Wendell Berry on Sexual ‘Freedom’

At Bloom this weekend I’m preaching on Mt 5:27ff., Jesus’ classic teaching on the disordered desire of the heart for the sexual “other” that lies at the heart of adultery…  Truthfully, I’m feeling a little overwhelmed by the task (I just finished reading Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body last week, in which he discusses this passage at length), but I find comfort in remembering that the great Wendell Berry is always comfortably available to supply needed words to weighty topics.  Here’s a sample of Berry’s reflections on sexual freedom that may (or may not) make it into this weekend’s message.  Enjoy.

Seeking to “free” sexual love from its old communal restraints, we have “freed” it also from its meaning, its responsibility, and its exultation.  And we have made it more dangerous.  “Sexual liberation” is as much a fraud and as great a failure as the “peaceful atom.”  We are now living in a sexual atmosphere so polluted and embittered that women must look on virtually any man as a potential assailant, and a man must look on virtually any woman as a potential accuser.  The idea that this situation can be corrected by the courts and the police only compounds the disorder and the danger.  And in the midst of this acid rainfall of predation and recrimination, we presume to teach our young people that sex can be made “safe”–by the use, inevitably, of purchased drugs and devices.  What a lie!  Sex was never safe, and it is less safe now than it has ever been.

What we are actually teaching the young is an illusion of thoughtless freedom and purchasable safety, which encourages them to tamper prematurely, disrespectfully, and dangerously with a great power.  Just as the public economy encourages people to spend money and waste the world, so the public sexual code encourages people to be spendthrifts and squanderers of sex.  The basis of true community and household economy, on the other hand, is thrift.  The basis of community sexuality is respect for everything that is involved–and respect, here as everywhere, implies discipline.  By their common principles of extravagance and undisciplined freedom, our public economy and our public sexuality are exploiting and spending moral capital built up by centuries of community life–exactly as industrial agriculture has been exploiting and spending the natural capital built up over thousands of years in the soil.

…Starting with economic brutality, we have arrived at sexual brutality.  Those who affirm the one and deplore the other will have to explain how we might logically have arrived anywhere else.

Thanks Wendell.

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