Contra Mozilla

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Sex and Religion

The title could as easily be "Sex and Irreligion," but many atheists aren't merely irreligious but rather anti-religious, not without God but rather against God. In any case, the Daily Mail has an article claiming that atheists have "better sex" than religious believers who are "plagued with guilt."

Of course, the headline is misleading (aren't they always), since the first line of the article is that "Atheists have far better sex lives than religious people who are plagued with guilt during intercourse and for weeks afterwards, researchers have found" (emphasis mine). I would think that this is a no-brainer: if you are feeling guilty while having intercourse, and then continue to feel guilty afterwards, that would tend to make the actual sex a bit less "good."

Drilling deeper into the article, we read that this comes from a study "Sex and Secularism." According to the Mail, the study found that
"But devoutly religious people rated their sex lives far lower than atheists. They also admitted to strong feelings of guilt afterwards.

Strict religions such as Mormons ranked highest on the scale of sexual guilt. Their average score was 8.19 out of 10. They were followed closely behind by Jehovah's Witness, Pentecostal, Seventh Day Adventist, and Baptist.
Catholics rated their levels of sexual guilt at 6.34 while Lutherans came slightly lower at 5.88 . In contrast, atheists and agnostics ranked at 4.71 and 4.81 respectively."

This interesting, but needs some clarification: what, exactly, is meant by having sex?
Of people raised in very religious homes, 22.5 per cent said they were shamed or ridiculed for masturbating  compared with only 5.5 percent of people brought up in the least religious homes.

Some 79.9 per cent of people raised in very religious homes said they felt guilty about a specific sexual activity or desire while 26.3 per cent of those raised in secular homes did.

Worryingly, children raised in strongly religious homes were more likely to get their sex education from pornography, as they were not confident enough to talk with their parents.

However, there was some good news for religious groups. People who had lost their belief and became atheists reported a significant improvement in sexual satisfaction.
So, apparently, the study is not just looking at sex, but rather is looking at sexual activities which various religions consider illicit or sinful. We don't know if any of this was sex within the bounds of marriage or not--a study which (if the last paragraph is indicative) is meant to promote secularism may deliberately blur the lines on issues like fornication or adultery; then again, they may not (the Mail doesn't seem to be interested in reporting this detail).
I have a few observations and comments concerning this article. First, I still stand by the question of whether it matters, in the long run, who has better sex. Back when US News and World Report had their own article stating that Catholics apparently have better sex, this was my reaction:
When a study like this is used to pitch conversion to Catholicism, it's somewhat akin to saying, "We can't know whether the Catholic Faith is true or not, we can't even know whether the Catholic Religion is good or not, but you should still join the Catholic Church because you'll likely have better sex. In other words, join the Church because it feels good!" "Because it feels good" is not sufficient grounds for making major moral decisions, and this is the very attitude against which Christianity in general (and Catholicism in particular) has to contend. This attitude is, in short, rather antithetical to a religion which claims to be followers of the Truth.... I will grant that no apologia alone can convert a person, and few can even get most people to stop and consider conversion, or even to consider simple fairness apart from conversion. But we live in an age where science is king (along with Sports and Sex), and where "Science" is invoked as a stick with which to beat the Church: namely, "The Church is against science and impedes scientific progress while supporting junk science." Therefore, when a study of dubious scientific quality is invoked as reason to convert to the Church, and when it is subsequently demolished by scientific-minded people from outside the Church, it reinforces in those peoples' minds their own chief (stated) objection to the Church.

My point, then, is that science can be an aide to (but not a cause of) evangelism, but only if done right. Studies like this might make a man stop to consider other claims of the Church--if the study is done well.
The shoe is on the other foot, and my reaction hasn't changed: this is a rather lampoon-able approach to prosylitization, whether employer by Christians or by atheists. It basically says, "believe this because it's fun, follow this because you'll feel good!" rather than "believe this because it is the truth, and follow this way of life because it is good."

My second observation is that the Daily Mail and quite probably the authors of the original study have ignored that there is quite a bit of diversity which falls under the heading of and self-identifies as "religion". Mormonism, form example, is not recognizably a Christian religion inasmuchas there claims about Who Jesus Is are not really the same as the claim of Catholicism, Orthodoxy, or traditional Protestantism. They're not even really comparable to the older schisms and heresies that survived to today and are recognizably Christian (e.g. the Copts). They do not have the concept of the Holy Trinity, which is itself so fundamental to Christianity that it is invoked during baptisms in all of these actually Christian Churches, denominations, and sects.

Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh-Day Adventists are even more removed.

Now, I grant that these are theological differences rather than moral differences, but the morality comes from combining the theology with the religion's anthropology (at least in "orthodox" or "mere" Christianity). Thus, for example, in the Catholic teaching of the Theology of the Body, the marital act is a symbol of the Trinity, and hence the two become one flesh and are also open to the generation of a third [1]. There are Eastern Orthodox and Protestant variations of this same theme, but I have never heard of a Mormon or a Jehovah's Witness version of the theology of the body. Given that the Jehovah's Witnesses explicitly reject the Trinity and that they also have some Gnostic leanings, I would be more surprised than not to discover that they ever develop a theology of the body.

A corollary of this observation is that the people conducting this survey probably don't distinguish between those who are active practitioners of their religion and those who are not. This distinction is often ignored by secularists, which I've always found somewhat strange. It's as if they believe that merely identifying with some religion makes one instantly be affected by every one of that religion's tenets. How these tenets get a hold of a person by merely identifying with that religion is beyond me [2].

My final observation (for now) is that this study and the Daily Mail article does pose one legitimate challenge to people of faith. To whit: "Worryingly, children raised in strongly religious homes were more likely to get their sex education from pornography, as they were not confident enough to talk with their parents." I can't speak to the experience of every religious home, but I have observed that many religious homes actually conflate Christian (including Catholic) sexual morality with prudery--which is the exact same conflation that the Daily Mail is all-too-happy to make as well.

Sexual morality then becomes a matter or self-repression, a set of rules to follow on pain of sin--and nothing more. The religion may have derived these rules from a combination of theology and anthropology, but the actual approach of the religious to the rules is often morality divorced from anthropology: call it ethics, call it rules, but it has the effect of being a list of "do this, don't do that" without any acknowledgement of the human difficulty attached to the moral law [3].

Part of the rules is apparently never trying to understand the rules. It's the law, and that's that: which has the consequence of seeming like a set of rules handed down by a demanding (and possibly capricious) God rather than being a set of rules established for our own good by a loving God. Therefore, children growing up don't turn to their parents (let alone to their pastors) with questions about sex and sexuality; which means that the turn instead to their peers, to pornography, and to Planned Parenthood for advice. Almost all of this advice will be detrimental to sexual health, to morality, and to sound sexual relationships.

The challenge, therefore, faced by parents (and to a lesser extent, by pastors, who should be there to support the parents as needed) is this: how will you instill sound moral teachings (sexual or otherwise) such that they still are able to come to you with questions and concerns? Because this article gets one thing right which needs to actually be addressed: the approach of the vast majority of Christian households to sexual morality falls well short of what our children need. It is a problem if they are turning to these "alternative sources" for learning about sex and sexuality--the advice they will receive there will undermine whatever moral standards you set for them, whether based on the Bible, the Catechism, or even simple common sense.

Parents, it is your responsibility to help form your children in the faith, your responsibility to be their primary educators. This means instilling in them a sense of morality and of virtue. Concerning sexuality, your goals should be chastity and purity of heart, not merely abstinence and avoidance. Abstinence may be a part of chastity--before and even at times during marriage--but it is not the whole.

[1] I'm not being overly precise in my terminology here, because I am writing with time constraints.

[2] Perhaps the secularists believe in a sort of magic after all.

[3] Sometimes the pendulum swings too far the other way, and the entire emphasis is on the difficulty to the point where the moral law gets discarded. This is also wrong.

No comments:

Post a Comment