Saturday 15 July 2017

Dave Sim: On Prostitution & Chester Brown

Cerebus #275 (February 2002)
Art by Dave Sim, photo by Ken Sim

A (very occasional) word from Dave Sim now that he's working full-time on

You aren't, I don't think, going to win in any discussion with Chester Brown about the morality/immorality of prostitution.

In an... idiosyncratic?... society like our own, you aren't allowed to privilege your preferred form of fornication over any other person's preferred form of fornication. If Chester "gets off" on paying women for sex, that becomes the bottom line. Right next to "consensual". He wants to buy, she wants to sell. It's all good. End of story.

The terminology of fornication has changed to match the idiosyncrasy of subjective-perception-as-reality. In my youth it was called "pre-marital sex". That is, the presupposition was that everyone was going to get married and unusual people had sex before the ceremony. In 2017 that just seems weirdly quaint. Which I experience as moral erosion and most people (at least appear to) experience as progressiveness. All that matters in 2017 from our idiosyncratic society's perspective is what two adults agree upon at the moment. Their agreement, in and of itself, makes whatever it is inherently right.

If you ask me where our society's (reputed) epidemic of free-floating anxiety is coming from, I think that's an obvious place to look. If you don't think you're transgressing and you actually are, that's going to cause you a LOT of psychic stress.

I don't, personally, think that subjective perception determining the nature of reality is the case. In my view, the only valid viewpoint on fornication is God's and -- unless I'm misreading Scripture -- the verdict is "thumb's down" across the board. The notion that simple consent is the bottom line on fornication is, I think, a fabricated human conceit. The "deal" isn't, I think, between you and your girlfriend or you and your wife. The "deal" is between you and God, your girlfriend and God or your wife and God.

That is, I infer, it's a matter of fidelity to God. If you want to have a female counterpart in your life and have sex with her, and you don't want to experience severe consequences, then it has to be on what I infer are God's terms. You need to a) be a virgin when you marry b) commit to a lifelong marriage c) consecrate that marriage in the sight of God (i.e. in a church, a synagogue or a mosque). Otherwise you're transgressing. And that, it seems to me, is the actual bottom line.

[One of the reasons that I haven't participated in the discussion is that I'm way, way, way, way over HERE and all of you are way, way, way over THERE. All I could be is an AMOC troll on the way, way, way over THERE subject.]

When I realized back in 1997 -- after having read the Bible and the Koran for the first time -- that I don't have those qualities, I'm intrinsically, soul-deep NOT a husband...

[which I attribute at least partly to being the child of a child of fornication. My maternal grandfather impregnated my maternal grandmother sometime around March 6 of 1930 and my mother was born December 6, 1930. It takes a lot of chutzpah to call a daughter of fornication "Mary" in what was -- at the time -- a Christian society. My grandmother -- who was a devout Christian, attending church multiple times daily, in her youth -- never lacked for chutzpah. Years later I found out that my grandparents had their "shotgun wedding" on May 17, 1930 which means that I was born on their 26th wedding anniversary. The metaphysics of which -- see the emphasis on Cerebus' 26th birthday in the earliest issues -- seem particularly ominous in retrospect: I enacted their transgression starting around age 26 and didn't stop until I was almost 42; CEREBUS ran for 26 years, etc.]

…I opted for the only thing that seemed sensible to me under the circumstances: repentance (i.e. I stopped fornicating) and atonement (I haven't fornicated since 1998). In May of 2019 I will, God willing, have atoned for my previous 21 years of fornication and adultery.

Which, I'm sure, sounds absolutely crazy to everyone reading this, just as your ideas of what constitutes societal progressiveness sound absolutely crazy to me.

I wish everyone, including Chester, the best of luck with their fornication and adultery rationales/cover stories/realities on Judgement Day.

I'm sticking with my own. And looking forward to May of 2019.

Further Reading:
Dave Sim: "Avoyd Fornication" (January 2014)


Travis Pelkie said...

I'm genuinely curious as to where Dave got the notion that if he gives up on fornication and adultery, he thereby atones for the amount of time that he spent fornicating and committing adultery by not doing those things for the same amount of time. Is there a notion of that in the Koran? Or is it more of his ... fascination ... with numerology (like the 26 years mentioned here)?

I went to a Baptist church for a time as a kid, and from what I grasped, if you accept Jesus as your Lord and savior, and you are genuinely sorry for your sins and give them up, you are forgiven for those sins. I don't know if I believe that's any more or less plausible than Dave's notion.

Tony Dunlop said...

I have no idea how "repentance" is understood in Islam, but the Christian scriptures, especially the synoptic Gospels (which Dave seems to ascribe to "YooWhoo" and not to God), it's clear that one is forgiven as soon as one "turns from his way" towards the way of God. The parable of the Prodigal Son provides the paradigm. Of course repentance is a lifelong endeavor since everyone "misses the mark" every day - although hopefully not in the same way over and over (such as repeated fornication)...

Other than that, Dave's version of sexual morality (virginity followed by lifelong, faithful marriage) doesn't sound crazy to every AMOC reader. It sounded "backwards" or "repressive" to me until sometime in my 30s, when I had my own encounter with God (which was very different from Dave's!).

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

I will confine myself to noting once again that it is very, very important to Dave that he be different from everyone else.

On another point: does anyone know where Dave's firm belief in numerology comes from? The only justification I can recall him giving was "saying a coincidence is a coincidence doesn't explain it to me."

-- Damian

Jeet Heer said...

The Bible also condemns masturbation. Did Dave Sim also renounce masturbation in 1998? If not, he has more atoning to do.

Tony again said...

He has publicly stated so, yes. Nice try, though!

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Was it 1998 when Dave gave up wanking? (Sexually, I mean.) I seem to recall him saying that he tried to avoid fantasizing while masturbating, and that was after he gave up sex with more than one consenting adult.

-- Damian

Jeff Seiler said...

Technically, Jeet, the Bible doesn't document (or, "document") God condemning Onanism (masturbation). Rather, it documents (or, "documents") God striking down Onan because he failed to obey God's order that Onan should go into their nomad's tent and impregnate one or both of his daughters, in order to continue his lineage with a son. Instead, Onan "spilled his seed" outside of the tent, disobeying God's order and drawing down God's wrath.

One of those weird Old Testament things where Onan refused to commit incest and it earned him God's wrath.

The Catholic Church seized on this passage in order to condemn Onanism (masturbation), by making masturbation itself a sin. The sin in the original act was disobeying God.

Having said that, if Dave continues to "leave [his] dick alone," then I should imagine it will continue to leave him alone.

Travis Pelkie said...

And who knows, Jeff, maybe Onan's problem was more premature ejaculation than masturbation... ;)

Speaking of masturbation, not sure if this is true, but apparently OJ's parole is in jeopardy because he was caught masturbating in jail.

Apparently it's better in jail for prisoners to take those urges out on each other rather than on themselves....(eyeroll).

Jack said...

I think Jesus's "if thine hand offends thee, cut it off" was probably about masturbation, though.

Jack said...

Thy, thine, whatever. I don't speak Jamesian English.

Jack said...

By the way, I murdered someone every day between 1992 and 2011. In May 2030 I will, God willing, have atoned for my previous 19 years of murder, which will leave me free to go on occasional killing sprees punctuated by repentance breaks.

Jeff Seiler said...

Jack, you miss the point, I think. Dave is explaining his concept of attonement. He is not implying that, after 2019, he will go back to fornicating. He has vowed and continues to vow, five times daily in his prayer to God, that he will never again cohabitate with any woman. (Or man, goes without saying.)

Jack said...

Yeah, but like Travis said, refraining from the sin you used to commit generally isn't considered atonement. Come on, Jeff, admit that the rules of his one-man religion are kind of weird.

Jack said...

Of course, in this case, I'm criticizing a harmless aspect of his religious beliefs, but other aspects lead him to say some pretty awful things. There's an example at:

Dave writes, "As a monotheist, I take it as a given that the Holocaust was engineered/allowed to occur by God so that the Jews could be restored to Israel after 2,000 years. 6 million had to give their lives in order to achieve that otherwise impossible task."

So God engineered/allowed the Holocaust because it would get Jews in Israel? The fuck? God is supposedly omnipotent! He created light by saying four words, but he had to slaughter 6 million people to encourage immigration? It wouldn't have worked with one less murdered Jew (or gypsy or handicapped person or communist)? For fuck's sake, the Zionists were doing a good job of settling then-Palestine before the Holocaust! And of course, this leaves aside the question of why a supreme being would give a shit about which ethnic group settles in which area of the planet anyway, particularly when most of the settlers are very secular.

In my opinion, that's probably the most offensive thing Dave has ever written, and it bothered me that no one here objected to it. I guess I should have said something myself, but I was trying to abstain from internet arguments at the time.

Jeff Seiler said...


First, there was the diaspora.

40 years.

Not unlike the time (40 days) that, in the desert, Jesus spent his time fighting off the Devil.

I think it is pretty clear that the Christian Bible (or, bible) is a lot of formulated text and dialogue that is meant to expand on the Torah, in order to convert people to either the Catholic or the Protestant faiths.

There are translations (and I think that Dave Sim tries to get as close to them as he can) that do try to stay as close to the original intent of the writings as possible.


We're at least 500 years removed.

So, we can agree or agree to disagree, but it should always come down to: you to your god (God) and me to mine.

That, I think, is the best approach.

To zero in, I can't believe that God "allowed" the shoah to happen, but I do believe that God allowed for the settlement of Israel.

The returning.

Jack said...

When someone's religious beliefs lead him to say that the Holocaust was ultimately a good thing because it lead to the creation of Israel (and to criticize Art Spiegelman for failing to understand this point), I think the best approach is to criticize those religious beliefs in the harshest language possible.

I remember another essay in which Dave speculated that God may have introduced the SARS virus to Canada from China in order to rebuke Canadians for opposing the invasion of Iraq, just like China did. Kind of passive-aggressive of God, don't you think? Couldn't He have just written, "Invading Iraq is a great idea!" or "Jews: Please go to Israel!" in large type on the moon or something? I think Dave has constructed a mental picture of God in his own image, and it's not a flattering likeness.

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Jeff S.: I am unclear on what you mean by "We're at least 500 years removed." Can you please explain further?

-- Damian

Jeff Seiler said...

Yeah, Damian, you got me. By at least a thousand more years. When I was writing that, at first, I thought I had exaggerated the number of years and cut it way down.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

My bad.

Thank you for being so kind as to point that out, ya daffy bastid.

Sean R said...

Hey Jack,

Out of curiosity, are you a deist of any kind or do you subscribe to any particular religious (that is, unobservable) belief? I ask because, as an atheistic individual, I see Dave's personal religious ideas a fairly logical extension of belief in a deity that is capable of intervening in the world. That is, unless you believe in a "first mover" kind of deity, one who sets things in motion and then never does anything else ever again, then any entity who is omnipotent and omnipresent is de facto responsible, either through negligence or action, for any human atrocity you can name.

It's also very funny to me that, hold the religious views of your fellows and neighbors and people who raised you, essentially defaulting to what you were indoctrinated into, you're a religious person. Hold religious views of your own, born out of years of private study and contemplation?A crazy person, huh?

Like I said, I have no skin in the game, but that's how it seems to me as an outsider. I don't think it's any coincidence that the two most favorable reactions to the ideas put forth in the Cerebegesis I've ever seen were both reactions from non-religious readers with a background in philosophy and/or skepticism--Carson Grumbaugh and myself.

Anyway, carry on!

(A more elaborated form of the first-paragraph argument is present in Sam Harris' "Letter to A Christian Nation")

Jack said...

Sean R, I was raised Catholic but have gone from having a vague, half-assed belief in God to being a vague, half-assed agnostic who would probably retreat back into religion if things got really bad. So I admittedly haven't applied much critical thought to religion. Still, I think my views on these issues are much more thoughtful than Dave's.

You might know more about me than this, but I think religious people have come up with different answers to the problem of evil (i.e., if God is benevolent and omnipotent, how can evil/suffering exist?). And I think one of them--the idea that evil and suffering are part of some mysterious plan that humans can't understand but will ultimately be for the best--has some similarities to Dave's outlook. However, Dave doesn't see God's plan as mysterious; he says that unimaginable degrees of human suffering have resulted from God enforcing the (in my view, horrible) personal opinions of Dave Sim in utterly insane ways. The Holocaust happened because God, like Dave Sim, thought that genocide would be worthwhile if it resulted in a modern nation state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan that called itself the state of the Jewish people despite being largely secular. SARS came to Canada because God, like Dave Sim, thought it would be worth killing some Canadians to imply, in a way that only Dave picked up on, that Canadians should support the invasion of Iraq. Both the moral calculous and the methodology Dave attributes to God are completely ridiculous, and I think the Catholicism I passively and unthinkingly accepted as a kid is vastly superior to his one-man religion.

Jack said...

*"...about this than me," "calculus," probably other typos.

Tony again said...

Sean, your first paragraph, which you say is a paraphrase of Sam Harris (I'll take your word for it), is a really crude and inaccurate caricature of most serious religions' views of evil, mayhem, talking with your mouth full, etc. I don't know about Mr. Harris, but I'm sure you're educated enough to know that the problem of "when bad things happen to good people" is not justly addressed by the old black-and-white canard of "God can be either all-powerful or all-good but not both."

I'm neither qualified enough nor interested enough to go deeply into this question on a blog dedicated to one of the world's finest cartoonists - suffice it to say that the freedom of the human will enters into it, theologically speaking.

As for "unobservable:" Only if you don't know how to look. Subatomic particles are "unobservable" to you and me, but I believe the particle physicists who say that they know what too look for and have seen in. So also for the Uncreated Light seen by many Eastern Orthodox Christian monks.

Tony one more time said...

"...have seen it. Damn, I thought I'd proofread so carefully.

Tony...OK I'll shut up now said...

Oh, and I'm going to amplify Dave's (who??) opening remarks by positing that "getting off" is the holiest blessed sacrament of the contemporary West. What follows from that? We're going to find out!

Jack said...

Tony, you and your religion might have a free will-based answer to "God can be either all-powerful or all-good but not both," but I don't see how you can call it a canard. Any answer to it is going to raise even more questions, such as, "Well, then why did He give us free will, and what about all of the horrible illnesses, natural disasters, etc. that don't involve human will?"

Culpa Direct said...


The Bible doesn't say God ordered Onan to commit incest. Tamar was Onan's sister-in-law. Onan's father Judah told Onan to go in unto his brother's (Er's) widow (Tamar) to raise up seed for his dead brother. Presumably, with Judah as the inheritor of the covenant, it would go next to his eldest son Er. Onan knew that if he impregnated Tamar (Er's widow), then he (Onan) would not be the inheritor, the seed he raised up for Er would be. Better to leave Tamar childless so that Onan could be in line to receive the covenant on his own. And the Bible does say that Onan did go into his brother's wife, but that he spilled his seed on the ground. So they did do the deed, it's just that Onan pulled out before so as not to impregnate her. Of course Judah ends up impregnating Tamar himself, and the line of the covenant continues from there, eventually leading up to Jesus.


Travis Pelkie said...

And now there are 26 comments on this post! What does it mean?!?!?!

Oh, dang, this makes 27. Never mind.

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Jeff S.: Thanks for your reply, and good humour. I wasn't actually needling you (this time); for some reason, I was trying to recall if and where Dave predicted Cerebus would be rediscovered 500 years after his death. Strange the paths one's mind takes sometimes.

Tony: It is always interesting to encounter individuals like you, and Dave, who believe that the existence of god has been confirmed by science. This belief is a factual error. (In saying so, I intend no offence to your religious beliefs.)

-- Damian

Tony again said...

Huh? Who said I think the existence of God has been "confirmed by science?" I never said that and don't believe that. Science is not looking for God and can't find Him. That's not a shortcoming; it's simply not the right tool for that kind of discovery. Ascetic disciplines like prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and the letting go of the ego that these things hopefully lead one to, are not scientific tools - but they are how millions through history have encountered God.

Travis asks, "And now there are 26 comments on this post! What does it mean?!?!?!"

Howard Stern math: "Lesbians = Ratings."

A Moment of Cerebus math: "Prostitution = Comments."

Jeff Seiler said...

Tony--Thank you my first laugh of the day.

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Tony: You said the existence of god was observable, and drew a direct comparison to physicists observing a phenomenon. If my inference was incorrect, I apologize, but I maintain it was fair. If you wish to practice an ascetic lifestyle, that is your business and I support your right to do so.

-- Damian

Tony again said...

OK, clearly I was not very articulate. Mea Culpa. I believe that physicists, using the appropriate tools, can detect subatomic particles, even though I have no direct, personal experience that would lead me to that knowledge. I trust their process.

Likewise, I believe that those who engage in mystical contemplation (not just Christian monks; Buddhists report very similar experiences) when they, using the tools appropriate to this kind of experience, report "seeing" a light that is fundamentally unlike any that can be seen with the physical eye. Interestingly, both Orthodox Christians and Buddhists call this the "uncreated light."

The latter is *not* science. It doesn't pretend to be. It is a particular way of exploring existence, and it leads to consistently reported experiences. These are not experiences I personally have had, any more than I've personally "observed" a quark or a muon, but I trust the process as much as I trust that of the physicists. The late, great biologist and science writer Stephen Jay Gould (I think it was him) had a concept he called "non-overlapping magisteria." I understand that to mean that the physical sciences and the spiritual disciplines are looking at/for two different things, and their results do not contradict each other because they're not talking about the same things. This sounds about right to me. Obviously I'm not a "biblical literalist."

What is mildly annoying - but only mildly - is people who won't even consider engaging in prayer or other spiritual disciplines saying they've seen no evidence of God. OF COURSE THEY HAVEN'T; they're not even looking! I was an atheist when I said my first prayer, but I kept an open mind with the attitude of "What the ... heck ... either there's something to this or there isn't. If there isn't, I'll carry on as before." YMMV, of course!

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Tony: While I can tentatively agree with you about "non-overlapping magisteria", I think you are conflating scientific observation with religious experience. Unfortunately, we can't just agree to disagree and leave it there. Problems arise when we attempt to base our actions or policies on our respective evidence. To a believer, your religious beliefs are every bit as true as bedrock science, and vice versa; to an atheist, half of your beliefs are fine and half of them are fictional: correct like a stopped clock at best, and outright false and harmful at worst.

I find your mild annoyance revealing of a certain kind of prejudice that believers often hold. Let me recast your argument in more inflammatory terms to illustrate: I say that you are a pedophile. You may protest that you can detect no pedophilic inclinations in yourself. "Ah!" I cry, "But you should just try wanking while fantasing about molesting a six-year-old boy!" If you have any reluctance to try that, then you have no standing to be annoyed (even mildly) by atheists' reluctance to pray.

There is another kind of prejudice that believers often hold about atheists, and this is one that Dave has stated (though I'm not attributing it to you, Tony, it seems to underlie your above prejudice): They think that atheism is the philosophy of "There is a god, in whom I do not believe." This view of atheism is a factual error. It seems that, for many believers, it is so obvious that god exists that they simply can't comprehend god's non-existence.

Interesting that, of all the comments on this post, discussion of prostitution is absent.

-- Damian

Tony one more time said...

I don't know, Damian - each of us thinks the other is objectively wrong, yet we can still have a civil discussion. Sounds like "agreeing to disagree" to me!

(And I'm *not* annoyed when people refuse to pray - only when they then say they see no evidence for God. And as someone who was an atheist for the first 30-plus years of my life, I think I have a pretty good idea of what atheism is and what it isn't.)

We are clearly beginning to talk past one another and repeat our PowerPoint bullets, so I'm gonna duck out of this thread now. I'll close with an inflammatory statement of my own: God bless you! ;-)

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Tony: Your second paragraph reveals an interesting mental limitation that is, alas, common to believers: you get annoyed when people don't share your religious beliefs.

I don't find your last statement inflammatory, as I take it to be an expression of well-wishes. It may be issued in an idiom we don't share, but the intent is clear. Thank you, and I wish you all the best in return.

-- Damian

Jeff Seiler said...

Before I go all medieval on Damian's ass (BTW: YAY! GoT is back!!!), let me just repeat the wise saying from the Quran:

"You to your God, me to mine."

Now, then:

Damian, I cannot believe that you have the chutzpah to conflate pedophilia with prayer/belief in God. Not conducting in pedophilia is, I think, a standard that, perhaps 95% of the citizens of the world agree is the right thing to do (Taiwan being an [the?] exception.)

Perhaps praying to a god or the one, true God of Abraham is offputting to atheists and (perhaps) agnostics, but, the last time I checked, it is not illegal, and it doesn't damage anyone.

Except, maybe, self-absorbed atheists.

Pedophilia (and, yes, Damian, I recognize that you were trying to make your point in extremis), but pedophilia vs. prayer went way, way over the line.

Tim, before you censor me, please realize that Damian was conflating pedophilia with prayer.

Bad Damian. Bad!

Oh, and just so I cover all the bases, Damian:

"Hey, guys, go hire a prostitute in order to spend some quality time.

It's FUN!

Just, maybe, not a child prostitute.

Just sayin'..."

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Jeff S.: I believe you when you say you modelled your mind after Dave's, because you share his lack of reading comprehension. Just for starters, look up "conflate". Thank you.

-- Damian

Jeff Seiler said...

Damian, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, Fourth Edition, conflate is defined thusly:

" tr. v. 1. To bring together; meld or fuse.

"2. To combine (two variant texts, for example) into one whole.

[Lat. conflare, conflat- ; com-, com- + flare, to blow]

Damian, I stand by my usage.

If you insist, substitute the word compare for conflate. Same deal. You were intentionally being offensive, out of your atheistic point of view.

Jeff Seiler said...

More to your point, Damian, you seem to be saying that an atheist's reluctance at or being annoyed by being asked to pray to a god (or, God) in whom he, the atheist, has no belief, is equal to any person saying no thank you and how dare you and I'm calling the police when asked to commit an act of pedophilia.

Again, I say, you intend to provoke, and in an indelicate and wrong way.

Shame, sir.

Shame on you.

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Jeff S.: My example was carefully chosen not to be an act of pedophilia. As I said, work on your reading comprehension. You're taking offense, it's not being given, because it's your sacred ox being gored; you're just fine when it's other people's. Your only principles is "I've got mine".

-- Damian