John Richardson is a priest in the Church of England, who blogs as The Ugley Vicar
(title explained at the site).
He writes consistently good theological pieces, and this one appeared in The Guardian as an op/ed
. It has a positive message on a topic most known for taboos on the one hand or trivialization on the other.
How should Christians think about sex? Specifically, within what framework should we consider this aspect of life and experience?
Perhaps the first thing to clarify is why there should be a specifically "Christian" way of thinking about sex at all. What is it about Christianity that could make a difference? And the answer surely lies in the doctrine of the incarnation.
Christians, as distinct even from Jews (their closest theological neighbours), believe that God has been "embodied". The word of God, himself God from the beginning, "became flesh and dwelt among us" in the person of Jesus (John 1:14).
Therefore the body, the locus of our sexuality and the vehicle of its expression, is also a vehicle and means of expression of God's own self. And whatever Christians think about sexuality, it has to be integrated with this specifically Christian understanding.
This suggests, however, that the most appropriate theological category in which to put human sexuality is that of a "sacrament", which the Church of England usefully defines as, "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace".
But he doesn't go all ethereal on us, writing instead with considerable sobriety,
And therefore a fundamental feature of Christian thinking about human sexuality ought to be a recognition of its mere functionality and its commonality with that of other living creatures. (Indeed, such a recognition might be helpful in many of our wider cultural debates on this topic.)
Which is to say that The Bloodhound Gang
expressed some of the truth when they sang, "You and me baby ain't nuthin' but mammals..." We are funny creatures, thinking that something so basically biological is a badge of identity and worth.
Still, Christians believe that we are "made in the image of God," and Richardson concludes with that guiding point of view:
But considered "inwardly and spiritually", human sexuality has an iconic significance, being a point where the divine finds earthly expression – where something that is true about the creator-redeemer God in his relationship with his created-redeemed people is imaged and embodied in human relationship and experience.
This is why the subject of our sexuality is so inescapable, despite various efforts over time to neutralise, demonise or trivialise the subject. It is a veritable Jacob's ladder – a place where heaven and earth combine. But until the two become one, it will continue to trouble us, as well as to enthral us.
That's a good line - "various efforts over time to neutralise, demonise or trivialise the subject." Our culture, it seems to me, is caught up in a crazy approach in which sexuality is at once ultimate - a defining issue of identity, self worth and rights - and trivial, a self-serving way to kill some time with little thought to anything past the moment.Camille Paglia's recent piece on Lady Gaga
nailed our strange culture (warning: article has explicit language),
...despite showing acres of pallid flesh in the fetish-bondage garb of urban prostitution, Gaga isn’t sexy at all – she’s like a gangly marionette or plasticised android. How could a figure so calculated and artificial, so clinical and strangely antiseptic, so stripped of genuine eroticism have become the icon of her generation? Can it be that Gaga represents the exhausted end of the sexual revolution?
Is there a way to recapture a sexuality that embodies the fullness of love expressed in the New Testament's original Greek? The passion of eros
, the warmth of filias
and the self-sacrificing commitment of agape
are all rendered "love" in English, leaving us with just one word to express our preference of ice cream flavor, our fondness for our siblings and our most intimate life bonds.
I admire Richardson's effort on this. It won't resonate with non-Christians, or even many Western Christians, who will babble something about defending their absolute rights on the one hand and, in an amazing contradiction, their need to ignore the subject altogether and "concentrate on the really important issues facing our world" on the other.
Whether one is religious or secular, the reality of how we reproduce, and the amazingly long period of helplessness and need for nurture in human young, is a fundamental testimony to our social nature. It sets up all the larger questions about our values and how we organize to live them out.