So, I have this theory.
I have this theory that 21st-century Western culture (and sadly, I include large portions of The Church) like the proverbial frog dropped in not-quite-boiling water, now finds itself worshiping at the altar of S-E-X.
We are a culture that will give up, sacrifice, or quit nearly everything in pursuit of what we perceive to be the good.
We have quit eating “refined sugar” and “trans-fats” because (with apologies to the author of Genesis) “if you eat of it, you will surely die.”
We have sacrificed time, money and convenience for food that is “locally grown, sustainably sourced, organic, fair-trade certified, etc…”
We sacrifice time with our family, self-contentment, and relaxation for hours at the gym or in the tanning bed, hoping to achieve “the perfect body”.
We sacrifice health and hours of sleep for better grades or a promotion at work.
We sacrifice thousands of dollars for our kids to be in competitive sports.
We sacrifice TV and alcohol and Facebook for Lent because, somehow, we know that they just sort of…take over our lives.
But would you ever quit, give up, or sacrifice sex?
We have come to a place where the be-all and end-all of life is “good sex”, and barring that, “bad sex”, or at least “safe sex”.
We know – know, for a fact – that sex causes pregnancy – even when you “are careful”. We know – know, for a fact – that sex can transmit diseases – even deadly diseases – even when you “are careful”.
And yet, we cannot possibly imagine why anyone – anyone at all – would choose to avoid sex. We believe, as a culture, that giving up certain foods or patterns of behavior (couch potato-ing or smoking or drinking to excess), that sacrificing time with spouse or children or parents are all worth it because of “something” that is better in the end – health, fitness, weight loss, grades, self-control, career success, job security for local farmers, whatever… "something" is worth it.
But what would 21st century America say is “worth” abstaining from sex? I would venture to say that most Americans, indeed, most “Christians” would have no answer for this. Instead, sex is one of the things we give everything else up for. We will sacrifice future relationships, our health, potential children, our dignity, our time, and our money – if the sex is good.
Why is it that we will give up hot dogs for our health…but we will sacrifice our health for an orgasm? Why is it that we will sacrifice time with our kids for a better job…but we’ll sacrifice our job for a fling with the boss?
Why is it that we will sacrifice money for our children’s success…but we’ll sacrifice our children’s lives for “safe sex”?
We have made sex our god – that which we fear, love, and trust the most – and it has wreaked havoc on our souls, and on the gift of sex itself.
It has wreaked havoc on our souls because idolatry always does. We have “given up” churches that encourage restraint of one’s sexual impulses. In fact, our churches have actively sought to discourage restraint – so that “they” will like us more, but I suspect, also, to justify our own actions.
Even in churches where an administrative nod is given to “sex in marriage only”, this is violated on a far more frequent basis than it is adhered to, and everyone looks the other way. Sign on the dotted line here saying you won’t do this…but really no one gives a damn if you do. And in doing so we have encouraged others to lie, only extending the sin further...
In our idolatrous worship of sex, we have walked away from the One who gave us sex in the first place, the One who thinks sex is lovely and beautiful and wonderful, from the One who wants us to open the gift and enjoy it, but who wants us to play with it carefully, so it doesn’t get broken, so we don't get broken.
Our idolatrous worship of sex has led pastors – preachers of the Word and administrators of the Sacraments to fancy themselves as sex therapists, “because sex is important.” Our idolatrous worship of sex has led congregations to see the distribution of condoms in their local neighborhoods as “a mission project”.
Our idolatrous worship of sex has left no room for the Author of sex to point out that sex is not the pinnacle of human existence, it has left no room for the Author of sex to note the unfortunate consequences that result from misuse of the gift, and it has left no room for the Author of sex to offer forgiveness for our misuse of it…because we believe that there can be no misuse.
Our idolatrous worship of sex has broken the relationship between us and our Creator…as idolatry always does. And it has broken the gift of sex itself.
Sex no longer serves any higher purpose than base physical pleasure. Thanks to latex, synthetic hormones, and invasive copper wire (really?), we have stripped sex of its power to give life. Thanks to one-night-stands and “booty calls” and “pity sex” we have stripped sex of its capacity to emotionally bond participants. Thanks to STDs, we have shifted the consequences of sex away from “ripple effects of the gift” to things we must protect ourselves from.
Idolatrous worship of sex has destroyed women. Oh, we think we’re free. Now that we’re out of those repressive Victorian corsets and allowed to actually enjoy sex, now this here is freedom. Except that our greatest, most-close-to-divine power, the power to create and nurture life, must be destroyed. Annihilated. Neutralized. We have freed ourselves to “enjoy sex like a man”, and in doing so, we have ensured that we will serve only as “plug and play” for our “partners”.
Idolatrous worship of sex has destroyed our creativity, it has destroyed our pursuit of a relationship for any reason other than physical, sexual pleasure, it has all-but-guaranteed that there is nothing about us that is sacred, special, or reserved.
I have come to believe – through my own personal experience and through the experiences of friends – that if I decline to share my deepest vulnerabilities with someone who will not first promise never to leave because of them – that I will remain forever single, forever celibate. And that saddens me, because I long for companionship, for a fellow-laborer, for sex, even, and for children.
But I will not worship at the altar of S-E-X. I will not exchange the truth for a lie. I will not allow my almost-supernatural power to give and nurture life to be suppressed for the convenience of men. I will not be a plug-and-play device for people who do not respect me, or my body, or my soul. I will not live as though the source and summit of my life is sex, rather than the God who formed me, and who redeemed me.
And I will fight, with every ounce of my being, the golden calf. I cannot bear to hear young children, teenagers, young adults, old adults be wrested by the culture into sacrificing anything and everything in pursuit of sex. I cannot bear to hear of pastors who do not hear private confessions, but will gladly hand out condoms. I cannot bear to be mocked for my values, or pressured to break my promises, or to risk a “series of unfortunate events” by people who claim to love me. My dignity and my self-worth are worth more than an orgasm. And so are yours.
I don’t want to fight the culture war. I don’t want to wring my hands over “today’s corrupt youth” or “the immorality of the times”, and frankly, I don't intend to. I’d rather not fight the spiritual war either, thank you very much. But I believe it’s been laid at my doorstep. Christians, let us smash the idols and overturn the altars. Let us worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Let us worship the God who died on a cross to free us from the bondage of false gods. Let us worship the Author of Love, the Author of Sex, rather than sex itself.