Is it sinful...?

I was talking to a few of my Protestant friends and the following topic came up: Is it sinful for a single man and single woman to lay beside one another, especially at night i.e. laying beside one another in the grass looking at the stars? My Protestant friends believe it is always sinful for unmarried men and women to lie down beside one another, regardless of the circumstances. I, on the other hand, thought it could be sinful if there are sinful intentions, etc. but if it’s just innocent conversation between two friends, I don’t see a problem with it.

What are your thoughts?

It depends on wether it can cause an occasion of sin or not.

The actual act of “lying down” with someone of the opposite sex is not a sin. However, it could be seen as scandalous and can cause an occasion of sin if one or both are particularly weak and cannot resist temptation.

Lying down can lead to cuddling, kissing, caressing and so on and so forth…that is considered sinful.

But…if a couple is devoted to God and towards chastity until marriage, then I don’t see anything wrong with it.

My thoughts?

Your protestant friends are being a bit scrupulous.

Since when are these sinful, especially if there’s no act of sex?

It could be a near occassion of sin or it could be not. Near occassions of sin, especially sexual sins, aren’t always straight forward. Sexual tension is not simply built on following a linear progression. The tension is actually formed between the tension between the temptation and the resistance to the temptation. In some ways, dating itself is a near occassion of sin. Historically marriages were arranged. Matrimonial consent was exchanged at betrothal. The couple were forbidden to consummate their marriage as they got to know each other, but since they were husband and wife, if they consummated before, it was not a sin. It simply consummated their marriage, thus the Church’s eyes, it’d then become indisoluble.

Christ, however, gave a hard teaching against divorce. Historically, marriage had not needed an official Church witness. The Church added the priest or deacon to witness the matrimonial consent because people would claim to have never been married when they’d seek to marry whoever they were committing adultery with. As such, the priest or deacon witnessed to the validity and thus was there to settle the dispute. The Church then required a waiting period to marry in order to allow the the marriage banns to be published. The original purpose was so others who might know of an impediment to the marriage had ample awareness and time to come forward and stop the proceedings. That waiting period evolved into our modern engagement practices.

In the meantime, culturally, Western society gradually moved away from so many arranged marriages, and we began to value the notion of falling in love. Falling in love previously was considered a form of lust that tempted married individuals to commit adultery. It was understood to last no longer than 3 months to 3 years (which scientifically is true. The experience we call falling in love does not last longer than 3 years. Agape must be imbeded into Eros, thus purifying the couples love from the egoism involved in romantic love). Eventually, the culture started to elevate eros and for a time believed it would help to have more successful marriages. Thus courtship and then dating evolved to give us the opportunity to fall in love before marriage while we still had freedom to abandon it for something better. The lack of success at actually improving the quality of marriages have left us with the tendency to increase the amount of time we date. Now we cohabitate and many of us tend to not have faith in marriage, or we only marry to knight our relationships.

The reality is that we cannot get around the difficulty of Christ’s statements against divorce. That’s not to say dating is wrong or that it can’t be prudently done. It certainly isn’t wise to jump into marriages thoughtlessly. And the reality is that our culture is not designed to foster arranged marriages.

But the point of chastity is to respect God’s design for human sexuality. Human sexuality is oriented toward building a family. It thus mandates a diliberate commitment for both involved in the act to take mutual responsibility for their offspring. As such, marriage is designed to keep mother and father together primarily for the sake of their offspring and thus to form the family. Christ’s teaching’s against divorce is about not breaking up families.

As such, in regards to the situation, its not straight forward, nor necessarily is kissing and the like. You have to judge it on whether your acts are honestly appropriate, whether the nature of your relationship is prudent, and whether all of this upholds the dignity of the institution of marriage or just tempting you to follow the passions of the sexual urges.

I would say laying on the ground can sometimes increase sexual tension and sometimes not. It can be overscruplous to avoid in some situations but wise and others. Its a matter of knowing yourself and communicating adequately with the person you are dating. I don’t think there is a blanket statement, but generally speaking, situations that lower your will power (drunkenness, tiredness) etc can make it more likely you will sin. Being isolated from others can decrease your inhibitions, but being around others doesn’t infallibily make it impossible to sin.

I don’t think sexual sins are understood well because of how radically different we choose our spouses compared to historical practices. It is so easy for people to reduce chastity to what you’re sexually doing and whether you’re deriving obvious physical sexual pleasure from it.

Intercourse and the heights of sexual pleasure are obviously for marriage. It is through these componants that children are created, and that comes a lot of responsibility. It demands marriage. But beyond that, I would say it is first important to understand the special interpersonal relationship that husband and wife are called to share exclusively with each other. There are levels of intimacy and bonding that belong solely to marriage. The biblical word “knowing” does refer to sex, but its interesting that it’s called knowing. Husband and wifes know each other uniquely. Its not just that they have sex. They love each other uniquely.

In understanding that, we have to come to appreciation that dating is not marriage. We can lust after emotional pleasures just as much as we lust after sexual pleasures. We can spend all our time telling our boyfriend/girlfriend our insecurities and personal secrets. We can toss them our hearts without the commitment of marriage while still techniqually holding onto our virginities. But in many ways, dating should involve a reserving of your heart. “Here is where my heart wants to go, but I need to look at you critically and discern this.”

When you first start dating, it usually isn’t prudent to be too serious. If you’re talking about marriage right off the bat, chances are you’re jumping into fast. So certainly there is a gradual slope. The same is true with physical affection. Your affection should somewhat match the slope of the development of your relationship. However, that said, it should also be understood that you may have to be more reserved than necessary because going straight up the the line of acceptability may tempt you too much to go further. As such, kissing may be ok, but too much for you to handle without doing more.

A can kind of understand what you’re talking about, but if you’re reserving kissing for marriage as well, wouldn’t you necessarily be stunting the organic blooming of the relationship? I look at kissing not as the act that officiates marriage, but as the act that starts you on the road to marriage. I see it as the catalytic bond that entails marriage. If you leave too many things out of the picture in the middle stage before marriage, it’s like saying, “Until I get that ring on your finger, this thing we got going is really very superficial and contingent.”

I could have it wrong, but that’s how it seems to me.

There is some magical thinking in attributing too much absolute significance to gestures. If it’s not something you wouldn’t like to do with a sibling, then it’s not sexual unless you make it. I’m not really a fan of romanticised friendships, especially for people who already have someone in their lives, but the mere fact of being in a horizontal position in some proximity is not sinful of itself.

This said, I sometimes think people can be rather naïve about innocent gestures with friends of the opposite sex. Theoretically, there’s nothing wrong with quite a lot of things that an experienced person is inclined to rise an eyebrow to. Budding romance can be mistaken in such a way, and actually continue to develop until feelings need to be confronted.

Thus, if, say, a girl has that unique male friend she lies down on the grass gazing into the stars with, I’d indeed suggest that she might wish to re-evaluate the nature of that relationship. Just because it isn’t sinful doesn’t mean it can’t lead to pain and confusion.

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