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Tolkien proposed to the love of his life, Edith Bratt, as soon as he was legally able to do so; at midnight on his 21st birthday. They married three years later and remained married until her death in 1971. They had four children. Looking for references to sex in Tolkien’s Legendarium is a tedious task for those accustomed to modern salaciousness. The Elves and Men in his narratives are monogamous and well-behaved, seeking glory on the battlefield rather than in the boudoir.
CS Lewis was a celibate academic until late in life. My suspicion is that “Jack” Lewis had something of a thing for the ‘Bad Girl’. It surfaces from time to time in his fiction (most transparently in The Magician’s Nephew), and I certainly think Joy Davidson scratched that itch admirably.
Owen Barfield married the beautiful and gracious Maud Douie. They had two children of their own and fostered a third. His devotion to Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy was a thorn in her side throughout their lives together. Barfield is interesting in that he contemplates sex in his philosophical works at a time when the Sexual Revolution of the 60s and the 70s was just beginning to gather momentum, and he already had the advantage of a long memory and could discern it in seminis in the works of Swinburne and Lawrence.
Charles Williams, among the Inklings, is the most interested in developing a theology of sex, erotic love, and marriage. According to many, he is not a pristine fountain from which to draw water; his own marriage was troubled, he had dalliances with younger women who were drawn to his circle, and he held some heterodox opinions about the role of sex in the Early Church.
Nevertheless, Williams remains almost alone among Christian thinkers in investigating erotic desire from a theological perspective. This essay of his I lifted from a copyrighted sources which I believe is either out of print or so obscurely marketed as to amount to the same thing. I reproduce it here for the benefit of Williams fans and other people who may find it useful. It pulls together several strands in his thinking; the hermetical or occult, the Poetical, and the Christian. It is a remarkable essay and a true tour-de-force.
THE INDEX OF THE BODY
From the ‘Dublin Review,’ July 1942
IN the Prelude (book viii, 11.279-81) Wordsworth wrote:
the human form
To me became an index of delight,
Of grace and honour, power and worthiness.
The most important word there is index. There are moments in all poetry when the reader has to ask himself whether a word used by the poet is accurate not only for the poet’s universe but for the reader’s own. It is a secondary decision, since the first must be only of the poetic value, but it is sometimes important. That is so here; the word index, pressed to its literal meaning, is a word which demands attention, and afterwards assent or dissent.
It is true that Wordsworth himself did not develop the idea; he is speaking generally, and in other passages his genius suggests that the index is to a volume written in a strange language. This is no weakness in Wordsworth; it was, on one side, his particular business. Thus the image of the Leech-Gatherer in Resolution and Independence is drawn at least as inhuman as human; so is the Soldier in Book IV of the Prelude who is the cause of such terror, and the other wanderers; the woman with the pitcher, and even Lucy Gray, are of the same kind. They are on the borders of two worlds, which almost pass and repass into each other. Wordsworth, of all the Romantics, came nearest to defining and mapping that border-land.
There are, of course, also his more exclusively human figures- Michael, for instance, in the poem of that name. Here the human form suggests to him the grandeur of the moral virtues; it is the suffering and labouring spirit of man which he sees. That may have been what he had chiefly in mind in the passage I have quoted: man as ‘a solitary object and sublime’, but man also ‘with the most common; husband, father’, who
suffered with the rest
From vice and folly, wretchedness and fear.
But the passage is capable of another reading, and one which proposes to us a real, if less usual, sequence. It is that reading which I wish now to discuss, and the word index is the beginning. The question proposed is whether we shall take that word seriously as a statement of the relation of the human form to.’grace and honour, power and worthiness’. The human form meant, to Wordsworth, the shape of the shepherd seen among the hills. There it was high and distant. It was a whole being significant of a greater whole-which is, in some sense, the definition of objects seen romantically. But the lines might be applied to the same shape, seen near at hand and analytically. They might refer to the body itself; it is that which can be considered as an index.
What then would be meant by the word? Nothing but itself. An index is a list of various subjects, with reference to those places where, in the text of the volume, they are treated at greater length. But, at least, the words naming the subjects are the same; and a really good index will give some idea of the particular kind of treatment offered on the separate pages. Some such idea, Wordsworth’s lines suggest, the body and even the members of the body may give of the delight, grace, honour, power, and worthiness of man’s structure. The structure of the body is an index to the structure of a greater whole.
I am anxious not to use words which seem too much to separate the physical structure from the whole. The fact of death, and the ensuing separation of ‘body’ and ‘soul’, lead us to consider them too much as separate identities conjoined. But I hope it is not unorthodox to say that body and soul are one identity, and that all our inevitable but unfortunate verbal distinctions are therefore something less than true. Death has been regarded by the Christian Church as an outrage-a necessary outrage, perhaps, but still an outrage. It has been held to be an improper and grotesque schism in a single identity-to which submission, but not consent, is to be offered; a thing, like sin, that ought not to be and yet is. The distress of our Lord in His Passion may perhaps not improperly be supposed to be due to His contemplation of this all but inconceivable schism in His own sacred and single identity. If our manhoods were from the first meant indivisibly, how much more His!
It is one of the intellectual results of the Fall that our language has always to speak in terms of the Fall; and that we cannot help our language does not make it any more true. The epigrams of saints, doctors, and poets, are the nearest we can go to the recovery of that ancient validity, our unfallen speech. To treat the body as an index is to assume that, as in an index the verbal element-the word given-is the same as in the whole text, so in the physical structure of the greater index the element-the quality given-is the same as in the whole structure. Another poet, Patmore, put the thing in a similar light when he wrote that
from the graced decorum of the hair,
Ev’n to the tingling sweet
Soles of the simple earth-confiding feet
And from the inmost heart
Outwards unto the thin
Silk curtains of the skin,
Every least part
‘The spheres’ there are likely to mean, first, the outer heavens. This idea is practically that of the microcosm and the macrocosm: the idea that a man is a small replica of the universe. Man was ‘the workshop of all things’, ‘a little world’, mundus minor exemplum majoris mundi ordine, filius totius mundi. It is a very ancient idea; it was held before Christianity and has been held during Christianity; it was common to Christians, Jews, and Mohammedans; and, for all I know, the scientific hypothesis of evolution bears a relation to the union of the two. Into that, however, I am not learned enough to go. The idea went through many changes, but its general principle remained constant: that man was the rational epitome of the universe. It led, of course, to many absurdities, and (if you choose like any other idea) to some evils. Some writers catalogued painstakingly the more obvious fantasies: hair was the grass or the forests; bones were mountains; the sun was the eyes, and so on. Astrology, if not based on it, at least found the idea convenient; however we may reject that ancient study, it had at least this philosophic principle mixed up with it-that each man, being unique, was a unique image of the universe, that the spatially greater affected the spatially lesser, and the calculable influences of the stars were only calculable because each man represented and reproduced the whole. Astrology then was a high and learned science; it was forbidden for good reasons, but it was not fatalistic. It did not say ‘this will certainly happen’; it said: ‘Given these stellar and individual relations, this result is likely.’ But the will of God and the wills of men were allowed much freedom to interfere with the result. Sapiens dominabitur astris. The paragraphs in our papers today bear as much resemblance to the science as texts lifted up on boards outside churches do to the whole dogmas of the Church. The paragraphs are, I allow, more likely to harm; the texts, on the whole, are innocuous.
Beside, or rather along with, this study went the patterns of other occult schools. The word ‘occult’ has come into general use, and is convenient, if no moral sense is given it simply as itself. It deals with hidden things, and their investigation. But in this case we are concerned not so much with the pretended operations of those occult schools as with a certain imagination of relation in the universe, and that only to pass beyond it. The signs of the Zodiac were, according to some students, related to the parts of the physical body. The particular attributions varied, and all were in many respects arbitrary. But some of them were extremely suggestive; they may be allowed at least a kind of authentic poetic vision. Thus, in one pattern, the house of the Water-carrier was referred to the eyes; the house of the Twins to the arms and hands; the house of the Scorpion to the privy parts and the sexual organs; and the house of the Balances to the buttocks.
It will be clear that these four attributions at least had a great significance. It will be clear also that in such a poetic (so to call it) imagination, we are dealing with a kind of macrocosmic-rnicrocosmic union of a more serious and more profitable kind than the mere exposition by a debased astrology of chances in a man’s personal life. It may be invention, but if so, it is great invention; the houses of the Zodiac, with their special influences ruling in special divisions of the spatial universe, may be but the fables of astronomy; it must be admitted that few certain facts support them. But they are not unworthy fables. They direct attention to the principles at work both in the spatial heavens and in the structure of man’s body. Aquarius is for water, clarity, vision; Gemini are for a plural motion, activity, and achievement; Libra is for that true strength of balance on which the structure of man depends.
With this suggestion, we are on the point of deserting the spatial heavens for something else. The like regions of the spheres, of which Patmore spoke, here begin to be transferred to the spiritual heavens. ‘As above, so below’ ran the old maxim, but even that dichotomy is doubtful. The houses of the Zodiac, in this, do but confuse the issue, except in so far as they, like the whole universe, exhibit the mystery by which spirit becomes flesh, without losing spirit. Perhaps the best verbal example is in the common use of the word ‘heart’. Even in our common speech the word is ambiguous. To call Hitler heartless means that he seems to be without the common principle of compassion. It is said that Tertullian (but I have not found the reference) said that ‘the supreme principle of intelligence and vitality’, ‘the sovereign faculty’ of man, resided ‘where the Egyptians taught- Namque bomini sanguis circumcordialis est sensus, the sense of man is in the blood around the heart’. At least the pulsating organ presents, for man, his proper physical rhythm in the whole mundus minor exemplum majoris mundi ordine. As our meaning – physical life or compassionate life – so the word heart. Compassion is the union of man with his fellows, as is the blood. The permitted devotion to the Sacred Heart is to the source of both. The physical heart is, in this sense, an ‘index’ to both. Gerard Hopkins wrote, of the Blessed Virgin:
If I have understood
She holds high motherhood
Towards all our ghostly good
And plays in grace her part
About man’s beating heart,
Laying, like air’s fine flood,
The death dance in his blood;
Yet no part but what will
Be Christ our Saviour still.
The visionary forms of the occult schools are but dreams of the Divine Body. All these brief allusions show that there have been some traditions of significance-poetic, occult, religious. Christians, however, may be permitted to press the significance more closely; they may be allowed to ask whether the body is not indeed a living epigram of virtue. There have been doctors who held that Christ would not have become incarnate if man had not sinned; there have been doctors who held that He would. Either way, it is clear that the Sacred Body was itself virtue. The same qualities that made His adorable soul made His adorable flesh. If the devotion to the Sacred Heart does not, in itself, imply something of the sort, I do not know what it does imply. The virtues are both spiritual and physical – or rather they are expressed in those two categories. This is recognized in what are regarded as the more ‘noble’ members in the body-the heart, the eyes. But it is not so often recognized as a truth underlying all the members-the stomach, the buttocks. That is partly because we have too long equated the body as such with the ‘flesh’ of St. Paul. But ‘flesh’ is no more that than (as Mgr. Knox pointed out recently in the Tablet) it is ‘sex’. The body was holily created, is holily redeemed, and is to be holily raised from the dead. It is, in fact, for all our difficulties with it, less fallen, merely in itself, than the soul in which the quality of the will is held to reside; for it was a sin of the will which degraded us. ‘The evidence of things not seen’ is in the body seen as this epigram; nay, in some sense, even ‘the substance of things hoped for’, for what part it has in that substance remains to it unspoiled.
It is in this sense then that the body is indeed an ‘index’ to delight, power, and the rest. ‘Who conceives’, wrote Prior,
‘Who conceives, what bards devise,
That heaven is placed in Celia’s eyes?’
Well, no; not so simply as that. But Celia’s eyes are a part of the body which (said Patmore, who was orthodox enough)
And sweet replies to some like region of the spheres.
And those spheres are not merely the old spatial macro cosmic heavens, but the deep heaven of our inner being. The discernment of pure goodwill, of (let it be said for a moment) pure love in Celia’s eyes, at some high moment of radiant interchange or indeed at any other moment, is no less part of the heavenly vision (so tiny and remote as it may be) because it is a physical as well as a spiritual vision. The word ‘sacramental’ has perhaps here served us a little less than well; it has, in popular usage, suggested rather the spiritual using the physical than a common-say, a single-operation.
Eyes then are compacted power; they are an index of vision; they see and refer us to greater seeing. Nor has the stomach a less noble office. It digests food; that is, in its own particular method, it deals with the nourishment offered by the universe. It is a physical formula of that health which destroys certain elements-the bacteria which harmfully approach us. By it we learn to consume; by it therefore to be, in turn, consumed. So even with those poor despised things, the buttocks. There is no seated figure, no image of any seated figure, which does not rely on them for its strength and balance. They are at the bottom of the sober dignity of judges; the grace of a throned woman; the hierarchical session of the Pope himself reposes on them: into even greater images and phrases we need not now go.
It will be thought I labour the obvious; and I will not go through the physical structure suggesting and propounding identities. The point will have been sufficiently made if the sense of that structure being heavenly not by a mere likeness but in its own proper nature is achieved. It is a point not so much of doctrine as of imagination. That imagination is at once individual and social. The temples of the Holy Ghost are constructed all on one plan: and our duties to our material fellows are duties to structures of beatitude. The relation of the Incarnation to our own mode of generation is blessedly veiled. But its relation to those other identities of power is not at all doubtful. It is not only physical structures we neglect or damage by our social evils; it is living indexes of life. The Virtues exist in all of them materially, but it is the Virtues which so exist. Christ, in some sense, derived His flesh from them, for He derived it from His Mother, and she from her ancestors, and they from all mankind.
The Sacred Body is the plan upon which physical human creation was built, for it is the centre of physical human creation. The great dreams of the human form as including the whole universe are in this less than the truth. As His, so ours; the body, in this sense of an index, is also a pattern. We carry about with us an operative synthesis of the Virtues; and it may be held that when we fall in love (for example), we fall in love precisely with the operative synthesis.
Grace was in all her steps, heaven in her eye;
In every gesture dignity and love;
Is much more a definite statement of fact than we had supposed; footsteps are astonishing movements of grace. That we cannot properly direct and control our sensations and emotions is not surprising; but the greatness of man is written even in his incapacity, and when he sins he sins because of a vision which, even though clouded, is great and ultimate. As every heresy is a truth pushed disproportionately, so with every sin; at least, with every physical sin. But, however in those states of ‘falling in love’ the vision of a patterned universe is revealed to us, the revelation vanishes, and we are left to study it slowly, heavily, and painfully. All that the present essay attempts to do is to present a point of view which has behind it, one way and another, a great tradition-a tradition which, for Christians, directs particular attention to the Sacred Body as the Archtype of all bodies. In this sense the Eucharist exposes also its value. The ‘index’ of our bodies, the incarnate qualities of the moral universe, receive the Archtype of all moralities truly incarnated; and not only the pattern in the soul and will but the pattern in the body is renewed. Or, better, in that unity which we, under the influence of our Greek culture, divide into soul and body. ‘Socrates’, Dr. William Ellis writes, ‘invented the concept which permeates every part of modern thinking, the concept of the twofold nature of man, of man as a union of the active, or spiritual, with the inactive, or corporeal; the concept, in short, of the organism as a dead carcass activated by a living ghost. Even if we repudiate this idea, we are still half-dominated by it, so deeply does it underlie our pattern of culture.’ I am far from suggesting that this is the proper Christian view. But there is, I think, no doubt that it is not far from the popular Christian view. The fuss that has been made about Browning’s line (not that that was Browning’s fault)-‘nor soul helps flesh more now than flesh helps souI’-shows that. It was repeated almost as a new revelation, though indeed the Lady Julian had said almost the same thing centuries before. We have to overcome that lazy habit of the imagination-the outrage of death notwithstanding. We experience, physically, in its proper mode, the Kingdom of God: the imperial structure of the body carries its own high doctrines-of vision, of digestion of mysteries, of balance, of movement, of operation. ‘That soul’, said Dante in the Convivio, ‘which embraces all these powers [the rational, the sensitive, and the vegetative] is the most perfect of all the rest.’ The rational, or self-conscious, power is indeed the noblest, but we must ask from it a complete self-consciousness, and not a self-consciousness in schism.
It was suggested that the stress of this imagination may be an incentive to our social revolution. For if the body of our neighbor is compact of these heavenly qualities, incarnated influences, then we are indeed neglecting the actual Kingdom of God in neglecting it. It is the living type of the Arch-typal. We have not merely to obey a remote moral law in feeding and succouring and sheltering it. It is the ‘index’ of power; tear away the index, and we are left without the power; tear away the index, and we are left without the delight. Let the whole to which that index witnesses be as immense as any volume of truth may be, and still the value of that small substance remains. Every student of a learned work uses the index attentively. A good index can indeed be studied in itself. To study the body so is to increase our preparation for the whole great text.
There, far away, beyond sad Gondor now overwhelmed in shade, the Sun was sinking, finding at last the hem of the great slow-rolling pall of cloud, and falling in an ominous fire towrds the yet unsullied Sea. The brief glow fell upon a huge sitting figure, still and solemn as the great stone kings of Argonath. The years had gnawed it, and violent hands had maimed it. Its head was gone, and in its place was set in mockery a round rough-hewn stone, rudely painted by savage hands in the likeness of a grinning face with one large red eye in the midst of its forehead. Upon its knees and mighty chair, and all about the pedestal, were idle scrawls mixed with the foul symbols that the maggot folk of Mordor used.
Suddenly, caught by the level beam, Frodo saw the old king’s head: it was lying rolled away by the road side. ‘Look, Sam!’ he cried, startled into speech. ‘The king has got a crown again!’
The eyes were hollow and the carven head was broken, but about the high stern forehead there was a coronal of silver and gold. A trailing plant with flowers like small white stars had bound itself across the brows as if in reverence for the fallen king, and in the crevices of his stony hair yellow stonecrop gleamed.
‘They cannot conquer forever!’ said Frodo. And then suddenly the brief glimpse was gone. The Sun dipped and vanished, and as if at the stuttering of a lamp, black night fell.
JRR Tolkien, The Lord Of The Rings , II, Journey To The Crossroads
“There are only so many people capable of putting together words that stir and move and sing. When it became possible to earn a very good living in advertising by exercising this capability, lyric poetry was left to untalented screwballs who had to shriek for attention and compete by eccentricity.”
“You can’t trust reason. We threw it out of the ad profession long ago and have never missed it.”CM Kornbluth
Father Stephen Freeman, on his popular blog, Glory To God For All Things, swings for the fence a lot. He is the kind of blogger who isn’t content to hit singles and doubles consistently and get on base, but he expects to hit a bases-loaded home run each time he steps out of the batting box. With his latest post, A Crisis Of Beauty, he does precisely that.
Father Stephen lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, a community that received in the 1940s the sobriquet of being “the ugliest city in America”, and has recently been anointed as the “most Bible-minded city in America.” Father Stephen meditates on the ugliness of modern American life and wonders why it has to be so, especially in a community that is so ‘Bible minded’. The comments that the good Father’s post engendered discuss a number of possible causes, from the baleful influence of popular Evangelical Protestantism, to the Malthusian argument that there are too many [of the wrong kind of] people, to the corruption of oligarchic market capitalism.
Ugliness was one of the marks of evil in Tolkien’s trilogy The Lord Of The Rings. Orcs were ‘ruined elves’, and the cannon fodder of the Dark Lord. It was a mark of their degradation that they hated beauty. The poor deformed creatures could create no beauty of their own, and the mere existence of it reminded them of their lost estate, so they hated beauty and defaced it whenever they encountered it.
I think something orc-like has entered into the soul of Late Imperial America. Ugliness sets up a self-reinforcing feedback loop. Working in an ugly building, living in an ugly, cookie-cutter house, eating tasteless, corn syrup-based foods in an ugly AppleChili’s Red Olive Barrel, worshiping in a gymnasium or a hangar to a cacophony of electronically distorted noises, makes you uglier, and this internal ugliness produces in turn more ugliness, and worse, a contentment with ugliness and eventually, a resentment of beauty. But there us another force at work, something that will not prove easy to undo, because it has lodged in one of our most basic and most primal human passions.
What I have to say here is going to be controversial The pornification of American culture has played a key role in uglifying it. A frequent Orthodox poster on blogs pertaining to modern relationships between the sexes remarks that about the only personal characteristic that 21st century cares about is sex appeal. Everything else is secondary, maybe even superfluous
The problem is that porn is boring. There are just so many ways that you can rub body parts together, and eventually, the itch you are trying to scratch becomes larger than anything you can scratch it with. Additionally, for some reason not immediately apparent to me, use of pornography sears a sector of the human soul that appreciates and evaluates beauty. As the flesh and the sexual passions clamor more insistently, little by little, the other pleasures recede and lose their ability to charm, entice, or motivate.
I don’t think that even 20 years ago, it was apparent that our society would become as highly sexualized as it currently is. The Sexual Revolution is, of course, very old news, and the original impetus for it came from Scandinavia and France, were traditional attitudes towards sexuality dissolved before they did here in the US. The message that you can have sex with whomever you want whenever you want with no adverse effects is one that is always going to find fertile soil, though.
The increasing sexualization of society has a side-effect. We are primates, and whatever your view of human origins and our relationship to monkeys, apes, and lemurs, human females share an observable tendency that they share with other female primates – they are attracted to males who exhibit what is called conspicuous consumption. These days, the most desirable females come with a very, very high price tag. This is, I believe, the motive force, the engine behind the ruthless exploitation of resources and rapid monetarization of anything that provokes even a momentary interest. A market will be found, and usually it will be ignited by the image of an appealing young woman.
Which is a shame. Americans are not an ugly people, more that any other other people who dwell on the face of the earth, and we were, as recently as the early forties, exploring our own way of creating beauty. There are English ways of being beautiful, French ways, Russian ways, Chinese ways, and if you have ever heard the Cherubic hymn sung by a Kenyan choir, African ways as well. Indeed, a lot of what it means to be beautiful is what it means to be beautiful right here, right now. There is an Beauty of This Moment and This Place which is not transferable to There and Then. It is the increasing homogenization, the franchising of America [as Father Stephen calls it] that is a key element to its uglification.
American Beauty, which is essentially a regional beauty, even a local beauty, was strangled in the crib by a rising advertising/promotional industry, an industry whose goal was to decouple the purchasing will from the higher brain functions and make it as reliable as breathing and circulation by attaching it to our most basic passions. Once the link to sex was discovered and ruthlessly exploited, there was no more room for American Beauty.
Marija Gimbutas (1921 – 1994) is a name all of you should know. Fleeing the Nazi occupation of her native Lithuania in 1944, she settled in Southern California, eventually becoming a full professor of anthropology at UCLA.
Dr. Gimbutas first attained prominence in the field of Indo-European studies by identifying a Neolithic culture of the Russian steppes, the Kurgan culture of appr. 4000 BC, as the speakers of Proto-Indo-European, the ancestral language of the majority of European and Indian languages spoken today. The Kurgans were a militaristic, patriarchal, and technologically obsessed society which, in various waves, dominated and submerged what she called “Old Europe”, a uniform (!?!?) Neolthic culture which was pacific, aesthetic, matriarchal, and meticulous about ecological relations to the natural world.
Dr. Gimbutas’ theory of Indo-European procedence is not entirely accepted by scholars in archeology or linguistics. It remains a “fruitful” hypothesis, meaning, I suppose, one that can still be invoked to apply for grants and to lend legitimacy to articles published in scholarly journals. The jury is still out as to whether the Kurgans were indeed the linguistic great-grandfathers of Homer, the writers of the Vedas, Virgil, and the bards of the Cattle Raid on Cooley.
Nevertheless, outside the more rigorous climes of official academe, her ideas took fruit in a series of novels written by one of her ex-students, Jean Auel, who had a good run of success with her “Earth’s Children” series, beginning with “The Clan of the Cave Bear”, which was made into a decent film starring Darryl Hannah.
The Earth’s Children series degenerated swiftly from the original book, which was quite good from both a literary and imaginative perspective, into a predictable set of romances between the protaganist Ayla and a series of broad-chested, long-haired, sensitive Neolithic swains who followed her across Old Europe in obedience to the Great Goddess, whom they worshipped and who Ayla symbolized.
I never finished the second book, although I have been meaning to. Whatever made the first book special is definitely lacking in the second. At any rate, Ms. Auel made Dr. Gimbutas’ speculations plausible to a host of moderns looking for a reason why their lives weren’t working so well.
Gimbutean fiction is quite a lively sub-genre these days, with plucky, Goddess-honoring heroines standing shoulder to shoulder with brave, shining-eyed, long-locked heroes against the awful Horse People and their ferocious, oppressive Sky-God (Guess Who?).
The mythology is quite potent, which is why its not going to go away because it doesn’t have any basis in verifiable history. Christians, as usual, had their seismic triggers posted elsewhere and didn’t see Dr. Gimbutas coming up behind them.
It has been interesting to see the turmoil occasioned in what remains of the once-vibrant Christian blogosphere by self-proclaimed “post-evangelical” Internet Monk Mike Spencer a couple of weeks ago (ancient history in the BS) when he proclaimed the inevitability of the Coming Evangelical Collapse in a three-shot salvo over the bow of the Good Ship Evangel. The first post alone garnered 192 responses.
Now, I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t resent the fact that an identical prophecy on my own blog went completely unremarked upon. But, Michael has been blogging far longer than I have, and he irritates more people in a week that I will probably ever be able to do in a lifetime. He is too Librul/Catlick for half of his readership and too Fundy/iggerant for the other half, which if you know anything about Chesterton, means that he’s right where he needs to be.
He offers a lot of reasons for the impending implosion in Evangelical belief, most of which are The Usual Suspects; the Babylonian Captivity of the Evangelical Church in RonnieReaganLand, Disney-fication, theological superficiality, but I loved his final conclusion.
Evangelicalism is going to run out of money. In these straightened times, nobody is going to throw good money into a dying enterprise.
Now, that’s good as far as it goes, but a week after finishing his tirade and disturbing the peace of just about every practicing Christian on the Internet, he featured an interview with a former Evangelical journalist who, in my opinion, nailed it down.
It’s sex, pure and simple.
The disconnect between Evangelical (and Catholic, and Orthodox) teachings on sex and the sexual behavior of young people in Evangelical (and Catholic, and Orthodox) churches has become so wide and so unbridgeable that it has come to the place where young people are going to have to choose between the Church and the possibility of ever having sex. Not surprisingly, the majority of them are going to be opting for sex.
Now, follow me here, as I outline the change in the sexual constitution of American society as it has changed over the last fifty years. There are three versions of the sexual constitution I would like to investigate – The Old Double Standard, the Interim Compromise, and the New Double Standard.
The Traditional Double Standard was very much in place during my adolescence, despite the swingin’ sixties rhetoric that innundated the movies and television at that time. It was still very much the job of a man to compromise a woman’s virtue as it was the job of women to preserve it. Most of the weddings announced in my little Midwestern town, a bastion of Christendom in probably the most Protestant area of the country, were the result of an impending unexpected arrival, and nobody was surprised. At the time the unspoken rule for women was, if you let him sleep with you, he better at least be on the road to matrimony. For men the unspoken rule was, if you get her pregnant, you do the right thing and marry her.
What was revolutionary about the Sexual Revolution was not that it gave men permission to be promiscuous. Men always had permission from the larger society to be promiscuous. Giving permission to be promiscuous to women, which is what was truly revolutionary about the Sexual Revolution, had some unintended consequences.
If you give a man permission to sleep around, he wants to sleep with every woman he meets. If you give a woman permission to sleep around, she wants to sleep with the same man all the other women want. Some men unashamedly begin to gather harems. For the less shameless, serial monogamy becomes the order of the day, and no one considered it unusual for one man to commandeer the reproductive capacity of more than one woman.
So, the Sexual Revolution actually resulted in less sex, and less quality sex, for the poor chump at the bottom of the Darwinian pecking order than the old Double Standard. At least under the old constitution, everyone roughly paired off at their own level. Now, the idea was that the poor, boring stable guy had to wait until his future wife was through making the rounds before settling into domesticity.
The Interim Compromise, which was in place from about the mid seventies until just recently, meant that young people were to “get promiscuity out of their system” in their twenties and thirties, then marry. You see it all the time in dating columns; young men complaining that women their age are only attracted to “edgy, exciting men”, overlooking the traditional sober and sensible (read: boring) potential mate. Young women, on the other hand, complain constantly that it is nearly impossible to keep their man from cheating, that other women are “hitting on him constantly”. The conventional wisdom given to the young men that the steady, boring guy should wait until the girl “comes to her senses” and learns to appreciate his sterling qualities over the more exciting, superficial guys she is attracted to now while she is “young”.
The trouble is, it usually the case that the superficial, exciting guys get tired of the now-not-so- young woman before she has any epiphanies about the desirability of boring, everyday, faithful men. So she grabs herself a pack-animal while she still can. I wonder how much of evangelical church membership is comprised of these “born-again” ex-virgins and their to-some-degree reluctant mates.
But the Interim Compromise is breaking down. As internet porn and the glorification of slut-culture lock young women into an “arms race” for the gutter in an attempt to snare the flagging attention of the most desirable young men, other young men are walking away from the prospect of marriage and family altogether.
I read an eloquent explanation of this on the Internet on a website that appears to have disappeared. You can read it here. Just page through the remarks until you find the excerpt from “Hook-Up Culture: Why There Is No Longer Someone For Everyone“.
The new Double Standard exalts female promiscuity, even outright whorishness, as “being in charge of her sexuality” , while excoriating men who do the same as being “Peter Pans” who are “afraid of commitment”. Add to this a hostile political atmosphere where women have every advantage in an increasingly aggressive “divorce industry”, and it becomes apparent why men are becoming more and more reluctant to step up to the plate.
I’m not going to buy into the old Evangelical mantra; “That’s the way the worldlings act. They don’t know any better.” I would be more likely to believe if there was a nickel’s worth of difference between the behavior of unchurched kids and the kids in Evangelical (or Catholic, or Orthodox) churches.
At this point in the game, voluntary chastity , especially for young women, seems more and more likely to become permanent celibacy, and that’s why the churches are going to empty like a high school keg party when the state police show up.
I’m sorry, this post kind of got away from me. My prescription for fixing this is surprisingly not the resurrection of female chastity but of male virtue, (from the Latin vir, viris – maeaning a male; same root as virile) but that for another time.