When Rome defeated Carthage in the Third Punic War, the Romans were not satisfied with having won a victory. They wanted Carthage to be not just defeated, but utterly destroyed, in order that this old enemy of Rome, which had caused the city tremendous suffering and anguish in the first two Punic Wars, would never rise again. The Romans decided to follow the advice Cato the Elder was in the habit of giving, at the end of his speeches in the Senate, “Carthage, it seems to me, must be destroyed.”
And so, after winning the Third Punic War, Rome razed Carthage and scattered its people. A few centuries later, a new city with the same name was built on the site (it was this later Carthage where St. Augustine got his higher education and became a Manichean). But the old city, the Phoenician Carthage of Dido and Hannibal, was gone forever. It never troubled Rome again.
We are at about that point (the point at which the enemy has to be destroyed utterly) in the war between the Christian idea of sex and the modern secular idea of sex. The sexual revolution, which commenced about 50 or 60 years ago, has resulted in a very convincing victory for the revolutionists. The Christian idea of sexual conduct has been defeated. But now the secularists are proceeding to the next step, that is, the complete destruction – the pulverization, the atomization – of the Christian idea.
Christians, the defeated party, might wish to say, “Okay, you have won the war. We give up the fight for dominance. But can’t you be merciful? Can’t you tolerate us as a harmless minority, the way we tolerate persons who believe in flying saucers?” The secular sexual revolutionaries, however, will reply, “No, you and your sex ethic have troubled the world for too many centuries. Your crimes are innumerable and unforgiveable. We have to make sure your ethic never comes back to spoil once again the pleasures of the world.”
In the decade or so following World War II the Protestant sexual ethic was still dominant in America. The typical American still believed in most of the old sexual taboos – no fornication, adultery, abortion, homosexuality. That’s not to say that everybody complied with these prohibitions. All were violated, of course, from time to time. All the same, people believed in these prohibitions.
To be sure, there were cracks in the old Protestant ethic. Classical Protestantism had allowed divorce for one reason only, adultery. But that limitation had been abandoned long ago; by the 1950s there were many causes that made divorce allowable. And in the years between the two world wars, marital contraception had become widely accepted among American Protestants.
The Catholic sexual ethic was even stricter than the Protestant ethic. Catholicism added taboos on divorce and contraception to the Protestant taboos on fornication, adultery, abortion, and homosexuality. Not only that, but Catholicism, quite unlike Protestantism, exalted the ideal of celibacy, making celibate chastity mandatory for priests and monks and nuns.
While most Americans, being Protestant, were unwilling to embrace the Catholic ethic, they cheerfully tolerated it. And to some extent they even admired it, for it was evidence that Catholics, most of whom were relatively new arrivals in the United States, were not as bad as they had long been represented in centuries of Anglo-American religious propaganda.
Well, all this collapsed beginning in the 1960s. Almost overnight, it seemed, fornication was okay; and it need not be accompanied by love or commitment. Contraception was not only okay, it became mandatory. And not just for married couples but, even more, for unmarried sex partners. Cohabitation was okay. Abortion was okay. And after the Roe v. Wade (1973), it was legal and easily obtained.
It took a little longer for homosexuality to become okay; but that day arrived, as indeed it had to arrive given the rejection of the old Christian sexual ethic.
The Christian idea of sex having been defeated, its pulverization now begins. The acceptance of same-sex marriage is a step in that direction. It is a secularist way of saying, not merely that homosexuality is morally permissible, but that it is as fine and noble as what Christians think of as the very best kind of sex: marital sex.
Transgenderism is another such step. It’s a rejection of the Biblical notion that “God made them male and female” (Mark 10:6) – a mistaken notion held by Jesus himself, that good-hearted, but narrow-minded first-century rabbi.
Polygamy, polyandry, open marriage (consensual adultery) – these are not yet widely accepted. But they will be, since acceptance of them follows logically from the fundamental principle of the sexual revolution, namely the rejection of the Christian idea of sex. Just as acceptance of homosexuality did not come immediately in the 1960s or ‘70s, so acceptance of adultery has also been delayed a few decades. But don’t worry: it’s coming soon.
The most powerful factor in the utter destruction of the Christian idea of sex, however, is not the many un-Christian sexual practices found in today’s world. Nor is it the widespread acceptance of these practices among persons who, for reasons of personal taste, prefer not to engage in these practices themselves.
No, it is the ban – an increasingly effective social ban that is tending to become a legal ban – on the expression of Christian sexual opinions. If you, an out-of-date-Christian who is not on “the right side of history” (to borrow one of President Obama’s favorite locutions), say that fornication is sinful, or that abortion is homicide, or that homosexuality is unnatural, or that transgenderism is lunacy – you are denounced as a bigot or hater or misogynist or homophobe or transphobe or just plain nitwit. Your negative judgments are “hate speech.” And these denunciations of your thought crimes grow louder and more frequent every day.
The goal is to make the Christian sexual ethic, like Carthage, nothing more than a memory.