In 2010, I wrote a 6-part series for this blog on sexual morality, looking at how our view of both the universe and gender plays out in how we think about ourselves in general and sexuality in particular. While this is hardly a new topic, I approached the problem from an original angle. Rather than simply lamenting how bad things have become in our society, I tried to show that the results of the sexual revolution have actually been antithetic to its own goals.
Starting at the time of the ‘Enlightenment’ and working my way through to the present day, I observed that a consequence of rejecting the Biblical worldview has been to rob men and women of the ability to properly enjoy themselves as God intended. The reductionism of gender and sexuality wrought by the materialistic worldview has created a new network of secular taboos. The result is that gender has been neutralized and the spice has been taken out of life.
As my argument unfolds, it becomes clear that the Biblical approach is not simply the ethical option: it is also the most sexy. The alternatives to Biblical morality, which our society has been desperately trying to make work, not only fail to achieve their own goals, but are ultimately boring by comparison.
At the moment chastity is ‘in’ but coherent thinking about chastity is at an all time low. Many Christian young people think that as long as you don’t have sex before marriage then you are keeping to the Biblical sex ethic. That is ethics by subtraction, which leaves a moral vacuum that makes the young person a prime target for sexual temptation. My approach in these posts is to try to show that purity is not a matter of negation, but of affirmation. Against those who maintain that Biblical standards of purity and integrity represent a repressive or a pessimistic view of sexuality, I show that the shoe is actually on the other foot. In the long run, I argue that Biblical morality is the truly erotic option.
Following are links to the 6 different posts in this series:
- Gender, Morality and Modesty Part 1: Reducing the Human
- Gender, Morality and Modesty Part 2: Utilitarian Ethics
- Gender, Morality and Modesty Part 3: Ideas Have Consequences
- Gender, Morality and Modesty Part 4: The Gender Benders
- Gender, Morality and Modesty Part 5: The Disenchanting of Sex
- Gender, Morality and Modesty Part 6: Liberated Into Bondage
Overview of Argument
In the first post, ‘Reducing the Human‘, I consider the implication that certain ideas of the European Enlightenment had on the concept of nature. If everything a person does is simply the predetermined result of mechanical forces, then all actions can be defended as being “natural.” I explore some of the implications this had in the area of sexual morals. In particular, I examine how it unleashed a sexual revolution at the time of the Enlightenment. The followers of Locke had no reservation in moving from a mechanistic view of man to formulating an entirely mechanistic theory of moral values. Hence, we see Diderot arguing that since man is a part of nature, whatever he does is, by definition, “natural”. I explored that it was in the area of sexual ethics that the ideas of the Enlightenment become acutely practical. Since determinism implied that anything is natural as long as you are doing it (since no action could have been otherwise in the great deterministic machine), it followed that nature could be used to defend sexual taboos as well as a more licentious approach. (And it should hardly come as a surprise if the naturalness of the latter and not the former began to dominate popular thinking as the eighteenth century progressed.)
I built on this in Part 2 by exploring the way key Enlightenment thinkers were unhappy with the practical ramification their ideas were having in the area of sexual morality. As an alternative, they proposed utilitarian substitutes to Christian morality. The pragmatic approach to sexual ethics at the time of the Enlightenment is similar to how people also began to approach religion in the eighteenth century. Though the materialist philosophers of the Enlightenment all agreed that the doctrines, practices and claims of institutionalized religion were absurd, a good many of these philosophers also felt that society needed these institutions in order to give the common people an incentive for morality. In other words, though religion might be based entirely on fables, it was still a necessary component to a cohesive society. Likewise, while many 18th century intellectuals considered the Christian taboos about extra-marital sex to have no rational basis, still it was better for society if those taboos were generally adhered to. And, of course, they weren’t. Clinging to the forms of religion and morality without the content, the result was not dissimilar to the way our own era has developed a pseudo-morality around the need for “safe sex.” (Indeed, following in the Enlightenment pedigree, the Chastity Movement has generally been content to affirm the thou-shalt-nots of Christian doctrine on entirely utilitarian grounds.)
In the third post in this series, titled ‘Ideas Have Consequences’, I explored how just as materialism affected one’s view of morality, it also affects one’s view of gender. A corollary of mankind being deconstructed by the materialist hammer is that our identity as men and women is also smashed. In particular I look at how these problems played out in the conflict between Rousseau and Mary Wollstonecraft. The very idea that the sexes would have different roles, responsibilities, strengths and weaknesses, had assumed that these differences went beyond mere physical dissimilarities. Indeed, it had assumed that men and women were different in their very natures. However, materialism’s reduction of human beings left men and women without any natures at all. What we call our “nature” is really only billions of particles that happen to have collided in the event we call a person. The corollary of this was that the ancient customs and notions that the eighteenth century inherited concerning relations between men and women were believed to be flawed not simply in practice, but in very principle. We thus find Mary Wollstonecraft keen to eliminate modesty as a sexual virtue in women. This reduction of modesty to a sexually neutral virtue was an unavoidable consequence of Wollstonecraft’s androgyny, which was itself an inevitable corollary of the Enlightenment materialism explored in Part 1 of this series.
In Part Four: The Gender Benders I explored how these same problems have come to a head in our own era. In this post I argued that our own age has been more consistent with the implications of the Enlightenment worldview, and thus it is widely assumed that all non-physical gender differences are mere social constructions. This leads to androgyny or the unisex movement, whereby the differences between the sexes are neutralized. I saw that rather than being able to glory in our identity as men and women created in the image of God, our society makes us feel ashamed of the very concept of manhood and womanhood, while the emblems of our sex are reduced to symbols of servitude and conformity. I few practical applications in the area of both chivalry (properly defined!) and modesty. Chivalrous behavior, I argue, presupposed certain things about our humanity. It assumes, for example, that women ought to be treated in a special way because they are women, just as feminine modesty proclaims that women ought to dress in a certain way because they are women. When a man embraces his calling to look after and protect women, or when a woman embracers her calling to dress modestly, they are both proclaiming that there is a fundamental difference between the sexes. These very differences are what our age, following in the wake of the Enlightenment, has sought to undermine.
Part Five: The Disenchanting of Sex is where my argument begins to become acutely practical. I argue that the strangeness inherent in such things as co-ed dorms, co-ed bathrooms, co-ed wrestling and even co-ed sleeping bags, is not that such things exist, but that they can exist without sexual connotations. This can only be achieved to the extent that gender has been emptied of its implicit sexuality. In a world where manhood and womanhood have been deconstructed, it should hardly come as a surprise. Whether a woman strips down to a bikini on the grounds that there is nothing sexual about it, or puts on a long dress designed to remove all shape, in both cases her latent sexuality is not being properly acknowledged. In both cases, the subject is unconsciously acting out the unisex presuppositions of our post-Enlightenment culture. In a brothel, women have overcome the natural shyness surrounding erotically important parts of their bodies in order to advertizes sex; on a sunny beach, scores of women can be seen who have overcome this natural shyness with no thought of sex at all. Indeed, by refusing to explicitly acknowledge the erotic implications of minimalistic attire, we are approaching sexual revolutionist William Reich’s ideal of a sexual utopia in which all shyness has been overcome and sexuality itself has been trivialized and flattened of its innate potency. By deconstructing our world (materialism), the Enlightenment couldn’t help but deconstruct gender (androgyny), with the result that our sexuality has been neutralized, stripped of any transcendent categories that might otherwise elevate it above that which is merely common.
The sixth and final post in this series, titled ‘Liberated into Bondage’ considers what is happening as the residual capital of the Christian worldview is being depleted from Western culture. Ideas have consequences, but those consequences can sometimes take hundreds of years before they kick in. We have now reached a point where we no longer have the luxury enjoyed by the inconsistent materialists of the Enlightenment. Because materialism denied that a transcendent God had revealed himself to His creation, it placed man as the sole arbitrator of morality. The result was that man turned sex into a god. It is a biblical principle that whenever a thing is worshiped idolatrously, the original thing is destroyed. In removing the restrictions placed on sexuality and denying the design God created, the sexual revolution ended up de-valuing the very thing it sought to elevate. Far from liberating and empowering male and female sexuality, the twin pillars of androgyny and materialism have achieved the opposite effect. This can be seen in the way that many feminists, after denouncing all gender distinctions, have been responding with puritanical outrage against that one activity which continually reaffirms our sexual identity: heterosexual sex. Indeed, for many feminists, the liberation of our sexuality does not stop with merely rejecting romantic love. Nor does it stop with getting rid of marriage, though it involves that too. Rather, the process completes itself in a full scale pessimism of heterosexual sex itself, a paradoxical culmination to the Enlightenment’s emancipation project and itself an apt illustration that we destroy those things we worship idolatrously.
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