Is Lust Really Immoral?

Kyle Cupp

Kyle Cupp is a former regular here at Ordinary Times who lives in a small rural town about two hours southwest of Portland, Oregon with his wife, kids, and dog. He enjoys studying and writing about the world of employment, which is good because that's his job. You can find him on Twitter.

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95 Responses

  1. Jon Rowe says:

    What would Jimmy Carter say?Report

  2. dexter says:

    I have a difficult time imagining a more boring planet than one where women are forced to dress in such a manner that would make the world wide fundies happy.Report

  3. NewDealer says:

    “Lust is a moral problem because it inclines one to perceive and to treat another solely as an object of desire or enjoyment. The lustful heart beats for flesh, not for a person. It therefore hinders personal encounters and intimacy.”

    I would say that this is only a problem if one is deceitful about it or leads the other person on.

    For example: Let’s say we have X and Y (I would normally pick names but want to avoid making this gendered). X only physically desires Y and wants nothing more than sex from Y. However, Y is sincerely in love with X as a person and wants a more significant emotional relationship. If X pretends to be emotionally vested in Y just to get sex, X is being immoral because it is leading Y down a false path with false hopes intentionally.

    However if X and Y are completely honest in expressing that it is just about sex and nothing more than it is not immoral.

    In short, I see nothing wrong with a Friends with Benefit relationship or mutual hook-up if all parties are honestReport

  4. Shazbot2 says:

    The man who thinks he cannot overcome his own lustful thought and cannot control his actions in the wake of those thoughts is not treating himself as autonomous.

    He is asking her to change his behavior so he doesn’t have to try to change his. It’s as if a drunk asked people to not drive at night for fear he can’t stop himself from drinking and driving.

    Lust is not a moral problem. The student who goes around thinking he doesn’t need to deal with his own lust is a moral jerk and a chauvinist, regardless of the fact that he is acting in a long tradition of similarly chauvinist behavior by religious Christians, Muslims, and Jews.Report

    • Kyle Cupp in reply to Shazbot2 says:

      If lust isn’t a moral problem, then why do you imply that the student ought to deal with his own lust?Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

        I think he’s saying that acting on lust is a moral problem, whereas lusting in and of itself isn’t. What takes place in the contents of one’s own mind isn’t a moral problem for anyone. It’s only a problem when you can’t constrain those desires. Or temptations. Or inclinations.

        Unless you think morality is a completely (or even in part!) internal property.

        But that’s the problem in the above scenario. That the dude experienced a distracting desire to bang the scantily clad hot chick isn’t her problem. How could it be (given all the caveats about situationally appropriate clothing Burt mentioned above)?Report

        • Kyle Cupp in reply to Stillwater says:

          Lust has an internal aspect in that it inclines one or disposes one to act in a visibly lustful way.Report

          • Stillwater in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

            Yes. That’s a description of human nature, no? Lust is the desiring of sexually attractive others. Is there anything morally wrong (or right?) about that in and of itself?Report

            • Kyle Cupp in reply to Stillwater says:

              Lust is the desiring of sexually attractive others.

              No. That’s human nature. Lust is entertaining or indulging this desire for itself and in a way that reduces the other to an object.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

                What does it mean to not reduce another person to an object?

                If I sexually desired a woman because of her sense of humor, would that not constitute lust? How many individual properties must be included in the calculus before sexual desire doesn’t constitute lust?

                {{{I’m getting the feeling that a “relationship” is necessary, one that includes history and commitment…}}}Report

              • Kyle Cupp in reply to Stillwater says:

                The answer is qualitative, not quantitative. Does your sexual desire direct you to acknowledge this woman as a person or to think of her as a mere thing for your use?Report

              • dhex in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

                that’s a really narrow definition of lust.

                on the other hand, i think that lust is largely a desire for the obliteration of normal consciousness and consumption into absorption. like a really good song, but with your junk.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to dhex says:

                I agree fully with dhex.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to dhex says:

                I’ll go on to say something like this:

                Lust focuses on the self. The other person is there to facilitate with the lust. Your consciousness is obliterated but the other person doesn’t matter outside of their ability to help reach this goal.

                The other person is a means, not an ends in themselves.Report

      • Shazbot2 in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

        The lust is not the problem. The inability to stop from harrasing, ogling, grabbing, being lewd, and in extreme cases attacking are the problem.

        Indeed, I don’t even know what it means to call an emotion or a desire “a moral problem.” Morality applies to actions. As your man Jesus said, “it is not what goes into a man’s mouth (tee hee) that defiles him, but that which comes out of it.” (I generally think Jesus is pretty poor on moral theorizing and applied ethics, but that’s a separate issue. He at least gets this right. That and rich people are evil, essentially. Just teasing.)

        Perhaps this religious student is morally incontinent. He literally can’t control his actions in the face of desires.

        If so, he has a moral duty to go live on an island or, better yet, a mental institution. (Or maybe he should pluck off the offending member. More Jesus advice.) If he is not morally incontinent, he has a duty to not grab, ogle, rape, be lewd even in the face of his desire. That’s life. By telling her to deal with his fears of his moral incontinence he is not respecting his own autonomy,

        If we universalize his action, a la Kant, imagine what the world would look like. (Hint: medieval Europe times a zillion.) There would be tremendous social pressure on everyone to never put anyone else in a situation where they had to act morally even when they had a desire to do otherwise. Then, no one would have an opportunity to act morally despite the temptation to do otherwise. But then no one would have moral autonomy. That’s not universalizable for Kant.

        On a more practical level, imagine what happens if we tolerate this kind of jerk behavior by the young student, i.e. if that behaviour became somewhat common. People might begin to think that women have a duty to not tempt men by dressing sexy. And if you don’t see how that idea is toxic stupidity, you might be a sexist.

        The woman in this case has every right dress sexy (or wear shorts.) Anything he does is all on him. For him to ask her to do anything differently implies that he is not entirely resoonsible for his own behavior.Report

        • Kyle Cupp in reply to Shazbot2 says:

          Yes, morality applies to action, but it also applies to inclinations and dispositions. Hence virtue ethics. Lust can incline one to ogle, treat another as a mere sex object or temptation, etc. That’s why it’s bad.Report

    • KatherineMW in reply to Shazbot2 says:

      As someone who’s very familiar with this topic from Christian schooling – it’s not about inability to control actions. Everyone agrees that a person’s acts are their own responsibility.

      It’s just about thoughts. And controlling whether or not one has sexual thoughts is a more challenging thing than controlling one’s actions (and I have heard it asserted, from many quarters, that it is more difficult for men than woman). Requests for women to dress modestly are about helping young men to avoid sexual thoughts about them, not actions.

      It’s not appropriate to ask a random woman you don’t know to dress differently for your convenience. It’s arguably understandable to ask someone who you do know, and who shares your religious beliefs, to help your adhere to the moral standards that you both share. We are supposed to support each other, not lead each other into temptation.Report

  5. Shazbot2 says:

    Is it true that people who keep themselves from “lustful thoughts” are

    a.) More likely to treat people of the other sex as autonomous beings, not as a means to an end.
    b.) Aless likely to commit truly immoral acts like sex crimes.

    I’d say a big no on both accounts. Requiring women to dress moderately and men to self-flagellate every time they think of a naked lady don’t do society any good. They don’t lead to mutual respect amongst the sexes. Repression of “sinful” thought doesn’t help you be a better person. If it does, that should be empirically verifiable, and would like to see the evidence.

    If anything, being open and honest about the fact that we desire people sexually allows us to understand those feelings, be used to them, and be able to control them. So to see this women as sexually attractive, maybe even get to know her and tell her she is attractive, allows you to gain control over the feeling and your actions. Indeed, the religious student could have even been friends with her, while appreciating her physical beauty, while also not having to try to sleep with her.

    That’s life in the modern world, though.Report

    • Kyle Cupp in reply to Shazbot2 says:

      As I wrote in the original post, finding someone sexually attractive is not what I mean by lust. Nor, in itself, is sexual desire or pleasure.Report

      • Shazbot2 in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

        I don’t mean to be rude, but I suspect this distinction between lust and sexual desire is nonsense.

        Can you give us examples of both and necessary and sufficient conditions for what counts as lust and what counts as sexual desire?

        You say that lust is the desire for sex for it’s own sake. I’d call that plain old sexual attraction. There may be a desire to sleep with someone for some end (pregancy, pity, exercise,). But that desire usually coincides with the desire for sex as pleasurable in and of itself.

        I suppose some devout fundamentalists may think the desire for sex as pleasurable is so sinful that they try to have sex to procreate while trying hard not to enjoy it, but this is difficult to do (and completely nuts).Report

        • Kyle Cupp in reply to Shazbot2 says:

          Here as I see it are the conditions for sexual desire or pleasure to be lustful: 1) it is sought, entertained or enjoyed for itself, as an end in itself (so not, say, as a sign of affection or as desire for bodily union with a beloved) and 2) it inclines one to objectify the object of one’s lust, perceiving this other not as a person but as a mere thing for one’s sexual gratification.Report

          • Shazbot2 in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

            So lust is sexual desire that increases the probability of treating others as objects not persons? And good sexual desire doesn’t do that?

            I don’t believe there are two kinds of sexual desire. There is just sexual desire simpliciter. Some people don’t respect the man or woman that they sexually desire. Some do. (The reasons why some do and some don’t are many and varied. For example, many men are encouraged to disrespect women. Religion has a long history of disrespecting women, etc.) The respect is not caused to exist or not exist by the nature of the sexual desire.

            Can you give us a clear example of lust as you see it? That is, sexual desire that causes a person to be disrespectful and immoral acting? I suspect you will give me an example of someone who had desire and then acted immorally towards the object of their desire. But in that case, how do you determine that it was the sexual desire that caused or lead to or “made more probable” the disrespect?Report

            • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Shazbot2 says:

              Lust is the only thing that gets us laid. Except money. What’s wrong with you people? The sky too blue today?

              When I wear my thong to the gym, they’re all over me. Do they respect my mind, do they want to discuss Thomas Aquinas? No. Do they want to tap my inner selfyness, my blatant concern for animals containing soft fur and persons having color or gender? No.

              All they want is sex. So that’s all I give them.Report

            • Kyle Cupp in reply to Shazbot2 says:

              Determining causation on the part of internal inclination is tricky business, and sometimes takes an examination of conscience, but some examples will be clearer than others. I would call Rufus Wainwright’s song “Instant Pleasure” an expression of lust, among other passions.Report

          • Morat20 in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

            I’m having a hard time finding “immoral” in just impulses or thoughts. In the hypothetical, yes — as in if I have the urge to, say, assault a coworker. That urge isn’t immoral, but I can easily recognize that putting that urge into action would be.

            The urge is just an urge — emotions are just emotions. Action — whether physical or verbal — are required for morality.

            As for objectification — I’m a bit curious as to how the term is defined. And then there’s also the simple question of: “What if I want to be objectified tonight?”. Or my wife does? Should I decline, explaining it’s immoral lust and not good, happy, sexual fun?

            Morality to me starts with actions, and is informed by or modified by consent (to a degree. Consent doesn’t make everything moral. Just more things). If you slap me out of the blue, it’s assault and immoral. If you’re wearing a leather bustier and I’m a kinky guy, it’s lust and foreplay. And not immoral.Report

            • Kyle Cupp in reply to Morat20 says:

              Consider the moral relevance of consent that you mention. Sometimes consent is given explicitly through words, but at other times it’s simply implied. Would you say that morally relevant consent is always an action?

              Regarding objectification: if you’re responding to the other’s wish to be objectified, then you’re treating the other as more than an object.Report

              • Morat20 in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

                Then your definition of “lust” is somewhat circular. Perhaps you’d be better off defining it as “treating someone in a way they don’t wish to be treated, limited to the sexual arena”.

                Which seems an awfully painful way to restate the Golden Rule. (Although that itself is not without flaw. As is “treat others as you you would treat yourself”. I try to strive for “treat others as you honestly believe they would wish to be treated” but that admittedly involves a lot of guesswork. But for a rule of thumb, it ain’t bad).

                And yes, morally relevant consent is always an action. The action might be ambivilant, it might be body language or gestures or words or written and notarized documents, but there are no mind-readers. We might mistake something for consent (although the difference between a real mistake and wishful thinking and self deception is such a fuzzy area with people), but there is always something there.

                And if there isn’t, you should probably err on the side of caution.Report

  6. Burt Likko says:

    You’re suggesting that to this fellow…

    …those dressed not to his taste—or too much to his taste—were not autonomous free persons to whom he owed respect. They were temptations who should conform to his sensitivities so that he could ignore them.

    Really? I’m just not buying that this guy came up to this woman and told her to dress differently because he respected her.

    I’m not sure how provocatively-dressed we’re talking about here, but a gym class seems like the sort of place where even short shorts are going to be generally appropriate. Unless we’re talking about a situation where norms of dress require a certain dress code (e.g., court, church, funeral), then a woman dressed appropriately for a particular situation is doing nothing wrong. Actual respect for this woman’s autonomy would manifest in this fellow minding his own business instead of venting his passive-aggressive discomfort with a perfectly normal autonomic physiology.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Nice comment Burt. I read Kyle’s OP the other way: as ridiculing the idea that his woman had an obligation to not sinfully tempt a random horny dude who doesn’t understand personal boundaries.


      • Burt Likko in reply to Stillwater says:

        I get more than a little sense of ridicule from the OP too, FTR, and zero endorsement of the fella here.

        If “lust” is defined as sexual desire married with poor self-control, then let’s not confuse those two elements, and condemn the one of those two worthy of condemnation. That’s what I’m saying, anyway.Report

        • Kyle Cupp in reply to Burt Likko says:

          I’d say you can have sexual desire with poor self-control without that desire being lustful. It’s the purpose for which sexual desire is entertained or indulged that makes it lustful, and the inclination it has for perception that makes it morally problematic.Report

          • Burt Likko in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

            Then I suspect our (quite minor) clash results from my misapprehension of what you’re defining as “lust.”Report

            • Kyle Cupp in reply to Burt Likko says:

              The craving for, or indulgence of, sexual pleasure for itself, for its own sake, in such a way that reduces the other to a mere sex object.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

                This seems like a case of overly parsing the originally broad definition of a word, in order to pare it down so that things you are comfortable with do not fall into its definition.

                Kind of like, “I’m anti-sex, but only the kind of sex that I don’t really ever engage in and you shouldn’t be liking. The sex that I do is cool.”Report

              • Kyle Cupp in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                Not really. Lust–understood as a vice–doesn’t have that originally broad a definition. Yes, it can also refer to morally neutral desire, but a morally neutral desire is, by definition, not in itself morally problematic. So when, for example, Jesus is said to have condemned lust as a kind of adultery, he wasn’t talking broadly about sexual desire.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

                I’m having a tough time here, Kyle. On the one hand, there is no doubt in my mind – none – that you are far better schooled at these things than I. So if you say lust has nothing to do with desire and sex, and is only about objectifying people, well, you ought to know.

                And yet….

                I’m having a very hard time buying into the argument that for centuries of Roman Catholics (and, for that matter, centuries of Protestants) the sin of lust that has been preached against has been, basically, not respecting the person you’re doing as a person and a human being.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                Yes! That’s what I’ve been trying to say.

                Our Tod hath spoken, and unto his words I accede.Report

              • Kyle Cupp in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                Well, I wouldn’t say that lust has nothing to do with desire and sex. Lust is a perversion or defect of that desire.

                The traditional definitions of lust taught by Christianity are, admittedly, different than what I’m asserting here, but then these definitions were built on theologies of sexuality that I’m not here assuming. According to Catholicism, for example, sexual satisfaction outside of marriage or contrary to the laws governing marriage is defined as lustful. So sex outside of marriage would be an instance of lust. So would be a failure of chastity within marriage. Implicit in a lot of these understandings, however, is some sense of other of what is good and proper for human beings.

                My aim in this post was to approach the morality of lust without assuming some religious teaching or other. I don’t mean to suggest that my specific “personalist” approach has been the standard Christian argument throughout the centuries.Report

              • Glyph in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

                Kyle, re: the lust=adultery connection purportedly made by Jesus would undercut your definition, no? I mean, adultery in and of itself does not inherently have to reduce another to pure object – many adulterous affairs have a real component of love to them, don’t they, and the adulterous relationship may persist for years, providing each party with something more than just sex (be it validation, or companionship, or whatever)?

                So if adultery does not inherently reduce the other participant to mere object, and adultery = lust per Jesus, then how can your definition be correct?

                (I suspect I know several rejoinders to this, but am curious what you & others think).Report

              • Kyle Cupp in reply to Glyph says:

                I referenced the remark by Jesus to show that, historically, lust has been considered different than mere sexual desire. The question, then, is whether Jesus was limiting the definition of lust (lust = adultery) or making a point about interior dispositions generally. My sense is that latter, that it’s akin to saying if you hate your brother you’re a murderer. Lust inclines one to acts such as adultery.Report

              • Shazbot2 in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

                I think we are all saying that whatyou are calling lust, i.e. just a desire for sexy time with no thoughts of being nice and talking and/or raising kids, is not a moral problem.

                Lust, even as you define it as desire for flesh alone- is a desire that can lead to immoral action in certain cicumstances just as any desire or emotion or thought can lead to immoral action in certain circumstances. But the thought itself is not immoral.Report

              • Kyle Cupp in reply to Shazbot2 says:

                Inclination, not “can lead,” is the morally relevant criteria.Report

              • Shazbot2 in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

                Then all thoughts, emotions, and desires are moral problems, since they all “can lead” to immoral actions.

                I desire that my children get an elite education. If I desire that and do not respect other people and view others as a means to my ends, maybe my desire to get my children an elite education is sinful. Indeed, my desire “can lead” to me stealing, say, if I stop respecting the people I am contemplating stealing from.

                All desire can lead to immorality, not just sexual desire. But desire is not the problem. The problem is a failure to control desire and act morally, i.e. a failure to be virtuous.

                Of course, the same desires can lead to good things too. Sexual desire can lead to fun, to friendship, or even to lifelong love.Report

              • Kyle Cupp in reply to Shazbot2 says:

                No, I said that “can lead” is not the morally relevant criteria. Anything can happen. Inclination is more than “can lead.”Report

              • Shazbot2 in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

                Last question: if I desire just sex from a person at time t1 but at time t2 I remember or realize how much I respect them, am I commiting “the sin of lustful thought” at time t1?

                Your newest definition of lust implies that X only lusts after Y, when X thinks of Y as only an object of sex. But thoughts aren’t permanent and enduring like that. X might view Y only as sexy when she first walks down the stairs or when X drank too much.

                I think you are worried that sexual attraction in general leads to seeing people as only sex objects over the long term. But that isn’t the case. A healthy, respectful person oscillates back and forth between seeing someone as being sexy, then smart, then kind, and then maybe holds all these thoughts at once for a while. One attitude does not preclude the other. What you are calling lust is really two attitudes at one time: valuing sexual attraction and intending to not value anything else about the person.Report

              • Kyle Cupp in reply to Shazbot2 says:

                Lust isn’t a permanent state, but it can be a habit. Your t1 appears to be lust, assuming nothing else is going on.

                Your last point isn’t far from the mark, but you can rephrase it into one attitude: desiring/enjoying sex at the expense of the person.Report

              • Burt Likko in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

                Maybe some hypotheticals?

                1. I am married and love my spouse as an actualized person and adore the entire spectrum of her personality. I have a glass of wine with dinner, then I look at my spouse and say to myself, “Heyyy!” as I feel my loins stir. Now, I’m pretty much just thinking about getting it on at this point, although the emphasis here is that the marriage is a happy one filled with love that has many substantial non-erotic dimension. Am I experiencing lust?

                2. I am married, but have fallen out of love with my spouse. We are still together for economic convenience, mutual social advantage, and to jointly raise our children (who we both do love). Now, I have a glass of wine with dinner, then I look at my spouse and say to myself, “Heyyy!” as I feel my loins stir, and she seems game for it too. We aren’t in love, but it’s been a while, and technically we are still married. Lust, or not lust?

                3. Married for convenience but no longer in love, as in #2. Difference is now, my wife and I have an “arrangement,” I have a girlfriend on the side; she has a boyfriend on the side; we have agreed to be discreet and take care that the kids don’t find out until they’re old enough to understand. Now I’m with my girlfriend, and I have a glass of wine with dinner, and then I look at my girlfriend, “Heyyy!”, loins stir, etc. Lust or not lust? Does it matter if I actually love my girlfriend?

                4. I’m not married, and hanging out with another single with whom I have until this episode had an emotionally close friendship, but it’s been completely platonic relationship. Until, of course, the wine, the loins stir, and no, it won’t be weird, let’s just go with it, and soon enough we’re making the beast with two backs. Lust, not lust? Does it matter what we decide to do with our relationship afterwards?Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to Burt Likko says:

                Even read Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy? The main character is a Catholic who’s divorced (legally, but not, of course, religiously) from his non-Catholic wife. [1] He meets her for dinner, has some wine, etc. and she’s amenable until he lets slip that the reason he asked her to dinner in the first place is that she’s the only woman in the world he can have without it being adultery. She’s very offended that it wasn’t because of her other charms and leaves.

                Lust on his part? On hers? Does it matter if they still share any affection?

                1. She’s very pretty and seems to have a lot of lovers, so, as usual, she’s really Waugh’s first wife.Report

              • Point to all of this being that teasing out non-erotic love from erotic acts is a messy soup. People have relationships, some with sex and some without, for a whole lot of really complicated reasons. And sometimes there is nothing wrong at all with just wanting to get your groove on.

                Although writing the hypotehticals was fun.Report

              • Kyle Cupp in reply to Burt Likko says:

                Good hypothetical situations, Burt. If my responses seem evasive, it’s only because I agree with what you say below: teasing out lust from other dispositions is messy soup.

                So here’s my answer for all four: it’s possible that lust is present. However, I’d say that it’s more likely present with each hypothetical, with the 4th being a possible exception. Lust, while manifest in visible action, is at root an internal disposition. It’s comparable (albeit imperfectly) to the wine you incorporate as an influence in each of the situations. It inclines one to act in a certain way.

                Now in the first situation, lust is possible, but unlikely. A perk of a committed loving relationship is that it helps order or direct the appetites. Love inclines us to recognize the other’s personhood and to respond appropriately. In the fourth situation, the relationship was hereto platonic, and yet the love of friendship was there. Lust is arguably more likely present here, but not necessarily. How each feels afterwords about what one another did might give us some signs about the internal dispositions of each going into the naughty.Report

    • Kyle Cupp in reply to Burt Likko says:

      No. He didn’t respect her. His accosting her was disrespectful. To him, she was a temptation, not a person. He should have minded his own business, as you say.Report

  7. joey jo jo says:

    is avarice immoral? not according to St. Gordon of the Gekko–he was tragically martyred by appearing in Wall St. 2.Report

  8. JBaldwin says:

    The claim that lust and respect are mutually exclusive is at best a dubious one.Report

  9. MFarmer says:

    Lust is natural and neither good nor bad in a moral sense. How we act on lust can be immoral or moral. But, to experience lust, then to go through the dance of attraction with a partner who reciprocates is a wonderful experience that’s poetic and exciting.Report

    • Kyle Cupp in reply to MFarmer says:

      Again, I distinguish between lust and attraction. The difference is huge.Report

      • MFarmer in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

        I’m distinguising also, but the difference is not that huge. To lust is to imagine, but you imagine because you are attracted. There’s nothing wrong with sexual imagination. The person who has learned to integrate mind body and soul, so to speak in a figurative manner, learns to guide lust in healthy directions, but the person who allows emotions to overpower reason will turn lust into a perversion, likely. Lust is a part of the richness of life, and imagination is the playful creativity that keeps life from being mechanical or morally restrictive to the point of dullness.Report

    • Scott Fields in reply to MFarmer says:


  10. David Ryan says:

    It depends on what your definition of “is” is.Report

  11. Nob Akimoto says:

    Dude should move to Saudi Arabia. I’m told they know how to treat women “right” there.Report

  12. GordonHide says:

    Things are much simpler for this atheist. As what you think can’t possibly have any effect on your fellows no thought can be immoral. It’s when you turn thoughts into actions that the problems may arise.Report

  13. Another part of the problem is what does “immoral” mean? I can buy that lust, in your definition, is a vice, but then we have to investigate what makes a vice a vice and what’s really wrong about vices.

    I think I know why the Christian, or at least some Christians, thinks lust is a vice: it makes the self a servant of one’s desires and feeds one’s sense of being the be all and end all, a sort of self-idolatry, the entryway to which is uncontrolled sexual passion, at least in the case of lust. This self-idolatry is ultimately harmful to the self-idolator, because he or she cuts oneself off–excommunicates oneself–from the community of other humans. (Cue in tasteless jokes about self-gratification…but despite the talk above of treating people as means rather than ends, self-gratification, too, can fall under Kyle’s definition of lust.) Of course, there are other vices which tend toward the same end: greed as the search for security, gluttony as the search for pleasure of a different sort, envy, pride as the source and end of all these vices, etc.

    For me, the “why should we care?” question is paramount. Of course, if it leads us to hurt others, then lust is bad in a way that most of us here recognize. But that doesn’t seem to be the crux of the argument for the immorality of lust. I do think that calling lust “immoral,” or better, vicious, serves perhaps only as a first step, and many people are going to hear the “immoral” part and believe that you are condemning the lustful when in fact you could be raising ways in which lust is harmful to the lustful.Report

  14. Everyone seems pretty quick to condemn the over-eager religious student, which makes me somewhat suspicious. I can agree the in the given example he may have been wrong to say something, but is saying something ALWAYS wrong? What if what she was wearing really was “indecent” according to accepted standards? What if it was in a different setting, say a restaurant, and she was wearing not gym clothes, but lingerie? And let’s not focus on his saying something (which will probably always be rude) but on what this hypothetical woman (or man) is doing. Is there anything wrong with it? My intuition is, yes, and not just because it’s against arbitrary social rules, and yes, what’s wrong with it does have to do with sexuality, and forcing others to be aware of yours when it’s not appropriate. If I’m right, the religious student was wrong in degree, not kind. But I could be wrong. If I am, what is wrong with that sort of public indecency? Our its it never wrongReport

    • Kimmi in reply to Joseph Simmons says:

      You are wrong. Because the act of wearing or not wearing clothing can have to do with sexuality, or it might not. And if someone takes what you’re doing wrong, and you have good reason to do it, it is not your fault. Take someone breastfeeding. Or the naked biker movement.

      Two people died within a matter of months on a particular road, because cars did not notice bikes. Do you really begrudge a dozen bikers going naked down the road, so that people will notice them? Is it probably inappropriate? Yes, but far from indecent. It is the inappropriateness that raises people’s level of notice, and doing such a stunt is not done for prurient reasons.Report

    • Kimmi in reply to Joseph Simmons says:

      A friend of a friend of mine had sex in a hotelroom. She left the windows open. The people in the baseball stadium below decided that sex was more entertaining than the game. Is she at fault? Does it even count as public indecency?Report

      • Joseph Simmons in reply to Kimmi says:

        I’m not saying public indecency is always wrong. I’m asking if it’s ever wrong, and, if so, what makes it wrong, and if what makes it wrong has to do with sexuality and “lust”.Report

        • Kimmi in reply to Joseph Simmons says:

          Court case pending: person arrested for pissing in a lake.
          Not indencent, just drunk, in my humble opinion.

          I do not think that walking around naked is the problem. I think attention whores (use urbandict if the term isn’t familiar) are problematic. *nyaah nyaah can’t touch this* seems like an improper reason to defy contemporary customs.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Joseph Simmons says:

      The whole “individual right to do whatevs” vs. “the community’s right to uphold accepted standards” is the fight that has been going on for dozens of years.

      In general the currently accepted rule of thumb is the whole “your right to swing your fist ends at the edge of the bubble of my personal space” and pretty much everyone is cool with that and the biggest problems involve defining what involves swinging one’s fist and where the bubble can reasonably be expected to extend. I mean, are the dumbassed teenagers who wear “Axe” swinging their fists well beyond the tip of my nose? Sure they are. Stupid teenagers.

      Legs are a different issue because, for that one, a reasonable expectation can be made to say “if it bugs you, stop looking”. And pointing out that if she were wearing this or that or this other outfit (chaps), it could be reasonably said that nobody could be expected to not look and linger (if not meditate!) does not really address the issue of whether “shorts (in a freakin’ gym)” meet this low, low bar.

      I also feel like I should point out that men and women have a lot of history when it comes to such things as “showing leg”. This history is not always pleasant to discuss.

      All that to say: there *IS* a line after which people can reasonably say “put some damn clothes on”. This was way over here on this side of that line. There are times when it could reasonably be said to be wrong. This was not one of those times.Report

      • Joseph Simmons in reply to Jaybird says:

        Right. So, is showing “too much” leg considered indecent because it’s obnoxious, harming other people in basically the same way as the kid wearing too much axe? Or is there more going on?The conservative position seems to be something like, showing too much leg is akin to offeringa bottle of alcohol to an alcoholic–you’re tempting them to do something wrong, and at a certain point tempting them like that becomes unacceptable (morally if not legally). This analogy doesn’t sound quite right to me, but neither does the most obvious alternative, that showing too much leg can be obnoxious, but nothing more. It does seem to me that there’s a moral issue involved here above don’t-be-obnoxious.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Joseph Simmons says:

          For a while there, there was an undercurrent in some feminist circles that said that all men are potential rapists.

          The whole “you’re showing too much leg” attitude seems to have a non-trivial amount of overlap with this undercurrent.

          I’ll just say that I don’t buy the underlying premise that I’m a proverbial alcoholic who will be tempted to take a proverbial drink if I see the proverbial beer on the proverbial bar.Report

  15. Mopey Duns says:

    As usual, the discussion has run face-first into the brick wall of semantics, with predictable results.Report

  16. Ryan Davidson says:

    Yeah, this, “women should be virtuous so men don’t sin,” is a huge problem. It’s mostly how modern Christians think they operate, but it’s entirely wrong. If that is the real principle which drives the necessity for modesty, then the only logical conclusion, the only ethical conclusion, is the burqa. That is the only way to guarantee that no one is titillated by looking at a woman.

    Oh really, you say? Yes, really. Witness that standards for “modesty” have varied quite drastically over the past two centuries. I’m currently on a spate of nineteenth-century French novels, and it was incredibly amusing the descriptions of clothing that were considered risque at the time. Today they’d be considered downright frumpy. Today almost nothing is left to the imagination, but a few centuries ago a woman showing her ankles was considered the height of indecency.

    Thing is, modesty was never about preventing lust in other people. People are just going to be lusty. The only thing one can to do avoid being an object of lust is to not go out in public or to go out with a bag over your head, i.e., wear a burqa. Anything short of that and anyone with a mind to do it can lust after you. No, the point of being modest isn’t to prevent sin in others, it’s to avoid the sin of vanity in one’s self. We’re supposed to be modest so that we don’t get a puffed up opinion of ourselves, or invest too much of our self-worth in how we look, or start believing that we are morally good because we look physically good. Spend less time on outward appearance and more time on inward virtue. Etc.Report

  17. Rufus F. says:

    My father was raised Catholic and stopped going years ago. I once asked him why that was and he said, “I couldn’t stand it when they started having English masses and I don’t think lust is a sin.”

    I see your point about lust, but honestly it sounds like the problem here is more misogyny- or just dehumanization in general- than lust. I do think there’s a lot of- maybe we could call it “disordered” lust- that can be dehumanizing. But, still, I think it’s a result of something more than or different from lust. I also think it inclines from somewhere different. Also, when I hear religions talk about the dangers of lust, I remember Wilhelm Reich’s line about how if you can control their genitals, you can run the world. There’s something childlike in how the religions think about sex in general that it would behoove them to address at some point.Report