08 Sep CNN (and John Acuff): How Christians Spoil Sex
I figured it would only be appropriate for my first post since getting back from my honeymoon would be on sex.
CNN’s religion blog has a short article (mainly borrowing from John Acuff’s recent post on “Stuff Christians Like”) talking about how Christians “spoil” sex by focusing too much on guilt, abstinence, etc. and less on how (quoting Acuff):
We’ve bought the lie that the world gets to have wild, crazy sex and Christians, holy folks like us, have to have black-and-white, two-dimensional sex. But what if that’s wrong? What if the God who overflows us with love and hope and mercy wants that part of our lives to be as big and as colorful as two married people could possibly imagine?
While I certainly would agree that there is often too high a focus on guilt and “avoiding lust” in popular Christian teaching on sex, I would argue that Acuff is actually on the tail end of a trend in more conservative Christianity trying to re-brand Christian marital sex as “hot, steamy, and every-bit-as-good-as-you-see-in-the-movies-and-even-way-better.”
In a short piece (originally written as an introduction to a new translation of Ignatius) I regularly assign in classes I teach, C.S. Lewis once pointed out:
Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook—even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united—united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, ‘But how could they have thought that?’—lies where we have never suspected it . . . . None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false, they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill.
My sense is that Acuff’s critiques are actually a good example of this typical problem of a current generation criticizing the characteristic flaws of a prior period while remaining entirely unaware of the characteristic flaws of its own. That’s not to say that what he says is entirely wrong; it’s just that he’s attacking a largely vanquished enemy while the bigger threat remains hidden in the village.
I’ve argued before, and I continue to argue, that the bigger danger for conservative Christian youngsters is that they’ve been told that if they wait that God will reward them with “something better” (=”steamier, more toe-curling sex”) once they marry their “soulmate.” And we quite simply know that this is not true; sex for a pair of virgins (or, quite frankly, for most folks even with experience) is not going to exactly start with movie-level sparks—things take a while to warm up for everyone. So many Christian youngsters get married and end up pretty disillusioned and disappointed because it isn’t what they expected.
I think that’s probably the bigger problem today (and it reflects the larger cultural conception of sexuality as the pursuit of better and better sensory experience), but it seems that the majority of Christian pundits who say anything about Christianity and sex continue to try to differentiate themselves from their “prudish” forebears and warn against things that aren’t really the big problems anymore.
(HT to Tim Cupery, who drew my attention to this article.)