One of the most critically satisfying phrases in the modern era was the reductionist phrase “nothing but” as in “that’s nothing but a typical Freudian Electra complex at work” of “that’s nothing but a typical Marxist class struggle” [etc.] (Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christian)
I generally am a fan of the writings of christian feminist blogger Dianne Anderson, but sometimes feminist logic makes me scratch my head. I suppose because it’s a paradigm that I’m not that well versed in, even though I completely subscribe to the ‘radical notion that women are human’, and do find it quite weird that anyone would find such a thing radical…
One thing I cannot follow is the “Lust is not about sexuality, but about power and control” quote, to which Morgan Guyton (another blogger of which I tend to be a fan) wrote a response recently.
Let’s quote her in context (It’s best to read her post, and the post to which she refers:)
We’ve so perverted the definition of lust – narrowing it and broadening it at the same time – that we have created a paradigm under which no human being could function and come out as healthy. We’ve narrowed lust to be solely about sexual issues, ignoring that one can lust after a person’s car, a person’s position, or marriage. Lust is not about sexuality, but about power and control, as Maynard so eloquently points out.
Now I do get what she says, it could be backed up with the last of the ten commandments even, but I fail to see what this has to do with lust, or why lust would have to be defined as ‘power and control’ as it is framed in feminist theory. I do not think that this is what Jesus is warning about in Matthew 5:28 at all. There might be a factor too of ‘I want to own her and dominate her’, but I do not think at all that you can take the will to have sex with the wrong person out of the definition of sexual lust. There’s always much more involved than just one factor anyway… Like I wrote in the comments of Diannes blogpost:
There is more to sexual ethics than the liberal (as we’d call it in europe) idea of ‘consenting adults’ being what matters most, as the problem of adultery shows. I completely agree that sex without consent is a problem, but there’s much more to be said about it from a christian viewpoint… There’s also something about monogamous relationships and one-flesh covenants and stuf… Lingering in fantasies about consenting sex as equals with a woman that’s not my wife is just not right… Even if I’m not at all even interested in power and control when it comes to sex, adultery would still be bad when it’s flirty playful and without domination dynamics, and Jesus quote is just as relevant if we in our head create such a scenario as when we want to ‘take’ a woman in a more dominant way…
I would connect lust as christians have used the word through the ages more with an absence of self-control (not be able to tame ‘the passions’ as the church fathers would call it), which includes having sexual scenarios about other people in your fantasy, real or not that not our partner because our hormones like to be aroused. There is a big difference between noticing someone as attractive and wanting to have sex with that person and envisioning that in your head, or even acting upon that desire in the flesh. The first is a natural reaction, the second and third are what I would place under lust. As the saying goes ‘you can’t stop the bird from flying over, but you can stop it from nesting in your hair’. (which does not at all mean to close our eyes all the time so we see nothing, including birds, nor shaving of our hair or killing all birds)
[And let’s not forget that we as men are indeed receiving Pavlovian conditioning in our Western civilisation to watch women like sexual objects, which is something that is very hard to unlearn.]
Lust might broader than something solely sexual, it can be other unhealthy desires too, including the lust for too much food (gluttony) or the lust for power and control, but I don’t think framing it as ‘power and control’ with the modern feminist lingo meaning of those words does define what Christians or the bible call ‘lust’. One can lust without harming or controlling anyone, or people can lust together in mutual consent as adults without power and control involved.
One a side note: like the McLaren quote above notes, there is a tendency in modern theorising to fall into ‘nothing but’ reductions. I think this is exactly one of these, just as the related feminist idea of’ ‘rape is not about sex but only about power and control’. Surely power and control are more important in rape than regular sexual ‘lust’ as the word is commonly used, like in both the recent incident in India as in the biblical Sodom story, and generally in what feminists call ‘rape culture’ but no one can deny that sex is a part of rape and plays a role in it, in some cases more than in others.
And the infamous ‘good guy’ who was confused if he was a rapist from the good man project article is more of an example where rape is fueled by an uncontroled sex drive and a lack of self-control. The guy is more a sexual imbecile who needs to be educated on things that are very basic and to seriously learn how to discipline himself than ‘the devil’ (as the title of Diannes pieces would indicate) being high on search for control and power.
I know that I’ve probably not have given an exhaustive definition of lust at all, but narrowing it down to feminist categories of power and control in a ‘nothing but’ way seems quite unhelpful and counterproductive, as well as closing our eyes to other problems lust gives unrelated to power and control issues, and likely to ostracise and ‘other’ more people than needed. Projecting theories on all people is never a good idea, every story is different… Human lust for power and control is a big problem that destructs lives and societies and all of the planet, and that can be extremely damaging in sexual relationships, but sexual lust is still a problem and a sin without the slightest hint of it!
The only real revolution worth fighting for releases both oppressor and oppressed from the evil system and the different ways in which it has harmed different people. Jesus came to set all free from sin. Not just the results of sin. But in the already and not yet that’s a whole process of re-orienting our fallen nature… And learning to love our sisters and brothers, recognise the Divine Image in everyone, and honor it…