What we are living through now is the aftermath of Christendom, by which I mean Christian civilization in the West. It is not the end of the world, but it is the end of a world. The reality that Ken Myers and I despair of, and that Andrew seems to celebrate, is the end of the idea of a moral hierarchy transcending and undergirding our daily experience. We despair of the death of the idea that Truth is something you discover and conform yourself to, rather than something you construct to suit your own desires and felt needs. I could be wrong, and welcome correction if I am, but I suspect that if you removed sex and sexuality from the discussion, Andrew, insofar as he is truly a conservative, would agree with much of this analysis. But it can't be done, not honestly, because to cast aside Christian sexual ethics as irrelevant to Christianity is like removing the cornerstone of a building and expecting it not to fall. And this fact reveals something about the nature of our disagreement here.
I think "celebrate" is much too positive for my position. I have much more respect for the world that we have lost than most moderns. I suspect that there was much more wisdom in its pre-modern forms, and celebrate the extraordinary cultural, literary, spiritual achievements of the past. I am not a Whig. But I am a chastened Tory. I also, however, feel completely comfortable in modernity, and see in its liberation of the human individual an astonishing achievement in the West. It is possible, I think, to marvel at the cultural vitality and cohesion of, say, 15th century England (which I studied diligently at Oxford) and yet also delight in a modern world that allows Rod and I to communicate across time and space, that has allowed me to live past 35, that has provided dignity to women, that has extinguished hunger in the West, and that has given us the option of choosing our ways of life and escaping our fates and turning them into ambitions.
I have some deep reservations. I wonder if modernity, in the grand scope of human history and pre-history, is not, in fact, a Tower of Babel, impossible to sustain, fueled by extravagance and untrammeled greed, addiction, loneliness, bewilderment and disillusion. I wonder if the life we have constructed on this planet in the last two centuries is actually sustainable - ecologically, spiritually. I read Macintyre with enormous sympathy.
I certainly don't think that sexuality is my prime focus here, though it is surely apposite. Would I prefer to live in a world where sex was a form of ownership of men over women, when it led to constant disease and appalling death-rates in childbirth, where every sexual act could lead to pregnancy, where gay people were hanged or persecuted or forced into lives of untold misery and pain? No fucking way. And do I think that Christianity's sexual doctrines are a corner-stone of the faith? Not in the slightest. Jesus was uninterested in these matters. True faith is not fixated on sex; it has left sex behind - along with money and wealth and pride - in the pursuit of the divine. The only people fixated on sex are those who wish to use its power to control others.
I think Christian sexual ethics were formed in a different age and made sense when sex often equaled death or family collapse or ubiquitous disease. I think our new circumstances - specifically the pill - requires an adjustment, as did the vast majority of the Catholic hierarchy in 1968. And I think the church's fixation on sexual ethics is a sign of its corruption and decline. Only when this celibate, fucked up, disproportionately closeted clique running the church grows up will Christianity find a home again in its ancestral heart. Until then, it will have to live and breathe outside of Benedict's starched lace and pursed lips.
The core of our disagreement is simply our attitude toward modernity. I believe it simply is, will only be undone if the entire bubble collapses, and, meanwhile, is worth living in. One can both celebrate something new and irreversible without disdaining the wisdom and beauty and tradition of the past.
One can embrace Chartres Cathedral and the iPad.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.