Thursday, July 17, 2014

Good But Not Good Enough

There is an old joke that sex is like pizza. When it is good it is very good. When it is bad it is ... still pretty good! There is a lot of truth to that. When Catholics talk about how bad pornography is or how bad casual sex we run into this problem. Bad sex is still pretty good. Sure sometimes people feel cheap and used but there is some pleasure there. Pleasure is good. Catholics don't believe that everything that feels good is wrong. Physical pleasure is good. It is a lower level of goodness than some of the other good we often talk about but still a good thing.

Then there is the next level which gets even more confusing. When people have somewhat less casual sex. When the physical pleasuring of casual sex is supplemented by psychological and emotional pleasuring. It goes much deeper than casual sex and we know it. It makes us feel like all the purely physical stuff we did was an embarrassment and this is true love. The trouble is we are not there yet. What has happened is we are still pleasuring each other. We are in it for our own benefit. This person gives me what I want and the main reason why this relationship is good for me. We are still at a selfish stage. It is a deeper and more noble form of selfishness but still selfishness. 

People who feel this way often don't want to marry right away. If they do want to marry they don't necessarily want to have kids right away. They feel they have arrived. They have figured out love and sex and really don't want to be told any different. Marriage and procreation are things they will use in ways that suit them. 

The church sees even these goods as not good enough. The physical pleasure of sex is not good enough to justify pornography and casual sex. People often get that. They might struggle with those things but they don't find it strange that the church would label them immoral. Yet taking it to another level is hard. That the emotional and psychological good that comes from more serious sexual relationships is still not good enough. What is more, it does not just miss by a little. It is fundamentally a different thing from what it needs to be. The relationship of give so I can take has to be replaced by a relationship of give so I can achieve something good for the other person. That is what the New Testament calls agape love. 

That love is what separates heaven and earth. The phileo love between brothers and friends is good but common to humans. So it the romantic love of eros. What God designed into the human body when He created sex and marriage and procreation was a road to agape love. Learn to celebrate each other's beauty at an intimate level. Learn commitment and communication. Then learn to give your whole life away. By giving our lives away we become fruitful and bless the word many times more than we could any other way. 

Yet the confusion remains. How can something that feels so genuinely good be seen as gravely evil? Think of what sex and procreation are for. Adam and Eve sinned and God gave them curses. The woman's curse was great pain in childbearing. Yet in the curse is a blessing. The pain we have in raising children gives us an opportunity to love. Suffering allows us to suffer for the good of the other. That is the essence of love. Sex tied together with marriage and procreation pulls us from selfishness into self sacrifice. The punishment for sin becomes a way out of sin. At least we can get an idea of what agape love should be.

This is why Catholics take sex so seriously. It is a path to love and to God. If we change the nature of it then it becomes a lesser good. Something finite that cannot satisfy us yet can consume us. We are to be consumed only by God. Properly ordered sex, marriage and procreation can lead us to be consumed by God through our family. If that does not work out for any reason we can be consumed by God in other ways. The religious vocation is the most obvious but there are many ways for a chaste single person to be consumed with the things of God.

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