Monday, August 06, 2007

Poor, Poor Onan

"JARZJR" posted the following follow-up question to the answer I gave him regarding contraception (which, in retrospect, I feel was written too harshly). What actually was the sin of Onan?
Thanks for the response to my question. However, i have a few more questions concerning contraception. When i read the story of Onan plainly w/o any presupositions i see that what Onan did was dishonor his dead brother and shirk his responsibility to provide his brother with an heir under the law of levirate marriage. Exactly how he shirked his duty is irrelevant. The plain reading is that Onan's sin was refusal to provide his dead brother with an heir, not that he sinned by "spilling his seed".
Thank you for your question. I'm happy to answer it, but I'd rather not get into a debate here on contraception, since this is a Q&A thread. If you want to engage what I have written in this post, I suggest starting a new thread or pm'ing me.

I would also like to point out that the sin of Onan was not even the crux of my argument. I just said that it was one of many biblical arguments that could be made. So, I don't feel that my position lives or dies based on the sin of Onan, and I like the arguments I did make a lot better.

Now, as for why Onan was killed by God, notice what the punishment is for not providing your bother's wife with a child (see vs. 7-10):

Deut 25:5-10 "If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead shall not be married outside the family to a stranger; her husband's brother shall go in to her, and take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband's brother to her. 6 And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his brother who is dead, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel. 7 And if the man does not wish to take his brother's wife, then his brother's wife shall go up to the gate to the elders, and say, 'My husband's brother refuses to perpetuate his brother's name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband's brother to me.' 8 Then the elders of his city shall call him, and speak to him: and if he persists, saying, 'I do not wish to take her,' 9 then his brother's wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, and pull his sandal off his foot, and spit in his face; and she shall answer and say, 'So shall it be done to the man who does not build up his brother's house.' 10 And the name of his house shall be called in Israel, The house of him that had his sandal pulled off.

The penalty for not fulling the obligation of a brother is public humiliation and shunning, not death. So, the Lord must have killed Onan for another reason.

Notice also that a man could decide to neglect his obligation by "not taking her", or not having sex with her, in which case the woman is directed to do certain things. Since refusal in this way is anticipated in the law and is not grounds to be killed by God (or by capital punishment), then there must have been something in the way Onan refused her that was the cause of his death. And he refused, not by avoiding sexual intercourse with her, but by having sex and contracepting it. So, that's why God killed him.

Plus, everything we read in the Bible about.... ....tells me that a fruitful sex act is very important to the Lord.
My next question to you is what do you do with verses like Lev. 15:16-18? There is no command by God to offer a sin offering for "spilling seed" in any of these instances.
Well, that's probably b/c these verses have in mind masturbation, or "wet dreams," or even the completion of sexual intercourse. None of these involve contraception. Also, the beef is not that he emitted his seed. After all, this has to happen in order for the sex act to be fruitful. The beef is with his disruption of the sex act.

Pax Christi,

1 comment:

Rita said...

If I remember correctly, the orthodox Jewish position on this is that seed spilled anywhere else other than the vagina is wrong. Hence they accept the contraceptive pill but not the condom and decry male homosexual acts but not female homosexual acts.

It strikes me that only the Catholic Church uses arguments based around the sanctity of life in determining its moral code.

As you say, poor, poor Onan.... there is so much misunderstanding going on. You have offered the best reading of this biblical tale I've heard yet.

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