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An Atheist and a Pastor on Same-Sex Relations and the Image of the Self

In his book The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity, Douglas Murray—an atheist who identifies as gay—points to  the book The Elusive Embrace: Desire and the Riddle of Identity (1999) by the classicist Daniel Mendelsohn.

While the following description is uncomfortable to read and may not describe sentiments shared by all who engage in gay sex, it is nevertheless a striking insight.

When men have sex with women, they fall into the woman. She is the thing that they desire, or sometimes fear, but in any event she is the end point, the place where they are going. She is the destination.

It is gay men who, during sex, fall through their partners back into themselves, over and over again.

Mendelsohn goes on:

I have had sex with many men. Most of them look a certain way. They are medium in height and tend to prettiness. They will probably have blue eyes. They seem, from the street, or across the room, a bit solemn.

When I hold them, it is like falling through a reflection back into my desire, into the thing that defines me, my self.

This startling admission—confirmed by Murray—brought me back to a sermon by John Piper, where he offers a profound explanation for the sort of thing that Mendelsohn identifies.

Preaching on Romans 1, Piper argues that Paul assumes a “dramatization” of Christ and the Church in Christ-centered heterosexual marriage, and that he also sees a dramatization of idolatry in same-sex sexual behavior, as men and women unite with images of themselves.

The reason Paul focuses on homosexuality in these verses is because it is the most vivid dramatization in life of the profoundest connection between the disordering of heart-worship and the disordering of our sexual lives. I’ll try to say it simply, though it is weighty beyond words.

We learn from Paul in Ephesians 5:31–32 that, from the beginning, manhood and womanhood existed to represent or dramatize God’s relation to his people and then Christ’s relation to his bride, the church.

In this drama, the man represents God or Christ and is to love his wife as Christ loved the church.

The woman represents God’s people or the church.

And sexual union in the covenant of marriage represents pure, undefiled, intense heart-worship.

That is, God means for the beauty of worship to be dramatized in the right ordering of our sexual lives.

But instead, we have exchanged the glory of God for images, especially of ourselves. The beauty of heart-worship has been destroyed. Therefore, in judgment, God decrees that this disordering of our relation to him be dramatized in the disordering of our sexual relations with each other. And since the right ordering of our relationship to God in heart-worship was dramatized by heterosexual union in the covenant of marriage, the disordering of our relationship to God is dramatized by the breakdown of that heterosexual union.

Homosexuality is the most vivid form of that breakdown. God and man in covenant worship are represented by male and female in covenant sexual union. Therefore, when man turns from God to images of himself, God hands us over to what we have chosen and dramatizes it by male and female turning to images of themselves for sexual union, namely their own sex.

Homosexuality is the judgment of God dramatizing the exchange of the glory of God for images of ourselves. (See the parallel uses of “exchange” in verses 25 and 26.)

For more thinking along these lines, see:

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