Sex, God, and Lies
Struggle to be Chaste
struggle for chastity is not so much a contention of the
body with the mind, as matter of the cooperation of the one with
the other, and in a more profound sense, a matter of the subjugation
of the one by the other, the body by the mind — and so
we begin to understand that the battle waged is far more one of the
mind than of the body.
We are inclined to think that the response of the body
in our encounter with the desirability of another is the cause
of temptations and sins — when in fact the source or the root cause
begins, as every sin begins, in the mind. The body is not
sentient (and therefore not culpable) but reactive. It responds
physiologically to what is first introduced to and apprehended
by the mind, which elicits an instinctive and very natural
response from the body. The point is that before the
body begins to react, it is first mentally stimulated
— most often by images.
Produced by the media, newspapers, magazines, the Internet,
the cinema etc. these images are carefully, and always artificially,
manipulated to produce precisely this effect. It is important to understand
this. This concatenation of events does not randomly occur, nor is it
gratuitous: either in your body, or in the media. There is a reason
that your body responds the way it does, and there is equally a reason
why the media focuses upon that basic human response.
Big business and big money — and an even bigger lie
Open any magazine or newspaper and in short order you
will be introduced to the most absurd and patently artificial postures
of women — and increasingly, men — in scant or suggestive attire. You
will see flawless (and largely undernourished) women assuming the most
suggestive postures and stances, making unmistakably lewd gestures that
you would never encounter in real life, or if you did, would
likely prompt you to laugh at its absurdity.
What is the not-so-subtle suggestion, the implication
of the image or photograph? It is this:
“You’re only seeing part of
it, you rogue ... can you imagine all
of it? And can you imagine what all of
that could do for you ...? And its only
a few buttons away ... at such and such Boutique and
only for this incredibly low price in our
unprecedented one day sale!”
Given our fallen nature and our subsequent inclination
to sin, what do you suppose such images are intended to stimulate? Our
Sin we are predisposed to concupiscence, or inordinate sexual desire,
just as we are predisposed to corrupt virtually any intrinsic
good through disordered indulgence, or excess. Sex is not sinful, and
sexual desire is not sinful. Do you think that the Saints, both married
and unmarried, did not experience sexual desire? What is important
is not the impulse, over which we exercise no willful control
— but how we deal with the impulse, how we respond to
it beyond the initial physiological reflex it arouses.
What is more, that such impulses are capable of being elicited
from us, and are experienced within us — that we begin
to instinctively respond physiologically to the stimulus — is no reproach
to us, nor to our moral or spiritual integrity. It is part and parcel
of our fallen humanity in which reason is diminished in its capacity
to rightly order sensibility. We hear this echoed in St. Paul:
good which I will, I do not; but the evil which I will not,
that I do. Now if I do that which I will not, it is no more
I that do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law,
that when I have a will to do good, evil is present with
me. For I am delighted with the law of God, according to
the inward man: But I see another law in my members, fighting
against the law of my mind, and captivating me in the law
of sin, that is in my members. Unhappy man that I am, who
shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans
understands this. Marketers understand this. Pornographers
and smut-dealers understand this. Isn’t it time that you understand
this? Their lie is that they are so clever, their anorexic models so
convincing, and your own susceptibility to both so overwhelming that
you have little choice in the matter, and must both physically and morally
collapse under the collective weight of their blandishments and your
weakness. Couple this with the enticement and deceit of the
of all lies”,
and you find your own predicament, and the human condition at large,
a bit more lucid.
A Long, Hard Journey
The journey, it is clear, from sexual pre-occupation
and inordinate desire, to chastity, is very, very,
long and arduous. In fact, we begin to realize that chastity is not
so much a virtue that will one day be finally acquired, eventually
attained to, as it is a virtue to be constantly and
diligently embraced, enacted. Certainly, if chaste means
“free of sexual desire”,
then it is either unattainable or altogether a fiction. This is
not to say that there are individuals who experience no sexual
desire whatever, but given St. Paul’s own problematic, and that of humanity
in general, such an absence would seem to be more of the nature of a
pathology than a virtue.
How then, in the midst of the turpitude and moral morass by which we
are surrounded, do we embrace chastity, enact it, and in that
perpetual choice become what we understand to be chaste?
We become chaste by involvement with others and through
learning to love rightly.
It is a long process of the purification of memories, memories of
sin in which we had once delighted, through which we found pleasure,
satisfaction, and what we experienced, however transiently, as momentary
“fulfillment”. It is also an active and vigilant practice of self-discipline,
a self-discipline that enables us to be judicious and wise as to what
images we allow to penetrate our minds, what literature we read, what
movies we watch, by our conversation, or at the very least, the tenor
and nature of conversations in which we participate.
We all know our points of weakness and our susceptibility to temptation.
This recognition and the acknowledgement of our weakness is the first
crucial step toward chastity. Knowledge alone, however, does not suffice.
It requires cooperation with grace and the resolve to resist our own
inclinations and all that would lead us to mindless sensual indulgence.
We must recognize that we have a deeply personal responsibility
in the struggle for chastity. We must never succumb to the feeble
excuse, the lie really, that, “I can't help it — therefore I am not
morally responsible for it. I am, after all, just human.” So was
St. Paul. We must love both ourselves and others responsibly.
Love without responsibility is not love at all — it is a euphemism for
The Fire Within ...
We have two
choices, then: we can either subdue or we can sublimate
our sexuality. What we cannot do is avoid
it. We cannot avoid it because we cannot extinguish it. Even if we could,
we would not, for that reason, be more perfectly human, but rather
imperfectly human; we would not be possessed of a virtue, but
deprived of a perfection, the perfection of that being human
which is human being — we
would be in a state of
privation — but deprived of a perfection, the perfection of
that “being human” which is “human being” — we would be in a state of
privation — of a good (sexuality) that ought to be present
and is not. Sexuality, sexual desire, is a good. Why?
God created it, endowed us with it. And everything God created is good.
Instead of coming to terms with our created sexuality,
however, we mistakenly, and vainly seek to extinguish sexual desire
altogether through every conceivable form of self-denial, abnegation:
not eating, wearing sackcloth, punishing our bodies, avoiding the other
gender. Of course it is prudent to avoid the Occasion of Sin
— the person, place, or thing that is likely to induce us to sin — but
we do not subdue what we avoid; we merely defer the conflict;
still less do we sublimate the encounter through ennobling it.
We remain, all
our lives, sexual beings. In profound ways it is the source not only
of the unspeakably beautiful creative act culminating in children,
but must at least be conjectured upon as a mysterious part of that vital
impulse expressing itself through creative love: music, poetry
This creative and irrepressible impetus to life and being, this capacity
to give life, cannot be confined solely and exclusively to the vocation
of marriage, excluding those who are single, Consecrated, or Religious
men and women (that is, belonging to a Religious Order). Grace
perfects nature; it does not destroy it. The tremendous creativity
we find in figures so disparate as the Franciscans Thomas of Celano,
Jacapone da Todi , Sister Maria Innocentia Hummel, and the composer
Franz Liszt, to name a few, can only be expressed in terms of passion;
passion deriving from love which is always procreative and in the
being we understand as human — the human being —
a procreativity that, whatever its nature, finds its paradigm
in the procreative love that is inseparable from human sexuality.
We blench at this suggestion as unworthy — that things
noble, lofty, even holy, should proceed from what we have reflexively
come to esteem as base — the very thing that alone yields the most
beautiful and holy of creatures: our very children.
The most perfect moment of union between the bride and
the groom, husband and wife, the lover and the beloved — the literal
climax of love (love’s most exquisite expression, utter consummation)
in which lover becomes one with the beloved — is disdained not just
as base, but as abysmally base.
What madness is this?
What evil and distorted inversion has caused us to esteem
what is beautiful and holy as ugly and profane — such that the foulest
word in any language is synonymous with it!?
We speak of “making
love, as though love could be made ... and then do not recognize
it apart from its epithet!
“SEX” is not a “Four Letter word”... and neither is “CHASTE”
At this point,
I think it fairly clear that our disordered perception of sexuality
has skewed not only our understanding of God, but of ourselves
— and most importantly, the relationship between the two.
Even the notion of sin, in all its complexities,
is more readily understood by us in our relationship to God, than
sex — which, paradoxically, to so many
of us is fraught with sin, or what is worse yet, indistinguishable from
it! Were most of us asked what physiological feature in both men and
women is most susceptible to sin, and most likely to lead us to sin,
we would point, like ill-taught and unthinking children, immediately
to our loins.
The fact of the matter, however, is that in the way of preponderance
of sin, our sexuality would be fifth at best, the
first four, in order of gravity and number, would be:
the heart, in which
every sin is first conceived,
then the mouth, through
which most often it proceeds;
thence to the ears that
take either delight or offense,
and from the ears to the hands
that murder, maim, or otherwise trespass.
Is this to diminish the gravity of sexual sin? Of course
not. It is, however, helpful in placing our perception of sexual sin
into perspective. We must remember that sexual sins are considered by
the Church to be sins proceeding from weakness — as distinct
from sins proceeding from malice, the latter, of course, being
the more grave of the two.
But we must see that it is equally indicative of our
inability or unwillingness to come to terms with the the other
8 Commandments that prohibit other sins – sins not
of a sexual nature – but upon which we are seldom so fixated:
Refraining from using the Lord's Name in
Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy
Failing to Honor our Mothers and Fathers,
Coveting your Neighbor's Wife
and Coveting Our Neighbor's Goods. (Exodus
20:3-17 and Deuteronomy 5:7-21).
Of the Ten, why the Sixth and the Ninth?
Of the 10, it
is most often the 6th and 9th that we focus upon. Why?
This is an odd state of affairs. The first sin,
that of Adam and Eve, so often depicted in sexual terms, had nothing
whatever to do with sex — it was disobedience prompted by the sin
of pride. Succinctly put, they sought to be like God (even though they
were already created in His image, which is to say that they were
already like unto God — but not in plenitude, hence the pride,
and from thence the disobedience) As the Catechism of the
Catholic Church teaches us,
tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in
his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God's command.
This is what man's first sin consisted of.
All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and
lack of trust in his goodness.”
I Section II, 397)
In fact, the most
persistent and pernicious sin of which the Chosen People of God, the
Israelites, were guilty was idolatry. For this reason they wandered
in the desert for 40 years. It was a sin that provoked God, through
their obstinacy, ultimately to banish them in the Babylonian Exile for
70 years. Once again, it stemmed from the immediate sin of disobedience
to the First Commandment — not the Sixth or the Ninth.
There are 121 references to idolatry
and in the Bible, 40 relative to adultery,
and 36 to fornication. Why, then,
the inverse disproportion that we append to sins of a sexual
nature? The breach of each Commandment is equally repugnant to God,
so we have, on the one hand, no warrant to minimize one, and by the
same token, no warrant to emphasize another, either. Certainly some
appear to be more reprehensible than others, and most of us would likely
deem killing a more grave offense than, say, adultery or lying. In other
words, the proscriptions that we encounter in Exodus 20 do not appear
to be hierarchical. There is a reason for this. But we do not, it is
clear, acquire our focus on sexual sin from the Decalogue, nor, if we
examine it further, from the Books of Leviticus and Numbers, both of
which are replete with ancillary laws. Why are some apparently
more abhorrent to us than they are to God?
Again, what is the provenance of our fixation on the
6th and the 9th Commandments? Both call us to be chaste.
Each is a clarion for chastity. Could it
be that the 6th and the 9th somehow incorporate all the others?
Jesus summed up all the Commandments in
two, telling us that our observation of the
two was simultaneously our observation of the others. Let us look at
this more carefully.
and Coveting our Neighbor’s Wife
The Decalogue (the Ten Commandments)
distinguishes between the two.
Jesus does not:
I say to you, that whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her,
hath already committed adultery with her in his heart” (St. Matthew
5.28) The connection between the two is more than a matter of mere hermeneutics,
the first follows upon the second, the 6th after the 9th, the desire
before the commission of sin.
It is not that Jesus is saying something “other” than we find
in the Decalogue; He has simply elucidated the obvious nexus between
them. They are one and the same sin. The bringing to completion in the
body what has already been consummated in the mind is, in the way of
sin, only distinguished chronologically: the one precedes the other,
and is no less grave and no less culpable than the other. In fact, Jesus
says, the latter, the physical consummation, is not even necessary to
the imputation of the sin of adultery! It is already committed in the
thinking, the desiring, the willing. The physical act itself is only
a matter of opportunity, of the body participating in what the mind
has conceived, willed, and already done! It is co-opting the body —
which is a physical, and not a moral entity — to be complicitous in
the sin, and the sin then corrupts the total being, body and
St. Paul speaks of, “sinning
against our bodies” (“he
that commits fornication, sins against his own body”
(1 Cor. 6.18) — an odd statement until we consider that not only
do we “use” the body of another to fulfill the sinful desires
within the mind – but our own as well! We subject our own
bodies to sin, by bringing them into complicity with the sinful
mind and making them instrumental in the sin — the sin erstwhile
only affecting, injuring, our own souls without bringing sin and injury
to the person desired. This is abuse of the body, ones own body,
by making it accomplice to the desire of the mind and resulting
in the abuse, injury, and corruption of others, of the world at large
— beyond the confines of ones mind.
In other words, sin begins in the mind and corrupts the soul, but goes
no further unless opportunity affords it. The injury caused is to oneself
solely (the offense always against God). The vitiating nature
of sin is confined to the abscess of desire: its purulence poisons only
the soul that conceives it. Through
(ab)using the body, however,
the destructive nature of the sin extends beyond this abscess, this
self-injury; it suppurates and, through the instrumentality of the body,
becomes injurious to others. It has already been destructive to the
soul. It will now become destructive to others.
This is of the essence of the pernicious nature of sin.
It corrupts by seducing to complicity everything that it touches upon.
That the sin of one man, Adam, should touch upon every human
being, is, in this sense, completely coherent.
This effectively forms the matrix of the answer to our question: the
reason that we seize upon the 6th and 9th Commandments is that, in being
called to chastity, we are called away from that vicious concatenation
of sin and destruction that follows ineluctably upon the assent of the
will to desire unlawfully. Chastity calls us away from destructiveness.
In fact, it calls us to creativeness through calling us to
create ourselves in ever greater conformity to the image of God in Whom
our own perfection and felicity consists. It does not call us away
from desire; only unlawful desire, desire
that results not in something creative and beautiful, but destructive
and ugly; desire whose consequence is life and not death. The call to
chastity, in effect, is no less the call to abundant life than it is
the call away from suicide and murder — inasmuch as our pursuit of sinful
desires always entails the destruction of the self and the destruction
we eventually find, implicates every other Commandment, for Jesus said,
shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with
thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest
and the first commandment. And the second is like to this:
Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments
dependeth the whole law and the prophets.”
Matthew 22. 37-40)
Geoffrey K. Mondello
for the Boston Catholic Journal
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