“Even if we deny God’s existence or are not really conscious of a desire for relationship with God, the truth is that we are structurally fashioned with that deep inner longing for God. We are hungry to be in touch with the transcendent eternal world. That is as real a need in us as our longing for emotional and sexual union with a human lover. This is true regardless of whether we are aware of it. So that longing for God is the corollary and analogue of our longing for loving and intimate relationship with another human. Such relationships with a human lover or with God as lover give us a sense of fullness or fulfillment. That need is real quite apart from how we conceive of God or fashion our human friendships.”
–J. Harold Ellens, The Spirituality of Sex
Perhaps nowhere else does the instinctive human search for meaning and purpose bear more beautiful fruit, or create more tragic results, than in the expression of our sexuality. Sexuality is a force that touches the deepest parts of ourselves. Its healthy expression binds individuals together with bonds that endure throughout our lives in this world and in the worlds beyond. Its misuse creates scars that endure for a lifetime, and poisons the innocence and joy of successive generations.
The current controversies over the proper role of sexuality in our social life reveal a fundamental confusion about our own nature. We come into the world as whole beings, as the physical manifestation of spiritual love, as the fulfillment of the purpose of the creative and unifying act of sex itself. Yet, our modern ideologies lead us to deny that wholeness, and divorce sexuality from the search for spiritual fulfillment.
When sexuality and spirituality are divorced from each other, both become arid, mechanical, unnatural and irrational. A “spirituality” that denigrates the legitimacy, value and spiritual purpose of sexuality divorces the soul from society. It robs the soul of the fulfillment that can only be found in marital and family life. It casts a shadow of shame over the spiritual oneness that is found in true sexual union. It represses the normal and healthy functioning of the sex instinct, and drives it to find expression in sexual compulsion and fetish.
However, it would be an oversimplification to assert that our culture’s rejection of rational sexual boundaries and normative sexual values is merely a reactionary response to the asceticism and puritanical attitudes toward sexual pleasure promoted by some religious institutions. Rather, it is a manifestation of a worldview that reduces human existence to a collection of appetites and urges that have no purpose other than their own gratification.
One of the consequences of that worldview is a sexual culture that abandons and mocks spirituality and divorces sexuality from its natural context of marital and family life. It rejects responsibility and mature self-discipline. It disrupts the organic link between the past, present, and future, between the here and the hereafter, that is created by the succession of generations of families headed by couples who share unbreakable bonds of intimacy and trust. It reduces sexuality to an appetite to be gratified, and a commodity to be exchanged. Indeed, it reduces humans themselves to commodities, as seen not only in the sex trade, but in the explosion of the market for sexual commerce, ranging from the sale of graphic pornography to the proliferation of strip clubs. In the marketplace of commercial sex, intimacy and healthy sexual expression are supplanted by serial promiscuity, sterile sexual mechanics, and degrading sexual fetishes that purposefully cultivate and perpetuate the worst aspects of sexism, racism, and predatory sexual behavior. The market for sexual consumerism is sustained by a steadfast denial of the pain and emptiness brought on by such habits, and repeated efforts to fill the emptiness and ease the pain with increasingly unrestrained indulgence in the same activity. It is a classic pattern of compulsive addiction.
The fruits of these distorted expressions of spirituality and sexuality are seen in widespread family dysfunction, an increase in sexual exploitation and crime, and a deepening of the degradation and subjugation of women in all parts of the world. The ultimate remedy for this circumstance won’t be found in public policy and the ideological battles that are being fought to shape those aspects of public policy that touch on sexuality and family life. Like sex itself, the root of the problem is far more intimate and profound. It is bound up with our conception of our own selves and our purpose in life.
Nonetheless, however we conceive of our own identity and purpose, we cannot ignore one inescapable fact: we are created out of love, for the sake of experiencing love. That love manifests itself in both physical and spiritual ways. And it is evident that any expression of love worthy of the name must account for the mental, physical and spiritual realities that condition our existence on this earth, at this historical moment. Love is neither arbitrary nor abstract, nor is it merely sentimental. It seeks to serve, to heal, to nurture and to protect. It is not self-seeking, and it doesn’t flinch from candor and truth. It represents sincere and willing devotion to the good of others, the foundation of all social order. When the centrality of sincere and selfless love is restored to our sexual relationships, as well as our social relationships in general, perhaps we will find the strength and wisdom to bring balance and wholeness back to our sexual culture.
Theme: Iyeoka – I Am Descending