Christian anthropology versus the Sexual RevolutionPETER KREEFT
How does Christ revolutionize the Sexual Revolution? Not by turning back the clock, not by a new Victorianism, not by opposing religion to sex, but by showing their real and profound connection.
No one speaks of a revolution in any other area of morality. No one speaks of the Property Revolution or the Bearing False Witness Revolution. In fact the rest of the natural moral law is pretty much still in place. Almost no one defends terrorism, sadism, cannibalism, insider trading, nuclear war, environmental pollution, rape, hypocrisy, torture, or murder. We are still "judgmental" about those things. But if it has anything to do with sex we dare no longer be "judgmental".
Look at the non-impeachment of President Clinton. No U.S. President would ever have survived public revelation that he was any of these immoral things I just mentioned, or even a deliberate liar about anything else except sex.
Look at abortion. No one defends killing innocent, defenceless human beings, except for sex. That is what abortion is. The whole purpose of abortion is backup birth control and the whole purpose of birth control is to have sex without babies. If storks brought babies, Planned Parenthood would go broke. Sex is the motor that drives the abortion business.
Look at divorce. Suppose there were some practice that did not involve sex that had the same three scientifically provable effects that divorce has. First, it betrayed your most solemn promise you ever made to the person you said was the most important person in your life. Second, it was child abuse, it maimed your children's psyches, it made a happy life and a happy marriage and family much, much harder for those vulnerable little people you brought into the world and who remained largely dependent on you for their future. Third, it infallibly guaranteed that your society would die, would self destruct. No society in history has ever survived without stable marriages and stable families. It is the one absolutely indispensable foundation of everything else, for it is the first and most intimate way that individuals form communities and emerge from selfishness. But these three things are exactly what divorce does. More than that, it's a form of suicide, the suicide of the new person, the two-in-one-flesh created by marriage. How healthy would you think a society is if half of all its individual citizens committed suicide? But half of our families commit suicide, and society is composed of families, not just of individuals. But divorce is tolerated and accepted because it's about sex. Suppose it was proved that something else, something not connected with sex, had these three effects. For instance, smoking, or single malt scotch, or ferris wheels. You'd have absolute prohibition, not tolerance.
The moral revolution is confined to sex. We are not allowed to steal another man's money without being put into jail, but we can steal another man's wife. You cannot betray your lawyer without being severely penalized, but you can betray your wife, and SHE is severely penalized. You cannot kill bald eagles or blue whales without being a criminal but you can kill your own children as long as you do it a second before the two blades of the scissors meet in the middle of the umbilical cord rather than a second after, or a second before the body emerges from the birth canal rather than a second after. What kind of logic is this?
Obviously the mind behind the Sexual Revolution is not overly attached to logical consistency, and there is little hope of changing the mind that defends that revolution by logical arguments, however infallible they may be. You need more than logic to unscramble the brains of an addict. The argument will find no soil in the brains to grow in because the brains are already scrambled. Do you really think sex addicts can think more clearly than drug addicts? If anything, it's the opposite. Drug addicts don't usually defend their addiction with elaborate rationalizations and new philosophies of moral relativism; sex addicts almost always do. And only about 5-10% of Americans are drug addicts, probably about twice as much as that if we include alcohol. But the vast majority are sex addicts. According to a recent poll, over 50% of the men who attend Church every Sunday are addicted to pornography. That's not 50% of men, or even 50% of Christian man, but 50% of the small, elite cream of the crop who are in church every Sunday. It is a literal epidemic.
Why? Because the heart of the error of the Sexual Revolution is the identifying of love with sex. Christ undoes this fundamental confusion by showing us – not just telling us but showing us – what love is.
The Beatles are right: all you need is love. But not the kind of love they mean. Why is it true that all you need is love? Because God is love, and all you need is God. If you have God plus ten million other things, and if I have God alone, you don't have a single thing more than I do. Love and the lack of love transforms everything else. We'd all rather be in love in Detroit than divorced in Hawaii.
Christianity centers on two equations: God is love, and love is (revealed in) Christ. Look at this second equation. Do you want to know what love is? Look at Christ. I Corinthians 13, the most popular chapter in the Bible, read at nearly ever wedding, is a description of Jesus Christ. It's not an abstract definition of an ideal, it's a concrete description of the historical fact of Jesus Christ. As Pope John Paul II loved to say, Jesus Christ shows man to himself. Without Christ we do not know ourselves. We are like a dog in a cage at the airport who has chewed off his own dog tag with his name and his address. He does not know who he is or where his home is. That's us without Christ. For He's the Mind of God! He designed us, for God's sake. I mean that literally, not profanely: He designed us for God's sake. For the God who is love. But what kind of love? A new and different kind, and that difference was so radical that it converted the world. It wasn't theology that converted the world, it was love. Mother Teresa converted souls without number just by being what she was, a saint, an example of this new love, this total love, this Godlike love.
Jesus predicted that would happen. He said, "By this will all men know that you are my disciples, by the love you have for one another." If that love was something already known, if it was romance or erotic love or liking or compassion or philanthropy or civility or fairness or justice or mercy, all of which are wonderful things, but if that was all it was, if the love Christ was talking about was not radically new and different, then He could not possibly have meant what He said. It would contradict itself. It would mean: "The world will see the difference between you and them by the fact that you all share the same kind of love. They will be able to distinguish My disciples from everybody else by the fact that their kind of love is not different from everybody else's."
It means, of course, exactly the opposite. Our human loves are forms of desire, feeling, eros, need. These need-loves are very good things. Men need women and women need men, physically and spiritually and socially and emotionally and biologically. And children need adults and adults need children. And teachers need students and students need teachers. But the love Christ brings is the love God is, and God does not need anything. God is sheer gift.
That's why Jesus came, and why He died, and why He shed so much blood. He didn't have to. One drop would have saved the world. Why did He give 12 quarts? Because He had 12 quarts to give.
We've already seen how radical the Sexual Revolution is. It's a radical change in behavior, of course, but even more radically, it's a radical change in thinking. And the most radical change in thinking is not an addition but a subtraction. The single most radical result of all the immense amount of sex education that we've had in the last 50 years has been not a new knowledge but a new ignorance: ignorance of the most essential thing about sex, the essential meaning and purpose of sex, the very essence of sex. Sex creates babies. They're not accidents! Pregnancy is not a disease. They're what sex does if you let it do its thing. Sex makes new immortal persons. Sex is incredibly, magically, supernaturally creative because it images the Creator. It's part of the image of God. That's why the first time the Bible mentions "the image of God," in Genesis, it immediately mentions sex: "And God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God created He him: male and female created He them."
We moderns think sex is for us; it isn't; it's for our children. We moderns think we're so enlightened because we're not legalists any more, we're personalists, we're about people, not about laws or rules or commandments. We think of the people who make sex, and we want those people to have fun and be happy. Which is fine, but we're so fixated on the fact that people make sex that we've ignored the fact that sex makes people.
But we've redesigned it so that it doesn't make people any more. We've contracepted it. But since it is God's way of creating, we've contracepted God. That's exactly like redesigning the Mass so that you put a condom over the priest's mouth when he's about to say This Is My Body so that Jesus can't come and create the miracle of transubstantiation, because you don't want that new life, all you want is the thrill of playing at it. That's what contraception is. It's putting a condom on God, putting a barrier or a diaphragm between God and the miracle He might otherwise perform in you.
No official teaching in the Church's 2000 year history, no official document, has ever been so hated, despised, ignored, and disobeyed as Humanae Vitae. What is the most unpopular teaching of the Church today? Nothing comes even close. It's the teaching of the Church about sex that is by far the main reason the world hates and fears the Church today. For the Church is "judgmental" about our society's addiction and real religion. False religion, false gods, can be overcome only by true religion, by the true God.
Humanae Vitae was prophetic. The Pill was a nuclear bomb. It split the atom of the family by splitting the atom of sex, splitting its pleasure from its fruit, its unitive from its procreative end, splitting sex from life.
How does Christ revolutionize the Sexual Revolution? Not by turning back the clock, not by a new Victorianism, not by opposing religion to sex, but by showing their real and profound connection. What is that connection?
It's exactly the opposite of what Freud thought it was. Freud argued that religion is only a poor substitute for sex. Christ shows that sex is a poor substitute for religion, for real religion, that is, a kind of religion Freud knew nothing about. Freud thought love was a substitute for lust. Christ knew that lust was a substitute for love. If Freud were right, it would follow that the more sex you have the less religion you want, so that happily married people who have a lot of happy sex would become atheists. It doesn't happen. The predictions are not verified. The data falsify the theory. Sexually active people don't become atheists. Even in college. The college hookup culture has turned colleges into free whore houses, a randy man's impossible dream. But even these men, and certainly their free whores, are not happy atheists. They're neither atheists nor happy. Satisfying their sexual hunger is not satisfying their spiritual hunger any more than it did for St. Augustine. It looks as if God isn't a poor substitute for sex but sex is a poor substitute for God.
Sex is close to religion because the ultimate end and center and point of all true religion is a spiritual marriage to God. That's what we are designed for, that's the only thing that will keep us in unbored ecstasy for ever. That's what the Bible says. The last event in human history, at the end of the Apocalypse, is the marriage between the Lamb and His bride, Christ and His Church, God and man. That's the end, point, purpose, highest value, greatest good, meaning, consummation and perfection of human life.
Why is sex such a thrill? Because it's one of the few things in life that's like that. It's literally an ecstasy – the word means "standing-outside-yourself", self-forgetfulness, self-transcendence, the overcoming of that hidden inner loneliness that every one of us brings into the world with that wonderful and terrible little word "I". The "I" is restless until it becomes a "We". And ultimately, that's because God is a "We".
It's not the physical excitement that's the greatest excitement in sex, it's the personal excitement of knowing that this other person has accepted you into his or her inner sanctum, body and soul. It's the intimacy, the oneness, the we-ness, when we know that the one we love loves us, when the two streams of loving and being loved meet like two beams of light becoming one, or two rivers of volcanic lava blending. The two really do become one, and paradoxically, in that one moment when they are the most totally lost in each other, each one discovers the deepest secret of his and her own individuality. At what other moment do lovers attain the peak of their individual fulfillment if not at that moment when they are the most totally lost in each other? Why does that happen? Because that's what God is: and that's why that's the ultimate law of life: the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, that that's the only way it lives. You lose your life, and that's the only way to find it. You give, and that's the only way to receive. You forget yourself, and that's the only way to find yourself. It's a kind of mystical absentmindedness. You become the other, without ceasing to be yourself.
There are other peak experiences in life that can give you some of that thrill, that are similar to sex, but they are usually much weaker and rarer. Great music, for instance, or surfing a great wave. But God designed sex to be the #1 way. That's why He didn't design babies to come from listening to Beethoven or from hanging ten in the tube.
In short, by God's design in creating us, we are hardwired for the spiritual marriage, for becoming one with God; that's why we are so thrilled at becoming one with each other, as the images of God. As we are images of God, the sexual union is an image of union with God. It is an appetizer of Heaven, a faint image of the Beatific Vision.
St. Thomas Aquinas says: "No man can live without joy" (i.e. without ecstasy, which is much more than happiness, because happiness can be somewhat under your control and therefore boring, but joy is always a gift and a surprise). Aquinas continues: "No man can live without joy; that is why those who are deprived of true, spiritual joys, necessarily go over to carnal pleasures." The origin of the Sexual Revolution is religious. The Revolution could not have happened without the loss of true religion, the loss of spiritual joy, the loss of religious passion, the passionate love of God. The Revolution could not have happened without that, and also without the Pill, of course, which allows us to have sex without consequences and lifelong responsibilities. We have given up the two deepest, longest, greatest joys, the eternity-long love of God and the lifelong love of spouse and family and children, the two joys that come from the most total self-giving, the radical adventure of holding back nothing; and we've given these up these two great dramatic things for what? For the shallower, temporary, smaller pleasures that are so small because they have to hold back something, hold back total self-giving which includes fertility and family and future and commitment. These are crazy adventures. What a crazy adventure kids are! Having fits is less crazy than having kids. And we are bored and therefore unhappy because we are hardwired for the all-or-nothing, wild, total romance and all we find is some cool, controlled kicks.
So we lie. We pretend we are happy. Our most basic social liturgy is "How are you?" And the answer has to be "Fine," even if your dog just died, your mother in law is coming to live with you forever, your kids think you're a dork, and your wife is collecting the phone numbers of divorce lawyers. We're all fine.
If we're all fine, how come the suicide rate for teenagers rose 5000 per cent between 1950 and 1990? What could possibly be a more unarguable index of increasing unhappiness than that?
And how does Jesus Christ answer that? What does Christ have to do with the Sexual Revolution and its causes and its consequences? Everything. Because Christ alone gives us intimacy with God, and that's the thing the Sexual Revolution is looking for but doesn't know it. As Chesterton said, When the adulterer knocks on the door of the brothel, he's really looking for a cathedral.
Therefore Christ alone is the answer to the Sexual Revolution. Because nobody else gives us intimacy with God.
What I've given you is the essential point of John Paul II's Theology of the Body. That is the Church's answer to the Sexual Revolution. The Church always responds to new heresies with new definitions, new insights, new restatements of eternal truths. How important is this response? As important as the Sexual Revolution. The importance of St. George depends on the importance of the dragon. The importance of Dr. Von Helsing depends on the importance of Dracula.
And how important is the dragon, or the Dracula of the Sexual Revolution? Well, that depends on how important the family is, for exactly the same reason: because the Revolution is doing a Dracula on the family.
And how important is the family? It is only the foundation for all human society, and the source of the greatest human happiness (and, when messed up, the greatest human unhappiness), because it is the image of God. God is not a lonely individual. God is a family.
I think the family is even more important to God than doctrinal orthodoxy, because the family is the very image and presence of God among us. Islam and Mormonism are both theological heresies, but they are multiplying faster than Christianity, and God is blessing them because Mormons and Muslims today are much more faithful than Christians are to their families, to sexual morality, to marriage, and to procreation.
Muslims tried to conquer Christian Europe for 13 centuries with the sword, and failed; they are succeeding now with a far more powerful weapon: mothers. They are having children and families, and Christians aren't. Therefore God is giving them Europe because they deserve it and we don't.
This is outrageous because neither Muhammad nor Joseph Smith is the answer to the Sexual Revolution. Christ is. He does not just teach the Big Picture, as the Pope does; He IS the big picture. He does not just teach us the Word of God about sex, he IS the Word of God about sex. He does not merely teach the spiritual marriage, He IS the spiritual marriage. He is the whole meaning and end and point and consummation of sex, and of our whole lives, in this world and in the next. He is the Mind of God, He is the inventor of sex the icon and the mediator of the Heavenly ecstasy, the mystical marriage, of which it is the icon. To know Him is to know the meaning of all things. Outside of Him, we do not know God, or ourselves, or the meaning of life, or the meaning of death, or the meaning of sex.
There is more than that to say about a Christian anthropology and about a Christian philosophy of sex. Many more things than this are needed. But nothing less.
CDs of the The Catholic Medical Association's 79th Annual Educational Conference are available here.
Transcribed and printed here with permission of the author.
Photo: Kwan Choo, ARPS
Peter Kreeft, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at Boston College. He is an alumnus of Calvin College (AB 1959) and Fordham University (MA 1961, Ph.D., 1965). He taught at Villanova University from 1962-1965, and has been at Boston College since 1965.
He is the author of sixty-five books and counting, including: The God Who Loves You: Love Divine, All Loves Excelling, The Snakebite Letters, The Philosophy of Jesus, The Journey: A Spiritual Roadmap for Modern Pilgrims, Prayer: The Great Conversation: Straight Answers to Tough Questions About Prayer, How to Win the Culture War: A Christian Battle Plan for a Society in Crisis, Love Is Stronger Than Death, Philosophy 101 by Socrates: An Introduction to Philosophy Via Plato's Apology, A Pocket Guide to the Meaning of Life, and Before I Go: Letters to Our Children About What Really Matters. Peter Kreeft in on the Advisory Board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.
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