The fruits of “free sex” are all around us. “The bad tree produces bad fruit” — said Jesus. In one way or another, the chief debate on these issues always comes down to orthodox, traditional Christian vs. humanist/secularist/atheist/theologically liberal Christian, etc. In many issues Muslims and Orthodox and Conservative Jews would also agree with us, perhaps even Buddhists and other eastern religionists.
The following was stimulated by a dialogue with atheists on an Internet list, in July 2001. It started off good, but then got disjointed and discombobulated (it seems that this topic can rarely be discussed rationally and objectively). So I have edited the exchange down to my various thoughts on the matter.
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My definition of sexual freedom would be the use of sexuality in the way that God intended it to be used (based on His revelation) for the greatest fulfillment of human beings. He created it, and is omniscient, so He knows how it is best and most properly used. Immoral use of sex is not “freedom” but bondage. It is possible also to reformulate this definition in a secular fashion:
Sexual freedom is that use of sexuality which proves in the long run to work out best for the purposes of human happiness and fulfillment: emotionally, mentally, and physically, and which produces the most stability in families/relationships and hence in society, minimizing broken homes, heartbreak, disease, dysfunctional relationships, spousal and child abuse, rape, sexual harassment, etc. Avoidance of these ill results can be a working definition of “happiness and fulfillment” for our purposes. Long-term effects of various sexual lifestyles are determined by scientific sociological studies of same.
In my view, the two formulations are one and the same. I contend that that which can be shown to be best for human beings in the above sense is identical to traditional Christian morality. We have the advantage now of hindsight regarding the abysmal societal results of 40 years of wild sexual experimentation and radicalism (where, e.g., in the black community, illegitimacy rates are now upwards of 70%: worse than even the rate right after slavery was abolished. The black family survived slavery, but has barely survived the social and moral nonsense of LBJ’s well intentioned Great Society, unfortunately).
The second formulation is secular (almost utilitarian), not involving any peculiarly religious concepts. If the second definition can be shown to be true, and the successful lifestyles are essentially the same as traditional Christian ones, then my religious definition has been strongly supported. I think this has, in fact, already been established by the history of the last forty years and many existing scientific studies, such as those involving the effects of divorce on children, the negative effects of co-habitation, effects of constant day-care, the link of breast cancer, infertility, and other problems to abortion and contraceptive techniques, the subsequent marital histories of promiscuous persons, the link of crime and drugs to (in addition to poverty) broken homes: particularly those lacking a father for young boys, and so forth. This is a very important discussion on many levels (personal, societal, ethical, philosophical).
One way of approaching discussions of normative sexuality, and particularly Christian morality is the utilization of what I call the “reverse pragmatic argument”: “if something is true it in fact works” (as opposed to straight pragmatism: “something is true because it works”). One mustn’t separate “freedom” from responsibility in matters moral (let alone sexual). Otherwise, one would have to assert that a person ought to be free to engage in “irresponsible sexual conduct” — and no respectable ethical system would maintain that.
I see several problems with the current societally accepted conception of “sexual freedom” within the humanist/relativist/secularist/60s free love/hedonist/narcissistic/utilitarian/”if it feels good, do it” framework:
1) Simply equating “freedom” with “choice” does not resolve anything in this particular discussion, since it is not about freedom of choice or will per se, but rather, sexual ethics.
2) Once the spectre of “choice” comes up one must immediately ask, “choice to do what?” That brings the discussion back to a consideration of the relative merits of different views of sexuality based on the agreed-upon criteria of “goodness” or “badness” — in turn based on the ill (or good) results potentially or actually produced by said views.
3) That in turn leads to the inevitable question of what (sexually) is wrong, improper, unnatural, or however one wishes to categorize these things. This is unavoidable, because virtually all people in fact agree (I believe) that certain sexual practices are wrong or harmful (rape, clitorectomies, manipulation of people for sexual ends, pedophilia, bestiality, sexual harassment in the workplace, child pornography, sexual slavery, publishing of nude photos of someone on the Internet without their permission, rampant promiscuity, etc.).
4) So now the question becomes: “where does one draw the line as to what is proper and improper (or, right or wrong), and on what basis is this done?” Simply asserting “I am free to do whatever I please and this is sexual freedom” is far more tending towards being a statement having to do with license, hedonism or libertinism than it is about sexual ethics. Everyone would place some limits on sexual behavior.
5) Even the results of various lifestyles — if they are to be observed on any objective plane whatever — must be “judged” based on the facts and scientific studies, whereby we can determine if they actually produced the “human happiness and fulfillment” which everyone desires. Simply believing or wishing that this be the case is not enough. All that proves is that someone wants to be happy within a certain parameter of sexual choices; it proves nothing at all about whether those choices will, in fact, make them happy in the long run.
6) This is one of the basic fallacies of libertarianism. It is tacitly assumed that whatever a person thinks will make them happy (e.g., heroin or the playboy lifestyle or excessive materialism) will in fact do so. The long-term consequences for both the individual and the society are rarely taken into account. There is also the myth of the atomistic individual, as if individual choices and courses of action can be made in a bubble, without affecting others around them. It is all about freedom and hardly at all about responsibility and foreseen possible consequences. But that is the zeitgeist of our times, sadly enough.
7) Individualism is the watchword; community and social cohesiveness and commonality are largely ignored. One could argue that this has been an increasing trend since the Renaissance, actually, excepting those portions of society which consciously rejected this extreme individualistic autonomy for some communitarian vision. Christianity is unabashedly communitarian, though its adherents are practically as susceptible as everyone else to succumbing to the temptation of prevailing cultural forces and fashionable ideas.
We can only go by large-scale societal results of these beliefs and practices. Individual exceptions of self-reported “happiness and fulfillment” can always be produced, but they are merely “anecdotal” and of little importance statistically. What objective basis does the advocate of the sexual revolution and rejection of Christian sexual ethics produce, apart from the mere wish or “prediction” that such a choice will bring happiness?
Certainly the ones on the cutting edge of such “brave new choices” (the Hollywood elite, the arts and music crowd, etc.) are not sterling examples of happiness, as a result of their rejection of traditional Christian sexual morality. I see much misery and brokenness; not much true happiness and fulfillment. The sociological data shows that, e.g., statistically, those who live together are far less likely to attain to a successful, happy marriage than those who waited and (especially) who have a strong faith.
The determination of Mr./Miss Wrong or Mr./Miss Right is far more effectively and accurately made without the rose-colored glasses of sexual involvement being in the way. How good someone is in bed does not give one iota of information as to how good a marriage partner they might be. Two hogs or walruses can copulate (and enjoy it). What does that prove? Exactly nothing . . .
Families and marriages in our culture are falling apart all around us. They were not doing that at nearly the same rate forty years ago. One must attempt to explain why that is. I say it is the new “liberated” sexual ethic that is the primary causative factor. The damage has been done: usually to children, who are the greatest victims of all this sexual nonsense and extreme narcissism and hedonism that has gone on since the sexual revolution.
What are “healthy sexual feelings,” and how does one determine such a thing? Most people would, I presume, tell a 60-year-old man who had sodomized 40 young boys that he was acting in quite an “unhealthy” fashion (if not much more). I draw the line or “immoral sex” in a different place than most secularists or social liberals or libertarians would, but, assuredly, we all draw lines and say “x is wrong.” But how do we decide on a secularist basis where these “lines” ought to be drawn?
One must go back to the nature and purpose of sex and sexual organs to really examine this issue. It is a question of drawing the line again. Most persons would agree that sex between a man and a cow or a rhinoceros is wrong, or “unnatural,” if that terminology is preferred. Christians think sex between two men or two women or unmarried heterosexual men and women is wrong, too. The line of what is considered “natural” is simply drawn in a different place. What is fascinating to discuss (in a philosophical/ethical vein) is why people draw the lines where they do: their justifications for doing so, beyond the usual “it feels good” or “I can’t help it.”
The Christian/Muslim/traditional Jewish view (if I may digress a moment and become necessarily graphic) is very straightforward and simple: Penises were designed for vaginas, not anuses. This is anatomically, visually, and biologically obvious. Sexual organs were designed primarily for reproductive purposes. Therefore, to totally deny that purpose and to use them for pleasure only is to engage in fundamentally unnatural acts. Even if one takes the potentially theistic notion of “design” out of the equation, one can still construct the argument based on biology and natural selection and on a health basis. The view can be fleshed out with great complexity, sophistication, and nuance (and theologically) but that is the fundamental notion, bottom-line.
The usual libertarian mistake and fallacy is to not see the connection between individual choices and societal fallout. Sexual liberals don’t seem to acknowledge that these “particulars” of people’s sex life are precisely what pave the way for massive societal and familial upheaval. Otherwise, what has caused these things? If I am told that poverty is the main culprit, I reply that families were pretty strong during the Great Depression, and that African-Americans now have more money than they have ever had, yet their families are falling apart. If I am told that hedonism and recklessness are distortions of what is proposed by non-Christians to be “sexual freedom,” I have to be shown how the two views cannot in any way be causally connected to each other (which gets into “slippery slope” scenarios). I submit that it can’t be done.
It was argued by one atheist that bypass heart surgery was just as unnatural as artificial contraception. But this is no valid analogy at all. Bypass surgery doesn’t deny the fundamental purpose of the heart, which is to pump blood. It enhances it and supports that function. Using sexual organs (always) for pleasure only, however, is denying the clear central purpose of those organs. It is like a person who eats for nutrition only (say, an IV, or spinach and cod liver oil only), disregarding taste buds and pleasurable flavors, or for flavor only, disregarding nutrition altogether (banana splits at every meal or something). We think both categories of people are pretty weird and strange, because both behaviors are “unnatural.” But we don’t (as a society) apply that same intuitive reasoning to sex. Why?
The same person claimed that Christianity was “anti-non-procreative-sex.” I replied that the vast majority of Christians today are using contraception, and their churches are sanctioning it. Christians have barely more children (if more at all) than non-Christians these days.
As for the Catholic Church, we still maintain the traditional view of a prohibition of contraception, which all Christians held until 1930, when the Anglicans first started watering-down and forsaking the teaching. Even 70-80% of Catholic couples contracept, out of either ignorance of their own Church’s teaching, or deliberate dissent against it, or a faulty idea of what it means to be a Catholic and how the Church’s authority applies to their life (or all of the above). The average secularist person (like most Catholics themselves) almost certainly does not understand the rationale behind the reasoning and therefore have to caricature it and make out that Christianity is anti-sex or anti-sexual pleasure and so forth (the traditional charge against us).
To clarify, the Catholic Church is against the separation of procreation and sexual pleasure (or what is called the “unitive function” of sexuality), and against the deliberate attempt to thwart natural processes in order to have sex at will, rather than abstain during the woman’s fertile periods if a child is not desired (for appropriately serious reasons). When Pope Paul VI wrote about contraception in his famous encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968, he made several predictions as to what would occur in society if the traditional teaching was not heeded.
They have all come true. There is something very deep and profound behind this. Catholic teaching is not at all against sexuality per se, but against the unnatural and immoral uses of it. I know secularists disagree on the particulars, but at least they should try to understand our point of view properly.
It is a perfectly orthodox Catholic view for married couples to enjoy sex during infertile periods (or, say, during pregnancy or post-menopause, or in the case of total infertility) to their heart’s content, or at any time, if they have decided to try to have a child. We don’t even have to have as many children as would naturally occur, “leaving it up to God,” or to have sex only when the woman is fertile, etc. There are many reasons in Catholic theology for limiting children: emotional, physical, or financial, etc. These were mentioned in the above-mentioned papal encyclical.
What is restricted is sex during fertile periods for couples having a good reason to not have a child at that particular time. That is because contraception frustrates the natural processes of the reproductive systems and involves a mentality of not being “open” to a possible human life (in effect, being “anti-child”). This lack of openness and willingness, of course, leads inevitably to abortion on demand, on a societal level (“I didn’t want this child in the first place, and took measures to prevent its conception; therefore I have the right to kill it”). The link is undeniable, both sociologically, historically, and even legally (contraception cases such as Griswold v. Connecticut formed the legal backdrop for Roe v. Wade).
Christianity is not “anti-sex.” It simply places limits on what is proper sexuality, just as everyone else does, at one place or another. Christianity is against sex with no limits or boundaries whatever, but again, so are most other people. We are simply more restrictive. Any restriction on sexuality is seen as “oppressive” by a society which thinks that no one can live without sex.
The only way to have a constructive discussion on sex is to go back to the premises behind each position, not simply bringing up hellish “hard-case” scenarios intended to make the Christian position look ridiculous and unworkable, when it is not at all. No progress is made, then, because none of the underlying assumptions of either position are properly dealt with, so that both sides can understand why the other position takes the view it does.
The discussion of sexuality also often quickly digresses into the topic of public obscenity or censorship. This involves the distinction between tasteful nudity and obscene nudity. Nudity itself is not evil, nor is the human body. In fact, in the early Church grown men and women were baptized nude. Nudity was regarded as a representation of the Edenic state before the Fall. It is only in our sex-crazed culture that nudity has taken on the “nothing but sexual” connotation (with our pornography and X-rated movies).
And Christians have — sadly — picked up this pagan notion. Christians oppose filth and vulgarity in the public arena. One can argue till the cows come home about what those are, of course, but there is such a concept as opposing them without adopting silly, stupid, and shallow (and unbiblical) Puritanistic, Victorian moralism and prudery, or putting underwear on Michelangelo’s David or a bra on the Venus de Milo. One need not choose between the two extremes. There are other more sensible Christian positions.
The trouble is, these discussions tend to immediately become “politicized” and “polemicized” and any position other than one’s own caricatured, mocked, and dismissed. The Christian position on this is not at all as simple as people are making out. The biblical, Christian (Catholic) view is not identical to that taken by the 1st Fundamentalist Storefront Church in Podunk, Arkansas, where the women have to wear ankle-length dresses and the men can’t have any facial hair; and where wine, dancing, and rock music are intrinsically wicked.
Often, reactions to Christian pronouncements on immoral sex are just emotionalism and people being angry about various events in their personal past or our recent cultural past, which they associate with (various forms of) Christianity, rightly or wrongly, so that Christians become a target as so-called “representatives” of some “Christian” position, and recipient of all the pent-up aggravation and indignation.
In public schools and in the media for the last 30 years or so, children got one monolithic view: free sex with no restrictions; all restrictions are oppressive remnants of the Inquisition, Victorian era, and so forth. After the resultant chaos now things are starting to balance out a bit. It’s just too bad that many millions of lives had to suffer greatly in the interim from yet another Grand Social Experiment and deliberate rejection of traditional Christian morality. One can hear about the shattered or difficult lives firsthand, every day on Dr. Laura’s radio talk show.
There are all kinds of versions of Christianity and just as many distortions of biblical/Christian teaching (especially in application to real-world situations). And there are Christian parents who don’t have a clue as to how to raise Christian disciples rather than clone-like automatons who grow up with all the “right” and “correct” liberal and secular ideas. If Christian parents let their children attend public schools, with no additional Christian education, they are basically yielding them up to secularism and the current relativistic, narcissistic zeitgeist. That being the case, we would expect these Christian kids to be little different from their friends around them. Peer pressure is extremely influential. They will receive all the usual fashionable ideas, ethical, sexual, and otherwise, by osmosis.
People often ask — in a related vein — about a traditional Christian view of dating. Proper “Christian dating” would not include sex: not all of it, at any rate. Limited expressions of “semi-sexual” affection (if there is such a thing – another complex topic: our sexual nature and how much sex is a part of ourselves on a very deep level) are recognized and accepted in most traditional Christian views on the matter, excepting the ultra-strict ones. The usual Christian understanding would be that foreplay and similar acts of expression which arouse sexual desire were intended and designed by God (or biology, in a secular sense) to be precursors of intercourse, so one must be vigilant in knowing how far they can go before the arousal takes over and their will starts to yield to passion.
Personally, my opinion is that one must try their best to avoid falling in love with anyone unless there is a reasonable assurance that the other would make a halfway decent marital partner. I don’t see any point in falling in love if there is no future in it. Romantic love itself communicates this thought to us. Once romantic love arrives, what do the couples invariably say?: “I want to be with you forever.” So the Christian view merely recognizes that inherent need in human beings and attempts to place sex and erotic love within the safest confines of the committed, permanent marital relationship, where the couple makes a vow before God and the community to be faithful to each other.
It’s difficult enough even then, because people are people, and we are all sinners, with many selfish tendencies which mitigate against “outward-love.” But this is the best way to protect the love and acceptance and lasting intimacy which we all crave and desire.
Many sexual liberals seem to think that people who abstain until marriage know less about each other (in order to make an informed choice) than those who dash right to sex on the first (or third) date, putting the cart before the horse. But most people of any belief would instinctively recognize, I think (or know from personal experience), how sexual infatuation blinds one’s judgment. Romantic love can, too, but adding sex into the equation makes it far worse and far more dangerous, as to long-term consequences, I think.
Good, emotionally-fulfilling, personally rewarding sex ultimately flows from a true, committed love of the whole person, and the desire to please them out of gratitude for who they are, not from just their sexual prowess or attractive body parts. It doesn’t flow from the more practice one gets doing it. That’s what the “sexually-liberated” person doesn’t appear to “get” anymore. Sex is not primarily about the plumbing or the technique. It is about two people who love each other who happen to also have the right plumbing, which works excellently when all the other pieces of the puzzle of human marital relationships are properly in place. The “hot water heater” of sexual passion (forgive my ridiculous analogy) is the commitment of the partners, not expertise gained from pop sex books or all the psycho-babble that passes for knowledge these days.
Unfortunately, far too many Christians (probably a majority, sadly) have not understood even the truly Christian conception of sexuality and its purpose. There are often abuses in Christian contexts. Christians are human beings, and sexual beings. If their needs aren’t met, they start looking elsewhere, rather than seek the deeper causes and roots of their problems and staying faithful to their marriage vows. And invariably, the children suffer through all this human folly and wrongdoing. Certain strains of fundamentalism which borders on Gnosticism in its disdain of pleasure and matter have obviously never become familiar with the Song of Solomon:
Your two breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle that browse among the lilies. Until the day breaks and the shadows flee, I will go to the mountain of myrrh and to the hill of incense . . .
Your lips drop sweetness as the honeycomb, my bride; milk and honey are under your tongue . . .
Let my lover come into his garden and taste its choice fruits. I have come into my garden, my sister, my bride; I have gathered my myrrh with my spice. I have eaten my honeycomb and my honey; I have drunk my wine and my milk.
(4:5-6,11,16, 5:1; NIV)
I understand John Milton wrote some extremely sizzling love poetry as well (I’m sure other Christian examples could be found). I glanced at it one time. It’s a shame that Christians so often are prudish, when it is not at all a biblical attitude. No doubt the contrast of the pagans and their debaucheries had a lot to do with this, in early Christianity (we see it in the Church Fathers), as the sexual revolution today has caused an overreaction amongst some Christians. It is a strong tendency to throw the baby out with the bath water.
I have heard it argued by a thoughtful Christian writer, however, that the sexual revolution can be accounted for in part by the yearning for some sort of mystical experience, once a person has forsaken Christianity or some other religion. Sex fits the bill for an easily-accessible, powerful, quasi-mystical or spiritual experience, and that would explain why pornography and promiscuity are so rampant in previously quite-Christian countries such as the Netherlands and America.
On the other hand, in areas not previously Christian, such as parts of Africa now experiencing tremendous revival, sexual morals are much higher. Post-Christian countries always have worse morals than countries recently introduced to Christianity. This is true throughout Christian history as well. The “barbarians” such as the Goths and Visigoths usually had higher morals from natural virtues than power-hungry Christian rulers who were trying to convert them, who were whoring about and engaging in various power schemes. The higher one goes up the ladder of spirituality, the farther the fall if they forsake the climb. Or, as Jesus put it, “to whom much is given, much is required.”
Pornography flows from the hedonist impulse and sexual addiction. One seeks after more and more pleasure, thus receiving less and less. Each sexual encounter offers less thrill than the last, so the “spark” is sought in pornography: some sort of variety or titillation previously-unknown. And so the hard-core crap gets worse and worse, getting into violence, pedophilia, bestiality, rape, S & M, so that the all-powerful lust for lustful pleasure can be fulfilled. Once this journey is begun, it has a dynamic all its own, without the remotest relationship to Christianity in its moral dimensions and entire outlook on life, the purpose of sex, and the dignity of women.
Nor is the macho, unfeeling, uncommunicative conception of men Christian, either. One certainly doesn’t observe this in Jesus, who is our model. This is a distortion of the male role, because men are, in fact, less emotional and nurturing than women, so it gets distorted (like all things in life) to being emotionless Mr. Spock-like imbeciles (which is, in fact, quite cowardly). I had to learn these things myself. I know a lot about this process from my own life. But rather than go back to the proper biblical, Christian balance, of course the feminists had to ditch gender roles altogether and pretend that men were no different at all from women, so that they can be molded into quasi-feminine wimps and pansies; sensitive 90’s guys and all that puerile claptrap.
It was stated by an atheist opponent that adultery was “at least as common forty years ago as it is today.” This I vehemently deny. Even Kinsey reported that the rates of premarital sex, and (I believe) adultery were lower in those days than they are today. E.g., female premarital sex was perhaps 30% in the 40s (I don’t remember the exact figure), where now it is probably 75-85%. Things have changed. And the proof is in the pudding: the alarming breakdown of the family.
We even see this breakdown of public morality in politics. In 1988, Gary Hart was so shamed by the exposure of a liaison that he quit the race for President. In 1990, Clarence Thomas was almost eliminated from the Supreme Court because he allegedly told some dirty jokes. This was an outrageous offense!!!!!! In 1998, though, Clinton’s ratings went up when it was discovered that he was having sex with an intern less than half his age. Clearly, morals have degenerated. We live in a sewer now. Even Nixon had the dignity to resign. Clinton, however, was brazen. He had no shame (but plenty of crocodile tears and fake repentance for the ministers’ groups).
It isn’t the restriction of sex to marriage which is a problem, but an unhealthy, warped, silly, harmful, prudish approach to sex education. Society ought to encourage an openness and unashamed acceptance of sexuality, but under proper boundaries and parameters where it can be most enjoyable and fulfilling to all parties involved. Pope John Paul II has written much about this. One of his main ongoing projects has been the development of a theology of the body: a much-needed commentary and analysis, and long-overdue.
Stable, whole families promote societal stability. This is clear. We know this from, e.g., the effects of divorce on children; the effects of no fathers on inner-city children (who will often turn to gangs as an alternative). We see what is going on with regard to families in the African-American community. Black leaders are writing more than enough about it themselves now and wondering what to do about it.
But if secularists wish to assert that all the sexual and familial chaos we see today is more related to Christianity than to secularism, relativism, hedonism, and the sexual revolution, good luck to them. They may show that there are some lousy, hypocritical Christians, which we readily admit and always did know. They may raise some legitimate and insightful points, but they also tend to greatly minimize the role of secularist thought on sexuality in all of these societal ills.
The secularist / libertarian / sexual liberal’s task is to explain why the problems are so much greater now, when Christianity has been around for 2000 years. My thesis works much better because secularism has only dominated this country since World War II, culturally, ethically, and legally, and that is precisely the period where public morality has increasingly deteriorated and where social problems — especially regarding families — have exponentially increased.
Catholic teaching fully permits “family planning.” Serious reasons for limiting children include health, financial, and emotional consequences. What the Church doesn’t permit is artificial contraception and the attitude that one always has a right to have sex, no matter what; with wanton disrespect for the natural cycles of women and natural law. The sexual revolution presupposes (with little reason) that it is impossible for people to ever abstain from sex, as if we were animals and not human beings with dignity, intelligence, and a free will. There are legitimate reasons for limiting children. But there are also many illegitimate reasons: selfishness, materialism, “image,” and so forth. Children are largely regarded as a burden and inconvenience these days, rather than the tremendous blessing and gift that they are.
Some people think that the Catholic Church teaches that it is immoral to have sex unless a child can be possibly conceived each time sex is engaged in. This is not Catholic teaching. There is no requirement to be “open to new life” when it is impossible due to infertility. What is required is to not deliberately frustrate natural law by having sex (during a fertile period) with the intent to not have a child should it come into being, even to the extent of killing it, if necessary, as if it has no right to life of its own, apart from its parents’ wishes.
What is now regarded as almost exclusively “the Catholic view” on contraception was universally-held by Christians before 1930. This is historical fact. Christianity is inherently an historical religion, so no Christian, it seems to me, can dismiss such a striking fact so quickly. What it means was that Protestantism, in its self-understanding for some 400 years, agreed with Catholics on this issue and most others of a sexual nature (divorce would be the main difference, but that was not all that great, either, until recently). So, arguably, I am contending for what is the true Protestant heritage on these matters (and also, Orthodox, for that matter), even more so than a Protestant today who has forsaken his own “roots,” so to speak (to the extent that he cares at all about the historical pedigree and development of his own beliefs).
I have often used in my posts the terminology of “traditional Christian morality” or “historical Christian sexual teaching” and so forth. When I do that, I am being precisely accurate, as for most of Christian history, there was an overwhelming consensus on these matters. It is only since the onset of Protestant theological liberalism in the last 200 or so years that there have developed 1001 different views. I oppose the myth that these views are somehow exclusively and/or intrinsically Catholic. My point is that things have changed drastically with regard to various tenets of sexual morality in Christian circles in the relatively short time span of just 71 years. Once again, the historical perspective is supremely important to understand where we got to where we are today in terms of ideas and sexual norms.
Many (perhaps most) Christians have simply assimilated the surrounding secular, pagan relativistic and hedonistic sexual ethic (in other words, the relatively unexamined tenets of the sexual revolution). This is no new process. It has been going on since the beginning of Christianity, which is why periodic revival is so necessary.
There is no common morality (let alone sexual morality) anymore if one is using “Christian” in the broadest sense. So language becomes nonsensical if one makes that ambitious of an attempt to speak for present-day (minimalist, lowest-common-denominator) “Christians.” It is a futile and impossible endeavor. Thus I fall back on traditional teaching, because — again — Christianity cannot possibly be separated from its history. That is another intellectually impossible task. People try to do it all the time by separating rationality (as well as “historicity” or a communal, corporate [institutional] understanding) from their religion, but of what use is an irrationalist religion in the first place?
It is often charged that the views of the Catholic Church on sexuality are “puritanical” or amount to “prudery.” But prudery and being ashamed of the body and sexuality (morally practiced) are entirely different from respecting the natural law and desiring to “be fruitful and [to] multiply.” The former is unbiblical and closer in spirit to Gnosticism or Docetism than to Christianity (I cited the explicitly sexual Song of Solomon above); the latter is quite biblical. With prudery, attitudes towards nudity, and so forth, the discussion is much more complex (ethically and historically), but I maintain that prudery or Victorianism is a distortion of historic, biblical Christian teaching, which does not regard the body and sexuality as evil. That’s precisely why the Gnostic and Manichaean heresies were so vigorously opposed by the early Church.
A healthy attitude towards sex, the body, and nudity (in art and so forth) is not the equivalent of the free sexual ethic of the sexual revolution. Nor is it fundamentally non-Christian or unbiblical. Nudity is not sex. Not being ashamed of sex is not the same as sex itself, etc. As is so often the case with non-Christians looking at Christianity, the critic constructs rigid “either/or” scenarios, so that the choice is “Victorian, Puritanistic, prudish, repressed, Gnostic-influenced Christian” vs. “liberated, uninhibited, psychologically-healthy, fun-loving advocate of free sex.” The choices are not at all that stark and simple, within the Christian worldview, even the “traditional” or so-called “backward” Catholic view.
(originally 6 August 2001)
Photo credit: Home destroyed by one of the 22 tornadoes that swept across eastern Oklahoma on May 10, 2010. FEMA photo by Win Henderson [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]