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.