If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to My breast.

-George Herbert

Friday, June 11, 2010

A Tragedy

The first of the great tragedies to afflict the Christian Church with long term, adverse consequences for Western culture was the stigmatization of the erotic. This arose in part from the too-urgent apocalyptic of the early Church: why bother with marriage and family at a time like this? The world's about to end, you know! Another powerful influence was the anti-incarnational bias of neo-platonism, and of the gnostic mystery religions, which envisioned the liberation of soul from body as the ultimate pre-requisite for union with the divine. And lastly, a persistent failure on the part of Christians to comprehend the radical grace of the Gospel, along with a preference for legalism, moralism and morbid visions of an angry , capricious God, guaranteed that we would continue to be terrified by the scarcely-controllable urges of our instinctual nature.

And what have been the fruits? (By their fruits you shall know them.) Hypocrisy, misogyny, homophobia, repression, self-hatred, shame, broken relationships, forced celibacy, child-abuse, and prudish silence on sexual matters resulting in an ignorance that has had immeasurable hurtful consequences in terms of unwanted pregnancy, disease, and lost opportunity, especially for girls.

Two recent incidents brought this theme to mind. A friend who is a teacher told me of the storm of parental anxiety unleashed when it was discovered that three little boys had been examining one another's penises in the school bathroom. What could be more indicative of the persistence of the puritan impulse, with it's penchant for body-denial, than the fact that American parents, even when thoroughly secularized, cannot accept that children are also sexual beings, with sexual feelings and sexual curiosity? Please don't try to tell me that children don't perceive and internalize this profound parental rejection of their natural impulses, even if they can't verbalize it.

Second, there was stiff resistance, even among the entirely liberal New Englanders who served on the committee, to the inclusion of language on sex education in the Connecticut State Democratic Party Platform, in spite of the fact that we all knew the statistics of the tragic, life-destroying impact of sexual ignorance on the young women in our cities and towns. Why the resistance? We were afraid of conservative outrage; that right-wing Christians would use a plank on sex-education as a stick to beat us with. So let the holocaust continue, rather than disturb the wrathful idol of the religious right!

Why are our children fed a steady diet of graphic violent images, with adult blessing, while images of the body are not considered age-appropriate? Could anything be more perverse? Images which affirm the beauty and goodness of the body and of our sexual nature are prohibited, while images which depict the body's violent destruction are tolerated. Violence is an abomination. God is the author of the body and of sex. God is the ultimate voyeur and enjoyer of all the pleasures and joys he made for us. Maybe, just maybe, we can all simply relax a bit.

Part of the legitimate appeal of The Da Vinci Code phenomenon (terribly written though it was), and of the contemporary fascination with the idea that Jesus and Mary Magdelene may have been married, is that, in the desire to see in Jesus a husband, a lover and a sexual being, many desire also to affirm the goodness of their own sexual natures, and to reconnect human sexuality with it's Divine Source. It's about time.


  1. Very interesting. I don't think we often think of God as the source of sex, the sensual and erotic, but who/ what else could that source be? I think the tendency to see soul and body as distinct and in conflict is a huge part of Christian thinking. The idea that the flesh must be subjugated and the Pauline idea of marriage as a concession to human frailty has a lot to answer for.

  2. Well said. I think the connection twixt sacred and sexual, erotic and ecstatic, is far stronger (and divine) than we admit.

    And thus, so very powerful, as well