Sexual Morality—Is It Really Possible?
WE LIVE in a world saturated with sex, and this has affected both young and old. You may feel as did one young man, who said: “Everything around us focuses on sex. It is as common as breathing and sleeping. Every time you pick up a magazine, or turn on the TV, there it is. When you’re at the store, driving your car, at work, at school—there it is! The way persons act, speak and dress is constantly drawing attention to the human body and sex. It is the number one topic of conversation.” Recent statistics show that, worldwide, unprecedented numbers of teenagers—even preteens—are engaging in premarital sex relations.
GREAT BRITAIN: “Only one in six girls leaving her teens is still a virgin and one in four first has sexual intercourse before 16,” a 1980 survey reveals.
CANADA: “An ‘epidemic’ of unwed teen mothers,” says a 1979 government report.
UNITED STATES: ‘Four out of five young men and two out of three young women have had sex by 19,’ a 1981 study indicates.
JAPAN: In some cities ‘unmarried mothers in their late teens and early twenties have registered a sixtyfold increase between 1970 and 1979.’
FRANCE: “More than half of France’s schoolgirls claim to take part in sexual relationships on a regular basis,” a 1980 survey shows.
“Teen Pregnancy Growing World Problem,” says a headline of a recent newspaper article in the Brazil Herald. The article documented such increases in England, Wales, East Germany and Russia. As much as 85 percent of all reported cases of venereal disease occur in young persons. Such diseases have become epidemic worldwide.
Yet not all young persons have taken up the chant “Chaste makes waste.” Many have decided that they will wait till marriage before enjoying sex relations. But it is not easy for them to preserve their chastity and “abstain from fornication,” as the Bible commands. (1 Thess. 4:3) They may rightly ask: ‘Is there any power available to help a person to cope with the awesome tidal wave of sexual promiscuity?’
Yes, there is. Startling evidence of this power was seen 2,000 years ago during one of the most morally degenerate periods in recorded history.
“THE MONSTROUS MORALS OF ROME”
The Roman statesman Seneca was an eyewitness of conditions in the Roman world at the time when Christianity had its beginning. He admitted: ‘Every day the desire for wrongdoing is greater. Wickedness has gained such power over the hearts of all that innocence is not rare—it no longer exists.’ Juvenal, who also lived during that period, writes of “the monstrous morals of Rome.”
“Past all moral sense” is how a Bible writer described the people of his day. (Eph. 4:19) Promiscuous sex relations were viewed as the norm. Ancient historian Lampridius said of that era that an unmarried person had to have a girl with whom he could have sex relations habitually, “because it was impossible that he could exist without one.” But what helped create such a sordid atmosphere?
‘IF A GOD DOES IT, WHY NOT I?’
The gods of the Romans, for the most part borrowed from the Greeks, were looked to as patterns of behavior. But what immoral characters! Venus and Flora were brazen-faced prostitutes, Bacchus was a drunkard, Mercury was a highway robber and Apollo was a seducer of many women. Even Jupiter, the chief and wisest of the gods, is said to have committed either adultery or incest with 59 women!
How did these examples affect the people? One of the plays during that era portrays a young man contemplating whether he should or should not commit fornication with a beautiful young girl. He then notices a picture of Jupiter seducing a woman. “If a god does it, why should not I, a man?” he reasons, and “so I decided to do it.” This play reflected real life, for Seneca wrote that sexual immorality no longer had any shame for a man “when he saw the gods were no better than himself.” No doubt the invisible masterminds behind these concepts of gods were the ‘sons of God’ who rebelled in Noah’s day, coming down to earth to have immoral relations with the daughters of men. Though these sexual perverts returned to the spirit realm, they have continued to saturate the society of mankind with the spirit of immorality.—Gen. 6:1-4; Jude 6, 7.
“A MARKET FOR FORNICATION”
Second-century writer Athenagoras charges that some at that time had set up “a market for fornication, and established infamous resorts for the young for every kind of vile pleasure.” Included in this “market” that publicly “sold” illicit sex was the theater. The themes of the shows dwelt on the immoral love life of the gods. The performers often dressed in “close-fitting dress” that gave the appearance of nudity. Additionally, on the walls of homes and temples, often in full public view, were paintings of “indescribable lewdness,” at times even portraying sexual intercourse. The statues of the immoral gods, often portrayed nude, were in public view for even the youngest of eyes. Also, literature containing some of the filthiest language and descriptions ever recorded circulated freely among the youth. Minds were contaminated from an early age by reading, or by having others read to them, the escapades of the gods and goddesses.
Add to this the very popular public baths, used by the masses, which were considered little better than “houses of prostitution under a respectable name”; the gymnasiums, where many young and old men exercised in the nude, and which became dens of homosexuality; and the festivals, which were often just public sexual orgies. The situation became exactly as that described in the apostle Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians. Referring to those who ‘rendered sacred service to the creation rather than the Creator’ and who followed the then-current morals, he wrote: “God gave them up to disgraceful sexual appetites, for both their females changed the natural use of themselves into one contrary to nature; and likewise even the males left the natural use of the female and became violently inflamed in their lust toward one another, males with males, working what is obscene.” (Rom. 1:24-27) Paul’s description was shockingly accurate, for the moral depravity of the Graeco-Roman world led to one of the most disgusting practices in history—the sexual abuse of young boys by older men. This filthy practice was glorified by poetry and plays, and the whole society was infected with it.
If you had lived then, and everywhere you turned you saw moral filth, how difficult it might have been to keep clean! Yes, for a young man or a young woman to have remained virtuous would indeed have required moral strength and adherence to principle. Yet, in the midst of all of this, and as by a miracle, some did display such virtue.
A MORAL MIRACLE
After listing the type of immoral persons that filled the ancient city of Corinth—fornicators, adulterers, homosexuals and the like—the apostle Paul, in his letter to the Christian congregation located there, wrote: “That is what some of you were. But you have been washed clean.” (1 Cor. 6:9-11) The teachings of genuine Christianity had imparted moral strength so that its adherents could change and stay free of sexual immorality.
“Perhaps the most marked originality of the Christian doctrine was the stress it laid on chastity,” concluded William Sanger in his book The History of Prostitution, which discusses ancient morals at length. He adds: “From the first, the Christian communities make a just boast of the purity of their morals.” What brought about such a reputation? With help from God they were able to imitate a better “image” than that of the sex-maddened gods.
THE BETTER “IMAGE”
“Clothe yourselves with the new personality,” advised the apostle Paul, “which through accurate knowledge is being made new according to the image of the One who created it.” (Col. 3:10) Through information from the inspired Scriptures and from the teachings and example of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Christians were able to come to an “accurate knowledge” of the qualities of the true God, Jehovah. His “image” stood in stark contrast to that of the Roman gods.
True Christians saw their Creator as their heavenly Father who loved and cared for them. (1 Pet. 5:6, 7) They learned how he always acted with justice, righteousness and mercy. He was pure and holy. (Deut. 32:4; 1 Pet. 1:15, 16) They were moved by his qualities, and strove to follow the inspired counsel: “Become imitators of God, as beloved children.” (Eph. 5:1) They saw God as revealed through Christ as an ever-present friend. They could love him. The spirit of genuine love filled their hearts and motivated them to Christian works.
God helped these early Christians by means of his holy spirit, which gave them “power beyond what is normal.” Also, at their religious meetings they were reminded of the need to keep chaste. By sticking close to their associates within the Christian brotherhood they managed to be faithful. (2 Cor. 4:7; Heb. 10:24-26) “We who formerly delighted in fornication, now strive for purity,” stated second-century professed Christian Justin Martyr. Still, such striving for moral purity was not easy.
A DAILY STRUGGLE
We should not forget that the early Christians lived in a depraved world. Some who became Christians were of “the household of Caesar.” (Phil. 4:22) At the time, Nero was the Caesar, and his shocking moral outrages are well known. He arranged the lewdest of entertainment. He even “married” a young man “with all the forms of regular wedlock.”a Yet those of his “household” who were Christians (perhaps government officials or servants) remained chaste despite the environment.
The Christians in Rome were objects of much peer pressure and ridicule. For instance, Seneca reflects the common view when he writes: “Whoever has no love affairs is despised.” “Chastity is simply a proof of ugliness.” Others reportedly would complain: ‘What a woman she was! How sensual, how gay! What a youth he was! How loose, how lustful! Now they have become Christians—what a pity!’
But those early disciples were not to be pitied. They could hold their heads up with self-respect. They had clear consciences. As “children of light” they spread their pure message far and wide without any embarrassment. (Eph. 5:8) Would you not have counted it a privilege to have been identified as one of these moral “rocks” in that sea of mud? Their truly satisfying way of life contrasted sharply with that of the people of the nations ‘who did not know God and indulged their covetous sexual appetite’ to their hurt.—1 Thess. 4:5.
For instance, during that first century, life for many had become meaningless. They had drunk the intoxicating cup of pleasure to the dregs—exhausting every avenue of enjoyment. No charm, no delicacy, was left—and also no satisfaction. According to the writings of Juvenal, one homosexual, who at an older age was rejected by his lover, pleaded: “What’s my best move now after all these wasted years and disappointed hopes? The bloom of life will wither too soon, our miserable span on earth is running out: While we drink, while we’re calling out for garlands and perfumes and girls, old age creeps up on us, unregarded.” However, no disappointment and misery befell those faithful Christians.
Even though Jesus’ true followers had to struggle daily to keep themselves morally clean, their peace of mind was worth it. Sexual morality was possible.
Do we see similar moral strength today? Yes. Countless young people worldwide will say that sexual morality is possible. These are youths associated with the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Despite the corrupting moral influences in entertainment and the social life of today’s society—not one step behind that of ancient Rome—these young persons, as a group, stand out as shining examples of purity.
Yet some youngsters who are associated with these Christian congregations have difficulties in this regard. Even some raised in Christian homes occasionally lose appreciation for Bible morals. How can Christian youths maintain the same moral purity as that so evident among genuine Christians of the first century—despite tremendous obstacles? How can their parents help them? Two following articles are designed to provide some practical help.—See page 8.
a Annals (IX, 37) of Roman historian Tacitus.
[Blurb on page 4]
Recent statistics show that unprecedented numbers of young people are engaging in sexual immorality
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Despite the “monstrous morals” of ancient Rome, the early Christians were miracles of moral purity