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Blaming all our social ills on sex strains credulity

It is tempting to join in the chorus of dennunciations prompted by the avalanche of sexual harrassment allegations embarrassing Washinton’s political elite. Denouncing sins committed by others is such glorious fun that we all-too-often overlook the dangers inherent in doing so.

As our Lord pointed out in the Sermon on the Mount, the trouble with drawing public attention to other people’s shortcomings is that we overlook our own sins, which are frequently even more glaring.

It is, moreover, a trap into which Christians frequently fall when denouncing the increasing moral degeneracy that afflicts so many areas of early 21st century Western society. Many American Christians, for example, seem to assume that much of today’s social and cultural theorizing is nothing more profound than rationalized sexual misbehavior.

There is indeed a persuasive case for saying that many of our most influential thinkers—folks like Karl Marx, anthropologist Margaret Mead, psychoanalysts Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, the painter Pablo Picasso, sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, and theologian Paul Tillich—were not invariably engaged in a dispassionate search for the truth.

It is not unreasonable to conclude from their writings and actions that they were also animated by a need to excuse and justify immoral, often perverse, sexual longings.

However, it strains credulity to blame all of our current immorality on efforts to justify sexual misbehavior. The deep decline in morality in public life, for example, can by no means entirely be ascribed to perverse sexual proclivities.

Many of the most amoral modern luminaries are paragons of marital fidelity. By casting sex as the villain, we ignore the powerful influence of the six other deadly sins—pride, avarice, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth—and, thus, fall into the same trap as Freud and Jung.

Corporate chieftains who pillage their investors, for instance, might well have cast off the wives of their youth for youthful trophy wives. But sex was not necessarily a primary motive for the exchange.

The younger women probably rank in their husbands’ esteem alongside fat stock portfolios, country estates, private aircraft, and fleets of limousines. In other words, they should probably be classified as possessions rather than sex objects.

Dr. Henry Kissinger once observed: “Power is the most powerful aphrodisiac.” Well it might be. But the politicians who pursue it rarely do so merely in order to gratify their sexual appetites. They pursue power in order to exercise it over their fellow human beings.

In analyzing the ills of society, Christians sometimes display a disturbing tendency to blame other brands of Christianity for causing the ills afflicting society. An egregious example forms the fundamental thesis advanced by E. Michael Jones in a book entitled Degenerate Moderns. This tome was published in the 1990s, but is still frequently cited today. Jones traces the roots of degenerate modernity to the Reformation.

Specifically, Jones lays the blame on Martin Luther, the Benedictine monk who is somewhat inaccurately claimed to have sparked the Reformation by nailing Ninety Five Theses, condemning Rome’s practice of selling indulgences, to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany, exactly five centuries ago this year.

Jones accuses Luther of fomenting rebellion against the Roman Church in order to obtain an opportunity for sexual high jinks with former nuns—an outrageous claim which serves to undermine some otherwise quite acute social criticism.

Anyone with a passing knowledge of the Reformation knows that its origins can be traced back at least to the 14th century in Europe and to the early 13th Century in the case of England. (The independence of the Church of England from Rome is asserted in both the first and the final clauses of the Magna Carta.)

Luther, moreover, was merely one reformer among many and by no means the most theologically influential. This honor surely falls to John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli, neither of whom, despite the normal human flaws, can reasonably be accused of sexual obsession.

Perhaps the readiness of Jones—and, to be fair, many protestant commentators—to identify sex as the root degeneracy is explained by the common misconception that original sin is sex-related.

Folks familiar with the third chapter of Genesis should be well aware that Adam and Eve were married long before they defied God and ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Original sin lies in our constant efforts to supplant God as the ruler of creation—confusing our ability to use creation creatively with God’s unique capacity to create. The problem with putting a heavier emphasis on lust than the other six deadly sins is that it can lay us open to accusations of being pharisaical and uncharitable. It is also a symptom of an ingrained reluctance to admit to the sin of pride—a sin that our era proclaims as a virtue. GPH✠

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