Nathaniel Peters

‘The Meaning of Sex’: why sexual integrity isn’t out-of-date

Nathaniel Peters
By Nathaniel Peters
Image

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.

CLICK ‘LIKE’ IF YOU ARE PRO-LIFE!

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.


Advertisement
Featured Image
The Romanian Orthodox Church's Patriarchal Cathedral in Bucharest Wikimedia Commons
Bogdan Stanciu

Romanian news outlet sanctioned for discrimination in attacking pro-life initiative

Bogdan Stanciu
By Bogdan Stanciu

BUCHAREST, Romania -- A decision of CNCD, Romania's Council Against Discrimination, has recently become definitive, recognizing the right to dignity of all Orthodox Christians in the country.

Last year, PRO VITA Association - Bucharest branch, one of the main nonprofits in Romania defending life, family and religious liberty, filed an official complaint with the Council, showing that a blog post dated May 17, 2013 and hosted on the Adevarul.ro platform prejudiced the image of Christian Orthodox believers.

The article, signed "Alex Dumitriu," challenged the support given by the Romanian Orthodox Church to the “One of Us” European initiative, which required a ban on public funding for the destruction of embryos during research and medical procedures.

The blog post described the Romanian Orthodox Church as an “anti-human, criminal and anti-life organization, whose purpose is spreading suffering and abjectness, mysticism and ignorance for their own profit.”

The applicant argued that these allegations created a degrading and hostile atmosphere for Orthodox Christians in Romania, thus harming a whole community.

The Council agreed that the affirmations in the article referred to both the clerics and the simple believers and discriminated against the Christian Orthodox community. It concluded it was discrimination, infringing upon the right to dignity granted to persons of Christian Orthodox confession.

Click "like" if you are PRO-LIFE!

The council cited the European Convention on Human Rights, which states that freedom of expression is not an absolute right in Europe, carrying with it duties and responsibilities. Also, the Adevarul.ro platform was fined a symbolic sum of 2,000 RON (approximately 445 EUR).

It is for the first time in Romania that a media institution is sanctioned for discriminating against Christians.

As a brand, the Adevarul newspaper has continued the tradition of a title established in the 19th century, but after 1989 it took over the infrastructure and human resources of the recently-deceased communist newspaper Scanteia, the official propaganda channel of the Romanian Communist Party. Today it has also developed Adevarul.ro, an online platform that is one of the most popular media channels in Romania.

Adevarul.ro has recently made it a habit of harassing the Romanian Orthodox Church with almost daily frequency, presenting negative aspects in the church and tendentious articles of opinion about this institution and about Creationism and Christianity in general, in what looks more and more like an ideological guerrilla warfare.


Advertisement
Featured Image
Shutterstock.com
Paul Russell

Nitschke heads a suicide cult that must be stopped

Paul Russell
By Paul Russell

Following The Australian's news story today about another young life lost that was related to Philip Nitschke and the Exit organisation, senior journalist, Angela Shanahan says that Nitschke and Exit must be stopped.

Shanahan opens: 

PHILIP Nitschke, contrary to his claims as an advocate of euthanasia for the terminally ill, is the chief mover of something resembling a suicide cult.

The case histories of Lucas Taylor, 26, and Joe Waterman, 25, who committed suicide after being in contact with Nitschke’s group, Exit, leave little doubt of that.

Lucas Taylor was the subject of the other article in today's paper while Joe Waterman's story was covered earlier in the ABCs 7:30 Report that created the original furore leading to the medical board suspending Nitschke's practicing licence today.

Covering the information Judi Taylor found on her son's computer after his death the story adds: 

His heartbroken mother realised that her son was not the only young person on this site. Nor was anyone on the site interested in the motivation for his thoughts of suicide, nor in helping Lucas to overcome his feelings.

“They were only interested in the ‘endgame’,” she said, including detailed advice about where and when and how to go about it.

Again, this destroys any pretence that Nitschke and Exit are only involved in advising sick and dying people about how to commit suicide. This is a macabre and clandestine death industry. Hope joins with Angela Shanahan in calling for this organisation to be stopped and is joined now in our call for a National Inquiry into Exit and other euthanasia organisations by the mothers of both of the young men mentioned in this article.

Shanahan closes by saying: Nitschke’s claim of political persecution is risible. He and his organisation must be stopped.

Reprinted with permission from NoEuthanasia.org.au.


Advertisement
Featured Image
Hilary White Hilary White Follow Hilary

,

Leaving the Matrix: what is the cost of conversion?

Hilary White Hilary White Follow Hilary
By Hilary White

What do you do when you decide to leave a sexually disordered lifestyle? What do you do, when all the people you have contact with, all your friends, even your family, have accepted and embraced a way of living and thinking about life that you have realized is harmful, psychologically and morally destructive, and which you know you must leave? What is the cost of conversion?

We can easily get caught up in the tumult of the ever-escalating legal, political, and cultural war against the traditional worldview and anthropology, so much that we forget that the “issue” is about real, individual human beings and how they should, concretely, order their lives. We culture warriors must remember that what we are asking people to do is difficult, that it can incur huge sacrifice and loss and will often require enormous upheaval and change. We are asking people to leave not only a “lifestyle” of sexual activity, but an entire world, populated with family, friends, co-workers, colleagues, and an entire global culture that embraces and aggressively promotes it.

I include not only the experience of leaving the “gay lifestyle,” but of leaving a worldview, a cultural paradigm that accepts and promotes sexual license of any kind in general. It is more than the questions surrounding the so-called “ex-gay” movement, and more than the issue of living chastely in an increasingly sexually obsessed world.

How ought a person who experiences same-sex attraction react when it begins to dawn on him that, for whatever reason, he cannot continue to live according to the world’s paradigm? We know how the homosexualist movement says he ought to react, and we know that the secular world (nearly all the world, therefore) is in more or less complete agreement. He should reject such self-negating thoughts. He should embrace his “orientation” and start to seek out same-sex sexual relationships, and carry on in the way that they tell us life is now normally lived.

He should engage in sexual encounters with various people, sometimes setting up “relationships” for varying lengths of time, breaking up, moving on, finding someone else, perhaps cohabitating, and maybe, some day, “settling down” with one person, either in “marriage,” or not, as the mood strikes. This is what the world now presents to us as normal. Nearly every television show and movie set in our times says this is just how people live nowadays. 

It is only too easy for those of us who live out here in The Real to forget how totally different our lives are from that of the majority of our fellow men. We shout, “jump!” because we see a whole other lush, green and happy world, but they see nothing but the shadows on the cave wall.

But those few of us left who think this is not a very good way to live, that it is morally and psychologically destructive, have in large part to forge our own way in life, figure out a set of rules and standards to live by alone, all the while fighting the pressure to conform. Even for those of us not plagued by sexual feelings towards people of the same sex it isn’t easy.

It is particularly not easy for those of us who have decided later in life to try to embrace a different path, but who had previously followed the world’s advice, and who had never known any other way of living. What does it take to totally change a worldview, a method of organizing one’s life and all social relationships? How hard is it to reinvent a way of life that the world has not only abandoned, but aggressively rejected and condemned?

The cost will usually be, at least, the loss of nearly all one’s friends, sometimes even very close friends. Very often it will include alienating, sometimes permanently, one’s own family. Since the Sexual Revolution’s paradigm has now been embraced by three or four or more generations, it will often mean alienation from parents and siblings.

It will sometimes mean the loss of good relations with co-workers and colleagues, and sometimes even the loss of jobs and careers. I know a man, a previously highly respected author, who was totally rejected by the entire literary establishment of his home country, a heavily secular nation, when he embraced Catholicism, including its sexual moral teachings. He told me that he expected he would never be published again outside the Catholic niche press. None of his previous friends would speak to him and for the first two years his mother had refused to take his calls.

He had been asked again and again why, if he felt he had to become a Christian, he could not have become an Anglican. And why this “sudden obsession” with “outdated” and “retrograde” sexual morality? He said that, in essence, he was treated as he would have been in the 19th century had he “come out” as a homosexual. Chastity, in other words, is the new perversion.

It is a momentous decision to leave that world, and people who make that transition compare it to leaving the Matrix: a painful, shocking and revelatory experience of a totally new and previously unguessed-at world that can leave the person disoriented, feeling as though he is now living in a kind of “parallel universe” in which he is alone and alienated from friends and family and fellow citizens.

There is an increasing number of us “converts” to a more morally sane life, who often find that once we have made the transition we are alone again. And even when we find others, a new community and friends – usually in a church – we learn that we must keep the door to the past closed. It’s not that we fear rejection, far from it, and it is not even a matter of shame.

But we understand that in a civilized society, no one wants to hear about barbarity, and we learn that to keep our past life closely in mind is to allow it to continue to rule the present. Close friends will know about our past, but, outside the most intimate circles it is passed over silently. We have reinvented ourselves and moved on, but the price is sometimes to become people with no past. To be wholly remade, it is necessary to leave behind the person we were.

It works. I can say that it is possible to be radically morally rebuilt, that one can reconstruct an entire personality, consciously dismantle past habits of thought and approach to life and replace them with better ones. The damage from the previous life, whether physical or psychological, can be permanent, but it is possible to construct a way of living that is morally and psychologically and physically healthy, and reorder a life in such a way that the damage does not rule your present. 

But it’s expensive. For me, it started when I was still living in British Columbia. I felt something new beginning in my mind and felt a yearning spring up that could not be satisfied by anything I’d experienced… the usual convert’s tale.

I’d been aware all my life that the kind of world we lived in, and the kind of life we lived in it, was somehow just not right. I loved old films and television shows that depicted a totally different way of living. I was close to my grandparents and wondered why we no longer lived that way. When I moved to the mainland in my early 20s, I somehow started going to Mass again, and that was when the real struggle began. I knew full well that the way I lived and thought about life was deeply at odds with the Church.

But I was alone. None of my friends were Catholic and none of them could begin to understand what it was I had begun to talk about. And I had made no friends at the large inner city parish I attended. I had tried to join a few things, and had volunteered a bit, but I could see that I had nothing in common with them. It seemed as though these people lived in another universe, one I could not even want to enter. A priest suggested I get involved in the pro-life movement, and I rejected this idea out of hand as totally absurd.

I thought I could only ask God for help. I prayed for “Catholic friends.” This brought no change, so I scaled down and said, “All right then, just one. Just one Catholic friend.” In the end, I simply got up and left one day. I’ve written elsewhere that I just got in a car and went “on holiday” out east, and never returned. When I landed in the far-eastern Canadian town where I was to undertake my own radical conversion, I only stopped there because I had run out of continent.

And it was there I discovered a whole new world, a moral universe of whose existence I had been previously totally ignorant. I met my “Catholic friends,” and was able to start the painful task of first deconstructing and then rebuilding my entire worldview, my character, my beliefs, my total understanding of life, the universe, and everything.

“Painful”? I barely survived. It took a year but I emerged a new kind of person in a new kind of world that I had never suspected existed. I met a group of other people who had undergone the same experience and we traded war stories. We agreed that it was like living in a parallel universe, and we bonded over the loss of previous friendships and family relationships. We helped each other, this little group of Catholic refugees on the rain-washed East Coast, to figure out a way to live in a world to which we no longer belonged. 

We talk about the programs set up by various individuals and groups that propose to help people, (mainly men) leave the homosexual lifestyle. We defend the right of psychotherapists to offer healing and help for people who have been damaged by their own choices and by the violence and sins of others. We lobby our Parliaments, we write articles, we even argue in comment boxes on the internet. We sometimes get brave and give talks and engage in public debates where we confront our ideological opponents in public venues. In all this, we rightly speak against the New Paradigm that the world has embraced and we urge people to reject it. It’s a form of evangelization.

But I think we need to keep in mind, while we are doing this good work, that what we are asking people to do, concretely, is momentous. Indeed, from the point of view of heaven, it is of cosmic significance. In less exalted terms, however, we are asking something almost unimaginably difficult of people ensnared in a way of living and thinking that they may not even completely understand themselves.

So much of our anti-culture, our death-culture, has been simply absorbed unconsciously, so much of it has been fed to us with our Fruit Loops and Saturday Morning Cartoons from earliest childhood, that we often have no way of knowing anything else exists. We have become people trapped in Plato’s Cave, knowing only the vaguest shadows of reality.

It is only too easy for those of us who live out here in The Real to forget how totally different our lives are from that of the majority of our fellow men. We shout, “jump!” because we see a whole other lush, green and happy world, but they see nothing but the shadows on the cave wall.

Ultimately, the Matrix is not only unreal, it is designed to make men miserable, but in such a way that they are hardly aware of being miserable. It not only enslaves, but tortures its victims. There is a reason that suicide, divorce, drug use, violent crime, self-harm, eating disorders, depression, … misery, in short, have grown to such colossal proportions in our societies.

If I may make a suggestion, maybe we could start writing and talking about how much better it is to live in The Real. How much happier it is possible to be when living a morally integrated life of self-control, not being pushed around either by lust or by the merciless demands of a lust-worshipping culture...a life of real freedom, in other words. It might help make the jump less frightening.


Advertisement

Customize your experience.

Login with Facebook