« "They had lied to me so many times": reflecting on writing about the intersection of faith and sex | Main | Friday Random Ten: Bastille Day edition, and not a French song to be found »

July 13, 2006



Hugo, perhaps you are forgetting St. Paul, who instructs us not to make our liberty a stumbling block? If you are leading a brother or sister into sin, even if the action in itself is morally neutral, you ought to stop. That's why Paul said (or threatened to say) "I will never eat meat again", if eating meat offered to idols was going to be a stumbling block to the weak. We are not to insist on our liberty of conscience in small matters at the expense of a brother or sister-and there is no gender distinction there.

To paraphrase your own words, it's not an either-or, but a both/and. Yes, we have a responsibility to excercise self-control. But that is commensurate with a Christian obligation to dress modestly, as both Paul and Peter instruct. That means both sexes-there is no gender distinction there. And that means both that I have a responsibility to keep custody of the eyes, and a responsibility on the girl as well. In these matters, "each should carry his own load", and I leave the urging of that responsibility to others, and concentrate on my own. But a bishop hasn't that option. He is the pastor of the whole flock. And if you read the whole of his pastoral letter, modesty isn't just about clothes, but about living a holy life full stop, about purification of the heart. I notice you didn't get to that bit.


I didn't get to that bit, John, because I've got no problem with that sort of modesty. I have a problem with his quoting Exodus 20:17 and Matthew 5:28 in support of suggesting that women are to cover up. That's just indefensible exegesis.


BTW, John, I'm really glad you're commenting here again.


Well, I am a t-shirt and long pants sort of church-goer, as are most of the congregation, but I do refrain from tight t-shirts and slogans. I don't wear over-tight clothing anyway, unless I am wearing Spandex exercise wear.


Hugo, thank you for reminding us again that it's not the object of desire who's responsible for sin...and that we all must take responsibility for our own actions...no more playing the blame game..doesn't cut it anymore. Your forum is an inspiration to those of us men who are struggling to overcome self-destructive, compulsive behavior. Thank you.


This would be equivalent to insisting that rich people live in 4 room tract houses, drive 10 year old Escorts and buy clothing from Walmart because, hey! Someone might covet their stuff!

And you know what? Someone would STILL covet their wealth, even though it was not displayed, just as some experience lust no matter how the woman is dressed.


This is so typical of so-called progressives. Everything is not about power relationships and blame. Sometimes, just sometimes, you need to look at a situation with a little common sense.

If a gorgeous young woman walks down the aisle at church naked and I lust after her - there are TWO sins - mine for lusting and hers for tempting which cooperates in my sin. The fact that I identify her sin does not shift the blame for my sin to her. Tempting another to sin is itself a sin.

BTW - Bishop Yanta studies theology at Assumption Seminary in San Antonio, TX.


What of community? What of building up the Body of Christ? What of love?

If I dress modestly, I love others who may be distracted. If I maintain custody of my eyes, thoughts and speech, then I treat those who are dressed immodestly as members of Christ's Body rather than as objects for my gratification or censure. In both instances, I also become a model for those who are striving to love as Christ loves us. And, since I too am a sinner, being around others who are modest and who maintain custody of themselves strengthens me when I am having "bad days."

Our goal is to love as Christ loves us. That onus is on each one of us all of the time. It is terribly foolish to imagine ourselves absolved from love's requirements simply because Scripture contains no specific reference to a particular situation or behaviour. To be Catholic is to be much more than individuals seeking our own personal holiness. We must also be concerned with helping our brother reach holiness too. In love, modesty is required, not because Scripture commands it but because Love seeks the others good.


In love, modesty is required, not because Scripture commands it but because Love seeks the others good.

Fine. I have no problem with suggestions that we dress in a manner that is humble and not designed to call attention to ourselves. I hung out with the Mennonites long enough to learn that modesty is less about concealing our bodies for sexual reasons and more about avoiding vain displays of wealth. If we're going to go down that road, Drusilla, where is the bishop's sermon about not wearing Rolexes to the Eucharist, because it might cause a poorer congregant to "covet" his neighbor's watch?

Why do conservatives wish to regulate displays of flesh, but not wish to regulate displays of one's earthly riches? Fine, ban the thong at worship -- but ban the Gucci loafers too if we're concerned with helping folks avoid coveting. The mistake is not in suggesting we are all accountable, the mistake is in suggesting that modesty is primarily about sex (rather than about vanity and greed), and that women have a special responsibility to be modest.

Sean writes: If a gorgeous young woman walks down the aisle at church naked and I lust after her - there are TWO sins - mine for lusting and hers for tempting which cooperates in my sin.

How on earth can you be certain of her intention, Sean? Is it her mere gorgeousness that tempts you? The intentional desire to arouse sin in another is sinful, I'll agree, but in order for it to be sinful it must be deliberate and intentional -- and you'll have a heck of a time convincing any woman that she is only the object of lust when she invites it!


Of course, women can look quite attractive (and, as such, inspire lust) in all manner of modest dress. To properly follow his own logic to it's logical conclusion, he should be insisting that women dress frumpily and unattractively.

The Happy Feminist

Right and even an unattractively dressed woman can inspire lust.

Sean H

Ok Hugo. When I go to Mass and the 17 year old girl in front of me kneels down and I am treated to her Superman Thong and the top inch and a half of her buttocks, I'm thinking maybe, just maybe this is intentional. Do I think she's specifically trying to tempt me - an overweight middle aged man. No. And fortunately I am old enough and annoyed enough that it doesn't. But she's not wearing what she is because it's comfortable, but because it is alluring. Moreover, the reason that she does it is because of people like your friends at Feministe who would excoriate anyone who suggested to her that doing so demeans her and is uncharitable to some of the young men around her. No one is telling our young people about modesty because no one wants to be called "intolerant." I say God Bless Bishop Yanta for having the courage to say something that needs to be said.


But she's not wearing what she is because it's comfortable, but because it is alluring.

And you know this how, exactly?

Moreover, the reason that she does it is because of people like your friends at Feministe who would excoriate anyone who suggested to her that doing so demeans her and is uncharitable to some of the young men around her.

So we're now blaming feminists for the parade of "scantily clad" women at church? How novel.

I say God Bless Bishop Yanta for having the courage to say something that needs to be said.

For having the courage to mouth trite stereotypes and endeavor to cloak them in Scripture? Please.


I have a good friend who is a teacher of makeup artistry at a film school. She's been 'round the celebrity and fashion block and understands trends far better than I. I remember worrying a few years back about all the girls in low rise and thongs, and the messages they were sending, and she said: "It means something else to young folks. It's tribal, not sexual; that the fashions *are* sexual isn't what the kids are doing, it's what the designers are doing. The 14 year old with the thong and belly showing is merely being part of her crowd."

I think back to my days of Goth, with heavy black eyeliner and black hair and red lipstick and lots of black lace and combat boots, and I know absolutely that my rendering of that image was far more innocent than the entire history of that image. It did not say to me what it may have said to others; there was a message I was sending that my ingroup recognized and everyone else misinterpreted. That was the point!

Also, I had a baby in September, and I went to buy some jeans for my in-between size; and unless I went for obviously older stores, there was nothing out there that didn't show the top of my underpants. Ultra-low rise is the name of the game in many youth stores. (Since I'm older and post baby, I admitted to myself that it was time to shop in older stores. That's okay for me, with the 2 kids and the established life. It's a hard thing to ask a kid to go there, though.)

Anyway, if you find yourself lusting after the youthful woman with her butt showing, remind yourself that it's less her idea of self than the idea presented by a middle aged man that you're lusting after...

ANYWAY; as someone who has been on the diet train more than once, I rarely accuse the universe of the sin of continuing to produce delicious ice cream and demand that Ben and Jerry's change it's Cherry Garcia ways. I generally make the decision that I am responsible for myself and my own health, and Ben and Jerry's is none of my concern.


This may be a little OT, (so if you feel it is Hugo, I'm okay with you deleting it), but I've noticed something with the intersection of clothes and your previous discussion on Christian sexuality.

Lust isn't sinful. Even for a Christian, in a proper context (in their case marriage) lust is quite healthy. Which is why I think Christian perspetives stumble when it comes to talking about sex. Why shouldn't you be attracted to your significant other? Why shouldn't s/he inspire a little lust?

I've seen this problem pop up with many emotions: anger, grief, pride. It's not the emotion that is sinful, it's what you do with it.

Just thought I'd point this out.


Absolutely, Antigone! We're talking about lust for those with whom one is not in relationship -- lusting after one's spouse or fiancee is a fine thing indeed.

The Countess

I read the Bishop's letter. It's so off-the-wall I had to write a blog post about it. I fisked it, too.

I was raised Catholic, so I know how things go in Catholic church. I remember girls getting grief from priests when they'd show up for church in hip-huggers. My age is showing. ;)

Hugo, did you see when Yanta said that this immodesty problem is nothing new? He mentioned the same problems with dress as far back as 1921. You mean the Catholic church has had this problem for 85 years, and it hasn't fixed it yet?

I can't get over the idea of women showing up for church in bikinis, and guys showing up for church in baggy pants and "The Ramones" t-shirts. I had no idea, and - sorry - I think it's funny. The Catholic church needs to clean up its own act before it condemns those who don't follow its precepts.


Countess, it's not just an eighty-five year problem. St. Thomas Aquinas had this problem with womens' dress further back than that.

Honestly, I think this has to do a lot with just wanting women gone. Because really, that's the only way for women to "not inspire lust", and even then, men still fantisize.

Dave Vargo

Good discussion per usual. I don't always agree with you, but you tackle the tough stuff.

I say "bravo" to the ladies wearing the skimpy clothes to church. Thanks to them lust addicts have a supply right in the house of God. I think that ALL of society's problems are demand oriented. Supply has nothing to do with it! Drug dealers are completely innocent. It's the drug addicts! The British were soooo right to force the Chinese to take opium.

Casinos are innocent. It's the gambling addicts!

Mass media has nothing to do with diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Hugo, I recently went to a clinic on the West Side of Chicago. I was the only white person there. I was the only person even remotely ON the Body Mass Index and I'm out of shape. Not only are my man boobs real, they're spectacular. Oh, but some of those ladies and gentlemen have crevices on their torso that have not felt the cool breeze of fresh air in years. I started to think about all the advertising on the UPN that features minorities happily consuming junk food. I started to think about the fact that there are no grocery stores in that neighborhood and that corner stores carry the high profit junk food that is so happily promoted on TV. Then I remembered that those who supply and entice bear no responsibility. It's all the fault of those food addicts.


Dave, women aren't things.

Human bodies are not like food or like drugs. They are neither commodities that can be bought and sold (human slavery is illegal) nor inanimate objects that can pass from owner to owner.

That a grown adult would need to be told this is one of the saddest things I can imagine. The idea that a human being, by the act of living in a body, is in some way "supplying" it to viewers is one of the sickest. Women aren't your suppliers, and you're not addicted to us. Our bodies aren't a "supply."

Women aren't things.

Dave Vargo

Good thinking sophonisba,

BUT . . . .

I'm not sure you got the point. Perhaps I have not explained my reasoning well enough. Here's the crux, a real woman and the image of a woman are NOT the same thing.

Some people are addicted to drugs or food. These are things. Some people are addicted to gambling. sophonisba, gambling addicts in recovery programs will tell you that they are addicted to the thrill of the risk, not the actual money. Gambling is not a thing, it is, for an unfortunate many, a thrilling activity.

Some people are addicted to sexual lust. Lust is a strong desire. Some people want the thrill of continual, ever varying sexual desire. They are always seeking and hunting for new images to lust after. In the case of heterosexual men, the preferred image involves the image of a woman. This is not the same thing as an actual woman!!!!! A real woman is too complex for the lust addict. The lust addict wants to flit from image to image. It is the thrill of the new image that the lust addict desires and craves. A woman dressed a certain way can, knowingly or unknowingly, be a supplier to the lust addict.

Lust does not require an actual woman to provide the image. Someone could draw sexy images of an imaginary person and many lust addicts would eagerly gaze upon it. The image is a thing. It is not a person.


Dave, you're launching us down a slippery slope. So we cover women's cleavage -- what of the lust addict who fetishizes feet? Are open-toed sandals also "causing a brother to stumle"? You're spot on that the addict isn't interested in real women, I'll grant you that, but the ramifications of making women responsible for male lust lead ultimately to the mandatory burka.

Dave Vargo

I always worry about the "slippery slope" argument. I think we must not always take things to their logical conclusion or we end up with such things as pacifists agonizing over whether they can support the existence of the police. So often, the slippery slope argument forces us into a black and white dichotomy with no room for gray.

There will always be drug addicts, gambling addicts, and food addicts. There will likewise always be lust addicts. My point is that the actions of others can exacerbate addictions and pull more people into addiction. Intelligent people have a certain amount of control over their image by choosing what they wear and how they wear it. How about simple moderation and respecting that what one wears can exacerbate an addiction that someone is facing?

Sometimes scripture specifically states things and sometimes (according to the theology professors at least!) it speaks through the over-arching narrative. If you really love God with all your heart, mind, and strength and your neighbor as yourself then you will consider your neighbor and be sensitive to his/her weaknesses.

The classic example of "in the narrative" is polygamy. It doesn't say anywhere in scriptures that your average guy can't have multiple wives. However, when I read the whole of scripture and its description of marriage, I feel that that description only makes sense in context of one man and one woman.


The image of a woman may be a thing, but you are making a thing out of a person. That is called "objectifying", or making something that is alive into an object.

That is not the fault of the live human being, that's the fault of the luster.

Dave Vargo

Some people have problems with objectifying. I personally think that it is an unkind thing to knowingly antagonize an individual with problems. Does the KKK member have the right to drape the stars and bars over his/her shoulders and walk the streets of Compton? Yes. I would believe it to be protected political speech. Would you consider such a thing to be without moral consequence?

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

Regular reads

Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 01/2004