Originally published: 11.29.2017
Since the early drops that would become the recent deluge of “outing” sexual impropriety began to fall, Malcolm Muggeridge, a British journalist and satirist who died in 1990 at age 87, has been on my mind a great deal. Muggeridge, a nearly life-long agnostic who was received into the Catholic Church at the age of 79, once wrote, “Sex…the ersatz or substitute religion of the 20th Century…is the mysticism of materialism and the only possible religion in a materialistic society.”
To take Muggeridge’s suggestion further, I would offer that, if sex has become the substitute religion of the 20th Century, then relativism has become its rule of life. Instead of emptying of ourselves in order to follow a path that will fill us with a love of God and a respect for how He has made us in His own image, the relativism rule of life has filled the culture with a deep love of itself and a conviction that there is no absolute truth.
Prior to the 1960 FDA approval of the birth control pill and the subsequent sexual revolution in the culture, the prevailing understanding was that sexual intercourse between a man and a woman led to pregnancy. With the arrival of the pill, contraception was officially divorced from the sexual act. Sex didn’t need to lead to pregnancy. Women were finally given the freedom to do with their bodies whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. With this freedom was the implicit invitation that men could do as they wished with women’s bodies, sexually, and there would be no unwanted consequences, i.e., pregnancy. It became the culture’s truth that sex was no longer marital, unitive, or procreative.
In his February 20, 1980 Theology of the Body address, Pope John Paul II stated, “The body, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden since time immemorial in God [God’s love for man], and thus to be a sign of it.”
Contraception, abortion, and pornography have all led to the cultural metamorphosing of women as simply receptacles to be used and discarded rather than the “spiritual and divine” as St. John Paul II discussed. When a person ceases to believe in his or her own dignity as being made in God’s likeness, then the idea that that person is simply a utilitarian sexual tool existing for the gratification of another will become a truth. In his book, Love and Responsibility, then Karol Wojtyla wrote, “A person’s rightful due is to be treated as an object of love, not as an object for use…Treating a person as a means to an end, and an end moreover which in this case is pleasure, the maximization of pleasure, will always stand in the way of love.” With the sexual liberation of women came the sexual enslavement of them.
Let me be perfectly clear, I am blaming neither women nor men for this Kafkaesque transformation. The hypersexualization of nearly every aspect of our culture is due simply to the fact that we are living a post-lapsarian existence where Adam and Eve first realized the naked human body and by which mankind has been titillated ever since. The human person and the marriage act are perceived by our post-Christian culture not as a divinely created being and an intimate, unifying act capable of producing new life, but as objects that exist for our increasingly depraved—as we see in recent studies on pornography—sexual appetites.
The #MeToo campaign seems to have been the match to the powder keg of this sexual harassment allegation explosion in which the likes of Weinstein, Spacey, and Lauer, among others have been immolated. This tag which those who had felt the effects of being perceived as simply an object of sexual gratification used to self-identify as being victims of a full-on assault to recipients of inappropriate comments, filled social media timelines across the country, including my friends, family, and even my own social media account. It was people proclaiming that enough was enough and that the culture finally had to address this sexually driven deviancy that had been allowed to fester for so long.
Unfortunately, I fear that a hash tag simply isn’t the correct weapon in this particular fight. When life in the very womb can be deemed as unworthy of respect, why should we think that our bodies, our sexuality, our relationships with one another should merit any more respect.
Muggeridge once wrote, “The orgasm has replaced the Cross as the focus of longing and the image of fulfillment.” To quote Love and Responsibility once more, “Limitation of one’s freedom might seem to be something negative and unpleasant, but love makes it a positive, joyful and creative thing. Freedom exists for the sake of love.” Until we focus our thoughts, our actions, our longings on God, we will continue to see our bodies and the bodies of others as simply the vessel of that which brings us selfish, fleeting fulfillment.