Christian Love and Sex can be an icon of Christ

Diarmaid MacCulloch, author of the newly published Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, in an essay in today’s Washington Post, reflects on the the ways that the Church has understood sexuality and sexual expression over the years. He also writes about the theological ideas that have served to guide that thinking. He argues that because God is Love, the expression of love serves necessarily as an icon of God.

“What constitutes Christian love amid the sweaty delights of sex? Organized religion always takes an interest in sex, usually so it can tidy people’s sexual lives into some easily-managed pattern. The Vatican’s traditional emphasis is that God commands humans to procreate. Good sex has the potential to produce children; bad sex is everything else. Bad sex includes heterosexual acts involving contraceptives; masturbation; gay sex acts of all sorts. The equation of sex and procreation remained convincing for centuries because contraceptive devices were expensive, unreliable and even more comic in appearance than they are now. Now, however, readily available contraception has transformed the way in which human beings use and experience sex. Sex has always been fun: contraception has shown that the fun can be detached from the possibility of having children. The Christian tradition is now faced with the reality that pleasure and procreation are two separate purposes of sexuality, and many parts of the Christian Church, especially the Vatican, are baffled and angry.

How can Christianity cope? A first step would be to recognize that its traditional views on sexual intercourse were filched from non-Christian sources. Christianity is a complex system with two main strands: Jewish and Greek. Of the two, the Greek has made the running for nearly two thousand years. Even though Jesus was a Galilean Jew and probably had little contact with Greeks, the enthusiasts who wrote up his life and discussed his ideas took Christianity far from its Jewish roots. Most of their potential audience had a Greek cultural background, and in trying to make Greeks understand the message, Christianity absorbed the culture which it was trying to capture.”

Read the full essay here.

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