Saturday, October 24, 2009

A center for sex, God and good feeling

by Christopher Moses

The right wing screeches with insecurity. The Republican establishment worries that fringe movements undercut the party’s future. The Onion satirizes a ‘Moron’s March on Washington State.’ So it’s no surprise that a little group like the Princeton Anscombe Society would, in this big bad world of Democratic ascendancy, find itself with a bit of an image problem.

Last week Anscombe’s proposed Chastity Center got something of a well-deserved smack-down from Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman. Though rather than pushing them aside, I want to take some of Anscombe’s propositions seriously—in order to dismiss them that much more fully. And in turn, to offer a counter-point to their lunacy with a little bit of lightheartedness that, in all seriousness, I hope can lead to more sex, and better sex at that.

Sex first:

I’m forever amazed with the scientific and analytical tone pushed by Anscombe (and certain strands of right-to-lifers, creationists and so forth). They borrow from ‘sociology, psychology, medicine, philosophy, theology, and human experience’ to prove their argument. This is for the good of people and society—big stuff like that.

Yet by succumbing to this scientific and analytical-philosophy-sounding speech, Anscombe makes a deal with the devil. It’s an attempt to appropriate the terms and forms of argument made powerful by secular, rational and often explicitly anti-religious movements.

Anscombe tries to hedge religion, but theology slips through (even if it’s only fifth). Indeed, these folks are far more faith-driven than anything else. Just look at the idea of being ‘called’ to chastity, especially as to ‘true’ feminism and the supposed life situation of gays. This is lock-and-load Protestantism of a perversely post-modern sort.

Now on to God:

The denial of sex, or promotion of chastity before marriage—however you want to spin it—sounds strange as a positive mission statement for such an empirically minded group. How do they know so much about sex? And is sex really that good, unequivocally so, during marriage?

I know some splendidly, happily married folks. I bet even they sometimes have bad sex. What, then, is the shamanistic power of vows, or a legal license, to stand between a couple who, after years of chaste commitment, then promise to stay together and indulge in unifying sex? Or does it not work absent Godly sacrament?

Some mighty good, fulfilling, whole and loving sex happens beyond marriage. Either that, or tribal savages the world over forever live in a state of perpetual misery awaiting Anscombe’s ritualized, legalized monogamous bliss. Happily we have missionaries!

More seriously: Anscombe’s fear of sex is the same as an atheist’s fear of God. Why so much energy to deny something you know nothing about, or can’t prove one way or the other? It’s part of a sickly, dishonest attempt to hide the religious thrust of such positions.

I don’t really have faith in a God as given by mainstream Christianity. Still I believe in a lot of things I can’t prove, quite a bit of it irrational. For the most part, I think this is just about being human. Some of my beliefs blur into faith of a humanistic sort, but that’s another story. The point is, let’s be ok with belief, and explore its how’s and why’s, rather than trying to make opinions and perspectives into exclusionary, uncompromising proofs. Hurray for pragmatism!

Yet in a more analytical strain, I’m reminded of words I heard spoken by the late, great philosopher Donald Davidson: ‘you believe more than you know.’ Which is to say, in quantitative terms, we know very little and believe quite a bit; and also, we engage in believing far more often than we think; and yet more, belief encompasses a bigger space itself than knowing.

Davidson’s clever comment put forever to rest that fifteen minutes of atheist anxiety I once had in tenth grade. But enough pretending to do philosophy—I can’t—and anyhow, Anscombe does more than enough of that on its own.

Finally, good feeling:

Anscombe might be better off telling us what we should be doing, rather than staying so belted to chastity. Where will we’ll find all this sex-free fulfillment?

Honestly, I agree that much insecurity, aggression, and other less-loving emotions often mar good, healthy sex. Though I also think that love is complicated, and that even the best sex, in marriage or not, will be implicated by questions of power and less-than-blissful emotions. But at least give us some sense of what we’re winning, other than a life tensely and repressively anticipating permanent coupling (as an aside, Anscombers should really reckon with Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach).

So here’s my proposal (with a much better ring to it than anything of Anscombe’s): the Center for Sex, God and Good Feeling. Talk about it; have if you wish, or wait; believe all you want; and whatever your choice, feel good about it.

As the Beatles put it, ‘I’ve got a feeling, a feeling deep inside… a feeling I can’t hide… Oh no! Oh no. Yeah! Yeah!’ To the Center! Come one, come all.

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