The Catholic Thing
Lust, Language, and the Un-Level Playing Field Print E-mail
By Randall Smith   
Thursday, 20 June 2013

I suggested in a previous column ( “Robot Sex”) that contraception has changed the way people think about sex. Instead of a conjugal union between a man and woman open to new life, the word “sex” now often signifies any sort of sexual stimulation, even self-stimulation. Using this new parlance, you can, for example, say you had “virtual sex” with a “virtual woman.” Speaking this way, however, bends the language beyond recognition; it makes no more sense than saying I used my virtual hammer to drive a virtual nail. Try getting a job as a carpenter with that on your resume. 

When a person using a “virtual” hammer on “virtual” nails insists he is “building a house,” then he and an actual carpenter won’t be using the same language anymore. They won’t, for example, be able to sit down and share stories about “building things” the way, say, two carpenters, one who builds houses and another who builds furniture, will. The latter two understand two different sorts of “building”; the computer guy understands only a pale simulacrum of the actual thing. 

So too with what many people today consider to be “sex.” It’s merely an odd simulacrum of actual, full-bodied sex. I swing my little toy hammer, and I call it “hammering.” Is it? A real carpenter would say, “Get yourself some nails, kid, and then start building something.  That’s hammering.” Hammering, for a real carpenter, isn’t an end unto itself; it’s a means to some other end: to making something, like a house or a table. In a similar way, you can imagine an adult who’s had real sex, upon listening to the descriptions of what young people today often call sex – that sterile, contraceptive activity – saying: “That’s not sex, any more than play hammering is hammering. Use some actual nails, kid, and make something!”  

Modern people say odd things like: “What? Children? Why would they be involved in sex?” But that’s a little like saying: “What? Nails? Building something? Why would those be involved in hammering?” The actual carpenter could only scratch his head: “What are they teaching kids these days?”

I teach theology, and the questions I get asked most often have to do with Church teachings on sex. One often hears the criticism that the Catholic Church is “obsessed” with sex to the detriment of its other moral teachings. I teach social justice, and I would love to be asked about the Church’s teachings on private property and the universal destination of the earth’s resources. But students don’t. 

The Church isn’t obsessed with sex – it has a vast and rich moral tradition that covers everything from politics to the powers of the soul. It’s Americans who are obsessed. Indeed, “sex ed” is the only class any of my students have been given to prepare them for adulthood. There are no classes on “marital ed,” or how to finance a house, or get insurance. Naturally, the only thing my students think adults think about is sex: how to do it, when to do, and why can’t they do it when and where and with whom they want to do it.

           Bratz dolls: marketed to  “over-8s”

Most of the students (and plenty of adults for that matter) who ask me about the Church’s teaching aren’t exactly looking for moral guidance; they usually want to know how the Church can teach the crazy things she teaches. Not about the Trinity or the Incarnation or the Sacraments, of course – in such matters, people are permitted to believe in any crazy thing they want, whether it’s angels, Hindu gods, or UFOs. 

No, my questioners want to know how we Catholics can hold such outrageous ideas about abortion, contraception, and same-sex marriage, and about these things they are much less tolerant of what they consider to be aberrant views. Tell people you believe in the plant god Vege-Nu, and you’re fine. Inform them calmly you think contraception isn’t helpful to a marriage, and you’ll be thought a dangerous lunatic in need of confinement and medical care.

When I’m asked such questions, I’m not exactly operating on a level playing field. On the opposing team, we have the big “front four” running interference: the constant spur of adolescent passion; constant media bombardment with images of easy-going, uncommitted sex;  the never-ending, relentless force of peer pressure; and a cultural environment that finds any and all expression of “moral” boundaries “uncool” and “unacceptable. And on the other side, me, with about four or five minutes before the attention wanders. And I’m supposed to keep these kids from scoring? 

Let’s be clear what we’re up against here: a well-funded intellectual and corporate juggernaut dedicated to making billions selling things to our children by detaching them from the boundaries and limits that families and wisdom traditions have traditionally imparted, so that they can goad their passions into uncontrolled bouts of purchasing life-style items that these young people are convinced will give them a certain sense of belonging within the largely “rootless” and “homeless” culture in which they currently reside.

If parents want teachers to be able to compete against the forces that threaten the welfare of their children, they’re going to have to level that playing field a bit. There’s very little chance of the Church getting even the most basic sort of hearing from adolescents who have never been required to curb their passions, have little or no experience of the real joys of civilized “adult” companionship, and whose minds and passions have been systematically skewed in favor of certain powerful, intellectual, and corporate interests insisting that, in the end, it all comes down to this:  People want what they want; why shouldn’t they have it?

Next time I’ll suggest why this is not the right question to ask, and why it’s a mistake to try to answer it.                      

Randall B. Smith is Professor at the University of St. Thomas, where he has recently been appointed to the Scanlan Chair in Theology.
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Comments (7)Add Comment
written by Ib, June 20, 2013
Good set up, Dr. Smith, but we'll have to wait till "next time" to hear the punch line.

In the meantime, I'd like to point out that although you may be faced with "the big 'front four'," it's not only you facing off. It's you as a representative of the God who created these young students. And they have been created with "hearts restless, until they rest in" their Creator (St. Augustine, Confessions, Lib 1,1-2,2.5,5: CSEL 33, 1-5). It's helpful to recall 2 Kings 6:13-17 as well. Your words may have no visible effect in the now, but with God's grace, they will in the future. To return to. St. Augustine, recall how long it took for him to come around, even with a saint as his mother!

So if it were really entirely up to you to overcome the world in the lives of these students, there would be no hope. But the good news is that its not up to you, except as a representative of He who has overcome the world.

May God continue to bless your work! I'll be waiting for the punch line, though ...
written by Deacon Ed Peitler, June 20, 2013
In my counseling of young people - usually in their late 20's and 30's who typically come to see me because of a 'failed-up' relationship, I typically ask them a few pointed questions...

#1 Were you having sexual intercourse with the person who's broken off the relationship?
#2 How many men (women) have you had sexual intercourse with? (one man couldn't even manage a guess; he finally settled for 'around 100.')
#3 Can you remember all of their names?
#4 Did you tell most, if not all of them, that you loved them?
#5 Did you, in fact, love them all?

From that point on we begin to talk about what amounts to a discourse on the Theology of the Body (even for the non-Catholics). Ask these questions of young people and who will quickly find out exactly who's obsessed with sex.
written by Jack,CT, June 20, 2013
Mr Smith,
You make some valuable points if only
we would pay attention!
The fact is we are worried about the pervasive
effect of advertisers on our children and we
should, BUT parents need to be the largest
influence again!

We allow former cons" to teach at our Universitys
and wander why our children leave with the "Liberal
Doctrine", I say keep them close to home and monitor
who is teaching them!
Thanks for a fantastic read!
written by Manfred, June 20, 2013
I am sorry, Mr. Smith, but you have missed the subject by a mile. Most people have no mmore interest in what the Church teaches than what Rotary or Kiwanis teaches. People of whatever age have to be told of SIN and its consequences. In 1917, the Mother of God showed three young children a vision of HELL. They were told than many souls went there. These children were so terrified by what they saw that they admitted later that if the Lady had not told them they would not go there, they would have died of fright. She asked these children to do penance and pray for those who did not do penance and pray, as otherwise the souls of the others would be consigned to Hell. The Modernist victory at the Council effectively removed any (most?) reference to Hell and it was assumed that all (most?) persons would be saved. What is being taught today is NOT Catholicism! It is a fraud and millions of souls will be lost due to the well-intentioned, but thoroughly flawed teaching of the catechists. Without Hell, the battle is lost. Do you think I would be bothered belonging to an organization replete with mitered sodomites and assorted nincompoops if I were not seeking the grains of Truth contained in the Church? The Pope chose his Council over issuing the stern warning from the Mother of God. As punishment,millions of people are now and have been paying a horrific penalty ever since.
written by Andrew Flattery, June 20, 2013
Great read. Being that I don't have as sharp of mind as you, Mr. Smith, I find it is often equally effective to put the onus on the detractors here. For example, "how do you define sex?" would be a great question to start with to the gay marriage apologists.
written by Andrew, June 20, 2013
What an opportunity to influence the hearts and minds of young people that may not have the foundation of understanding God's truth in this world. A good friend in politics once said that if a question is asked of you don't give an answer to their question, but you give an answer that is what you want them to hear. He was trained to do this. Many young people don't want to hear your answer but instead want to hear something that they want to hear. They want to have an answer to a symptomatic problem in the world, but instead give them an answer that gets to the root of the problem. Too many problems are discussed these days without discussing a solution. Established principles in scripture are good resources, as you well know. Concerning sexual matters, these scriptures apply:

Psalm 32:9 "Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee."
Proverbs 6:32 "But whoso committeth adultery with a woman lacketh understanding: he that doeth it destroyeth his own soul."
The scriptures in Psalm and Proverbs indicate that having adultery is like being an animal with no understanding.

Proverbs 4:7 "Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding."

John 6:63-64 "It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. 64 But there are some of you that believe not." Jesus gives the answer to life, but then states that there are some that don't believe his words.

The question is who do you believe. He (Jesus) who gives life or the world that leads to death.
written by saoirse, July 05, 2013
this is not as difficult or messy as some want it to be.
you raise your kids under G_d and His 10Commandments,reminding them always that it is 10,not 50etc--only TEN
and they're not suggestions.
and of course age appropriate teaching.

this is not complicated.

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