Friday, September 25, 2015

"Give Me Sex Jesus": Review

This is based off of having watched a documentary Give Me Sex Jesus

The central purpose of the documentary was to examine the 'Purity Culture' that resulted in the 'Love Waits' movement in the early 90's. Now I didn't grow up in any of this stuff, I received relatively little sex education in general. But I find this video interesting as it gives the current zeitgeist in American Evangelicalism (whatever that really is) and American culture at large. It's not necessarily what people are saying, but the sort of reasoning that goes on underneath. This is not psychoanalyzing, but taking apart arguments and seeing what lie at their base. This is what I find fascinating.

Now the tenor of this documentary, if you couldn't guess, is that sort of ugliness that lay at the root of the 'Purity Culture'. It creates an environment of fakery, of everyone being told to believe one thing, but then doing another. One interviewee talks about a Christian Summer camp he went to where one moment they were "singing songs to Jesus" and then right after they were masturbating. The Documentary reveals the fear and shame culture at the root of a lot of this teaching.

This is helpful to reveal, and to challenge. It is a kind of blasphemy to present God as a confused figure, who is a Big Nobodaddy in the Sky who is just waiting to swat you for misdeeds, which are almost defined exclusively as sexual. The Documentary also highlights, inadvertently, how this sort of theology and this kind of moral reasoning comes out of the WASP elitism present in the late 19th century. Purity was about keeping oneself from the hordes of immigrants and colored people, and sexuality was tightly guarded to protect these boundaries.

This is the key point the documentary reveals. The type of sexual moral reasoning engaged in by Evangelicalism has its root concern a sort of nationalized, possibly racialized, certainly culturalized ideal of the Middle Class White American.

Now let me put my cards on the table. I'm not sympathetic with the Documentary in its unstated goal: Sex is just sex, can't we just put down our anxieties and love each other?

This is utterly naive and foolish. The Scriptures have a serious ethical concern for sexuality. And while understanding God's judgment is not necessarily common, most people understand that sex requires ethics. It's only hungover post-evangelicalism that can't see this. That is, an ethic that is more than will-based (i.e. it doesn't violate my free-will or the other persons'). People enforce ideas about work-place sex as 'bad', that means unethical. Why? Because not only will emotional attachments of that sort skew your ability to judge, but now you are scrutinized as compromised in regards to that person. This is sort of common understanding has no recourse to any deep understanding, only empirical evidence.

There is more to question about many fundamental assumptions that the interviewees have. Sex is presumed to be an all-defining desire. Sex makes you as a person, sex is the ultimate pleasure one can find, God made marriage for the pleasure of sex, you're not really you until you can find sex, etc. I'm both sympathetic and blown away. I understand that kind of thinking. If I want it, why can't I have it? Never is desire itself thoughtfully considered. For these, it seems there's no such thing as bad desire.

The Christians are portrayed the worst. They seem juvenile, offensive, and obtuse. I can't say that's not an accurate description. They seem just as sex obsessed. Christian discourse has lost the concept of concupiscence. Never is the desire itself, its intensity, its gnawing and burning power, ever questioned. The appetites are given the benefit of the doubt.

This results in a juvenile sex ethics, one that  produces all the bizarre features of Purity Culture. It reflects an American Evangelicalism that is feeling-based, unable to see a greater metaphysical vision, and unable to engage anything other than the will (i.e. "well if I gave you a good argument and produced a good experience, why would you do otherwise?").

But on the other hand, before I throw them all completely under the bus: At least they did something!

Because even though it is rooted in a lot of Middle-Class sensibilities and an unreflective naturalism, they are recognizing a reality: sex is formative and an ethical domain. Christians need to continue to refine sex ethics, but one that is not rooted in a cultural bigotry, and one that is opened to a variety of experiences.

Celibacy as a vocation, and not merely a waiting-station, is very much neglected. Men and women who struggle with same-sex attraction are given no vision, no real guidance, they're treated as outliers that don't conform to the system. What ever happened to the reality that some are made, some are born, and some choose to be eunuchs for the Kingdom of God? Whatever happened to mortification as a means to arm us to reject the pomp of the World and its Devil? Battling with desires is not medicalized as neurotic and becomes a blockade in living 'authentically'.

This leads to another major problem. Friendship is a diminished shadowy reality. Anglo-American culture, influenced perhaps by a confluence of Puritan and Victorian mores with a dash of Freud, has sexualized companionship and the deep bonds of friendship. Now, granted, this, like sex, can an arena for destruction to be wrought. But if 'erotic' means sexual, then friendships become superficial and shallow. One's sex partner is supposed to be a 'soul-mate', 'compatible', 'reserved by God for you'. In other words, you can only have real deep, personal bonds between sex partners.

That's the real tragedy about the lesbian couple. On account of the taught naive sexual fantasies about finding your prince charming, they only could conceive their lives in trying to find the right man who would be their best friend. But instead, they found each other liking one-another's company more. What could this be besides same-sex sexuality? Becoming Lesbians was the only possibility to realize a deep bond. It was the only way for them to be "human".

On the other hand, if we want to pursue a right sexuality, we must consider the realities of sex. Maybe we need to come to terms that sex would normally produce children. Being born to a single-parent is being born into poverty, material, but also emotional and spiritual. And what might it mean to avoid these sorts of ordinances? What does a contraceptive mentalité do to a people?

That's another failure of this documentary. It directorially scoffs at Evangelicalism's proscriptive on watching certain materials. It's already a heavily documented reality that porn rewires the Human mind. It doesn't mean we need to be fearful or legalists, but we ought to examine the effects of what the outside world does to us. The fact that one guy had to shield his eyes when he saw a bare-breasted mother feeding her babies, something one might find in National Geographic, should not only be acknowledged as a weakness (which he does), but disturb us. Am I that sexualized that I'm turned on by breastfeeding because it shows naked breasts?

The rise and fall of the Purity Culture documents the natural evolution of the American conscience. No matter how many 'relevant' Evangelicals try to engage, they're stuck in the same mood and restricted to bad arguments. It's no wonder that more and more will reject them. It's no wonder that in 50's years time, Evangelicalism will be same-sex affirming, and whoever resists will be swept into a sectarian Fundamentalist mold. There's no good reason except stubborn resistance.

This documentary, perhaps unintentionally, reveals a deep and abiding concern for American Evangelicals by a missing comma. It's not 'Give me sex, Jesus', it's 'Give me sex Jesus', as if salvation (defined as Human fulfillment) is now a sexualized reality. Sex is salvation, and brought about by only full authenticity, whether same-sex, bi-sex, pan-sex, transgendered, whatever.

Christ Jesus brings salvation to the whole person, but maybe we need to return to seeking not abstinence and virginity, but continence and chastity. We need a sex ethics that addresses the deeper problem in all mankind: disordered desires and a rebellious will.

This documentary is a helpful diagnosis of a sick culture, but its really more depressing than it allows. We live in a culture where we struggle immensely with hyper-sexual appetites, loneliness, inability to form real bonds, and a smothering materialism. If you live in America, this is your problem. My hope is that the Church, instead of being a backwards kulturkampf for conservative interests, will be a place to ask these deeper questions and provide a truer way of living. Death and Resurrection is more than a theological concept, it is a way of life that calls all the spirits of This Age into question.

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