What consenting adults do in private

“Jesus Christ in the conversation embarrassed her the way sex did her mother.”  So said Flannery O’Connor of one of her characters in the short story “The Displaced Person.”  Sex, though, today is out in the open.  But religion, to be socially and politically acceptable, must be closeted.

The great sociologist Peter Berger (a Lutheran) surveys the array of lawsuits in the United States and Europe against open displays of Christianity.  Here is what he concludes:

In all these cases the authorities accused of violating the plaintiffs’ rights operate with a definition of religion as a private matter to be kept out of public space. . . .There is a very ideological view of the place of religion in society. In other words, religion is to be an activity engaged in by consenting adults in private.

And if religion is what sex used to be, sex also accounts for the hostility to religion.  So suggests Professor Berger:

Let me venture a sociological hypothesis here: The new American secularism is in defense of the sexual revolution. Since the 1960s there has indeed been a sexual revolution in America. It has been very successful in changing the mores and the law. It should not be surprising that many people, especially younger ones, enjoy the new libidinous benefits of this revolution. Whether one approves or deplores the new sexual culture, it seems unlikely to be reversed. Yet Christian churches (notably the Catholic and Evangelical ones) are in the forefront of those who do want to reverse the libertine victory. Its beneficiaries are haunted by the nightmare of being forced into chastity belts by an all too holy alliance of clerics and conservative politicians. No wonder they are hostile!

via Religion As An Activity Engaged In By Consenting Adults In Private | Religion and Other Curiosities.

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  • No surprise there, since we as sinful people take the good gift of sex and abuse it according to our own lusts. We are libertine indeed to our own detriment, as clear violation of God’s Word and will are obvious examples of this.

    As far as Christianity being personal/private, I tell people this “I am a Christian. If you want to talk about it, I’ll be happy to. I’m not going to beat you over the head with it, but I’m also not going to hide it. And I don’t seek to offend you with it, but I’m also not going to back off on something related to it just because you do feel offended by it.”

  • Tom Hering

    I think Berger’s sociological hypothesis (sex!) avoids the obvious: militant secularism in America is a response to the politically militant Christianity of the past thirty years. Just as Europe’s rise of secularism was a response to centuries of church alignment with power and injustice.

  • sg

    “Just as Europe’s rise of secularism was a response to centuries of church alignment with power and injustice.”

    Oh, those poor barbarians and pagans who used to practice human sacrifice before the power of gov’t influenced by the Christian Church made them stop. Oh, the injustice! And with the rise of secularism they are right back to practicing child sacrifice. Ah, justice. (sarcasm)

    Now that we have seen the secular “justice” of the French Revolution, the Soviet Union, and the Nazis, those bishops are looking pretty good.

  • Paul Reed

    My father told me he remembers when people were talking about decriminalizing sodomy and asserting “what consenting adults do in their own bedrooms should be their own business”. Back then there was the belief that gay behavior was the equivalent of adultery or a scatological fetish, and it would be something only found in the fringes of society. It would be something one would be ashamed of in public, and would be kept to oneself. It wouldn’t be something people would want to spread around. I don’t suppose many of them would have ever guessed we’d one day be debating gay “marriage” or gay scoutmasters even in conservative Christian circles.

  • helen

    Take it one step further back, Tom Hering.
    The “sexual revolution” was/is promoted via the public schools. Christians who woke up to that fact began to oppose that use of public education. I don’t remember Christians being particularly “political” as Christians before that. The “new morality” is more than “militant secularism”… it’s militant anti Christianity.

    But look at the result in Europe and Britain. Where Christianity is nearly dead, the Muslims are coming in with insistence on Sharia law. Christians will suffer because they are Christian; “secularists” will suffer because Sharia is a good deal less permissive and more punishing than Christianity has been in 500 years.

    Liberal “Christianity” will speed the day because its acceptance of deviance, (all sorts) “proves” to the muslim world that Christianity is a decadent religion.

  • Helen,

    Spot on, friend.

    One of these world views will win out.

  • Cincinnatus

    I think that, historically speaking, helen@5 is right; Tom is wrong (at least insofar as he regards militant Christianity as the origin of our present woes).

    “Militant” Christianity in the United States has almost always been a reaction to militant (without scare quotes!) opposition. That applies to the Massachusetts Puritans, the temperance movement, William Jennings Bryan’s crusade against Darwinism, the “Moral Majority” in the 1980s, and, now, to those who “militantly” oppose gay marriage.

    Put another way, there is a prevailing bourgeois Christian ethic in America, and has been since the beginning. It reacts strongly when agitated by those who want to change this climate–folks like Darwinists, sexual revolutionaries, and gay activists.

  • “… haunted by the nightmare of being forced into chastity belts by an all too holy alliance of clerics and conservative politicians. ”

    Yes. That’s right. We conservative religious types are trying to force everyone onto chastity belts. Just because we’re mean and bigoted.

    Nope, has nothing to do with, as one commenter on the linked post puts it, “solving societal problems by channeling sexual energies into areas where sex benefits, rather than harms, society.”

    That same commenter follows up with, ” I’d argue that were sexual relations normatively played out within stable male/female marriages, we’d see a wholesale reduction in violence, drug use, abortion, out-of-wedlock births, and so on, with a corresponding uptick in economic stability, scholastic achievement, durability of relationships, etc. ”

    But that’s not what we want in modern America. We’d rather have the freedom to destroy civilization, in order to get what we want.

    It’s a Tragedy of the Commons, culturally speaking.

  • SKPeterson

    Why are we confining discussions of marriage to the stable? Sure, those who care for horses can have meaningful sexual relationships within the bounds of marriage, but shouldn’t we also expect this behavior from the kitchen staff, the field hands and farm workers, the milk maids, and even from the lord and lady of the manor?

  • fjsteve

    What goes on in the stable stays in the stable, SKP.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    The once oppressed almost always become the new oppressor.

    That doesn’t make it right, though.

  • tODD

    Cincinnatus, you said (@7):

    “Militant” Christianity in the United States has almost always been a reaction to militant (without scare quotes!) opposition. That applies to … the temperance movement …

    Sorry, but that’s a new one on me. To what “militant opposition” was the US temperance movement a “reaction”?

  • sg

    @ 15

    Interesting point.

    Also the abolitionist movement and civil rights movements could be characterized as ‘militant’ Christian movements.

  • sg

    The once oppressed almost always become the new oppressor.

    As in South Africa? Israel?

  • Steve Billingsley

    tODD @ 12
    The temperance movement (although quite misguided IMO) began as a response to the alcohol-fueled culture of both the frontier the more recently industrialized larger cities and the attempt to civilize that culture and make it more family-friendly, in addition to the perceived corporate interests profiting from this culture. And given the violent nature of many of the frontier settlements and the urban culture of this time – there was some sense of reasonableness to the movement. And yes, it was a reaction – a reaction to a particular set of social, cultural and economic conditions and a perceived threat to the family and decency.

    The bigger point that Cincinnatus made in response to Tom’s comment is that the perceived threat of “militant” Christianity is almost always overblown (i.e. the Republicans want to end abortion – oh, the Theocracy!) – the photo negative to the fevered dreams of Obama’s secret Muslim world domination plot (as opposed to just being a very liberal politician).

  • Steve Billingsley

    “to the alcohol-fueled culture of both the frontier AND the more recently industrialized larger cities”
    left the “and” out.

  • fjsteve

    sg, certainly as in Zimbabwe. South Africa will take some time to get to that level of “democracy”.

  • tODD

    Steve (@15), the question is: what about that “alcohol-fueled culture” was “militant (without scare quotes!)”?

  • Steve Billingsley

    tODD @ 18
    In my perception – nothing – but in the perception of the temperance movement it was a “war on the family and decency”
    Kind of like no free contraception equals a “war on women”
    Perception is a funny thing – I come from a branch of Christianity (the Wesleyan/Holiness movement) that was very much involved in temperance. Again – I think it was quite misguided for all kinds of reasons.

  • @tODD, 18. I think the murder rate could count as militant. Ironically it rose to the highest ever during prohibition, but from 1900-1920s it rose from 1 per 100k to 7 per 100k. Alcohol, increasing urbanization, and a seven-fold murder rate increase in two decades made the roaring twenties a very unstable time.