Monday, June 01, 2009

And Now Back to Condemns, Sex, the Human Person and Culture

When I think of safer sex and condom education and the anthropology that it informs it, I am struck by the superficiality of its vision of the human. It is not unlike a toddler's temper tantrum; if only I am loud enough, angry enough, assertive enough, I can get what I want. Sadly, and as anyone who has seen a toddler throwing a temper tantrum, if the tantrum is allowed to progress, it quickly becomes an end in itself; self-assertion quickly becomes self-destruction; rage at others and frustration at their lack of submission to my will, quickly becomes terror at my own rage and a growing sense of my own impotence to accomplish my own desires.

So what then should be done?

The great tragedy of human sinfulness, of my sinfulness, is that I am not simply indifferent to my own humanity and yours, but am actively hostile to it. What this means is that I invest immense amounts of energy in avoiding my dependence upon God and neighbor for my self-discover, self-expression and self-fulfillment. I express this in one of two ways.

First, and this has be the main focus of these posts to this point, I simply refuse to acknowledge my dependence. Instead of humble openness and patience that acknowledges the foundational role of your hospitable for my self-fulfillment, I proceed autarkically; I do not receive my life with gratitude but seek to create my own life through the imposition of my own will upon not only the world of persons, events and things but also myself. Life, in this vision, becomes a project of my own ego, a quest for power and control that eventually comes to encapsulate not only the world around me but me as well. I become, in effect, my own project. Ironically, to be even temporarily realized control requires that I narrow the parameters of my life until, and again in parody of the Gospel, my life becomes “one thing,” be that one thing professional success, material wealth or sexual desire.

Compare this to Sören Kierkegaard's description of purity of heart:

Father in heaven! What is a man without Thee! What is all that he knows, vast accumulation though it be, but a chipped fragment if he does not know Thee! What is all his striving, could it even encompass a world, but a half-finished work if he does not know Thee: Thee the One, who art one thing and who art all! So may Thou give to the intellect, wisdom to comprehend that one thing; to the heart, sincerity to receive this understanding; to the will, purity that wills only one thing. In prosperity may Thou grant perseverance to will one thing; amid distractions, collectedness to will one thing; in suffering, patience to will one thing.

For the Christian tradition, and I suspect for most traditional societies that stress the communal nature of the human, willing one thing is not reductionistic, but transcendent. Insofar as safer sex and condom education limits its concerns to the biology and mechanics of sexual intercourse, it offers only a “half-finished work.” And this work, Kierkegaard reminds us, remains opaque, to the degree that our vision remains limited to the specific work itself.

But there is another way that I can be hostile to my own dependence on God. If in the former, I try and impose myself on myself, in this second case, I simply refuse to undertake the work of self-discover and self-expression. (As an aside, this was part of what I was getting at in a series of posts on the psychological foundations of jurisdictionalism.) Instead, I limit myself to simply maintaining the forms of my tradition but never allow those forms to challenge me to self-knowledge and self-expression in any depth.

In either case, however, what we see is an abdication of chastity or a life that is respectful of self and others. Rather than respect, I live a life that sees self and others in purely, or at least largely, instrumental terms, as I try and shape them and reality to my own, increasingly encapsulated will.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory