A while back I expressed the idea that sexual evils are, to my mind, the worst kind of evils. Here I will attempt to articulate why I think this is true, and why sexual evils are better examples of apparently gratuitous evils than the typical examples.
As I reflect on horrendous and gratuitous evils, it seems to me that the qualitatively worst kind of such evil has been completely ignored—sexual evils. There seems to be something altogether different, more perverse and twisted and fully saturated with pure moral wickedness about sexual evils than the ones normally discussed (e.g., forest-fire fawns, stray-bullets, accidentally backing-up over one’s own child, etc.). Here I have in mind sexual evils such as rape and child molestation, to say nothing of the varying degrees of perversity these acts can have. Why do I think sexual evils are better examples of apparently gratuitous evils than the typical examples? Gratuitous evils are usually characterized by their apparent quality and quantity. It’s not the apparent quantity of sexual evils that seems different. It’s the quality of the sin that increases apparent gratuitousness. Let me suggest at least three reasons.
First, sexual evils are exclusively moral evils. Moral evils are qualitatively worse than natural evils in that they involve personal offense, which conveys a responsibility and avoidableness on behalf of the offending party that natural evils do not. That moral evils can be traced to a responsible moral agent who could have refrained from so acting heightens the intuition of gratuitousness, whereas natural evils cannot obviously be seen as avoidable or as tracing to a responsible moral agent, though such is possible (e.g., it is possible that God or demons are responsible for both moral and natural evils, but this is not obvious or apparent). But both sexual evils and, say, murderous evils are exclusively moral evils. So what makes sexual evils worse than other moral evils, such as murderous ones? Consider the following two points.
Second, acts of sexual evils are qualitatively worse that other moral evils. Murderous evils fail to treat moral agents as valuable ends, but sexual evils fail to treat moral agents as valuable ends and mistreats them only as valuable means. I suggest that this is qualitatively worse. One might object that a murderer also treats a moral agent as a means to satisfying his desires and so is on par with sexual evils. But I think this is confused—a murderer’s victim is not valuable to the murderer insofar as they are dead; the victim is not valuable to the murderer at all. The murderer does not treat his victims as valuable means, but treats the act of murdering as a valuable means. Where x is a moral agent, perhaps the difference is between not valuing x as an end and disvaluing x. Disvaluing x includes not valuing x as a means in addition to treating x improperly (i.e., mistreating x). What’s more is that the disvaluing of x in cases of sexual evils is perverse. In the most extreme cases (that’s what we’re after), there is the shattering of an innocent and pure life for the sake of satisfying an utterly selfish and perverse carnal desire. This is not mere disvaluing, but perverse defilement or degradation.
Third, the consequences of sexual evils are qualitatively worse than other moral evils. While the consequences of both murderous evils and sexual evils are ‘forever’ in a sense, murderous evils involve a release of suffering whereas sexual evils offer no such release. They insidiously linger and continue to torture the victim long after the evil is perpetrated. Intense feelings of shame, worthlessness, and guilt created in victims of sexual evil forever mar the face of innocence. In other words, sexual evil is prolonged, undeserved torture. This torture is often mental, and as such is arguably worse than physical torture. Moreover, sexual evils often have the unfortunate consequence of being repeated by victims of sexual evils, and so, in a way, self-perpetuate.
I conclude that sexual evils are such that their quality and intensity greatly heightens apparent gratuitousness more than typical examples of apparently gratuitous evils. So the question remains—is God justified in permitting these kinds of evils? Couldn’t God have at least created humans in a way minimizes such evils, say, by creating men with less libido? Does the goodness of the gift of sexual pleasure righteously expressed outweigh or defeat the apparent gratuitousness of sexual evils?