“Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
- Apostle Paul (Galatians 5:24)
It’s no secret that our society has an incredibly unhealthy relationship with sex. The human body
- particularly the female body - has been reduced to a marketing tool that is presented as a thing
to be consumed. Rape culture is a phrase that is used often to try to put a finger on the result of
such a toxic way to relate to the literal flesh of women. It points to the reality that many women
suffer through in their everyday lives, the reality of being seen as something that exists in order
to be consumed by the men around them; the men who see it as playful and even
complementary to offer cat calls and thinking it within their rights to insist she show gratitude for
the comment directed at her appearance.
This only scratches the surface of how we, as a society, have an incredibly unhealthy view of
our own sexuality. It only seems fitting that Christianity would attempt to tell a different story.
Those of us who spent our teenage years in church probably have lots of stories about how our
religious communities tried to do just that. Unfortunately many of us would probably say that
those attempts were often unhelpful and sometimes just as toxic.
When I look back at the small groups, books, video series’, and campfire testimonies aimed at
young men and their sexuality, I begin to see the big themes guiding those attempts to counter
the cultural narrative. We were taught to fear sex. We were taught to understand that our bodies
and our inner desires were never to be trusted. We were taught that the only way to survive this
war was to somehow divert our attention from anything and anyone that caused us sexual
For women growing up in the same context the themes are often a bit different. They were also
warned never to trust their desires and to fear sex. But they were also told that their bodies were
powerful weapons that, if not hidden from the world, would cause their helpless brothers to
stumble into sin. Essentially, the weight of avoiding sexual immorality was placed mostly on their
shoulders and centered around the demand that they hide their naturally forming bodies.
It is clear as I look back that the end goal really had nothing to do with healthy sexuality and
everything to do with convincing us hormonal teenagers not to have sex. The unintentional
consequences of fear and shame would be collateral damage in the purity war.
There is a theology that under-girds much of this. It’s a theology that sees the quoted Scripture
as referring to the literal flesh of the body. It’s a theology that so separates our soul and spirit
from our body that it naturally begins to see the body as damaged goods, as incapable of
holding anything sacred in itself. This theology naturally leads to the fearful demonization of
sexuality and the creation of narratives that don’t actually counter the toxic narrative of our
society at all. Shame and fear so easily creep into this context and from within this context
several of us have emerged without a healthy understanding of sex, our bodies, and the
sacredness of both.
Countering this theology, Celtic Christians have gotten into trouble for daring to suggest that our
literal flesh is actually just as sacred as our souls. God is understood to be within all things -
spiritual and material - and all things are understood to exist within God. This mystical
understanding leads to a theology that refuses to think that sex in itself is unholy or that our
bodies are forces of deceit never to be trusted. It leads to a theology that affirms the full
humanity of individuals, meaning that each and every person exists as an end in themselves
rather than a thing to be consumed.
I am convinced that Celtic Christianity offers us the gift of invitation. This ancient spirituality
invites us to step into this conversation without fear. It invites us to begin from a place that
affirms our bodies and our desires as sacred. It invites us to call out the toxic ways that sexuality
is distorted in our culture without replacing it with equally toxic patterns of shame.
Ben is a Celtic Way contributor. Read more from him here.