Thursday, February 4, 2010

"...we must refuse to speak in sanitized clinical euphemisms"

This is a re-posting of something I wrote last summer for la nouvelle théologie. It is provocative and was written after being provoked. I still intend to post something on our increasing tendency to work from an androgynous anthropology, which is what the Holy Father sought to address and, to a degree, correct in his 2008 Christmas speech to the Roman Curia, which I quote below. I will link again to a Communio article that really sets forth this contention: Liberal Androgyny: “Gay Marriage” and the Meaning of Sexuality in Our Time, by David S.Crawford, who serves as assistant dean and assistant professor of moral theology and family law at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

WARNING: Graphic language

Last year I wrote a lot about married sex and porn, especially about the toll it takes on the lives of those who make it. I also harshly critiqued a certain post-feminist approach to matters of sex. It almost goes without saying, that our Evangelical sisters and brothers, especially those younger than, say, 50, do a better job of discussing sex and the spiritual life more frankly and biblically than do we Catholics. As in all things there are exceptions, like Dawn Eden, who [wrote] unabashedly about sex and the single Catholic woman, making a great case for chastity, over on The Dawn Patrol [she no longer blogs, but her wonderful insights are still available].

A couple of months ago I taught a RCIA class on sexual morality. In the end, the only thing anybody really challenged me on was masturbation, which, along with any kind of sex outside marriage, I said is objectively wrong. I also said something about how masturbation and lust always co-exist together (be careful about about metaphors and similes when discussing sex!) and that indulging in masturbation can be enslaving because it can all too easily, at least for men, become compulsive, that is, something over which you have little or no control. I also said that masturbation and the lust that goes along with it render a man less capable and, if it goes too far for too long, ultimately incapable, of engaging in healthy intimate relationships with women. One reason for this is because intimacy gets reduced to sex, becomes a euphemism for sex.

With the 24/7 availability of Internet porn-on-demand, the way the lust that fuels the desire to masturbate often gets flowing and sustained is by viewing pornography. So, I want to draw attention to a resource from The Resurgence blog, which "is an outgrowth of the teaching ministry of Mars Hill Church," a thriving Evangelical community in Seattle. The free on-line booklet, written by Pastor Mark Driscoll, who has generated no small amount of controversy with some of his comments on sex, is available as a .pdf. The booklet is entitled, Porn Again Christian: a frank discussion on pornography and masturbation. The booklet begins with this statement:

"You are part of a culture that spends more money each year on pornography than country music, rock music, jazz music, classical music, Broadway plays, and ballet combined. In Paul’s day, he accused some people of worshiping their stomachs as their god, and in our day it appears that our god has simply moved a short distance south" (pg. 3).
For whom did Mark Driscoll write this book? "[M]en wanting to encourage other men to lives of purity, I pray this booklet would be a useful and readable piece of literature that you could pass on to as many dudes as possible as a pedagogical tool for cranial-rectal extraction" (pg. 3). I am trying to pass it along for just that purpose.

I agree very much with what Pastor Mark has to say, when he writes: "there is a propensity in many churches to take sexuality out of the hands of theologians and place it in the hands of secular counselors, whose philosophy is dominated by unbiblical evolutionary concepts of humanity and gender. This error prevents the church from speaking about men and women because they’re only permitted to see androgynous humanity" (pg. 5). This is something of a pastoral take on what the Holy Father said in his Christmas speech to the Roman Curia regarding the need for a new ecology of man:
"What is necessary is a kind of ecology of man, understood in the correct sense. When the Church speaks of the nature of the human being as man and woman and asks that this order of creation be respected, it is not the result of an outdated metaphysic. It is a question here of faith in the Creator and of listening to the language of creation, the devaluation of which leads to the self-destruction of man and therefore to the destruction of the same work of God. That which is often expressed and understood by the term 'gender', results finally in the self-emancipation of man from creation and from the Creator. Man wishes to act alone and to dispose ever and exclusively of that alone which concerns him. But in this way he is living contrary to the truth..."

As much as I appreciate and highly value his booklet, I am in deep disagreement with chapter 5. I cannot recommend this booklet without addressing these issues. The main issue is his view, not just on masturbation, but marital sexuality. Another, lesser issue, is with lust. Driscoll writes that "Scripture does not forbid masturbation outright because there are some occasions in which it may be done in an acceptable and sinless way" (pg. 22). This way of putting it begs the question. In other words, this seems more like eisegesis than exegesis, a reading into instead of an authentic interpretation from. If he is to avoid the fallacy of begging the question, it seems the argument he has to make is- since Scripture does not outright forbid masturbation, it is, at least in some cases, permissible. If this is the case, this, too, is bad logic. One cannot validly infer from the fact that something is not forbidden outright that is, even sometimes, alright.

According to the teaching of the Church, "masturbation is... the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure" (Catechism 2352). I find this definition too broad. After all, would not sexual intercourse be masturbation under this definition? The Catechism continues by quoting the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith's 1975 declaration, Persona Humana, to the effect that by masturbating: "sexual pleasure is sought outside of 'the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved.'" So, I offer what I hope is a more precise definition: masturbation is the deliberate and, usually, manual stimulation of one's own sexual organs for purpose of deriving sexual pleasure. Given that, it is impossible to see how Genesis 2:24 can be used as a proof text to justify masturbation in marriage.

Driscoll also employs verses from the Song of Songs, with which I do not take as much issue as I do with his use of Genesis 2:24. However, I think Song of Songs 2:3 and 4:12 are more ambiguous than his use of them indicates. In other words, none of the verses he cites from the Song give sanction to masturbating as long as it is with "the blessing and in the presence of one’s spouse" (pg. 19). I will grant that Song 2:6 does seem to be a fairly clear depiction of the man manually stimulating his wife. In any case, in what way does masturbation make spouses "one flesh"? It is my understanding that mutual masturbation, which for a man has to stop short of orgasm, is permissible in the marital bed as, say, foreplay. The same holds true for oral sex. Given the natural differences between men and women the same is not true vice-versa, especially if a man takes seriously that sex should be pleasurable to his wife as well as to himself. [There are several married women of my acquanitance who have taken the opportunity to disagree with this assertion since I originally posted it, thus making me less certain about it.]

I also take issue with the conclusion Pastor Mark draws from citing Titus 1:15 and Ephesians 2:3; that "[i]t is most certainly possible that a man could masturbate without violating these simple biblical principles, but highly unlikely" (pg. 21). The verse from Titus, like St. Augustine's "love God and do what you will," can easily be put to dubious use when taken out of context. I do not believe that a man can "masturbate without violating" both the letter and the spirit of the proof texts he offers. To suggest that such a thing is even possible demonstrates a Gnostic, that is, an unacceptably dualistic anthropology, one that leads to moral incoherency and confusion.

I also find it interesting that of the five reasons he gives for the immorality of masturbation, not one has to do with the fact that masturbation is not and can never be procreative. The closest he gets to this is with his second point: "masturbation is a form of monosexuality because it is sex that does not include another person. Since sex is given for such purposes as oneness (Gen. 2:24), intimate knowledge (Gen. 4:1), and comfort (2 Sam. 12:24), having sex with oneself seems to miss some of the significant biblical reasons for sexual intimacy." Additionally, Driscoll seems not so much to miss as to completely ignore, especially as it pertains to the last two verses to which he points, one "of the significant biblical reasons for sexual intimacy," having children. In fairness, I know that Driscoll, as a father, is not anti-children.

By accepting that sexual relations have no morally necessary procreative dimension, Driscoll cannot make a strong case against homosexual sex. Rowan Williams, the current archbishop of Canterbury, pointed out this problem succinctly in his highly controversial essay, written in 1989, when he was still a theology professor, The Body's Grace:

"in a church which accepts the legitimacy of contraception, the absolute condemnation of same-sex relations of intimacy must rely either on an abstract fundamentalist deployment of a number of very ambiguous texts, or on a problematic and non-scriptural theory about natural complementarity, applied narrowly and crudely to physical differentiation without regard to psychological structures."
My guess is that Driscoll would resort to the former, deploying in a fundamentalist manner some scriptural texts, several of which are not as ambiguous as Williams would like to think. The trouble with such a move is that it does not allow one to avoid the pesky Why? question. Why does God forbid same sex relations? After all, if God is not arbitrary and capricious, and we know He is neither, there has to be a reason. Once you start explaining it according to some natural law argument, you arrive back at the contradiction that forbids homosexual sex, but permits deliberately non-procreative heterosexual sex. What is important here is that in his first point against masturbation, he rails against it as "bordering on homosexual activity," but, for him, you have not crossed the boundary while looking at nude pictures of your wife while traveling and manually stimulating yourself.

Driscoll himself shows the ridiculousness of employing texts in a fundamentalist manner when he rejects the use of Ecclesiastes 9:10 as a justification for masturbation (pg. 20). On the other hand (pun fully intended), this verse gives one rather little hope for the after-life. In Sheol, which is neither heaven nor hell, but a kind of limbo that is our sure destination according to the preacher, "there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom." Given the working assumption of this verse, one could turn on Longview by Green Day and well... None of this bodes well for the vital relationship between faith and reason.

"Lust," as it is defined in the Catechism, "is disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes" (2351). In other words, it is not alright, as Driscoll suggests, to lust after one's own wife. On my view, it is certainly alright for a man to desire his wife, to engage in sexual relations with her, to enjoy and rejoice in such a beautiful, fun, not just life-affirming, but potentially life-giving activity! If I have not made my fundamental point explicit enough, divorcing procreation from sex is not a biblical view of sex.

Overall, I like Driscoll's direct approach largely due to the fact that we (i.e., Catholics) still tend to be fairly Manichean when it comes to sex. I even like his Q & A that comprises chapter 7. It is good and very practical, a nice change from the advice he gives in chapter 5. It was chilling to read a transcript of Ted Bundy's interview with Dr. James Dobson the day prior to his execution. I like this resource and thank Pastor Mark for making it freely available. When it comes to sex Catholics most often have no moral high ground because we too often accept as normal all kinds of behavior that is objectively immoral...

To paraphrase something that Fr. Groeschel said recently: Sanctity is despised because when we encounter it, we feel guilty. Let's not get all nutty about the word guilt. Guilt is good if it helps us to repent. Guilt is the natural and normal response of one's conscience to sin. If repentance does not occur, then it becomes a wound from which we bleed hope. I very much like Driscoll's ending- "In closing, sin leads to death. Jesus died for your sin. You are in a war. Be a man. Put your sin to death." I would just add that you need to be man enough to realize that you cannot do it alone, you need grace, you need companions. In short, you need assistance, guidance, and accountability.

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