Sin, Sex, and Solidarity
Few people today, Catholics included, “think with the Church” on sexual morality. This is obvious. The more difficult question to answer is why. Multiple reasons, I’m sure, although I think we can rule out the world’s embrace of an “anything goes” moral relativism as the culprit. Even my most libertine friends have absolute standards governing their sexual behavior. Consent, for example. I’m no psychologist or spiritual counselor, able to unearth underlying motivations, but, in speaking to friends and acquaintances, I have not been led to conclude that they reject Catholic teaching on the meaning of sexuality because they want to live how they want to live, rules of morality be damned. Rather, they largely reject the teaching because it doesn’t make moral sense to them. The theory taught by the Church–that sexual activity not “ordered” toward procreation is inherently sinful and of grave matter–however coherent it may be to them at the abstract level of theory, fails to translate into their real world lived experience.
Sin supposedly causes harm, not merely in the hereafter, but also in the here and now. In the words of the Catechism, sin “injures human solidarity,” the togetherness between and among people, the ties that bind them. Lying, for example, breaks down trust, and even where the lie is unknown to the deceived, one can easily imagine the lie at the center of the relationship and understand its effects upon it. The solidarity itself becomes a lie, waiting only for the truth to emerge and crack or shatter the edifice. However, in the case of what the Church deems sexual sin, i.e., any sexual behavior that intentionally frustrates procreation or that deliberately doesn’t follow the form that would typically lead to procreation, injury to solidarity seems, well, not to be there as a demonstrable consequence. At least, I haven’t been able to figure out what this injury is. Consequently, I haven’t yet been able to understand how the practice matches the theory. I’ve asked Catholics who write knowledgeably about human sexuality to explain to me the specific, concrete ways in which contraceptive and same-sex acts injure solidarity and otherwise wound the person, but I’ve yet to get a specific, concrete wound and causal relationship from it to the sinful sex act. The theory is repeated to me as if it were self-evidently true. Or I’m told that negative consequence are not always apparent or may take time to develop.
Here’s the situation as I see it. The Church claims there is a causal relationship between 1) contraceptive or same-sex sexual acts and 2) interior wounds and injury to solidarity. If this is true, then one should, conceivably, be able to demonstrate it; i.e., pinpoint the specific wound and show precisely how non-procreative sex and not something else led to it. This may be difficult, as you cannot fully see into another person’s soul, but it shouldn’t be as a rule impossible, as a wound is something you can see. We’re not talking about abstractions here: the Church says that these sexual activities necessarily cause real wounds in real people. So what are these wounds? In what specific way does non-procreative sex injure solidarity? It’s not enough to respond by saying the wounds may not be apparent or may take time to develop. These responses may be true, but they leave the question open. And they leave the question unanswered to a culture that rejects the moral reasoning concerning these sexual acts put forth by the Church. It’s also not enough to point to a wound and assume it was caused by a deviation from sexual norms.
The Church is losing ground on these issues to the wider culture, in part because the theory doesn’t hold water for a lot of people. It doesn’t correspond to their real lived experience. When I look at the relationships of same-sex couples with whom I’m friends, I see no signs of wounds or weaknesses that I can attribute to the nature of their relationship. Indeed, their solidarity appears to be the result of what the Church calls morally-disordered orientation and sinful action. How can what injures solidarity be the basis of solidarity? When the Church says that these sex acts injure solidarity and wound the soul, people in the wider culture wonder what it’s taking about. And this is why I think Catholics, to be persuasive, have to do more than repeat the theory; they need to to show, in actual practice, exactly how these sins wound and injure. Catholic can’t assume the theory, but must start from the concrete to demonstrate that the theory is true.
How would you go about doing this?