Are lascivious thoughts immoral if not acted upon?
Answer: Today’s question asks whether or not
a moral distinction may be drawn between thought and action with the
The answer would depend upon which standard is used to judge: the
absolute or the relative. The distinction between the ideal and the
real may also aid understanding.
The absolute standard of purity/chastity would make no distinction
between the thought and action. In absolute terms, the lascivious
thought is immoral. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (1844-1921), the son of the
Prophet-Founder Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), and the authorized interpreter
of his father’s teachings, wrote that we should keep “… secret and
hidden thoughts pure before the Lord of Hosts!” (Tablets, vol. 3, p.
The reason is easy to understand. Thoughts, if strongly driven, usually
lead to expression, either in word or deed. If the thought is not
immoral, it is unlikely that it would lead to an immoral act. Immoral
thoughts lead to immoral deeds. Moral thoughts bring peace of mind.
But relatively speaking, the concrete act would be more sinful than the
thought. If a lascivious thought remains private, only the thinker
suffers. If the thought is acted upon, one or more persons suffer the
consequences. In some moral theologies, temptation is not considered
to be sinful, but giving in to temptation is a breach of the law.
Shoghi Effendi (1897-1957), grandson of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Guardian of
the Bahá’í Faith, drew a realistic distinction between faith and
character that may be useful here.
In answering one of many thousands of questions, he wrote through his
secretary: “It is often hard to accept this fact and put up with it,
but the fact [remains] that a person may believe in and love the Cause
— even being ready to die for it — and yet not have a good personal
character or possess traits at variance with the teachings. We try to
change, to let the Power of God help re-create us, make us true Bahá’ís
in deed as well as in belief. But sometimes the process is slow,
sometimes it never happens because the individual does not try hard
enough. But these things cause us suffering and are a test to us …”
(Oct. 17, 1944). -