that is not “open to the possibility of new life”, i.e. could cause a pregnancy, is sinful” 1) can we conclude that sex is forbidden for couples over 45-50? 2) And what about women who underwent hysterectomy?
      If the catholic church is consistent, it should un-marry people sterile couples, whatever the reason.

      • Posted April 17, 2011 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

        No that’s OK: the infertile are not *deliberately* *trying* to avoid conception — it’s not their fault that it just doesn’t work. The real hypocrisy comes in allowing NFP methods. Sure, you’re not actively *preventing* conception by having sex during the (allegedly) safe periods — we’ll just ignore this elaborate system of charts and thermometers, and the books and seminars on how to use them, that help you figure out which days to deliberately avoid.

        I have argued my Catholic friend into this corner a few times. She tended to fall back on “Well, it just *feels* right to me” (which is, in fact, her usual final refuge).

        • Posted April 18, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

          Thank you.
          They seem to always have the answer that makes them right.
          I suppose that NFP methods are allowed because they serve their purpose, given how little reliable these methods are.

  12. Gayle Stone
    Posted April 16, 2011 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    I still like what the kid said when his father caught him masterbating and told him it will make you go blind, “I’ll stop when I have to start wearing glasses!”

  13. Grania Spingies
    Posted April 16, 2011 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    I think that my early experiences with the confessional (around the age of seven maybe?) was the first thing that alerted me to something about Catholicism being profoundly warped, and in all probability set me on the long road to atheism.

    It was very obvious to me that confession was a nasty invasion of a person’s privacy and then to cap this horrid psychological game perfectly, they called it a ‘sacrament’.

    The fact that elderly men are allowed to shut themselves into small windowless rooms with a lone child, girl or boy, and ask them fairly specific questions about sex acts, and that entire communities think this is perfectly okay only serves to illustrate the extent to which religion can morally stunt a community.

  14. Tim
    Posted April 16, 2011 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    I guess I should count myself as fortunate. My grandparents were devout Roman Catholics and my father was a Catholic as well – though very much a sinner (which, as we can see here, goes without saying). I’m lucky that even the age of 10 or 11 (more than 40 years ago), it was becoming clear to me that CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine – i.e., Catholic brainwashing school) was a complete crock. Just reading Jerry’s reminders as to what is a “mortal sin”, what’s a “venial sin”, and what’s a “grave sin” brings back the incredulity those classes incubated in me. I never had the courage to say anything, but I remember thinking, “Really, really, God is keeping track of all this shit!? That is what God does with eternity? How can you seriously believe that!”. My late mother (a non-churchgoing Lutheran by upbringing) raised seven sons to think I guess – here’s to you, mom!

    • Wowbagger
      Posted April 16, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

      Like they say, he’s making a list and checking it twice – oh, no wait; that’s Santa.

  15. Posted April 16, 2011 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    As a survivor of religion, let me tell you how serious the prohibition against masturbation was to me.

    I took religion very seriously for most of my life (in fact I still take religion seriously). I was an awkward, lonely teenager who had internalized the idea that I was inherently flawed and sinful, and that I had to make amends for my sins.

    I hated myself for masturbating. I tried not to think about it, but ‘don’t think of a white polar bear’: telling a 15 year old boy not to masturbate is insanity.

    Right after the moment of ejaculation I would fall to the floor and pray fervently for forgiveness. Sometimes I would ask god to kill me so I wouldn’t do it anymore. Eventually, I began cutting myself with razors to punish my sinful flesh (there is precedent for this). I still have a few big scars on my arms from more intense bouts of mortification.

    It’s easy to joke about religious prohibitions on innocent and natural sexual experimentation, but this is one of the many areas where religion is deeply sick and evil. Even now I am pained to look back on the havoc this specific prohibition wreaked on the teenage me.

    • Helen Wise
      Posted April 16, 2011 at 11:19 am | Permalink

      I’m tough, but your story is making me cry. Makes me want to apologize to you on behalf of our entire species.

      • Posted April 16, 2011 at 11:32 am | Permalink

        I appreciate the sentiment, Helen.

        The plus side to my experience is that I’m resolved not to pass that crazy belief system onto my kids, however ‘benign’ so many people think it is.

        Just think about the behavior I was engaging in! When I tell believers (and some atheists) about it, they say they feel bad for me, tell me they were sorry I got taught ‘the wrong kind of religion’, and hurriedly start to make excuses for christianity. What other belief system would have otherwise good folks playing cover-up like that for it under such circumstances? It’s a bad situation.

        • Posted April 17, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

          As I said earlier, the NT (gMatthew 5:27-30) encourages self-multilation to control lust. You got the real kind of Christianity, not the watered-down and censored version.

      • Darrell E
        Posted April 16, 2011 at 11:53 am | Permalink

        I’m tough, but your story is making me cry. Makes me want to apologize to you on behalf of our entire species.

        You’ve managed to say just what I was feeling, but much more clearly than I probably could have. I have felt the same many times in the past upon hearing similar stories of religion mangling a persons life.

        Spencer, I really hope you have managed to undo all the damage done to you and be comfortable with yourself. Proud, even.

        • Posted April 16, 2011 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

          making sense of deep personal damage is a life long project, but I’m good. People have suffered much (much!) worse.

          The funniest thing about this is that I almost didn’t leave my comment here, because I don’t write under a pseudonym; ss if it’s me who has something to hide, rather than the apologists for religion.

    • Tulse
      Posted April 16, 2011 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      Spencer, your experience sounds very similar to mine. I was a fairly fervent Catholic into my late teens, to the point of joining a high school group and going on retreats to monasteries. The issue of masturbation was profoundly shameful to me and to various other kids in my group, and the guilt at times was close to overwhelming.

      There really is a toxicity to these beliefs.

      • Posted April 16, 2011 at 11:36 am | Permalink

        Religion is really good at turning benign, healthy activities (like masturbating, thinking, etc.) into institutionalized objects of shame.

        Should we put together a pro-masturbation seminar, and take it from high school to high school? How long would it be before we wound up on a milk carton?

  16. Maverick
    Posted April 16, 2011 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    Masturbation is pretty serious in Judaism too. I was surprised when I learnt that there was not a shred of a reason to conclude from the Torah that it was in any way untoward.

    It used to be a sin, but not as grave a one as it is now. The biggest change occurred when the Kabbalists (Mysticists) declared it was basically the worst thing you could do ever. They also said that you couldn’t ever get forgiveness for it, unless you went through a process only they knew, which they would tell you if you paid a fee. Religion can be very profitable.

    • Diane G.
      Posted April 16, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

      …the worst thing you could do ever.

      And people still say we should turn to religion for morality. Uh huh.

      Thanks for this info–I had no idea. Is it limited to Orthodox Judaism?

      • Nathan H.
        Posted April 17, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

        I would say it is. I never got this from my Conservative (Judaism; not politics) upbringing…

  17. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted April 16, 2011 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    Apparently regular emission for men reduces the risk of prostate cancer. So if you are not married, or are away from home a lot, or widowed etc. the old hand shandy could be good for you.

    Be godly, get cancer. Not the greatest motto.

    • Diane G.
      Posted April 16, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

      Which means that we should find higher rates of prostate cancer amongst priests, eh? I’ll bet we don’t…

  18. Jacob
    Posted April 16, 2011 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    This really rubs me the wrong way.

    • moseszd
      Posted April 16, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      snicker

    • Posted April 16, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

      ba-DUM!

  19. Rev. Jack Knopf
    Posted April 16, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    Actually, Onan’s “sin” was not in whipping it out… it was in disobeying God’s command that he should lay with his (dead) brother’s wife and cause her to conceive, thereby ensuring the continuation of the family line. Onan’s sin was in not being “obedient”, which is a common theme in most religions, and can indeed be quite punitive. As far as Catholicisim being a “liberal” faith, I don’t buy that one. Perhaps compared to Whahabi Islam, it’s liberal.

    Just a bit of historico-bilical analyisis and “liberal” commentary.

  20. Posted April 16, 2011 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    With Protestants, you can often make pretty good guess what kind of religion you’re dealing with, based on the sign in front of the church. “Baptist” or “Pentecostal” ~=> Bible thumping authoritarian, regressive. “United” ~=> easy-going, DIY spirituality, socially progressive. In North America, though, the RCC does a pretty good job of being the former disguised as the latter. I’ve run across some very progressive, liberal RCs (and I still have no idea what keeps them in Rome’s orbit) and also many of the other kind. Is a puzzlement.

    • moseszd
      Posted April 16, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      Some Pentecostal churches are actually liberal. Most are not. But some are. Just like on the flip-side some UCC churches don’t accept gays/gay priests, even though the majority do accept them.

    • Diane G.
      Posted April 16, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

      Some of us veterans of the US anti-war protests of the 60’s/70’s suffer a bit of whiplash regarding today’s RCC in terms of what we remember from then.

      Not to mention the fact that Catholic flocks in those days were exhorted to vote for the Dems…

      • Ken Pidcock
        Posted April 16, 2011 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

        With ya.

    • Posted April 20, 2011 at 9:13 am | Permalink

      Belated, but apropos: John Pieret linked to this article at Religion Dispatches: http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/atheologies/4440/vatican%3A_gay_rights_opponents_are_real_victims/

      I’m not endorsing everything the author says, but this is an interesting statistic: “Recent polling by Public Religion Research Institute shows that U.S. Catholics are the most progressive Christian body with 63% supporting civil marriage for same-sex couples and 69% believing that homosexuality is not a moral issue.”

      The disconnect between what the laity (and many lower-level clergy) believe and what Head Office teaches is remarkable. Now as to why the former stick around in the latter’s show, I continue to be puzzled. But that’s how the “disguise” works: officially, the RC is reactionary; socially (ie. at the grassroots), it frequently is liberal and progressive.

  21. moseszd
    Posted April 16, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    Catholicism, though a “liberal” faith,

    How is it liberal? They no longer burn heretics?

    Pfftt… I somehow suspect those authoritarian cross-dresses would if they could.

    They certain have no embarrassment in consigning people to die by feeding them life-threatening misinformation through their various propaganda programs. They have no problem cozening up to the worst of the worst. They have no problem in making women second-class citizens. They have no problem with their own lawlessness and inhumanity. They have no problem trying to turn-back-the-clock in human rights. They won’t have women priests. Gays are, well, still bashed and despised.

    So, why are they liberal? Because they now say masses in English? They pretend their religion doesn’t conflict with science?

    I mean, I kind of curious how you’d think they were ‘liberal.’ I don’t think as them as liberal.

    When I think of liberal I think of something like the Unitarian-Universalists, the Quakers, the United Church of Christ or the Disciples of Christ. All of which, in some/most churches, not only accept open homosexuality, but actually ordain women, gays and lesbians.

    • Posted April 16, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      Look at the quotation marks around “liberal” in that sentence. Does it make more sense now?

  22. Richard C
    Posted April 16, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    I always took the Onan story as about disobedience to his father (who had ordered him to impregnate his brother’s widow), not coitus interruptus. Disobedience and dishonoring ones’ father were punished by death in Moses’ law. I don’t remember any official law against coitus interruptus in Leviticus or Deuteronomy, however.

    This is the weakness of the Old Testament’s “what he did was evil in the Lord’s sight,” it isn’t clear about exactly which part was evil.

    • Richard C
      Posted April 16, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

      (Of course, neither one is worthy of the death sentence Onan got.)

    • Posted April 17, 2011 at 6:59 am | Permalink

      The Onan story has nothing to do with contraception per se. The law Onan broke was to refuse to get his brother’s widow pregnant, thus breaking his brother’s lineage — see Deuteronomy 25:5&ff. Noting the various aspects of the raging patriarchalism on display is left as an exercise for the reader.

    • Marella
      Posted April 18, 2011 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, it’s always seemed pretty clear to me that the sin was disobedience, always the worst of sins from the point of view of the priesthood.

  23. daveau
    Posted April 16, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    When I was a teenager, I thought I should be given a medal for inventing masturbation. Of course, I didn’t brag about it to my parents…

  24. Paul Havlak
    Posted April 16, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    Amen, professor.

    It’s particularly galling to recall that when I was in C.C.D. (Catholic Sunday school but not on Sunday), Monsignor Reilly at least once had my class file through for private face-to-face confessions in the rectory. When we had perfectly good confessionals.

    I don’t recall having anything juicy, at that age, to confess, but it was creepy enough that I wasn’t surprised to read, some 30 years later, that he, too, was a pedophile.

    So yes, *having* to confess one’s intimate details, to someone you don’t necessarily trust (and possibly shouldn’t), in a position of fearsome and protected authority? Yes, child abuse.

    • Tim Harris
      Posted April 16, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

      Not just Catholics – an old friend, now dead, told me that on the first interview about being confirmed into the Anglican communion with the school chaplain, the chaplain’s first question was, ‘Do you fiddle, boy?’

  25. Bryan
    Posted April 16, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    The “fortuitous juxtaposition” – finally, something to thank god for!

  26. Posted April 16, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    I just sinned reading this post.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted April 16, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

      I like your website Joshua (no relation ~ sinning or otherwise)

  27. cornbread_r2
    Posted April 16, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    My older brother, a former Trappist monk, once advised me on how to resist sexual temptations. He suggested imagining a vagina after it had been in a grave for 3 or 4 weeks. Sweet Jebus….

    Though I never followed his advise, I did start imagining what he and his fellow monks were imagining whenever I witnessed them interacting with women who would sometimes visit their monastery. (Apparently he wasn’t very good at it because he eventually left the order and ran off with an Italian woman with enormous breasts.)

    • Tim Harris
      Posted April 17, 2011 at 12:18 am | Permalink

      Perhaps he should have imagined breasts as well…

    • daveau
      Posted April 17, 2011 at 6:58 am | Permalink

      Freud would be proud…

  28. NickMatzke
    Posted April 16, 2011 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

    Sometimes you just gotta take the bait… 🙂 Jerry writes,

    I find it hypocritical to praise the Vatican for its stance on evolution while keeping mum about all the other dogma that is far more destructive than simple creationism (cue Nick Matzke here).

    So what’s the principle being applied here? It looks like you are saying that no one should ever cite the fact that some major culturally important group agrees with them on issue A, unless said group also has perfect views on issues B-Z. If taken seriously, this advice would suggest that, for instance, no environmental group should ever cite the support of pro-environment religious groups, at least not without blasting them with a detailed list critiquing them for every other real or perceived shortcoming on masturbation and the existence of God and everything else.

    Folks are free to demand ideological purity from everyone, but in a democracy, this is mostly a waste of time. No one agrees on everything, particularly when it comes to abstruse and probably unresolvable metaphysical issues. A better strategy is to attempt to build a majority coalition on each issue of interest.

    There are other more minor points that ought to be made — e.g., there is large amount of diversity within the catholic church, both in the leadership and even more so in the followers. There are a huge number of Catholics that basically ignore the sillier parts of Catholic tradition. There are liberal and conservative Catholics. This has been the case for a long time on a lot of different issues. Pretending that Catholicism is uniform and that the right wing provides the one true basis on which to judge Catholicism in general doesn’t promote understanding.

  29. Diane G.
    Posted April 17, 2011 at 1:26 am | Permalink

    Coincidentally just posted to another list, that great science bastion Newsweek weighs in on the adaptiveness of masturbation:

    http://www.newsweek.com/2010/10/07/why-masturbation-helps-procreation.html

  30. paul fauvet
    Posted April 17, 2011 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    You write that Catholicism does not consider masturbation as “necessarily” a mortal sin.

    Well, it did in the 1960s when I was being miseducated by Jesuit priests in a Catholic grammar school in London.

    When we were about 14 years old, just entering puberty, the religious instruction course for the year was on the ten commandments, and fully a third, perhaps more, of the time was spent on the two sex commandments, (“Thou shalt not commit adultery” and “Thou shalt not covet they neighbour’s wife”).

    Our Jesuit teacher was categorical – any ejaculation outside of marriage was mortally sinful. Masturbate and go to hell. Indeed, even taking pleasure, deliberately, from a simple erection was mortally sinful.

    I remember that he once asked the class how many mortal sins are committed when two people, each married to someone else, commit adultery and use a condom. The answer he came up with was 12 (six each), although I cannot remember the precise reasoning behind this figure.

    This man was not a psychotic or a sociopath. In the non-religious classes he gave, English Literature, for example, he was perfectly pleasant and reasonable.

    If the Catholic church nowadays peaches that masturbation does not always earn you a ticket to damnation, then they’ve changed the rules in the decades since I left.

  31. Observer
    Posted April 17, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    I truly cannot comprehend the aversion some religious people have to masturbation. If anything were to stand for me as evidence of a higher power it would be orgasms. Surely anything so glorious would have to come from a higher power. And the ability to give them to yourself? Truly our God is an awesome God! What kind of twisted freak would have a problem with that?

    For God so loved the world that he said, “Go ahead, touch it!”

  32. Posted May 25, 2011 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

    “Is masturbation wrong?”

    Yes. The Catholic teaching on masturbation says that masturbation is always morally wrong.

    Sex is intended to be both an expression of love for your spouse, and a beautiful means of procreation.

    Sex is so special, powerful, and valuable that it is properly used only within marriage. If you’re not married, you should abstain from sexual activity.

    I know: this is all very counter-cultural.

    The truth sometimes is!

    Sex is the ultimate gift husbands and wives can give: a total gift of self, body and soul. Sex is how you fulfill your wedding vows to love totally, freely, and completely. As long as you both shall live. The secret of life is hidden in that intimate sharing.

    The Catholic teaching on masturbation says that masturbation denies every aspect of that promise of sex — of that promise of your vows!

    • Posted May 26, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

      “If you’re not married, you should abstain from sexual activity.”
      You should tell that to the catholic priests.

    • Posted May 26, 2011 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

      Thank you so much for reminding us that the Catholic Church imposes some very stupid, pointless rules on its followers, backed up by a lot of metaphysical wankery, for no apparent reason other than to control its members by guilt. I mean, otherwise we might have forgotten.

  33. Pato
    Posted February 28, 2013 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church says in paragraph 1446 that, “Christ instituted the sacrament of Penance for all sinful members of his Church: above all for those who, since Baptism, have fallen into grave sin, and have thus lost their baptismal grace and wounded ecclesial communion. It is to them that the sacrament of Penance offers a new possibility to convert and to recover the grace of justification. The Fathers of the Church present this sacrament as “the second plank [of salvation] after the shipwreck which is the loss of grace.””

    According to Pope John Paul II the Catechism of the Catholic Church “is given as a sure and authentic reference text for teaching Catholic doctrine.”

    By the way a confession bible verse John 20:23 if anyone wants biblical proof. And Galatians 5:19-21 for mortal sin.


3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] Forgive me, father, for I have touched myself: I was just talking to a friend who is an ex-Catholic, and was surprised to learn (yes, I’m theologically ignorant) that the Catholic Church still considers masturbation as sin.  Not necessarily a mortal sin, mind you, for those will send you straight to hell if you don’t confess them and are absolved, but a venial sin, which will land you in purgatory if you die without having confessed it. (There seems to be some understandable consternation among Catholics about this ambiguity, since masturbation, like divorce, is considered a “grave sin,” and such sins, if committed willingly and with full knowledge of how bad they are, become mortal sins.)…. […]

  2. […] Coyne is doing such a wonderful, pastoral thing. He’s addressing himself, day by day – here, here, and here, so far – to sins which catholics should consider when they do an […]

  3. […] Masturbation […]

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