Thoughts about Sex (No Drugs, No Rock n Roll)
I want to write about sex. It’s so good I will have to write about it twice.
I want to take up lawyer Peter Goodman’s invitation in a recent Sunday SUN-NEWS to enter civil dialogue about same-sex marriage but that must wait until later. I start with sex in general.
Until very recently the Judeo-Christian tradition, as we called it in ancient days, was practically unanimous about sex. The bottom line is: sex is good, but within the bond of marriage.
Some Christian traditions taught the mistaken notion that sex is bad. They traced sinfulness to the perversion of sexual drives. This did not help young people gain a healthy perspective, so people stopped talking about sex. That was the Victorian age. We now know that the Victorian age was far more sexually experimental than we knew. The spoken strictures were narrow, however; hence the so-called 20th century sexual revolution.
Americans have double standards. On one hand, we built a promiscuous culture, but on the other hand we badmouth those who adopt the cultural norm and show us exactly what it looks like. Women take most of the heat for this, quite unfairly. The recent pop culture flap over Miley Cyrus was another attempt to put the genie back in the bottle long after it escaped. The double standard is everywhere, and everyone knows it. So let’s recall that proposal, often observed in the breach: sex is good, but within the bond of marriage.
The traditional teaching of church and synagogue is: marriage or an abstinent lifestyle. Some churches think the monastery (male and female) is the best place to exercise celibacy but the standard of abstinence is universal, not just for monks and nuns.
So whatever happened to abstinence? Let’s return to the initial proposal and amend it: sex is good, but within the bond of marriage and, apart from that, we practice abstinence. This is hardly the majority position in American culture any more. But it is – or was – our Christian and Jewish (and other) ideal, certainly until after World War Two.
Americans no longer call children born out of wedlock “illegitimate,” since no child is responsible for the behavior that produced him. But the result of youthful childbearing out of wedlock can be poor education, missed job opportunities and a lifetime of poverty, to the detriment of society. Or else it can lead to abortion. Most people of faith call it sin to take the life of an unborn child, but to many that seems the alternative. You see how the problems compound.
America is not a “Christian country.” This fact does not prevent Christians from stating our position with conviction. We have the right to a respectful hearing of our position, even if we fail to live up to our own standards. Failure doesn’t mean that the standard should be abandoned. Ethical positions that we deem to be grounded on God’s will – to paraphrase G. K. Chesterton – have not been tried and found wanting, but have not been tried. Our ethical positions are supported in the tradition of church and synagogue, in our sacred writings, and in the common sense of people throughout millennia.
Do I think the bottom line is right? Yes. It is not easy, but I aspire to this ethic – and not because I fear punishment. These are, simply put, spiritual and ethical “best practices.” I believe that the Judea0-Christian ethic, even in matters of sex, calls us to compassion and right living for the peace and benefit of society and for the growth of the person toward wholeness.
06 September 2013