Sunday, September 14, 2014

Not Everything is a Sin: Take Sex, for Instance

Use digital age progression, add 75 years, and you'll have a very accurate picture of my fan base.


"We know who you are!" they exclaimed.  "You're Kevin O'Brien!  We watch you all the time on EWTN!"

They were an elderly couple, somewhere between the ages of 87 and 112.  This is my demographic.  This, and homeschooled 14-year-olds whose mothers force them to watch religious TV.

They were thrilled to be meeting me.  They nearly prostrated themselves before me.  The wife seemed ready to tell me about her secret Kevin O'Brien shrine in the living room, the one that contains the little Kevin O'Brien icon that she carved and sacrifices to.

Now, I had been, for several hours, before I met them, troubled by a nagging thought.  What if I'm more like Robert Berman, the character portrayed in the New Yorker piece I wrote about last week, than I care to admit?  What if I'm just in this for adulation, hero worship, power, fame?  What if I use my mind (as he apparently did) for "mind games"?  What if I'm all about messing with people for my own sick benefit?  What if (like Berman is alleged to have been), I'm simply an abuser of one sort or another?

Of course, if I'm in this for fame and power, I'm going about it all wrong.  Groupies are one thing, but groupies who follow you, slowly and haltingly, in their tennis-ball tipped walkers is another.

But this all led me to reflect about our motivations and how they work.

***

Take sex.

We know that we are made so as to be sexually attracted to other people.  We also know that to act on these urges heedlessly is to sin.  Why?  Because sex is evil?  Certainly not!  Sex is not only good, it's essential to the survival of the human race.  But we know (even if we're not Christian) that people who indulge the Good that is sex without regard for the proper order and constraint into which this Good should be placed, end up making themselves and others miserable.

The same can be said for food.  Food is a great Good and is essential to life.  But if food becomes more important to you than anything else, you've got a problem.  It's a great Good that needs to be subservient to other, greater goods.

But let's get back to sex.

Anybody who thinks about what goes on with sex will realize that power is part of it.  A woman can captivate a man by her charms.  A man can dominate a woman.  Sex and even just sexual attraction brings an element of power into any relationship.  I once knew a young woman (whose father had abandoned her and her family) who was so desperate for power over men that she wouldn't shut up about sex, and did everything she could to seduce guys, not because she was hot and horny, but because she so badly wanted control over others.

And with show biz.  There is certainly a temptation that's ever present for all actors.  Applause can become like a drug, and the accolades of the audience can be a real pitfall, especially when you're a big name EWTN Rock Star like I am.

But getting back to sex.

Should we, then, as good Christians, say, "I'm going to make sure my sexual relationship with my spouse is purified from any element of power or control"?  Should we say, "I will eat food, but I'll make sure I never enjoy it because I've seen what gluttony can do to people"?  As actors, should we say, "I'll take obscure roles that I not only never get credit for, but that I never get paid for.  That's the selflessness I'm shooting for"?

And, in fact, can we say these things?

This gets back to Agape and Eros.  Not only are we foolish to think that we can enter into relationships without exercising power, or have appetites for food that we can suppress, or have a desire for approval that we ought utterly to mortify, not only are we setting ourselves up for failure if we try to achieve perfect selfless Agape in everything we do, we are also sinning.  Eros is the passionate part of love, the part of love that has a vested interest in the object it loves or that it's pursuing.  Eros gives a damn.  Eros cares.

Take away Eros, as I said before, and you end up with Unreality, with weirdness, with love without blood, with, what Chesterton called an "airy, disinterested lust" - in fact, you end up with Christianity without the Cross, for the suffering of Christ is a passion in more ways than one.  Our God is a jealous God and a consuming fire - and our God is love (Ex. 34:14, Heb. 12:29, 1 John 4:8 & 16).

***

But let's talk some more about sex.

If you're a woman like the one I just mentioned, and it begins to dawn on you at a certain age that sex with men brings not just fun feelings and physical pleasure, but power over them - what do you do?  And this is a question that presents itself even in chaste relationships - even in close friendships.  As soon as someone values you, you have power over that person.  Is this in itself wrong?

No, and sticking to sex, we can see it more clearly.  It is right and good that a man finds a woman captivating, for this is part of the spiritual as well as the natural dimension of sex.  It is even (though the feminists would deny it) right and good that a woman desires a man who can exercise dominion.  However, if a girl uses her ability to be captivating simply to take a string of captives, or (as is more likely) simply to tease, she's putting things in the wrong order: she's elevating one aspect of a bigger picture and thereby losing all perspective.  Likewise, if a man draws out the element of dominion that is his, and uses it to become dominating, he's as guilty of disordering God's goods as she is.

So let's stop talking about sex.

Actors: is it a sin to want applause?  Is it a sin to want good reviews?  Is it a sin to want to be paid justly for the work you do?

Of course not.

But if we place the hunger for applause higher than the desire to do good work, we're headed for a fall.  If we are more eager for good reviews than we are for achieving quality in what we do, we're going to make ourselves miserable.  If we get to a point where we're only in it for the money, then we are mercenaries who are sinning against love.

***

So these questions are a tad more complex than the the sometimes timorous Devout Catholics among us lead us to believe.  All things are good and avoiding sin and doing good cannot consist in shunning or denying what is good, but in placing goods in their proper order - even goods that make us uncomfortable, like the element of power that's present in love and sex, like the hunger for food that is sometimes difficult to keep in a proper perspective, and like adoring octogenarians whose secret shrines of you at the nursing home are reeking of incense, Ben Gay and Gold Bond Medicated Powder.


2 comments:

reillywashburn said...

Truth be told, that is why I am still a virgin. Because of the power of sex. I've never felt safe enough to allow someone that kind of control over me. Because true intimacy is being wildly, unreasonably, hilariously, comfortable with being captivated and dominated. Sex is always better when you are equal measures: passionate, silly, and randy. Then again, most things are.

But, the biggest problem couples face is not being prude about sex, but being terrified of the power, and unable to communicate effectively. Which is why I think it is rather brilliant that no one inside the Church talks about sex in a silly and serious manner. It is either one or the other. Which is how you get terrible sex, by taking the act too seriously, or by not taking it serious enough.

Much like everything, sex is a thread that if you pull on will unravel a whole Christmas sweater of nightmarish nostalgia and abysmal memories (I hate Christmas). And, Christians seem to fall into two camps. They either take sex as a 'reward' for getting married and often deal with it with the same sagacity as Elementary students treat gender differences (thinking of a Kindergarten Cop quote) or they treat it with such a divine fear like it is all encompassing whirlwind of fire and brimstone with lace and leather thrown in for good measure. One camp thinks of sex as the Holy Grail (What... is your quest?) and the other considers it the Doomsday Machine (Of course, the whole point of a Doomsday Machine is lost, if you *keep* it a *secret*!) Sadly, the first camp expects sex to be this "amazing and mind-blowing" experience, which it *can* be, but add a dash of sexual fantasy and a load of pornography (no pun intended) and it will always disappoint, and the latter camp sees sex as the wholly unholy/holy danger, and that too, will lead to disappointment, when they discover that sex, as physically powerful and spiritually powerful as it is, can ultimately be, for lack of a better word, a gag. Ultimately, one worships sex from a distance and one trembles at it from a distance, and neither one has the right idea about it.

In summation: Everyone is wrong and all turned all around wrong. My generation is doomed. And thank God for Beer and Age. If you had told me at 18 that at 27 I would be a single ineligible bachelor, I would have cried, but me at 18 still had fanciful ideas about the Christian woman and never tasted beer and whisk(e)y. 1 Corinthians 13.11

Anonymous said...

About your fan base Corky...

There are more of us out there than you know.

Love you!

Steve Stark, Blaine City Councilman.