Sex After Christianity | The American Conservative

Sex After Christianity | The American Conservative

I don’t agree with Rod Dreher on everything, but he sure got this right, in Sex After Christianity | The American Conservative:

“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 [Phillip] 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 have made 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.”

Read more…

For more on Christianity and marriage, see my book <a href=”Critical Conversations: A Christian Parents’ Guide to Discussing Homosexuality With Teens

2 thoughts on “Sex After Christianity | The American Conservative

  1. This is a point also made by Rodney Stark in his book “The Rise of Christianity”. The exploitative nature of pagan culture is just not well understood. Christianity completely changed the status of women from child producing property who could be divorced and cast out on a whim to cherished wives. It continues to be near mind boggling that modern critics claim Christianity as oppressive to women when the reality is that the entire human rights movement, of which women’s rights is a part, owes it’s existence as well as it’s moral and ethical underpinnings to Christian though and practice.

  2. How did moral relativists (members of the secular-progressive movement) end up being moral absolutists? After all, the sex revolution of the 1960’s grew out of moral relativism and the idea of autonomous personal freedom. Remember the phrase, “Do your own thing?” I do. How did relativistic ideas about sexuality become the so-called new normal? Why do I now feel pressured– indeed obligated– to endorse and affirm same-sex-marriage? Why are the secularists, who were former relativists, now the ones trying to legislate their morality?

    Another quote from Dreher’s article:

    Rieff’s landmark 1966 book The Triumph Of the Therapeutic analyzes what he calls the “deconversion” of the West from Christianity…

    [Though an unbeliever] Rieff… 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… A culture requires a cultus—a sense of sacred order, a cosmology that roots these moral demands within a metaphysical framework.

    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.

    Is it that civilized man cannot live without absolutes? Or is there something else?

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