The Sacred Cow


“Is it not possible for us to do with gender, sexuality, and reproduction what was long ago done with the stars? To realize that these are also secular areas…?”

So says Anne Rice in the conclusion to her book, Called Out of Darkness, her memoir about her flight from and return to Catholicism. She’s talking about the discovery that the earth revolved around the sun, and lamenting the Church’s consistent position on sexual issues.

It’s a common criticism, that Christians in general and the Catholic Church in particular are obsessed with matters of sex. Not that long ago, a man I know commented on “Life-Giving Love in an Age of Technology,” a pastoral letter recently approved by the U.S. bishops. His comment went something like: “Oh, so they’ve run out of poor and hungry to care for, so now they have to spend their time on THIS?”

Such arguments miss the point. It’s not either/or. It’s both/and—and anyone with a fair mind must admit, the Church does speak often and pointedly on many issues, striking across the political spectrum: war, health care, poverty, and yes, sexuality.

Painting sex as a secular issue rings false because our sexuality is the very core of our being. Who we are, how we look at the world—these are intimately connected with male, female, heterosexual, homosexual, etc. Abortion is high on the Church’s priority list not because the evil patriarchal bozos want to put “laws on my body,” as the bumper sticker says, but because there’s another body to be considered. Abortion is not about one woman’s body; it’s about two bodies, one nourishing the other. How can we see the heart beating beneath the woman’s ribs—that unique life, with its own DNA, its own blood type—and claim that it is a part of the mother, and can thus be disposed of?

And this is also why contraception gets such air play from the bishops—because hormonal birth control, at least, acts by multiple mechanisms, one of which is the hardening and thinning of the uterine lining, which makes it nearly impossible for the child to implant. (See here and here.)

No one wants to talk about this, because nobody wants to know how often that third function of hormonal birth control comes into play. If pro-life people had to confront this reality, it would force them to change. It’s easier to say, “Oh, it doesn’t happen often enough to worry about.”

In a broader sense, nobody wants to confront the fact that sex has a biological purpose, and mucking with that purpose is fraught with perils, both emotional and physical. I think everybody realizes that casual hookups are damaging to a person’s sense of trust in permanence. But the only way you can know you’re in a permanent relationship is to wait till marriage…and to view marriage as indissoluble.

The Gospel has always been at odds with the culture—in Biblical times no less than today. It’s easy to corrupt religion, I’ll grant, but when you take a thoughtful, balanced look at the Gospels—the languages, the cultures, the context—the implications spin out far beyond the actual words written in Scriptures. I can only skim the surface in a blog post; I’ve started and discarded four or five other related topics. Which just goes to illustrate that sexuality is intimately connected with matters of faith. Sorry, Anne. It’s not going anywhere.

14 thoughts on “The Sacred Cow

  1. fillforsix

    You are a brave woman Kathleen. Good for you for putting it out there. Not a popular stance, but I have a nagging feeling that as the number of Catholics continues to rise, there are more of us out there who feel this way, but choose to stay silent.

    A side question: In the third to last paragraph did you mean to say ‘pro-choice?’

  2. Thoughtful post. I would have to say it was the Catholic Church’s consistency on sexual matters that helped me see Her position made sense.

    Hooray for your post! I think those of us on board with the Church’s teachings on marriage and sexuality need to speak up. For years, I think we have felt shamed into silence…

  3. No, I mean pro-life. I think the reason that the pro-life movement has not been able to make headway in the arena of public opinion is b/c of the inconsistency: prolife movement doesn’t want to give up contraception.

    Michelle, I don’t think it’s so much shame as it is fear of confrontation. Fear of breaking relationships, or at least straining them. Fear of being challenged and not having an answer, and thus strengthening the position you’re trying to convert. At least, that’s my discomfort with speaking out.

  4. fillforsix

    Oh, I get why you said pro-life.

    My discomfort is the same as yours. I know this is nothing new, but I think the media plays such a huge part in perpetuating the idea that “everyone” is okay with this societal definition of sexuality.

  5. Kathleen, I suppose shame wasn’t the right word…although isn’t the straining in relationships, fear of confrontation…somewhat the same as feeling ashamed? I guess it frustrates me that the more vocal people in this discussion are always the ones FOR birth control or claiming the Church needs to “get with the times…” or something like that. Why is it that the relationships are only strained when I, voicing support for the Church’s teachings on sexuality, am vocal? That’s kind of what I meant.

  6. I think I worded my last sentence wrong.

    What I meant was:

    I get frustrated that the only people who seem to be worried about straining the relationship are people like me (and hence we keep rather quiet).

    Those who are vocal in the other direction…it never seems like they care whether they strain the relationship with their comments.

  7. Yes, I know what you mean. I think it’s because we know we’re on the unpopular end of public opinion. We *shouldn’t* care, but we are human, so we do. OTOH, in some ways I think it’s good, because it requires of us a measured response. It’s when we shoot off our mouths that we cause the most relational damage–as you well know, from your own posts.

    I’ve been struggling with how to approach this issue on the blog. I feel like the NFP crowd tends to preach to its own choir, which really isn’t helpful. This is too hard a change of mindset for most people to accept without groundwork. Which is why I’ve been nibbling at the edges. I know that I have a good sized readership that *isn’t* Catholic, and also Catholics who don’t buy into teachings on birth control. So I want to lay the foundation that would allow people to understand *why.*

  8. The Church’s Teachings in this area are difficult to cover. There’s a great guest blog post on from a non-Catholic on what they think of NFP, if that’s a good start. Dustin at EM has a decent handle on how to talk about NFP to newbies & the choir. Hopefully I’m able to do this a little bit on my own blog, too. Keep up the good work, and don’t shy away from the tough issues. People need to hear it!

  9. I was actually quite impressed with Rice’s take in that chapter. She seemed to clearly have her view which was shaped by years in secular society rather than the Church, but she was willing to humbly suggest what she thought might change rather than to assert that the Church was wrong and she was right. Humility is the queen of virtues, and I am afraid that Rice might be more virtuous than most of the Christopher West junkies who love to hate her. I know that this isn’t the core of your post, but I would be most interested in knowing what you thought of that entire section of the book & Rice’s approach in general. Do you think that it is inherently harmful, ignorant, or something else?

    • You know, I started the post with the intent of reviewing the whole book, but realized it was getting too far-flung. You are right, up to a point; she was clearly conflicted, and it was a mind-stretcher for me to see someone who felt so clearly connected with the Real Presence, despite her difficulties with certain teachings. And I loved to hear someone outside the pastoral music community talk the language of the liturgy with such matter-of-fact ease, not sounding pretentious.

      FWIW, I have never been either a Christopher West junkie (my husband and I thought the first book we read was over the top), nor an Anne Rice hater. The first thing I read of hers was Out of Egypt, and it was a truly holy experience for me, as was the Road to Cana. Those two books made me go read Interview with a Vampire, but I barely got through it; I understood the central conflict, but it just never caught me.

      I like what you say, that humility is the queen of virtues. The NFP community has a tendency to self-righteousness and painting things in black & white terms. It’s a painful truth that my husband and I frequently lament, so if I come across sounding just that way, I missed my mark. As for that section of the book, I think the idea has merit, just not in the area of sexuality, for the reasons I stated. As for the total approach, I think it is neither harmful nor ignorant–she’s clearly done a lot of research–far more than I have, and I know quite a lot about my faith. I just think that the sex culture (I hate talking about that, b/c it sounds so reactionary, but you can’t turn around without sex being thrown in your face, so it’s clearly a valid point) has seduced her, and she hasn’t been able to see the beauty, the wholeness, the respect for the total person, male and female, as God created them, that is in the Theology of the Body. It is truly in the middle, if people will only look at it in its entirety, instead of one part. When she talked about the “gender complementarity” in TOB, I shook my head…because gender complementarity is precisely what’s so beautiful, and it’s far more in line with her idea of people being people first. I think she is reacting to a secular, historical view of gender roles, and not the reality of what simply exists.

      Oh dear, it is late and I am rambling, and I need some time in front of the tree with my husband. 🙂 I’ll be interested to hear back from you.

      • Time in front of the tree sounds great, and I am glad that you chose it instead of putting more thought into replying to a comment that probably wasn’t worth all that much. 🙂

        I am sorry for implying that you were a Christopher West junkie. That was sloppy & unintended.

        For some reason after reading the last paragraph of your post, I imagined Rice checking her Google alerts one day and shaking her head about everyone just does not understand. I can’t help thinking that this is a case of “whoever is not against us is for us” rather than the inverse.

        I’ll admit that when I read Rice’s comment about gender complementarity in Totb I assumed that she had never actually read it. You are right that her ability to understand Beauty has been damaged, but I worry that my own ability is far to weak to correct Rice’s. I guess that my approach would be to welcome Rice’s attempt at reconciling people with the Church and to suggest that she is completely correct that the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount are “entirely adequate” for addressing these issues. Now that I look back at that chapter in the book, I get the feeling that Rice was circling in on truth she was trying to explain, but ended up contradicting herself in an attempt at expressing a mystery. But obviously I really have no idea what I am talking about.

        I guess that rambling is a natural result of comments which don’t actually address the main point of a post. And for that you have my apologies. 🙂

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