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Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Let's Talk About Sex

Many Christians have taken offense at Hollywood’s newest movie, Kinsey: Let’s Talk About Sex. It is, they say, yet another sign of West Coast degeneracy, immorality and basic, well… yuckiness. Oddly, few Christians have considered another way to interpret the facts: Christians are the single biggest reason movies like Kinsey get released.

That may seem an odd statement, but it isn’t – it is simply a statement of the facts. In order to see why this is true, we have to remember a few things about both God and man. God didn’t need to create mankind. We are extraneous to God, unnecessary, we are not needed. If we exist at all, it is only because God chose to bring us into existence for our own sake: "The key of love opened the hand of God and creation sprang forth," as Aquinas once said.

What We Need But this also tells us something about mankind. We are not able to exist apart from God. We need Him, we need to know Him, or we are not complete. "Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee, O Lord," said Augustine, and he was very much understating the case. Because we are made for God, anything less than God in our lives creates a dissonance that is nearly impossible to bear. If you have ever seen an injured or ill person thrash uncontrollably upon his sickbed, you have seen an image of how human persons react to the inability to perceive or understand God’s presence in their lives.

Sexuality lies at the heart of the human person, it is in many ways the defining characteristic of each person, and God intended it to be so. "God created man in His own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female He created them." Mankind is defined first by maleness and femaleness – sexual identity. The first divine command strikes at the heart of sexuality, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it." The first lack in Adam’s life was the lack of Eve. Upon meeting her, the first thing said about the couple was that a man cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh.

Human sexuality permeates the creation accounts. Why? Because God is the source of all life, and we image Him. Our ability to participate in the creation of immortal persons, that is, our ability to pro-create, is the pre-eminent natural way through which we image God. We are like God because He allows us to participate in doing what He does: create immortal persons.

Sex - a misdemeanor: the more you miss, da’ meaner you get Now, for a variety of reasons, very few Christians spend a lot of time meditating on human sexuality. Why that's true is an essay in itself, but we shall leave that aside for the moment and simply concentrate on the result. Because Christians do not think about sex, do not discuss sex, most Christians do not clearly understand the role of human sexuality in God’s plan. But Scripture itself recognizes the centrality of human sexuality to understanding God and His purpose in our lives. This creates an immediate dissonance.

We need to understand human sexuality. We don’t. Thus, secular or Christian, we thrash.

You see, adults need an adult understanding of themselves and of God in order to make it through the day. Secular atheists don’t have it. Unfortunately, too many Christians do not have more than a child’s grasp either, so they aren’t much better off than the atheists.

Now, why is that? Well, children have neither the context nor the capabilities to discuss human sexuality in adult terms. Understandable. Adult terminology and concepts should not be forced upon them. Christians understand this, so they respond by avoiding the topic entirely when educating children in the Faith.

Unfortunately, most children never receive adult instruction in the Faith. As a result, they enter adulthood under the mistaken impression that they are fully prepared to live adult lives when, in fact, they are not. Very few businesses would hire an adult with eighth-grade math skills to be their accountant, yet most adults are perfectly willing to try to live an adult life with eighth-grade Faith skills. Whether we are talking about the national economy or the divine economy, a population with only an eighth-grade level of mastery guarantees nothing but failure.

So Christians, who are supposed to proclaim the Gospel, are not able to do so in an adult way. We can’t address the leading adult concern, we cannot provide sensible adult reasons that explain why we should live out our own sexuality one way as opposed to another.

Don’t Make Them Angry Secular society needs to understand human sexuality. They know in their hearts that Christians should be able to explain it. When we can’t, they get angry with us. Very angry. Again, it is understandable.

Precisely because Christians are inarticulate when it comes to sex, we become extremely dangerous elements in secular society. We are actually stumbling blocks to the proclamation of the Gospel precisely because our incompetence in discussing sex in an adult way makes us the worst possible role models.

In that sense, the Kinsey movie just highlights a pre-existing problem. Look at the five most popular novels in the last five years. What's the big name on the list? Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. Now, Mr. Brown’s historical research was terribly, viciously wrong, but nobody cared. It was making sense of sex. Virtually none of his Christian opponents seem to understand what he did in that book.

All of us attacked Dan Brown for his numerous historical inaccuracies, but those inaccuracies were throw-away lines for him. His lousy history was just the delivery system for an articulate philosophy. Throughout his book, Brown insists on three things: (1) marriage is holy, (2) sex is holy and (3) women are to be treated as images of God. The whole book is spent emphasizing and re-emphasizing those three points.

He mis-represented Christ’s sex life so he could talk about adult sex lives. Like most of secular society, he does not believe Christians have anything useful to say about sex. So, he simply substituted pagan terms for three Christian concepts. He didn't speak of the sacredness of marriage, he used an Egyptian pagan term, Hieros Gamos. He extolled pagan goddess worship (ritualized sex), he insisted Jesus was married all in order to prove sex is holy. Instead of saying women are made in the image and likeness of God, he used pagan terminology: they are goddesses. He insisted that 'Christians think sex is dirty' to justify this paganized wording.

These three facts - holy sex, holy marriage, women are to be treated as holy - made his book tremendously popular because these three facts are true. They are, in fact, the only true things the secular culture has said about sex in the last forty years.

But how many Christians used The Da Vinci Code to talk about sex and Christianity? None of us did. Instead, we spent all our time on debunking Mr. Brown’s atrocious historical research. We attacked his arguments and completely ignored his point, we won the battles and lost the war. We missed the chance to discuss what everyone wants to know: how do I correctly use my sexuality?

Yet Another Chance With the Kinsey movie, God in His goodness has given us another chance. We have the same opportunity here that we had with Dan Brown. It's even the same story line - the secular world omits and distorts the actual history in order to drive a secular philosophical discussion of sexuality. This discussion is framed in an anti-Christian context because, as everyone knows, Christians are immature idiots on sexual matters.

As long as the adult Christian message on sex is not proclaimed, we will keep getting Dan Brown in our bookstores and Alfred Kinsey in our movie theatres. If we don't talk about sex, someone else will. Sex is vitally important to adults. It has got to make sense. The secular culture can't make sense of it - everyone knows that. But the secular culture is going to keep trying, and keep getting it wrong, until they hear a sensible Christian rendition of the message. Christianity has focused for far too long on teaching children. We have lost the ability to talk about adult issues to adults. If we don't regain that ability, we will not break the back of this sex-drenched culture.

So, how do we get that ability? The best way to prepare to discuss sexuality from a Christian perspective is to study what is popularly called the ‘Theology of the Body.’ It is an analysis of Scripture, of Genesis 1 and 2, of the Song of Songs and similar passages, from the perspective of two millenia of Christian experts and mystics, people like Augustine, John Chrysostom, John of the Cross and others. Every Christian who studies Scripture and sexuality in the light of these great teachers, any Christian who begins to understand the basics of the ‘Theology of the Body’ finds their relationship with God transformed. Christians find themselves able to talk about human sexuality in an extraordinarily powerful way, a way that converts the pagan to the Gospel message.

Our culture is awash in sexual imagery and sex as a commodity. This culture abuses who we are as persons. But precisely because sin is so rampant, precisely because the world is so jaded, precisely because the thrashing is so great, the healing balm of grace is even more incredibly powerful. That’s what St. Paul meant when he said, ‘where sin abounds, grace abounds more.’ We have to make people aware of the God’s positive vision of sexuality so that they can implement that divine vision in their own lives. The Da Vinci Code, the Kinsey movie, these are marvelous opportunities for us. We shouldn’t waste them.

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