[ CathNews Discussion Board ]
    Reclaiming the moral high ground on human sexuality III
    Posted by BrianC on November 22, 2002, 6:35 am

Further to my previous posts trying to "break apart" the difficulties the Church seems to be experiencing in getting her message across in the matters of human sexuality...

I had written previously: "In my next post I would like to break apart further what I have written here to discuss the purely temporal considerations concerning the consequences of sexual acts. What I am endeavouring to do in approaching the subject in this way is to leave standing in stark relief the considerations which, it seems to me, ARE important in the theological realm."

Looking at the AIDS epidemic causing so much devastation in the world today, and particularly in the third world, I cannot see how any person could not be drawn to the conclusion that any society, for its own protection, does need to create laws, social customs, taboos or rites of passage that place some curb on the unrestrained human sexual urge. I would argue that such laws, customs, taboos or rites of passage need not necessarily be derived from any theological law or moral law. They are purely the same sort of "necessary law" as any society needs someone to lay down a definitive rule as to whether, in this place, we are going to drive on the right hand side or the left hand side of the road. In the natural order of sexuality we can observe from other species, as well as from what goes on in reproduction at the inanimate or less biologically sophisticated levels of the cosmos that there are a set of "rules" that operate to regulate the reproduction, transmission, and evolution of new life.

One could argue that, at the natural level, it is self-evident that there is some sort of hierarchy of laws and rules that operate at the biological, chemical and, in the higher primates and species, at the emotional level that tend to bring order into the business of how life is organised and how it reproduces itself.

What I have written in the foregoing paragraph might seem to be self-evident and some might question why in the dickens I have wasted the energy on making such glaringly obvious observations.

Going back to the very beginning of where I am "coming from" in my arguments, I remind myself, that my ultimate quest is two-fold: (a) in trying to understand what my ultimate purpose, and destination, is as a spiritual being; and (b) in trying to understand the "manner" or "way" or "the rules" by which, or through which, I – the individual – reach the things mentioned in (a). At the society-wide level, the Church exists principally as an organisation to assist the individual, and the community, to discern what (a) and (b) are.

I do not believe it is self-evident to a lot of people, either in the Church or in wider society, that there is a significant difference between the laws, social customs, taboos or rites of passage that a society might need at the purely temporal and social level to organise its affairs and the higher level theological and moral imperatives that a sophisticated human person might need who has begun to discern that life in fact does have such a thing as a "theological or moral objective". It is self-evident in society that many people simply would not have a clue that they in fact have a "theological or moral objective". Just go out into a shopping centre and ask a few people: "do you have a theological or moral objective?" If most of them didn't punch you on the nose, they would certainly look at you in a funny way for even asking such a question. Young children, for example, would not understand what the question even meant. It takes time as a human being to begin to appreciate that life does have a "higher purpose" simply than eating, sleeping, farting, belching, and smiling in the way a baby does.

As I said in the second paragraph, what I am gradually trying to do in this series of posts is arrive at the place where the "laws, social customs, taboos or rites of passage" that are important in the theological sense are standing in stark relief to even the most unsophisticated individual.

There is so much to write about on this subject and, in this series of posts, I am trying to condense down a whole lot of complex thinking to draw out particular general points. In this post, the general point I am trying to make is that the human family generally recognises the need that we all have to regulate our sexual behaviours. One doesn't need any "high falutin'" morality or "what God says" to come into the equation as to why this needs to be so. Society recognises that there are health considerations, and that children require a long period of nurture if they are to fully achieve their potentials as adult individuals and as citizens.

In one of my earlier posts I wrote: <<The Church ought to give itself a medal that it has managed to so successfully screw up holistic thinking about the relationships between men and women and turn it into a power play to such an extent that common sense has flown right out the door for millions of people across the face of the earth. Through our own feelings of self-loathing and guilt we have turned millions of people away from being able to see their maleness and femaleness in a balanced and holistic way.

Some people grasp onto rules and worship them as though they are God Himself. The rules are not God. They are a means by which we can start to plumb the depths of the Mystery that is God. It is God who is worshipped not the rules by which we might reach into the Mystery.

Rather than giving people guilty consciences and great long lists of thou shalt nots, we need a new list of what thou shalt do in the spirit with which Christ approached his work. Instead of giving fear-filled lessons on the negative sides of sex, why is the Church not leading the world in showing people how to express their God-given sexuality and love in the fullest of ways, including positive lessons about the sexual acts themselves? Yes, there are things we need to be careful of regarding this at times frighteningly powerful passion that lives within each of us but, at the same time, there is much of the Divine and stuff that is wholesome and good in this most beautiful of the human attributes. This is not a call to laissez faire attitudes or indifference, neither is it a call to deny that there is a sixth commandment. It is call to all of us to get all the commandments into a much more holistic and balanced perspective.>>

What I am trying to do in this series of posts is approach the sixth commandment issues from a completely new direction. I am arguing that most people do not need the Church screaming down their necks what God might think about the way they use their sexuality. Those things can be discerned from other places without the need to drag God, theology, or morality into the equation. They can be arrived at from common sense. What I would argue is that one of the reasons why "common sense" has been abandoned in large sectors of society (illustrated, for example, by the scale of the AIDS epidemic) has been because some people and particularly the Catholic Church have been trying to beat the world over the head with an overly sophisticated theological argument when they would have done far better to have argued the case merely at the level of common sense.

In my next post on this subject I am going to try and explore the places where the theological arguments ARE important. I believe the Church does need to recapture control of the discussion that goes on in society about human sexuality but not as a "power thing" for herself but because the human sexuality question is connected somehow intimately to the very highest objectives of what "being human" is all about. Quite apart from all the mundane questions and regulations that a society needs in place for its own good about sexual behaviours, what I am arguing, is that there are also a separate set of moral or theological imperatives that do need to be treated quite distinctly. Grahame Fallon directs our attention to this is his frequent references to our need for "an apprenticeship in self-mastery". In the next part of the discussion I hope we might be able to explore this more.

What I will be arguing is that if the Church is really serious about seizing back "the moral high ground" in civilisation she needs (a) to move much of debate about human sexuality back down to the level of "common sense" or "common law" and, (b) at the same time, she does need to delineate far more clearly the sorts of things that Grahame (and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin) would point us to where questions concerning our sexual nature do rightly, and necessarily, intersect very directly with our theological nature (ie our relationship to the spiritual or Divine order). The ground has become muddy for too many people.

I do want to make a couple of other practical points in this post but I will post them as an addendum to this main argument.

    Posted by BrianC on November 22, 2002, 7:17 am

    As I was writing the previous post there were two further thoughts that kept coming to my attention. I have decided to deal with them as an addendum.

    The first point I would like to make is that one of the most important reasons why a sea-change in thinking on human sexuality needs to take place has been forced by the enormous change that has occurred in female self-understanding of sexuality in the last half century. This change has been momentous and has largely occurred through developments in human medical and scientific knowledge. The changes have radically altered the thought processes through which women certainly, and by extension, men now have to think about their sexual relations with one another. Basically, we (society and the Church) need to recognise that women have been "liberated" to be able to enjoy sex in a way that is very similar to the way which was once almost the exclusive preserve of men. I have covered this matter in previous posts some time ago and I do not want to go into it in detail again here save to say that I believe society (and the Church) need to welcome this gift, which I believe is of Divine origin, that has been opened up to women through the developments in human self-understanding and through scientific and medical advances. The lives of both women and men have been enormously enhanced in the last half century by these developments. I do think it is helpful if we do recognise them as a development that does have a Divine dimension. It is not some product of Satanic or evil forces at work in the Cosmos but it is a product of the life-giving Divine or force for good in the Cosmos.

    The second point I make comes from an interesting book I have been reading over recent weeks. It is a New Age-type writing by one Dr Caroline Myss entitled "Anatomy of the Spirit – The Seven Stages of Power and Healing". The blurb on the back of the book summarises what she is writing in this way: "Anatomy of the Spirit also presents Dr Myss's long-awaited model of the body's seven centres of spiritual and physical power in which she synthesizes the ancient wisdom of three spiritual traditions – the Hindu chakras, the Christian sacraments and the Kabbalah's Tree of Life."

    I won't try and explain Dr Myss's work much beyond that but offer the comment that I find some of her insights quite stunning and a whole new way of looking at ourselves as spiritual, physical and sexual beings. I believe the Church might profitably benefit from some of the insights she is putting forward. The particular paragraph that attracted my attention late last night that led to this third post I've written in sexuality was this:


    As a fourth chakra culture, we have language of intimacy that is now based upon wounds. Before the 1960s acceptable conversation consisted mainly of the exchange of information about first, second and third chakra issues: names, places of origin, work, and hobbies. Rarely would someone reveal details of his or her sexual desires or the depths of his or her psychological or emotional torment. Our culture was not yet comfortable with this level of discussion, and we lacked the vocabulary for it.

    Since becoming a fourth chakra culture, however, we have become therapuetically fluent, in the process creating a new language of intimacy that I call 'woundology'. We now use the relevation and exchange of our wounds as the substance of conversation, indeed, as the glue that binds a relationship. We have become so good at this, in fact, that we have converted our wounds into a type of 'relationship currency' that we use in order to control situations and people. The countless support groups for helping people work through their histories of abuse, incest, addiction, and battering, to name a few, serve only to enhance woundology as our contemporary language of intimacy. Within the setting of these well-meaning support groups, members receive – often for the first time – much needed validation for the injury they endured. The outpouring of compassion from attentive group members feels like a long, cold drink of water on a hot, dry day.>>

    I quote that passage because, it seems to me, to sum up something of the sea-change in the thinking paradigm that our society is going through within which we make sense of not only our sexuality and our relationships to others, it is part of the new, and very different way in which many in the more educated and socially sophisticated parts of Western society are also beginning to re-evaluate their relationship with God the Mystery or the Divine. I do not think the Church understands enough perhaps because of the constraints that have been placed on her through a centuries' long leadership operating out of a largely sexless or, at least, a celibate culture where the sexual urges have necessarily needed to be suppressed the enormous changes going on in the thinking of ordinary men and women regarding their sexual and emotional relationships with one another. It might be argued that many mistakes are being made by those ordinary men and women as this unfolding has been taking place. Rather than assisting them in this process though, sadly the Church has been seen more as a hindrance or an enemy than as an ally. What needs to emphasised here is that I am not thinking here of the more liberal, licentious or promiscuous sectors of society but I am thinking of the developments in thinking that have been going on in the minds of the ordinary men and women trying to form stable relationships and a nurturing/caring family environment for their children.