Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Does Traditional Judeo-Christian Morality Endorse Pedophilia?

Okay—now that you are all taken aback by my post’s title, let me explain it. Most of us are rightly concerned about sexual abuse of the under-aged—social conservatives especially, but they by no means have a monopoly on this concern. This post deals with my objection with the way that some prominent social conservatives frame their *concern* about sexual abuse of minors. I have observed an argument of theirs that goes something like this:

Pedophilia is the ultimate taboo. Homosexuality used to be such a taboo, but doesn’t seem to be anymore. Pedophilia seems to be the next logical slide down this slippery slope. Long-standing taboos against pedophilia seem to be eroding, and the same forces, the same logic that has led to the acceptance of homosexuality, is what is loosening the taboo against pedophilia.


Thus, they attempt to draw a connection between these otherwise wholly unrelated things.

There is even a term for this phenomenon: Pedophilia Chic. Mary Eberstadt coined that term and she is one such prominent “social conservative” to whom I refer. She describes it as “the last gasp of anihilism that has exhausted itself by chasing down every other avenue of liberation, only to find one last roadblock still manned by the bourgeoisie.” Robert Bork, in his 2003 afterword to Slouching Towards Gomorrah references Eberstadt’s argument. Bork perfectly sums up this concern: “’About pedophilia,’ Eberstadt concludes, ‘there remains one and only one proposition that commands public assent. It is this: If the sexual abuse of minors is not wrong then nothing is.’ That same statement could have been made about homosexual conduct a few decades back.” p. 372. And Eberstadt, (like blogger Clayton Cramer) places much blame for this eroding taboo on a radical but sizable minority of gay activists: “This ‘question,’ settled thought it may be in the opinions and laws of the rest of the country, is demonstrably not yet settled within certain parts of the gay rights movement.”

And many other of the various right-wing “Christian” organizations similarly attempt to connect homosexuality and pedophilia in this way. I personally find this argument to be insulting and bigoted. But my aim here is not to expose bigotry, rather to expose error.

The problem is that the question was never “settled” as Eberstadt claims. In fact, long standing traditions in this nation and in Western Culture dating back to the Jews of the Old Testament have endorsed what Eberstadt refers to as “pedophilia” (at least, in one particular form). And it’s only in this modern “sexually liberated era”—this era that has seen a greater acceptance of homosexuality—that a consensus has begun to emerge that sex between adults and the under-aged should be prohibited in all of its forms.

First let’s define what the “pedophilia” is that Mary Eberstadt refers to. She is not referring exclusively or even predominantly to sex between adults and pre-pubescent children. That indeed has been the subject of such a long-standing traditional prohibition. No, most all of her proffered examples refer to sex between adults and under-aged, but biologically mature, post-pubescent teens. It is very important that we appreciate this distinction. All of the examples attempting to “connect” homosexuality with “pedophilia”—from the under-aged Calvin Klein models, to XY Magazine (a magazine aimed at gay teens, which features alluring pictures of young males, some under-aged teens), to the recent scandal in the Catholic Church—deals with this type of “pedophilia.”

And it’s true that the forces of “sexual liberation,”—(including its component in the gay community)—have argued for lowering the age of consent. But what is the age of consent that they argue for? Is it 5, 8, 9? No, it’s usually between the ages of 12-14. And what does that time period in one’s life coincide with? Puberty or biological fertility. The problem is this: At one point in all of our lives, we are children and clearly ought not to have sex or do a whole host of other “adult” activities. And later at some point, we become fully mature adults. And we need to draw the line somewhere. The general consensus today is that 18 is where the line should be drawn and I agree that this is a good place to draw it. But it hasn’t always been that way. When folks argue that the line should be lowered to say 13, their argument is usually based on the fact that at that age, the teen has become “biologically fertile,” hence “ready” for sex. That nature, yes nature, has given us that line. And from a purely naturalistic perspective, this argument is valid: Nature doesn’t draw the line at “18”; nature does make us biologically fertile adults around the age of puberty. If a 14-year-old female successfully gets impregnated, then nature—and especially a natural teleology that views “procreation” as the ultimate “end” of sex—has just signaled that this act is “normal.”

But it’s still wrong. This line drawing at puberty is, in my opinion, another example of the naturalistic fallacy, that looks to nature for “cues” and then derives a “norm” from nature without the appropriate level of deliberation (in other words, inappropriately deriving a value from a fact of nature). We may be biologically fertile at the ages of 13, 14, or 15, but we are still too young for sex in general and especially too young for sex with adults in particular. This behavior, even if “natural” is still wrong, because it harms the under-aged. But ultimately, the forces of sexual liberation make a “naturalistic” argument when they argue that it is appropriate for teens to have sex because they are biologically mature.

And most importantly—this is *the* central point of my post—it wasn’t post-60s sex radicals or gay activists who first made this naturalistic fallacy: It was Judeo-Christian traditional morality. Let us not forget Judaic Law holds that we become full adults at the age of 13. The Ancient Jews needed a place to draw the line regarding when we become adults, and they looked to nature, observed that we become fertile around the age of 13, and drew the line there. Since then, it has been acceptable in many quarters of civilized Western society for 13 year olds to have sex with adults or older people, provided that it took place within the context of a marriage. And many states, in the “good old days,” of traditional pre-1960s morality had laws that explicitly allowed for such teens to get married—hence explicitly publicly vetting the notion that it’s okay for a 13-year-old to have sex with an adult, at least in that circumstance. Let us not forget that both Loretta Lynn and Jerry Lee Lewis, and many other non-celebrities were in marriages that involved a 13-year-old and an adult over 18. And this is far less acceptable today, in post-60s sexual modernity, than it was then.

I remember debating online an intelligent but very neurotic Christian fundamentalist about homosexuality in particular and sexual mores in general. She was neurotic because she felt she had to justify everything that the Bible, or traditional Judeo-Christian morality posited, down to the last dotted “i” and crossed “t,” concerned that her whole belief system would fall apart if she didn't. She too, attempted to draw some sort of equivalence between acceptance of homosexuality and of pedophilia, and I made my point about Judaic law and biological fertility. Her response was this: Sex between an under-aged post-pubescent teen and an adult is not pedophilia. She didn’t say that she approved of such relations and certainly didn’t believe we should lower the age of consent. But she did make it clear that this form of sex was not something that was “always wrong.” She felt she had to take that position because, as she herself informed me, the Bible alludes to women being perfectly suitable for wifehood well before the age of 18.

And she is correct that sex between an adult and an under-aged post-pubescent teen is not technically “pedophilia”; its clinical term is "ephebophilia." And this phenomenon—adults, either heterosexual or homosexual, having sex with post-pubescent, but under-aged teens—stems from a different “psychological condition,” than does “pedophilia.” Yes, there are some folks, who for some unknown reason, have the pathological urge to sexually violate pre-pubescent children. They are true pedophiles. Most of the sex that occurs between adults and the under-aged is not true pedophilia but stems from a “normal” heterosexual (or in some cases, homosexual) orientation. Take the example of golfer Michele Yie, for instance. She has been called the next Tiger Woods. She is 14 and she is already 6-feet tall. She is an attractive, fully mature teen. There is nothing “abnormal” about an adult male feeling sexual attraction towards her, as there would be with such an adult desiring a 5-year old girl. (Just as there was nothing “abnormal” about the desires that Jerry Lee Lewis or Loretta Lynn’s husband had towards their respective spouses.) And during the whole Catholic Priest scandal, critics pointed out that the pattern of abuse tended to involve post-pubescent under-aged teens, thus connecting the abuse to adult homosexuality more so than it would be if it involved pre-pubescent boys.

When I use the term, “normal,” please don’t misinterpret this as approval. It’s normal for an adult male to have sexual feelings for an attractive under-aged but fully mature female, just as it's normal for an adult male to lust (as Jimmy Carter put it) after many women other than his wife. Regardless of the differences in the etiologies of sexual acts between adults and pre-pubescent children on the one hand and post-pubescent teens on the other, both acts are wrong for the exact same reason: They both harm the under-aged, regardless of why they were committed.

But understanding the difference between “pedophilia” and “ephebophilia” is important because it shatters the notion that acceptance of homosexuality is leading to “pedophilia chic.” Almost all forms of “pedophilia” that critics attempt to tie to the gay community involve sex between adult males and post-pubescent teens. Indeed—from the Priest abuse scandal, to “surveys” attempting to demonstrate that a significant percentage of gay men have had sex with the under-aged (I know of one such survey that draws the line of childhood at 19!), to lowering the age of consent (and most gays want to lower the age to whatever the equal heterosexual age is anyway)—one will have to look long and hard to attempt to connect the gay community with sex or advocacy of sex with prepubescent boys. True pedophilia involves a different sexual orientation. Virtually all of these pedophiles (that molest boys) are self-identified heterosexual males and demonstrate no attraction to adult males.

To the extent that certain forces within the gay community, (or within the “sexually liberated” straight community) have endorsed sex between adults and under-aged post-pubescent teens, that is wrong, and that deserves condemnation. Yet “gay activists” were hardly the first to make the “fallacy” of thinking such relationships are okay (blame the Ancient Jews and customs of traditional morality and family law that permitted marriages of 13 year olds for that), and I haven’t seen any evidence that gays are more likely be involved in such relationships than straights.

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Anonymous said...

It seems to me to be a very hard question to decide for someone else when she or he can, without any harm, have sex.

There are some schools of religious thought which will claim that any sex, at any age, is harmful. There are others who will want to lower the age of consent to pubescence or even lower. Between these two extremes, society, if it is to retain sex as an allowed activity, has to choose and make a decision.

There is no doubt in any normal person's mind that sex with a pre-pubescent is wrong. However much one agrees with this, a rational person still needs to ask why. Answers: 1. a pre-pubescent's body and mind are not made ready by nature for sex. Question: as everyone knows, biological maturity seems to be advancing to earlier years. also, men and women become pubescent at different ages in different cultures. so if it happens, at some place and time, that a 7 year old girl has become biologically mature, will it be okay to have sex with her? contrarily, if , somehow, it happens to be that this age of maturity starts increasing: will it be then wrong to have sex with a 25 year old biologically immature, consenting woman? most importantly, who will decide when it is right/wrong: society, the 7 year old mature kid, the 25-year old immature woman, or the man?


7-year old is an extreme (and gross) example. But I think we need to devise a test of sexual maturity. The only reason we have not done this so far is because, even in our liberated society, judeo-christian theology still manages to make discussion of sex a taboo subject.


there should be a test, devised by doctors, psychologists, lawyers, and evry other sane person in society. conditions:

1. there should be no hide and seek about sex. if two people, of whatever age, have reached an agreement to have sex, the law should have them come and perform this test to decide on their maturity etc.

2. the test will decide , first, the physical maturity of either party. then there should be a method to decide upon mental maturity. if the mind of a party is such that sex will create harmful impressions rather than anything good, then society should make them refrain until this condition changes.

3. difference in age will play a rational, not an emotional role, in the decision-making process. if a 80 year old billionaire can marry a 25 year old beauty, it becomes a very important issue to decide why a 25 year old cannot have sex with a 15 year old, given that they both pass this test.


i neither endorce nor condone underage sex for post-pubescent people. in many ways and for most people, it seems to me to be wrong. but how old was juliet? it seems to me to be a very difficult question to answer : the age of consent issue.

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Michael said...

I also agree with you objection about that. Especially really with those social conservatives that frame their concern about the sexual abuse of minors.