Back in my undergraduate days at a secular university (prior to seminary), I remember Josh McDowell was going to make a visit to the school. He sent Evangelical Protestant Christians out all over the campus to post advertisements. The signs said: "SEX" in huge letters, with a blurb beneath in smaller font saying, "Now that we have your attention, Josh is coming" with a date, time and dorm location. Then, a few days prior to the event, he sent a guy dressed as the devil running through campus yelling, "Josh is coming, Josh is coming". Turn-out was huge.
I'm kind of hoping that the title of this article might have a similar effect. Like Josh, I want to challenge some of the more liberal or progressive secularist to consider that the Catholic Church is not completely wrong on these issues, while assuring conservatives that one can be progressive without going completely off the deep end. I wanted to write a piece on American popular culture that would hit issues that cause conservatives some concern, and give the issues a "progressive" point of view.
The Good News About Sex:
The good news about sex is that our sexuality is a God given gift that permits us to do several things in a single act. Indeed, God made sexual attraction so strong and so pleasurable so that we would desire to use the gift.
Our sexuality permits us to share in the creative power of God! We say in the creed each week that the Holy Spirit is the Lord and giver of life. Throughout the Bible, children are seen a blessing from the he Lord. Children give us a foretaste of eternal life as we see something of our very selves reproduced in our children. The promise made to Abraham and Sarah for descendants as numerous as the stars of the sky and the sand on the seashore is a promise of fulfillment of a natural human desire. In the Psalms, children are compared to arrows in the hand of a warrior in time of distress.
Jesus reached out to children and blessed them, admonishing his disciples not to keep children away from him. Every child conceived in the womb of a woman is a unique, eternal and everlasting being who images the divine!
Sexuality is the God provided means of continuing the creation and development of human life and history. In our children, our own unfilled dreams are sometimes brought to fruition. More importantly, through the raising of each unique personality, we are challenged in self-growth and conversion. We come to know the love of God as a parent through the love we feel for our children. In this way, the life of husband wife and child mirrors in a mysterious way the inner life and love the Trinity.
The earliest discovery by humanity and the church as God's revelation about sex is that it permits us to share in creation. This truth is expressed in almost all world religions and is considered part of what Catholics call "natural law". The natural end, or purpose of sex is procreation.
However, the Church has recently brought to fruition a long seminal tradition that adds the discovery of another dimension to the gift of human sexuality. This dimension is not something completely new to the human race or the Church. Yet, it has not been as well articulated and fleshed out as recent years. Sexuality permits one person to communicate love to another person!
Even in secular society, the act of sexual intercourse has long been called "love making". Since the twelfth century, the notion of romantic love has permeated and grown in the poetry about sexuality. To many Westerners today, the idea of love without sex is unthinkable, regardless of religious belief. A truth revealed in the opening of Book of Genesis regarding two people becoming "one flesh" became much clearer in the Second Vatican Counsel documents about the nature of marriage. Catholics are open to the idea of love without sex, but we now hold as doctrine that sex means love!
I once had a discussion with an atheist who asked why sex can't mean whatever he wants it to mean. The Catholic response it that it can mean whatever you want it to mean. Do you want it to mean nothing at all, or do you want it to mean something awesome!
Even an atheist must chose what sex will mean to her or him!
Catholics believe that God gives us freedom. God created this human act that has an inherent meaning. Yet, he gave us freedom not to express this meaning if we wish not to. The inherent meaning is obvious in the way we refer to the act as love making. Almost everybody knows that sexual pleasure is largely in the mind. Sexuality that expresses meaning is more pleasurable than sexual activity without meaning. The question then becomes why we would chose to make the act mean something other than its inherent shared human meaning?
In the act of sexual intercourse, two people offer themselves totally to one another in complete self-donation. The language of sexuality is a sacramental language conveyed not so much in words, but in physical gestures, physical signs, and physical symbols. It is the non-verbal communication of two people becoming vulnerable and naked before one another and uniting as one. In the union of flesh, a unity of feeling, mind and spirit is conveyed. A state of ecstasy is reached. The experience is a religious moment of transcendence!
Often in the initial stages of infatuation, it is not uncommon for two lovers to sense that the other person is their "other half". We have a natural intuition toward the idea that God's divine providence has brought us together to complete one another. We feel sparks!
Sexuality is such a powerful gift and the thrill of initial infatuation is so pleasurable that we are tempted not to follow through and grow in real love. Many people become stuck in this stage and never experience the deeper meaning of real love. We fear that as we grow close to another, they will not accept us as we are, or we fear that we cannot accept the other as the other really is. We seek more partners to light the spark of infatuation in us, and God has created sexuality as such a powerful drive within us that we will not be disappointed if we seek these other partners. We can become infatuated over and over with different people.
However, God's ultimate aim is not that we dwell forever in infatuation. Infatuation has a tendency to idealize the other, and avoid the depths of real love. What God calls us toward is a participation in the divine nature. God calls us not to infatuation, but to love itself!
What is love, and how is it different than infatuation?
Infatuation is only the beginning stage of what blossoms into real love. Jesus preached often of the reign God breaking into our lives like seeds growing into abundant harvests of wheat. The fear we have of losing the passion of infatuation is a false fear from the father of lies. As the first Letter of John tells us, perfect love cast out all fear!
Love is more than a passing feeling. The seed of love may be quickened by the spark of infatuation, but growth in love involves decision. It is an act of the will. Love is the deliberate act of choosing to commit to a relationship with another that will last through thick and thin. It is friendship open to ongoing growth and depth.
Love may be prompted by the feelings of infatuation, and love need not destroy the feelings of infatuation, but love goes beyond infatuation and can survive when feelings fade or occasionally become forgotten. Love even survives when feelings turn negative. Love empowers us to forgive, to sacrifice, and to remain in dialogue with another through all things, constantly hoping to deepen a union and grow in the relationship. Saint Paul tells us that in the end, there are three things that last, faith, hope, and love. The greatest of these is love!
The Book of Genesis describes love very well in two particular characters: Adam and Isaac. Adam sees Eve as his helpmate and companion in an alienating world. Despite being surrounded by the beauty of God's creation, Adam felt alone. In the woman, he saw the bone of his bone, and flesh of flesh. She completed him, and he clung to her. Isaac fell in love with Rebecca at first sight, and served his uncle Laban through 14 years of slave labor and deception to have her as his wife.
The person who avoids committed love is avoiding an essential human experience. Love is an adventure. Infatuation is like swimming in a wading pool. Love is like swimming in the ocean. The difference is immense.
So, to all "players" out there, I am saying that being a player denies one of what may be the deepest and most meaningful experience we know this side of heaven.
Which leads me to an important Biblical point about human sexuality. In the Roman Catholic Tradition, we believe that grace builds on and ennobles nature. Nature is predisposed to the supernatural, even if wounded by original sin. Our sexual bodies were created the way they are as a path to God. Sexuality is a sign and symbol and foretaste of union with God!
Thus, the Song of Songs, and ancient hymn between two lovers, has long been interpreted as an allegory of the soul seeking God. The Church is called the Bride of Christ in places, and the sacrament of marriage is said to symbolize Christ's love for the Church. In becoming one flesh with a spouse, an individual is experiencing something of the union between God and the individual.
Yet, this love is not turned in on itself. Rather, like the life of the Trinity, love goes out of the self to the other as a creative energy. Just as the Holy Spirit proceeds from the he Father and the Son, and creation springs from all three persons in relations with one another, a husband and wife will bring forth children, and the family will be integrated a community and love will bind all things together.
Love is not exclusive, but expansive.
Just as infatuation was a stage in the growth of love, the act of sexual intercourse is another stage. As love expands to children and society, it becomes a non-sexual love. The celibate calling is a reminder of this different way of loving, and all Christians are called to chaste love with those to whom we are not married.
In the act of sexual intercourse, Saint Paul warns us that we are united with the other person whether we fully understand this or not. He warns that if we join with a prostitute, we are making ourselves prostitutes. By having multiple partners, the soul becomes fragmented. In modern psychological terms, we can speak of a person losing all sense of boundaries, and eventually losing a sense of self.
The Church's teaching on sexuality is often viewed as a series of negative commands. Thou shall not commit adultery. Thou shall not do this, or thou shall not do that.
What the Church is really trying to say is that we want sex to be great for everybody! Really good sex is experienced in the context of a publicly committed monogamous relationship where the act is open to procreation. Sexual acts in this context are so wonderful and awesome that anything less might be called a sin!
Having said all of this, some will wonder why I withhold full assent from certain Church teachings, or question such teachings as the Church's stance on divorce, contraception, and homosexuality.
On divorce, I have always said that divorce involves sin. But Christ is merciful, and I am simply saying the Church needs an avenue of reconciliation for sinners, which is an essential part of the Gospel.
On contraception, I believe the Church is on to something. The question I have is why natural family planning is permitted, since it is effectively not open to procreation as much as contraception.
On homosexuality, I am saying that when two people of the same gender are in a publicly committed monogamous relationship open to children, they are no different than an infertile couple. It is not a condition of sin. It is more like a handicap.
In cases of natural family planning and infertile married couples, the Church recognizes that sex that is less than perfect is nevertheless not sinful. It seems that the Holy Spirit has lead the development of doctrine such that we all know that unitive dimension of sexuality as a way of communicating love is primary, and procreation, while natural and important, is secondary. Progressives are merely arguing that this same logic applies in more instances than the Church currently has acknowledged.
Yet, many traditional teachings of the Church will hold up to the values I am presenting. Pedophilia lacks commitment and freedom to make a choice. A child is incapable of making the decision to "make love", and an adult who engages in such acts is manipulating the child for selfish purposes. Bestiality is not an act of love, nor is it open to procreation. Fornication lacks commitment and often is not monogamous. Adultery turns married sex into a series of meaningless random encounters. Any act that has pleasure as its sole end is ultimately a selfish gesture that robs sexuality of meaning and its power to communicate true love. In effect, sex outside of committed love is like making up your own language. It turns the most primal language of humanity into gibberish.
Catholics are concerned about the way American culture seems to glorify the idea that making sex meaningless is liberating. For this reason, conservative Catholics sometimes overeact to every hint of sex. This creates the impression that Catholics fear sex and hate it. It also creates a false impression of the meaning of the celibate vocation. Many people raised outside of Catholicism fail to realize that many celibates are healthy, well adjusted, and happy people.
My advice to conservatives is that we need express ourselves less with fear and condemnation than we did in the 1950's. This tactic does not work, and does not express the Truth we believe. I suggest we do a better job of explaining what we believe sexuality means. The good news about sex is that the Church wants us to have great sex! The Church's teaching really aims at helping us do just that!
God created all things for his glory and our good. Drugs are not bad in themselves. Drugs can bring healing and relief from pain. Furthermore, Christ was not wholly opposed to the use of recreational drugs, since he drank wine!
Some Protestant Christians argue that Christ drank non-alcoholic grape juice, but the Bible does not support this theory. Jesus was called a drunkard by his detractors. Furthermore, in an age before refrigerators, it is hard to imagine how grape juice could be kept that did not become wine.
Saint Paul tells Timothy to take wine for his stomach, indicating the medicinal properties of wine. Yet, for Christ, and throughout the Bible, wine is used for a symbol of the joy of the reign of God.
Saint Paul explicitly tells us that the reign of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink (Rom 14:17) and he seems to draw this from Christ, who is remembered by the early Church as saying that it is not what goes into a person that makes her or him unholy, but what comes out (Mk 7:15).
At the same time, the Bible contains numerous warnings against drunkenness and gluttony. Even Jesus is recorded as saying that there is no place in the reign of God for drunkards. Saint Peter tells us to be sober and alert so that we may be on guard against the devil, prowling like a lion, looking for someone to devour.
In places, the Bible encourages individuals to abstain completely from wine, but never as a universal command. John the Baptist did not drink, and the Nazarites did not drink. There is nothing wrong with deliberately choosing total abstinence from drink and recreational drugs. Likewise, there is nothing wrong with drinking in moderation!
This is the key to the whole equation. We are to enjoy earth's pleasures with moderation. Indeed, just as Christ saw wine as a symbol for the joy of heaven, we can experience the ecstasy of pleasure as a foretaste of what the Father has in store for us. This is good, and stirs gratitude in the heart.
When we cross from moderate enjoyment to intoxication, our judgment is clouded. We become weak willed and have poor control over our bodies. We can hurt others and ourselves. Indeed, while a glass or two of wine, or a couple beers may be pleasurable, I find drunkenness just makes me physically ill. Continued practice of entering into such a state can lead to addiction, which distracts us from growing in loving relationships, and turns us inward. We become isolated from others, living in our own drug induced haze disconnected form the world around us.
The Bible gives us no clear guidance regarding recreational drugs other than alcohol. Yet, the Church has always drawn analogies form the lessons about wine. Cigarette smoking is considered by most Catholic moralist to be dumb, but not sinful, since it does not intoxicate. On the other hand, hard drugs are considered morally problematic because the state of intoxication beyond moderation is often certain - there is no such thing as being a little bit high with some drugs. There is some disagreement among Catholics about drugs like marijuana, which some believe can be used moderately, while others insist it cannot.
In the United States, certain drugs are considered illegal, regardless of the moral arguments. This raises another moral issue for drug users. If one purchases illegal drugs, the money often goes to people who are murderers and terrorists. The act of buying and using such drugs also deters police from doing more valuable service.
One can argue about changing the laws. However, there is almost no moral justification for breaking the U.S. drug laws as long as they exist. The only exception I can think of would be where a person with a serious illness is intending the use of the drug for pain relief, and no legal drug is effective. Otherwise, even those who disagree with drug laws should abide by those laws.
Anyone who has been to a Catholic wedding knows that Catholics know how to throw a good party. Perhaps we can and should learn to be moderate from our Protestant siblings. At the same time, we should never lose sight of the fact that the goods of the earth would put here for our benefit!
Rock and Roll:
I considered changing the title of this article to "Sex, Drugs, and Hip Hop" because I think Rock and Roll may be in the process of being replaced. For those of us approaching forty and older, we'll just have to take those old records off the shelf, and play them all by our self.
Protestant Christians often display a disdain for Rock and Roll that is a bit mysterious to all but the most conservative Catholic. Yet, these conservative Catholics do exist. The feeling among some Christians is that Rock and Roll is Satan's music that is causing the fall of Western society. Indeed, immediately after the Columbine High School shootings a few years back, many people blamed goth rock star, Marilyn Manson, for the murders.
My wife is from Africa, and one thing that strikes me about her culture is how different the music is. The music form her homeland is happy and joyful, even as it makes you want to jump up and dance. For those who are unfamiliar with African beats, think of the wave of Latin music coming to America now. Salsa and marange do not express the same tone and feel as Rock and Roll.
I love that old time Rock and Roll, but I have to admit that the conservatives may have a point about certain aspects of popular music in America. Rock and Roll is a defiant and rebellious style of music that often expresses feelings of anger, angst, anxiety, fear, or lust. Modern day Hip Hop is not much different in this regard.
One thing I want to say about Hip Hop is that it is probably the savior of poetry in the English language.
Returning to the theme of the feelings expressed in American popular music, why do we listen almost exclusively to music expressing rage against society?
Don't get me wrong. There have always been occasional love ballads by top artists, and we have always had the simple minded "bubble gum pop" sounds that teenage girls keep buying. Britany Spears is our current example.
Nor am I saying that songs expressing that rebel yell are morally wrong. Jesus grew angry enough to flip over tables, and his conflict with the Pharisees reminds me of the hippy conflict with the WWII generation. Good art should give expression to the full range of human emotions, and incorporate the entire human condition in its message.
I think Christ likes some good guitar licks and the fast beat of the drum. Listening to Neil Peart on the drums is like a religious experience. It takes us out of ourself for a moment.
What I believe has become problematic is not that we listen to Rock Roll. I think the problem is that the average American does not expose him or herself to a wide enough variety of music. I like Rock and roll, and I also occasionally listen to Hip Hop and R&B. I listen to classical music more and more to the point where I can honestly say I listen to more classical than anything else. But I also give country a listen now and then, and jazz, and the blues, and African music, and Latin music, and music form the islands. Indeed, I think I like Raggae as much as Rock and roll and for many of the same reasons - and Raggae often uses Biblical lyrics. Sometimes, I listen to Indian music while doing yoga exercises. In addition to adding a lot of classical music to my listening habits, I have a habit of listening to good recordings of Church music since college.
The problem with listening exclusively to Rock and Roll is that it expresses a limited range of emotion, and when we listen to it all the time we start to feel those feelings all the time, and this is not healthy. Also, there are some bands I have not listened to because they explicitly said they were Satan worshippers, or advocated extreme violence, sexism and such. Just because all Rock is not bad does not mean that some Rock is not bad.
My recommendation to conservatives who fear Rock and Roll, or any popular music, is to relax. The devil is not using a particular form of music as his tool. Rather, the tool he likely is using is to have us become so exclusive in our music taste that we cannot appreciate the full range of the human condition.
Instead of fearing Rock and Roll per se, what we need to do is have balance. As a counterbalance to whatever secular music we listen to, consider adding a daily dose of religious music and something that's new to you. Over time, you will not only have your love for your old favorites, but you will have new favorites as well from completely different musical styles.
The main point I am trying to make in this entire article is that being a good Catholic does not mean that we do not enjoy life. God gifts us with great sex, the pleasure of good wine, and the thrill of a good beat. We do not need to live in constant fear wondering if the devil is lurking under every cultural rock.
On the other hand, there is a force of evil in the world, as we saw at Auswitch, 9-11, and so many other places. I believe Satan is real, and we do need to be somewhat vigilant. Some liberals and progressives, especially those who do not ground their liberalism in spirituality, undermine the values I am pointing to above and promote a culture of crass exploitive sexism, irresponsible drug use, and violent entertainment. Conservatives are not wrong to be concerned about these issues of how culture is represented in art.
However, the way to do this is not to fear the world God created or the culture in which he placed us. By his incarnation, Christ sanctified the entire human condition, including worldly pleasure. Rather, we ward off Satan by simply remembering the purpose of things and the natural meanings inherent to things, and by centering our life in Christ, and sharing with the others the positive values that we seek to protect.
One can listen to Rock and Roll while enjoying a cold brew after intercourse with your wife, and if you are praising God for the pleasure, you are likely still a good Christian!
Which brings me to my final conclusion. The key to staying centered in Christ is call him to mind regularly. The way to do this is prayer. A person who prays regularly will not be lead astray by the devil.
Peace and Blessings!
Readers may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
posted by Jcecil3 4:15 PM