So why does the Church hate gay people? Why does the Church hate sex, generally? Women? The human body? Pleasure? Why is the Church so darned hateful, hateful, hateful? Why can’t it just get with the program like everyone else has?
Ah, gnarly questions, my new blog series! It had to come around to sex eventually, didn’t it? I want to talk in the blog post about the basic teaching of the Church regarding human sexuality—not this issue or that, but the fundamental teaching without which all the ‘rules and regs’ just seem arbitrary, bizarre, and frankly just plain mean.
Now I realize full well that at least some people read the blog who just ain’t buying what the Church is selling on this matter. I ask those people to at the very least try to understand what the Church is saying and why. At least know what it is you’re rejecting.
And of course most people reading this blog are Catholic and do accept what the Church teaches, maybe with struggles at times, but nonetheless. For all of you folks, I suggest that the basic teaching is simple enough, but there are heights and depths in it that need to be explored and that have implications far beyond the ‘rules and regs’ of what we can and cannot do in our sexual behavior.
So what is the fundamental thing at stake here, in this whole messy business of sex? The essential positive teaching, the teaching about what sex is that determines all of the negative teachings about what sex is not (and therefore what we should not do, sexually), is that sexual intercourse has an inherent meaning.
Furthermore, the meaning of sexual intercourse, the sexual act, is not something human beings have devised, which can thus be changed at will. It is not something private or individualistic—you decide what having sex means for you, and I will decide what it has for me. No, the sexual act has a meaning, and that meaning is created by God. And our whole sexuality is important—it is not some trivial afterthought of our humanity, but is a central and vital part of what it means to be human (finally, something on which the Catholic Church and the most dedicated progressive libertine can agree!).
And the meaning of the act of sexual intercourse is fundamentally a simple one. It is meant to be a physical, bodily expression of the love of God for his creation, the love of God for the human person, you and me, and specifically the love of Christ for redeemed humanity, the Church. Sex has a sacramental essence—it is meant to be a visible sign of the invisible reality of God and His passionate love for all He has made. It points beyond itself to something else
To be a faithful representation of God’s love made flesh in Jesus Christ, reflected and imaged in the actions of the body in our sexual being, means that we cannot just engage in sexual acts any old way. The way human beings have sex has to correspond to the way God loves the world, or it falsifies the reality it signifies.
And so God’s love is covenantal, faithful. God does not love us one day and turn away from us the next. God is not on again, off again. God does not use us. He is not a ‘friend with benefits’. God commits himself to loving his creation so much that when it is broken and wounded He becomes a man so as to be broken and wounded with it, and when it dies, He becomes a man so as to die with it. ‘For better or for worse, in sickness and in health…’
So sex must occur within a committed relationship, and commitment does not just mean ‘until either one of us decides we’re not happy.’ That is… not what the word commitment means, right? Commitment means for life. Commitment means marriage. Sex outside of marriage is wrong because there is no commitment of the one to the other, and so it in no way, shape, or form corresponds to how God loves us.
And God’s love for us gives life, brings life. God is the creator. His love is fruitful. This time of year the whole of creation here in the Northern Hemisphere is exploding with new life. God’s fecundity, expressed through the natural cycles of the earth, is obvious. But His love in the human person is equally fruitful. Where God is present in a person’s life, that person’s life increases, there is growth, there is newness, there is fruit. Always and at all times.
So sex that is either inherently sterile (i.e. sex between two people of the same gender) or sex that has been deliberately made sterile (by an act of contraception) simply does not communicate the nature of God’s love. The two people involved may genuinely care for one another, but nothing can come from this love—no life, no newness, no fruitfulness.
People counter that the Church has no problem with an older married couple engaging in sexual intercourse, nor with couples having sex during the times of the month when the woman is not fertile. This is because they have done nothing themselves to sterilize themselves, and the act itself is still ordered towards generativity even though the natural process of aging or the natural rhythms of the woman’s body have made it non-procreative.