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There's definitely two sides to this coin, some people say that masturbation is not a sin that leads to death, others say that it's a sin because Jesus commands us to deny the desires of our flesh.

So my question to you, is multi-faceted: What biblical basis for claiming that masturbation is a sin; and what is the biblical basis to claim it leads to death?

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Well, in regards to the question "If masturbation is a sin, does it lead to death?", the bible answers that clearly for us: "Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Outside of repentance to God for your sins, sin is sin, and the wages of sin is death. –  jrista Aug 23 '11 at 20:18
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@jrista, I think that Jonathon Byrd is referring to 1 John 5:16 when he says 'a sin that leads to death' –  aceinthehole Aug 23 '11 at 21:36
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I did hear once that it leads to blindness ;) –  fredsbend Oct 17 '13 at 22:52
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28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. –  lukasz1985 Apr 7 at 17:56

9 Answers 9

up vote 44 down vote accepted

The root of the matter is lust.

Matthew 5:28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

I would say that the act itself is not the sin, it's the intent of the act.

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I agree with the above. While masturbation is not mentioned, in English verbatim in Writ, the root issue of lust, sexual sins, fornication, etc. are clearly denounced as sinful. –  Gryphoenix Aug 23 '11 at 20:21
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@Corey_Ogburn So as long as you're not thinking of someone while masturbating there would not necessarily be any sin. Just the physical act is not what is sinful but the thoughts that are commonly associated with it that are. (BTW, I am being serious) –  Patrick Aug 23 '11 at 20:24
    
I don't think so. God seems to be more focused on our intentions than JUST the act (there are gray areas in that, don't hold me to it too strictly). There are medical reasons (although rare) that require masturbation to avoid damage. –  Corey Ogburn Aug 23 '11 at 21:08
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So, if "There are medical reasons (although rare) that require masturbation to avoid damage." and "God seems to be more focused on our intentions than JUST the act", shouldn't this answer be edited to say "Yes, IF it is rooted in lust, deviciveness and/or idolitry". Since the act in and of itself is not the sin. –  ak112358 Aug 25 '11 at 14:05
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(-1) For what it's worth, here is the reason I'm down-voting: (1) The question was not whether lust is a sin, yet this is the only thing you provided evidence for in your answer. (2) Regarding the actual question, you state your position without any references or justification other than "I would say". (3) You didn't address the opposing argument he mentioned, which is that "it's a sin because Jesus commands us to deny the desires of our flesh". –  Jas 3.1 May 22 '12 at 20:32

This is a very difficult issue. And for someone trapped in the chains of sexual sin, there is no easy answer - but there is the stunning grace of God for freedom.

From my other answer, for context:

I would answer this question by starting with another question: Do you want to live your life seeing how close you can get to sin without actually crossing the line? Are you motivated to be the most Godly person you can be (growing daily in Christ-likeness), or are you motivated to "get away with" as much as possible without actually going to hell?

Masturbation is a tricky question, since the Bible says little, if anything, about it specifically, and there's no other person involved. But we can turn my aforementioned question on ourselves and arrive at "is masturbating bringing me closer to God, respecting myself as a person and expressing pure Godly love?" (We can also direct the original question toward the naked object of our lust; I never did meet anyone who masturbated more than very occasionally without external "assistance" of a pornographic nature either in their head or their other hand). If we answer that honestly, the conclusion seems apparent.

In my experience, people engage in masturbation far more for emotional reasons and self-esteem issues than for physical needs. The need for affection can be met healthily in many other ways than this. The myriad of sayings and research about the benefits of physical contact (like hugs) did not originate in a vacuum.


FWIW, the teaching by which God brought me freedom after many years of chains was The Theology of the Body from John Paul II* for which Christopher West has an introductory book and a CD series which may be downloaded in MP3 format at no cost.

[*] Full disclosure: I am not a Catholic, rather a Pentecostal protestant. But I have a tremendous respect for the Catholic church and her people and consider them to be fellow believers. Experiencing a tremendous victory in my life via JP II's teaching contributes greatly to this.


Pacerier asked: "When it comes to God's view of sin, white is white and black is black. There's no gray areas. What I'm trying to say is that there's no such thing as being close to crossing the line. You either cross or you don't."

It's not that simple. Based on what the bible says, engaging in sexual intercourse when unmarried seems to me to be clearly a sin, while kissing one's girlfriend seems equally clearly not, although refraining from kissing until marriage may be even better. Somewhere in between there is the "line". Is masturbation a sin? Some would argue "yes", some "no", and some "it depends on the heart attitude and motivation".

My point is that regardless of the answer, it is far better to desire to be like Christ, and have an attitude that avoids "all appearance of evil". The question becomes, not "what action is permissible", but rather "what action is best".

As St. Paul said, "not all things are beneficial":

12 “I have the right to do anything,” you say — but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything” — but I will not be mastered by anything. 13 You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! 16 Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.

18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

1 Cor 6:12-18 (NIV) (emphasis mine)

For myself, personally, being free and remaining far away for the line of sexual immorality seems better than seeking to get as close to that line as I can. Thus for me, having received real victory over masturbation such that it's simply a non-issue in my life, I have no desire to return to that bondage, even if it could be somehow done without sinning. Other people may come to a different place, and I don't have a problem with that.

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Could you elaborate on the part on "crossing the line" ? When it comes to God's view of sin, white is white and black is black. There's no gray areas. What I'm trying to say is that there's no such thing as being close to crossing the line. You either cross or you don't. –  Pacerier Sep 29 '11 at 20:33
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+1 Theology of the body looks really interesting –  hellectronic Jun 4 '12 at 11:29
    
I certainly agree that a Christian's goal should not be to see how close he can get to sin without actually sinning. I don't tell customers half-truths to get their money and then re-assure myself that I didn't QUITE lie or steal. I don't hang out at strip clubs and then re-assure myself that I am not REALLY lusting. Etc. But on the other hand, I don't deny myself the enjoyment of gifts that God has given me because those gifts could be abused. Gluttony is a sin, but I don't starve myself to death in an effort to stay as far away from gluttony as possible. –  Jay Mar 19 at 14:42

For completeness, here's the Catechism of the Catholic church's take on masturbation:

By masturbation is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure. "Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action."137

"The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose." For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of "the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved."138 To form an equitable judgement about the subjects' moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety, or other psychological or social factors that lessen or even extenuate moral culpability.

CCC 2352

Suffice it to say, once you know it is a sin, it is a sin. There's no aspect of the act itself that mitigates its inherent sinfulness. The only mitigating factors are wrapped up in the state of the individual.

Specifically, inside marriage you can't do it:

  1. To get your stamina up.
  2. Because your wife is at her mother's.
  3. Because you just had a baby.(Lv 12)
  4. Instead of making love to your wife (Gn 38)
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Spot on! I'm continually amazed at what the Catechism has to offer. Also, I like the use of practical examples. –  Andrew Sep 22 '11 at 2:24
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Ge 38 is not about masturbation. Onan was denounced because he refused to provide an heir for his brother through his brother's widow. –  mojo Jun 22 '12 at 11:44
    
Does "intrinsically and gravely disordered action" equal "sin"? I don't read it as such, though I'm untrained at reading the Roman Catholic Catechism (but I expect it was created so that no training would be required). –  mojo Jun 22 '12 at 11:45
    
@mojo it means it's a sin if you know it's a sin. I don't think the Catechism ever refers to anything as "a sin" except maybe as quoting other texts. –  Peter Turner Jun 22 '12 at 13:05
    
@mojo That interpretation is not something universally held. If there hasn't been a question about it here (or on BH), maybe that should be asked. –  Ignatius Theophorus Jun 22 '12 at 14:20

There is a very good book for married, and pre-marrital couples called Sheet Music. It's aimed at the less orthodox Christians, and it has some interesting things to state about masturbation. Unfortunately I don't have it with me (I'm at work) so I will have to paraphrase, and you'll have to excuse the lack of biblical references.

Basically it states that masturbation itself is just a physical activity, no more sinful than brushing your hair or squeezing a pimple. What is sinful is what happens in your mind whilst you masturbate. If you could masturbate without thinking lustful thoughts (approach it as just a physical release, like squeezing a big pimple), then that's OK. However, it's virtually impossible to masturbate without lustful thoughts.

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What if you are thinking of your spouse? –  The Preacher Mar 19 at 3:46
    
@ThePreacher - I actually asked that question on the site, but it got deleted for.. some reason (not really sure why). –  Mark Henderson Mar 19 at 3:48
    
Thrusting a knife into someone is also a physical activity, so I think there is more needed here. Do you believe God created the body, and that various parts of the body have various uses ? Is masterbation a proper use of the body; is it using the body as it was created for ? –  Matthew Nov 11 at 22:16
    
@Matthew a surgeon thrusts knives into people regularly, so that's a poor analogy. The rest of your questions are valid, but perhaps more than can be discussed in a comment. –  Mark Henderson Nov 12 at 0:49
    
@Mark Henderson Yes, surgeons do, and muggers may do so, too. Same physical act, two very different moral judgements. The point being that physical actions are accompanied by meanings and effects which affect the morality of the action. To say that something is 'just a physical activity' is to be blind to these meanings. If a part of the body is used in a way contrary to its intended purposes, or in a way that frustrates those purposes, then that should be part of the judgement of the morality of the action. I don't think anything could be said to be 'just a physical activity'. –  Matthew Nov 13 at 2:21

When it comes to masturbation, there are two types of guys: those who do it, and those who lie about it.

People errantly use passages of Scripture such as Genesis 38:7-10 and many others to say that it's sin. The simple fact is that the Bible doesn't say "masturbation is a sin". Jesus said that to look on a woman with lust in your heart is the same as committing adultery.

So, according to Jesus, thinking about it is equal with the act itself. Is it wrong to lust after your wife? No. The physical act of masturbation is no sin, rather the state of the heart and mind are the determination of whether you are sinning or not.

Dr. James Dobson I think put it best:

"It is my opinion that masturbation is not much of an issue with God. It is a normal part of adolescence which involves no one else. It does not cause disease. It does not produce babies, and Jesus did not mention it in the Bible. I'm not telling you to masturbate, and I hope you won't feel the need for it. But if you do, it is my opinion that you should not struggle with guilt over it. Why do I tell you this? Because I deal with so many Christian young people who are torn apart with guilt over masturbation; they want to stop and just can't. I would like to help you avoid that agony." -- Dr. James Dobson, "Preparing for Adolescence - Straight talk to teens and parents," Regal (1979).

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Your first line is a over-generalization. Do you consider Jesus a guy? –  Pacerier Sep 29 '11 at 20:36
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@Pacerier: Jesus Himself used hyperbole and exaggeration. –  El'endia Starman Sep 30 '11 at 18:12
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@Ingo: the object of lust is not what makes it wrong. Lust itself is the sin. There's no need to confuse the simple idea being stated by requiring the text to be a legal document exhaustively listing all the conditions and exceptions (or assuming there are none if none are stated). –  mojo Jun 22 '12 at 11:49
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To be frank, had I been taught that masturbation was wrong and had I been offered help as a teen, I doubt that I would have been addicted to porn for more than half of my life. –  Ignatius Theophorus Jun 22 '12 at 14:23
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Sorry, but saying "When it comes to masturbation, there are two types of guys: those who do it, and those who lie about it" is just incorrect; there are those of us who have been delivered from this bondage and those of us who never got bound up in the first place. –  Lawrence Dol Dec 4 '13 at 21:19

Nowhere does the Bible prohibit or condemn masturbation. I don't know of any Biblical basis for calling it a sin.

One can easily construct scenarios that include masturbation that are sins. For example, if you fantasize about having sex with another man's wife while masturbating, than you are likely breaking Jesus command against "looking at a woman with lust". But the issue here is not the masturbation, but the lust. To take a deliberalty silly comparison: Suppose I drive to a married woman's house and have illicit relations with her. Does the fact that I used my car in the commisison of a sin make driving a car sinful? Obviously not: the car is incidental to the sin, and one can use a car to do morally neutral things or even saintly things just as well as one can use a car to sin.

If God does not condemn something, I think we should be very careful not to condemn it on our own authority. We don't need to be holier than God.

Belated Update

I glossed over what in retrospect was a very important part of your question: "others say that it's a sin because Jesus commands us to deny the desires of our flesh".

I don't know if you had a specific Bible verse in mind. In a quick search on biblegateway.com I couldn't find a verse quoting Jesus saying, "Thou must deny the desires of the flesh" or similar words. Perhaps you are thinking of Ephesians 2:1-3, "And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, ... among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others." This of course is not Jesus speaking but Paul. Perhaps there's a similar quote from Jesus using slightly different words.

Either way, people often take very general statements like this and derive from them very specific applications that can be highly debatable. I don't see how we can rationally conclude that this means that Christians are forbidden from enjoying any physical pleasures. 1 Tim 6:17, "God ... gives us richly all things to enjoy." The book of Job ends with God giving Job wealth and family, clearly indicating that God intended Job to enjoy these things. Song of Solomon is all about the joys of love and sex. Jesus created wine for a wedding. Nowhere does the Bible say that it is a sin to enjoy a good meal or a pleasant day lying on the beach or the fun of a sporting match or any other physical pleasure. What it condemns is, (a) trying to take physical pleasures that don't belong to us, like stealing someone else's food or having sexual relations with someone else's spouse; (b) taking physical pleasures to excess, like drunkenness and gluttony; and (c) putting physical pleasures out of their place, like relaxing when we should be working or trusting in riches rather than trusting in God.

To say, "masturbation is a sin because the Bible says we should deny the desires of the flesh" ... by that reasoning you would have to say that all sex is sin, that eating is a sin, that listening to music is a sin, that wearing a coat because you want to feel warm is a sin, etc etc.

Of course even if you are agree with what I just said 100%, that does not prove that masturbation is NOT a sin. Just that you need something more specific than general statements about the dangers of the desires of the flesh.

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ἁμαρτία, ας, ἡ sin; (1) of an act, a departure from doing what is right, equivalent to ἁμάρτημα sin, wrongdoing (1J 5.17); (2) as the moral consequence of having done something wrong sin, guilt (AC 3.19; 1J 1.7); (3) as the nature of wrongdoing viewed as the rejection of God by self-assertive human beings sin, evil (RO 5.12, 13; cf. 1.21); (4) especially in Johannine usage as a moral condition of human beings in revolt against God sin, being evil, sinfulness (JN 9.34; 15.24); (5) especially in Pauline usage as an abstract moral principle or force personified as evil in character sin, evil (RO 6.12); (6) especially in Hebrews as a deceiving power personified as leading human beings to guilt and destruction (HE 3.13; 12.1)

Friberg, Timothy ; Friberg, Barbara ; Miller, Neva F.: Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich. : Baker Books, 2000 (Baker's Greek New Testament Library 4), S. 45

"What is right" is defined within the Bible by God; God made sex for married couples.

Many will point out that Matthew 5:28 talks about adultery - that is, a sexual relationship outside of marriage. However, for the unmarried the principle behind this verse is the same - it shows that someone that looks at a woman lustfully commits fornication. Using your imagination to produce sexual images is a step toward that which God prohibits.

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As I understand it, lust is desiring something God doesn't want you to have. Is it possible to lust for your spouse? –  The Preacher Mar 19 at 3:48
    
@ThePreacher Probably should be a new question, but to reply: I read a book once where the writer quoted Matthew 5:28, "whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart", and then wrote, See, Jesus didn't say, any woman except his wife. Except, umm, if you take it that way, then if you look at your own wife with lust, that is the equivalent of committing adultery ... with your own wife. How do you commit adultery with your wife? That's like forging your own signature or trespassing on your own property. So I'd say, No, it's either meaningless ... –  Jay Mar 19 at 20:50
    
... to talk about "lusting for your own spouse", or if those words do mean anything, then there's nothing wrong with it. (With all the usual caveats about "in its proper place and manner".) –  Jay Mar 19 at 20:51

As Corey said there is the matter of lust. Also see:

2nd Timothy 3 (KJV)
This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God

Any of those I italicized could apply.

As far as leading to death, all sin leads to spiritual death, which is separation from God. (Probably best to handle that in a separate question.)

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The words "lovers of their own selves" (φίλαυτος), "lovers of pleasures" (φιλήδονος), and "lovers of God" (φιλόθεος) in this passage are in no way sexual or sensual. They each share a common root "φιλ" (pronounced "phil") which is from "φιλία" which is the love of a friend, specifically NOT "ἔρως" (eros) which is passionate love. –  Nathan Wheeler Aug 29 '11 at 16:49
    
@NathanWheeler Your linguistic observations by no means disprove Jim's point. +1 Jim. –  Kazark May 11 '12 at 5:09
    
@NathanWheeler I think the elements to focus in on would be "own selves", "natural affection" and "pleasures", rather than "lovers of". –  Jas 3.1 May 22 '12 at 21:02
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I honestly don't see how any of those apply to masturbation any more than they do to eating ice cream. –  TRiG May 22 '12 at 21:20
    
I fail to see how this provides any kind of edict against anything, let alone masturbation. It is a prediction of the end times, not a sermon. (And, frankly, not that much of a prediction.) –  Kaz Dragon Nov 21 '12 at 8:10

This is a seemingly tireless question on the internet, and the answer is a resounding NO, as long as its private and doesn't adversely affect others. The act itself properly done is not only harmless, but beneficial to both sexes. Its well known that the Bible doesn't overtly talk about masturbation. Only a few groups hold to the "wasting the seed" theory promulgated by the rabbis and then the Catholic church. There is the reference to the ceremonial uncleanness caused by seminal emissions in Leviticus 15:16ff, regardless of whether one was alone or with his wife. But, this doesn't speak specifically to either masturbation or its morality. There is a somewhat obscure reference in Ezekiel 16 to a woman, symbolic of God's wife, using the gold and silver he gave her to make "images of male", dildos, with which to "fornicate" like a "loose woman". But, that doesn't say masturbation or dildoes are sinful. It teaches that idolatry is sinful. So, most people end up basing their belief about masturbation on a definition of "lust".

Unfortunately, they impose their usage of the word "lust" upon the Bible passages and this creates false conclusions. If a person engages in coveting for something forbidden (or if they are dominated by covetous desire) we can agree that they are "Lusting" in the bad sense. But, lust itself, in its actual meaning simply meant "desire", neither a good nor a bad desire, and certainly not a sexual desire. Those are modern meanings, not Biblical ones. Most people acknowledge that children masturbate even to orgasm, but without understanding about or fantasizing about sex. Many women masturbate with dildos and vibrators without fantasies being necessary. Wives often masturbate during sex, since God designed their clitoris (in most cases) to not be adequately stimulated from coitus. Men who don't want to be addicted to porn learn to masturbate just by the sensation alone. So, there are all manner of people who masturbate without fantasies. But, asks the question: Since when are fantasies wrong? They aren't unless there is an intent of committing a sexual sin. People think fantasies are "lusting", but again, if they are using fantasies or images they are not lusting for an actual sexual sin, they are "lusting" for sexual excitement. No inherent sin involved here, since we are expected and designed by God to have and want sex; thus it can't be sinful to want to have it or think about having it.

The second attempt to demonize masturbation is to suggest that its selfish and that sex is meant to be a shared event. There is truth to the latter phrase, but it doesn't mean that because you share an event, that each person doesn't have self-interest, "selfish" motives along with their motive to give pleasure to their mates. There isn't anything selfish about masturbation unless a person is depriving their spouse of relations by their behavior. For something to be selfish, there has to be an advantage gained by one party at the expense of, or in disregard to another.

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Could you please not refer to rabbis and Catholics as "crazies"? Even if you disagree with them, it's rude and unfair to characterize them or their beliefs in this way. –  James T Jun 21 '12 at 23:29
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In addition to the unjust and arguably offensive use of the word "crazies", the argument is poorly founded: if these are modern concepts, then why was it considered sinful in antiquity? –  Ignatius Theophorus Jun 22 '12 at 14:29
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As laid out in What makes a good supported answer?, we expect answers to have factual, Biblical, or doctrinal support. This answer has none of these. So, please edit in some support or I'll delete it. –  El'endia Starman Jun 23 '12 at 19:06
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I've edited your post a bit to remove the potentially offensive use of "crazies." Also, you really should cite some justification here. The only references you have outside of your opinions are the ones used to speak negatively on this topic. I'd do some research and come back and edit this. And then next time actually do the research before posting instead of this. (again, noting wrong with your conclusions here, they just need to be supported) –  wax eagle Jun 23 '12 at 20:46
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He supported his arguments by rationality and common sense. I can't believe that those are worthless? Sapere aude! en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sapere_aude –  Ingo Jun 27 '12 at 18:10

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