This essay was written by Rev. Ralph Smith, a missionary in Tokyo, Japan, and a regular contributor to Theopolis.
Jeffrey Epstein called our bluff.
Writing in the New York Times, James B. Stewart reports Epstein’s opinion that “criminalizing sex with teenage girls was a cultural aberration and that at times in history it was perfectly acceptable.”
What’s wrong with what Epstein reportedly said?
To begin with, he was too generous. What we now condemn as statutory rape didn’t just occur “at times in history.” The unpleasant truth is that, historically speaking, using children, even relatively young children, as objects for men’s sexual satisfaction has been the rule, not the exception. What we call “child abuse” is a recent category. It is not at all part of the way ancient peoples thought or acted.
Slaves were regarded as legitimate objects of sexual satisfaction (lust). No ancient culture included laws about how old a slave had to be before the master could take advantage of him or her. That’s still the case in modern Muslim countries that allow slavery. Sexual relationships with children of virtually any age haven’t been thought of as “abuse” or “perverted.” It was just what some men — actually, very, very many men — did.
It wasn’t limited to slaves or even prisoners of war. Poor families from almost every land and during every age sold their children into prostitution. In their eyes, it was the only way to get by. No one thought of the men who frequented such young women as perverts or abusers. They were customers — often powerful and rich men to be feared, but also, as in the ancient city of Corinth, sailors looking for a good time. No one cared or asked the age of the young women they paid for. It was a transaction. Morality wasn’t an issue.
The ancient cradles of civilization — Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, China — did not have laws about “child abuse” or “sexual abuse of minors” because the whole concept was simply not part of who they were or what they believed. Prostitution was tolerated and prevalent. And from the most ancient times in virtually every civilization, many prostitutes were what Jeffrey Epstein would have considered just the right age — maybe even a little “old.”
From a historical angle, Epstein is just another lust-full man looking for sex he can pay for, like untold millions before. If the price is right, no one asks how old the female is. It doesn’t matter. No one asks if she is entering into the situation freely, for her will and decision don’t matter. If her parents sold her into prostitution, if she was a prisoner of war, or if she was kidnapped — whatever the circumstances behind the “transaction” — her personal acquiescence would have been less than the least important consideration.
We call Epstein a monster. We recoil and condemn. But he called our bluff. Almost no one is willing to admit that Epstein was right: His behavior falls well within historical norms.
So, what happened to change all of this? Why is modern Western culture sensitive to this matter? What made our modern/postmodern world different? This is the question. But no one is asking it. Why not? Because the answer is too embarrassing to admit.
One thing and only one thing happened to provoke a cultural revolution in one part of the world — though its influence has reached others. I suspect anyone reading this essay will know very well what this revolution was: Christianity and only Christianity transformed the way people viewed human sexual relationships by universalizing the standards of the Old and New Testaments.
The “revolution” was a slow process and the changes it brought varied from place to place. Often, the revolution was only in the thinking of the Christian elite, like Augustine, whereas other sorts of elite — kings and men in power in the middle ages, for example — gave lip service to the ideas of the revolution but in practice followed the good old ways — satisfaction of sexual lust with little discrimination about time, place, or means. The history of Europe includes too many examples to even begin to offer a short list.
But there was a real, even if gradual, change in thinking and social life. Men in Europe were educated by the Christian church of every denomination to understand sex as a gift of God intended for married man and woman. Within that sacred bond, it was — or should be — holy, good, and beautiful; outside of that sacred bond, it was forbidden.
The evolution of beliefs and laws about the proper age for marriage is too complex to even touch, but suffice it to say that this was and is the result of Christian influence and Christian influence alone.
Can that be true? Consider the alternatives. Was there any doctrine or practice in ancient Hinduism — a conglomeration of religious ideas and practices, not a unified religion — that upheld the dignity of women and protected young women from abuse? Just to ask the question is to answer it. The same is true for Buddhism. In Theravada Buddhism, the oldest form of Buddhism, a woman has to be reborn as a man even to have a chance at Nirvana. Monogamy is not part of the religion or customs of the Buddhist lands.
Islam, of course, is the clearest example of all. According to Muslim sources, Muhammed famously married Aisha when she was six years old and consummated the marriage when she was nine (Sahih Bukhari, vol. 7, book 62, no. 65, narrated by Aisha herself). At the time, child-marriage was common in the Arabic world and what Muhammed did would not have been regarded as out of place. The actions of Islam’s prophet became a standard of righteousness for all time. Apparently following the prophet’s example, the Ayatollah Khomeini is said to have married a ten-year-old girl (different sources give different ages for his young wife’s age).
It is also well-known that many Muslim countries allow what the modern West would call “child marriage.” In none of those countries would the age of Epstein’s young women be a problem. In fact, in some Muslim countries, he could have married and divorced young women over and over without legal problems. Ibn Saud, the founder of Saudi Arabia, had as many as 300 wives, but, as a good Muslim, never more than four at a time!
Only Christianity required strict monogamy, clarifying a standard already implicit in Judaism. It is to the Church’s shame that it has not been practiced as it should be. Abuses in Christian lands have been horrible as well. But the Christian standard in Holy Scripture is clear. One man marries one woman until death parts them. There is no specific requirement in the Bible about the age of marriage. However, since child-bearing is one purpose of marriage, it seems to be presupposed that the young woman to be married should be of child-bearing age. Strict monogamy and the dignity that the Bible as a whole, and especially Jesus Himself, accords to women sets Christianity apart.
In many ways, Epstein is a typical of the sexually liberated man of the 1960s. Sexual promiscuity is considered normal and acceptable. Post-enlightenment, postmodern men know history and comparative religion is on their side when it comes to having sex either with young boys or girls — not to mention animals.
If Darwinism were true and the universe itself the product of matter and energy moving randomly through billions of years, the only moral standards available would be what the upright monkey invented. But those standards, especially when it comes to sexuality, have varied so much from time to time and culture to culture, that one can hardly object to a man who follows his animal craving for sexual fulfillment. What could possibly be the crime? Who could object to sex with young girls or boys, including small children?
It is only in biblical monogamy that one can find a standard that protects women and children from predators. It is only if law requires and social custom adheres to Christian monogamy can one have a society that upholds the dignity of men and women created as God’s image and likeness.
We've jettisoned this heritage. Now everything goes. And in that setting, Epstein isn't an aberration. He's a symptom.
Epstein was right. Our semi-Christian sexual standards are a historical aberration. He called our bluff, and forces us to make a choice: Either we embrace Christian standards, or we create a world of Epsteins, a world where Jeffrey Epstein looks a little less monstrous – because we’ll all have become monsters.
Ralph Smith is Pastor of Mitaka Evangelical Church, Tokyo, Japan.
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