Monday, April 27, 2009

Sitting It Out

Faithful readers may have noticed that the Egg has little to say about the ELCA's proposed social  statement on human sexuality, nor about the recommendations regarding rules for rostering gay priests. (Click above for the official docs). 

This may seem like an odd oversight.  After all, the masthead does say "sex, religion and politics."  Surely the proposed statement qualifies on all counts?  And indeed it does.  And yet we have written little, and do not imagine ourselves writing much.

Our reasons are various. We are pressed for time -- there are sick people and newborns and people struggling with their faith, all of whom need our attention; the gorgeous pile of neo-Gothic stone at which we serve is waiting for its Abbe Suger, and until he arrives we are on the spot for some restoration work.  Oh, and we're relocating the pressroom to Romania, so we spend part of every day tramping the docks, asking the steamship lines what they will charge to ship our collection of incunabula.

Another is that, although we are not displeased by the general direction that the church seems to be heading, we have grave doubts about the means by which it is heading there.  As we have said before, neither the ELCA task force nor, so far as we can see, any of its naysayers are prepared to articulate what we consider a truly traditional theology of sex.  

There is a long Protestant tradition which, to oversimplify a bit, gives marriage a uniquely privileged place among human relationships, making it -- in the most extreme readings -- the most perfect expression of the divine will revealed in the Creation.  (Such, in fact, is the clear understanding of a colleague whose memoir, entitled "Why I Complain About the ELCA But Look Forward to Collecting My Pension," is currently circulating in manuscript.)  It seems to us that much of the hoo-hah regarding marriage is carried on between two parties which are equally sold on this idea, and whose argument is simply on whether the "marriage" in question is necessarily between people of opposite sexes.

But it has long seemed to us that Protestantism missed the bus on this one.  In its mad scramble to break up the monasteries, it failed to take seriously the theological insights which had created them.  Specifically, it failed to deal with the Biblical texts which in fact do raise up celibacy as the most desirable use of human sexuality. (Saying casually, "Well, that was because of an over-optimistic eschatology" doesn't really deal with the canon, so much as dismiss it).  And, perhaps more important, it failed to deal with Augustine's existential insight that sexual desire exercises an unique power over the human will, and is unparalleled in its capacity to distract the will from God -- thus making it an icon less of the Creation than of the Fall.

Parenthetically, we find Camille Paglia shrill and tiresome, not to mention dated, but we nonetheless recognize that is onto something important when she talks about sex as inherently dangerous, an Apollonian force which will inevitably disrupt any Dionysian utopia.  We only wish that more readers understood (as she surely does) that she cribs this stuff from the Church Fathers.

So we haven't said much about the proposed statement because we aren't wild about some of its premises, and yet we are reluctant top criticize for fear of comforting the Protestant (or, worse yet, soi-disant-Catholic) ideologues who argue from premises no less flawed. 

And, of course, we haven't read the final draft.  Oops.  But if readers have, and want to tell us why we're full of copros hippou, the "comments" are open.


mark said...

The final draft is so poorly written as to be almost unreadable. I wonder if that was intentional? Given that, I wonder if you would be so kind as to articulate what you consider "a truly traditional theology of sex"?

Father said...

I doubt it was intentional, although I don't doubt for a moment that the members of the task force are as tired of their work as the rest of us. And, just like in college, tired writers write bad prose.

As for articulating a more traditional (or, pejoratively, traditionalist) theology, I think I've said all that I can, simply because of time constraints. The core of my thinking on the subject is in the body of the post. If I had nothing else going on in my life, i could put together an interesting paper on the subject, but this just isn't the summer for that.

The central patristic texts, for me, are Augsutine's essays on marriage and celibacy, and Jerome's response to Jovinianus (whom Philip Schaff admiringly called "a Protestant avant la lettre," as if to make my point for me). It was very frustrating to me that, at least in the draft statement, they werte dismissed with a single line to the effect that 'some Church Fathers disagreed" with everything that was to follow. Most of the central Biblical texts are in Matthew and 1 Corinthians.