Note: This article includes an explicit discussion of sexuality.
Desiring God’s latest installment of cheap Screwtape Letter knockoffs features Greg Morse attempting to mimic C.S. Lewis’ classic novel by writing a letter from a “marriage counselor” demon named Grimrod to his dear nephew Globdrop.
In a letter titled “Keep Them From Sex: A Demon’s Plea for Abstinence,” Morse pretends to be a demon attempting to get a married couple to stop having sex. In doing so, he exhibits how evangelical sexual ethics create the idolatry of sex they demonize, the dissatisfaction in sex they fear, and the subjugation of women they sacralize.
After one of Morse’s earlier imitations, New Testament scholar Laura Robinson demonstrated what makes Lewis’ novel the humorous and surprising work that it is and why impersonators such as Morse obsess over issues Uncle Screwtape never would have cared about.
“American evangelical imitators seem to struggle to create a tedious, mid-tier demon who brings the humor and surprise that Screwtape brings to the letters of his novel,” Robinson observed. “The stark apocalyptic instincts of American evangelicalism don’t allow for demons to shuffle papers in the realm of mid-tier, dull, interpersonal sins. This means there is no surprise (evangelical Screwtapes are always worried about exactly what you think they’d be worried about), but even more criminally, there is no lack. There is nothing boring or grim about the demon life that makes the story funny. Rather, the demons all have, from the author’s perspective, big and important jobs.”
She points out: “Greg Morse’s increasingly stupid column features Globdrop out in seminaries trying to make the men into sissies” and “also makes women want to get educations and jobs instead of having babies.”
What Robinson is highlighting here reveals that by making the demons out to have big and important jobs, patriarchal men are ultimately glorifying their own importance. As protectors of the realm at the top of God’s gender hierarchy of honor and submission, men like Morse see themselves as having the big and important job of making men into rulers and women into their sex slaves.
The powerful opportunity of primal sex
Morse’s musings are focused on how to get a married man to have sex with a woman other than his wife.
“I understand your natural aversion with the physical and primal urges of the humans,” Uncle Grimrod tells his nephew Globdrop. Describing sex as “bodies enmeshed and limbs flailing,” Grimrod salivates: “But oh, how much it means to them! What opportunity sex presents.”
To Grimrod, sex is a passion of the flesh that “‘wage(s) war’ against their souls” and through its sensual beckoning takes them “down to death, as the father once tried to warn.”
“It’s ironic how men so obsessed with sacralizing their power over women present themselves as powerless before them.”
To Morse, sex is a deadly threat with a primal power that must be warned against by authoritative males. His word choice is reminiscent of Preston Sprinkle’s interview with Sheila Gregoire and Rebecca Lindenbach when Sprinkle talked about men seeing a woman wearing yoga pants “and almost literal slobber coming from their mouths” while making gargling sounds. It’s ironic how men so obsessed with sacralizing their power over women present themselves as powerless before them.
Morse begins his narrative at the honeymoon. “The honeymoon season is setting — now is the time for the paint to begin to chip. Little quarrels start to creep in; mice move in the walls,” he writes.
To Grimrod, directly after the honeymoon is the opportune time for demons to initiate their “Marital Abstinence Program (MAP).”
The impossible expectations of evangelical sexual ethics
To understand why Morse focuses on the initial post-honeymoon phase as the time to begin tempting a man, it’s important to remember how evangelical sexual ethics shape expectations of the honeymoon.
Because evangelicals believe eternity will be spent either receiving bodily pleasures forevermore in heaven or bodily torments forevermore in the lake of fire, every parent is obsessed with making sure their children go to heaven after they die. Indulging in physical pleasure during your few short years on earth puts your soul in danger of experiencing unending physical pain after death. And even if you try to trust in grace rather than in your own works for salvation, having sex outside of marriage without remorse will prove you never were saved to begin with. So you have to feel really bad about sex outside of marriage and abstain from any participation in it.
“If you are aroused, your eternal soul is in danger should your hands go anywhere near your waist.”
When evangelical teenagers begin feeling sexual urges, they are warned by their parents never to masturbate. Instead, they are to wait until they get married for any kind of release from their desires. If you have an itch, you can scratch your head. If you have a cramp, you can massage your leg. But if you are aroused, your eternal soul is in danger should your hands go anywhere near your waist. This creates a fear-driven obsession with sexual release.
Every morning you wake up aroused, you are expected to jump out of bed and get right to breakfast. Every afternoon you’re turned on, you’re convinced you’re a sex addict. And when you’re lying in bed and can’t fall asleep because you’re stimulated by the soft sheets, you just have to lie there doing nothing while trying to think about Bible verses, hell or the Cross.
If an evangelical teenage boy ever has a nocturnal emission, he has to pray God will cause him to forget the dream. If teenage girls ever have sex dreams, well, I don’t know what they would say because girls are always seen as the danger rather than as having sexual desires themselves. So I don’t ever remember the possibility of women having sex dreams being acknowledged.
For those who don’t desire sex, you wonder if something is wrong or dysfunctional with you because you’re not desiring what you were supposedly designed to do.
And for those who are attracted to people of the same sex, extra layers of shame and fear are heaped on you because you’re told Romans 1 says that God is giving you over to a reprobate mind due to being unthankful and being obsessed with yourself. But you’re only 12. So you’re confused over how you’ve been so evil to have already been given over by God.
This lasts for at least a decade with nobody to talk to about it until you’re old enough to get married and have your honeymoon, during which you’ll supposedly get to experience God’s design for the best sex ever. What could possibly go wrong?
‘The woman thou gavest me’
The evangelical fear of hell paired with its view of women’s bodies as dangerous and of sexual pleasure as deadly creates an obsession with and repression of sex that no marriage could ever satisfy, especially on a honeymoon. Thus, many evangelicals report how their honeymoon is disappointing.
However, this is not due to demons tempting them to be disappointed, but due to the expectation and desperation evangelical sexual ethics created.
With this inevitable disappointment in mind, Morse’s demon Grimrod says, “Dry up his sex life with his wife. Dehydrate the marriage bed, and then, all in due course, lead him to other streams.”
Morse’s narrative puts the blame primarily on women and pornography. He says the man thinks, “This is not quite what I expected — often meaning (even without realizing), the marital sex life is not like pornography at all.”
He claims every woman in porn “is always desirous, has no children, shares no emotional life with the male, doesn’t argue with him or know his faults. She bears no scars from her past or sadness in her present. She is untiring, enhanced and accessible — enticing and already enticed. She doesn’t want to talk or cry or sleep or share burdens; she is never insecure.”
This may be proof that Morse has indeed never watched porn.
Of course, much of pornography portrays impossible beauty standards and sexual expression that can lead women and men to compare themselves unfavorably and feel insecure about their bodies or stamina. And yes, there are harmful, dehumanizing power dynamics displayed in much of what’s available on the internet as well.
“Purity patriarchs need to stop blaming pornography as the cause for what their theology created.”
But purity patriarchs need to stop blaming pornography as the cause for what their theology created. Whatever role pornography may have played in setting up impossible expectations for the honeymoon, it can’t compare to the role the theologies of fear and control, pleasure and punishment these men wielded over us played.
Also, note how Morse’s view of evangelical women is revealed. In this script, they are not always desirous, they have kids, they don’t understand their husband’s emotions, they argue with their husbands, they want to talk or cry or sleep or share their burdens. What horrors! These are the concerns not of a demon, but of entitled men.
Whether blaming the supposedly flawless women of porn or the supposedly scar-bearing women of their evangelical marriages, the pattern is the same. Like their father Adam before them, they’re blaming the problems they created on women.
The contrast of married sex and unmarried sex
“Oh, the intoxication of sex!” Morse writes. “‘Sex,’ of course, outside of marriage — not the knotty, shriveled thing his actual sex life will have actually become. To those unwed: sex, sex, and more sex. To the married: bickering, busyness, and a bed shared by a roommate.”
Elsewhere in his letter, he describes unmarried sex as “colorful, impassioned, daring, free. It is to swim with dolphins, soar with eagles, run with wild horses, soak bare under banned waterfalls,” in contrast to married sex, which he describes with such terms as, “Sameness, dreary and inescapable. … A vineyard boasting of one cluster; a stock falling, diminishing returns.”
As a result of this contrast, and evangelical women’s lack of living up to the wild ways of worldly women, he says the husband grows “bitter and lazy” while the wife grows “oblivious and content.”
“Evangelical married sex is always presented in over the top, negative terms.”
Nowhere in this article does the demon fear how amazing evangelical married sex is. Instead, evangelical married sex is always presented in over the top, negative terms, while sex outside of marriage is depicted as a nonstop orgasm with an endless supply of Playboy models.
Again, the primal power being given to sex here is being fueled by the theological scripts of entitled evangelical men, not by all the women these men blame.
The contrast of men’s and women’s bodies
According to Morse’s demon, married women who have babies experience hormonal changes that lead to tiredness, berating nerves and exhaustion. “Realize, Globdrop, that her body will eventually begin to change. She will know it; doesn’t he? Will he start noticing other women? She will not feel as desirous, and so ensure she lessen in desire,” Morse writes.
Of course, Morse never mentions men becoming old, being tired, getting out of shape or having difficulties gaining or maintaining erections. Mens’ bodies falling short of some fantasized ideal completely slips past the radar. It’s all about women’s bodies falling short.
Sexual desire and breast cancer
When we discovered my wife, Ruth Ellen, had stage three breast cancer, our primary concern was her health. She was going to be undergoing chemotherapy, radiation and a double mastectomy.
Of the many unimaginable emotions we had to process, I also had to struggle through the feelings as a heterosexual male of being sexually attracted to a part of my wife’s body that was killing her. And over the next year, as her body wasted away to a shell of herself to the point where I didn’t even recognize her eyes anymore, the last thing on earth that would have helped either of us or our marriage would have been for me to pressure her into taking care of my sexual desires.
“The last thing on earth that would have helped either of us or our marriage would have been for me to pressure her into taking care of my sexual desires.”
In fact, prior to her being diagnosed with cancer two years ago, we had been experiencing the most fulfilling sex of our then 17-year marriage. But as we looked back on our previous two decades of sex, we could directly trace every hint of dissatisfaction back to the theological scripts of our evangelical sexual ethics. The degree to which we deconstructed these theologies was the degree to which we were opened up toward more fulfilling sex.
In addition to having cancer, we also have five kids. So her body has been through a lot. And in a very different way, so has mine. After 20 years of wearing down in the cleaning industry and often eating fast food between jobs, I’m no longer a spring chicken either.
So when cancer knocked on our door, we were able to flow through any normal sexual desires I continued to have, while prioritizing her healing and processing the complexities of my desires in relation to the nature of her disease, without losing each other in the process. We wouldn’t have been able to move through that to the healing and renewed appreciation for life and each other we are experiencing today if we had been tied to the fears, obsessions and entitlement of evangelical sexual ethics.
Hierarchy in sex is about honoring and submitting to the penis
Because all hierarchical interpretations of reality structure relationships through glory-obsessed power dynamics of honor and submission, evangelical sexual ethics that are framed within hierarchical theologies eventually lead to obligation sex. Because women are below men on their hierarchy, they exist to honor and submit to the man’s sexual pleasure, while the men exercise their sovereignty by having their will and way on those below.
This is why so many of these recent conservative evangelical treatments of sexuality written by men center their penis. When sexuality is mapped onto their hierarchy, it’s about the obligation of honoring and submitting to their penis, which is having a glory experience of being worshiped.
And that’s ultimately why, despite these men’s desires for the supposedly flawless wild women of the world, they feel obligated to promote monogamy.
Monogamy’s gospel and the punishing pleasure of penetration
“Slowly unveil monogamy’s monotony,” Morse’s Grimrod writes. “We must ensure that monogamy with a real woman (whoever she might be) is set up to disappoint. The new-car smell must wear off eventually.”
“Given how he describes married sex, one might wonder why any evangelical man would submit to such a nightmare.”
Given how he describes married sex, one might wonder why any evangelical man would submit to such a nightmare. But ultimately, the reason why is due to their hierarchical gospel of punishment through the pleasure of penetration. Evangelical married sex can be endured because it’s about “a Marriage beyond all marriages, a vast intimacy beyond all marriage beds.”
In another article where John Piper shares what he would say to a young man who is considering sleeping with his girlfriend, Piper says: “You know (don’t you?) that Christ died for your sins — all of them — including your future fornication. When you penetrate this woman, you thrust a sword into Jesus’ side. Think about that. Do you want to do that? All your sins — if you’re a Christian — are on him. Every new sin you commit is a fresh sword thrust into the side of Jesus. Keep that in your mind, buddy. This pleasure that you’re getting is murdering the Son of God. Don’t do it lightly.”
Then later, he adds, “There is nothing sweeter — I say it from testimony — to lie with your wife, look right into her eyes at the moment of sexual climax and say, ‘Only you! Only you! Never another!'”
In Piper’s analogy, non-married sexual intercourse is equivalent to thrusting a sword into Jesus’ body. Yet Piper also believes this violent thrusting into Jesus’ body was premeditated by God.
And that’s precisely why Piper tells women who have been sexually assaulted they have to see “God’s sovereignty … at the moment of causality” and that if they don’t, “You will now be left with no God to help you deal with this … . You have just shoved him off … and in your pain you shoved him so far to the edge of the universe that for the rest of your life you are crying out to a God to do miracles yet you have pushed him away … . And so you try to say there is no sense in which the sovereign God willed that, you will lose God for the rest of your life.”
To be fair, monogamy doesn’t have to be shaped by this theology. And even in sex, some people consent to different power roles at certain times. But they still have power themselves because they’re consenting to an activity rather than being theologically coerced into it.
But to these men, monogamy is paramount because it points to the violence of the Father satisfying his wrath by penetrating Jesus’ body below. The new car smell the Father experienced piercing Jesus with our swords eventually satisfied the Father enough to wear his angst off, letting him roll off the Cross and accept us by looking elsewhere.
Or as another conservative evangelical Calvinist patriarch, R.C. Sproul, described their gospel in terms of rape: “You will resist it as hard as you can, but God will overcome your resistance. (Jonathan) Edwards called it ‘the holy rape of the soul.’ Some people are violently offended by that language. I think it’s the most graphic and descriptive term I can think of for how I was redeemed.”
And that’s what’s ultimately going on here.
It’s not that these men are disappointed in their wives. Even deeper than that lies the reality that their ultimate disappointment is in their obsession with power based on their sorry excuse for a gospel.
Rick Pidcock is a 2004 graduate of Bob Jones University, with a bachelor of arts degree in Bible. He’s a freelance writer based in South Carolina and a former Clemons Fellow with BNG. He recently completed a master of arts degree in worship from Northern Seminary. He is a stay-at-home father of five children and produces music under the artist name Provoke Wonder. Follow his blog at www.rickpidcock.com.