Logomachon






Clearing the Fog
in the
War of Words

 

   
  logomachy--1. A dispute about words. 2. A dispute carried on in words only; a battle of words.
logomachon--1. One who argues about words. 2. A word warrior.

   
   
   
 

2005-04-04
 

JPII and Sex

In October 1979, my brother and sisters and I camped overnight on the Mall in Washington, D.C., to get front row places when John Paul II celebrated Mass. My Episcopalian fiancée joined us, saying John Paul was the only man for whom she would have endured the crowds. So said we all. Even then we had a sense that Karol Wojtyla was something special as Pope.

Now, at the other end of Wojtyla’s time as Pope, the press has been full of journalists’ reflections on the specialness of his papacy through the lens of their own modernist conventions. Every expression or report of admiration contains, like some obsessive formula, some variation of “though I/some/many disagreed with him about” the modern agenda for the dehumanization of the human body. Not that they call it that, for example
To some, his attitude towards women in the church, abortion, birth control, homosexuality and fashionable social issues verged on the.
He did more than verge on being doctrinaire and dogmatic. But he did not simply "oppose change". Though the proponents of the sexual revolution are all unsuspecting, he countered their bloody bestiality with a radical re-understanding of the centrality of the human body in human existence and salvation in his "Theology of the Body".

Sexual license, divorce, contraception, abortion, in vitro fertilization, homosexuality, making embryos for stem cells, the feminist doctrine of utter ontological equivalence of the sexes, and cloning. These are not “just about sex”. What is going on with the removal of man’s sexuality from the regard of morality is the separation of man’s body from himself. Think about it. If what we do with our body, especially the sexual faculty, is outside morality, then it is outside those faculties of knowing and reason that make us human. Since morality has to do with using things rightly, with treating them the way they are supposed to be treated, putting sex outside morality means there is no right way to use it, no purpose to which it should be turned. It is purposeless. In practice, it has worked the other way around. The desire to be free from the constraints that sex’s purposes impose on our behavior has driven us to reject any moral context for sexual behavior.

If you put “Amoral sex separates us from our body--disembodies us” on a placard and stood on the street corner or said it to your friends at lunch, you would be so far outside everyday speech people would think you were crazy. Yet people feel what is happening to them, feel what they are giving up, and they madly try to compensate. In contrast to the indignant, uncompromising response we give to any suggestion of sexual discipline (“How dare you tell me what’s right and wrong”), we tolerate and embrace unnumbered hosts of gurus prating, preaching, nagging, and screeching at us about the rights and wrongs of training, disciplining, and conditioning everything else about our mortal coil, from our stomachs, hairline, and blood chemistry to our hearts, eyes, and brains.

It is a futile effort at unequal substitution, what psychologists call displacement behavior. The sexual faculty (to use the dry-as-dust speech of theologians) is our body’s most central and distinguishing. One’s sex distinguishes him unequivocally from half the human race. Our sex shapes our personalities and our social relationships profoundly; skin condition, cholesterol level, and belt size are, well, little more than skin deep.

Thus, the whole sexual freedom movement has had as its goal the disintegration of the human person. It has promoted the extreme matter-spirit distinction of the old and very nasty dualist heresies, like Manichaeism and Albigensianism. For the dualists, the body is not really part of human nature, not part of the human person. They taught that spirit was created by God but that matter was created by Satan or some other evil force. Sexual liberationists, being materialists, don’t talk explicitly about body and spirit. They just reduce the body--one’s own or anyone else’s--to a morally neutral machine for convenient pleasure. A thing, a commodity, connected with “human” rights only as it is the property of the supposed ethereal “person”. From there it is but a short step to euthanasia and growing embryos and fetuses for parts.

The people who are pushing the desacralization of the body will deny this, if they don’t just sniff at you as talking nonsense. But then, what penetration of thought can you expect from them. Their idea of refuting someone who deviates from their agenda is reflexively to dismiss him as “doctrinaire and dogmatic”? What do you say to the pot about the kettle? Of course the Pope is doctrinaire and dogmatic. It's in his bloody job description (“‘whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth . . .’”Mt 16:19).

The foregoing is not John Paul’s Theology of the Body, but my take on the situation it is addressing. John Paul reflects on Scripture, revelation, and experience to show the purpose of our physicality. He goes beyond sexual morality to find a theology of the body (with implications beyond sex). He teaches that our bodies are part of God’s redemptive plan, that our being made male and female is part of our being made in God’s image and likeness. I can’t claim any understanding of the nuances of the TB (as its advocates say). John Paul presented his thinking in a series of 129 lectures in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, in the dense and difficult prose of a philosophy professor he once was. I’m no expert; I’m not even a novice. I’m waiting for Theology of the Body for Dummies.

Fortunately, that work is under way. Two leading programs are Theology of the Body and Women Affirming Life. The Web sites include essays, study plans, and links to the growing library of books about TB.

As a taste, I’ll quote just a few things (in blue) about John Paul II’s doctrine and dogma that might bring the clueless commenters of this past week to even greater confusion.
John Paul describes true sexual intimacy as a mystical and even liturgical experience (see TB, Jul 4, 1984).

Rather than reduce sexuality to the transmission of life, it is the Pope's pervasive theme that "the human body ...is not only a source of fruitfulness and procreation, . . . but includes right 'from the beginning' the 'nuptial' attribute, that is, the capacity of expressing love" (TB, Jan 16, 1980). . . Elsewhere, John Paul says that if the only reason a couple is having sex is to transmit life, then they may be in danger of using each other rather than loving each other (see Love & Responsibility p. 233).

The stereotype of the Pope and the Church’s teaching during this week’s commentary is that they have little to no appreciation of sexual joy and pleasure. The critics virtually accuse orthodox teaching on sexuality of being Albigensian, of regarding sexual passion mainly as an obstacle to authentic love. In fact, John Paul describes the "beatifying experience" of conjugal union as a foretaste of the joys of heaven (see TB, Dec 16, 1981 and Jan 13, 1982). In Love & Responsibility, Wojtyla raised more than a few eyebrows by his detailed discussion of the husband's responsibility—out of authentic love for his wife—to see that she achieves sexual climax (see Love & Responsibility pp. 270-278). From an essay by Christopher West


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