CATALYST SUGGESTION SHEET #32
LOOKING IN THE MIRROR
Bishop John Heaps, in his very helpful little book, A Love That Dares To Question (1998), has a chapter entitled "Courage to Look in the Mirror". There he writes:
It is impossible to know, and of no use to know, whether this age is better or worse morally than any previous time. …. The thing that does not seem to have changed is the way we have of justifying our actions. We have always been good at believing that God is on our side. Now, people are more likely to use terms such as ‘my freedom, my rights and justice’ as the god which justifies their actions. It has always been difficult for us to admit that, in satisfying the voice of my god, I may be destroying the freedom, happiness, or even the life of others. The Pharisees, Pilate and the others who justified their action in getting rid of Jesus, the enemy of religion and the state, acted no differently from the people of every age. Jesus continues to be crucified by self-centredness.
We are all geniuses at self-deception. Sexuality is certainly one part of our lives where we – consciously and unconsciously, driven by prejudice, fear and ignorance – deceive ourselves and others. Any good conversation about sexuality must not only recognise this, but also recognise the fact that we are constantly up against a mystery here. Human sexuality is an ultimately incomprehensible mix of body, mind and spirit, as much a primeval, blind dynamism as it is a medium of radical, adult communion.
Sexuality can easily be sorted out in theory, leading us to believe we do actually understand it. There is nothing quite like human sexuality, however, to mock our rationality and put the lie to claims of control and comprehension. In human experience, sexuality is always ambiguous and paradoxical and self-revelatory. It behoves us to tread warily, listening attentively and honestly to the concrete facts before us, especially those of our personal lives. Experience is a mirror. "What is going on?" is a question that must never be far from our consciousness. The Desert Fathers were aware of this: "An elder said: Do not judge a fornicator if you are chaste, for if you do, you too are violating the law as much as he is. For He who said ‘thou shalt not fornicate’ also said ‘thou shalt not judge’."
AN HISTORICAL NOTE
Our medical knowledge of sexuality has grown over the centuries, especially during the past one hundred and fifty years or so. With the growth of medical knowledge, our cultural, social, political and moral perceptions pertaining to sexuality have rightly changed. For example:
|prior to the early nineteenth century, medical science did not know that the female had ovaries and that these are an essential factor in the begetting of new life; in the absence of such knowledge, the male assumes an unrealistic role in the procreative process and, consequently, an unrealistic role in other domains;|
|for many centuries, it was assumed that when a male had a nocturnal emission, it was the result of intercourse with ghostly creatures (succubi and incubi); it was commonly spoken of as "pollution"; perhaps similar thinking gave rise to the ceremony of "Churching" women who had given birth?|
|masturbation was generally regarded as exclusive to males; it was called "onanism", following a false understanding of Genesis 38:6-11, where Onan’s "sin", in fact, was a cultural rebellion: he refused to beget children by his brother’s widow; furthermore, given the fact that it was once thought the male implanted the new child in the female in sexual intercourse, male masturbation would be equivalent to abortion;|
|it is only in recent times that we have begun to fully appreciate the fact that there are a variety of given possibilities pertaining to sexuality when we come into the world; for example, we may be physiologically male but, in every other way, experience life as a female, and vice versa; we may be sexually attracted to members of the opposite sex or the same sex or both; we may be born with uncertain genitalia, and the medical staff may make a decision, for better or worse, concerning our gender identity.|
THE DISTURBING PRESENCE OF DEATH
The psychiatrist, Rollo May, reminds us of a factor pertaining to sexuality we would do well to remember:
The relationship between death and love certainly is clear in the sex act. Every kind of mythology relates the sex act itself to dying .... What a different light this throws on the human problems in love than does all our glib talk about the art of loving, about love as the answer to all our needs, love as instant self-actualization, love as contentment, or love as a mail order technique! No wonder we try to reduce eros to purely physiological sex or try to avoid the whole dilemma by playing it cool, by using sex to drug and vaccinate ourselves against the anxiety-creating effects of eros. ("The Daemonic: Love and Death", Psychology Today, 1 (1968) 20)
Perhaps, since science has enabled us to disconnect sexuality from procreation, we are now vulnerable to the illusion that sexuality is something that can be easily used to our advantage, as and when we like it, and then simply set aside, without serious consequences. And does the unaddressed connection between sexuality and death have something to do with the common inability today to commit to one person and remain faithful to that person?
A WAY OF THINKING
There are no simple answers or formulae to direct us as we struggle with our sexuality, whether as individuals or as a community. No-one can promise us an unambiguous experience of sexuality or a sexuality without paradox and a certain dying at its very heart. However, for those who profess to be followers of Jesus, there are some radical pointers:
|Love God, love yourself, love people – see for example: Mt 22:34-40; Mk 12:28-31; Lk 10:25-28; Jn 13, especially 34-35 and 1Jn 4:7-5:4;|
|for Jesus, people and relationships are primary – see for example: Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman in John 4, the woman who was a "sinner" in Luke 7:36-50 and the rebuke of the religious authorities in Luke 11:37-54;|
|we are members of the Body of Christ – see for example: Rom 6:3-4 ("baptised in Christ Jesus …") and 1Cor 12:12-30 ("In the one Spirit we were all baptised. … Now you together are Christ’s body.") and Rom 8:1-17 ("the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free … the Spirit of God has made his home in you."); Galatians 2:15-21 (" … the life of Christ who lives in me.") and 1Cor 6:19 ("Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.").|
It makes a world of difference if we focus primarily on people and relationships, in Christ, rather than behaviours and rules and social conformity. Paradoxically, the outcome of this focus is a much more mature and intelligent commitment to responsible behaviour. What is primarily at issue here is not conformity, but personal integrity: "The truth will set you free" (Jn 8:32). "I am … the Truth …" (Jn 14:6).
SUGGESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
- What has most influenced your understanding of and attitude towards sexuality?
- Is it true to say that we easily deceive ourselves in matters pertaining to sexuality? Reflect.
- In what ways might sexuality be "ambiguous"? "Paradoxical"? "Self-revelatory"?
- Reflect on the saying of the Desert Fathers: "Do not judge …"
- Reflect on the connection between medical knowledge, cultural norms and moral injunctions.
- Reflect on the connection between sexuality and death.
- What do you think is the significance of our ability to disconnect procreation from sexuality?
- Is there any connection between perceptions of sexuality and the inability to commit to a relationship?
- Reflect on one or more of the Scriptural texts indicated above.
- How is personal integrity more important than social conformity? Reflect.