Perhaps the only absolute statement you can make in our society which will not receive any disagreement is that human beings are sexual beings. No matter what a person’s political or philosophical point of view they are most likely to agree to the statement that human beings are sexual. In fact in some areas of society, especially among educators, academics, sociologists, politicians and certain activists, so strongly do they hold to this view of humanity that they insist on indoctrinating children as young as four or five as to their sexual nature. [i] Some academics are even advocating, or at least minimizing the harmfulness of, adult/child sexual relations. [ii]
As a parent and an educator it is sad to see the depths to which our society has fallen. Even (especially?) in a Catholic school the consequences of our sexualized culture is all too evident in the broken families, the emotional and physical pain of the students as well as too many teenage pregnancies with the resulting abortions that take place.
The Root of the Problem
It would take a very large book to detail all the factors that led up to the sexual revolution of the 60’s, and the subsequent fallout it has had in Western society. Some of these factors include urbanization, public education, technology and the social sciences. [iii] I would like to focus on just one factor, the philosophical one.
I began this series by laying out the foundational turning point in philosophy, namely the abandonment of Universals in the fourteenth century by William of Occam and others. This philosophical sea change eventually led to what I spoke of in the last installment, namely radical individualism. Along that very long and twisted path little by little basic common sense realities were tossed aside. Reason became the slave of the passions, freedom went from the ability to choose the good to the desire to do whatever, whenever. Human nature went from something we shared to something we individually created by our free choices, and so on.
The long and short of it is that we now make choices based not on reason but on desire and one of the strongest desires we have is the sexual one. Advertisers and media tycoons have exploited this in their marketing and production. Educators and politicians that will spend millions of dollars on “Just Say No” drug education programs or “Don’t Drink and Drive” programs aimed at changing teenage behavior will look at you dumbfounded if you happened to advocate an abstinence program because “they’re going to do it anyways!!!” Strong women are portrayed as sexually liberated and aggressive. And so on.
St. Thomas Aquinas said rightly that “A small error in the beginning is a great one in the end.” Once western society abandoned the understanding that we are embedded in an objective reality that we must conform ourselves to then it made sense that we would turn inwards until subjective desires became our only reality. As a result, sexuality is defined now by one’s ‘desire’ or ‘orientation’ rather than anything objective. That is why those who have homosexual desires see this as perfectly normal … for them … and really that is all that is ‘real’, what is real for ‘them’. There is no NORMAL for all, just ‘normal’ for them. As a result each particular orientation is given its own legitimacy, its own ‘reality’ by enshrining it in civil law. [iv]
Common sense sex
Let us step back then and look at this without the confusion of ideology, orientation, or emotion. When we strip away all the circumstantial and personal issues we immediately recognize that human beings are either male or female. Yes, a small minority are born without sexual organs, and others are born with both, but these are physical anomalies and bring with them serious personal and psychological challenges, challenges that should stir us to true love and compassion, not merely passing it off as ‘normal’ for them. Yet these rare occurrences do not negate the norm. The very definition of homosexuality is “men” and “women” who are attracted to members of the same sex.
Sexuality then (like reason, will, body, soul, and social) is a fundamental element of human nature. Dr. Donald DeMarco explains it this way:
“The popular, but erroneous assumption that human beings are self-sufficient units as individuals is incompatible with the notion of the complementarity of the sexes. If the individual is complete in himself, then the notion of sexual complementarity is without basis. Yet the fact that the two sexes complement each other personally, psychologically, and procreatively, is a time-honoured realization that every human society throughout history has seen fit to embrace, honour, and celebrate. Masculinity and femininity are, in the words of the Holy Father, ‘two complementary dimensions of self-consciousness and self-determination and, at the same time, two complementary ways of being conscious of the meaning of the body.’” [v]
Two modern female philosophers have presented strong arguments for the different but complementary nature of the sexes. Edith Stein and Alice von Hildebrand both present a view of the sexes that sees women as fundamentally oriented towards ‘being’ while men are fundamentally oriented towards ‘doing’. Edith Stein presents it in this manner:
“The deepest feminine yearning is to achieve a loving union which, in its development, validates this maturation and simultaneously stimulates and furthers the desire for perfection in others; this yearning can express itself in the most diverse forms, and some of these forms may appear distorted, even degenerate. As we shall show, such yearning is an essential aspect of the eternal destiny of woman. It is not simply a human longing but is specifically feminine and opposed to the specifically masculine nature. Man’s essential desires reveal themselves in action, work, and objective achievements. He is less concerned with problems of being, whether his own or of others. Certainly being and doing cannot be wholly separated. … The world of the spirit is founded on sensuousness which is spiritual as much as physical: the intellect, knowing its activity to be rational, reveals a world; the will intervenes creatively and formatively in this world; the emotion receives this world inwardly and puts it to the test. But the extent and relationship of these powers vary from one individual to another, and particularly from man to woman.” [vi]
Ironically, modern feminism that sees itself as the advocate of women in fact does much to harm and frustrate women. American philosopher Alice von Hildebrand wrote a book entitled, The Privilege of Being a Woman. She shows that feminism’s attempts to gain equality with men by imitation of men is unnatural, foolish, destructive, and self-defeating. Indeed, I often ask my students why it is that we have structured our society in such a way that women are forced to live their lives like men. Since when did men become the standard of what it means to be human?
Ideas have consequences
The ethical and political ramifications of human sexuality will be discussed later when we deal with the practical application of metaphysics and anthropology. For now I wish only to examine sexuality as it fits into the big picture.
Metaphysics establishes the context of our personal existence within a framework of an objective reality, established by a First Cause and directed to a Final Cause or purpose. We do not create this reality nor can we radically alter this reality for very long without suffering some severe and often fatal consequences. However, while we cannot alter this reality we can, through the use of reason and will, understand it and choose our course of action so as to actualize more of our true potential. In other words, through true understanding, and humble acceptance, we can become more of who we truly are.
We are embedded into this reality as a spirit/body union that affects, and is affected by, the social connections we have with those around us. Had we been born in a different time, a different place, a different culture our identity as a person would be also different.
Our identity as a person is also defined by our sexuality. We are embedded in reality as either a male or female, regardless of how we choose to live out that sexuality. A man who remains a virgin his entire life is still a man. A stay-at-home mother is as much a woman as a female head of state. Therefore what we do is defined by who we are, not the other way around: I am, first. Then I do. [vii]
Difference in sex does not mean difference in equality. Our modern inclination however is to define equality with equal opportunity. In order for women to be equal to men they must have the same access to all the opportunities that men enjoy such as political office, firefighting, policing, military combat, etc. Yet in the battle to obtain equal opportunity the very essence of sexuality, both male and female, had to be denied. Function has become the major factor for personal identity: I am what I do.
Rather, it is more correct to say that our identity is the framework for our function. No matter what I do, I do it as a man. A woman can do the same ‘job’ as I can, teach for example, but she does it as a woman. I cannot teach as a woman nor can she teach as a man. We can both use the same pedagogical strategies or the same discipline strategies but we must do so as a man or as a woman for that is who we are; nor is it merely a matter of different personalities. So intrinsic is sexuality that there is a debate developing among educators surrounding the negative effect arising from the increasing absence of male teachers in the elementary grades, as well as for reintroducing single sex schools.
Human sexuality is a mystery in the sense that the depth of meaning it contains seems endless. Philosophers such as Stein and von Hildebrand have suggested some of the fundamental differences that exist between the sexes, yet differences that are not mutually exclusive but rather complementary. [viii] Alone each is insufficient, together humanity is fully revealed and lived.
A strange phenomenon is occurring in our Western societies. While books like Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus make the best seller lists and movies like What Women Want are blockbusters any attempt by politicians or policy advocates to even hint at differences between men and women results in an avalanche of negative reaction from women’s groups and media commentators. Meanwhile, there is a growing frustration among both men and women because while sexual activity is rampant, the sense of fulfillment is increasingly lacking.
Men and women, as social beings, have a vital place in both home and market. In each area they bring their own particular gifts and talents AS men and women, be they stay-at-home-dads or CEO moms. Equal access to particular jobs or careers should enhance our sexual complementarity, not deny it. Political and economic decisions should not be founded on the ideology that the only difference between men and women is biological, and that the standard of human fulfillment is typified by political and economic achievements.
Just as we cannot buffer ourselves from our embeddedness in society neither can we buffer ourselves from our sexuality. Wisdom comes from recognizing the truth of things as they are and conforming ourselves to that Truth. For the sake of our children and students we need to turn away from the focus on sex education and focus instead on sexual wisdom.
Footnotes:[i] http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Sex_education_preschoolers?open *** http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=408084 *** Architects of the Culture of Death; “The Sex Planners”; Ignatius Press, 2004; pages 249-332 and Jack Cahill; “Sexual Fantasies” [iv] Babette Francis; “Gender bending: let me count the ways”; 22 March 2011. [v] Dr. Donald DeMarco; The Integral Person in a Fractured World; CUF, 2001; p33 [vi] Edith Stein; “Woman’s Soul”;*** see also: Kathleen Curran Sweeney; “Is There a Specifically Feminine Spirituality?: An Exploration of Edith Stein’s Thesis”; and Rev. Benjamin P. Bradshaw; “The Unique Nature of the Feminine Soul According to St. Edith Stein and Blessed John Paul II [vii] Of course, common sense tells us that the more we do something the more we become that thing (e.g. the more I teach, the more of a teacher I become) but this is an attribute. I can stop being a teacher, I cannot stop being a man regardless of the modern technological ability to alter one’s biological makeup. [viii] Pope John Paul II’s ‘Theology of the Body’, though rooted in biblical symbolism is still very much compatible with common sense philosophy and he incorporates many of the insights of Edith Stein in his writings.
Editor’s Note: This is the thirteenth article in an ongoing series, Ideas Have Consequences by Dennis Buonafede. It originally appeared on ICL in 2011. Check back next Wednesday for another article.