Monday, March 17, 2014

Tolkien, Sex, and the Central Challenge of the Church

Over at the Ink Desk, my friend Joseph Pearce has linked to this article - From Father to Son: JRR Tolkien on Sex.

It's fascinating stuff.  Here's a sample (my emphasis) ...

"The devil is endlessly ingenious, and sex is his favorite subject," Tolkien insisted. "He is as good every bit at catching you through generous romantic or tender motives, as through baser or more animal ones." Thus, Tolkien advised his young son, then 21, that the sexual fantasies of the 20th century were demonic lies, intended to ensnare human beings. Sex was a trap, Tolkien warned, because human beings are capable of almost infinite rationalization in terms of sexual motives. Romantic love is not sufficient as a justification for sex, Tolkien understood.
Taking the point further, Tolkien warned his son that "friendship" between a young man and a young woman, supposedly free from sexual desire, would not remain untroubled by sexual attraction for long. At least one of the partners is almost certain to be inflamed with sexual passion, Tolkien advised. This is especially true among the young, for Tolkien believed that such friendships might be possible later in life, "when sex cools down."
As any reader of Tolkien's works understands, Tolkien was a romantic at heart. He celebrated the fact that "in our Western culture the romantic chivalric tradition [is] still strong," though he recognized that "the times are inimical to it." Even so, as a concerned father, Tolkien warned Michael to avoid allowing his romantic instinct to lead him astray, fooled by "the flattery of sympathy nicely seasoned with a titillation of sex."

And I think this is even more of an issue now than when Tolkien was alive, especially with the New Technology.  As I recently wrote ...

Only within the past decade or so have people been able to communicate instantaneously and at any time, without regard to geographic distance or any of the natural things that used to put restraints on us.  For instance, throughout all of Christian history, if a married man started to spend too much time alone with a single woman, everyone in town would talk and the parish priest would privately admonish both of them.  Nowadays they can bare their souls to one another via email, and no one is the wiser - and even if they don't bare their bodies via Skype or sexting, they may have crossed a line without completely realizing what they were doing.  I've known people who have fallen into this habit almost unawares.  

... in other words "human beings are capable of almost infinite rationalization in terms of sexual motives" - especially when they have a technology and a culture that enables and facilitates our fallen natures.

Indeed the problem is our fallen natures, for whether we use the old technology or the new, the problem is in our hearts.  As the article quotes Tolkien (again, my emphasis): "The dislocation of sex-instinct is one of the chief symptoms of the Fall. The world has been 'going to the bad' all down the ages. The various social forms shift, and each new mode has its special dangers: but the 'hard spirit of concupiscence' has walked down every street, and sat leering in every house, since Adam fell".

We live in an age where we really think that sex is not dangerous - or if it is, it's dangerous for them and not for us.  Joseph Pearce is also a fan of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who famously said ...

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

But the problem of sex is even more complex than that.  For even in our own hearts, mortification alone (destroying a piece of our own hearts) is only part of the answer.  For if we utterly destroy Eros, we destroy not only sexual desire but romantic love as well, indeed if we lose Eros we eventually lose motivation and interest.

Tolkien traced unhappiness in marriage, especially on the part of the husband, to the Church's failure to teach these truths and to speak of marriage honestly.

... the article tells us.  And Tolkien was lamenting this state many years ago!  It's only gotten worse, and the Church has only gotten more negligent.

This is why I think the Church is particularly called, in this day and age, to elucidate the nature of love, of mature love, which is maturity in Christ.

How are we to love?  That is the central challenge of life for all people.

And Jesus Christ is the only one who provides an answer to that challenge.