Friday, 27 November 2015

Sex, the Universe and Christianity - the weakness of mainstream, and a great strength of Mormon, theology

Mainstream Christianity has proved to be extremely vulnerable to the sexual revolution over the past century or so - indeed, the sexual revolution has all-but eliminated Christianity from public discourse in The West, reduced the main Christianity churches to servile impotence - and the destruction continues.

Why should this be? My guess is that many people cannot perceive see any solid link between the topic of sex and the necessities of Christian faith - and the mainstream churches have been unable to explain any link in a way that was comprehensible and convincing.

Traditional Christianity in The West was mostly organized around an attitude that was anti-sex - or was felt to be anti-sex by those who lived under it. The highest Christians were celibate monks and priests in Catholic countries; but everywhere sex was not so much a matter of there being lots of things forbidden (although they were) as that only a very few sexual expressions were permitted.

These rules were presented as divine laws: and not so much explained, as simply enforced.

The problem, I think, is that while people mostly obeyed these laws; they could not understand the link between sexual activities and the Universe as described by Christianity.

There just did not seem to be any comprehensible connection between the Big Picture of God's creation of the Universe and his plans for the salvation of Men on the one hand - and the minutiae of what individual humans did in their tiny minds and feeble bodies: and their sex organs specifically.

The feeling was: why on earth should God care about what I do 'in the privacy of my bedroom'? - or indeed anywhere else? The feeling: what possible difference could my 'doings' make to the Universe as a whole?

Once there was a possibility of sex without babies; sex seemed such a small and temporary thing that it was difficult to see any significant role for it within the scope of the Universe; and mainstream Christianity was only able to provide very indirect, unconvincing and indeed mostly incomprehensible explanations to link sex and God's universe.

This was because Christianity has generally been felt as a spiritual, not a bodily thing; and God Himself was a spiritual and disembodied creator. Men and women were created from nothing, sex was presumed to be absent for the eternity after death - and in general sex was just a temporary and non-vital expedient during the short period of (fallen, sin-full) life on earth

It is a strength of Mormon theology that the significance, the vital importance, the Goodness of sex in the universe is clear in terms of the underlying metaphysics; which is itself clearly expressible as a simple story: that men and women are literal children of an incarnate Heavenly Father and Mother; and our main task on earth is to marry, have children and lead Christian lives primarily organized around families; eternal life after death is organized according to families; and the highest human destiny includes (eventually...) for a man and woman in celestial marriage to become divine parents.

This means that the very fundamentals of Mormon Christianity have built-in sexual relationships, sexual difference and relationships go up to the highest level.

And the vital importance of sex to the Christian Universe is clear even to a child - and without the necessity for long, abstract and philosophical explanation.

10 comments:

Cui Pertinebit said...

Bruce, I mean no offense, but as is often the case, I disagree with you intensely.

First - for a Mormon to criticize Christian theology as suffering from a lack of explanation, is very biting irony. Mormon theology actually avoids the central topic of theology (from what Being has contingent being arisen?) whereas Catholic theology is the most coherent, documented and exposited philosophy in all human history.

The Christian view of sexuality, contraception, celibacy, etc., is crystal clear and has usually been understood very well. Reading your post, what strikes me is your unfamiliarity with Christianity in history, and the facile attribution to Christianity generally, of attitudes particular to modern apostasy. Your statement that "Christianity has generally been felt as a spiritual, not a bodily thing" makes a Catholic's bones to ache. The centerpiece of Christianity is that God took a Body, and Baptism, the Eucharist, the Church Herself, etc., are all rooted in that. Likewise with the thought of "Why should God care about what I do in my bedroom?" - this thought is based on recent notions of liberty and a 'tolerant' God, the "right" to do as one pleases in private "without hurting anybody," etc. Before modernity, people's lives were not so disintegrated and folk understood lust and impurity ("private matters") to be potent sources of sin.

Yes, Mormonism makes procreation a central activity even of the next life, so it is no surprise if they have a firmer attachment to procreation. But the Apostolic Tradition, recognizing its central role in the earthly life heretofore, also saw that its cessation signaled the commencement of an higher order. And that is the witness of the Scripture, plainly: "In the Kingdom of Heaven they are neither married nor given in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven." "And Jesus said to them: The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage: But they that shall be accounted worthy of that world, and of the resurrection from the dead, shall neither be married, nor take wives. Neither can they die any more: for they are equal to the angels, and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection." "But I say to the unmarried, and to the widows: It is good for them if they so continue, even as I. But if they do not contain themselves, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to be burnt." "This therefore I say, brethren; the time is short; it remaineth, that they also who have wives, be as if they had none... and they that use this world, as if they used it not: for the fashion of this world passeth away." "For there are eunuchs, who were born so from their mother' s womb: and there are eunuchs, who were made so by men: and there are eunuchs, who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven. He that can take, let him take it."

The Protestants rejected celibacy because they needed to discredit the theological establishment in order to establish themselves. They've been at extremes on it (and the other Evangelical Counsels) ever since. The people had always received the Church's teaching, and practiced it as well as anything else; it was not until that wave of dissenters and infiltrators came in the mid-20th century, undermining the teaching in pulpits and the media, that a wide swath of Catholic laity apostatized and embraced perpetual adolescence' rebellion against Daddy.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CP - I think you misunderstand the purpose and nature of this post.

My point is that Mainstream Christianity has folded in the face of the sexual revolution - and that the way in which it tries to explain *theologically* the reasons why the sexual revolution is wrong, seems to me to be strikingly ineffective, for the reasons stated.

For instance, the recent defence of marriage from Mainstream Christians has been either feeble (using utilitarian secular arguments about the benefits of marriage - which, while true, are counter-productive since they implicitly yield authority to secular values) or confusing and over-complex. I have reads scores of such defences over the past few years - and frankly, they would not strike me as impressive from the outside.

My challenge, the challenge is for you to explain the Christian importance of sexuality in a way that is comprehensible and convincing.

I should clarify that I am a Mere Christian, unaffiliated, not a Mormon in the sense that I am not a member of the CJCLDS nor do I attend one, indeed I have never visited a Mormon church up to the present - However, I am a believer-in Mormonism (without reservations) and I am fortunate to have been invited to blog at a conservative Mormon group blog called Junior Ganymede.

I am confirmed a member of the Church of England and have practiced as a conservative evangelical and as an Anglo Catholic. I explored the Roman Catholic church quite intensely - and I would have joined c 2010 had there been an Anglican Ordinariate parish within reach, and actually began to prepare to join the Russian Orthodox church a year later (being deeply resistant concerning about the actuality and trends in the Church of England).

So I am in no way hostile to other Christian denominations - and not entirely ignorant of them either.

But I think there is a real and deep problem about sex and sexuality in Mainstream Christian theology, which has made things very difficult for *all* denominations.

Ordinary 'lay' Christians have often (over the centuries) lived by a a very earthy and common sense view of these matters (for example, common sense 'Trinitarianism' is often identical with the official Mormon beliefs on Father, Son and Holy Ghost; ordinary people assume they will remain married in Heaven and live with their children etc - but this is uofficial and indeed in contradiction to the official doctrines.

ajb said...

"that men and women are literal children of an incarnate Heavenly Father and Mother"

Can you expand a bit more about what, exactly, this means - what does it mean to be a child 'literally' in this case?

ajb said...

"Mormon theology actually avoids the central topic of theology (from what Being has contingent being arisen?) whereas Catholic theology is the most coherent, documented and exposited philosophy in all human history."

It is a theological claim that the central topic of theology is or ought to be how one gets contingent beings. That Catholic theology has focused so much on this seems to me an *error*. You are judging (Mormon) theology by certain (in particular Catholic) views about theology.

When your central theological premise is that God is the Holy Spirit and is the Son and is the Father, but the Holy Spirit is not the Son and is not the Father (and so on), and where the resolution of this linguistic contradiction is to say they are the same substance but not the same persons, to say it is the most 'coherent' theology around is fairly tendentious.

It is this kind of theological 'explanation' that to many seems to be a non-explanation - to be bafflingly incoherent - unless something like a Mormon view of the trinity is taken, which Catholicism explicitly does not take, instead saying it is a mystery that cannot be adequately understood.

Cui Pertinebit said...

@BC - I am sorry if I have gotten your confession wrong; I thought you strongly identified as a Mormon. I'm not meaning to be rude, but even after you explain it, I am still confused. What is your confession/creed at this point?

I agree that there is a big problem with sex at present, and that the sects have folded, but I disagree that it is a problem with Christian thought per se, and is more a problem of Modernism, which is calculated to sap all the vigor from the root of Christian Faith. For me, the central problem is an humanistic view of the world, which on the one hand leads people to reduce God to a decorative role in their lives (which they then live with a sense of licentious entitlement), and on the other hand, submits itself to all kinds of Malthusian, Venusian, Mammoniac, etc., manipulations. The fact is that the importance of procreation is an element of natural religion and so should be plain even to non-Christians, as in fact it is, in every society but ours, founded on Modernism. Quos vult perdere, Deus prius dementat. We are quite mad, is the problem.

@ajb

It is implicit in the term itself - "theology" = "rational exposition of God." "Logos" doesn't merely mean "word," but contains connotations of "speech, idea, chain of thought." And yes, any philosophical mind is going to ask: "Whence does existence arise?" If God is an exalted man of "body, parts and passions," the natural question is, "Where did he come from? Where is the Supreme Being, the Being from whom all contingent being arises?" Much of the answer to this problem is plain to natural reason, so "it has not been revealed" is an excuse.

I never understand why the Trinity confuses people; in actuality, I don't think it does, but rather, that people like to play it up as a form of covering fire.

Humanity is you and me and Bruce and everyone else besides, but I am neither you nor Bruce nor everyone else besides, and so on. Was that hard? The situation is somewhat different with the Divine Essence because it is simple beyond even the concept of a unity, whereas the human essence is contingent and admits of distinction. But the basic idea seems clear enough.

Atoning Unifex said...

This is all about the views of organizations and people which are about the Bible, not the Bible itself. I'd propose the solution is to see what the Bible says.

The hierarchy does show a primacy for the most spiritual men, the monks, which is eternally correct.

But there is also an acceptance and blessing of marriage and love, and a driver for spiritual development in the relation of men and women if both accept their roles, what they ought be and what they ought seek and support.

It's the constant fight against the Word and its directness that creates the problems you mention, which are artifacts of excessive Mind.

This problem of interpretation ruling over reality is well-known, unfortunately tenacious, and should when possible be dismissed summarily.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ajb ""that men and women are literal children of an incarnate Heavenly Father and Mother"
Can you expand a bit more about what, exactly, this means - what does it mean to be a child 'literally' in this case? "

My understanding of 'literal' is that there is a generative process at work, by contrast with being created from nothing - and then adopted as God's children (we are 'adopted' as heirs of course, as the Bible states - but this is not what makes us chidlren - see ref below). Another way of thinking of it is that we are children of God in the same sense that Christ is.

For Mormonism all men are intrinsically immature gods (small g) *because* we are God's children. And it is this family relationship which makes God non-arbitrary as the unique creator of meaning, purpose and real relationship (*One God* for this reason of fact - not for logical reasons).

http://charltonteaching.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/adoption-as-sons-of-god-what-does.html

Bruce Charlton said...

@CP - " I am still confused. What is your confession/creed at this point? "

You should be clear that I am NOT putting myself forward as a model of how to live a Christian life! I am a very unusual and autonomous type of person (it seems) with a lifelong pattern of clashing with, and leaving, institutions.

I regard Christianity as something which is simple and independent of philosophy and metaphysics - so I see no problem in Christianity including people with utterly different theologies (Eastern and Western Catholics, Calvinists and Methodists, Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses etc). Hence I am what CS Lewis called a Mere Christian to a high degree, and I regard denominations as of secondary importance - and indeed optional.

(However, I regard most mainstream Christian denominations as currently being overall/ net anti-Christian organizations whose overall/ net effect causes more apostasy than conversion, and spreads more faslehoods than Christian truths. For instance, the Church of England is mostly a left-wing NGO - and its focus is on 'social justice' themes. There are some strong and real Christians in that church - who put Christianity above politics - espcially among the low level laity (some conservative evangelical Anglicans are real Christians, for sure) - although probably *not* among the Bishops - which is the big problem).

More exactly, I regard salvation as already ours directly from the work of Jesus Christ, whether we know about this work or not, on condition of us accepting it through repentance in this life or after death; and the denominations and churches core business is therefore with 'what happens next' after conversion: variously termed sanctification, theosis, spiritual progression or divinization - i.e. the life-long (ideed eternal) task of becoming more god-like, or higher in divinity.

(I am always aware that most humans, a large majority, have died in the womb or early childhood - and Christ was for them - as much as for those of us who have lived some kind of life span.)

I love, and am both delighted and convinced by, the theology and actuality of the Mormon religion, and I accept the claims of the CJCLDS. But of course that does not make me worthy or able to join it - the CJCLDS is (quite rightly) very selective, and the aspirant for baptism must make many promises. Therefore my possibilities of theosis in this mortal life will be limited.

ajb said...

@CP "I never understand why the Trinity confuses people; in actuality, I don't think it does, but rather, that people like to play it up as a form of covering fire."

Trust me, it does.

Cui Pertinebit said...

@bc

Thanks for the explanation. Very weird, but then, so am I.