Let's Talk About Sex
“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 arousal.
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.