Nathaniel Peters

‘The Meaning of Sex’: why sexual integrity isn’t out-of-date

Nathaniel Peters
By Nathaniel Peters
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June 7, 2012 (thepublicdiscourse.com) - How should we respond to the hookup culture? A number of concerned parents, pastors, and professors from all sides of the religious and political spectrum have expressed concern about the sexual culture that today’s young people inhabit. Some scholars, such as sociologists Mark Regnerus, Jeremy Uecker, and Kathleen Bogle, have published value-neutral analyses that aim to assess current trends and save us from common misperceptions. In empirical terms, they tell us how and why the sexual economy hurts its actors. Others, such as Laura Sessions Stepp and Donna Freitas, have offered more personal—and, for Freitas, spiritual—analyses of problems and possible solutions in modern sexual culture. Interestingly enough, these authors don’t write as traditionalists or social conservatives. They aren’t advocating purity rings or “modest is hottest.” Instead, they seek to help young people make more responsible sexual decisions. Not surprisingly, though, their counsel often aligns with a traditional conception of sexuality and monogamy, even if not perfectly. The science shows that more commitment and fewer sexual partners tend to make people happier.

But what about those who think that morality requires a bit more of us? How can they persuade young people that reserving sexual intimacy for marriage is the right thing to do? In his book On the Meaning of Sex, popular author and political philosopher J. Budziszewski attempts to make such an argument on the basis of human nature and natural law. He begins with an anecdote from teaching. During a classroom discussion of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, one of his students, Harris, said he found the characters disgusting. When pressed, Harris clarified that he had no problem with their sexual habits: “Sex doesn’t always have to mean something,” he insisted. What he found disgusting was their factory production of human beings.

But, Budziszewski argues, holding those two positions is not logically consistent:

It shouldn’t have bothered Harris unless procreation is something that ought to take place in the loving embrace of the parents. . . . Moreover, since Harris was revolted that the aspiration to children could ever be separated from the aspiration to union, it would seem that he recognized that these two meanings aren’t merely sometimes joined together, but that they are joined whenever we have sex. . . . Apparently sex means something to us even if we don’t admit to ourselves that it does.

That last sentence conveys Budziszewski’s goal and style of argumentation: He wants to draw attention to the reader’s gut feelings and instincts that may have been trained away by education or social conditioning. He wants to help them see what they know, even if they don’t know that they know it.

After some well-laid-out arguments about function, purpose, and natural law, Budziszewski argues that our bodies and actions have natural purposes. This means that some actions, such as those necessary for sexual union, mean something, whether we want them to or not. To put it another way, they say something, even if that is not what we want them to say: “A bodily action is like a word; we mean things to each other no less by what we do than by what we say. . . . To crush your windpipe with my thumbs is to say to you, ‘Now die,’ even if I tell you with my mouth, ‘Be alive.’ To join in one flesh is to say, ‘I give myself to you in all that this act means,’ even if I tell you with my mouth, ‘This means nothing.’” What sex means is total gift, a union of selves instantiated through bodily union, and it cannot but help mean that. By acting against this nature, which we cannot change, we do damage to ourselves and others.

Budziszewski further argues that human nature entails complementary differences between men and women. He notes that these differences are similar across cultures, both in terms of what people think they are and what they think about them. “Mark it up as another victory of quantitative social science,” he writes: “We can now confirm by counting that what everyone used to know without counting really is true.” He then explores how the particular characteristics of men and women make them attractive—in short, what we mean when we say that someone is sexy. Budziszewski thinks we mean that we find their manliness or womanliness desirable. Womanliness, for instance, “isn’t something she contrives, but something that glows from her. . . . The most compelling and believable signs of being a nice person to marry, make love with, and have children with are the ones that arise spontaneously. They are an outward glory given by an inward and invisible reality. A beautiful woman cannot help giving off such radiance, because it is an effect of what she really is.” Beauty conveys something deeper and more holistic than raw sexual appeal.

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Similarly, spousal love is not a matter of feelings but an act of the will. Enchantment is a feeling of emotional infatuation, the moment of “wow” when she enters the room. Love, by contrast, is really about charity, which Budziszewski defines as “a permanent commitment of the will to the true good of the other person.” Erotic charity is a mode of charity bound to one person, and sexual intercourse is a particular act of this charity that fuses two selves together in the union of their flesh. Because love is not about enchantment, but charity, it is an act of the will, not a feeling. Therefore, Budziszewski argues, “it is something that one decides to do, and it can be promised.” To the many young people who claim that permanent, exclusive marriage is impossible because you can’t promise feelings, he would say yes—but marriage is not a promise of feelings.

Not surprisingly, Budziszewski calls for embracing sexual purity, which, he makes clear, is a matter of pursuing goods—goods that will be useful and helpful for marriage—not fleeing from them. Its temporary “no’s” enable one to give a full “yes” at the right time. He sees sexual purity as coming in both masculine and feminine flavors: “One awakens the feminine intuition of something that must be guarded; the other, the masculine sense of something that must be mastered.” And he extols the virtues of purity: decorum, “the conduct befitting the dignity of man as a rational being”; modesty, which “expresses respect for the fragility of this dignity . . . [and avoids] provoking appetites that people should be trying to moderate”; and temperance, finding order and the mean in one’s actions.

Throughout the book, Budziszewski resists invoking God or anything beyond rationally accessible premises. More accurately, he hints at such ideas without developing his hints, nor has he explained why every chapter begins with a quotation from John of the Cross. In the conclusion, though, he argues that sex points to and is ultimately about God: “Nature points beyond herself. She has a face, and it looks up. . . . ultimately, human love makes sense only in the light of divine love. The point is not that divine love means something and that human love doesn’t. Human love means so much, because divine love means still more.” In a variation on C.S. Lewis’s argument for the existence of God based on desire, he notes that even when we love well, mortal love is not enough. Since no human longing is made in vain, this unfulfilled natural desire must point toward a supernatural lover.

But taking this argument into religious waters poses the question of which audience Budziszewski hopes to reach. And that poses the larger question of how effective his efforts—not to mention the broader efforts of like-minded religious believers—actually are. If he wants to strengthen the faithful as they navigate young adulthood, he might well succeed. To be sure, far too many young religious men and women have followed the cultural lead and abandoned chastity. If On the Meaning of Sex gave them better reasons for it, that alone would be a great feat. But how is he to persuade students who press with further questions or actively oppose his views on principle? Budziszewski’s occasionally chivalric language might go over well with young Chestertonians, but many young adults would balk at passages like this one:

When we do attempt the journey back to the commonwealth of sense, we will meet trolls and enchanters on the way. They will obstruct passage, demand tribute, and try to lure us into byways and bogs. But why should that discourage us? We are already begrimed and bewitched. The first thing to do is open our eyes, grasp hold of the nearest branches, and pull ourselves out of the ooze. Odd knights we! Having made ourselves muddy and ridiculous, we may as well journey with a smile.

Likewise, the Arthurian metaphor of the Siege Perilous for a woman, her sexuality, or her reproductive organs is not going to fly outside more traditional Christian circles, and even there it might receive tenuous support.

Inquisitive students will desire more proof that sex has to mean what Budziszewski thinks it means—and why it cannot mean what they might want it to mean. His passages about sexual beauty offer an attractive vision of what it means to be human, but can they pierce the carapace of wounded, ironic disdain? He discusses sexual differences with nuance and care, and many young adults would no doubt find resonances of his words in their lives, but, albeit unfairly, a good number will dismiss it as patriarchal and outmoded.

How then can those who agree with Budziszewski try to show young adults a more excellent way? There are few easy answers, but On the Meaning of Sex’s strengths show where to begin: by offering an eloquent, engaging description of the beauty of men, women, and sexuality. Moreover, it seeks to show young people the wisdom of their desires and repugnance. It tries to preserve good intuitions and gently check misunderstandings, to show them what their hearts know, even if unwittingly. It also hands on the wisdom of our forebears with care and winsomeness. Of course, those who believe that chastity leads to flourishing must also demonstrate it with their lives. But arguments are necessary as well, and both the style and the content of On the Meaning of Sex offer a good place to find them.

Nathaniel Peters is a Ph.D. student of theology at Boston College. This article reprinted with permission from thepublicdiscourse.com.

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Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
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Vatican pressing forward with reform of US feminist nuns: Cardinal Müller

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By Thaddeus Baklinski

Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, says the Vatican is pressing forward with plans to reform the U.S.-based Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).

In an interview published in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, the cardinal said that the reform of the LCWR, which was undertaken after an assessment of the group found serious doctrinal problems, will be carried out with the goal of helping them "rediscover their identity.”

“Congregations have no more vocations and risk dying out," Müller said. "We have first of all tried to reduce hostility and tensions, partly thanks to Bishop Sartain whom we sent to negotiate with them; he is a very gentle man. We wish to stress that we are not misogynists, we are not women gobblers! Of course we have a different concept of religious life but we hope to help them rediscover their identity.”

Moreover, the cardinal said that problems specific to the LCWR are not a reflection of all the women religious in the US.

"We need to bear in mind that they do not represent all US nuns, but just a group of nuns who form part of an association,” Müller said.

“We have received many distressed letters from other nuns belonging to the same congregations, who are suffering a great deal because of the direction in which the LCWR is steering their mission.”

Cardinal Müller's remarks confirmed the assertion he and the Holy See’s delegate to the LCWR, Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle, made in an address to LCWR officials in Rome on April 30, that the theological drift the feminist nuns are taking constitutes a radical departure from the foundational theological concepts of Catholicism.

The Holy See “believes that the charismatic vitality of religious life can only flourish within the ecclesial faith of the Church,” Müller said in the address.

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“The LCWR, as a canonical entity dependent on the Holy See, has a profound obligation to the promotion of that faith as the essential foundation of religious life. Canonical status and ecclesial vision go hand-in-hand, and at this phase of the implementation of the Doctrinal Assessment, we are looking for a clearer expression of that ecclesial vision and more substantive signs of collaboration,” he stated.

The LCWR has openly defied the mandate of reform intended to bring their organization into line with basic Catholic doctrine on the nature of God, the Church, and sexual morality.

Among the CDF’s directives, to which LCWR has strenuously objected, is the requirement that “speakers and presenters at major programs” be approved by Archbishop Sartain. This, Müller has explained, was decided in order to “avoid difficult and embarrassing situations wherein speakers use an LCWR forum to advance positions at odds with the teaching of the Church.”

The LCWR has invited speakers to their Annual Assembly such as New Age guru Barbara Marx Hubbard, and Sr. Laurie Brink, who is particularly noted for flagrantly denying the Divinity of Christ and telling the sisters that to maintain their “prophetic” place in society they need to “go beyond” the Church and even “go beyond Jesus.”

In one of the first public statements of his pontificate, Pope Francis affirmed that the investigation and reform of the LCWR must continue.

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Brian Fisher

Birth mothers: real heroes of the pro-life movement

Brian Fisher
By Brian Fisher
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What does it mean to be brave? Is it the doctor who dedicates himself to improving the health of a third-world nation? Is it the woman who faces her third round of chemotherapy to fight the progression of cancer? Is it the teacher who forgoes the comforts of a suburban school to reach minorities in the inner city? All of these are examples of bravery demonstrated in exceedingly challenging circumstances. And our society longs for stories of bravery to inspire us and fill us with hope.

As someone who works day in and day out with those on the front lines of helping rescue babies from abortion, I’m no stranger to stories of bravery. I see courage every day in the eyes of the men and women who sacrifice their time and energy to help women facing unplanned pregnancies. I see it every time a young mom — despite being pressured by her parents or significant other to get an abortion — chooses LIFE. And perhaps more profoundly than in any other situation, I see it when an expectant mom with no relational support, job, or income chooses to place her baby for adoption rather than abort her son or daughter.

This was Nicky’s situation.

When Nicky found herself pregnant with her boyfriend’s child, her life was already in shambles. During her 26 years, Nicky had already given birth to and surrendered sole custody of a little girl, committed several felonies, lived in her car, lost several jobs, and barely subsisted on minimum wage. So when she met up with an old boyfriend, Brandon, Nicky believed she was being given a second chance at happiness. “Our first year together was beautiful. We were getting to know each other and deciding if we would stay together forever.” Unfortunately, a positive pregnancy test result changed everything.

“When I told him I was pregnant, Brandon sat down on the bed, looked me in the eyes, and told me to ‘get an abortion’.” Nicky says those three little words changed everything for her. “I became depressed living with someone who wanted his child ‘dealt with.’”  Like thousands of women every day, Nicky began searching online for information on abortion, hoping her boyfriend would eventually change his mind. Through our strategic marketing methods, Online for Life was able to guide Nicky to a life-affirming pregnancy center where she received grace-filled counsel. “The woman I sat with was beyond wonderful. She helped me to just breathe and ask God what to do….And so I did.”

Nicky left the pregnancy center that day with a new resolve to choose life for her child, even though she still wasn’t sure how she’d financially support a child. “I was alone with just $10 in my pocket…and without any type of plan for what I was going to do.” So Nicky relied on the support of the staff she met at the life-affirming pregnancy center. With their help and through a chain of fortunate events, Nicky was put in contact with the couple who would eventually become her daughter’s adoptive parents.

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After meeting this couple face to face and coming to terms with her own desperate situation, Nicky conceded that the best thing for her unborn child would be to place her in someone else’s loving home. She told Brandon about her plans and he agreed that adoption would give their child the best chance at a happy and secure future. He even returned home to help Nicky prepare for the birth of their child. “The weeks leading up to my delivery were filled with a mixture of laughter, tears, protectiveness and sadness,” Nicky recalls. But one sentiment continued to be shared with her. “Brave…so brave.” That’s what everyone from the life-affirming pregnancy center to the adoption agency to the birthing center kept calling Nicky. “The nurses kept coming up to me and telling me they were honored to care for and treat someone like me.” After several weeks of preparation, Nicky finally gave birth to a healthy baby girl, and she made the dreams of a couple from the other side of the country come true.

Nicky’s adoption story continues to be riddled with a strange combination of pain and joy. “I cry every day, but I know my baby, who came out of a very bad time, ended up being loved by people from across the country.” When asked what message she’d like to share with the world about her decision to give up her child for adoption, Nicky responds, The voice of the mother who gives up a baby for adoption isn’t heard. We need to change that.”

To learn more about Online for Life and how we’re helping to make stories like Nicky and her daughter’s story a possibility, please visit OnlineforLife.org.

Author, speaker, and business leader Brian Fisher is the President and Co-Founder of Online for Life, a transparent, metric-oriented, compassion-driven nonprofit organization dedicated to helping rescue babies and their families from abortion through technology and grace.

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New York farmers stop hosting weddings after $13,000 fine for declining lesbian ceremony

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By Dustin Siggins

New York farmers Robert and Cynthia Gifford, who were ordered last week to pay $13,000 for not hosting a same-sex "wedding," say they are closing that part of their operation.

"Going forward, the Giffords have decided to no longer host any wedding ceremonies on their farm, other than the ones already under contract," said Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) lawyer James Trainor. ADF represented the Giffords in their legal fight against New York's non-discrimination law.

Last week, the Giffords were ordered to pay a $10,000 fine to the state of New York and $3,000 in damages to a lesbian couple, Jennifer McCarthy and Melisa Erwin, who approached them in 2012 about hosting their "wedding." The Giffords, who are Roman Catholic, said their religious convictions would not let them host the ceremony, but that McCarthy and Erwin could hold their reception on their property.

Unbeknownst to the Giffords, the lesbian couple recorded the two-to-three minute conversation. After declining to hold the reception on the Giffords' farm, on which they live and rent property, the lesbian couple decided to make a formal complaint to the state's Division of Human Rights.

Eventually, Judge Migdalia Pares ruled that the Giffords' farm, Liberty Ridge Farm, constitutes a public accommodation because space is rented on the grounds and fees are collected from the public. The Giffords argued that because they live on the property with their children, they should be exempt from the state law, but Pares said that this does not mean their business is private.

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Trainor told TheBlaze that the Giffords' decision to end wedding ceremonies at Liberty Ridge “will hurt their business in the short run," but that was preferable to violating their religious beliefs.

“The Giffords serve all people with respect and care. They have hired homosexual employees and have hosted events for same-sex couples,” he said.

However, "since the state of New York has essentially compelled them to do all ceremonies or none at all, they have chosen the latter in order to stay true to their religious convictions," Trainor explained to LifeSiteNews. "No American should be forced by the government to choose between their livelihood and their faith, but that’s exactly the choice the state of New York has forced upon the Giffords."

"They will continue to host wedding receptions," said Trainor.

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