Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Sin and Stupid Sin

This could be a very long post or it could be very short. I have just broken off a long one, so I could cut to the chase.

(Update: As I generalize more than ever in this post, it would be helpful to know that I am thinking of university students in Canada and the United States.)

Sin is sin. It's either bad or super-bad. If you feel awake and brainy, read all about it here. Sin in itself is pretty stupid, since to choose any created thing over God is stupid.

My excuse (since for a moment I feel like arguing our case to God) for our backsliding is that people try to bang atheistic materialism or various other heresies into our brains all day long. I feel sorry for us. Secularism is a cracker that serves up the philosophy of the bureaucrats, and in the West the bureaucrats are no longer Christians as we understand them but Feel Gooders who seem to think Brave New World was a brilliant self-help book, not a dire warning.

When it comes to sexual sins, non-religious girls [update: who make it to university] have an edge over religious girls in the prudence department. Religious* girls believe sex is something we're not supposed to have** until we are married. Non-religious girls believe sex is something women should have if (and only if) we have thought about it and decided we want it. These are not, by the way, completely contradictory. When it comes to stubbornly defending what we really want, we can learn from the non-religious girls.

Religious girls bolster their faith that God does not want us to have sex before we are married with a zillion fear-based arguments as to why we shouldn't have sex, e.g. pregnancy, disease, loss of reputation, broken hearts. However, non-religious girls think they have those problems solved because they are taught about contraception, abortion "rights", their right to be sexual, and option to "have sex like men"--a libel on many men, incidentally. Not all men can "have sex like men." They too have hearts that can be broken.

Religious girls and non-religious girls go to the same colleges and very often have prickly, if not outright hostile, relationships with each other. Religious girls sometimes put up pro-life posters, and non-religious girls rip them down. Non-religious girls leave brightly wrapped condoms for other girls in washrooms, and religious girls throw them out. Of course, they sometimes do talk together about their differences, and the religious girls are rather shaken by the faith of the non-religious girls in their "sexual rights." When it comes to catechism classes these days, Venus has the edge. Her missionaries are on fire. They seem so confident.

This can lead religious girls to doubt. And it doesn't help our faith when right-on, "progressive" Catholics (and other Christians) tell us that all that stuff in the Bible and tradition against fornication is "man-made law." (I had a Catholic therapist who told me that kind of thing.) These "man-made laws", say our progressive brothers and sisters, were invented by men to control women because men feared female sexuality so much, etc. God wants us to be "happy", etc.

All this can tempt a religious girl to give in. And I mean "give in", not "boldly choose to be a sexual subject" like her non-religious classmates. The religious girl has been trained to submit her will to the will of God, but with enough argument she can be made to submit her will to the will of a man to whom she has an inordinate attachment. That's a very serious and stupid sin.

The non-religious girl has sex because she really wants to. This, outside marriage, is a serious sin, but it is not necessarily a stupid sin. The religious girl sometimes has sex although she doesn't really want to because the man she thinks she is in love with wants to, or because she wants to hang onto the man and thinks this the way to do it. That's very stupid.

The problem may be that a religious girl believes all premarital sexual intercourse is equally sinful, so she might as well be damned for a crush object-sheep as for a fiance-lamb. But a non-religious girl thinks of sex as being safe, safer or unsafe and makes her decisions accordingly.

I think it dangerous that religious girls think they are either pitiable or special because they are not having sex and all the non-religious girls around are. As a matter of fact, the non-religious girls aren't necessarily having sex. The non-religious girls might be, in fact, highly moral and sexually conservative according to their lights. Just because they believe they should have sex when they want to, and tell Catholic you that ten times a day, doesn't mean they are willing to have sex with just anyone or at any time or just because they thinks a man is hot.

The non-religious girl does not ask herself, when confronted with sexual temptation "Is this good?" but "Is this smart?" The religious girl after asking herself "Is this good?", and answering "No, but I'm going to do it anyway" skips over the "Is this smart?" question. That's stupid.

Thus although this is not a category recognized by the Church, Mater et Magistra, and I could not put it in a book and expect a nice bishop or provincial to stamp the MS with "Nihil Obstat", I note a difference in sin and stupid sin. If you have sexual intercourse with your fiance, you are committing a sin. But if you have sexual intercourse with a man who isn't even a dear friend, you are committing a very stupid sin indeed.

The one theologian I can think of who backs me up in the discussion of sin and stupid sin is C.S. Lewis, who said something like (I paraphrase) "A fool is a man who sins and doesn't even enjoy it; he gets neither his bun nor his penny."

What is the solution to the problem of stupid sin? I think it might be the ability to meet the non-religious girls and the "progressive" theologians with more preparation and more charity.

It was a great shock to me when I discovered in university that "sexually active" girls in university were neither miserable nor ashamed nor secretive nor pregnant, like certain girls in my all-girls Catholic school. Religious women should not be that naive about "sexually active" women when we get to university. We might even admire them for their only-when-I-want-it stance. The best should not be the enemy of the good, and their belief in their sovereignty over their bodies is good--to an extent. It certainly beats the "Because I love him, and I'm hoping for the best" rationalization of our dumber fellow Catholics.

What is not good is that they think women have the right to hand the keys to the kingdom to whoever we wish, husband or not. That's where their sense of autonomy goes wrong. However, the idea that women are the keepers of the keys, and that the keys must not be handed over without a lot of careful consideration, is a good start.

Okay, today's combox theme is really good books on the subject of Catholic teaching and sexuality, stuff that would come in really handy in dorm-room debates with very nice, very confident, sexually-active women. And when I say handy, I mean handy for you and your confidence in Catholic teaching about sexuality in the face of their confidence in the soi-disant sexual revolution.

*Meaning, observant to the tenets of your religion and the only religion that I've come across that thinks all consensual sex is just a-okay is Wicca.

**Why do we say sex is something we "have" when it is somthing people do?


healthily sanguine said...

While I like this post, I have to say in my work as a pregnancy center counselor, I've had experiences of "non-religious girls" that are directly contrary to the principles you state. Namely: these girls are DUMB. They have no idea that sex is something special, that they need to be smart about who they have sex with, or even how their own reproductive systems work! I am not saying all non-religious girls are like this, but neither should you say that all religious girls are equally stupid and think that all sexual sins are equally stupid sins. So, I agree with your point, but I don't know how helpful your generalizations are.

In fact, if you think about it, all sexual sins, at least of the mortal variety, are in some sense equally "stupid" because they all serve to deprive one of the grace of God and of the natural light of reason--and this isn't naivety, it's just a plain fact. The pastor at my parish tells engaged couples, "If you really love one another, why are you leading each other into mortal sin?" Further natural evidence of the stupidity of even the "smarter" kinds of sexual sin is the fact that such a large percentage of couples who sleep together before they are married end up divorcing: I know correlation isn't necessary causation, but the divergence in the figures is pretty stark! Finally, even if a non-religious girl thinks a guy is marriage material, is it really that smart to sleep with him after dating only a few months (which would be pretty normal and "sexually conservative" by some standards)? Any guy can act like the marrying type for a month or two: it's only with the test of time that you can really discern his character, and if you are sleeping with him, it makes it that much harder to do so.

Seraphic said...

Well, I am mostly thinking about non-religious women in university--particularly the ones I knew.

The feminist non-religious women I know tend to be rather canny. I doubt they would turn up in a pro-life crisis pregnancy center.

I do not recall saying that religious girls are equally stupid. I did not even say they WERE stupid. I just said they were in danger of doing imprudent things after overcoming their religious scruples.

Seraphic said...

Stupid, imprudent things.

Heavens, I hope successive generations of university students aren't getting stupider. What about
all that high school sex ed we hear so much about?

I don't know if a man can fake being the marrying type for a whole two months. A nice policeman once told traumatized me that normal men tend to bug off within a month if they don't get what they're after.

Why is it, do you think, that some women do actually marry the men they have sex with on the first date or on the third or after two months. Do you think it is just dumb luck?

Seraphic said...

Correlation is definitely not causation. I was a virgin on my first wedding day and LO: divorced two years later.

But meanwhile I have fixed up my blog to reflect that I was thinking of university feminist girls rather than non-religious girls in general. I was not thinking of teenage girls from slums, housing projects, etc., who more or less have baby-mom-ness thrust upon them.

healthily sanguine said...

Fair enough. I won't deny the strong correlation ;) between low income and poor education, and a lot of the young ladies I've counseled are from both of these backgrounds. As a side note, our pregnancy center is not advertised as pro-life, though I suppose anyone could figure out we are; the main draw, though, is we offer free pregnancy tests, which service appeals to a certain segment of the population.

Anyway, there are a lot of reasons people get married, and I don't know that I'm idealistic enough to believe that a primary reason is because they found the person God had in mind for them (whether they were sleeping with the person or not). The best hope for religious girls is just NOT to overcome their "religious scruples," to put it in that distasteful way. Religious scruples exist for a reason, and increasingly, they are the ONLY kind of scruples people have about moral behavior. Successive generations of university students may or may not be getting stupider, in terms of practical risk (I am not at ALL confident about the usefulness of high school sex ed. programs), but they certainly are getting stupider in terms of moral thinking. See "Raising 'Right and Wrong' Kids in a 'Whatever' World" for more on that topic.

But to get back to your original combox topic, one of my favorite books is Christian Courtship in an Oversexed World. It's great confirmation of the Church's teaching, as well as practical common sense in dating/courtship situations. If you follow Fr. Morrow's advice, you probably won't go far wrong!

Oh btw, I have to be an obnoxious nerd and point out that if "sex before marriage causes divorce" is a logical premise, it cannot be disproved by divorce not caused by sex before marriage . . .

Case in point said...

When I read "The Thrill of the Chaste" by Dawn Eden, I wished I'd had it in college. All my friends, religious & non-religious, were sexually active in one way or another, even if they weren't actually having intercourse. I know you, Seraphic, are not necessarily a fan of the Theology of the Body as it is sometimes presented, but I do wish I had known that chastity is not about "no, you can't do this and no, you can't do that" but about "Yes, the ability to love properly is what we were created for." If I hadn't been able to persuade my friends to that point of view, perhaps at least I would not have compromised my own.

Seraphic said...

I am definitely for positive explanations of chastity. I don't really have a problem with "Theology of the Body", and if I were younger and had concerns, I bet I would really get something out of it, if only the thrill of people talking very earnestly about sex, like D. H. Lawrence.

BTW, the only "Theology of the Body" guy I ever heard speak (a married man) voted (when asked by an audience member) against making out.

My own married-lady sexual philosophy ("Sex is the Vitamin C of marriage") is probably very dull, and makes marriage seem very dull instead of a super-exciting way in which to seek perfection.

MaryJane said...

I second "Christian Courtship in an Oversexed World," because despite its title, I found it to be one of the better books on the topic. Fr. Morrow is actually aware of what it is like to be young and is not of this "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" nonsense. I have heard good things about Amy Bonaccorso's "How to Get to ‘I Do’: A Dating Guide for Catholic Women" (Servant Books), though I have not read it myself.

I would recommend "Unprotected" by Anonymous, as well, in that author (a psychiatrist at a large secular university) lays out the issue from a medical/ emotional perspective. (NB: she's not prolife, though very good on the other issues, oddly enough.) Although this might play into the fear-based rationale, I think it can be read from the "make smart choices" perspective from which it was written.

Little Mary said...

I think the best Catholic book on the topic is Love and Responsibilty by JPII... although written at a fairly high level, it's really written at a practical level and based on human experience. I really found his treatment of the dangers of sentimentality and his ideas on modesty to be really useful. He doesn't so much offer point by point advice on how to date, how to dress, etc. but how our sexuality operates, how it tends to go astray, and what sort of things we have to think about in making it work in a way that is really human.

The other book, which is more of a fun read, is written by an orthodox Jewish woman, so it doesn't fit with the Catholic requirement, is Return to Modesty by Wendy Shalit. Her book is about how the sexual liberation freed women to have more casual sex but not the kind of sex that most women really want -- sex with a man they are in love with who is totally committed to them. She theorizes that our repressed grandmothers seemed to have had a heck of a lot more fun and that we are the ones missing out. She uses concrete examples and is a somewhat shocking and very entertaining writer.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous for this comment. After I graduated from college I slept with a man I had fallen in love with and who wanted to marry me. My guard was down because we were both part of the tiny Trad world. Also, I had no boundaries due to childhood abuse. (If this has happened to anyone reading this, please seek help before you date. You may think you can refuse sexual advances, and then discover you don't know how.) I knew in the pit of my stomach that this man was wrong for me, but I loved him, and I was very, very stupid. There's a special kind of Catholic-girl stupid that goes like this: "I'm putting myself in danger of hell, so why should I bother to use condoms? If I used birth control, I would be coldly and rationally sinning; and I can only keep doing this if I am swept away by passion!" If I had become pregnant I would have married him. I don't think it would have been a bad marriage, but it wouldn't have been the happy, serene marriage I want. And that's just insane.

- a stupid Catholic girl

Seraphic said...

Thank you very much, Anonymous. That is a very sad story indeed, and it is the kind of story I was thinking of.

Oh dear. I wonder if I was clear enough that it is actions, not people, that are stupid.

I like Wendy Shalit very much. We met the Edith Stein Conference, and she is very, very nice. I was a little starstruck!

Naive said...

My parents & grandparents were very prudent people, and from tender age I was taught to think about outcome before doing something. And somehow they managed to teach me that old good Catholic morality in a way that I've never felt repression or fear. These "rules" were there to protect me, to be safe and free. This was good base for independent life.
And now, 40 years after? I don't regret my counterculture upbringing and behaviour for a second, and generally feel very grateful for that.
But I do see that all these girls who were "fun material" are (predominantly happily) married and have kids. I'm still alone, like many NCG I know.
Of course, no sane person will risk his/her eternal soul for temporary things, no matter how yummy they seem.
But sometimes I feel that my faith cost me unbearably much.

Andrea said...

I was going to run a small group with my church whereby we would listen to Christopher West's CDs about Theology of the Body and discuss. Would it be better to do a book club around Love and Responsibility? Combine both? Any thoughts? The intent was to uncover more thoroughly why and how our current culture's approach to sexuality is wrong.

MaryJane said...


As someone with familiarity with JP II's TOB, Christopher West's CDs, and Love and Responsibility, I'd say it entirely depends upon your audience.

Would the small group be comprised of people with very little exposure to orthodoxy, or theology in general? Christopher West is for the newbies. (He certainly has his own enthusiastic spin on TOB, and of course some, incl. me, take issue with some of what he says, but overall as an intro for people with no background, I think he's good.)

More academic (and by that I mean theology and philosophy) will be able to tackle L&R, but it's a bit dense for those who've never done any philosophy, I think. (I don't mean to sound snotty, just factual - it's dense for those of us who have done philosophy!)

There are other books on Theology of the Body out there if you want to stay on that topic.

Seraphic said...

I would like to know if this is going to be a mixed boy-girl Catholic group sitting around talking about sexuality and (if you read West) the trinitarian nature of sex. 'Cause me and my pal Wendy SHALIT (name drop, name drop)think it is better not to talk about such things in mixed company.

One of the ways our current culture's approach to sexuality is wrong is treating it like it is something unmarried men and women can talk about together live in person in groups. So, like, a miniskirt is immodest, but talking to boys about how JP2 said married men should hem hem hem is super-peachy-modest keen?

I have not read Christopher West, only ABOUT Christopher West. Dawn Eden and various other chastity talkin' types like Alice von Hildebrand have critiqued his stuff, and some (sensitive?) people find it almost pornographic.

But I think even that would be okay, if the group is all a bunch of women reading Christopher West and saying "Hey, I wonder what Mrs West thinks of that" while hooting and chomping popcorn far, far way from any male ear.

Seraphic said...

Oh, and speaking of dense, it's not snobby to say so. John Paul II had an absolutely horrible writing style. One of my biggest disappointments was sitting down as a youth of the world to read "To the Youth of the World" which was SUCH a snore. In his defense, though, I have learned something about Polish sentence structure and therefore about how difficult it is to translate Polish philosophy into good, clear, lovely English.