Saturday, November 5

The 'root' of the problem

A turnip shaped like a thingie?!
With apologies to any who speak OZ.

After reading Colkoch's reply to my earlier post, I felt the gentle rapping of a ten-ton hammer against my skull as my muse, subtle as ever, wished to gain my attention.

As I commented elsewhere (and my brilliant friend Bill pointed out), Avila's comments are a nuanced version of Manichaeism, an early Persian belief which competed with Christianity during the early church.  In a nutshell, Manichaeism says that 'God' created all of the perfect and eternal things, which are of the spirit.  Additionally, 'God' has an evil countpart called the Demiurge who created all of the imperfect and temporary things which are of the flesh.  Thus, to embrace the natural, physical world is to 'worship' the Demiurge while by denying yourself the things of this world, you revere and worship 'God'.

Obviously, as we are born and raised in the natural, physical world as corporeal beings, we must have a predisposition towards what we know, see and interact with seamlessly - the natural, physical world.  Therefore, we have an inborn disposition to turn from 'God'.  At this point, let us introduce our 'agent'.

Raised as a Christian, this agent defied his mother's faith and became a libertine. Indulging in wine, women and song, he became a Manichaeist.  After over 15 years of a hedonistic lifestyle, he had a conversion experience and returned to the religion of his youth.  Key among the tenets which precipitated the conversion St. Anthony of the Desert's extreme aesthetic lifestyle and Romans 13:13-14.  "Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts."  Five years after this conversion, Augustine was made bishop of Hippo.  The rest of the story you probably know.

It is difficult to understate the influence of Augustine on Christian thought.  His views on sin and the material world were the backbone for Thomas' writings on the matter and are the template for Calvin.   How profoundly Augustine's 'personal issues' have affected overall Christian thought can be seen in the concept of concupiscence. Catholic Catechism teaches that concupiscence is the natural desire to sin (which comes as a direct result of the Fall of Man).  One would note that the word itself translates from the Latin: con-, with + cupi, cupid - desire (usually sexual) + -escere - suffix denoting beginning of a process or state) and is most commonly translated as 'ardent, usually sensual, longing or lust'.

Thus, the 'root' of sinful desires is sexual in nature.  To deny sinful desires is, at its core, to deny sex.  This has been said in many ways over the years, but to see how deeply ingrained the thought is and to see how profoundly one man's guilt over his hedonistic past has shaped Christian doctrine is...illuminating.

Yet, we observe in nature and our own Reason informs us that sex is not, in fact, innately sinful.  It  is a natural and powerfully positive force which helps cement the bonds of an intimate personal relationship with another.  At the most profound level, it can provide an emotional and even spiritual experience of two people becoming one (as Christ spoke of in regards to marriage) and, in a more general sense, is an experience which is treasured and revered as good by any who practice it as part of a healthy relationship that also includes attraction and attachment.

Who, then, argues that it is sinful?  A celibate man wracked by guilt over his past? A patristic hierarchy who are forced to refrain from any form of healthy intimate relationship?  I am reminded of those who lived through the psychedelic era talking to their children.  "Don't do drugs or have any of that free love.  We did that and it was great...but, um...we 'know better' now, so don't you do that."

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