Magazine article The Christian Century
Christianity and Sexuality ... (Letters)
IN READING about the current crisis of the Roman Catholic priesthood, I find an examination of the role of Christianity itself curiously lacking ("The priestly life," April 10-17). What if the problems are symptomatic of difficulties within Christianity, not just matters relating to celibacy and governance?
All religions have peculiarities that work for them sometimes and against them at other times. Christianity was born in crisis. It was a sect of Judaism, and came into conflict with other expressions of Judaism and with the Roman Empire. It had to deal with the catclysmic event of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. that forced a radical redefinition of Judaism. The crisis mentality left its mark on Christianity.
Whether it is the Crusades or communism or secular humanism, Christian scriptures read better when there is a defined enemy because the people who wrote these texts had enemies and lived in crisis. They are crisis literature. Suburban Christianity is often attacked for being too smug and comfortable, but one reason it feels "wrong" is that a religion whose primary texts came out of a time of crisis doesn't fit so well in "ordinary" times. Mainstream Islam may function better than Christianity for people not in the midst of chaos. So may Judaism.
Attitudes toward sex are radically altered by crisis. Living under oppression and fearing death is not conducive to romance or child-rearing. Early Christianity was clearly apocalyptic and had no interest in future generations. Tradition has St. Anne, Mary and Jesus foregoing sexual relations. A religion that has three generations of people who don't have normal sexual relationships is in a poor position to develop attitudes toward sex that will serve people well in times and places that don't require chastity. Paul is not married and recommends that people follow his example. …