Friday, August 13, 2010

Unrestrained Sex and the Celibate Witness

"As women, we have the right to make decisions regarding our bodies. These include decisions regarding the ability to control if and when we have children, regardless of whether we want several children or no children at all. Birth control is fundamental to our ability to have autonomy in our lives, and it helps us to understand our bodies and to enjoy our sexuality safely with men.” – Our Bodies, Ourselves 2005

The above quote captures the sentiment of many pro-contraceptive women, as well as men, non-Christian and Christian.

The quote seems to make a good point. We do have the right to make decisions regarding our bodies. The problem is that its logic has one glaring problem. The author, as many who would agree with her often do, assumes that such control is gained through the use of birth control, presumably contraception.

Maybe I’m just stuck in Christendom as it existed from the first century until the mid-20th century, but I thought the way to avoid children was to not engage in the behavior that leads to children, or in other words, not have sex. For the above author, and many in our society today, such an option is no option at all. Sex is a given. Of course people will be having sex. For someone not to have sex is unhealthy, and worse, oppressive.

Sadly, evangelicals have walked like lemmings right along with the world, except for maintaining the caveat that sex is only for marriage. Many evangelicals consider sex for married people to be like food – it’s inappropriate, unhealthy, and even wrong to expect or encourage married couples to abstain from sex for any period of time.

And like lemmings, they have followed the world off a cliff.

Since when is sex something that we must have, especially married people? The world and our separated brethren think that birth control gives them control over their bodies, when all along what it really does is encourage them to have no control over their bodies. It’s all a big lie. What they call freedom is actually slavery. True control over one’s body is the ability to not have sex when one doesn’t want to have a baby.

In other words, the answer isn’t birth control, it’s self control. This is the true freedom.

But people in our society today have so little control that the option to abstain cannot even be considered. It’s not even entertained as a virtue to which we should aspire. In their minds the choice really is between all women being pregnant their entire reproductive lives, or the use of contraception, something that all Christians for millennia had deemed a grave perversion, until Protestants, even supposedly conservative evangelicals, decided to follow the world in the mid-20th century.

So it is now more than ever that our world needs the celibate witness. Celibate priests, monks, and nuns, even lay people who are living the single life – we need you to stand as witnesses to the world and to our separated brethren, and as a constant reminder to married couples within the Church, that we do not need sex, that sex does not lead to happiness. Unrestrained sex is not the answer. Lust will never be quenched. It is a black hole that leads only to hell, in this life and the next.

There is another way.

We do not need a pill that makes the woman’s body act as if it is diseased to be free. We do not need a piece of plastic to ‘protect’ the woman from the man’s seed. We need the grace of Jesus to help us all to have self-control over ourselves, especially the sacred gift of our sexuality. Our celibate brothers and sisters prove to us that sex isn't required for the happiest and most meaningful lives.

Some evangelicals have just recently started to reevaluate the Reformation’s almost total rejection of celibacy as an option. I encourage those that are feeling the call: look to the Church. It is a beacon. Although Protestants have lost their way, the Church has stood as the city on the hill. The Church has maintained the true teaching all these years. You do not need to reinvent a theology of celibacy. There is already a place, the only place where it can be truly lived, the only place where it has its full meaning, the Church, where you can join in and be, in an age of unrestrained sex, the celibate witness.

14 comments:

  1. Some good ideas. However, I'm married and think that it is crucial to have intimacy between couples in order to sustain a connected/happy marriage. Sex isn't just for procreation it's also for bonding, and fun. Abstinence in marriage could encourage infidelity.

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  2. Anon,

    Thanks for your comment! Here are some thoughts in response:

    I agree that sex is for bonding for the couple. The Catholic view is that sex has unitive and procreative dimensions and that they are interconnected. Sex has never, except by Protestants in the 20th century, thought to be for the purpose of fun. Yes, fun may be a part, but it is not an end of sex.

    Abstinence in marriage encourages infidelity in so far as people lack self control, which is the point of this post. Yes, as St Paul tells us in his 1st letter to the Corinthians, as far as someone thinks they might be tempted to be unfaithful, they should be with their spouse. But then he adds, "Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command."
    But the fact that a person can't restrain themselves when they don't want chidlren does not give them the right to pervert the act by using contraception. They must take all that comes with it, which might include children.

    One of the points of my post is that most people don't even see their lack of self control as a bad thing but just as being 'healthy'. Celibate witnesses prove to us that that mentality is wrong.

    Thanks for the comment! Feel free to respond.

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  3. Also, I just had another thought.

    I don't think sex marriage needs constant sex, or even sex at all, to be healthy. The example of the Holy Family shows us this. Sex can be an important thing, but it's not necessary. For couples out there who might have reasons why they can't be sex, I remind you of the teaching of the Church: a marriage relationship can flourish without sex.

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  4. As per a suggestion, I am reposting this from a forum (link: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-religion/2570549/posts)

    This article is a real mixed bag. On the one hand, he makes some good points against the culture of the day, but he then turns around and lauds the Catholic church for the very things they have been wrong about for centuries.

    For example, the author writes: “ Many evangelicals consider sex for married people to be like food – it’s inappropriate, unhealthy, and even wrong to expect or encourage married couples to abstain from sex for any period of time.”

    His characterization of the evangelical position is wrong—quite wrong. Here is what the scriptures say:

    “The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.” 1 Corinthians 7:4-7.

    You will note that married celibacy is all but forbidden to the married. That it is only allowed for a limited time, “for prayer” (i.e. not for “family planning”).

    Celibacy for the kingdom is encouraged, but only to those have it as a special gift of God. It is NOT a requirement to dedicate one’s life to the church:

    “This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. Don’t we have the right to food and drink? Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living?” 1 Corinthians 9:3-6.

    Of note here is the fact that Paul had, not only permission, but a right to take a wife with him in his work—a direct contradiction of the Roman Catholic’s position regarding clerical celibacy, when the passage above is also taken into account.

    Indeed, I find such authors has this to be troubling to the sensitive consciences in the church because of his error. From the article again:

    “So it is now more than ever that our world needs the celibate witness. Celibate priests, monks, and nuns, even lay people who are living the single life – we need you to stand as witnesses to the world and to our separated brethren, and as a constant reminder to married couples within the Church, that we do not need sex, that sex does not lead to happiness.”

    Of interest is that, here, celibacy is praised in and of itself, running down the value of sex. Biblical sex is not merely permitted, but beautiful and natural, ordained by God and as natural an aspect of the human condition (fallen or unfallen, in this case) as food.

    “”For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.” Ephesians 5:31

    As with food and the other pleasurable gifts of God, it has been warped and perverted by a warped and perverted world—it is this that we ought to stand tall and firm against (Ephesians 5:3-7), not sex itself. Celibacy is valued in scripture only to the extent that for the given individual it further advances the kingdom of Christ.

    “I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband.” 1 Corinthians 7:32-34.

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  5. Hello Anon,

    I'm flattered that you guys have been discussing my post on freerepublic.com! I'm happy to respond. I will use caps as a way of emphasizing things (normally I would use italics but you can't use italics in comments), so sorry if the caps seem intense, I don't intend them that way!

    You wrote:
    "His characterization of the evangelical position is wrong—quite wrong. Here is what the scriptures say"
    You assume that the evangelical position is what Scripture says. This is not always the case.

    You wrote:
    "You will note that married celibacy is all but forbidden to the married. That it is only allowed for a limited time, “for prayer” (i.e. not for “family planning”)."

    Please re-read your own quote from Corinthians 7. Paul says that what he says is a CONCESSION, NOT A COMMAND and that he is saying this BECAUSE OF OUR LACK OF SELF-CONTROL. Married celibacy is not FORBIDDEN under any circumstances. In fact, if what he is saying is a concession, what is the usual norm that Paul teaches?

    You wrote:
    "Celibacy for the kingdom is encouraged, but only to those have it as a special gift of God. It is NOT a requirement to dedicate one’s life to the church"
    I agree and never argued otherwise, nor does the Catholic Church teach that it is. I am not against sex in marriage at all. I am against people thinking that 2 wrong make a right, aka that the inability to abstain for sex gives people the right to use contraception.

    You wrote:
    "Of interest is that, here, celibacy is praised in and of itself, running down the value of sex. Biblical sex is not merely permitted, but beautiful and natural, ordained by God and as natural an aspect of the human condition (fallen or unfallen, in this case) as food."

    I do not devalue sex at all. In fact, I value it even more by advocating only for it's correct practice (I feel like I'm talking to a non-Christian here). I agree that sex is not only permitted but is a beautiful and natural thing ordained by God. In that respect, it is like food. But is completely unlike food in that no person, anywhere, needs sex to live or even to live a compeltely happy, meaningful life.

    You wrote:
    "As with food and the other pleasurable gifts of God, it has been warped and perverted by a warped and perverted world—it is this that we ought to stand tall and firm against (Ephesians 5:3-7), not sex itself"
    Again, I never fought against sex. But I do not equate sexual attraction with lust, not do I equate healthy exercise of sexuality with lack of restraint.
    continued...

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  6. continued from above...

    You wrote:
    “Of note here is the fact that Paul had, not only permission, but a right to take a wife with him in his work—a direct contradiction of the Roman Catholic’s position regarding clerical celibacy, when the passage above is also taken into account.”
    You don’t know the Church’s position on clerical celibacy. There are married priests right now in the Church. The Church’s believes that celibacy is a good thing, as Jesus and Paul both teach, and has decided to make a vow of celibacy required in most cases. So showing that the apostles had wives or could have does not go against the Church’s teaching today or ever.

    You wrote:
    "Celibacy is valued in scripture only to the extent that for the given individual it further advances the kingdom of Christ."
    I agree, and I never said otherwise. Showing others that sex is not like needed like food is a way of advancing the kingdom.

    My point about the celibate witness is that they prove to us that sex is not a necessity and in doing so give married couples the freedom to engage in sex in a self-controlled way. The sentiment that many evangelicals seem to have is that a person needs to wait until marriage, but once they get there they SHOULD just let loose and give in to every desire. It's not a concession for them or something that they should try to become better at, it's what they think being healthy and good is. That is wrong. That is baptizing lust. Lust is lust, whether a person is married or not. And when people can't restrain themselves, or think that it will hurt their relationship if they do restrain themselves (which is false), then family planning requires contraception, which, like I said in the post is "something that all Christians for millennia had deemed a grave perversion, until Protestants, even supposedly conservative evangelicals, decided to follow the world in the mid-20th century."

    Also, you acknowledge that celibacy for the kingdom is a good thing, but how many evangelicals, or even Protestants for that matter, do you know who have taken a vow of celibacy? Not just un-married in their 30s, but actually having taken a vow of celibacy? I'm sure they exist, but I've hardly heard of their existence. Why is that? Like I said in the post, Protestants virtually rejected it. Martin Luther himself broke his vow and helped others do the same (he married a former nun). And like I said in the post again, there are just now some evangelicals (primarily in the emergent church movement) who are looking at celibacy again. I encouraged them to look to the Church. They're having to "rediscover" it because Protestants rejected it in the first place.

    Thanks for the response. Feel free to bring your discussion here if you guys would like!

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  7. Hey Brantly! I just wanted to jump in and say that I recently researched how Mary and Joseph could be married if the marriage was never consummated and it seems that under the Jewish law this was not uncommon, but I believe that the Catholic Church does not validate a marriage that has not been consummated. You can correct me if I'm wrong.

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  8. Hey Fabiola,

    The Catholic Church has always recognized marriage without sex. The marriage of Mary and Joseph would actually be proof that sex is not required to be married. To put it another way, a couple is married when they say their vows, not when they have sex.

    Thanks for the thoughts!

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  9. And actually, let me just make something very clear to everyone. I am not against sex in marriage. Sex is a wonderful expression of marriage. What I wrote against in this post is the idea that people cannot and should not abstain for virtually any length of time. I believe people can live without sex. If a couple wants to just have sex all the time, that's fine as long as they are open to the children that might come along. But if a couple does want children at a particular point in time for a good reason, then they can abstain. People think contraception is necessary because they wrongly assume that people have to have sex all the time. What celibate people show us is that that is completely false.

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  10. Regarding the Corinthians passage, reading further down one comes across this:

    "Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.
    ....But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing this to secure any such provision."

    Paul's point is that while he does have 'rights' to a wife and other things, he freely chooses to forego them.

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  11. In traditional parlance, the marriage that the Holy Family was formed under would be called a Josephite marriage (for obvious reasons).

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  12. You assume that the evangelical position is what Scripture says. This is not always the case.

    I know of no mainline, non-heretical denomination that teaches anything other than the passages I cited. If you do, please cite them--I am genuinely interested.

    Married celibacy is not FORBIDDEN under any circumstances.

    Ah, but it is. He clearly commands the married not to deprive one another, except for a time, by mutal consent for prayer. There is a great deal of room left for celibacy on behalf of the kingdom, but not to the married. Cf. the passages above and Mal. 2:5.

    By encouraging celibacy one is discouraging sex, by definition. How can you argue for celibacy without arguing against sex?

    I am against people thinking that 2 wrong make a right, aka that the inability to abstain for sex gives people the right to use contraception.

    I think we may be on the same page here--but I will make one thing clear: so-called natural family planning is also against the Lord's wishes:
    "Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth." Malachi 2:5.

    If the Lord desires godly offspring (and nowhere does he say that we ought to limit that number in any way), who are we to say no?

    You don’t know the Church’s position on clerical celibacy.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that some lower-level church officials (e.g. deacons) and orders may be married, but that a vow of celibacy is still required for any of the higher orders. See: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03481a.htm, the section entitled "Present Position" and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celibacy#Catholic_perspective. For anything else, a Papal permission is required.

    If this is correct, then your statement is not quite wrong, but is sufficiently misleading because the church really does require celibacy in the vast majority of situations. The ones in which it is not are corner cases.

    Perhaps you could explain this: what value does married celibacy (as a way of life--Paul specifically states that it is permitted on a short-term basis, like fasting) have? What precedence is there for it in the scriptures?

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  13. Several here have also brought up the example of Joseph and Mary as one in which sex is not required for marriage. However, the continued virginity of Mary is not taught anywhere in scripture and there is quite distinct absence to the contrary.

    "When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus." Matthew 1:24-25. by saying that he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son, it is assumed that he had union with her after, or else the passage would have read "But he had no union with her. And he gave him the name Jesus."

    In Mathew 13:55 and Mark 6:3, Jesus's brothers are listed. In what sense are they his brothers, if they do not share parentage?

    Anything is possible, of course, since the Scriptures do not explicitly discuss Mary and Joseph's relationship post-nativity, but the hints of it we do get lean very heavily against any notion of perpetual virginity on Mary's part.

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