“Christian Sexual Atheists?”

Donald is a farmer; he’s a steward of the earth
He’s a bible-thumping Christian, too, since practically his birth
He’s on all the church committees, cos he knows religion’s worth
And he’s never had a meal without a prayer.
Mary has a part-time job—a local clothing store
Her husband leads the household, and she wishes nothing more
She also is a Christian; she was saved when only four
Oh, and she and Don are having an affair.

It’s a poorly guarded secret; no one calls them on their sin
“We’re not perfect; just forgiven”, they will say with some chagrin
Mary’s husband’s in denial, when he isn’t in the gin
They’re good Christians, so the rumors can’t be true!
It’s a quiet congregation, so it’s kinda hard to tell
But a dozen other congregants have had their flings as well
And no one ever tells them that they’re going straight to hell
Cos it’s not the sort of thing good Christians do

We see it all around us—these are vastly changing days
Soon the end will be arriving, in a whimper or a blaze
Though the portents are so obvious—like marriage, now, for gays
Cos the times, they are a-changing, don’t you know
Jesus used to be a constant; now the only constant’s change
And the things we used to count on, now they try to re-arrange
It’s this modern world we live in—but you wanna know what’s strange?
Don and Mary? That was forty years ago

Donald and Mary (not their real names) were members of the cornerstone family of the church I was a member of some 40 years ago. Mary was married to Donald’s brother, actually. I’ve written about this church before; these were good people, who literally would (and did) give their last dime to people in need, and trust in God and hard work to refill the coffers. They spoke like they trusted God more than hard work, but they worked like they trusted hard work more. Good people.

I was a teenager; I didn’t pay any attention to what the adults were doing, and only found out about all the goings-on a few years later, after we had moved. One of the brothers had made a pass at my mom, which in hindsight explained why their families had abruptly stopped dropping by our house for visits.

Anyway, I was reminded of this today, by a story in the Columbia Daily Herald about the rise of Christian “sexual atheists”. The author reports on a study that examined various moral issues, and compared the general population to self-identified Christians, who were further divided into, for instance those who supported or opposed same sex marriage.

Regnerus then tabulated the results into categories of “Churchgoing Christians who oppose Same Sex Marriage (SSM)”; “Churchgoing Christians who support SSM”; and the population average. The results he found are as follows: “At a glance, there is a pretty obvious fissure between Christians who do and do not oppose same-sex marriage. More than seven times as many of the latter think pornography is OK. Three times as many back cohabiting as a good idea, six times as many are OK with no-strings-attached sex, five times as many think adultery could be permissible, thirteen times as many have no issue with polyamorous relationships, and six times a many support abortion rights.”

In other words, being OK with gay marriage, even as a self-identified church-attending Christian, is a very strong indicator of possessing very liberal sexual morals in those additional areas unrelated to the gay marriage idea — porn, “shacking-up,” no-strings sex, adultery, polyamory, abortion. There was no substantial difference between the results for the general population and the “supporting SSM” Christians. It’s those “haters” (opposing SSM) traditional Christians who are out-of-step with the “new morality” of our country.

Now, I have to admit, I was looking for the author to blame SSM, but he actually avoids causal claims quite admirably, sticking to “predictive” and other sorts of relationships that are appropriate to the correlational study. But then… this:

That such majorities of self-identified Christians displaying behavior, or at least being “OK” with behavior that is prohibited and labelled “sin” in the Bible, has led to the coinage of a new phrase — “Christian atheist.” Reviewing the dismal statistics prompted Kenny Luck, a writer over at the Christian Post, to state “It is equally honest to say that nearly nine out of ten self-proclaimed single Christians are, in practice, sexual atheists” By that term he meant that most Christian young people who are going to church, reading their Bibles, and listening to Christian music suddenly enter a “fog” when it comes to sexuality. They “live for Christ” until it comes to their sex lives — then they are atheists. God apparently has instructions for many areas of their lives except for sexuality — that’s too private and infringes on their personal freedom to choose their own path through that fog.

I am an atheist. I have been faithfully monogamous for over 30 years. I understand that PZ has been a one-woman man for even longer. Yes, of course I know atheists who are openly polyamorous, and atheists who think they are getting away with cheating (one is among the only people I would punch in the nose, given a chance; he ended an affair with one of my friends only because he was starting one with another of my friends, all while in a non-open marriage). My point is, knowing someone is an atheist tells you precisely nothing about their sexual morality. And as the study shows, knowing that they are Christians tells you pretty much the exact same. (In a nice bit of synchronicity, livescience reports today on a study that shows “Religion doesn’t make people more moral.”

There is no reason to choose the label “sexual atheists” based on any sort of data; the only reason is to reinforce a bigoted stereotype of the good Christian and the immoral atheist. That stereotype is not true today, and not because of recent changes. That stereotype was not true for Don and Mary, nor for countless stories dating back to Chaucer and before. It reeks of “that’s mighty white of you” (as my good Christian grand-dad used to say).

Sorry, Christians, but Christians who have affairs are still Christians. And the atheists who don’t have affairs are still atheists. And, as an aside, given that one of the questionnaire items that the author interpreted as declining morality was an increased agreement with “I support abortion rights”, I’d take issue with the claim of moral decline in the first place. A decline in bad morality is not a bad thing.


  1. etseq says

    It’s just more anti-gay agitprop by Mark Regnerus, who doesn’t even bother attempting to publish his “work” in peer reviewed journals any more. He has set up a brand new right wing think tank a few blocks from his office in Austin at UT and brings in millions of dollars from right wing foundations to pump out “studies” that are just glorified press releases for the christian/right wing media to salivate over. All of the “data” is private and there is no external review – hell, he doesn’t even release the survey instrument or any raw data. It’s a rearguard effort to shake as much money out of the homophobes before its too late…

  2. hexidecima says

    hmmm, cuttlefish, were you at my old church? :) I guess it isn’t so very rare……

    It’s great to always see the same stuff. “Those” people aren’t TrueChristians, but golly, “we” are. And all are not following their bible in some convenient way. All that finger pointing is grand fun.

  3. moarscienceplz says

    I’m not aware of Jesus ever saying it was OK to eat pork, either. So I guess Christians who like bacon for breakfast are actually Christian Pagans?

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    Besides – a sex atheist, by any literal reading, is somebody who doesn’t invoke any deity in moments of passion.

    Since True Christians™ never take any divine Name in vain, they’re all Christian Sex Atheists® by definition, right?

  5. kcrady says

    And what about all those Christian Fiscal Atheists? I think you’d be hard-pressed to find any Christian outside of a monastery who pays the slightest attention to all that stuff Jesus is portrayed saying about money.

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