Sam Harris is a popular atheist philosopher, speaker, and author (image from SamHarris.org)
In a debate on ABC Nightline (aired March 23, 2010), atheist philosopher and bestselling author Sam Harris summed up his understanding of Christian theism this way: “The God that our neighbors believe in is essentially an invisible person. He’s a creator deity, who created the universe to have a relationship with one species of primates — lucky us. And he’s got galaxy upon galaxy to attend to, but he’s especially concerned with what we do, and he’s especially concerned with what we do while naked.”
Harris’ sarcastic characterization of Christian theism belies the underlying emotional and psychological appeal of New Atheism. Atheists, of course, claim the basis of their worldview is Reason. I don’t doubt their sincerity in making that claim, but the theme which consistently pops up again and again in atheist writings, especially those of the late 20th and now early 21st centuries, is….a sarcastic cynicism that sneers at and/or derides religion and pretty much all its adherents. In the face of such disdain, it’s tempting to ignore such attacks, but given the extraordinary popularity of Harris and those like him, it’s important to address at least some of their points, and I think the one he makes of God’s (in Harris’ view) inappropriate attention to human sexuality qualifies as one worthy of our attention.
In this article, I’m going to respond to Harris’ criticism of Christianity and his assumption that, if God exists, He should not have any concern with our sexuality. In doing so, please understand my remarks are confined to the spiritual and theological dimensions of this issue. I’m not necessarily making an argument that civil government has some kind of responsibility to enforce a certain brand of sexual ethics. The government’s role in all this is for another article. For now, let’s confine ourselves to the religious aspects of Harris’ position.
Let me also say that my intent in writing this article is NOT to personally judge anyone. When a person is unfulfilled or frustrated in a particular area of his or her life, that person is even more vulnerable to temptation and failure in that area. This is perhaps especially true when it comes to sexuality. The world is full of people who are sexually frustrated and unfulfilled, and they are making choices (sometimes out of great pain and desperation) to satisfy their needs. This article is not written to make such people feel even worse about themselves. My desire is simply to explain why God cares about sexuality….and why He cares about you. It’s long been my contention that, when a person is dealing with pain, it’s far better for that person to turn toward God rather than away from God. For God is ultimately the One who can bring true healing and true fulfillment. This article is written in that spirit.
Why Does God Care About Us?
Harris sneers at the idea of God caring about “one species of primates” on one planet in a universe that spans “galaxy upon galaxy.” To Harris and many atheists (and perhaps some people of faith with doubts), this notion is laughably ridiculous. Let’s apply a little logic, however, to Harris’ disdain. First, it is completely logical to assert that a creator will care about his or her creation, whether we’re talking at the human level or at the cosmic level. If God made us, then it’s logical to assume that God cares about us. If God didn’t care about us, why on earth (no pun intended) would He have bothered to create us in the first place?
Second, who is to say that God cares only about the people of earth? According to astronomers, there are quite possibly “tens of billions” of planets in our Milky Way galaxy, which are capable of supporting life. I’m not one to buy into alien or UFO conspiracy theories, nor am I saying there is life on other planets. I’m only saying that it’s possible. We just don’t know. And therefore, we are NOT in a position to declare emphatically that God only cares about life on this planet. It’s possible that God created life on other planets as well. Probably not, but it’s possible. And if He did, then however He reveals Himself to the lives on those planets is up to Him. All Christians are saying is that God did create us and therefore He does care about us.
As to why God prefers humanity over the other species of the world, the Bible answers this in the book of Genesis, where we’re told that God made mankind “in His image.” Of course, atheists reject the Creation narrative in Genesis as literary myth and religious fable, so I’ll not resort to the Bible simply as my answer. I’ll additionally point out that it’s quite curious atheists (of all people) would mock mankind’s privileged status on planet earth. Since atheists fully embrace Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution (complete with its “survival of the fittest” mantra), it’s strange that they would question the reality of the human race being at the top of the species ladder. What’s interesting is that biblical Christianity, much more so than atheist evolution, gives value to all of God’s creation, including animals. In an atheist worldview, an animal is only “valuable” so far as its role in the evolutionary process or its part in the food chain! In the Bible, mankind is given the responsibility to oversee and steward the earth and to respect the earth and its inhabitants as being part of God’s creation.
Of all the planets in the galaxy, why does God care about “one species” on one planet?
Next, if God is real, then God can do whatever God wants to do. God can care about whatever God wishes to care about. An atheist, particularly one who believes in self-awareness, self-actualization, and freedom of choice, should have NO issue with a Supreme Being exercising personal choice. God cares about the human race, because God has chosen to care about the human race. Period.
And finally, why is this even a problem? We should be grateful that God cares about us. It’s one thing to express doubt or skepticism, but it’s quite another to actually prefer to live one’s life in the vacuum of space without any objective meaning, purpose, direction or value. I for one am glad that God cares about me.
Why Does God Care About Sexuality?
Okay, you might say, I’m glad God cares about me, but why is my sexuality such a big deal to God? To Harris, it’s ridiculous that God would care about what we do “while naked.” Well, again, let’s apply some basic logic. First, God doesn’t just care about what we do while naked. He cares about what we do while clothed too! And He doesn’t just care about what we do. He also cares about what we think and how we feel. God cares about every facet of our lives.
Second, we shouldn’t see God as some remote, cosmic dictator or some kind of spiritual kill-joy. If God is real, then He is the Creator of the entire universe and all of life. And that means sexuality was part of God’s creation. God isn’t against sex. Sex was His idea! Sadly, even many Christians feel that God is anti-sex and that sex is inherently dirty or sinful. That is NOT what the Bible teaches. Sex is NOT original sin. Sex is part of God’s original plan. And thus, when we say God cares about our sexuality, the proper way to say that is that God wants us to be sexually fulfilled. Yes, I’m aware that God calls some to be celibate, and we can have that discussion in another article, but His overall, general plan for the human race is one where men and women enjoy intimacy with one another.
The reason many people feel God is against sex is because He put restrictions on sex. According to the Bible, God says sex is reserved for married, heterosexual couples. Many people today find this to be either unfair on God’s part or an example of organized religion twisting God’s original intent. Or, in the case of atheists, since they don’t believe in God at all, they find religion’s “rules” on sex to be motivated by control or the desire to subjugate women, homosexuals, or others. Once again, a little logic is in order here.
Sexuality is hardly the only thing God regulates. The Bible has a lot to say about regulating money, property, the tongue, our thoughts, and many other aspects of our lives and conduct. The reason sex gets as much attention as it does is that it’s the area people generally have the toughest time submitting to God. To be a follower of Christ, the Bible asks us to submit our entire life to Him and that means every area of our lives. Some people are unwilling to do this when it comes to sexuality. Others won’t do it, when it comes to money (as was the case with the rich young ruler). Whatever someone refuses to give to the Lord has basically become that person’s “lord” or idol.
The Bible is clear that God is a jealous God. The very First Commandment given to Charlton Heston…err, sorry, Moses…was: “You shall have no other gods before Me.” No other gods! Now, at this point, atheists and many non-Christians scoff, but why should they? If God wants a relationship with us, is it not unreasonable that there be some expectations within that relationship? When I married my wife, I committed to forsake all others and commit myself only to her, so long as we both shall live. My wife had every right to expect such a commitment from me. Why shouldn’t God have a right to expect a similar commitment of sacrifice and exclusivity?
This brings us to an emotionally appealing, but logically incoherent, assumption made by many of Christianity’s critics. The assumption is that people should be allowed to believe and behave however they choose and God should still love them, appreciate them, and accept them all the same. That being their assumption, any restriction on people’s conduct or disapproval of their beliefs or actions is met with derision or contempt. While such a perspective is emotionally compelling, it’s neither reasonable nor sustainable as a worldview. For one thing, not all restrictions are negative. When an athlete trains hard for the Olympics, she accepts many restrictions on her life — all of which enable her to achieve greater fulfillment in the long run. But even when we are talking about “negative” restrictions, it’s unavoidable that some amount of self-sacrifice is required in order to have a meaningful, committed, stable relationship.
When it comes to the issue of sexuality, God is asking you to put your desires, temptations, orientation, and tendencies on the altar. That means you are trusting God with your sexuality, and if He asks, you should be willing to completely give up sex for the rest of your life. And for a few, God indeed asks for such a sacrifice. But for the overwhelming majority of human beings, God doesn’t ask them to give up sex entirely. (Again, sex was His idea and there’d be no propagation of the human race without it!) God wants most human beings to experience and enjoy sex, but He does ask that they confine their sexual activities to their marriage (Hebrews 13:4). It’s your choice whether you will comply with God’s will, but the more you surrender to God and obey Him, the more rewarding your relationship with Him will be – and the more rewarding your relationship with your spouse will be.
Naked Before God and our Soulmate
In the Garden of Eden narrative, the writer of Genesis makes a point of telling the reader that, before their fall into sin, Adam and Eve were both “naked” and unashamed. After they sinned, Adam and Eve tried to cover their nakedness. Any psychologist will tell you that we are the most vulnerable when naked. Nakedness conveys complete openness and a total release from all inhibitions or restrictions. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were naked before God and each other without shame. When one studies the teachings of the Bible on marriage and sexuality, we see that all such teachings are based on that fundamental premise of nakedness in the Garden of Eden. Uninhibited, unrestricted openness and vulnerability is something we are to experience with God and the person whom we make a lifelong, marital commitment. And God has designed things in such a way that total sexual satisfaction is best experienced within that framework.
We may not always like restrictions, but the “rules” God has placed on sexuality are made not to our detriment, but rather for our ultimate joy and fulfillment.