Charles Taylor–Sex and Christianity–How Has the Moral Landscape Changed?

The Vatican’s present position seems to want to retain the most rigid moralism in the sexual field, relaxing nothing of the rules, with the result that people with “irregular” sexual lives are (supposed to be) automatically denied the sacraments, while as-yet-unconvicted mafiosi, not to speak of unrepentant latifundistas in the third world, and Roman aristocrats with enough clout to wangle an “annulment” find no bar.

But however incomplete and hesitantly followed the turns taken at Vatican II, it has clearly relativized the old top-down, one-size-fits-all model of reform. It has opened a field in which you don’t have to be deeply read in the history of the church to see that the dominant spiritual fashion of recent centuries is not normative. Which is not to say that this whole spirituality, aspiring to a full devotion to God, and fueled by abnegation and a strong image of sexual purity, is to be in turn condemned. It is clear that there have been and are today celibate vocations that are spiritually fertile, and many of these turn centrally on aspirations to sexual abstinence and purity. It would just repeat the mistake of the Protestant reformers to turn around and depreciate these.

The fateful feature of the early-modern Catholic Counter-Reformation, which erects such a barrier between the church and contemporary society, is not its animating spirituality: our world is if anything drowned in exalted images of sexual fulfillment and needs to hear about paths of renunciation. The deviation was to make this take on sexuality mandatory for everyone, through a moralistic code that made a certain kind of purity a necessary condition for relating to God through the sacraments. There are more ways of being a Catholic Christian than either the Vatican rule-makers or the secularist ideologies have yet imagined. And yet this shouldn’t be so hard to grasp. Even during those centuries when the reform outlook dominated pastoral policy, there were always other paths present, represented sometimes by the most prominent figures, including (to remain with the French Catholic Reformation) St. Francis de Sales and Fénelon, not to speak of Pascal, who, though he gave comfort to the fear-mongers, offered an incomparably deeper vision.

But as long as this monolithic image dominates the scene, the Christian message as expressed and embodied by the Catholic Church will not be easy to hear in wide zones of the contemporary world. But then, these are not very hospitable to a narrow secularism either.

Read it all.


Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Ethics / Moral Theology, Other Churches, Roman Catholic, Sexuality, Theology

8 comments on “Charles Taylor–Sex and Christianity–How Has the Moral Landscape Changed?

  1. Br. Michael says:

    Nuts. Do what you want, just don’t the Church or God to bless it.

    Do we honestly think that we, in the 21st Century, are the first people to ever have discovered sex and all the variations there in? Tell it to the Greco Romans in the 1st Century.

  2. Paula Loughlin says:

    This article is filled with so many errors it would take too long to address them all. But as for the Catholic Church giving a pass to non sexual sin the man really needs to open a Catechism.

  3. Paula Loughlin says:

    I found out I just had to add one point the author states “There are more ways of being a Catholic Christian than either the Vatican rule-makers or the secularist ideologies have yet imagined.”
    Being Catholic is not a matter of one imaging he or she is Catholic. It is a matter of being in union with the See of Peter, believing that the Church holds the fullness of Truth. That what the Church teaches as dogma must be held by the faithful for the sake of their salvation.

    It means you do not get to claim to be Catholic if you imagine God approves of baby butchering. It means no matter how fancy your costume if you are a girl you are not a priest. It means that if you think the only reason the Church says no to homosexual behavior or other sins is because she is a big repressive meany. You are wrong. She says no because God says no. And that is not my imagination.

  4. Larry Morse says:

    His analysis is largely correct, and yet his own position is unclear. The last two sentences are ambivalent to a degree, and where his judgment stands in this argument is largely impossible to tell.

    And yet, as to his discussion of the recasting of sexual standards, he cannot be faulted, not for the citing of particular reasons. But there is more to be said, for he has left out the angst that the currect absence of standards has created, and he hs failed to pay attention to what used to be called human nature, that there is such a thing as a woman’s nature and a man’s, and that these are very different indeed. Their needs, and this includes their sexual desires, are very different, and these cannot be entirely routed by cultural changes – masked, redirected, subverted, all that and more – but there is a “natural” identity that is intrisically part of gender. This is in no sense religious or moral, but a fundamental truth that evolution has built into all men and women, but in such varying degrees that contemporary America is able to argue that they do not really exist at all, since the normative is so hard to see to the ordinary onlooker. LM

  5. Tegularius says:

    [blockquote]if you imagine God approves of baby butchering[/blockquote]
    Except in the First Book of Samuel, where He commands it.

  6. dpeirce says:

    Sure!! Let the eternal God bow to contemporary social standards. Let the Creator bow to the created. Obviously, inclusivism and sexual gratification according to modern philosophizers is superior to God’s wword given us through Christ and the Apostles.


    In faith, Dave
    Viva Texas

  7. Ed the Roman says:

    if you imagine God approves of baby butchering

    Except in the First Book of Samuel, where He commands it.

    That’s right, because every situational command given in the OT is to be construed as teaching an eternal moral principle. That’s why it’s really OK to kill a man to take his wife, as long as you have her cut her hair and mourn.

    Also, we are all required to pack up all our stuff and head west from Ur and wait for further instructions.

  8. Ed the Roman says:

    The author has not said what he thinks the true standard is, except to say that the alternatives of Christian marriage and continence must be expanded.

    I wonder how many of the people he thinks he’s citing (Pascal, St. Francis de Sales) would let him get away with what he wrote if they were in the room.