Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Separation of church and sex

One night, my buddy Larry was driving me home from the house he shared with his then-fiancée, Mary. The two of them were in the early stages of wedding planning; I was to wear two hats — music coordinator and best man. As part of the process, to satisfy Mary’s parents, they were also going through the archdiocesan wedding preparation classes so the marriage could be blessed by the Catholic Church.

Larry, a generic Methodist, was grumbling about the unnecessary megillah (as he saw it) of taking the classes; although I was veering towards liberalism, I tried to play devil’s advocate. Finally, he stated, “I just don’t believe priests can say anything useful to me about marriage.” I asked why not.

He glanced at me in surprise, and barked, “Because I can f***!

After a moment to swallow my irritation, I decided to paraphrase a riposte made by John Randolph when ridiculed for his impotence. “Congratulations; you’ve just declared yourself the equal of every dog and jackass in the world.”

After almost twenty years’ reflection, I’ve decided that the reason so many people — men more than women, I would hazard a guess — take such silly, inordinate pride over a successful conquest is because we’re not like other animals. With animals, pheromones and cerebral cortices take over; consent is rarely an issue, though male dogs and cats have been known to rape neuters. But a human can say no … worse, s/he can laugh derisively.

But my friend Larry was never alone even in 1993, a full nine years prior to the “Long Lent” of the American predator-priest scandals. Carrie Snow once compared a male gynecologist to an auto mechanic who doesn’t know how to drive; something of the same idea powers the “what do professional celibates know about sex” argument.

But with all due respect to Fr. Dwight Longenecker and all the other fine priests who are married with children, just as you don’t need to be able to drive in order to fix a car, you don’t need to be married in order to give advice on marriage. In fact, one’s own experiences can skew one’s perception; I’d no sooner take marriage advice from a thrice-divorced man or woman than I would business advice from a perpetual bankrout. This is exactly why Alfred Kinsey’s “reports” on sexuality were so badly flawed: too often, he participated in his own experiments, and therefore intruded his own psychological imperatives into his conclusions.

Nevertheless, many people not only don’t want to listen to priests about sex, marriage and reproduction, they want to shut the Church out of the conversation altogether … to impose a kind of separation of church and sex. There are several reasons for this antipathy to the Church’s sexual teachings:

  1. Loss of moral capital: Although, as I’ve said, opposition to Church teachings long predates the recent scandals, and that the impact of the scandals was magnified by highly biased MSM reporting, we shouldn’t underestimate the damage done to the Church’s credibility. As a matter of logic, that less than 1% of the Church’s active priests committed sexual crimes doesn’t make the Church’s sexual morality flawed. But people aren’t unremittingly logical or reasonable.
  2. Scientific confusion: In many respects, the average person is as ignorant about sex and sexuality as was his grandfather fifty years ago. This ignorance is compounded with confusion as to what is and isn’t a scientific fact, a confusion made worse by the radical absence of ideological neutrality among social scientists, and propagated by a monstrous regiment of self-appointed experts in the entertainment industry, the mainstream media and on the Web. Part of this confusion is the belief that the Church’s sexual morality has been “disproven scientifically”, when in fact more data backing the Church’s position is generated every year.
  3. Political enmity: Surely this should be no bold, surprising revelation. Even given the loss of moral capital, the Catholic Church is still a center of gravity for opposition to progressive legal and social “reforms”. As such, it automatically gains enemies, many of whom will stop at nothing to drive the Church out of the public square.
  4. Sex itself: The reproductive drive is one of the most powerful desires a human can have, and influences our general behavior in many ways both obvious and subtle. Small wonder it is, then, that people should gravitate to any system of thought that rationalizes sexual indulgence, and that they should resent any institution that demands sexual responsibility and restraint.

However, it’s precisely because sex is an act between people that it becomes an act subject to moral regulation by the community. In the act of sex, there can be physical and/or emotional harm. Whether the community protects children from predators by its moral code tells us whether that community values children or childhood. Whether the community’s law carries sanctions against prostitution or adultery tells us whether the community values women and marital bonds. And so on.

The Church has a message. It’s more than that it would be really keen if people were nice to each other for a change. It’s the message that we aren’t like other animals; our lives have meaning and purpose; we are God’s children, and as such we have a fundamental dignity that can’t be subordinated to any other person’s ends.

Sexual morality is a logical offshoot of this message. Because of this fundamental dignity, people should not be used as sex objects or masturbation aids. Because of this fundamental dignity, the means by which young persons are brought into the world and raised to maturity are to be respected. Because of this fundamental dignity, there is only one kind marriage that treats the spouses as equals and gives respect to the reproductive process. This message is nothing that you have to fornicate in order to find out.

And so the Church won’t shut up and go away just because you don’t want to listen, just because you have some silly-ass idea that copulation brings wisdom unavailable to the chaste. Any animal can copulate. Only humans can deliberately not copulate.