These days, we could use a lot more Puritan wisdom….
This week there will be a vote on the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court of the United States. The whole process has been a mess. I have lots of thoughts on the drama that has been going on, but first I want to use this media circus to point some things out to a world struggling with concerns of sexual harrassment, sexual assault and improper behavior in general.
I grew up in a conservative Christian home. My dad was (later in life) a United Methodist pastor. My family taught me propriety. To treat women with respect. My grandma Leap explained the process with a unique combination of molassess cookies and forsythia switches. It worked. I respected her and miss her to this day. I respected my mother. I loved her with all my heart and had no desire to ever disrespect or hurt her, either physically or emotionally. My father expected me to treat my family with respect. This didn’t have to be spoken forcefully. It was the undertone of my life.
Some of this was cultural; Appalachia is a place of longstanding norms of behavior. Respect for the women in our lives was one of those things. Yes ma’am. No ma’am. Normal stuff. Also, keep your hands off your girlfriend outside hand-holding, kisses and hugs. ‘Make room for Jesus’ (that is, between your bodies) we tell our daughter to this day. We knew our girlfriends’ dads were watching too. We were respectful; and fearful. Were there violations and outliers? Sure. But this was the general message.
Some of this was religious. Christianity teaches us that sexual purity outside marriage is important. Mind you, sometimes we take this too far. We make sexual morality the end all, the raison d’etre of being a Christian. That’s not true and it’s not an accurate depiction of the Gospel at all. Christianity (and Judaism) emphasize sexual morality for several reasons. An emphasis on sex within marriage serves as a defense against objectification, against being used and discarded, against children without fathers and against diseases like STD’s and depression. Furthermore, an overemphasis on sex is like any other idolatry. We can see this in our culture as people focus on sex to the detriment and negelect of mind, heart, even body as they engage in risky behaviors that put their bodies at risk.
To circle back, sexual morality was not random and was not meant to repress but to protect and elevate.
The sexual revolution turned all that upside down. And since that time we have, as a culture, scoffed at sexual morality. Sexual morality has been deemed repressive, regressive, old-fashioned, fundamentalist, boring, prudish, Puritanical and any number of other pejoratives. We have been taught that any sex, any time, with anyone who agreed was ‘just natural.’ In the process we have created movies, art, music, television, books, magazines, websites and now an entire Internet domain (.xxx) that all elevate sex to the highest possible plane. As if we live to copulate and little else. As if our new ‘raison d’etre’ is the assorted insertion of tab A into slot B, or various permutations of A and B.
Watch movies. Popular comedies, teen comedies, romances, coming of age movies. All sex, all the time. However, whenever, whoever, whereever. Unless of course someone says no, obviously. It became a theme in teen movies. The theme was, ‘everybody who is anybody is having sex and if you aren’t having sex there is something seriously wrong with you.’ sells.
If you need further evidence, pornography is absolutely everywhere; and it’s remarkably addictive and well known to be bad for relationships. (No, I’m not suggesting we ban it; that’s a fool’s errand. I’m suggesting we recognize the danger for what it is.)
Well people got the message. Sexual activity rose and teen pregnancy rose and STD’s rose. And abortion rose and goes on.
And now, of course, I’ll try to bring this in for a landing. We find ourselves (well, some people find themselves wondering) if a nominee for the Supreme Court might have attempted to rape someone when he was in high school. Teens, alone, unsupervised, possibly marinated in alcohol and raised on the public lie that sex was the most amazing, transcendent, important, essential experience of all. Children of the sexual revolution.
The problem has changed a little today as we enter an age in which sexual activity requires continual, step-by-step verbal (and doubtless eventually written) consent. ‘May I touch here now?’ (Like ee cummings’ poem, ‘May i feel said he.’ ) All of this because it appears that men are all rapists and women (brought up in an era of equality and civil rights) are all perpetual victims.
When we mad, moralistic theists said God called us to sexual morality there were howls of laughter and derision. When modern men and women say that social justice, or women’s rights, or feminism, the dangers of ‘the patriarchy’ or anything else calls us to sexual morality? ‘Why of course it does!’ And we are beset with more rules, and far more repressive rules, than any conceive by the best Biblical moralist whose concern was essentially simple: that we confine sex to marriage.
I don’t know what Kavanaugh did or didn’t do. I have grave concerns about the way this drama has unfolded, about its timing and the mob mentality.
But I am also worried that this could lead to many worse scenarios, not the least of which is that any crime committed by a teen, of any gravity, must necessarily exclude him or her from public life forever. There is no punishment and redemption, no rehabilitation, no grace, no hope. This is bad for everyone. Male, female, black, white, young, old, etc. And one need not approve of rape or assault to see the danger.
I like the old ways, the ‘Puritanical’ ways, the Christian ways in which we treated sexuality as a holy thing, a treasured thing and in which we protected men and women from one another by means of rules and laws. I like the idea of teens being chaparoned. I like the idea of sex only in marriage. These things, whether revelation or tradition, provided safety and stability.
Sadly, we mock them even as we are shocked by sexual aggression. As C. S. Lewis said ‘In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.’ (From The Abolition of Man.)
Morality, sexual morality, has a place. Not as a weapon but as a guidepost.
The Kavanaugh mess should remind us of that, if nothing else.