Throughout the ages, the Church has had a hard time approaching the issue of sex and sexuality. Reactions range from Origen, who initially took quite a literal view of scripture. That is until he applied Matthew 19 verse 12 literally, "There are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" He is known for changing his mind after this event and began to read scripture quite metaphorically.
Then Augustine, who infamously burned with lust and passion in his youth. He committed all kinds of indecencies. His remedy: find your true desire deeply satisfied in God.
The Christian frustration with sexual purity became so troublesome to John Chrysostom in the mid 300's that he literally ran away to the mountains to avoid it. Here's an account from a biographer Palladius:
"Being well aware of the fact that he could not be satisfied working in the city as his youthful nature was bursting within him though his mind was perfectly sound, he betook himself to the nearby mountains" (Dialague 5).
Literally running to the mountains, Chrysostom found the only remedy he could for sexual tension: escape.
I wouldn't dare to assume that this one article could possible solve the age old frustrations, yet could there be a different atmosphere today within the Christian sub-culture? Has it created another dangerous way of handling the issue of sex and sexuality? While intentions may be to revere the gravity of sex and to walk in Godliness, have we gone too far?
Sex: The great Folly
Throughout the last few decades something has been occurring within the predominant Church culture. If you keep up with the church's handling of the issue of sexuality perhaps you may be seeing a swing in a certain direction.
Sex is something that holds great gravity, but in its gravity we have allowed it to become enthroned within our sub-culture. It becomes the crowning achievement of a chaste Christian. The reward for abstinence during one's single life. It becomes the unapproachable: be careful how much you speak of it and with whom you speak.
It has become above mocking: joke about it or expose its folly around others and you are crude and inappropriate. The carnal, and dare I say animalistic, feature of Eros has achieved deity. It sits enthroned.
Yet, sex is folly. "The foolishest act a wise man commits in all his life, nor is there anything that will more deject his cool'd imagination, when he shall consider what an odd an unworthy piece of folly he had committed". (Sir Thomas Browne). Apart from intoxication (and the nudist) what other force takes respectable men and women, influencing them to cast off their clothing and engage in such a 'carnal' pleasure?
So perhaps the problem is that we have taken sex too seriously? Yet, I fear we may take it too lightly in response. So where is the healthy and happy medium?
Could humour tastefully be applied to the issue of sexuality?
"We have reached the stage at which nothing is more needed than a roar of old-fashioned laughter" (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves). We have given too much seriousness to sex. An air of too much piety. It must be dethroned. When sex is dethroned it is no longer blasphemous to mock it, realise its folly, and embrace the deep humour of such an odd intimacy.
While keeping it holy and sacred within marriage, we can dethrone it by allowing the subject matter to enter conversation and dare I say humorous conversation. Conversation that is not automatically assumed to be crude or filthy. For when we assume this, it implies that sex is somehow vile, or alternatively, too sacred to speak about. What then is the challenge?
I suggest the obvious, finding ways to keep the conversation from degrading men or women or the holy imagery, while realising that mockery is not always hostile (Lewis). The task is difficult, but the reward is the removal of an idol that seeks to enslave us. God alone deserves deity status.
If we keep deifying sex we will continue to see intense sexual frustrations. We will keep seeing the insult to grace that the "purity culture" has created. And we ourselves will see the creation of the demoniac in the nature of sex.
What was good and liberating and joyful, will become destructive and imprisoning.
For our idols will indeed enslave us, even if our intentions were good.
Dan Peterson is from Chicago, Illinois USA, currently living in St. Leonards, Tasmania, studying cross-cultural ministry in his final year. Dan is a musician, and personal fitness trainer, who loves exploring the Australian bush.
Dan Peterson's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/dan-peterson.html