Holy Sex!



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BY ART REMILLARD

Holy Sex!: A Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving by Gregory Popcak is a worthy addition to Ed Blum’s “Best Titles” list. But the title is probably sexier than the book’s content, which appears to be more soporific than a John Kerry stump speech. In all fairness, though, I couldn’t find excerpts from Holy Sex. But I did locate a chapter entitled, “‘Holy Sex Batman!’ (Or Why Catholics do it…Infallibly)” in another Popcak book. I suspect this is a precursor.

First, an irony alert: For the popular-culture-illiterate, the chapter title is an adaptation of a catch phrase from the campy 1960s Batman television show, where backstage, according to Burt Ward (the actor who played Robin), he witnessed “the wildest sexual debauchery that you can imagine.”

Anyway…

In the chapter, Popcak outlines the “four truths” of “holy sex”: 1) Sex is Holy (“Sex is holy. . . [but] not is the Old Testament ‘touch it and die’ sense of holiness. It is holy in the sense that it is given to us by the New Testament, through the Incarnation”); 2) Sex is Sacramental (“The Church teaches that when married people make love, they are celebrating the sacrament of matrimony”); 3) Sex is Unitive (“Sex has the power to take two hearts and melt them into one”); and 4) Sex is Procreative (“…if you want to have great, godly sex, you’ve got to at least be open to life”).

It should come as no surprise that “marital aids,” sexual acts that lead to “climaxing” anywhere but inside the woman, and contraception are all “holy sex” taboos. Such items and behaviors, according to Popcak, lapse into “eroticism,” which “treats sex like a common street drug you take to make yourself feel better.” Don’t strain yourself looking for evidence to support this eroticism thesis. Instead, skip ahead to the chapter’s conclusion, where Popcak takes credit for rebutting the stereotype that Catholics think sex is to be avoided. “I don’t ever want to hear another person bashing Catholic sexuality. And, if you hear someone criticizing it, just look at that person in the eye and say, ‘You should be so lucky, you poor, love-starved, ignorant neo-pagan.”

I’m still trying to figure out how neo-paganism fits into the conversation. But I’m certain that the good folks at Book22.com (mentioned below) will be delighted to know that their site is a gateway for worshiping the Horned God.

Incoherent invectives aside, Popcak clings to an “official” Catholic sexual theology that some think is in desperate need of updating. It was Aquinas who celebrated the inherent goodness of the procreative and unitive ends of sex. On the latter, which represented a significant departure from Augustine, he theorized that sexual passion could strengthen the bond between husband and wife, who ideally share the “greatest friendship.” The Second Vatican Council’s Gaudium et Specs added that the unitive and procreative ends share equal value, neither trumping the other in importance. This was confirmed in Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae, an encyclical that also resolutely denounced artificial contraception, thereby providing fodder for theological dissent.

This brings me from the apologist Popcak to the oft-censored Jesuit Charles Curran. According to Curran, the Church’s sexual theology is unduly “physicalist,” or far too insistent “that intercourse must always be present and that no one can interfere with the physical or biological aspect for any reason whatsoever.” He and fellow “revisionist Catholic theologians” obviously disagree with this, and propose “that for the good of the person or for the good of the marriage, it is legitimate at times to interfere with the physical structure of the act.” Justifiable “interference,” then, may come in the form of artificial contraception.

For his dissent on contraception and many others issues, Curran has earned disfavor from the Vatican—and in particular, the present pope. But one wonders how long this will last. In Why I am a Catholic, Garry Wills draws an interesting historical parallel between Curran and John Courtney Murray, whose writings on democracy and religious freedom in the 1950s reflected the leanings of many ordinary Catholics. While Church officials initially censored Murray, he slowly regained favor and attended the Second Vatican Council, where he helped draft the Declaration on Religious Freedom. Wills would have us believe that Curran is a modern-day Murray. This could prove valid. Curran’s stance on contraception would likely sound reasonable to many married American Catholics, approximately 96 percent of whom use artificial birth control.

So will the Church hierarchy follow the laity’s lead? Will a Vatican III vindicate Curran? Or is the rebel Jesuit a secret neo-pagan? Holy Horned God, Batman!

2 comments:

Anonymous at: August 27, 2008 at 5:13 AM said...

First, I find it interesting that you would call Holy Sex! soporific though you've apparently not even read an excerpt.

Second, you wrote, "Such items and behaviors [as climax outside the woman and contraception], according to Popcak, lapse into 'eroticism,' which 'treats sex like a common street drug you take to make yourself feel better.' Don’t strain yourself looking for evidence to support this eroticism thesis."

I wonder, what "evidence" one should expect. Any act to deny the procreative nature of sexual intercourse becomes an act of personal (or mutual) pleasure ONLY. In other words, something you do to feel better only...like a common street drug that has no other benefit. If you're doing it for the mere sexual pleasure, this would be eroticism, which has as its focus mainly the arousal of sexual desire of the subject for an object.

In fact, I would argue that by removing the procreative element, you necessarily remove the unitive element. By its nature, two things happen as a consequence of the marital act - procreation and unity. If you intentionally remove one or the other, it's not the marital act. It is immoral (abusive) to excite the body for the marital act and to use it for something other than its intended and proper purpose.

Or, perhaps more simply, by denying procreation, one withholds some love (passion) from the act and turns it into something mutually selfish, not mutually self-giving, thereby eliminating the unitive effect.

The point, as it were, is based on reason and not "evidence". Or did you expect something more empirical?

(I should note that neo-paganism comes into this through the discussion of "eroticism", which is rooted in the worship of a pagan Roman god (Eros). Those practicing eroticism in the modern age would be neo-pagans for their "modern" worship of a pagan god. But I suppose Horned God works the same.

Lastly, as far as the numbers of Catholics using artificial contraception, the number has no bearing on the morality of the act. I just saw a "Leave it to Beaver" episode in which Ward says to Beaver, "A thing is either right or wrong. If it is wrong, it's wrong no matter how many people do it." This is a simple moral truth.

I'm posting this anonymously because I'm not sure I came upon this site randomly but felt the need to post a comment. No need to thank me.

EKFH at: September 12, 2008 at 9:46 PM said...

This blog is unofficial and not truthful! I disagree, wholeheartedly, with your statement that "96% of Catholics use artificial birth control". Hmm. Why are there so many Catholic families with so many children?

We are allowed to use only Natural forms of Family Planning. There are several methods (which, undoubtedly, use abstinence! there's an idea--) to postpone or prevent a pregnancy. However, we must always be open to the gift of transmission of life, which is an end of the Marriage Act.

No, I don't think you read this book very well at all. It's too bad you couldn't try to write something that was ACTUALLY TRUTHFUL.

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