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Review: Sex God by Rob Bell

I recently finished reading Rob Bell's short book, Sex God: Exploring the endless connections between sexuality and spirituality. This is a fairly short, very simple as in easy-to-read book. I guess (even my sentence is ambivalent) I didn't feel particularly strongly about the book either way. There were some chapters I really liked, some arguments and points of views I disagreed with, but a lot in the middle that didn't strike me as particularly inspiring or enlightening one way or another.

Bell starts with the premise that "this is always about that," where something is always pointing to something else, something deeper. "This" is sexuality, and "that" is God. He says, "Where the one is, you will always find the other." (15)

He begins by focusing on being created in the image of God, and what it means to love God and neighbor. "When Jesus speaks of loving our neighbor, it isn't just for our neighbor's sake. If we don't love our neighbor, something happens to us." (28) I'm right with him here.

Bell describes our sexuality as both an expression of how "profoundly we're severed and cut off and disconnected" and of "all the ways we go about trying to reconnect." (40) I really resonate with this description, and I think we can probably say that about a lot of human behavior - it's about being disconnected and wanting to connect.

I struggle with Bell's description of and conversation around lust. He describes lust as something that comes "from a deep lack of satisfaction with life . . . If I had that/him/her/it, then I'd be . . ." (73) I think Bell is oversimplifying here, and lumping a lot into one category. What desires are healthy, then? Is thinking "If" always bad? If this his definition of lust, when is it ok to desire someone, and how? How would he define that differently? To be fair, he does list a series of questions that one should ask to understand more about things we crave (79) - maybe going through that kind of soul-searching is what needs to happen to clarify our intentions and purposes.

Bell's strongest chapter is probably "She Ran Into the Girls' Bathroom," which examines the Song of Songs in a beautiful way befitting the lovely book.

The next chapter is the one I struggle with most - "Worth Dying For." Bell attempts to look at those much-dreaded verses about submission in Ephesians 5. Bell argues for a sort of mutual submission between husband and wife, but he still slants things in a way I find very hard to swallow. He still speaks to men and women in this chapter in somewhat stereotypical ways, speaking directly to women saying, "You are worth dying for." He says, "you don't have to give yourself away to earn a man's love." (124) Earlier in the book he talks about the false dichotomy the world often gives to sexuality - that we're either animals or angels. In this chapter, he seems to use that dichotomy somewhat himself. Men have to let women know they're worth dying for, and women have to know they're worth something dying for them. It seems very princess/knight to me. He quotes a friend of his who says, "When a woman is loved well, she opens up like a flower," (125) and I can barely keep my eyes from rolling every time I read it.

Bell's chapter "Under the Chuppah" uses a strong metaphor from Jewish wedding ceremonies, where close friends/family may hold the posts of the Chuppah, but only the bride and groom are actually under the Chuppah itself. He warns against the effect letting other people under the Chuppah can have on your marriage. I read a critique of how Bell uses this metaphor here, but I think the overall metaphor still works regardless.

Bell seems to love the marriage of June Carter and Johnny Cash (naming one whole chapter "Johnny and June", saying of some friends, "they have one of those Johnny and June marriages," ending the chapter saying, "we desperately need more Johnny and Junes." Now, I love Johnny and June. But I think they're - well, an interesting choice for Rob Bell to make. There's a lot of irony in this chapter, unintended I think.

"We want someone to see us exactly as we are and still love us." (155) Yes.

A short read. Maybe an interesting source to use in part with couples in pre-marital counseling, or with older teens and young adults. Any of you read it? Thoughts?


Anonymous said…
Beth, I read this book a year or so ago and largely agree with your general feelings.

I don't counsel teens - I just parent a couple - so I have no advice there. Any thing that starts a good conversation is worth using, so long as everyone knows it is okay to think the writer is off his rocker.

I love - in your post - that little turn of phrase about animals or angels. I've never read that before.

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