Sex, the Fall, and the Resurrection

My inspiration for starting this post and continue the topic through several other posts is the “Day without a Gay” protest, which is supposed to inspire homosexuals and those in support of homosexual marriage to take the day off and perhaps commit to volunteer work (to take a little bit of the sting out of the strike).  Whenever issues like this come up (as they do at least annually here at the University of Wyoming with the Matthew Shepard Symposium), I find myself reflecting on human sexuality, the importance it plays in our lives, and the great detriment its misuse has caused, both to the nation and to myself personally.

To qualify, my years of drifting away from the faith were caused, in part, by being steeped in sexual sin, and my eventual return home started with a realization of how the Catholic view of sexuality fully explained the difficulties I was facing. Thus the topic of human sexuality has become one of the most important topics to me, one that I could monologue about endlessly (though I hope in this post and following ones I say something substantial and insightful).

Embarrassingly, one of my biggest concerns while wandering from my faith found root in a belief that somehow eternal life after death made this life pointless. Why bother running through the mill of this world for any finite amount of time, when life after death would extend infinitely? The disproportion between this life and the next seemed an insurmountable absurdity.

Yet, it was one detail, spoken at Mass every Sunday, that I failed to pay attention to that made all the difference, and that was the fact of the resurrection. Life after death isn’t simply drifting eternally as a disembodied soul; instead, we exist in that state for some period, and then we are given new bodies (whether or not our eternal destination is Heaven or Hell) which we then keep for all eternity.

Now, the cautious reader might be a little puzzled at the seemingly non sequitur of jumping from human sexuality to the resurrection, but there is a definite connection, and it lies in this fact. God ever intended us to be an amalgamation of spirit and matter. We are not souls temporarily encased in flesh, as the Gnostics believed. Without our physical bodies, we are incomplete. In death, we are torn asunder, and while our souls hopefully move on to bask in the Beatific Vision, in a way we enter a lower state of being as we await new flesh.

It was this understanding of our eternal destination that helped me make sense of why certain sexual practices were wrong. Without the resurrection, my view of the flesh was as a temporary house that I would one day vacate. Thus, I could do anything to it and it wouldn’t matter. I might bring about its end prematurely, but in light of eternity without it, who cared? On the other hand, realizing that the body is not just temporary housing, but integral to both who and what I am forces me to acknowledge I need to care for my body and discipline it.

One of the principle effects of the Fall was to pit body against soul, to divided us against ourselves. Instead of being at peace with ourselves, we now fight a continual battle, and included in that battle is our treatment of sexuality. In fact, I believe that most problems we have sexually can be specifically boiled down to this struggle. Any time we come across some sexual practice that the Church condemns, we can almost inevitably justify the condemnation solely through the use and abuse of the body by the soul.

We know that we find harmony when sex is between husband and wife. The complementarity of the sexes and the proper fulfillment of sex is writ plain and clear in our bodies. In order for sex to accomplish one of its primary purposes, it must be enacted by one man and one woman. Sex between men and sex between women cannot be procreative. Sex between more than one man and one woman leaves all but one man superfluous; and (guys, I’m sorry to tell you this) men are not designed for sex with more than one woman at a time. The balance is met with one man and one woman.

How do we know, then, that sex is properly used only between a husband and wife? Many would argue that this isn’t built into us, and that men especially find monogamy an alien concept. Yet contrary to popular belief, there are hints that we can pick up on that indicate the sex is supposed to be between a man and woman who have decided to devote their entire lives to each other.

One hint is the exclusivity of sex, which goes beyond just proclaiming one man and one woman. Sex itself is one of the most intimate acts we can engage in, and the depth of the physical intimacy—when viewed in light that body and soul complete one being—demands an equal depth of mental, emotional, and spiritual intimacy.

But the larger hint is that sex itself is geared towards procreation, and procreation is not simply the process of conceiving a child, but also rearing that child. This in turn introduces the notion of family and reinforces the family as the primary social unit. The family struggles, and even ceases to function as such, when there is not the exclusive commitment of the married couple.

These, of course, are very brief arguments, and I hope in my next few posts to address particular topics such as masturbation, pre-marital sex, extramarital sex, and homosexuality. Like in politics when something smells fishy and we ask “Where’s the money?”, when I examine each of these topics in turn, I’ll ask “how is this pitting body against soul?”. It is my hope that these future posts will not just contain good Catholic teaching, but also a fair amount of personal discovery.

20 Responses to Sex, the Fall, and the Resurrection

  • Good post.

    I’d actually be interesting in talking about pornography and masturbation. I once read a statistic that said that roughly 12% of the ENTIRE internet is pornography and that the porn industry made more money than all major sport franchises and major television networks combined. It’s mind-blowing to even think about.

    I think sexuality would make a good chain of posts because it’s the clearest way to present the Catholic vision of the human person and how can we do that, if we ourselves are not equipped and ready to do it?

    I think I’d like to join you on this endeavor. Finals are almost over. I have SO much to talk about.

  • Ryan, your courage is astounding. What we need to do is accelerate efforts to educate the faithful on JP’s Theology Of The Body lectures. The esteemed George Weigel has commented that if these lectures received widespread circulation, this ol planet would turn upside down. Worth a try.

  • Ryan, Eric, et al.: I welcome this discussion, because it’s pretty clear that much of the objection to Catholic teaching (in the West, at least) is over sexual morality. I don’t need to say it to this crowd, but the debate over abortion, gay marriage, and many other issues really hinges on our concept of human sexuality, its forms and its ends. The debate might seem “over” and “lost” in many respects, but opinion can change quickly.

    I wonder, though, if the “Theology of the Body” is a tractable argument to someone who has no theology. How much can we push arguments from reason? Certainly there is solid scientific evidence to support much of the traditional view of sexuality, but is it persuasive and comprehensive enough to the person who rejects Catholic sexual morality not because he is advancing hedonism, but because he thinks “all things in moderation?”

    What I’m trying to say is, few of us know true hedonists. Most of the people we interact with on a daily basis espouse some form of sexual libertarianism — “What consenting adults do in their bedrooms is none of my business.” This is the majority in the middle that is skeptical of what they see as absolutist morality coming from Christianity. This is also the majority that sees no contradiction in telling their teenaged daughter to abstain from premarital sex, but then happily let her tart herself up for the prom. Mixed messages abound.

    As a practical matter, how do we speak to this group?

  • j. christian,

    We use words only when necessary. Some of these folks are lost, no matter what we do or say.

    And I think over 400 years of watching arguments from Natural Law become increasingly unpersuasive would give us a healthy scepticism about attempting to argue metaphysics and anthropology apart from Divine Revelation. Both are needed to make the most cogent argument.

  • Great post, and I admire your working through those struggles.

  • Eric,

    I’d love to have your collaboration on this issue. It is a huge matter to talk about, with plenty enough to for everyone to have their say and still have leftovers. My plan was to post about masturbation on Monday, pre-marital and extramarital sex on Wednesday, and homosexuality and other topics on Friday, but all that is open to adjustment. What do you have in mind?

    j. christian,

    Indeed, the argument that the misuse of human sexuality pits body against soul means nothing to a materialist (or someone from other groups that see the flesh as only temporary). About the only way to proceed with someone like that is in a Socratic line of inquiry, hoping to get him to admit that there’s dignity behind the human person, and that even with just the material to work with, the human person is more than just a body.

    But then, perhaps only a crisis situation will bring such a person about. One of things that drew me back to the Church was, essentially, that the Church’s teachings, as a hypothesis, perfectly explained the evidence I’d encountered, and that brilliant flash of insight, once kindled, burned for more. Before that, I would have argued to the death that masturbation is not only good but necessary; that pornography was perfectly legitimate; and that artificial birth control was a viable means of avoiding pregnancy.

    So to an extent, I think that one of the best things we can do is clearly state, in entirety, what Catholic thought is on the matter of sexuality. People might completely disagree with the Church, but maybe if they have the full picture, something will click. (But then, if it happened with me, it should happen with everyone, right?)

  • Following on J. Christian’s question — I think most people would, given the name, not consider “theology of the body” an attractrive term, since they’re too used to thinking of sex as being a necessary condiment to be sprinkled freely and generously on one’s life.

    And yet, for all that it’s often taken rather casually, most people (women probably more than men) seem to have a sort of Platonic first-knowledge that sex does mean something and more to the point ought to mean something.

    So I think there’s a hunger of sorts for explanations of what sex means and how it can give life meaning — though the challenge is to present this in a way that sounds like a “holistic lifestyle” (to use the new-agey parlance) rather than “a bunch of rules”.

  • http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1282/is_n20_v40/ai_6701958/pg_3?tag=artBody;col1

    BTW, here is AJ Ayer’s account – to his surprise – of experiencing brain function after the body stops.

  • OK guys. This is my first post and I see a little too much inbred back slapping going on. So here is some Ultra Kudos from outside the gene pool. Great post.

    I am not Catholic. I wish I could be a member of this community, but I have two stupid divorces that I refuse to annul because I will not let my decisions when I was younger and dumber be washed away. I am very proud to be in a happy, loving marriage now because of the hard lessons I hung on myself in years gone by. I shall always see myself as an example of never give up on life’s true treasures (and let your parents fix you up when all seems lost).

    That being said, the teaching of the Church and rational for our existence on this earth, as you alluded to, are indespensible to the future of mankind and we (if I may be so bold) should never give up on the truth and meaning of our life now.

    Keep me informed. I will pass the word. Bless you all.

  • Texas Tom,

    We’re very happy to hear from you and appreciate your blessing (and passing on the word). I wonder, though: could you clarify on what you mean by “I will not let my decisions when I was younger and dumber be washed away”? Or how you perceive annulments as accomplishing this? There might be a misunderstanding here that, once clarified, might just open the path for you into the Church. (No pressure, though–if you don’t wish to discuss it, that’s fine. This can be an intensely private matter that maybe shouldn’t be just posted on the internet for anybody to see.)

  • Ryan, a strained construction of a personal trait.
    I accept full responsibility for my actions and as far as I am, in investigating my options with regard to requesting entry into the Catholic faith, I see and annulment of my two previous marriages as the only way to be a full participant in all the Church has to offer. Annulment sounds like finding a technicality to invalidate the now “inconvenient” moral bonds. (CCC 2384-2387)
    So I can’t, as yet, see a way clear for me to accept that what I did of my own free will and in an informed state can be nullified and my conscience remain clear.
    I had no faith based training as and adult and was not aware of the ramifications of these actions. Heck, my folk dragged me to an Episcopalian church when I was 4-6 for Right and Wrong training and the free Polio vaccines at the health center that was open on Sunday to catch all the little boys and girls.

    As far as privacy… I am a great example of walking, talking oops. I learn from my errors an I always hope someone will look and note that life’s lessons are only lessons when they are known. So, I share and I feel real nice anybody takes an interest in what I have to say.

    I’ll go on a pun rampage later. For now I will curb my inner comedian. (Smile)

  • Texas Tom,

    God is merciful.

    If you accept your past transgressions, but more importantly, ask for forgiveness, then you’re good (to enter the Church).

    What you are doing to yourself sounds like purgatory on Earth. God is the sole judge to determine what cleansing you need to go through, hence why we have Purgatory.

    I’ll let the others help explain better than I can. But if you need more information here is a good starting point –>

    See defintion of Purgatory with all the Bible passages and Church teaching: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12575a.htm

  • Hey, Tito. I am a happy and grateful man with a wonderful life and an iquisitive nature. Darn tootin’ God is merciful! Heck, He has this blessed life gig down pat and I’ll back his play any day. I do not punish myself or feel deprived in any way and I love being a stand up guy who can give some practical advice to someone who won’t take God’s word for it. (Ha, ha. Almost a pun)
    I will talk to a priest soon to get more first hand low down. I was in a bit of funk about having a Catholic rug pulled out from under me because of my past, but I am still very uninformed about the nuts and bolts of where I may be headed.
    Quick lesson: If you are in the dark over the answer to a question … Maybe it’s a good time to take a nap. When you wake up, ask someone who might know the answer. Then get some hot chocolate with lots of whipped cream. Chocolate is one of God’s blessing too, ain’t it?

  • Texas Tom,

    First, sorry this is so late in coming. I typical am not around a computer with access to the internet on the weekends.

    Second, annulments are not simply trying to find technicalities. They really aren’t the Catholic answer to divorce. There’s a fair amount of theology behind it, especially in how the married couple image the Trinity, but the quick and dirty is this.

    A marriage between two baptized Christians is sacramental and in no way can be broken. The question remains whether a marriage truly existed in the first place. Normally, what looks like a marriage is treated as thus, but closer examination could reveal that one or both of the couple went into the marriage with discernible reservations. A valid marriage must be free, full, faithful, and fruitful.

    A violation of the first would be if you discovered you were closely related to your intended, such as brother-sister, step siblings, in line of descent, and so on. That doesn’t happen often, but given how fractured our society is becoming, I’d be surprised if it didn’t creep up now and then. Another example would be if one of two was already married (such as divorced without an annulment, or even engaged in polygamy).

    A violation of full is best described as “I married him because I was worried he was my last chance.” Full entails full devotion, full giving of the self to the other. This is why women who marry when they discover they’re pregnant tend to be found in an invalid marriage–they married because they were scared of having to raise a kid alone, or were trying to do the respectful thing and marry the father, and either of this conditions could very easily get in the way of the full giving of self. Another, darker example, would be to get married simply because then you’re guaranteed sex with your spouse. Anytime one of the couple goes into the marriage with more of an intent to use the other (be the intent benign or malevolent), the full condition is violated.

    The faithful condition should be fairly obvious. The simplest way to describe a violation is if one or both of the couple doesn’t mean “till death do we part”, but rather “until it becomes inconvenient”. But it can also be violated by wandering eyes (even if they only wander to underwear ads in the magazine), which entail a desire for more physical arousal than what the marriage provides.

    The fruitful condition doesn’t mean that kids have to be present, but it does mean that the couple needs to be open to children in the conjugal act. A couple that marries fully intent on contracepted sex, fully intent on preventing any children in their union, is a couple that violates the fruitful condition.

    Moreover, you’ll find that most violations do not simply fall into one category or another, but span several. Sometimes the problems are obvious; other times obscure.

    The point, though, is not get out of a marriage, but to understand whether or not the marriage was valid to begin with. Getting it right is important, more so than personal pride. To top that, an annulment is a difficult thing for the couple to handle even after it is granted. Consider what happens if nullity is declared, you happen to be at fault. That means you have to do some–undoubtedly painful–soul-searching, praying, and rebuilding of your moral life before you can move beyond that declaration. Some people have received a declaration of nullity, but have been prohibited from marrying again until they show proper signs of repentance and maturation.

    I don’t know if this helps any, and it will probably be a small portion of what a priest will tell you. But the main point is this: a declaration of nullity is not a cakewalk, and it doesn’t simply give you a free pass on mistakes or broken commitments in the past. I would definitely encourage talking with a priest, and I hope that goes well.

  • As a former Catholic who formally defected from the Catholic Church over
    fake annulments, this quote, I assert with experience, is false and dangerous:

    “Second, annulments are not simply trying to find technicalities. They really aren’t the Catholic answer to divorce. There’s a fair amount of theology behind it, especially in how the married couple image the Trinity, but the quick and dirty is this.”

    Our marriage was intentionally undermined by catholic priests and the annulment process and it remain under attack, with the full knowledge of the local ordinaries and the Pope as well as the new head of the Papal Signatura, Raymond Burke.

    The Catholic Church has sold its soul to the Devil regarding marriages. I do not care what statistics you cite or the canonists or priests you have who can defend your position. I know what I continue to experience and the Catholic Church can act but WILL NOT ACT to work towards healing a valid marriage that its own Roman Courts found valid after the corrupt American Tribunals and many priests and laity have aided and abetted open and permanent adultery!

    If the Pope gave a darn he would send me a ticket with an open eneded audience to inform him of what I have seen in person. HE DOES NOT CARE! He listens to his bishops and priests who are corrupted thoroughly.

    He fiddles while Rome burns.

  • Karl, I will pray for your healing. As regards the terrible experience you have met with the clergy, I can only offer sympathies. They are as human as the rest of us, but they have a greater duty to uphold the dignity of their office. That they failed for you is a grave tragedy. Please, if you will, pray for these men who you believe have betrayed your trust, that they might see the error in their ways.

  • “but WILL NOT ACT to work towards healing a valid marriage”

    Karl the Catholic Church was not responsible for the fact that you and your wife had a marriage that fell apart. The idea that but for the Catholic Church you would have gotten your wife back is unlikely in the extreme based upon the facts that you have disclosed in the past in numerous postings on other Catholic websites. Your wife ran off with someone else and got pregnant by him. The idea that anything done by the Church would have gotten her to return to you may give you comfort, but simply does not comport with reality. When someone is willing to commit adultery the idea that not granting them an anullment will cause them to return to their spouse is risible. I think you probably know this deep down but for some reason you have decided to make the Church the target of your bitterness and grief over the fact that your wife did not want to continue to live with you.

  • Mr. Harkins,

    I will continue to pray for the Church and those clerics and the vast majority of laypeople who really do support adultery and whose support encourages unending abuses by the clergy including the bishops and the Popes.

    These clerics are hard-hearted men unwilling to listen to those of us who have seen their corruption first hand. The Pope knows well of the corruption and encourages it through his failure to address these issues with those of us who raise them and his unwillingness to provide a simple recourse against corruption. His failure to help us root out those who have done us wrong means he has joined in their wrongs and he should resign the papacy, forthwith. He coddles priests who openly encourage adultery and all types of crimes against innocent spouses. He knows his fellow bishops are corrupted and care little about truth and the damage their practice does.

    They did not fail me or our marriage. They deliberately chose to do all they could to destroy it and they still do. The evil is incredible in the Catholic clergy. To me failure means there was a desire to to good. I am certain, otherwise, about the efforts of the Catholic Church in these regards.

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