Monday, February 9, 2009

Physical Beauty - essential for us to "be fruitful and multiply"? (Continuing the "Hot Babe" series)

This is the third installment in what I am calling the "Hot Babe" series of posts. In Was "Hot Babe" a Prerequisite in Eve's Design I introduced the topic by illustrating what I believe is a near obsession in some Christian writing (and, I assume, some Christian teaching) with physical beauty in general, female beauty in particular, and Eve's beauty as a specific and exalted example. Next, in Physical Beauty - the "essence of God" or the shallowness of man?, I looked at one particular celebrated author, John Eldredge, and his conclusions about beauty, God, creation, and Eve. I will now address a second popular author, Joshua Harris, and his conclusion that God purposely designed female beauty, illustrated in Eve, and male attraction to that beauty as the necessary elements that would push an otherwise unmotivated male population to fulfill our divine calling to "be fruitful and multiply".
Josh Harris took the Christian world, and particularly the Christian youth world, by storm with his controversial best selling book I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Through a number of sequels and related topic books, Josh has continued to provide guidance (and occasional discomfort) to both teens and youth ministry workers in the areas of relationship, sexuality, and purity. One book that piqued my interest was the boldly titled, Sex Is Not the Problem (Lust Is).

Now, it should be said from the outset that I agree with that premise - that sex when properly expressed within marriage is one of those "it is good" things within creation and that lust is what corrupts an otherwise godly and wholesome design. My issue with Harris in this book is not that the premise is wrong, but that he misses on defining the parameters of that premise. Specifically, I have to question his understanding of both the physiological workings of males and the scriptural definition of "lust". But that is a topic best left to another post. Staying on subject here, I will address and deconstruct his conclusions about Eve, her daughters, and the proclaimed essentiality of their physical beauty in God's design. I would like to tackle this in the same way as the last post, by answering some urgently begged questions. But first, to refresh, here is the quote from Sex Is Not the Problem:
"He [God] really knew what He was doing, didn't He? 'Be fruitful and...multiply,' he commanded mankind (Genesis 9:7). And then just in case we'd be tempted to slack off in the task of populating and subduing the earth, He made us sexual creatures and wired us with this incredible thing we call a sex drive...Isn't it wonderful how God has made men and women to interact with each other? He made men visually oriented then made women beautiful."[1]
Was beauty even a consideration in Adam and Eve's relationship?
We know two things for certain about the assessment of beauty. First, it is entirely subjective. Second, being subjective, it requires a number of subjects to compare the assessed person against to find where on the scale of beauty they fall. Put simply, the assessment of beauty involves an individual observer's opinion of how someone's looks rank against all others. So, who did Adam compare Eve to in order to determine if she was beautiful? Of course, he had no one to compare her to. Without a scale to rank someone against, the assessment of beauty becomes impossible. If Eve's beauty or ugliness was impossible to assess then it certainly was irrelevant in their relationship, especially their sexual and procreative relationship. Moreover, considering that eventually their were plenty of other women for Adam to compare Eve to, and considering he remained monogamous, and considering they continued to procreate like crazy for hundreds of years despite the unavoidable deterioration after the fall of Eve's physical appearance, it seems all too obvious that a subjective, comparative, assessment of Eve's physical beauty NEVER was a consideration in their relationship.

Is beauty essential for men to find a partner?
Many men would say yes. I suggest for balance we ask a blind man. The reality is that although beauty certainly does attract men, it is not essential for a man to find his life partner. We will dive into Proverbs 31 in detail in the next post, but suffice it to say that the essential elements in a compatible partner, the things that Adam rejoiced in about Eve, the characteristics that make for a permanent, covenantal, loving relationship, have nothing to do with what a woman looks like.

Is beauty essential to motivate men to have sex?
Again, ask a blind man. It is true that men are visually oriented and that we find the female form pleasing, but our vision is only one trigger to what is basically a hormonal process. Sex drive can be enhanced by visual stimuli, but visual stimuli are not absolutely necessary for sex drive to operate. In fact, a much greater motivator for men to have sex (and, presumably, procreate) is the purely biological cycle of fluid buildup in the seminal vesicles. Men are driven to have sex by their biology (as are women). God gave us that biology, but Harris seems to ignore it (or be ignorant of it). To him, sex drive is primarily about what we see. One wonders how anyone manages to make babies with the lights off.

Is beauty permanent; does God intend sex to be a permanent fixture in marriage?
I alluded to this earlier in talking about Adam and Eve, but it is a key point. Adoption of the stance Harris takes leads to two very tragic consequences. First of all, if beauty is necessary to motivate "coupling" which in turn motivates procreation, then where does that leave all the ugly girls in this world? Does God not intend for them also to find mates and have babies? This question always popped into my mind when I would read Eldredge's "A Beauty to Rescue" section of Wild at Heart. If men really need a "beauty" to rescue, what happens to all the ugly princesses trapped in metaphorical towers? By encouraging readers to look at and choose mates based primarily on subjective comparisons of physical looks, both authors quite literally send many men off "looking for love in all the wrong places". Marital studies have shown that "looks" based relationships are some of the most likely to fail. Not only that, but how many men and women alike have missed out on really great relationships with truly compatible and complimentary partners because the other person wasn't pretty enough to warrant their attraction?

But a second tragedy also looms because of this misdirection. By sanctioning a looks based attraction mechanism, the authors unwittingly support a "greener pastures" approach to relationships. Certainly, if a man needs a beauty to rescue, and if he needs a hot babe in order to be motivated to have sex, then once the ravages of time and gravity, or even worse, physical injury, reak havoc on his wife, he is justified in moving on to the next beauty. After all, God made him that way. Although it is no fault of his wife's, God designed him to seek beauty and therefore God blesses his actions in rejecting his no longer beautiful wife. In fact, the breakup is actually her fault because she has failed in her duty to meet his need for a beautiful wife. Of course, most men won't carry this out to the extreme (although certainly some do using that very justification). But many men believe it is a godly requirement that their wives maintain a level of beauty to keep them happy and fulfill their needs, and they make the relationship miserable if, no - when, she inevitably can't keep her body up to his standard of beauty.

I have attempted to show the error of these authors rhetorically, but mine is just another opinion without some scriptural back up. What really matters is what God has to say about beauty and its place in relationships, and He surprisingly has a lot to say. That is ground we will cover in the next post in the "Hot Babe" series.

1. Joshua Harris, Sex Is Not the Problem (Lust Is) (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books, 2003) p. 33, 85.

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