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What is sadism?

sadism, sadist
Question: "What is sadism? What is a sadist?"

A sadist is a person who enjoys causing pain and suffering in other people; sadism is the act of deliberately inflicting distress on others for the sake of entertainment or pleasure. The eponym of the term sadism is an eighteenth-century French nobleman, the Marquis de Sade, whose writings were renowned for excessively violent, cruel, profane, and degrading sexuality. Over time, the definition of sadism has become more general, and modern references to sadists and sadism typically occur without implying sexuality. The terms are often applied in an exaggerated way to people or situations to which those labels don’t meaningfully fit. Today, referring to someone as a sadist usually means that person is carelessly inflicting some type of misery on others.

Historically, the term sadism was a reference to a particular psychological condition in which a person derives erotic pleasure from inflicting pain on others. This definition relates to de Sade’s fondness for violent sexuality and purposeful evil. The complementary term, masochism, denotes a link between receiving abuse and sexual gratification. The combination of the terms, sadomasochism, refers to the practice of those who seek out extreme forms of personal abuse for pleasure.

The 2011 best-selling novel Fifty Shades of Gray features as a main character a man who is a sadist. The novel was marketed as a romantic story for women, although the heroine of the novel is a masochist who allows herself to be controlled by a domineering, powerful man. The author presents the main characters’ relationship, as pathological as it is, as something akin to love—or at least something pleasurable and desirable. The effect of the novel, its sequels, and its films is to normalize the sin of sadism and mitigate its social stigma.

Biblically, there is no room for any form of sadism. The Bible specifically calls on us to love each other (John 13:34) and defines love using terms such as patience and kindness (1 Corinthians 13:4). Love has nothing to do with seeking personal pleasure or causing pain to others. By definition, all forms of sadism are self-focused and involve acting in ways that cause others pain, suffering, or misery. This is totally contrary to the character of God and to the instructions we are given in Scripture.

Recommended Resource: Spectacular Sins: And Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ John Piper

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