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Sex and Carnality

Jesse at Pandagon writes on the debate over the morning-after pill in Illinois. He has a point in saying that pharmacists are speading bad science as pro-life propaganda, but concludes that this denial of medical treatment is about the fear of sex.

The more I read these kinds of stories, the less I think the debate over sexual morality is about sex itself. The notion of carnality involved in sexual relationships, specifically those sexual relationships deemed immoral, seems to be what these pharmacists and pro-life groups have a problem with.

According to Christian doctrine, the only sexual relationship endorsable by the Bible is the model of married coupledom (the kind in which a woman is the man’s property to be “taken” by adulterers and all other women are seductresses) and those who don’t comply are the “polluted spring or …poisoned well.” Moral folks “run from anything that stimulates youthful lust,” including homosexuality, pornography, sadomasochism and all other models that the contemporary churches consider prurient.

I don’t even think the pro-life stance is so much about the protection of fetuses, embryos, or any of the rest of it. Abortion and birth control are carnality manifest. That sex is and can be carnal, and that a “good” woman can enjoy the carnality without physical or emotional consequences, is what gives them goosebumps, and thus they find anything they can do to stop this degradation of their moral code based on a fear of sexual freedom.

Carnality gives me goosebumps, too, but in an entirely different way.

Related Reading: Religion & Sex, Christianity
Bondage, from Preacher’s Files

7 thoughts on Sex and Carnality

  1. We know why they fear Carnality, but the most bothersome thing is that they are living their lives, the fundamentalist and other litteral chirstians, by a book put together many years ago by superstitious old men

  2. You know, I’ve been thinking along those lines for years. It has always seemed to me that the concern has to do with making sure that people aren’t allowed to just have sex because it’s fun, they have to be doing it for utilitarian purposes in order for it to not be sinful. (I wonder where people get the idea that God is against fun?)

    In fact, I’ve always had the feeling that the impetus behind the pro-life movement is something along the lines of what my 10-year-old would say: “I have to obey these rules, so you have to obey them, too.” They are going to make sure that, if we behave in that carnally sinful fashion, we are not going to be permitted to use the available medical technology to weasel out of the consequences. Oy.

    These righteous ones who want to regulate what people do in their beds don’t seem capable of maintaining their intense interest in the lives they insist need protecting once they emerge from the womb. Have you ever noticed that? None of them steps forward to rescue those unwanted children from vicious physical or emotional abuse than can often result. I was an unwanted child, and spent much of my early adulthood trying to recover from that. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

  3. I’ve been thinking lately that one of the fundamental ideological divides is between ethics based on duty and ethics based on desire.

    Ethics of duty assumes that there’s some pre-given code of conduct, and the ideal situation is one in which everyone adheres to that code of conduct — foregoing any temptation to deviate from it.

    Ethics of desire assumes that one seeks happiness — and the ideal situation requires the recognition that moderate indulgence is more pleasurable in the long run than overindulgence, and the recognition that your happiness is contingent on the happiness of those around you.

    The first problem with an ethics of duty is that the code of conduct in question is chosen arbitrarily, but treated as an ahistorical and universal truth. The second is that denying your own desires makes you miserable, and for consistency, you’ll demand that others also deny their own desires, and be miserable. Meanwhile, you can always find someone who won’t get with the program (often yourself) and blame your misery on the person who’s going against the code.

    The problem with an an ethics of desire is that it’s an argument for human freedom, which some people find goes against their personal interests. If everyone’s making love, who’s going to make war?

  4. Lauren, I think you’re entirely right. There is a strong otherworldliness in Christian doctrine, especially the Pauline writings. (I was married in the Catholic church that my wife attended as a child, and we instructed all our readers that they were not permitted to select anything written by Paul.)

    The rejection of the physical body and the physical world is probably most graphically represented by the 14th Century cult of the dead — depictions of skeletons and remains, in a Europe traumatized by the plague, and inscriptions on tombs warning readers that everything in this world was in vain because death was certain.

    The Church carves out a narrow territory of sex within a monogamous, heterosexual married couple open to the possibility of conception, where sex can be used for the purpose of intimacy in the relationship. All other sex is expending effort in the pursuit of pleasures of the flesh — effort that should be put towards God’s purpose.

    Lots of latinate words to justify a conclusion that I know intuitively: if they get too much power, they’ll hang me.

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