Words for a Concerned Former Student

I recently wrote a TCT column in which I argued that our never-ending sexual revolution is only secondarily about sex, and that it is primarily an attempt to destroy Christianity. I say that I “argued” this point.  But I didn’t really.  I simply asserted it.  Why argue to prove a point that should be obvious by now to anybody who has been paying attention?

In any case, I received a criticism from a woman whose comments, whether critical or complimentary, I feel I am duty-bound to take seriously – for this woman was, many years ago, a student of mine when I was teaching sociology at our local community college.

She is one of my few former students to continue her education to the point of achieving a PhD.  Though I have been retired from teaching for some years now, I feel a pedagogical duty to offer comments on things written by my students, even if they are only former students, and even if these former students are now smarter than I am.

This former student is not a Catholic.  She was raised in a conservative Lutheran family. And although she now attends a very conservative Baptist church, she tells me that she remains a Lutheran in her heart.

In any case, I promised to provide a detailed reply to her criticism.  While I was in the course of writing, it occurred to me that this reply could serve as a further TCT column underlining and clarifying the assertion I had made in my earlier essay.  So it is this “reply” that follows:

You make two points in your criticism.  You say: (1) that you do not agree with my assertion that modern sexual morality (the sexual revolution) is an attempt to destroy Christianity; and (2) that you disagree with my idea that sexual immorality is and always has been a central issue within Christianity (even though you believe that today’s sexual immorality is having very negative consequences within our social institutions).

Let me address your first point.  I don’t say that modern sexual morality (or, better named from a Christian point of view, immorality) tends to the destruction of Christianity.  No, for sexual immorality has always been found in Christian societies, despite the successful attempts by some Christians to live outstandingly chaste lives.

So far is this from being the case that sexual immorality has often served as a psychological and sociological aid to Christianity.  For what kind of religion is Christianity?  It is a religion of salvation – salvation from sin.  But what if there is no sin in the world, or very little?  Then there is no need for Christianity, and no need for Jesus, and no need for his death on the Cross.

*

In the paradise on earth often dreamt of by social revolutionaries, a paradise (if it every arrives) in which everybody will be happy and good, there will be no need for Christianity.  In Heaven there will be no need for Christianity.  There is a felt need for Christianity only in times and places in which sin abounds.

If Christianity is to flourish in any society, people living in that society will have to be convinced that the typical human being is strongly prone to sin, and is a person who has committed many sins.  There will have to be an abundance of empirical evidence that men and women, not to mention boys and girls, are sinners.  What better evidence of this but sexual sins.

It goes without saying that there are many sins besides sexual sin, and many of these other sins are more sinful than sexual sin.  But sexual sin has the great merit of being universal (or at least virtually so), whereas sins like murder, theft, arson, wife-beating, etc. are far from universal. And even a common sin like lying is not really universal.

If the sexual revolution (SR) is the enemy of Christianity, this is not because it encourages sexual sin; it is because it denies that sexual sins are truly sinful.  Christianity says, “I am here to save you from your sexual sins.”  The SR replies: “There is no such thing as a sexual sin; we don’t need your salvation.”  And it adds: “Because it propagates the mischievous and even wicked myth that many sexual acts and feelings and relationships are sinful, Christianity is a bad thing, a very bad thing.  Would that it might disappear from the world.”

As for your second complaint – that I am mistaken when I say that sexual immorality has always been a central concern of Christianity, or to put this in other words, that a high degree of chastity has always been a central concern of Christianity – the historical record doesn’t support you.  Look at the chaste and celibate life of Jesus himself; look at Mary, the ever-virgin Mother of God; look at the centuries of monks and nuns; look at the celibate priesthood; look at the ban on divorce-and-remarriage.

And when Martin Luther provoked the great religious revolution that did away with monks and nuns and a celibate priesthood and permitted divorce-and-remarriage, he gave no permission for fornication or adultery or homosexuality or pornography or masturbation, and he permitted divorce for one reason only, the horrible sin of adultery.

His standard of chastity was not as demanding as Augustine’s standard (Luther, remember, was in his Catholic days an Augustinian monk, and he always remained an Augustinian in his theology), but it was still very demanding.  Do you have any doubt that he would have been horrified by today’s sexual revolution and that he would have denounced it as a great anti-Christian movement?

In any case, thank you for writing, and thank you for your well-intended criticism.  It’s comforting – very comforting – for me to know that I have former students who care enough for my well-being that they take the trouble to correct me when they think I may have gone wrong.

 

*Image: A Virgin and a Unicorn (representing chastity) by, perhaps, the circle of Dosso Dossi (Ferrara) and follower of Timoteo Viti of Urbino, ca. 1469-1523 [Wellcome Collection, London, England]. Much of the surface (e.g. the green grass) dates from ca. 1970.

You may also enjoy:

Mary Eberstadt’s Five Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution, Part I

And Mrs. Eberstadt’s Five Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution: Part II

David Carlin is a retired professor of sociology and philosophy at the Community College of Rhode Island, and the author of The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America and, most recently, Three Sexual Revolutions: Catholic, Protestant, Atheist.