On Sin Dylan blogged a


On Sin

Dylan blogged a link to Jesuitical apologia for all things sexual which paralleled a line of thought that has recurred for some time. Since the time Kairos made some oblique comments on the issue (probably months ago--didn't mark the particular comments.) A pertinent excerpt of this venture into the brave new world of reformed morality follows.

Bearing one another's burdens and respecting one another's experience and insight should mark, quite decisively, both the mode and the content of ecclesial teaching. One might ask whether, as a Church, we "have shown partiality in [our] instruction" by investing so much of our teaching energy and authority, and over so many years, on sins of the flesh. One wonders whether a more impartial (and effective) approach might, for example, be more concerned about, and more decisive in response to, the production of land mines or the exploitation of the poor all around the globe.

First a comment on the quote--the whole article, summed up in this paragraph strikes me very much as "methinks the lady doth protest too much." If the church has already embodied too much of its teaching in sexuality, why do we need more of it from a faction that, if not in dissent, is certainly standing at a distance from concurrence? The whole article reeks of what I have come to term the Jesuitical betrayal. Unfortunately, this betrayal is a result of the central strength of the Jesuits, a remarkable training in intellectual battle. It seems that when the mind and ego are given precedence over spirituality, the result is ever so. There are a great many loyal Jesuits, I am certain; however, the voice that dominates is ever the one in disagreement. (And not to slight the Jesuits, the same seems to be true of many of the Old Orders--witness Joan Chittister, Richard Rohr, and others too numerous to detail.)

Now to my main point. I had been wondering about the huge emphasis on sexuality in Church teaching. Part of my reason for wondering is purely selfish--such teaching gets in the way of what I want. The other part is simply seeking to make sense of it all.

After some thought, it occurred to me that the preponderance of teaching on sexuality is necessary because this is the weakest front in the battle against Satan. We look at our highly sexualized society today as some sort of aberration. In fact it is consistent with the long line of human civilizations. We laud those societies that are not so sexually charged--but, in fact, there are no such societies. The Islamic requirement of purdah is an acknowledgement of the fact that sexual urges are the least governable and the only way to restrain them is to do everything possible to dampen them. Victorian society for all its renowned repression, was in fact every bit as sexually charged as modern day society. The Church teaches much on sexuality because it is protesting against the "exploitation of the [morally] poor" and the "production of [spiritual] landmines."

We are sexual creatures. I cannot speak for the female side, but I feel at times very Augustinian--"Lord make me chaste, but not yet." I must admit to the attraction/distraction presented by an attractive female--attractiveness consisting of more than mere surface beauty. But even mere surfaces can be very distracting. From other men I've talked to and shared with, this seems to be a universal problem. I don't know if it is as pervasive on the female side, though I tend to think that the relative absence and poor performance of the female equivalents of Playboy and its ilk, that it may not be directly. Perhaps it takes a deeper form that looks more to the attractions beyond the superficial.

No matter, it seems from discussion and implication that many American men would agree that the greatest temptations they face are sexual temptations. True, many are lured by money and power and the glamours of those intangibles. But for those of us in the middle ground who wouldn't mind having more money but don't particularly relish the notions of power, it seems that the easiest way through the relatively tight armor of God is through the sexual impulse. Paul acknowledged this when he stated that it was better to be unmarried, but it was far better to marry than to burn. Now, I find this particularly Pauline teaching particularly onerous and atraditional diverging strongly from the traditional practices of the Jewish people and from the Old Testament command to "be fruitful and multiply." It smacks of a certain element which, when distorted, becomes Manichaeism. But what Paul is acknowledging is the tremendous, overwhelming power of the sexual impulse and its ready exploitability by the Powers and Principalities for their own purposes.

The Church teaches on sexuality because the battleground for most ordinary people (or at least most ordinary men) is centered in this integral part of our humanity. We go long distances out of our way to justify any number of practices or diversions in this realm.

Sexuality is a great gift and a great burden. As Jesus promised, "To whom much is given, much is expected in return." A gift of this magnitude--the ability to engage in the act of creation as the instruments, as it were, of God's creation on Earth, is overpowering. Thus the temptations to abuse the gift is also nearly overpowering. We are expected to be good stewards of all the goods granted us. Thus the Church speaks frequently on the matter of sexuality, keeping a balance between Manichaeism and indulgence, pointing out the right use, and more importantly the right way of thinking about and viewing this tremendous gift as signposts along a path bestrewn with landmines.

Thus, whenever I begin to question the wisdom of the Church in these "difficult" or to some "insupportable" teachings, I am certain that I am speaking and not some revelation from above. For my own ends I am capable of distorting the clearest truths. Acknowledging this, I may also humbly submit to the Church's teachings in the matters, and for an hour or a day at time beat back the barbarians at the gates.

Sexual sin is not the worst sin, but it is nevertheless sin. It is falling short of the glory that God has imaged for us and which we are to reify. And any such "missing the mark" is a grievous offense both to God and to our fellow human beings. For often sexual sin is simply a matter of making a person into an object of desire. In so doing we demean ourselves and the object of our affection.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on December 10, 2002 8:28 AM.

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