Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Today's class on sexual ethics...interesting!

Today's ethics class was very interesting so I typed out what I learned in case anyone wants to read it.

We started with a historical perspective because sexual ethics and morality actually comes out of history and our human desire to keep existing.

So in 1860 kids died a ton. Because of this society's goal was to continue humanity. On average if two people got married they had to have 6.5 kids to replace themselves. Infant death was the norm and child birth was also so dangerous that probably the most years you would be married was 14 years due to women dieing in childbirth or men dying due to heavy labor. Because of this sexual ethics was entirely created around having babies. It was called the "procreative ideal". The procreative ideal became a norm (which means, this is the way it has to because God says so) because of St. Augustine. Boo Boo St. Augustine!

The procreative idea/norm is this. Having babies is the only goal of sex and marriage. Therefore - Sex has to be: free, with another person, who is human, of the opposite gender, within marriage (to raise the kid) with your spouse - (so it knows who it's folks are), in a complete act (because other wise a baby wouldn't be made), that is open to procreation (no contraception). IN fact St Augustine went so far as to say that if you have sex and your motivation is not to have a baby, it's sin.

Now jump forward to the next century. In 1960 things were very different! 75 years ago a dude named Alexander Fleming figured out antibiotics, and therefore now kids don't die as much. So now days if you want to replace yourself on the earth and let humanity keep going, you only have to have 2 kids. AND people stay married (if they stay married until death) an average of 45 years.

What shocked me was that NEVER and I mean never in human history did people stay married more than 14 years before this era because they died sooner. So we actually have never known what it is like for people to stay married and average of 45 plus years. This is interesting because people still keep the "stay married forever" mantra in the church (which I do think is good) but they say this out of an 1800's ethic without realizing that being married 14 years with kids the whole time is a bit different than 45 years sometimes without kids.

So basically now all of Christendom has been trying to figure out what in the world to do with sexual ethics. In the last re-writing of cannon law by the catholic church they changed the definition of marriage. This I didn't know. They changed it away from this 1800's procreation ideal/norm to "the union of two whole selves." And they use this for deciding when a marriage can be annulled as well. eg., It used to be if you didn't have kids or sex your marriage could be annulled. But now if you aren't whole or able to commit due to drugs or mental illness etc. you can have your marriage annulled. So even the catholic church is changing their entire sexual ethic.

We discussed today two major players in a new sexual ethic. I think they are both Catholics. A dude named Richard Wesley and a woman named Margret Farley. They are part of a bunch of ethicists trying to write an ethic for christians for how do we decide what is good or bad sex/relationship/marriage in today's society where people are marriage for 45-60+ years and don't need to have 6.5 kids etc.

This is a bit of what they say. Wesley's ethics is all based on what is honest/true and what is communion. In the old days 1860's they said humans were animals with reasoning. Now we say (christians) humans are enfleshed spirits. The difference being what gives a spirit joy verses talking about animalistic impulses. And Wesley says what gives us joy and life is truth and communion. So he has this whole ethic around truth and communion/connection.

So you can respond to the old list of what was good and bad sex not through the lens of procreation but on the basis of what's better communion (eg. it doesn't do harm and is life giving) and what is true. So for example using Richard Wesley you could say rape is still wrong because it does harm, doesn't bring communion between two spirits, and it isn't true/honest connection. It's based on selfishness, not asking for that need to be met honestly, but stealing it. However, using Wesley you could say homosexuality can be good sex depending on how the relationship is structured because it can be communion/union of two whole selves who are being honest about who they are and what they need and are in whole life communion. Totally interesting. There's a lot more to this but that's what I found most interesting about Wesley. His reading is a bit boring, but the concepts are totally interesting.

Now Margret Farley is a catholic nun. She wrote a book that just came out two years ago called "Just Love". And she took the old school (16th and 17th century) virtues and turn them on their head. She uses the same old virtues, but puts sexual ethics in a new place. In the 16th and 17th century they said sexuality and how we were to be virtuous in sex./marriage should be understood as falling under temperance. (The four virtues are - prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude). She says putting sexuality under the virtue of temperance is a totally MALE understanding of sex. Sex for men in that day was something to control.

She says today sexuality should be understood/put under the virtue justice. So sexuality is understood as something that is not scary to be controlled or wielded. Instead sexuality is about justice and equality. About two adult equals communing in a way that is equal and life giving and "just love" as her book title says. I actually haven't read the book so I don't know if this is how she explains it but this is what I got from class.

I guess I share all this to say it's very freeing to understand sexuality this way for me. It allows me to still have a sexual ethic in a more spacious way. One that still has right and wrong, justice and injustice, but does not have the historical perspective of old.

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