Friday, August 8, 2014

Sex, Matt Walsh, and Close Mindedness

I recently posted a link on my personal Facebook account to a blog post by Matt Walsh entitled, "I will not teach my kids about safe sex because there is no such thing."  I liked what Walsh had to say about the negative consequences of the rather irrational view our modern culture has of sex.  He contrasted that with the rather more rational approach, rooted in the natural law (though he did not use that term), which tends to lead to happier, more fulfilling sex lives.

When I posted the link to the article, I highlighted one section which compared college students engaged in the casual sex, hook-up culture to faithful married couples.  (I chose to highlight this particular quote because, as a college campus minister, I have quite a few college-aged Facebook friends, and thought this might get their attention).  Here's the quote I used:
Imagine the college students who have to chug 6 rum cocktails and 8 Natty Lights between them before they can anonymously copulate in someone’s dorm room. But they require more than booze; they also need pills and condoms and explanations the morning after about how this was all just for fun and it didn't mean anything. Why do we say that these people enjoy sex? The man who makes love to his wife of 20 years enjoys sex; these people only enjoy certain physical sensations.
It is no secret that alcohol and sex tend to go hand in hand on college campuses, and Walsh's comment made me wonder just how many college students themselves have wondered why, if sex is so good, do they need alcohol to "loosen them up" in order to enjoy it?  Something to think about...

I also like this particular quote because it highlights the fact that married people -- especially religious married people -- do tend to report having very satisfying sex lives.  I think that's a good message for young people to hear, as well.

Both of these assertions that Matt Walsh alludes to are backed up by numbers.  In 2008 Parade magazine polled 1,001 American married couples about their sex lives and found that an overwhelming 88% of them reported being happy in that regard.  Not incidentally, the pollsters also asked about religious practices and discovered that religious practitioners had sex with their spouses more frequently and described it as more fulfilling.  Evangelical Protestants, Catholics, and mainline Protestants topped the list.

By contrast, in 2013 the Journal of Sexual Research published a study of 3,900 college students from across the country which found that students who participated in casual sex reported higher anxiety and depression rates and a decrease of self-esteem and general happiness.

Matt Walsh did not cite either of those studies (or other similar studies that have found the same things to be true), but his general observations correspond with what these sorts of studies would lead us to expect.  The other thing Matt Walsh did not cite was the Bible.  Or Humanae Vitae.  Or the Catechism.  Or the Koran or the Dalai Lama, or any other religious source.  In fact, rather than "proof texting" anything he just gave his observations and laid out his arguments in a way that I found made a lot of sense.  I thought it was a thought provoking piece, which is why I linked to it. I was hoping it would spark a debate on the topic among my Facebook friends.

And I did get some comments.  Quite a few, actually.  Unfortunately they were not exactly what I was hoping for.  Let me be clear: I was not anticipating that everyone in Facebook land would agree with Walsh's position.  In fact, I fully expected argument.  But I didn't really get argument, and that's what is disappointing.  What I got was dismissiveness.   What I received were comments to the effect of, "I fundamentally disagree with this article, but as this is coming from a religious point of view, it's not worth arguing about."  Bleh.

How disappointing.  I would respect that point of view if Walsh were in fact making his argument from a religious perspective.  But that's not what he is doing here.  If I wanted to convince an atheist of the existence of God and I tried to do so by quoting the Bible, I would be foolish.  The atheist would not need to argue against me.  He'd just reply, "Well, I don't believe in the Bible."  He also wouldn't be inclined to consider my point of view.  It would be like a Catholic trying to convince a Baptist about the Real Presence in the Eucharist by quoting a papal encyclical.  The Pope's words have no authority with him, and so would be dismissed.

So to what authority can you appeal when arguing with someone from a different faith, or no faith at all?  You appeal to reason, to logic, to science, to "the facts."  Right?  Here is how Matt Walsh describes much of our modern attitude toward sex.  He says our pursuit of sex while trying to avoid emotional attachment and/or the generation of life
is like planting a seed in the ground and calling it a mistake when a tree begins to sprout because you thought the soil was infertile.  You may have believed this, but still the seed is doing exactly what seeds are supposed to do, and you did exactly what a person is supposed to do if they want to make a tree grow.  You may be a fool, but this was no accident.  
Next, you cut down the sapling and toss it in the fire, and then you continue to plant seeds.  Each time, you cry that all of these damned trees keep shooting out of the ground.  When someone comes and tells you to stop planting until you're ready to deal with a forest, you weep and accuse the person of being cruel and judgmental simply because they're articulating the basic rules of botany. 
Matt Walsh makes some acute observations and articulates them reasonably, without recourse to religious dogma. In theory, this should be fertile ground (no pun intended) for debate among people with different viewpoints about God and faith.  The reality I saw today, though, as demonstrated on my Facebook page, left me disappointed.  People disagreed with Walsh, but no one argued against him.  They dismissed him not because he was making a religious argument, but simply because he is a religious person.  (He's Catholic, by the way.  I did not know that when I originally linked to his post, I had to look it up).

That's a shame, especially coming from those claiming to be open minded, because Matt Walsh has a point.  We like to think, in today's society, that we can have "safe sex," by which we mean "using protection."  But protection against what?  Against the very things sex is meant to accomplish.  The irony is that we today want our food to be "all-natural" and "organic," but insist on our sex with pills and latex.  We prefer our beef to be hormone free but not our wives and girlfriends.  Walsh is telling us -- accurately, in my opinion -- that our culture today is simultaneously obsessed with sex and deathly afraid of it.  We want sex without the emotional attachment.  We want sex without the babies.  We want sex without any of the things sex actually does.

Maybe it's time to realize that our modern society doesn't really understand sex all that well.  Maybe it's time to realize that we've been sold a bill of goods when it comes to "safe sex."  Check out his article for yourself and see what you think.  Just try to keep an open mind.

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