Tim Muldoon at Patheos has been running a series that meshes nicely with our ongoing discussion of marriage. He’s talking about Sex and Christianity – he’s up to part 4.
In Part 1, he asks a number of questions that he proposes to answer in the series. He also presents his working hypothesis:
Human beings are each uniquely created by God to praise, reverence and serve God, and so all their desires are rooted in this fundamental orientation, known in the tradition as a “vocation” or calling to become the person God has created us to be. Because of the complexity of human life, a mishmash of competing voices, incentives, objects of desire, noble goals, imagined outcomes, confused directions, and so on, it becomes difficult to distinguish or discern which desires are worth listening to. For much of human history, it was fine to just go along with the crowd, because one generally lived amidst families and clans who guided one through rites of passage into social roles that redounded to a common good.
In modern times, though, with greater mobility and access to a complex world through modern communications and advertising, the previous models and guides are insufficient, leading many people to bewilderment about how to discern which desires are worth listening to. And increasingly, amidst pluralism and interreligious and nonreligious currents of thought, people have lost the provincial certainty that characterized earlier epochs of history. People don’t know what to believe. And lacking a belief which gives structure to all other beliefs, the way religions have done in the past, people have no way to make judgments about which desires are more important than others, and they fall into patterns of responding to the most immediate desires, one of the most powerful of which is sexual desire.
He goes on to ask whether freedom from discipline is consistent with real freedom.
In Part 2, he states that sex is not a private matter; this powerful driver leads individuals to behaviours that have impact on our wider network of family and friends, and on society as a whole.
…there is potential danger when sexual questions are not public questions, when people believe that intimacy has no implications for families and for societies as a whole.
Sexual issues must be brought into the light of day, for only strong social pressures can restrain the runaway passion that gives birth to the twins of eros and anger. Conservatives rightly point out that we are foolish to sweep away, through short-sighted legislation, social mores that have developed over centuries. Yet progressives are right to point out that social mores always reflect a society’s winners, most of whom have not (for example) been stay-at-home moms or, for that matter, single people. The right balance is what the best of Christian tradition (not exclusively, of course) has practiced: rootedness in a textual tradition, but informed by contemporary commentary.
From the Priestly account of Creation he draws the following message for today:
“Look, God made both men and women. We’re painfully aware of how different we are, and yet even in spite of that difference there’s something we share that makes us unlike any other animals. We are human beings together, and together we can build a good world.”
The creation stories end with a compelling line: “The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame” (Gen. 2: 25). The task of the good society, the Priestly writers suggest to us, is for men and women to see each other not as competitors, but cooperators: to leverage sexual desire toward reconciliation, in order to inoculate the society against the potential violence that explodes from unrestrained sex.
Part 3 looks at the two sexual myths that bedevil our current approach to human relationships:
The first myth (let’s call it “hypocritical monogamy” or HM, exemplified by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Al Gore, Jesse Jackson, Eliot Spitzer, John F. Kennedy…I could go on) is of the seemingly monogamous marital relationship, a veneer under which there seethes raw natural drives which must be secretly released. Some will suggest that it is nature which makes monogamy a lie, an unnatural straightjacketing of sex.
The other myth (“sex positive” or SP, exemplified by Hugh Hefner, Madonna, Dan Savage, the Marquis de Sade, Alfred Kinsey, and Carol Queen) is of a world of complete freedom, self-discovery, and pleasure unencumbered by false social expectations…
Clearly these temptations are as old as history, and are destructive of relationships. Ancient Israel, Babylon, Crete, India, Rome, and many other nations created laws to restrict such choices, making them subject to law. Ancient peoples were very aware of sexual license and the injury it did to children, families, and societies. Marriage laws, interestingly, amounted to a kind of proto-feminism, reducing the likelihood of predatory activity by men. They were imperfect, favoring men, but what is remarkable is that they nevertheless aimed at the restraint of male sexual drive by promoting lawful marriage and childbearing, and punishing adultery and other forms of nonmarital sex…
Christian spirituality is not utopian about sex: it is realistic, meditative, careful, reverent. It 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. It does not ignore the biological roots of sex, but recognizes that like other areas of our lives rooted in biology (eating, sleeping, experiencing illness, etc.), sex is made human by the ways we orient it toward goods we share with others. Sure, there’s temptation: why would cultures proscribe adultery if it weren’t a constant temptation? But ultimately there is great hope in the circumscribing of sex, the hope that in cultivating its expressions in ways that benefit others, there is the opportunity to discover in another human being something of the holy.
Part 4 is about Christian Feminism. In his introduction, Muldoon says:
How to “ensure equality” is the wrong question. The right question is “How can we ensure that girls and women can become the people that God has created them to be?”
Many modern women reject the so-called sexual revolution. They ask why the equality of women comes down to tolerance for behaviour from women that was previously only tolerated in men.
Many forms of modern feminism assume male sexuality as a given, and want women to catch up to it. I want to reverse the movement: instead of wanting women to catch up to male patterns of sexual expression—expressions which are themselves often artificially inflated because of consumer driven desire—we ought to be wanting to release both men and women from false desires for sex and power. The freedom of women is not to be found in sexual autonomy. In fact, the freedom of men isn’t in sexual autonomy either, because such an idea removes sex from the context of interpersonal love and family-making. When sex is about power rather than self-transcendence in love, people get hurt.
Instead, freedom consists in the cultivation of a life lived in practicing love. Love is what moves us to realize our deepest desires, to be who God has created us to be, to reach for great and noble goals, to serve purposes greater than ourselves, to stretch our notions of ourselves beyond what we are capable of imagining in our limited, small worlds.
I’ll update this as he posts more, but meanwhile, take a look at the original articles, and see his full argument.