Gender Ideology 6: The common denominator of chastity
One of the more common arguments in favor of gender ideology is that sexual pleasure is a key to human fulfillment, and so it is a moral duty to facilitate whatever use of the sexual faculties gives pleasure to each particular person. My critics will immediately protest that today’s emphasis on gender diversity is really about something much broader than sexual expression; they claim it is a matter of realizing one’s personal identity. But a moment’s reflection will reveal the falsity of this claim, for nobody has ever objected on principle to personally fulfilling friendships.
No, the moral objection arises when people use gender theory to justify sexual activity which would otherwise be regarded as aberrant, or to justify feelings which mimic the marital relationship without the clear male-female complementarity which alone makes authentic marriage possible. The crux of the matter is what we commonly call “love-making”, that is, sexual congress or—considered in its appropriate breadth and depth—spousal love.
The absurdity of gender theory has been able to thrive only because our culture seeks to maximize brute pleasure by divorcing sex from its inherently personal, social and even spiritual meanings. I have already noted that this divorce has been accomplished in stages. For example, the personal and social meanings of what we should call normal male-female sexual relations have been radically undermined by divorce, pre-marital sex, pornography, and contraception. This has made it impossible even for those who acknowledge our male-female complementarity to mount a single intrinsic argument against homosexual behavior, pedophilia, bestiality or any other sexual aberration.
The only argument we recognize now is extrinsic, namely the argument from consent. As current discussions on college campuses demonstrate, even the question of consent is growing increasingly fuzzy. In any case, this inability to frame questions of sexuality in any other way can be overcome only through an understanding of the virtue of chastity.
The nature of chastity
Chastity is that virtue which seeks to guide our sexual faculties in accordance with reason. Like all virtues deriving from temperance, chastity enables us to master a powerful sensual appetite. Just as an irrational use of food and drink turns us into gluttons or drunkards and makes us ill, an irrational use of our sexual powers makes us dissolute or debauched—and sick in several ways. In all such cases, our personal wholeness or integrity is weakened, because we are incited by our passions to use our faculties in ways which undermine the moral and spiritual meanings which make us human.
The virtue of chastity is also a great equalizer simply because it applies to everyone. A grasp of chastity destroys the argument that if heterosexuals can give unbridled rein to their sexual desires, the same should be true for those who have any one of a variety of other sexual desires. But reason demands that our sexual faculties be used only within marriage and only with a commitment to honoring the natural results of the marital act in the procreation of children. While marriage may not be the most difficult school of chastity, it nonetheless requires significant self-mastery to engage in intercourse only when open to both life and love. Every form of chastity depends on and fosters this essential self-mastery.
It is in fact a serious problem that contraception has eliminated our awareness of the need for self-mastery in marriage. The failure to recognize the necessary context for sexual expression in the permanent bond of a marriage open to children has led inexorably to widespread addiction to pornography, a cavalier attitude toward infidelity, and—on the pleasure principle—the common indulgence in other forms of sexual gratification. In contrast, the recognition that everyone is called to chastity provides the only possible rational structure for the use of our sexual faculties. This recognition fosters personal wholeness and integrity, eliminates the charge of “unfairness”, and contributes immensely to personal, marital, familial and, more broadly, social happiness.
A supernatural dimension
While the application of natural reason to the sexual faculties is essential for clarity on this subject, I would hate to argue that people today must rely purely on their own powers to develop the virtue of chastity. While sexual temptation and sexual passions have always been very strong, the various forms of modern mass media have saturated the social order with sexual temptation. Abnormally “attractive” people are continuously portrayed as finding ultimate happiness in sexual attraction and sexual performance, and this makes chastity even more difficult.
I suspect that anyone with any sexual experience whatsoever knows that this portrayal is decidedly false. While the allure is very strong, such randomized sexual experience is more likely to result in a certain emptiness than in any kind of ultimate fulfillment. When robbed of its inherent meaning, sexual pleasure works very much like a drug. Like all drugs, it leads not to happiness but to despair.
Unfortunately, very few are naturally strong enough—or passionless enough—to hold out against this constant onslaught which characterizes nearly every moment of our lives. And it is just here that the Catholic doctrine of grace comes into play. Grace is a share in God’s own life which, far from replacing our nature, beautifully perfects it. In the Beatitudes, Our Lord said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8). We are, in fact, created to see God; it is the ultimate goal and meaning of our lives. When everything else is subordinated to this highest of all realities, we find happiness and fulfillment in perfect love.
Another translation reads, “Blessed are the single-hearted.” I have little doubt this translation was introduced by those who wished to reduce Scripture’s emphasis on purity but, all the same, this way of putting it ties in well with the concept of personal wholeness or integrity which I have mentioned again and again in this series. To be single-hearted cannot mean to be concerned with only one thing, for it is the nature of the human condition that we must be concerned about many things to survive at all. Rather, to be single-hearted means to overcome our tendency to fracture so that we can possess ourselves in that peace and wholeness for which we always yearn. To be single-hearted means to order our loves properly, so that everything derives from and is ordered to the love of God.
Chastity is also akin to humility. Just as sexual profligacy is a damaging indulgence of the senses, so too is pride a damaging indulgence of the intellect. Both rapidly shatter the bonds of affection and trust which are necessary to all of our social relationships, just as they seriously upset the balance of our inner life, the stability of our personalities. Humility restores that balance first and foremost (but hardly exclusively) in the mind; chastity restores that balance first and foremost (but hardly exclusively) in the body. While guided by reason, both of these virtues are perfected through grace.
I would like to think that we are not so far gone that we cannot understand these realities. But I can well imagine how frightening the effort to attain wholeness and balance may seem, and therefore how strong the interior pressure for denial can be. On the verge of his conversion, the great St. Augustine remained torn by a lust which denied his ability to say “never again” to its allure: “Its deadly pleasures were a chain that I dragged along with me, yet I was afraid to be freed of it.” But suddenly in prayer it was as if he heard a voice which said, “Why do you stand on yourself, and thus stand not at all? Cast yourself on him. Have no fear. He will not draw back and let you fall.”
St. Paul also had something to say on this point:
[T]o keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. [2 Cor 12:7-9]
Like Paul, we must stop exulting in our own strength, and—even more important—we must stop describing our own weaknesses as strengths! Instead, our help must be in the name of the Lord. He alone can make us new. He alone can recreate our integrity by restoring the lost innocence for which we mourn.
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