Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
You will sometimes hear the line (often misattributed to G.K. Chesterton) that the man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God. Obviously the statement should not be taken as meaning that the man hopes that God will be the one who greets him at the door. The message is rather that people who are looking for ultimate fulfillment in the quest for pleasure or wealth or power or any other element or aspect of creation will not find it in these things.
In 1935, renowned anthropologist Joseph Daniel Unwin tried to prove the opposite: that marriage was an irrelevant and even harmful cultural institution. He was forced by the evidence to conclude that only marriage with fidelity, what he called absolute monogamy, would lead to the cultural prosperity of a society. Anything else, such as “domestic partnerships” would degrade society.
In his address to the British Psychological Society, Unwin said this:
The evidence was such as to demand a complete revision of my personal philosophy; for the relationship between the factors seemed to be so close, that, if we know what sexual regulations a society has adopted, we can prophesy accurately the pattern of its cultural behavior…
Now it is an extraordinary fact that in the past sexual opportunity has only been reduced to a minimum by the fortuitous adoption of an institution I call absolute monogamy. This type of marriage has been adopted by different societies, in different places, and at different times. Thousands of years and thousands of miles separate the events; and there is no apparent connection between them. In human records, there is no case of an absolutely monogamous society failing to display great [cultural] energy. I do not know of a case on which great energy has been displayed by a society that has not been absolutely monogamous…
If, during or just after a period of [cultural] expansion, a society modifies its sexual regulations, and a new generation is born into a less rigorous [monogamous] tradition, its energy decreases… If it comes into contact with a more vigorous society, it is deprived of its sovereignty, and possibly conquered in its turn.
It seems to follow that we can make a society behave in any manner we like if we are permitted to give it such sexual regulations as will produce the behavior we desire. The results should begin to emerge in the third generation.
”Sexual Regulations and Cultural Behavior,” Joseph Daniel Unwin, Ph.D., in an address given to the Medical Section of the British Psychological Society. Library of Congress No. HQ12.U52
Sex is an instinct that produces an institution; and it is positive and not negative, noble and not base, creative and not destructive, because it produces this institution. That institution is the family; a small state or commonwealth which has hundreds of aspects, when it is once started, that are not sexual at all. It includes worship, justice, festivity, decoration, instruction, comradeship, repose. Sex is the gate of that house; and romantic and imaginative people naturally like looking through a gateway. But the house is very much larger than the gate. There are indeed a certain number of people who like to hang about the gate and never get any further.
We all long to belong. We all need to be connected to something bigger than ourselves . . .
Sex, unfortunately, is used as a shortcut to love.
Sex can be the most intimate and beautiful expression of love, but we are only lying to ourselves when we act as if sex is proof of love . . . We live in a world of users where we abuse each other to dull the pain of our aloneness. We all long for intimacy, and physical contact can appear as intimacy for a moment . . .
Is there any moment that feels more filled with loneliness than the second after having sex with someone who cares nothing about you?
There is no such thing as free sex. It always comes at a cost. With it, either you give your heart, or you give your soul. It seems you can have sex without giving love, but you can’t have sex without giving a part of yourself.
When sex is an act of love, it is a gift. When sex is a substitute for love, it is a trap . . .
Love isn’t about conquest . . . Deep down inside we know we cannot fill the vacuum within our souls by consuming people. We are not only robbing others; we are pillaging our own souls.
Eventually, it hits you: you cannot take love; you have to give it. Love is a gift that cannot be stolen . . .
Love is not about how many people we have used, but about how much we have cherished one person.
When I truly love, whether the object of my love is a planet or a person, a symphony or a sunset, I am celebrating the otherness of the beloved, wanting the beloved to be what it really is, greater than my imagining or perception, stranger, more mysterious. Love celebrates that mystery: in that sense, it is truly ‘objective’; but it is also of course delightedly ‘subjective’. Without the subjective pole, it becomes mere cool appraisal or ‘tolerance’. Without the objective pole, the celebration of the other as other, it is simply lust, cutting the beloved down to the size of my desires and projects, whether it be sexual lust exploiting another human being or industrial lust exploiting raw materials for profit despite the consequences. A colleague of mine put his finger on the first of these, speaking of ‘the decline of sex’, and explaining, ‘We all know how to do it but we’ve all forgotten why.’ That is exactly the same as the second, the Frankensteinian scientism of our day: we can do it, so why not and who’s to stop us? And this is where Jonathan Sacks’s aphorism comes in again: science takes things apart to see how they work; religion puts things together to see what they mean. And sometimes the meaning tells you to stop pulling them apart. It’s a crisis of meaning that we face in our day, and a crisis of knowledge that brings that into focus; and the answer to the false antithesis of objective and subjective, which has been throttling our culture for too long, is a full-on reawakening of an epistemology of love. We have had enough of the Faustian pact in which we merely ‘tolerate’ one another; ‘toleration’ is an Enlightenment parody of love. It is time for the dangerous gospel notion of love to make a comeback in our culture.