Sunday, October 24, 2010

Like vs. Lust

Tracey over at palepage wrote about this a couple weeks ago, and I still am struggling with this here Modesty Survey.  (To see the data, click a category on the left, then choose a question on the right, then scroll down for the results.)  The upshot of the survey and its results are that no matter how hard women try, our clothing or makeup or jewelry or the way we sit or stand or walk is always going to constitute some sort of "stumbling block" to our brothers in the faith who (it seems) are constantly battling against the sin of lust.

Now.  I don't in any way want to underestimate or make light of the fact that men are very um...visual.  I get that.  I mean, I don't get it, but I understand the principle.  And I think that men or no men, women have a responsibility to dress modestly.  Our bodies have been given to us by God, and we should therefore treat them with respect.  It also (theoretically) helps protect us against being lusted after, and (theoretically) encourages men to get to know our personalities and characters, and not just our bodies.  And the Bible does indeed say:

...make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way.  (Romans 14:13)
Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.  (1 Corinthians 8:9)
It's also true that regardless of what the sin is, as Christians, we should all be seeking to help our brothers and sisters avoid sin. 

If you look under "Open Questions", you'll see that, at least at some level, the guys taking this survey recognize that ultimately it's their job not to lust, and not to treat their sisters-in-Christ with disrespect.  But it seems like the survey language, crafted as it is with an extreme overuse of the term "stumbling block", is meant to suggest that women have an enormous responsbility to dress modestly not because it is a virtue in and of itself, but solely in order to prevent others from sinning.

I'm just not sure what I think about that.  I feel like Paul's admonishment not to place stumbling blocks in the path of the weak is mostly about people who are weak in the faith and have not yet come to enough spiritual maturity to understand proper exercise of Christian freedom.  I think if you can run around demanding that other people not place stumbling blocks in your way, then Paul's not talking about you. 

But let's look seriously at Matthew 18:6, Mark 9:42, and Luke 17:2 - all of which give us some variation of

And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.
All you Bible scholars out there: in light of this passage, is there a difference between deliberately dressing and/or acting to incite lust, and attempting to dress and/or act with a reasonable degree of modesty but still becoming an inadvertant object of lust by others who lack self-control?  Common sense seems to suggest that there is, but this verse in the synoptics paints with a pretty broad brush.  Thoughts?

And finally: There seems to be an implicit suggestion that finding a woman attractive is the same thing as lusting after her.  Maybe someone can clarify this for me, but I don't think they're the same thing.  Maybe this is where male and female responses to visuals part ways, but as a woman, I think it's entirely possible to look at a man and say, "He's really very attractive," and leave it at that.  Vis a vis the survey, I resent the implication that dressing in order to look attractive is automatically dressing to incite lust.  I don't think it's true, I don't think it's how most women think when they're getting dressed, and I think that continuing to push this meme that attractive women are naturally responsible for sins of their brothers-in-Christ can actually be very psychologically harmful. 

Maybe it's just me...


PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

How about a parallel, maybe this could be informative. If I leave a car in a parking lot in a mall, maybe it will be stolen or broken into. Usually not. If I leave my wallet on the seat, with money sticking out, the chances of something happening increase. The thief is the one who sins. The person leaving the wallet is just stupid.

If I have a nice house with a nice yard, someone might covet it, but wouldn't likely steal stuff or break in. Not usually, anyway. Do we fault someone for keeping up a nice yard? If someone lives in a "certain neighborhood" it might not matter if the house and yard are nice or not, if he leaves his kid's tricycle in the yard, it will probably "disappear." That might not have anything to do with whether the bike is in great shape or not.

Although this isn't exactly parallel to lust, I think that there are some crossovers. It is all to easy to blame the victim for the perpetrator's problems. That said, it can indeed be stupid to dress in a way that seems to be an "invitation." However, that is very culturally based. What is perfectly normal to wear at the beach, isn't acceptable in certain other situations. What is not considered tawdry in the US is considered so in other countries.

Elizabeth of Hungary said...

@PS: Interesting thoughts, particularly on whether having a nice house and yard causes other people to covet them. You don't often hear anyone say, "I know shouldn't be coveting, but they shouldn't be having such a nice house across the street so I have to look at it all the time."

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My Comments Policy: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." Galatians 5:22-23