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The Sexual Revolution & Christianity’s Death

'Sugar Babies,' the pornification of life, and all the other poisonous fruits of the Sexual Revolution reveal the truth of post-Christian 'freedom'
The Sexual Revolution & Christianity’s Death

Did you read this amazing account of Stanford undergraduate women turning themselves into "sugar babies," a kind of whore, not because they have to, but because they want to? It's a tale of our time, for sure. Excerpt:

Though neither Cassie nor Lainey set out to be sugar babies (their word for what they did), they hadthe foresight to set strict boundaries. Their sugar-babying consisted of sexting, sexual voice recordings, and some suggestive but clothed Snapchats. They say there were no nudes, no phone calls, no meetups. They didn’t publicize where they attended school, but people found out anyway and sent the above-mentioned gifts.

When I asked them why they set these boundaries, Lainey replied, “It’s not worth it to me to send someone nudes for a small amount of money when we literally go to Stanford and are going to be making money off our intelligence. I would rather not send anything that could jeopardize my entire life in order to get like $20 or whatever it is.”

Her reasoning has a certain internal consistency. It also indicated the curious situation of my two classmates. They did not actually need the money they were making from sugar-babying. Their parents paid their tuition and healthcare. Cassie paid for her own phone bill, and both Cassie and Lainey, like most twenty-one-year-olds, funded their own social lives. But prior to her social media fame Cassie afforded these expenses by tutoring a few hours a week. As school and social life demanded more of her time, she cut down her tutoring hours, and as her sugar-babying brought in more money she cut tutoring down more.

Lainey put it simply: “Less work, more money. Passive income stream.”

For them, sugar-babying is a bit of entertainment and easy money that for now has virtually no consequences. Neither of the girls would like their families or employers to find out, but any social stigma that once existed around this kind of thing is long gone. Their friends just laugh about it, and often participate. The sexting, Cassie said, “could escalate to being really sexual and that’s when I’d pass it off to a friend. [My friend] thought it was so funny so I’d just give him the phone for him to talk to [the sugar daddy] for a bit and hundreds of dollars would flow in. He can say whatever weird stuff he wants because it’s not about him.”

When I spoke to other students at Stanford about the sugar baby phenomenon, a few raised eyebrows at potential “safety concerns.” This is, of course, the only objection to sex work you are allowed to have as a good progressive feminist on a college campus. What if these men show up to the house where Cassie and Lainey — and dozens of other students — live? What if they want more than online transactions, and come to stalk, kill, kidnap, or rape the girls? Fortunately, nothing like this ever occurred, and the men, like Pat, were respectful of Cassie’s refusing their offer for a visit. But this brings us to the collateral damage not often named in these stories. While the girls come out more or less unscathed, what about the men?

In truth, Cassie and Lainey don’t know much about their clients. Some are older with grandkids. Some are in their 20s. One is an attorney. But most of the men they told me about were working class, a taxi driver from Kentucky or a factory worker.

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Read it all. I said that sugar-babying is being "a kind of whore," because while these women are not trading actual sex to paying clients, they are selling what are called "thirst traps" -- social media posts designed to entice people (including paying clients) sexually. What is breathtaking about the culture depicted in that story is how destigmatized "sex work" and adjacent activity is among that generation. The idea is that you are entitled to exploit yourself sexually for fun and profit, and nobody can judge that. But if you read on in the story, you'll see that these poor working class bastards, men who are this culture's losers with women, are paying their last dimes to these Stanford skanks. It is extraordinarily immoral, and not just because of the sex. As Nicola Buskirk, the piece's author, writes:

Cassie and Lainey’s experience is a microcosm of the broader cultural changes in America over the past few decades. American men, especially working class men, have been left behind with little hope for the “American dream” of a good family and stable job, income, and community. Rather, they self-medicate with drugs, alcohol, porn, and the pseudo-personal relationships offered by girls like Cassie and Lainey.

About those cultural changes, I urge you to give a listen to Andrew Sullivan's podcast interview with Louise Perry, the English feminist whose provocative new book, The Case Against The Sexual Revolution, is causing a big stir. Madeleine Kearns reviewed it glowingly in National Review. Excerpt:

In The Case against the Sexual Revolution, Louise Perry, a 30-year-old wife, mother, and left-leaning feminist from England, argues that “a truly feminist project would demand that, in the straight dating world, it should be men, not women, who adjust their sexual appetites.” And yet, as she highlights, the dominant liberal-feminist project of the past 50 years has promoted the precise opposite. The beneficiaries of our current system are men, not women, and in particular a minority of highly promiscuous men. The book is brave, bristling with insights, and beautifully written.

The Sullivan interview is moving and at times unnerving, for a reason I hadn't anticipated: because it reveals so much about Andrew Sullivan, and the culture that he embodies. Sullivan is an intelligent interviewer, and treats Perry with respect, even as he simply cannot grasp her arguments. For example, Perry talks about the concrete ways that pornography harms men (e.g., mass erectile dysfunction among young), women (e.g., the normalization of sadistic sexual practices), and society at large. But Sullivan bristles at all this. Having written before about his enjoyment of porn, Sullivan doesn't want to hear pornography criticized. At one point he asks Perry plainly how on earth she expects middle-aged men not to look at porn to whet their sexual imaginations, given the limitations that come with age. It's quite something to hear a man who identifies publicly as Catholic object to criticism of pornography, but there we are. Sullivan talks about how in his youth, when there was no gay porn easily available, he used to draw his own porn. I had never thought about a kid so driven by lust that he draws his own pornography when he can't buy any. Like I said, revealing.

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I appreciate Sullivan's honesty, I suppose, but it is bracing to hear him coming back, over and over, to the conclusion that sexual desire is its own justification. The penis wants what it wants, and in a justly ordered world, it must have it. There are few intellectuals who have been more consequential in normalizing same-sex marriage than Andrew Sullivan, who said (most recently) in his interview with Matthew Rose that he advocated for same-sex marriage to bring the benefits of that bourgeois institution to gay men and women. But in his private life, based on the things he told Louise Perry, he is utterly anti-bourgeois. He believes in maximal sexual freedom. Sullivan -- against, by his own words -- enjoys smoking dope, watching porn, and pursuing lots of sex. In a moment of candor, he concedes to Perry that as a gay man who spends all his time within a cultural bubble in which men are constantly searching for sexual encounters, he struggles to understand her point.

Finishing the interview, I was once again convinced that the Sexual Revolution has queered our civilization. I called this back in 2013, in my TAC essay "Sex After Christianity". Excerpts:

The magnitude of the defeat suffered by moral traditionalists will become ever clearer as older Americans pass from the scene. Poll after poll shows that for the young, homosexuality is normal and gay marriage is no big deal—except, of course, if one opposes it, in which case one has the approximate moral status of a segregationist in the late 1960s.

All this is, in fact, a much bigger deal than most people on both sides realize, and for a reason that eludes even ardent opponents of gay rights. Back in 1993, a cover story in The Nation identified the gay-rights cause as the summit and keystone of the culture war:

All the crosscurrents of present-day liberation struggles are subsumed in the gay struggle. The gay moment is in some ways similar to the moment that other communities have experienced in the nation’s past, but it is also something more, because sexual identity is in crisis throughout the population, and gay people—at once the most conspicuous subjects and objects of the crisis—have been forced to invent a complete cosmology to grasp it. No one says the changes will come easily. But it’s just possible that a small and despised sexual minority will change America forever.

They were right, and though the word “cosmology” may strike readers as philosophically grandiose, its use now appears downright prophetic. The struggle for the rights of “a small and despised sexual minority” would not have succeeded if the old Christian cosmology had held: put bluntly, the gay-rights cause has succeeded precisely because the Christian cosmology has dissipated in the mind of the West.

Same-sex marriage strikes the decisive blow against the old order. The Nation’s triumphalist rhetoric from two decades ago is not overripe; the radicals appreciated what was at stake far better than did many—especially bourgeois apologists for same-sex marriage as a conservative phenomenon. Gay marriage will indeed change America forever, in ways that are only now becoming visible. For better or for worse, it will make ours a far less Christian culture. It already is doing exactly that.

More:

Rieff’s landmark 1966 book The Triumph Of the Therapeutic analyzes what he calls the “deconversion” of the West from Christianity. Nearly everyone recognizes that this process has been underway since the Enlightenment, but Rieff showed that it had reached a more advanced stage than most people—least of all Christians—recognized.

Rieff, who died in 2006, was an unbeliever, but he understood that religion is the key to understanding any culture. For Rieff, the essence of any and every culture can be identified by what it forbids. Each imposes a series of moral demands on its members, for the sake of serving communal purposes, and helps them cope with these demands. A culture requires a cultus—a sense of sacred order, a cosmology that roots these moral demands within a metaphysical framework.

You don’t behave this way and not that way because it’s good for you; you do so because this moral vision is encoded in the nature of reality. This is the basis of natural-law theory, which has been at the heart of contemporary secular arguments against same-sex marriage (and which have persuaded no one).

Rieff, writing in the 1960s, identified the sexual revolution—though he did not use that term—as a leading indicator of Christianity’s death as a culturally determinative force. In classical Christian culture, he wrote, “the rejection of sexual individualism” was “very near the center of the symbolic that has not held.” He meant that renouncing the sexual autonomy and sensuality of pagan culture was at the core of Christian culture—a culture that, crucially, did not merely renounce but redirected the erotic instinct. That the West was rapidly re-paganizing around sensuality and sexual liberation was a powerful sign of Christianity’s demise.

And:

It is nearly impossible for contemporary Americans to grasp why sex was a central concern of early Christianity. Sarah Ruden, the Yale-trained classics translator, explains the culture into which Christianity appeared in her 2010 book Paul Among The People. Ruden contends that it’s profoundly ignorant to think of the Apostle Paul as a dour proto-Puritan descending upon happy-go-lucky pagan hippies, ordering them to stop having fun.

In fact, Paul’s teachings on sexual purity and marriage were adopted as liberating in the pornographic, sexually exploitive Greco-Roman culture of the time—exploitive especially of slaves and women, whose value to pagan males lay chiefly in their ability to produce children and provide sexual pleasure. Christianity, as articulated by Paul, worked a cultural revolution, restraining and channeling male eros, elevating the status of both women and of the human body, and infusing marriage—and marital sexuality—with love.

Christian marriage, Ruden writes, was “as different from anything before or since as the command to turn the other cheek.” The point is not that Christianity was only, or primarily, about redefining and revaluing sexuality, but that within a Christian anthropology sex takes on a new and different meaning, one that mandated a radical change of behavior and cultural norms. In Christianity, what people do with their sexuality cannot be separated from what the human person is.

It would be absurd to claim that Christian civilization ever achieved a golden age of social harmony and sexual bliss. It is easy to find eras in Christian history when church authorities were obsessed with sexual purity. But as [Philip] Rieff recognizes, Christianity did establish a way to harness the sexual instinct, embed it within a community, and direct it in positive ways.

What makes our own era different from the past, says Rieff, is that we have ceased to believe in the Christian cultural framework, yet we havemade it impossible to believe in any other that does what culture must do: restrain individual passions and channel them creatively toward communal purposes.

Rather, in the modern era, we have inverted the role of culture. Instead of teaching us what we must deprive ourselves of to be civilized, we have a society that tells us we find meaning and purpose in releasing ourselves from the old prohibitions.

This past week, this graph got a lot of attention on Twitter:

Why did things fall off a cliff in 2017? There are surely several causes, but I would propose that the 2015 Obergefell ruling is one of them. I can't prove it, obviously. Still, the broad cultural changes in the shared understanding of what marriage is for (which also entails an entire view of the human person, and of sex) necessary to legitimize gay marriage obliterates the rationale for marriage. It's not the fault of gays, necessarily, but they are its avatars, they are its vanguard, and activists like Sullivan could only get what they wanted by destroying the last vestiges of the Christian imaginary. Gay men are the ultimate beneficiaries of the Sexual Revolution, as are high-status (wealth, looks) men. Homely and poor straight men, and women, are the losers. And, of course, children.

What is astonishing -- and depressing, as someone who likes and respects Sullivan -- is how completely consumed he is by sexual desire, such that he believes the world should be ordered to fulfilling his sexual desire. Again, it's quite educational to listen to the man whose labors had so much to do with normalizing gay desire and marriage for same-sex couples resist Louise Perry's criticism of the Sexual Revolution. It's as if, in his mind, what Perry says can't be true, because if true, then it challenges, even invalidates, the core principles around which he has built his life and most important life's work.

Sullivan and I are frenemies, I guess. We are so much alike: both passionate, even excitable, to the point where we sometimes lead with our hearts, into error. Both oriented around religion. Both having had issues with our father (one of the reasons I'm sympathetic to him is that we both struggled with dads who did not approve of us, and have struggled with that). The core of our dispute over the years has been our stance on homosexuality -- though I would say sexuality in general, both homo and hetero. I'm straight, he's gay, but we have completely opposed beliefs on sexuality. I hold to Biblical teaching that sexual expression is only licit within heterosexual marriage. Sullivan, obviously, does not. How he reconciles his belief in porn and promiscuity with his profession of Catholic Christianity is between him and God, but in my view, it cannot be done. Priapus is not Jesus Christ. In any case, Sullivan is on the winning side of history, at least at this moment, because the Sexual Revolution has created a world made for people like him, and the Sugar Babies of Stanford: one in which there are no limits (except denial of consent) on sexual fulfillment and expression.

How is that working out for us? Well, look around you. Louise Perry sees it clearly, even if Andrew Sullivan does not. She points out in the introduction to her book that the Sexual Revolution mostly benefited heterosexuals like Hugh Hefner. She might have said simply men, including gay men like Andrew Sullivan, who correctly points out that within his gay cultural bubble, men are constantly jockeying to have sex -- not because they are gay, but because they are men, and that's what men unrestrained by religion or custom do. Here are some excerpts from the intro to Perry's book that I grabbed from the Amazon sample. She makes it clear that she's not a conservative, but doesn't really target conservatives in the book. She also approvingly quotes Patrick Deneen making the connection between liberal sexual mores and liberal economics. From the book:

In this section, she points out that the Sexual Revolution benefits men, not women:

And:

I have just purchased Perry's The Case Against the Sexual Revolution, and urge you to do the same. I'm only reading these days books having to do with the re-enchantment project I'm working on, and the passage above -- about the disenchantment of sex -- tells me that I have something to learn from her work.

Anyway, again, I urge you to listen to the interview Andrew Sullivan did with Perry. It's really interesting for a lot of reasons, but I appreciate Sullivan's honest attempt to grapple with Perry's argument, and what it reveals (unintentionally) about the premises on which America's most effective advocate for gay rights bases his worldview. At the very end, Sullivan asks Perry what she thinks about the role of sexual pleasure in life, saying that she seems to believe that "losing this pleasure [in the sense of restraining it, not abandoning it] is actually a gain because you gain higher pleasures, higher virtues." He goes on to say "I live in a subculture that is entirely male, a highly sexualized subculture that is extraordinarily hard to counter, because it is driven so powerfully not only by the powers of straight male sexuality, but removes any female constraints on it."

Finally, he gets to the point: "Do you think there's something wrong with gay men having so much sex, with so many people, all the time?"

She kind of dodges the question, saying that her view is that it is better not to have sex than to have unwanted sex. Which is really not much of an answer, but then again, Sullivan points out that there is no philosophical background to the book. He asks Perry is there is something about sex that "just troubles you"? Does it make you a "slave to the passions," as he puts it. She says no, she's not troubled by sex, but that we have to understand that all civilizations place some restrictions on sexual expression; "the question is at what level we set it."

I am not Louise Perry, so I have no trouble saying that there's something wrong with gay men having so much sex, with so many people, all the time -- and the same is true of heterosexuals engaged in that kind of life. As a Christian, I believe that there are no circumstances that legitimize gay sex, but even if I thought there were, I would be strongly against a culture of sexual freedom. The disenchantment of which Perry speaks is very real. I experienced it myself. I am a deeply romantic person, and found sex before marriage to be disappointing. It wasn't physically disappointing -- it was as much fun as I hoped it would be. But it left me feeling empty and guilty, because I knew in my bones that it was supposed to be so much more -- that this most intimate act was something that should have been reserved for love and commitment. I knew this even when I didn't really believe in God.

As I grew older, I tried to bargain with God, to find some way to rationalize my sexual behavior within a Christian context, but there was no way to do it without lying to oneself. In my early to mid twenties, I had to experiences that compelled me to abandon my guilty participation in the Sexual Revolution: a pregnancy scare after a casual encounter, and seeing how my sexual behavior hurt a young woman I was dating, but did not want to be serious with. I had lied to myself that the sex was casual, and didn't mean much, but that's not how she took it. I never once intentionally led her to believe otherwise, but she was a good woman, and wanted to believe that I was a good man, and that the sex we had was more than just pleasure. It wasn't, and when I realized how seriously she took it, I broke up with her -- and hurt her deeply. I felt terrible about that, and needed to feel terrible about that. All of these things made me realize that I was staying away from God to defend the indefensible within myself. I realized that the kind of sacrifices Christianity required me to make to be a follower of Christ -- for me as a man in my mid-twenties, the greatest of which was sexual freedom -- actually released me into a higher freedom. The question, or maybe the proposition, that Sullivan puts to Perry is a good one: that by sacrificing one pleasure, you gain higher virtue. One of them is that sex become re-enchanted.

What is wrong with gay men having so much sex with so many people all the time -- aside from the bedrock sinfulness of gay sex, from a Christian point of view -- is the same thing that's wrong with heteros doing it: you treat another person like they are an object, a means to the end which is orgasm. You destroy what is best in that person and in yourself: a sense of the sacred, a sense that you are made for higher forms of communion -- a communion in which the act of sex is an outward expression of the inner reality of spiritual unity between partners. It only sounds la-tee-da if you've never lived it.

I am not one of those conservatives who idealizes the past. In talking to my parents about how life was in the 1950s, I have come to the conclusion that in some ways, things are better today. And the fact that I am at present going through a divorce shows that even commitment to Christian sexual rules (both my wife and I have been faithful to our vows) will not protect you. But the Sexual Revolution has been a disaster for most of us (and is as well for gay men and promiscuous heterosexual men, though they don't recognize it). Its centering of desire, especially sexual desire, as the core of the human person has led now to the transgender catastrophe. In terms of strict logic, there is no reason the LGB should have led to the T, but once you embrace a general ethic that holds that desire is its own justification, how do you say no?

For me, the only force that gave me the power to renounce sex until marriage was religion. "Thou shalt not" was enough to get me through the first couple of years, but eventually I came to see the value of this renunciation. It is not easy. It is very hard, especially when there is little to nothing in the culture that encourages you to embrace chastity. But I knew what was true, so I carried on ... and when I would fall, I would go to confession, ask forgiveness, and repent. My marriage began to fall apart a decade ago, and it was my love for Jesus Christ and my children that kept me from falling victim to temptation to violate my vows.

This passage from The Benedict Option tells you where I'm coming from with all this:

Christian marriage, Ruden writes, was “as different from anything before or since as the command to turn the other cheek.” Chastity—the rightly ordered use of the gift of sexuality—was the greatest distinction setting Christians of the early church apart from the pagan world. 

The point is not that Christianity was only, or primarily, about redefining and revaluing sexuality, but that within a Christian anthropology sex takes on a new and different meaning, one that mandated a radical change of behavior and cultural norms. In Christianity, what a person does with their sexuality cannot be separated from what a person is. In a sense, moderns believe the same thing, but from a perspective entirely different from the early Church’s. 

In speaking of how men and women of the early Christian era saw their bodies, historian Peter Brown says the body 

was embedded in a cosmic matrix in ways that made its perception of itself profoundly unlike our own. Ultimately, sex was not the expression of inner needs, lodged in the isolated body. Instead, it was seen as the pulsing, through the body, of the same energies as kept the stars alive. Whether this pulse of energy came from benevolent gods of from malevolent demons (as many radical Christians believed) sex could never be seen as a thing for the isolated human body alone.

Early Christianity’s sexual teaching not only comes from the words of Christ and the Apostle Paul, but more broadly, it emerges from the Bible’s anthropology. The human being bears the image of God, however tarnished by sin, and is the pinnacle of an order created and imbued with meaning by God. 

In that order, man has a purpose. He is meant for something, to achieve certain ends. When Paul warned the Christians of Corinth that having sex with a prostitute meant that they were joining Jesus Christ to that prostitute, he was not speaking metaphorically. Because we belong to Christ as a unity of body, mind, and soul, how we use the body and the mind sexually is a very big deal. 

Anything we do that falls short of perfect harmony with the will of God is sin. Sin is not merely rule-breaking, but failing to live in accord with the structure of reality itself

The Christian who lives in reality will not join his body to another’s outside of the order God gives us. That means no sex outside of the covenant through which a man and a woman seal their love exclusively through Christ. In orthodox Christian teaching, the two really do become “one flesh” in a way that transcends the symbolic. 

If sex is made holy through the marriage covenant, then sex within marriage an icon of Christ’s relationship with His people, the church. It reveals the miraculous, life-giving power of spiritual communion, which occurs when a man and a woman—and only a man and a woman—give themselves to each other. That marriage could be unsexed is a total novelty in the Christian theological tradition. 

“The significance of sexual difference has never before been contingent upon a creature’s preferences, or upon whether or not God gave it episodically to a particular creature to have certain preferences,” writes the Catholic theologian Christopher Roberts. He goes on to say that for Christians, the meaning of sexuality has always depended on its relationship to the created order and to eschatology—the ultimate end of man. 

“As was particularly clear, perhaps for the first time in Luther, the fact of a sexually differentiated creation is reckoned to human beings as a piece of information from God about who and what it meant to be human,” writes Roberts. 

Contrary to modern gender theory, the question is not Are we men or women? but How are we to be male and female together? The legitimacy of our sexual desire is limited by the givenness of nature. The facts of our biology are not incidental to our personhood. Marriage has to be sexually complementary because only the male-female pair mirrors the generativity of the divine order. “Male and female he made them,” says Genesis, revealing that complementarity is written into the nature of reality. 

Easy divorce stretches the sacred bond of matrimony to the breaking point, but it does not deny complementarity. Gay marriage does. Similarly, transgenderism doesn’t merely bend, but breaks the  biological and metaphysical reality of male and female. Everything in this debate (and many others between traditional Christianity and modernity) turns on how we answer the question: is the natural world and its limits a given, or are we free to do with it whatever we desire? 

To be sure, there never was a Golden Age in which Christians all lived up to their sexual ideals. The church has been dealing with sexual immorality in its own ranks since the beginning—and, let’s be honest, some of the measures it has taken to combat it have been cruel and unjust. 

The point, however, is that to the pre-modern Christian imagination, sex was filled with cosmic meaning in a way it no longer is. Paul admonished the Corinthians to “flee sexual immorality” because the body was a “temple of the Holy Spirit,” and warned them that “you are not your own.” He was telling them that their bodies are sacred vessels that belonged to God, who, in Christ, “all things hold together.” Sexual autonomy, seemingly the most prized possession of the modern person, is not only morally wrong, but a metaphysical falsehood. 

But our perception of that truth diminished long ago. Now, we are on the far side of a Sexual Revolution that has been nothing short of catastrophic for Christianity. It struck near the core of Biblical teaching on sex and the human person, and has demolished the fundamental Christian conception of society, of families, and of the nature of human beings. There can be no peace between Christianity and the Sexual Revolution, because they are radically opposed. As the Sexual Revolution advances, Christianity must retreat—and it has, faster than most people would have thought possible. 

In 1996, the Gallup polling organization conducted its first survey asking Americans what they thought of same-sex marriage. A whopping 68 percent opposed it. In 2015, just before the US Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision proclaiming a constitutional right to gay marriage, Gallup’s poll revealed that 60 percent of Americans now support same-sex marriage. This number will rise steadily as older generations die and make way for younger generations, who overwhelmingly favor LGBT rights. 

Research shows that Millennials, both secular and religious, favor gay rights by enormous majorities. Those who have disaffiliated from Christianity say that the faith’s negative attitudes towards homosexuality were a major factor. Strong majorities of Millennials who identify as Christian believe the church must change its views. 

That being the case, you would think that churches that have liberalized their teachings on homosexuality, like Mainline Protestant denominations, or downplayed those teachings, like progressive Catholic parishes, would be booming. They’re not. If anything, they are cratering faster than the more orthodox. 

Future historians will wonder how the sexual desires of only three to four percent of the population became the fulcrum on which an entire worldview was dislodged and overturned. A partial answer is that the media is to blame. Back in 1993, a cover story in The Nation identified the gay-rights cause as the summit and keystone of the culture war: 

All the crosscurrents of present-day liberation struggles are subsumed in the gay struggle. The gay moment is in some ways similar to the moment that other communities have experienced in the nation’s past, but it is also something more, because sexual identity is in crisis throughout the population, and gay people—at once the most conspicuous subjects and objects of the crisis—have been forced to invent a complete cosmology to grasp it. No one says the changes will come easily. But it’s just possible that a small and despised sexual minority will change America forever. 

They were right. Tying the gay rights cause to the Civil Rights movement was a strategic master stroke. Though homosexuality and race are two very different phenomena, the media took the equivalence for granted, and rarely if ever gave any opposing voices a chance to be heard. 

Though the unrelenting media campaign on behalf of same-sex marriage was critically important to its success, it wasn’t the most important thing. Americans accepted gay marriage so quickly because it resonated so deeply with what they had already come to believe about the meaning of heterosexual sex and marriage

We have gay marriage because the straight majority came to see sexuality as something primarily for personal pleasure and self-expression, and only secondarily for procreation. We have gay marriage because the straight majority, in turn, came to see marriage in the same way—and two generations of Americans have grown up with these nominalist values on sex and marriage as normative. 

To be modern, as we have seen, is to believe in one’s individual desires as the locus of authority and self-definition. As philosopher Charles Taylor writes, “The entire ethical stance of moderns supposes and follows on from the death of God (and of course, of the meaningful cosmos).” 

Gay marriage and gender ideology signify the final triumph of the Sexual Revolution and the dethroning of Christianity because they deny Christian anthropology at its core, and shatter the authority of the Bible. Rightly ordered sexuality is not at the core of Christianity, but as Rieff saw, it’s so near to the center that to lose the Bible’s clear teaching on this matter is to risk losing the fundamental integrity of the faith. This is why Christians who begin by rejecting sexual orthodoxy end either by rejecting Christianity themselves, or laying the groundwork for their children to do so. 

“The death of a culture begins when its normative institutions fail to communicate ideals in ways that remain inwardly compelling,” Rieff writes. By that standard, Christianity in America is in mortal danger. 

If a remnant wants to survive, it must resist the Sexual Revolution. But how? 

Don’t compromise on traditional Christian sexual teaching to keep young people in your church 

It won’t work. Mainline Protestant churches have tried this strategy, and they remain in demographic collapse. True, orthodox Christian churches are also struggling, but throwing Biblical teaching overboard in an attempt to keep the boat afloat on rough seas is not the answer. 

Even making the traditional teaching on sexual integrity an optional matter—either explicitly or implicitly, by not talking about it, or by turning a blind eye—is a mistake. It is impossible to bracket out Christianity’s clear instruction on how to live a life of sexual integrity, and separating it from the rest of the Christian life. It’s hypocritical. 

“Indifference towards sexual issues is going to mean the end of Christian orthodoxy,” says an Evangelical friend, commenting on the attitude many Christians, even conservative ones, have. 

True, a person can be completely chaste and still go to hell if his heart is cold. But that is not an argument for defying the Bible’s clear teaching. Whether we like it or not, sex is at the center of contemporary culture, and is tearing the church apart. You cannot avoid the fight, not in your own church, nor in your own family. To avoid taking sides is to take a side—and not that of the Bible. 

Besides, watering down the truth for the sake of preserving or expanding the congregation is to make an idol of community. 

Churches must preach and teach about sex and chastity in a more holistic, affirming way 

Andrew T. Walker, a Southern Baptist lay leader of the Millennial generation, says he grew up in a good church, but never heard a single sermon about Christian anthropology (i.e., what is man?) or Biblical sexuality beyond conservative platitudes. 

“I don’t ever recall having a lesson about why my body is a good thing. No one ever explained to me why complementarity is important,” he tells me. 

“We’ve been so driven by a culture of entertainment, but if you told most congregations that for the next few weeks, we’re going to have a sermon series about Biblical anthropology, the congregation wouldn’t greet the idea enthusiastically,” Walker continues. “This is wrong. That has to change if we’re going to survive and pass down the faith. 

“Tragically, I fear that the average Christian in America is no different than the average American—we just want to be told what to do and how to feel. This doesn’t mean our churches need to be boring, but that we’ll need to find creative ways to go deep on important issues.” 

Walker is not alone in his experience. I have been attending church regularly for over 20 years, in both Catholic and Orthodox parishes around the country. I have yet to hear a sermon explaining in any depth what Christianity teaches about the human person, and about the rightly ordered use of sex. For that matter, I recall only one sermon in all those years in which a priest endorsed the orthodox Christian view of sex.

Far too many pastors are scared to talk about sex. They need to get over it. It is hard to live chastely in this eroticized culture; pastors shouldn’t make it harder by denying their people the teaching and support they need to be faithful. Silence from the pulpit, and from the church’s ministers and teachers, conveys the message that sex and sexuality aren’t important, and that the church has nothing to offer on the matter. 

This is ludicrous, even cruel. The church’s teaching on the meaning of sex was liberating to me when I began to practice the faith as an adult. I had lived by the world’s standards, and had made a mess of my own life, and hurt others. Finally, backed into the corner by my own disordered desires, I surrendered to Christ. 

To a 25-year-old American man living in a big city, in a secular, hedonistic milieu, choosing chastity out of fidelity to Jesus is taking on a heavy cross. I hated it, but I wanted Christ more than I wanted to myself. It was five years before I would marry at the end of an ascetic trek across a dry desert—a journey that I did not know would end one day in marriage. 

Now, though, it is clear to me that Christian sexual renunciation was precisely what I needed to purify my own heart, and to prepare me for marriage. As hard as it was to practice chastity, it was harder than it had to be because I never had the backing of the parish churches of which I was a part. 

What would have helped? For one, the church needed to raise its own flag every now and then. That is, it would have been a source of strength to me in my struggle to be obedient had the pastor signaled to the congregation that sexual discipline is an important part of the Christian life. 

For another, parish churches could have hosted classes for adult singles to explore in depth Christian teaching about sex, and strategies for living out its teaching. It might also have turned into a small community of believers who could rely on each other for mutual support. 

But I was not without fault myself. There is no rule that says a layperson cannot start such a group himself within the parish. I waited on somebody else to do it. My own passivity as a twentysomething Christian was a fault I now regret. 

That’s not the only way my passivity served me poorly. I did not try very hard to cultivate friendships with other orthodox Christians committed to walking the walk. In those days, I didn’t fully appreciate how difficult it is to stay on the path of fidelity to Christian sexual morality when you are navigating it alone. I should have taken better care of myself. 

For all those faults, I walked the line because I knew from experience that I did not want to go back to that particular Egypt. And, as an adult convert, I had educated myself about what Christ expects from His followers regarding sexual behavior, and how sex is woven into the whole tapestry of Christian teaching. 

Being self-taught made me unusual. Over the years, I’ve come to see that a feel-good, self-centered approach to catechesis serves less as a gateway to mature Christianity as vaccination against it. 

“When the culture places more emphasis on the needs of the self and less on social rules, more relaxed attitudes toward sexuality are the almost inevitable result,” researcher Jean Twenge told the Los Angeles Times. 

There is an enormous disparity between Evangelical youth and Catholic youth on sexual matters. Surveys find that while Millennials as a group are much more liberal about sexual matters, Evangelicals are much more likely than Catholics to profess traditional Christian teachings. Indeed, Catholics are doing such a poor job forming their youth that Catholic Millennials are more likely to be sexual liberals than average Americans are. 

Yet there is a growing movement within the church to downplay or dismiss entirely the Bible’s teachings on sexuality, instead emphasizing fighting poverty, racism, and other forms of social injustice. This is a false choice. Social justice activism is laudable, but it does not earn you indulgences for sexual sin. Youth pastors especially need to make this clear. 

Moralism is not enough 

As we have seen, many Americans believe that being a Christian is chiefly about treating God as a cosmic therapist, and being happy with oneself and nice to others. That’s a pseudo-Christianity. That said, a Christianity that reduces life in Christ to a moral and ethical code may be in one respect better than nothing—but it is not the Christian faith. 

If the real challenge of the Sexual Revolution is cosmological, then a church that tries to meet it with middle-class moralism is bringing knives to a gunfight. The dry, brittle commands of moralism turn to ash in the face of the erotic drama revealed in the Bible. 

Genesis tells us that from the very beginning, masculinity, femininity, and sex are created by God and bound to Creation. Man and woman become “one flesh,” though remaining fully themselves, because this is how God regards the nature of the bond between Himself and each person. 

This was something radically new in the world. As Pope Benedict XVI has written, “God’s way of loving becomes the measure of human love. This close connection between eros and marriage in the Bible has practically no equivalent in extra-biblical literature.” 

Throughout the Old Testament, its authors describe God’s covenantal relationship with Israel in terms of marriage and infidelity. God loves Israel personally, and through their covenant will bring forth the birth of the Messiah, who will redeem fallen Creation. Only in fidelity to the Lord, receiving His love and returning it to Him, can Israel know herself. 

Jesus, born of a Virgin, fulfilled the Law in his life, then emptied Himself out on the Cross in an act of perfect love for the salvation of all. Though the New Testament contains plenty of strong admonitions  against sexual immorality, chastity for its own sake is never a goal. Rather, as we have seen, it is the means through which man’s erotic instinct is channeled and redirected in continuing relationship with God. 

Unbridled erotic passion creates chaos and disintegration. Eros that submits to Christ bears fruit in the gift of children, stable families, and communities. The contemporary Orthodox theologian Olivier Clément says that the spiritual secret of Christianity is that the love of God comes through the human body and flows throughout the universe to which it is joined. In Christianity, the individual’s desire (eros) is purified and transformed into agape—unconditional, selfless love. 

Dante’s Divine Comedy, the greatest literary creation of the Middle Ages, is a staggeringly powerful portrait of the manifold dimensions of love. The pilgrim Dante’s passion for Beatrice and the glory transfiguring Creation when a man allows his desire for God to condition all his other loves. This is love as a glorious cosmic drama, transcending time and space, in which each individual joins with the eternal dance, sharing in “the love that moves the Sun and all the other stars.” 

To reduce Christian teaching about sex and sexuality to bare, boring, thou-shalt-not moralism is a travesty and a failure of imagination. Conservative pastors whose sermons jackhammer away at sexual immorality as if it were the only serious sin, or somehow disconnected from a host of other sins of passion, distort the Gospel and undermine its credibility. This lamentable reductionism constitutes a failure to draw on the inexhaustible well of resources within the Christian theological and artistic tradition. In the end, it comes down to a matter of Christians having lost our own grand story about eros, cosmos, and theosis, the ultimate end of the Christian pilgrimage. 

“All of life is now being ordered by narratives and images that don’t reflect the old boundaries,” says sociologist Christian Smith. “Churches have something to say about this. They should go back again and again to the drinking well of the Gospel and offer a true alternative transcendent story. If they can’t do that, if they remain saddled with moralism, then they better hang it up now.” 

If Christianity is a true story, then the story the world tells about sexual freedom is a grand deception. It’s fake. As novelist Walker Percy advised, we have to attack the fake in the name of the real. Christians are going to have to become better tellers of our own story. Young people are not going to be argued into Christian chastity, or browbeaten by moralistic maxims. Beauty and goodness, embodied in great art, fiction, and in the lives of ordinary Christians, married and single, is the only thing that stands a chance. 

The West has re-paganized. Philip Rieff, the unbelieving Jewish intellectual, saw as far back as 1966 that the therapeutic revolution -- the Sexual Revolution is the strongest manifestation of the cultural revolution that, in Jean Twenge's phrase, placed "more emphasis on the needs of the self and less on social rules" -- could not be reconciled with Christianity, for which sexual renunciation was a keystone. We will continue our descent into the gutter, with Sugar Babies, the pornification of life, gay orgies, and the rest, until we recover Biblical morality and place it at the center of our public life. Andrew Sullivan does not see that, but he's a smart man, and a searching man, so I hope one day he discovers that truth -- and the incarnate Truth -- that makes us all free. Until and unless we all make that discovery, we will continue to suffer, personally and socially, from this disintegration. The strong and the beautiful will prosper for as long as they remain young and attractive; the rest of us will live in poverty and dereliction, with our children turning themselves into grotesques or whores. This is what it means for the Sexual Revolution to have triumphed.

Comments

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Jacqueline Rose
Jacqueline Rose
How cute that Lainey thinks she got into Stanford by virtue of her self-proclaimed "intelligence", from which she also assumes she will some day make money. Too funny.
schedule 1 week ago
Peter Pratt
Peter Pratt
It is always funny to read feminists that still want men to do something and change, rather than demonstrating that they can act on their own. Perry is right that the Sexual Revolution benefited some men, but the solution is for women to enforce their barriers, not to get men to do it for them.

I listened to one of the excerpts from this podcast and I thought Perry was weak. When Andrew brought up porn, she went to "oh, making porn is exploitive and the poor women." It was a weak feminist trope.

I am not saying Perry is wrong about porn being bad. Instead, she is so locked into feminist garbage so as to be almost useless.

If every feminist solution is for men to do something, it is framing the argument that women are helpless damsels in distress without men acting.
schedule 1 week ago
    Giuseppe Scalas
    Giuseppe Scalas
    Which is actually the case. Only, feminism gives women a wider berth for complaining.
    (Also, the protective strength of men is now conveyed through the state and corporations, so women can keep telling themselves they don't need men until... Ukraine, where women mostly flee and men mostly fight and die - and rightly so)
    schedule 1 week ago
Maclin Horton
Maclin Horton
I finally got around to reading Triumph of the Therapeutic recently and have been posting a few things from it on my blog. As it happens, I posted this yesterday: "What, then, should churchmen do? The answer returns clearly: become, avowedly, therapists, administrating a therapeutic institution--under the justificatory mandate that Jesus himself was the first therapeutic. For the next culture needs therapeutic institutions." That explains an awful lot about the response to this in many Christian circles.

Also been reading a biography of W.H. Auden. I was wondering how he had reconciled his Christianity and his practicing homosexuality (like Sullivan I guess, very practicing). Answer: he didn't. He apparently just ignored the conflict, at least up until the 1950s, which is as far as I've read. What has Canterbury to do with Fire Island? Or something like that.

I'm not sure how long ago it was, at least five years and maybe more, that there was a spate of news stories about young women doing this sugar baby thing but all the way into full prostitution, even in one case I recall travelling as a paid concubine with a wealthy guy.
schedule 1 week ago
JON FRAZIER
JON FRAZIER
Unless one resorts to thinking along the lines of voodoo dolls I can't see how Oberfell would result in fewer marriages. One might as well blame the election of Donald Trump. And as has been said many times on this blog public acceptance of SSM would not have been possible if people hadn't already changed their views on what constitutes marriage and why people marry. So no, Obercell didn't change our understanding of marriage. That was already a done deal- and done decades ago.
schedule 1 week ago
Michael Cullinan
Michael Cullinan
"Andrew Sullivan, who said (most recently) in his interview with Matthew Rose that he advocated for same-sex marriage to bring the benefits of that bourgeois institution to gay men and women."

I heard that so much while the SSM debate was raging. Gays were saying "We have to do this because you hets deprive us of the dignity of marriage with your oppressive heteronormativity, let us in to the institution and we'll take you to school on how marriage is supposed to be done."

Sullivan then says that:
"...(he) enjoys smoking dope, watching porn, and pursuing lots of sex. In a moment of candor, he concedes to Perry that as a gay man who spends all his time within a cultural bubble in which men are constantly searching for sexual encounters, he struggles to understand her point."

In the 70s there was this popular book, "Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex but Were Aftraid to Ask" It had a few chapters on dysfunction. and there was a chapter on prostitution and one on homosexuality as well, among others. In the chapter on homosexuality, the author discussed homosexual behavior, such as cruising in areas where gay men are known to congregate, and noted that their sex most often involved rampant promiscuity with random strangers. That was about 50 years ago.

Now we've had SSM for 7 years, with the dignity of marriage available to gays, and what are the gays doing with it, as per Andrew Sullivan, one of SSM's best known actitists? Having rampant promiscuous gay sex with random strangers. Color me shocked.
schedule 7 days ago