(CT) Carl Trueman–The Poet Who Prepared the Ground for the Sexual Revolution

Shelley’s disdain for religion, or, more specifically, Christianity and Judaism, is evident from his earliest writings, indeed, from the moment when, as an undergraduate, he and his friend Thomas Jefferson Hogg authored the pamphlet The Necessity of Atheism and were expelled from Oxford for their pains. In his early poem Queen Mab, the fairy guide launches a powerful attack on the Jews as they howl “hideous praises to their Demon-God.”

For Shelley, religion is a means of manipulation by which the powerful keep others subjugated. God himself is the very prototype of human tyranny, a willful, arbitrary, unaccountable despot. But most importantly, there is a clear connection in Shelley’s mind between religion, political oppression, and norms restricting sexual activity. Queen Mab includes a vision of the future in which men and women return to a state of nature. The happy denizens of this poetic Eden behave in a manner that he characterizes as follows:

Unchecked by dull and selfish chastity,
That virtue of the cheaply virtuous,
Who pride themselves in senselessness and frost.

The contempt for traditional sexual mores is obvious. And far from being unique in this, Shelley is somewhat representative of radical thought at the start of the 19th century. Traditional moral thought and practice regarding sex had undergone dramatic transformation in the previous decades.

In The Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution, Faramerz Dabhoiwala summarizes this shift by pointing to three significant and closely related developments in the 1700s: (1) the increasing importance ascribed to conscience (basically understood as natural instinct) as a reliable guide to moral behavior, (2) a growing public distaste for judicial punishment of consenting heterosexual transgressors (such as adulterers), and (3) the rising view that the moral laws based on external authorities such as the Bible might in fact be social constructs that conflict with human nature.

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Posted in Anthropology, Church History, Ethics / Moral Theology, Religion & Culture, Theology