The triumph of the therapeutic

The sociologist Philip Rieff, in his prophetic 1966 book The Triumph of the Therapeutic, said that subordinating sexual desire to God’s purposes was at the center of Christian culture from the beginning. Renouncing sexual freedom, and controlling sexual desire and spiritualizing it, was part of the “positive asceticism” of Christian life.

Today, Rieff said, we live in a “post-ascetic culture” in which we have ceased to be religious, and have instead become psychological. Therefore, individual fulfillment is our goal. “Religious man was born to be saved,” Rieff wrote. “Psychological man is born to be pleased.”

Christians who think standing firm on traditional sexual teaching is ancillary to the gospel, and even harmful to its spread, may mean well. But in accommodating the zeitgeist, they surrender something more essential than they realize.