Sex and the Roman Catholic

Commonweal is a fine periodical, filled with closely-reasoned and finely-nuanced essays. Jo McGowan’s essay “Simplifying Sex” is another instance of this thoughtfulness.

The argument is simply that sex and sexuality can be life-promoting and life-enhancing– and therefore in harmony with the God revealed in Christian Scripture– without requiring the sexual act necessarily to lead to procreation. Earlier in his career, Rowan Williams, the soon-to-become-former Archbishop of Canterbury, used similar reasoning to offer a broader theological context for homosexuality. (A treatment of Williams’ thinking on homosexuality is here:

Jo McGowan’s essay is a defense of contraceptive use, within the context of marriage, written by a Roman Catholic. While Roman Catholicism helpfully reminds us that sex and sexuality is a gift of God, the restrictions that the Church places on sexual expression need revision. Roman Catholic teaching does not as yet encompass many of the ways that sexual relations can be redemptive and sacramental.

Here is a piece of McGowan’s essay:

To defend contraception within marriage is not to defend sexual license. Married couples who have pledged a lifetime of commitment to each other and their families have the right and the duty to make their own decisions about contraception. The church’s role is to help them arrive at the decision that is right for their lives. It is not to dictate one-size-fits-all rules that have no foundation in practical experience.

via Simplifying Sex | Commonweal magazine.


Going to War and the Desire for Transcendence: Destruction or Creation?

“What It Is Like to Go to War” by Karl Marlantes

This outstanding book by Vietnam veteran Karl Marlantes is notable to Religion in the Balance because what it’s like to go to war, from Marlantes’ perspective, can be ecstatic in a way that is akin to religious ecstasy. To wreak violence and destruction– to kill– is to exercise godlike power. It is to be transported from the mundane into the experience of a barely-filtered, almost-pure transcendence, marked by the animal immediacy of “kill or be killed.” It is to enter the amoral Nietzschean region, beyond good and evil.

This book, however, is not a glorification of war. Much more interestingly, it is an unvarnished  account of– and a clear-eyed assessment of– the emotional and pycho-spiritual realities that soldiers must face. Marlantes’ argument is that, if we’re going to have war (and, he says, we are going to have war), then we need to do a better job of preparing warriors to deal with crossing the threshold into the transcendence of destructive power, and returning home again. Our current military training, and our larger cultural practices and religious rites, do not sufficiently recognize the psycho-spiritual powers with which soldiers come into contact, when they engage in violent destruction and killing.

The larger lesson at the heart of this book– at the same time both its reiteration of a timeless theme, and its helpful insight into the age we live in– is that we are creatures who seek transcendence. We want to be up with the gods, whether we’re building wings of wax to fly high (too high!), or building towers in order to steal a place in heaven. Whether we can marry our fiery moments of transcendence with the grounding anchor of humility– AND whether we can achieve the transcendence we desire through godlike creativity rather than godlike destruction– are at the heart of the religious quest in our time and place.

via What It is Like to Go to War by Karl Marlantes – Reviews, Discussion, Bookclubs, Lists.