Sex outside the Matrix
Credit: ISTOCK (IVAN-96)
Opinion: The Christian tradition may be at odds with the sexual revolution, but it doesn't necessarily condemn sex either.
On the one hand, popular music of the 1960’s and ‘70s celebrated sexual freedom as part of a healthy life.
“When the truth turns out to be lies / And all the joy within you dies/ Don’t you want somebody to love / You better find somebody to love” (Jefferson Airplane). And similarly, “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with” (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young).
On the other hand, conservative people saw much of sexual liberation as immoral. The Christian communities in the country were particularly opposed. Churches had for centuries taught that sex was meant for straight married people. We should remember that until around 1970, most Canadians went to either a Catholic or Protestant church. The Catholic Church was the most firm on sexual matters. It refused to separate sex from marriage and the procreation of children.
Churches however, were swamped, their views swept aside by popular culture. Suddenly women had control of their own reproductive abilities. Contraception, abortion, homosexual liberation, sex education in public schools, portrayals of sex in films, and the unrelenting message of sexual abandon in the music of bands like The Rolling Stones, Cream and their imitators, all ensured that no one failed to get the message.
It was a new day. The way was open for the widespread acceptance of recreational sex and porn. And most people have not looked back.
Yet, although the number of people involved in their churches is not what it was before the late 1960’s, the proportion of Canadians involved in their churches remains significant. Many churches are thriving. Conservative views on sex, then, have not disappeared.
At the same time, the country has become more diverse, and with that diversity has come new conservative views on sex. New-to-Canada religions and people groups are frequently at odds with Canadian permissive attitudes to sex. Here we can count Muslim communities. Other traditional world views such as Hindu and Baha’i do not support the freewheeling approach to sex that readers can find almost anywhere, including probably in this issue of the Interrobang.
Aboriginal and native groups around the planet generally have moral codes about sex and marriage, in contrast to the mildly, but largely, hedonistic approaches Canadians many take for granted today.
Were the churches wrong in their conservatism on sexual matters? To some extent, their negative approach was rooted in the long-standing influence of ancient Greek philosophers. The most famous of them all, Plato, held that the immortal soul was trapped in an unworthy physical body. This easily led thinkers, including Christian philosophers over the centuries, to feel that ultimate good was connected with the life of the mind, contemplation on eternal Truths. That went handin-glove with a view of the body that made sex unseemly, not worthy of a thinking, cultured, or heroic person.
When thinkers conflated the Platonic attitude toward sex with the Christian Bible’s condemnation of adultery (cheating on your spouse, or with someone else’s) and sexual promiscuity, the result was formidable. Sex became, in the minds of many, bad. Chastity became a sought-after virtue far beyond the biblical understanding of that condition. Sex was to be kept out of sight and out of mind.
That is why the sexual revolution can be seen as, in part, a rejection of the way that many churches hid sex.
However, are the views that churches have about sex, and that are supported by the Bible, merely irrelevant and obsolete?
Consider first that the Bible sees sex as created by God and, therefore, terrific. On page one of the Bible, human beings are encouraged to grow in number and enjoy the whole world as a gift from God. That makes it quite difficult to condemn sex as beneath human beings. The first humans, represented in the Bible by the figures Adam and Eve, are originally naked without shame. The Song of Solomon, a long poetic section in the Bible, has more than a few erotic lines.
Second we can note that the Bible portrays sex as part of a brilliant matrix. That matrix includes children and healthy families. It includes the virtues of fidelity, trust, care and honesty. The matrix is held together by a community of people who trust God. This means that fundamentally, sex is not about you and me and our self-expression and enjoyment, although it is an expression of ourselves, and it is sometimes intoxicatingly enjoyable. Sex, marriage, child rearing and community — the church has, at its best, presented those as blessed things that should be supported by prayer, trust in God and the hard work of love.
Third, one can question the changes in society since the sexual revolution of the 1960’s. Divorce rates have increased greatly. Single parent homes have become common. Almost always that has meant the absence of fathers. This, many argue, increases the chances of poverty, lower brain functioning, and other negative tendencies.
Many now see marriage, if they give it any serious attention at all, as an obsolete institution. They tend to consider traditional Christian marriage vows and commitments “tell death do us part” as unrealistic. Consequently, for many relationships the back door is always open, either to let someone else in, or to exit. Does this not have severe negative impacts on the well being of kids — on each new generation?
If sex is just an autonomous act in the moment between people who consent to genital contact for a period of time of their own choosing, that is one thing. But if it is part of a matrix created and favoured by the Creator — that is another.