Wednesday, October 12, 2005

32. Laws of Attraction

A friend and I got talking yesterday about the concepts of lust and attraction. It was kind of interesting and it got me thinking so I thought I’d write about it here.  

This friend is someone whose opinion I happen to value quite highly, so when she told me she had read my most recent blog entry, I asked her what she thought.  After making sure I knew she was not condemning me (like I have said before, while I do think the church as a whole has done a lousy job of the whole ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ concept, most of the people I know seem to be able to actually do it) – and after all, I had asked – she told me that she thought it was a sin.  I was kind of shocked, to be honest… the possibility that I was sinning by allowing myself to experience an attraction to a woman hadn’t even occurred to me.  After I expressed my shock, and after she’d thought about it for a minute, she agreed that it probably wasn’t a sin, it was just dangerous, and that she tends to build fences around potential areas of sin… a concept I completely understand and to some degree I practice it as well.  The thing is; I’m not entirely sure what the ‘sin’ would be that I would be building a fence around here.  The ‘sin’ of developing a crush on a woman? The ‘sin’ of falling in love with a woman?  Like I said in that last post, this girl was straight (and she smoked) so there was no possibility for a relationship there, so even assuming that homosexual behavior is a sin, would experiencing these emotions be a sin?  

Actually, that last part we didn’t talk about at all… that just occurred to me now.  The ‘fence’ I build around developing an attraction to a woman is not to protect myself from sinning; it’s to protect myself from getting hurt.  

Anyway, we started talking about what I meant by ‘allowing myself to feel the attraction’, and I really couldn’t explain it… so instead I started talking about what I didn’t mean, about lust, because I can actually define that.  So… here’s my definition of lust: Lust, for me, embodies a desire to ‘own’ and consists of taking (mental) liberties where you have no right.  So, according to my personal definition of lust, it is not possible for a person to lust after their spouse, because they have that right, and they actually do sort of own them.  The implication that this definition has for me is that when it comes to people I actually know (as opposed to celebrities or whatever), if my thoughts start to stray in a sexual direction, something in me will usually stop it from going any further.  And that ‘something in me’ actually has very little to do with my belief that lust is a sin (which I do believe)… when it does happen (I’m not a saint or anything), the guilt I feel is not towards God (at least not entirely) but towards the person I let myself lust after, because I feel like I’ve violated them somehow.  

The most notable exception to this rule was M, who I’ve mentioned before… but that exception can actually be explained using my definition.  M was one of those girls whose entire self worth was wrapped up in her looks.  She knew she was sexy, and that was her main way of relating to people.  The way she moved, the way she talked, the things she talked about, the way she dressed… it all oozed sex, and it was all very deliberate.   And she flirted with me incessantly… and so she sort of gave me her implicit permission (if not actually the right) to engage in the mental liberties I took with her… I could think all sorts of things without feeling bad about it (at least not bad towards her), which was probably a large part of the obsession.  

The reason I got into all of that was because my friend made the comment that my attraction towards Circus Girl was obviously physical. (Oy, I may have to start asking Liadan for help with my pseudonyms, because “Circus Girl”??  That sounds like a bad comic book superhero.)  And while I cannot deny that I found this girl physically attractive, I did not like having my attraction to her labeled as purely physical.  I mean, I have no idea if I would have even noticed what she looked like if I hadn’t found her intensely interesting.  That may sound impossible, but I have had it happen before where I’ve known someone for ages and something will happen that will make me realize that I have no idea what they look like.  The friend I had this particular conversation with, for example, I had known her for about 4 years before I realized we were basically the same height (she referred to herself as short one day… I remember thinking “really? You’re short?”).  I don’t pay attention to what married people look like (at least not to the point of noticing whether I find them attractive or not), and if I’d known that Circus Girl smoked before I met her, I probably would have taken no notice of her appearance either.  The point is; my attraction to her was not purely physical.  

I started to try and explain this to my friend and her response was basically that, if this was the case, then she’s had the same thing happen – she’s met women on weekend retreats that she thought were really cool and wanted to spend a lot of time with them… and here is where I got lost, because my friend is straight – completely straight… to the point that I think it is really hard (and sometimes it seems like it’s downright impossible) for her to wrap her head around the idea of a woman being attracted to another woman.   She is not the first straight woman to say this sort of thing to me, which seems to me to be an attempt to ‘explain away’ my attraction to women… like, maybe I’m not attracted to them at all, maybe I just think they are really cool.  

And the thing is, I do not know how to explain the difference.  I mean, there are lots of women (and men for that matter) that I think are really cool, and smart, and funny… and some of them I actually have noticed that I think they are good looking… and I’m not attracted to them at all.  Of course, most of my friends are married now, and married people are sort of off of my radar, but they weren’t always married, and I do meet cool single people every once and a while, and I don’t fall for all of them.  So what is the difference?  What tips the scales?  It can’t all be physical, because while I do have a ‘type’, the fact is that I have been attracted to so many different ‘types’ (blondes, brunettes, tall, short, big, small), so that can’t account for all of it.  

I’m actually really interested in what you all think.  What is the difference between ‘attraction’ and…uh… thinking someone is really cool?  I don’t think that this is an exclusively ‘gay’ thing… I think it’s hard to define with straight people too.  So, what do all of you think?


CK said...

I notice no one has taken you up on this yet. It's a toughie.

So, I have some questions for reflection. On a biblical level, is there a reason to "feel" one's illicit attraction? (Illicit meaning outside of the bounds of one's particular covenant--marriage or celibacy,etc.) Is it possible that in order to understand the roots of a "sin" we need to feel it, as human beings--not cerebral circuitry separate from emotions?

On the other hand, Jesus did say that lusting in one's heart is the same as adultery. Is lusting the same as attraction? Or is it a matter of attraction which lasts for a period of time outside of God's boundaries?

And yet, is it possible that Jesus in the garden of Gesthemane didn't feel isolation, fear, and perhaps even abandonment from his Father? If so, then as the biblical second Adam, we should be able to follow his example.

From a philosophical perspective (which I grant is not the language of the scriptures), Jesus may have had at the same time Desire(take this cup) and Desire(what you will), which seem to conflict (Mk 14:36). If his desires are allowed to be in conflict and still be holy, why not a human being?

Take it another way, maybe--does the Bible emphasize acts or desires when determining whether someone's fruit is righteous, and therefore from God? Both. Neither (Christ's atonement). Acts. Desires.

Ambiguity. I realize that doesn't answer your question. Since I reject the biblical revelation that you lean on for guidance, I am not going to try to use it to give you an answer. However, I have spend 24 of my 26 years (well, maybe 21 since I learned to read around 3) reading the Bible, so I figure I can ask a few questions.


Anonymous said...

Ever considered the concept (sin) of "idolatry"?

Leo said...

Ok- I don't really understand either of the comments so far?! I do agree that it's a tough question. I think that the difference between being attracted to someone and just thinking they're cool is a subtle, but important discernment. There are a lot of people who I think are great, funny, cool people that I have absolutely no attraction to sexually/ physically. There are also those people that I might not give a second glance, as far as looks go, but who after I get to know I find myself very attracted to. I personally think attraction has a lot to do with your subconscious recognizing something in a person that makes them , for lack of a better word intriguing to you on a deep, subconscious level. That doesn't mean that they would be a healthy choice/partner for you, just that deep down you recognize that they have something in them that you want/relate to. A great example of this is people choosing the same types of partners over and over, i.e. abusive, or emotionally distant or clingy. Ever wonder how someone can always manage to pick the one abusive guy in a crowd, get over him and then find another guy who seems perfectly nice and turns out to be abusive too? Chances are that the girl has some issue, past history (father maybe) who was like that and her subconscious recognizes it in these guys, she's attracted because she's still trying to resolve the relationship she could never fix with her father or whatever. Of course it's not always the negatives that attract the subconscious. Therefore while you may think someones cool etc., you won't be attracted to them unless there is something in them that your subconscious recognizes as being similar to a major person/relationship you had in your past, and are still unconsciously trying to resolve. Just one theory.

Liadan said...

Maybe there's such a category as "platonic attraction:" being attracted to someone as a potential friend instead of a potential lover. I've met people (of both sexes) that didn't interest me sexually, but seemed like fascinating and friendly people that I would like to be friends with. If you go by what the Greeks had to say about it, philios is "friendly love," so why can't there be friendly attraction along the same lines of erotic attraction?

My mom used to tell me that I was confusing my feelings for other women for admiration or friendship. I told her that given that I knew what admiration and friendship were, this was not the same thing. There's that unmistakable spark of something different.

I think part of what may have bothered your friend is not that you acknowledged an attraction, but that you went so far as to enjoy it. That seems like the setup of a slippery slope leading to a DARK and DANGEROUS LESBIAN LIFESTYLE *ominous music*. (I wonder why no one ever remembers that slippery slope is classed as a logical fallacy.) Personally I'm more of your mind about lust: it's more than just sexual desire, otherwise we'd all be damned to hell once we hit puberty.

Brady said...

Hi there JJ!

Anonymous, I've seen the "idolatry" idea used about homosexual attractions before, but it is one of the hardest for me to understand. We cannot help being attracted to someone. And, I don't think with this person JJ is worshipping her at all.

How is just being attracted to the same sex idolatry while being attracted to the opposite sex is not?

JJ said...


I have to agree with Brady here. I've heard that too -- people insisting that all homosexual attractions are idolatrous, or addictive. It's kind of silly, if you think about it. Everyone who feels attraction for anyone (straight or gay) has to keep things in perspective. I've seen more than a few of my straight friends go off the cliff in their attractions for people of the opposite sex, and I have already admitted that I've done it at least once. But it is no more likely for my homosexual attractions to be idolatrous than for a straight person's to be... and I can pretty much tell you that wasn't the case this past weekend.


I wonder why no one ever remembers that slippery slope is classed as a logical fallacy.

Ha!! I've thought this so many times when I hear those arguments like "If we allow gay marriage then people will be marrying their pets!" It's ridiculous, it's the 'slippery slope' argument, which is an illogical argument that any 1st year philosophy student could rip through so easily... and besides... who wants to marry their pets? It's not us... so it must be them! They must be trying to protect themselves from sucumbing to the temptation that they apparantly have to marry their pets by stopping us from gettng married. It's just weird.

As for that 'confusing admiration for attraction' thing, that was the lie I told myself for years... you know... "The reason I get butterflies when she touches me, and that I think about her all the time, and that I'm jealous of her boyfriend is because I admire her...yeah, that's it!"


I do think it is kind of undefineable. A friend I was talking to yesterday about this said "well, they call it chemistry for a reason...".


I saved you for last because... whoa... those are some questions. I'll give my opinions, but they are just my opinions on this. I would love to sit down and talk with you, you ask some amazing questions!

On a biblical level, is there a reason to "feel" one's illicit attraction?

Hmmm... I don't know if there is a Biblical reason to 'feel' an illicit attraction... or to allow yourself to feel it. But I don't know if there is a Biblical reason not to either. I will say that I do believe there is a definite Biblical reason to be honest about what you feel, because if it is a sin, or could lead to sin, you need to be aware of it in order to deal with it. (This, of course, applies to everything, not just the 'gay' stuff.)

On the other hand, Jesus did say that lusting in one's heart is the same as adultery. Is lusting the same as attraction? Or is it a matter of attraction which lasts for a period of time outside of God's boundaries?

Well, first of all, I would say that I think there is a definite difference between lust and attraction, which I sort of outlined in this post. I also think there is a difference between having a sexual thought about someone and lust... Stray sexual thoughts are not something you can really stop from happening, but it's when you allow yourself to dwell on them that they become lust. That's sort of what I was talking about when I said that 'something in me would stop me from going any further down that road'... a sexaul thought would enter my head about someone I was attracted to (which I don't think is lust, and therefore don't think it's a sin), but I would stop the thought before it went any further.

Now, I was talking a bit about this today, but I don't think that an attraction can ever really be a sin for single people -- it's one of the few benifits of being single. We can feel attraction, and choose to enjoy it if we want to. For married people it's different... I don't think the attraction would be a sin (even beyond the initial "whoa, he/she is really hot/cool/smart/whatever"), but I think if you were married and you allowed yourself to enjoy the attraction there would be a problem there. And I think the problem would be in the 'allowing yourself to enjoy it' in that case.

Of course, this is all theorhetical for me, as I am obviously not married, nor have I been in any sort of commited relationship.

I guess I would say that I don't think that feelings can be a sin... sin kind of has to be a choice, by definition. But, of course, this is just my opinion.

Alli said...

I don't have any answers to this, but I do want to say that I also wonder about this it a sin for me to be attracted to a chick? and is it only a sin if I rest in this attraction and let myself feel it, cos I agree it is annoyingly hard to never allow myself to feel attracted, but then I do see how sometimes allowing myself to feel this attraction, can make it harder to resist in the following days etc...hard questions, and no concrete answers i guess

Eric said...

"The ‘fence’ I build around developing an attraction to a woman is not to protect myself from sinning; it’s to protect myself from getting hurt."

that's an interesting observation JJ. have you unpacked that any further?

as for the whole attraction/lust thing....yeah, as you mentioned in your comment in my blog, it's funny how we both had the same theme at around the same time. it's a tough subject for me though. for so long i've denied my sexuality for the sake of public ministry that its only outlet of expression has been my imagination. i know that lust is sin, so you can imagine the kind of self-condemnation that i applied to myself for "being gay". now, in my journey, i'm finding that being gay isn't necessarily synonomous with lust. nevertheless, it's still a problem for me.

E said...

Just an additional comment on the whole idolatry thing. The idea, of course, is that anything or anyone that comes between us and God in any way is an idol. Heterosexual marriage is partly exempt from this since it's a God-ordained institution. And since a gay relationship doesn't fit into that male-female paradigm, it is automatically idolatry.

Of course, what that viewpoint overlooks is just how idolatrous a lot of people allow their heterosexual marriages to become. The Bible may acknowledge that a married person's loyalties are necessarily divided, but that's still no excuse for putting one's spouse ahead of God.

It also overlooks the fact that we were designed for human relationship and that we are repeatedly commanded in the Bible to give of ourselves to others. There are some fine lines in there to be sure, but the idea of self-isolating in the name of avoiding temptation and/or sin reminds me of the parable in which the one servant buried his talent rather than risk losing it. His master was not pleased...

JJ said...

I guess the question is whether or not that "male-female" paradigm is the only way to go. I obviously am questioning that... not sure if that whole male-female thing is an actual rule. But if it is I would also want to make the distinction between being in a 'gay relationship', and having an attration... they are not the same thing, that would be kind of like saying that being hungry and eating are the same thing.