Sex After Christianity

Sex After Christianity, by Rod Dreher. The left has won the sex battles to date:

Now we’re entering the endgame of the struggle over gay rights and the meaning of homosexuality. Conservatives have been routed, both in court and increasingly in the court of public opinion. It is commonly believed that the only reason to oppose same-sex marriage is rank bigotry or for religious reasons, neither of which — the argument goes — has any place in determining laws or public standards.

It’s important in ways that are not initially obvious.

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.

For better or for worse, it will make ours a far less Christian culture.

Among younger adults:

[T]he more liberal one was on homosexuality, the less likely one was to claim religious affiliation. It’s not that younger Americans were becoming atheists. Rather, most of them identify as “spiritual, but not religious.”

This is not simply a matter of young people doing what young people tend to do: keep church at arm’s length until they settle down. … there’s no reason to think they will return to church in significant numbers as they age.

Should the Christian Churches liberalize on sexual teaching? No point:

Mainline Protestant churches, which have been far more accepting of homosexuality and sexual liberation in general, have continued their stark membership decline.

It seems that when people decide that historically normative Christianity is wrong about sex, they typically don’t find a church that endorses their liberal views. They quit going to church altogether.

Is its sexual order intrinsic to Christianity?

This raises a critically important question: is sex the linchpin of Christian cultural order? Is it really the case that to cast off Christian teaching on sex and sexuality is to remove the factor that gives — or gave — Christianity its power as a social force?

[T]he 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.

The modern return to sexual licentiousness is a return to paganism:

[R]enouncing 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 [is] rapidly re-paganizing around sensuality and sexual liberation [is] a powerful sign of Christianity’s demise.

Christianity delivered liberation from the sexual horrors of paganism:

It is nearly impossible for contemporary Americans to grasp why sex was a central concern of early Christianity.

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.

Which is why Christian civilization was so successful and dynamic. Modern PC culture is throwing that away.

What makes our own era different from the past … 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.

PC is the creed of the parasite, to consume without producing. Not, as they say, sustainable.

Gay marriage signifies the final triumph of the Sexual Revolution and the dethroning of Christianity because it denies the core concept of Christian anthropology. …

Too many [Western Christians] think that same-sex marriage is merely a question of sexual ethics. They fail to see that gay marriage, and the concomitant collapse of marriage among poor and working-class heterosexuals, makes perfect sense given the autonomous individualism sacralized by modernity and embraced by contemporary culture — indeed, by many who call themselves Christians. They don’t grasp that Christianity, properly understood, is not a moralistic therapeutic adjunct to bourgeois individualism — a common response among American Christians, one denounced by Rieff in 2005 as “simply pathetic” — but is radically opposed to the cultural order (or disorder) that reigns today.

Commenter Dane adds:

There is one very important piece of the puzzle missing from this commentary: the role of public schools in indoctrinating children away from Christianity and toward hedonism.

More than a decade ago, it was reported that 67 percent of public high school students were fully on board with homosexual “rights.” No wonder! When children are bombarded with these messages, and when they want to please teachers and administrators in positions of power and authority over them, they learn very quickly where their bread is buttered. They dummy up and go with the flow, as if they really ever had any alternative direction at all to consider. This whole g-movement was force-fed on the young, and then Democrat presidents largely enforced it with anti-Christian judicial nominations.

hat-tip Stephen Neil