Sex, Sex, Sex!

Now that I have your attention, please direct it thither:

The modern form of the Catharsis Hypothesis is a kind of utopianism: “ah, wouldn’t it be great if people could have sex without hangups or consequences? How happy we would be! Boo for Christians who hate sex!” The roots of this fictional world are ancient, but an early modern example is that of the artist Paul Gauguin, a bored stockbroker who beat his wife and dreamed of escape from the middle-class ennui of industrial revolution France. [...]
The problem with utopias is precisely that they elicit strong desires which themselves become compass points which lead us on a journey to nowhere. Sex among human beings is mostly imagination and only partly biology, so the way we shape imagination will impact the way we behave sexually. The major problem with the Catharsis Hypothesis is that in paying attention to outcomes or behaviors (like those Husbands Behaving Badly), it does not pay attention to input: the factors which shape imagination. Utopian sex in, false sex out. Advertising or porn, anyone?

Do go read it all! Send it around! As Muldoon continues to plumb the depths of this verydeep subject and its relation to objective Truth, these columns get better and better. I am struck particularly about the human imagination and its affect on sexuality. Woody Allen once said that our largest sex organs are our brains, and that was quite right, but I don’t know if I’ve spent much time pondering “the way we shape imagination will impact the way we behave sexually” — and that is certainly something to think about and pray over, not only in our personal lives but in our acceptance of media and how it contributes to the shaping of our imaginations, forever “broadening the boundaries,” so to speak to bring us to places and ideas we might never have come to on our own.

If your kids are old enough to think they want to have sex and have reasonable thinking skills, give it to them, too — and to your older kids, who already think they know it all!

And then send them next week’s installment, too. And last week’s!
More Muldoon on Sex and Christianity: Part II and Part I

Related (indirectly) Porn without boundaries

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Joseph Marshall

    Christian spirituality…recognizes that people imbue sex with meaning by practicing it in the context of married love: the hard life’s work of coming to see a person of the other sex as beautiful in spite of flaws….there is the opportunity to discover in another human being something of the holy.

    One man’s “myth” is another man’s spirituality. I think a Buddhist writing your post would have used only one word “s**” in the title and would remark that “imbuing s** with meaning” is the perfect definition of the problem, and not the solution.

    There is the distinct possibility that s** might be just fine as it is without needing to be imbued with any meaning, particularly. And not just s**. There is also a distinct possibility that the rest of experience might be fine as it is and not need to be “imbued with any meaning”, either. At the very least, perhaps, we should discover what it is before we attempt to imbue it with meaning.

    Most of us cannot stop long enough to even think about this possibility. We are “meaning” and “purpose” junkies and must have our fix at all costs. It is a fix, not of pleasure, but of a self-justifying narrative about our pleasures. Famous philandering husbands have one, Madonna or Gaugin have another, and Christianity has still a third.

    The usual effect of any such narrative is the short circuiting of discovery. And the real problem [at least for the Buddhist] is our chronic craving for such self-justifying narratives.

    As the old song says, “Everybody wants to do the horizontal bop.” Everybody also wants an instruction book telling us why, or why not, or whether, or where, or when, or how, or with whom, or wherefore. And some of us want to write the instruction book for everybody else.

    The first “want” is what comes with the package, the second “want” is what we make up in response to the package, and the third “want” occurs when the package obstinately insists on not cooperating with the attempt to “imbue it with meaning.”

    But, really, when experience simply refuses to cooperate with our needs for narrative, it is the greatest opportunity in the world.

    What would happen if we just gave up trying to manipulate the way things are into the way they ought to be? Whether about s**, or about anything else.

  • Mary

    As witness how happy, happy, happy sex without meaning is making people?

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    (Grin) Good one, Mary!

    I confess, I prefer meaning to un-meaning, in sex as in everything else. To be honest, I think the problem with our culture is things being leached of their meaning, and true significance, as opposed to people imbuing too much meaning into things.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Of course, the Christian point of view is that the world, mankind, the moon, the sun, the stars and all the rest of it are significant, because God created them. Human beings are significant, because we are created to be with God, for eternity; therefore, what we do with our bodies matters, because we’re actually hybrid creatures; a combination of spirit and matter.

    The Judeo-Christian universe is one where everything is imbued with significance, and everything matters. Whether other religions approve, or agrees, with this belief, is beside the point; for a Jew, or a Christian, giving up on meaning isn’t really an option.

  • kenneth

    The argument cast the issue in terms of a black and white dichotomy: either you toe the line with Judeo-Christian dogma or you lead a meaningless and self-destructive existence. I have not found that to be true in 20 years of adulthood.

  • James

    “I can understand that Buddhists might resent the view that Buddhism is merely a philosophy, if we understand by a philosophy merely an intellectual game such as Greek sophists played, tossing up worlds and catching them like balls. Perhaps a more exact statement would be that Buddha was a man who made a metaphysical discipline; which might even be called a psychological discipline. He proposed a way of escaping from all this recurrent sorrow; and that was simply by getting rid of the delusion that is called desire. It was emphatically not that we should get what we want better by restraining our impatience for part of it, or that we should get it in a better way or in a better world. It was emphatically that we should leave off wanting it. If once a man realized that there is really no reality, that everything, including his soul is in dissolution at every instant, he would anticipate disappointment and be intangible to change, existing (in so far as he could be said to exist) in a sort of ecstasy of indifference. The Buddhists call this beatitude and we will not stop our story to argue the point; certainly to us it is indistinguishable from despair.” – G.K.Chesterton

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Well—good for you, Kenneth! (If that’s the truth.)

    Since it’s a Judeo-Christian blog, it’s not really surprising they would cast the argument in a Judeo-Christian light. You can agree, or not agree, but that’s how they see it, and that’s how they’ll frame their arguments.

    There are other places, surely, where you can find the non Judeo-Christian, opposing view.

    (Given the current state of society, I believe the empirical evidence tends to support the claims of Judeo-Christianity in this matter, as opposed to modern hedonism; that’s my opinion. Others are welcome to theirs.)

  • James

    (kenneth wrote – “I have not found that to be true in 20 years of adulthood.”)

    And what exactly have you found it to be?

  • http://www.vanderbilt.edu/catholic Fr. Baker

    What we imagine sex to be is important, as what we imagine everything else to be is important. Our lives make sense as narratives of love. They do not make much sense otherwise. Narratives do not take much imagination, at least not for following them. Mainly one needs to remember that one is in a narrative. That’s it. This is true for sex. The narrative for it is given at the beginning of Genesis and leads up to Revelation. There is even a nice “how to” example in Tobit. It is a much better story than I could ever imagine.

  • Joseph Marshall

    As witness how happy, happy, happy s** without meaning is making people?

    Well, Mary, some are happy, and some aren’t, like every other aspect of life. I say to anyone that married s** makes happy, “Go for it!”

    But pleasure [any pleasure] still leads to surfeit, or to regret when it ends, health leads to sickness, meetings lead to partings, birth leads to death. And no self-justifying narrative is going to change that. In the end, it is highly likely to make things worse.

    If your views on s** truly prepare you to face old age, sickness, and death, then congratulate yourself on your good luck and relax.

    I personally have never seen anyone who worries very much about s**, particularly everybody else’s s**, radiant with happiness.

  • James

    (Joseph Marshall said – “I personally have never seen anyone who worries very much about s**, particularly everybody else’s s**, radiant with happiness.”)

    Radiant with happiness? Happiness will just lead to disappointment. Disappointment will just lead to sadness. Sadness will just lead to despair. Despair will just lead……

    “To the Buddhists was given a conception of God of extraordinary intellectual purity; but in growing familiar with the featureless splendor, they have lost their heads; they babble; they say that everything is nothing and nothing is everything, that black is white because white is black. We fancy that the frightful universal negatives at which they have at last arrived, are really little more than the final mental collapse of men trying always to find an abstraction big enough for all things. “I have said what I understood not, things too great for me that I know not. I will put my hand upon my mouth.” Job was a wise man. Buddhism stands for a simplification of the mind and a reliance on the most indestructible ideas; Christianity stands for a simplification of the heart and a reliance on the most indestructible sentiments. The greater Christian insistence upon personal deity and immortality is not, we fancy, the cause so much as the effect of this essential trend towards an ancient passion and pathos as the power that most nearly rends the veil from the nature of things. Both creeds grope after the same secret sun, but Buddhism dreams of its light and Christianity of its heat. Buddhism seeks after God with the largest conception it can find, the all-producing and all-absorbing One; Christianity seeks after God with the most elementary passion it can find—the craving for a father, the hunger that is as old as the hills. It turns the whole cry of a lost universe into the cry of a lost child.” – G.K.Chesterton

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    I think refusing to live, or to enjoy anything at all, because you’re just going to get old and die anyway, is not how God wants us to go through life.

    For one thing, it smacks of ingratitude.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Nor have I noticed that those who deny themselves sex, or who refuse to take any pleasure at all in the world, are particularly happy at all! (Nor do they make those around them happy.)

  • Joseph Marshall

    Who said anything about refusing to live? We need to simply relax and do it, rather than complicating it with constant check-ups of how well we’re doing it, and, especially, constant check-ups of how well everybody else is doing it.

    What on earth is meant by “being as little children” to enter the kingdom of heaven, if not this? Surely not squirming in the back seat of the car and constantly asking, “Are we there yet?”

    We simply can’t be “there”. We can only be here, wherever “here” happens to be. And we can’t truly be here unless we are willing to get real about what being “here” includes.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    I don’t think “Being as little children” was specifically addressed to the issue of sex (which really is something more than “Squirming in the back seat of the car” anyway—or ought to be; yes, yes, I know, that’s imposing a narrative. . . )

    Isn’t sex—and all that goes with it: family, love, children, etc., part of being “here”, and getting real about being “here.”

    (And weren’t “Go with the flow” and “Getting real” philosophiies espoused by the Hippies, back in the day? They didn’t seem to work out so well then, either.)

  • craig

    The old bad joke goes, “if rape is inevitable, then relax and enjoy it”. Explain to me what is the difference here between that and Buddhist philosophy, really? I mean, why should anyone get worked up over a mere physical act or imbue it with meaning, when they have the choice not to do so? Why complicate it with criminal prosecution, given how the law is by its very nature a “constant check-up of how well everybody else is doing it”?

    The Christian answer, I think, is that it is intrinsic to our human nature to desire justice (part of what it means to be created in imago Dei), and that it debases our humanity to detach ourselves from that. There were plenty of otherwise-ordinary Germans with no particular animus toward Jews who “just followed orders” to serve as concentration camp guards, and Christians consider these people to have behaved as moral monsters because they detached themselves from concern for the justice of their own actions. What do Buddhists have to say about such people?

  • James

    (Joseph said – “What on earth is meant by “being as little children” to enter the kingdom of heaven, if not this?”)

    Well, the first and foremost thing that you seem to be missing is the obvious implication that “children” (by it’s very definition) implies that there IS a “Father”. And as such, the children are protected and nurtured by the rules and guidance borne out of their Father’s “Love”. And that’s the next thing that you seem to be missing: “Love”. The Father’s Love.

    “Both creeds grope after the same secret sun, but Buddhism dreams of its light and Christianity of its heat. Buddhism seeks after God with the largest conception it can find, the all-producing and all-absorbing One; Christianity seeks after God with the most elementary passion it can find—the craving for a father, the hunger that is as old as the hills. It turns the whole cry of a lost universe into the cry of a lost child.” – G.K.Chesterton

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    By the way, Anchoress—I love the title of this post, and the Gauguin picture, at the top! (Gauguin might have been a sad human being, but I still love his art.)

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Also, it could be argued that sex, by producing children, possesses intrinsic meaning, since children, and the continuing human race, are important things. Therefore, it isnt’ just some unreasonable desire for “narrative” that makes people see it as important.

  • Jenny

    For women s** is imbued with meaning biologically not by some quest for narrative. During s** a woman’s body is flooded with hormones that emotionally bond her to her partner. It is the same hormone that floods a woman’s body after childbirth and while nursing to bond her to her child. So while men can perhaps have s** without imbuing it with any particular meaning, women biologically cannot.

    Any view of s** that considers the biological reality of s** for women the definition of the problem needs to be reconsidered.

    (I’m getting spam-botted, thus the astericks)

  • Joseph Marshall

    Rape is about dominance and violence, not s**. That’s why we speak of “consenting adults”.

    What I am talking about is taking your pleasures lightly, which you can do even if you happen to be married, because no pleasure is permanent. As the Amish say, “Kissin’ don’t last. Cookin’ do.” This is neither advocating libertinism, nor forced celebacy. It is the realistic attitude that s** ought to be fun, whatever else it is or isn’t. Things that you have to “imbue with meaning” are seldom fun.

    You may believe that you ought to be married to have s**. No problem. Pull the shades down and do it after you are married, if it suits you. You may believe that the purpose and meaning of s** is breeding. If you do, make sure you have good maternity coverage before you pull down the shades. You may even believe that nobody else should do it except how, where, when, why, and with whom you’ve been taught to do it. The worst everybody else can say to you is, “So what?” They own their shades, you own yours.

    But if you can’t laugh while you’re doing it, or at yourself before and after you do it, your life is poorer for it. As far as “getting real” goes, life will get real with you, even if you don’t get real with it. What else is any religion good for if it doesn’t prepare you for old age, sickness, and death? Mine does. In fact, it takes very great care to do so. And most of the preparation has little, if anything, to do with s**. Or with breeding.

    Yours might well do that for you, too, if you really insist on it. The notion is certainly not unknown in Christianity. Having your house in order in that regard is more liberating than most people can imagine. It is why, if you ever visit an American Dharma Center, you’re likely to find people who are quite happy no matter what their circumstances.

    One final thing: the only problem with debating G.K. Chesterton about anything is that he’s dead and can’t answer back. It’s more fun to debate with those who can.

  • Joseph Marshall

    There were plenty of otherwise-ordinary Germans with no particular animus toward Jews who “just followed orders” to serve as concentration camp guards, and Christians consider these people to have behaved as moral monsters because they detached themselves from concern for the justice of their own actions. What do Buddhists have to say about such people?

    First of all, what true assurance can you give yourself that you would behave differently, other than self-congratulating daydreams? No one knows their own moral strength until it’s truly tested.

    Buddhism teaches that every moral action results in both moral and physical consequences for you personally, unless you personally make the effort to regret, purify, and resolve not to repeat it. [the details of how you do this are irrelevant here] The mere fact that it may take more than one life for this set of consequences to happen is beside the point. The longer it takes, the greater the momentum behind the personal consequences. So even a small wrong action long delayed can be immensely destructive to your future.

    This is as true for the consent of a concentration camp guard as it is for a Nazi leader. It is equally true for those who mentally assent to such crimes.

    One of the most important reasons to be prepared for death is that no one can guarantee that they will not someday be forced to choose between death and wrongdoing. Moral strength and resolve is not something we are born with, it has to be cultivated. What else do we have to do it with but our religion?

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Um hmmm, because neither Christianity, nor Judaism, has anything whatsoever to say about death, old age, suffering or choosing death over wrongdoing; zip, zilch, nada!

    /The above was sarcasm.

    The problem with taking pleasures lightly is that, well—they tend to cease to be pleasures, and become great, big nothings—or false idols.

    And, in the matter of sex, of course, as has been pointed out, sex has built-in importance, since it results in children. Marriage is a sacrament, in both the Catholic, and Orthodox churches (and, I believe, in some Protestant denominations, as well.) Marriage, with faithfulness to one partner, is also important in Judaism, and the family, love and marriage are cornertones of much Jewish thought.

    In Judeo-Christian thinking, you don’t get the reincarnation option; you are judged for what you do in this life, and must put your faith in God’s grace, and mercy. There will be no chance to work things out in some other lifetime; you don’t get an infinite number of do-overs. Whether one agrees with it or not, Judeo-Christianity puts great emphasis on the individual as an individual, and the individual relationship with God.

    And Christians pray “Lead us not into temptation” (sometimes, “Save us from the time of trial”) precisely because they know they’re weak, they might not have the strength to choose good in time of persecution—so they ask God for that strength, in the words of Our Lord Himself. So, yes, there is a great emphasis in Christianity on resisting evil and the seriousness of moral choices. Some have accused it of putting too much emphasis on this. . .

  • James

    (Joseph Marshall said – “What else is any religion good for if it doesn’t prepare you for old age, sickness, and death?”)

    How about preparation for living?

    Dying is easy, living is hard. Let the dead bury the dead.

    “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” – John 10:10

  • Joseph Marshall

    So why the sarcasm, Rhinestone? Craig asked for a Buddhist moral judgment, so I gave him one exactly in the terms that I have been taught by the guys who know what they are talking about–well trained Buddhist monks. If it disturbs the fantasy among Christians that Buddhists are “moral relativists”, too bad.

    Christians often have the strangest notions about what Buddhists actually think, and what they actually do, fostered, unfortunately, by writers like G.K. Chesterton who could write the most seductive prose about things of which he had no direct experience, and no authoritative teaching, to go by.

    I like to read him talking through his hat as much as anyone, but he was talking through his hat about Buddhism, just as much as most non-Christian writers are when they tackle things like the Real Presence or the Holy Trinity.

    Now I make no demand that people here learn anything about Buddhism. But it would be nice if they figured out that they know far less about it than they think they do, and rest content with the religion they have been called to.

    By the way, insofar as I know anything about Christianity, the rest of your comment seems an exceptionally lucid explanation of it. And it would be interesting to know if the Christians here agree with me.

  • Mary

    Your theory would be rather more plausible if one of the classic precepts of Buddhism was not to avoid sexual misconduct.

  • Joseph Marshall

    Your theory would be rather more plausible if one of the classic precepts of Buddhism was not to avoid sexual misconduct.

    I’m perfectly well aware of that. In fact, I’ve had that vow transmitted to me along with the other 4 Lay Practice Vows. But those vows are a matter of personal choice, not the minimum entry fee into a Buddhist life.

    All “misconduct” generates negative karma: taking life, stealing property, lying, sexual misconduct, taking intoxicants.

    But my teachers do not encourage students to take any vows to avoid these unless their practice is stable and mature enough for them to keep those vows, and their other life obligations do not expose them to the risk of breaking the vows. The karmic effect of taking a vow and then breaking it is far worse than ordinary misconduct.

    A policeman who was Buddhist would be foolish to take the vow to avoid taking life, since he may have to shoot and kill someone in the line of duty. If he did, he would have to deal with the karmic consequences of “taking life”, but not those of breaking a vow.

    And the mere fact that he is professionally at risk for taking life is no bar to his practicing the Dharma within the limits of his circumstances. In fact, he is far better off practicing the Dharma because of the risk that he may be forced to kill. The karmic consequences of actions can be purified through practice, so even if he does end up professionally taking life with deadly force, by practicing he is actually in a position to do something about that misconduct after the fact.

    More generally, misconduct can be wholly mental. Approval or encouragement of someone else’s misconduct generates the same karmic consequences as the misconduct itself. Therefore no one is encouraged to consider Lay Practice Vows at all until they have brought their mind under sufficient control to sustain the mental commitment that the vow entails as well as the physical one.

    This still does not bar them from being a Buddhist and working to achieve such control and stability of mind, even if they have not achieved it yet. Moreover, even without the vows, you can cultivate wholesome conduct, or at the very least, the mental attitude that approves of and encourages other people to engage in wholesome conduct. Cultivating such mental attitudes generates the same positive karma as the wholesome conduct itself.

    It is fairly easy to do this, far easier than controlling your mind well enough to avoid mental misconduct.

    If you go to an animal shelter and rescue an animal to be your pet, you are saving life rather than taking it, a wholesome action that will generate good future results for you. And if you mentally approve of others doing so or donate money to animal rescue organizations, that also generates good future results for you.

    My teachers encourage any beginning Buddhist to avoid as much misconduct as they can, but not to worry that much about the misconduct they are not yet mentally equipped to control. It is far better and more effective, because it is far easier, to work on developing wholesome actions and mental conduct to start with, along with taming and training your mind, than to fret about bad thoughts or actions that you are not yet strong enough to overcome.

    Now this is precisely what I mean by “knowing far less about it than you think you do”. You can read about “Buddhist precepts”, but that does not mean that you understand what they are, how they are supposed to be applied, and what they function as in a life committed to Buddhist practice. You only learn these things by actually being Buddhist, doing practice, and working with a genuine and knowledgeable teacher as you do it.

  • Greta

    On “plenty of otherwise-ordinary Germans with no particular animus toward Jews who “just followed orders” to serve as concentration camp guards, and Christians consider these people to have behaved as moral monsters because they detached themselves from concern for the justice of their own actions”

    I believe the same is true today for another holocaust with those who say they are personally opposed to abortion, but then vote to keep it legal and to make it widely delivered and funded. The main difference is this one has gone on far longer and killed more people than the 6 million Jews. Of course we had over 50% of those who called themselves Catholic vote for the most pro abortion president of all time and for his party to have full power in our government. So as we wring our hands and wonder about the German people, as people bash the Pope during WWII for not doing more, we should expect the future generations to ask the same of those who sustained the Democratic Party and this holocaust.

    As to sex and our current obsession with it in everything we see today, my favorite quote is from CS Lewis on the topic. “Now suppose you came to a country where you could fill a theater by simply bringing a covered plate on to the stage and slowly lifting the cover so as to let everyone see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not thing that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food? And would not anyone who had grown up in a different world think there was something equally queer about the state of the sex insticnt amond us?” And of course Lewis has been dead for close to 50 years. These words came in a time when sex had not gone viral yet.

    Now we get major organizations designed for every type of sex one can possible think of and they are driven by those who seem to define their very being by their behavior choice. It is sad to see them coming for religion bashing soon follows.

  • James

    (Joseph said – “Craig asked for a Buddhist moral judgment, so I gave him one exactly in the terms that I have been taught by the guys who know what they are talking about–well trained Buddhist monks. If it disturbs the fantasy among Christians that Buddhists are “moral relativists”, too bad.”)

    There was little more in your “Buddhist Moral judgement” than vague ambiguous abstractions.

    (Joseph wrote – “Buddhism teaches that every moral action results in both moral and physical consequences for you personally, unless you personally make the effort to regret, purify, and resolve not to repeat it. [the details of how you do this are irrelevant here] The mere fact that it may take more than one life for this set of consequences to happen is beside the point. The longer it takes, the greater the momentum behind the personal consequences. So even a small wrong action long delayed can be immensely destructive to your future.”)

    What does that even mean? You didn’t even define “moral action”.

    (Joseph said – “Christians often have the strangest notions about what Buddhists actually think, and what they actually do, fostered, unfortunately, by writers like G.K. Chesterton who could write the most seductive prose about things of which he had no direct experience, and no authoritative teaching, to go by.

    I like to read him talking through his hat as much as anyone, but he was talking through his hat about Buddhism,”)

    Yeah, you keep claiming that Chesterton didn’t truly understand Buddhism and that he got it all wrong, and yet, nothing you’ve said has dis-proven any of his observations. In fact, much of what you’ve stated reinforces his position.

    The more you talk in endless circles, the more I am convinced that Chesterton truly did understand Buddhism, and that you really don’t.

    “Buddhism is not a creed, it is a doubt.” – G.K.Chesterton (talking without a hat)

  • James

    (Joseph said – “All “misconduct” generates negative karma: taking life, stealing property, lying, sexual misconduct, taking intoxicants.”)

    Why are any of those deemed “misconduct”?

  • craig

    Thank you all. This is why I asked what I did. I brought up a hypothetical rape and non-hypothetical Nazis not to derail the discussion but to get to the bottom of what, precisely, characterizes the differences in the moral universe of Buddhism vis-a-vis Christianity.

    Catholic Christianity views God not only as the creator of the universe and the source of grace but also as the origin of rational order itself. “Grace” is nothing less than the energies of God sustaining and empowering His creations. So moral misconduct, or sin, arises where man acts contrary to the purposes (plural) for which he was created. Misconduct is that which seeks to thwart God’s design and, in doing so, interrupt the flow of grace from God to oneself. The natural law is that to which all humans are subject, namely those principles of order which human reason by itself can determine. The divine law is that to which believers are subject by faith, in other words those principles knowable only by trust in a revelation.

    In Buddhism, misconduct is something that incurs bad karma — but what is that, exactly? Where does it come from and how or why do people get it? What makes taking a life a negative karma event and sparing a life a positive karma event? If karma attaches to mental misconduct, does that then mean that the man who avoids introspection can do anything to anyone with no karmic result?

    To return back to the original subject of sex, what makes a particular sex act good or bad to Christians is how well it comports to the several purposes for which sexuality was created. (Those purposes are most memorably described in the Book of Common Prayer marriage rite.) You may not agree with it, but it’s rational and internally self-consistent. But I can’t tell what makes a particular sex act good or bad to Buddhists, which is why I asked about rape.

  • Joseph Marshall

    James, I don’t intend to burden anyone here with the Buddhist equivalent of detailed Christian theology. I’m not interested in making converts. I also hold no brief to dislodge any conviction you might have about anything. So I think stating the general principle is sufficient for me, and understanding the general principle would be sufficient for you, if you were open to it. You are under no obligation to believe it and I am under no obligation to convince you of it.

    But it would be nice if others here would try to understand it, postpone judgment on it until they do understand it, and treat it with respect even if they don’t believe it.

    And, most of all, it would be nice if they calmed down about the fact that they don’t believe it. Religion should be sufficient to give you peace of mind without having to supplement it with Vallium. This is a blog and not the battle of Acre.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Sorry about the sarcasm, Joseph; it did sound, in your earlier post, as if you claimed Buddhism was the only belief system that tackled such subjects as old age, and suffering.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    And, in a way, you began the “battle” in your opening post, by saying how foolish it was to imbue sex with meaning, or ascribe a narrative for things.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Greta, yes, C.S. Lewis summed it up quite well, didn’t he?

  • James

    (Joseph Marshall said – “James, I don’t intend to burden anyone here with the Buddhist equivalent of detailed Christian theology. I’m not interested in making converts.”)

    With all due respect Joesph, you don’t come to a Catholic site proselytizing Buddhism unless you’re either:

    (a) looking for converts, or

    (b) looking to be converted.

    (“I also hold no brief to dislodge any conviction you might have about anything. So I think stating the general principle is sufficient for me, and understanding the general principle would be sufficient for you, if you were open to it. You are under no obligation to believe it and I am under no obligation to convince you of it.”)

    Yes. Of course. This is the standard Buddhist reply: “I’m sorry, I don’t want to get into specifics because you unenlightened simple-minded Christians simply can’t comprehend the vast, vague, ambiguous, abstractions of blissful nothingness. And if you’re going to insist on analyzing my beliefs with critical thinking the way I continually analyze YOUR beliefs with my ‘critical thinking’ well then, there is just far too much of a chance that my position will ‘appear’ hypocritical and contradictory. And we can’t have that. Because …well you know…. I have determined that I am ‘enlightened’ after all.

    See. This is what happens when you destroy the external concept of God; you quickly become your own personal god. Buddhists talk at length about turning away from the ego as they egotistically cite their own ‘enlightened’ egos. “Hey, I’m the most humble person I know. And I tell people that all the time!”

    (“But it would be nice if others here would try to understand it, postpone judgment on it until they do understand it, and treat it with respect even if they don’t believe it.”)

    Ah yes, why can’t we close-minded neanderthal Christian rubes simply sit back in quiet awe while the more ‘enlightened’ atheists generously judge the silliness of our simple-minded stone-age Christian fallacies?

    (“And, most of all, it would be nice if they calmed down about the fact that they don’t believe it. Religion should be sufficient to give you peace of mind without having to supplement it with Vallium. This is a blog and not the battle of Acre.”)

    So why do you insist on challenging Christian beliefs in here?

    You’re entire non-response-response can be summed up thus Joseph:

    “I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.” – Oscar Wilde

  • Joseph Marshall

    Well, Craig, generally speaking killing results in the shortening of your life in the future, stealing results in your impoverishment in the future, lying results in your being deceived in the future, and so on. But the exact time frame of such consequences varies from individual to individual, depending on what else they have done in their past. We do [ and have already done] a lot of stuff.

    Moreover, misconduct is a habit. Indulge in it in this life and you become far more prone to it in future lives. If this pattern is not broken, sooner or later it will result in a rebirth that is filled with continuous torment that usually lasts until the karmic consequences of all your misconduct have ripened, a hell realm, in short. Generally speaking, most of the people you encounter are headed in that direction to some greater or lesser degree, and are becoming less and less in control of their future with each life.

    The common usage of “karma” in the West [as in My Karma Ran Over My Dharma} is misleading. Karma literally means "action" and, when speaking strictly, that is how my teachers use it, speaking of a trio of concepts called Karma, Cause, and Effect.

    When you commit an action [karma] with your body, your speech, or your mind, that action starts a causal chain of events that continues until the force of that action plays out fully or “ripens” into an effect for you personally.

    The way this happens is through habitual patterns in your mind. Every time you take life, you strengthen your desire to do it and strengthen your habits of seeking out further opportunities to do it.

    These habitual patterns persist from life to life. Your mind is not totally separate from the world [if it were, perception would be impossible] and this causal chain can actually influence whether further opportunities to kill become available, strengthening your “need” to continue doing it. Get in one bar fight and you’re far more likely to get in another–unless you actively make an effort to break this habitual pattern. Get in enough of them and either you will end up killing someone or they will end up killing you.

    What we commonly call “karma” is what my teachers mean by “effect”. By working with the mind to change the habitual patterns, we can influence many, if not all, of the causal chains that are in process, mitigating the effects. Hence actions, “karma”, can be purified. But our habitual patterns are very strong and it takes some fairly difficult training of our minds to do this.

    We also have a certain amount of freedom to commit new actions, and if we start committing wholesome ones the process of karma, cause, and effect will start to work for us rather than against us. This is much easier to do because we are starting with the initial action rather than a causal chain that has already imprinted itself deeply in us, and in our world, and is already running with a full head of steam.

    Most lay Buddhists cannot do all that much more than this turn to wholesome action and must wait for the causal chain from this to give them more freedom. But some can actually start to control their mind through meditation and do more. The vows, whether the 5 of Lay Practice, or the 272 of monks, which include the 5, are tools to further such mental control.

    Depending on the situation, s** can be wholesome or not, and the practical details of wholesome s** are not all that different in Buddhism. But “marriage vows” per se are not that highly stressed. Unwholesome s* generally results in some fairly obvious harm to someone else or to yourself. The boundaries are not always that clear, and Buddhists assume no overarching metaphysical structure such as “Natural Law” to judge them. But the general limits are quite obvious.

    Most of us have strong habitual patterns inclining us to one form or another of s**ual misconduct, but, as with other such patterns they cannot be altered without a certain amount of difficult mind training. And this is more than mere refusal to engage in s**ual activity. The practical processes of s**ual karma, cause, and effect are essentially the same as any other form of misconduct, and meditation is about working with all negative habitual patterns without special priority given to one or the other, They all lead to a similar bad end.

    This may not be as philosophically neat and tidy as the Catholic point of view. But it has served us well for more than 2500 years, with a real track record of benefiting people’s lives.

  • Joseph Marshall

    By the way, if anyone else than James thinks I’m trying to convert them, I’m sorry I have given that impression. But since Craig asked for information, and since James and Mary assumed that they already possessed it, I have gone into more detail than I would have normally.

    All Buddhists ask is for their neighbors to be genuinely informed about us before they presume to evaluate what we think and what we do. I don’t think Catholics or other Christians deserve any less.

  • James

    (Joseph said – “Well, Craig, generally speaking killing results in the shortening of your life in the future, stealing results in your impoverishment in the future, lying results in your being deceived in the future, and so on. But the exact time frame of such consequences varies from individual to individual, depending on what else they have done in their past. We do [ and have already done] a lot of stuff.”)

    What if a person has no recollection of a past life? What purpose doe current negative consequences serve if there is no previous knowledge of the offenses? And what’s to keep people who are born into dire circumstances and suffering from feeling outcast and punished for events that are entirely outside of their control?

    (Joseph said – “These habitual patterns persist from life to life. Your mind is not totally separate from the world [if it were, perception would be impossible] and this causal chain can actually influence whether further opportunities to kill become available, strengthening your “need” to continue doing it. Get in one bar fight and you’re far more likely to get in another–unless you actively make an effort to break this habitual pattern. Get in enough of them and either you will end up killing someone or they will end up killing you.”)

    Oh wonderful. Based on this reasoning murder victims deserved to be killed because they were bad people in former lives. Wow.

    (Joseph said – “The boundaries are not always that clear, and Buddhists assume no overarching metaphysical structure such as “Natural Law” to judge them. But the general limits are quite obvious.”)

    Well no actually: The “general limits” aren’t “quite obvious” if the boundaries aren’t always clear and there is assumed to be no overarching metaphysical structure.

    (Joseph said – “This may not be as philosophically neat and tidy as the Catholic point of view. But it has served us well for more than 2500 years, with a real track record of benefiting people’s lives.”)

    “In what sense have Christians failed, in which Buddhists have not equally failed? In what respect is Buddhism, which has looked on at all the Asiatic fighting for two thousand five hundred years, any more successful than Christianity, that has barely looked on for two thousand? I do not think the thing is any real discredit either to Buddhism or Christianity, for anybody who is really “enlightened” about history and human nature. But if we are to be told about ten times a week by every newspaper and noisy talker that Christianity has failed to do anything because it has failed to stop fighting, what are we to say of the chances of the Chinese gentleman of stopping it in Europe with a new religion, when he could not stop it in Asia with an old one? At a guess, I should say that a Christian appeal for peace would often have been much nearer to practical politics than the metaphysical enlightenment of the Buddhist. Without putting very much money on the chances of either, I should say there would have been something rather more remotely resembling a chance for a Franciscan saint influencing the policy of Richard Coeur de Lion than of a Buddhist monk (with his mind full of Nirvana) stopping the march of Genghis Khan.” – G.K.Chesterton

  • James

    (Joseph said – “By the way, if anyone else than James thinks I’m trying to convert them, I’m sorry I have given that impression. But since Craig asked for information, and since James and Mary assumed that they already possessed it, I have gone into more detail than I would have normally.”)

    I’ll say it again, you don’t come to a Catholic site proselytizing Buddhism unless you’re either:

    (a) looking for converts, or

    (b) looking to be converted.

    And you’ve been proselytizing long before Craig asked for any information, if simply by your open criticisms of Christianity on this and other threads if nothing else. And you have provided no information on Buddhism that I haven’t already heard a half a dozen times on other sites.

    (James said – “All Buddhists ask is for their neighbors to be genuinely informed about us before they presume to evaluate what we think and what we do. I don’t think Catholics or other Christians deserve any less.”)

    All Catholics ask is that you Buddhist be genuinely informed about the illogical stance and the irrational nature of the contradictory emptiness of your atheistic “spiritualism” before you launch critiques of our faith. I don’t think Buddhist or other atheists deserve any less.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    #39 James

    You raise some very good questions here.

    You echo the same doubts I have had, about reincarnation, namely—what is the real point? Most people have no memory of previous incarnations (except those drawn out under somewhat dubious “new age” techniques, and the like; amazing how many people were actually Cleopatra, or Caesar—not some schluib of a slave, working in the fields until somebody knocked him over the head!)

    If you have no memory, how can you properly atone for something? Also, since (if you are going by reincarnation), how is it just that a completely innocent person suffer for crimes committed in some past life, when they were somebody else entirely?

    (By the way, Joseph, these questions are not to challenge you, personally; I’m stating the problem I, and many other Christians have, with the notion of reincarnation. I will state for the record, that I do not believe in reincarnation; I believe there is one life, and then judgment. However, for those who do believe, there are problems with this concept.)

    A friend of mine would sometimes joke about a woman she knew, who was afflicted with all kinds of illnesses as “She must have been Gengis Khan in a previous life, or murdered Gandhi.” She obviously didn’t see the horror of what she was saying her—that her innocent friend suffered all these diseases because of something somebody else did, in another time and place; putting it another way—in this way of thinking, the person who actually committed the crimes got off scot free, whereas the innocent woman in the present time was afflicted with suffering and disease.

    (Continued.)

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    #39 James;

    Also, James, as you point out, Buddhism has not been especially effective at spreading peace—though it has certainly given meaning, and happiness, to many lives; it was helpless in taming imperial Japan, during WWII; It seems to have been equally inefectual in facing down the rapacicious new religion of the 20th Century—worship of the collectivist state, in the East (though many brave Buddhist martyrs did give their lives to protest Communist imperialsim, in Vietnam.)

    And, yes, Christianity has failed to stop violence, but Buddhism has also failed, and it seems to lack some of the tools (the ideals of the worth of the individual, warring in a just cause) that have helped some Christian societies.

    I once heard that, in Japan, you’ll find the poor and homeless being fed by South Korean Christians, rather than the ordinary Japanese, who seem to feel that the poor are suffering for something done in a previous life, and this is their karma. I’ve heard similar stories coming from India. Are the Indians, and Japanese somehow cruel people? No, this is how they’ve been taught to see things.

    I’ve also heard that Christianity is the fastest growing religion in the East.

  • James

    ( Rhinestone Suderman said -”I’ve also heard that Christianity is the fastest growing religion in the East.”)

    What’s the most popular book in the land of Buddha?

    TIME (Monday, Dec. 17, 2007)

    China’s New Bestseller: The Bible

    “As the book business goes, Amity Printing is not unusually prolific. In the last 20 years it has printed some 50 million books; some publishers churn out that many in a year. But Amity focuses on one title — the Bible — and primarily one market, China. It is the largest printer of Christian literature in the officially atheist country, where freedom of religion remains weak; up until 1979, when Deng Xiaoping began undoing the social strictures of the Mao Zedong era, the mere possession of a Bible could get a person into serious trouble.

    Amity has churned out 41 million Bibles for Chinese believers at its plant outside the southern city of Nanjing, including more than 3 million copies last year. (About nine million copies have been exported to Africa, other parts of Asia and Central Europe.) For a country whose religious oppression tends to make more international headlines than its exhibitions of tolerance, that stands as a significant achievement. But it also highlights the gap between China’s officially sanctioned churches and the illegal “house” churches that exist outside the limited sphere of religious freedom in China.

    But in the face of China’s larger restrictions on religion, some overseas aid groups say, a boom in Bible production doesn’t mean much. “It reflects the rapid growth of the number of Christians in China,” says Bob Fu, who runs the U.S.-based China Aid Association, an advocacy group for mainland Christians. “But I don’t see that can be a sign of increasing religious freedom.” Several Chinese have recently been arrested for illegally bringing Bibles into the country, Fu points out. On Nov. 28, police raided the house of Beijing bookstore owner Shi Weihan, confiscating Bibles and other religious publications and placing him under detention. And Zhou Heng, a businessman and leader of an underground church in China’s western Xinjiang region, was arrested in August for receiving three tons of Bibles from South Korea.

    Read more: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1695279,00.html#ixzz1TR68wcrE

  • craig

    Interesting discussion, but we’re poles apart.

    It seems that justice for the Buddhist consists of someone suffering in this life because he happened, in some other life of which he can have no knowledge, to have been a robber who fully enjoyed the booty of his trade or a dictator who died rich and comfortably in his bed. As others have noted, this can easily rationalize claims that the poor and oppressed deserve their lot.

    But every Christian can agree with the premise that misconduct is a habit which breeds more misconduct (in this life, anyway). Every Christian can also agree that each action serves to take us farther in either the direction of heaven or of hell, but there is a difference of clarity in what we believe about heaven and hell. Christians define those terms by reference to God’s presence and energies.

    Under Buddhism, accumulated karmic actions result in either good or bad existences — but if Buddhism provides any non-circular reference with which to tell the good from the bad, I haven’t seen it yet. It appears to have the same difficulty as atheistic materialism of logically deriving an “ought” from an “is”.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X