This is my column in yesterday’s Greenville News. A direct link requires a subscription, so I reprinted it here.
Being ‘hung up’ about sex isn’t so horrible
One of the chief objections to Christianity is that it meddles in people’s personal lives. This is a curious objection, in some ways. Christianity has fairly little to say about food or drink, except to advocate moderation. And very little to say about clothing, except that modesty is appropriate. It’s silent on computers and automobiles. And it generally advocates discipline couched in love where children are concerned.
What its detractors mean often comes down to this: ‘Christianity has something to say about sex, and we don’t like it one bit.’ Typically, one hears that Christians are prudes and spoiled-sports, ranging across the earth, shutting down sexual pleasure wherever we locate it. Of course, higher birth rates among evangelical Protestants and Catholics seem to suggest either a staggering number of virgin births, or a tendency to, well, you know.
If we’re hung up on sex as Christians, we’re certainly no more so than a world filled with sexual images and activities. However, I think the world at large is less ‘hung-up’ than heedless and selfish when it comes to the thing it seems to value above all else.
I could delve into STD’s and their terrible effects. But I think on some level few people really care. It’s like your parents telling you about terrible car crash injuries when you drive. ‘Sure, but not me!’
However, there’s more than STD’s to show us why we should be more careful in our valuation of sex. I read an article online recently. It was an advice column for young singles. A woman wrote about her concern that a young man whom she had met (and promptly taken to bed), had not called her for several days after their initial meeting . The columnist was aghast that she was so uptight. As if, after sleeping together, she shouldn’t expect anything at all in terms of connection. Sex as a kind of post-modern handshake.
Not surprising. The idea that one can simply have a casual, sexual relationship with no emotional connection or support is a common theme in movies and television. Actress Mila Kunis, of the movie ‘Friends with Benefits,’ was asked if she thought such a relationship was possible. Her answer was insightful: ‘It’s like communism; good in theory, but in execution it fails.’
Despite the ‘theory’ society clings to, there has been fascinating research on the emotional and chemical connections that result from sex. Still, our society continues to treat it as a thing with no repercussion and precious little value.
I agree that the Church down the ages has sometimes done a poor job teaching about sex and sexuality. Many young people were taught nothing at all about sex, except that it was wicked. That was to their detriment and the shame of their parents and clergy. Odd teaching, since the Bible is full of sex, and not just warnings about it.
But far worse, the world at large was, and is, mindless about sex. If the church is too careful, it is only because sex is too important to be handled poorly. Sex not only produces us, as it were. It connects us. It not only connects us, it chemically addicts us to one another for good reasons.
Sex is a thing of enormous power. It has brought down kingdoms (and governorships, more close to home). It has united powerful families. Sex has caused murders and assassinations, sealed marriages and ended them. It has led to children and to the murder of children through abortion. It has given us literature and sculpture, both elevated and base. It has given us beautiful love stories and terrible song lyrics.
But it is no trifle. If the Church has been ‘hung up,’ the world has been reckless and irresponsible The Church has at least tried to teach us that sex has consequences more grave and wonderful than the physical, while the world has tried to teach us that it is a worthless thing, devalued and diminished once the conquest and pleasure have passed.
Some may call this right-wing, conservative clap-trap. But an epidemic of depression and anxiety in young men and women testify to the pain of connections made and broken. The markers of the dead, lost to HIV, also disagree. And generations of young, poor children with no fathers and scarcely any mothers all testify to the misuse and abuse of one of the most wonderful, and powerful, forces in the world.
Maybe it’s not so bad to be ‘hung-up’ after all.