While journeying through the stages on life’s way, one indication you’re progressing from one stage to another is a sense of awakening. In my mid-twenties, I almost spontaneously was able to recognize that the morality of the church was lagging way behind the social consciousness. It’s like I woke up one day to find that I was fighting on the wrong side of the war. One of the great disappointments for me as a Christian is that the church isn’t taking a more active role in breaking barriers. The biggest obstacle is Christianity’s recognition of the Bible as the ultimate authority, which understandably creates ambivalence when it comes to social change. If anything, the evolution of the Bible’s ethics demonstrates an unfolding social consciousness that ends somewhere in the New Testament, creating a closed system for growth. Christian values in themselves may be timeless, but to take specific views of society from thousands of years ago and apply them now is anachronistic, to say the least, if not outright troubling.
The reaction of the Catholic Church to Margaret A. Farley’s book “Just Love, a Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics” is a perfect example of fossilized morality. The Catholic Church responded by saying that her writings manifest a “defective understanding of the objective nature of natural moral law.” Specifically, the Vatican rejected her views on four subjects, masturbation, homosexual acts, homosexual unions and remarriage after divorce.
Before I respond to the quotes that caught my attention from the Reuters article, I just want to say that I’m curious why the church still wants to be the conscience when it comes to an individual’s sexuality. I’m not a psychologist, but when an institution adopts rigid views of something as individual as sex, the perfect breeding ground (couldn’t help it) for shame and sexual repression is created. Just like spirituality itself, sex is something that has to be worked out by the individual and everyone’s boundaries and tolerances are going to be different. To me, it’s comparable to the church enjoining people to go to the bathroom according to its standards. In some ways, sex seems very simple. It’s just people trying to give pleasure to each other. On the other hand, it can be deeply emotional and intimate, not to mention that it has the potential to pass on disease, lead to unwanted pregnancy and even leave some people feeling exploited. Sexual infidelity obviously can be devastating and tear families apart. But if I do have any gratitude to the church for its views on sex, it’s for that sense of the forbidden that can even be extended into marriage. Almost everybody craves that which is forbidden, so at least denominations that prefer to quiet and repress sexuality offer their members an easily accessible guilty pleasure.
Quotes from Routers:
Farley writes that masturbation, particularly in the case of women, “usually does not raise any moral questions at all” and that it “actually serves relationships rather than hindering them.”
The Vatican said the Church teaches that masturbation is “an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.”
My biggest issue with what Farley wrote is the “particularly in the case of women.” My little boy was practically born with his penis in his hand. But seriously, can you imagine a world where nobody masturbated? What an angry world it would be. Think of how many times sheets would have to be changed when guys have their wet dreams. Obviously, men’s semen has to be released one way or another. I’ve met athletes who purposely don’t have sex or masturbate before a big game so that they’ll be meaner. Aging men have been known to buy Viagra to fuel their solo missions. I’m also no doctor, but I’ve read that a steady stream of sexual release protects men against cancer (an orgasm a day keeps the prostate safe?). It seems that pretty well all women have some type of vibration device. The main issue in marriage, as Farley pointed out, is that it can be difficult for people’s need for a sexual release to coincide with one’s partner all the time, leaving one to deal with the pressure on his or her own. This is a case of masturbation contributing to the relationship by insulating against resentment.
I also want to point something out: if everybody does it, how can it be a gravely disordered action? I don’t even think the Bible mentions masturbation at all. This is a personal choice and an unnecessary discipline that I wouldn’t recommend for anyone.
Farley writes that “same-sex oriented persons as well as their activities can and should be respected.” The Vatican notification reminded her that while homosexual tendencies are not sinful, homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered [and] contrary to the natural law.”
Sorry, if you’re homosexual, no intimacy for you. You can have the feelings – just don’t act on them. Maybe it’s better to get married to the opposite gender and pretend. That way you can have a miserable existence that’s holy in the eyes of the Lord and drag your spouse down with you. This is a clear case of the Catholic Church lagging behind the social consciousness. Personally, I don’t understand why it would be considered immoral for two people of the same gender to get together on their own terms. Is it because of biology? Well, there is plenty of evidence that other species do it naturally in the wild. People’s freedom to be who they are is a much bigger moral issue in this world right now than homosexuality.
Farley writes that homosexual marriage can help reduce hatred, rejection and stigmatization of gays. The Church opposes gay marriage.
The Vatican said Farley’s positions “are in direct contradiction with Catholic teaching in the field of sexual morality” and warned the faithful that her book “is not in conformity with the teaching of the Church.”
From what I’ve studied, people who have long-term committed relationships are physically younger and healthier than people who are solitary and lead promiscuous lifestyles. It’s physically hard on people who go from partner to partner, even if they profess to be more sexually satisfied. If this is the case, why would the church be opposed to two people committing to each other and demonstrating that their relationship is just as nurturing and fulfilling as different sex marriages? Farley is correct to think that marriages for same sex couples will reduce the hatred, rejection and stigmatization they receive, maybe because it would be very difficult to paint them as sexual deviants anymore. This is another example of secular society’s morals being more evolved than those of the church, and it is saddening that scriptural adherence is more important than social justice, equality and compassion.
As to the question of people getting remarried being adulterers, it’s hardly worth a rebuttal. People get divorced for many reasons, and to not pick one’s self up and try again would be a full-fledged surrender in my opinion. If there is one ethic I think we all should follow, it’s to always do our best to get back on that horse. We can’t let fossilized morality stop us from making the most of the time we have been given and sexuality is something we have to wrestle with and enjoy according to our own consciences. We pay the price for our decisions, so we should have no problem claiming ownership for them.
Perhaps someday, we’ll see the church back off from sexuality and leave people to work it out on their own. “We the church believe that it is moral and right that people nurture their sexuality according to their own consciences providing their behavior honors the golden rule and the laws of the state.”
This doesn’t mean that the church should ignore sexuality altogether. It’s a huge part of a person’s life and a contributing factor in one’s spirituality. As I said above, the church should just stop trying to being people’s conscience when it comes to their intimate lives and take on more of a supportive role. The way I think the church should support people’s sexuality will be the subject of my next post.