I was struck by a letter from L. Anne Hepler (Dec. 1992) criticizing a previous article advocating premarital chastity. She invites those reading her letter "to look around" and then respond on her thoughts. I can't resist such a wonderful invitation, for I've looked around.
Hepler also recommends spending "a week shadowing a guidance counselor at a local high school" before offering "expert opinions" on teen sexuality. Well, I've been a professional counselor working with adolescents.
What especially concerns me is Hepler's tendency to equate "sexual expression" with love. Sexuality can certainly be an expression of love. But far more often than not, I have found adolescent sexual behavior to be an expression of the following: identity confusion, curiosity, insecurity, the need for control, the infamous "stress," anger, self-hatred, depression, loneliness, anxiety, jealousy, ill will, a need for dominance or submission, shame (i.e., shamed into having sexual relations), peer pressure, drugs or alcohol, boredom, a whim, a fantasy, wish-fulfillment, as well as the classic: plain old irresponsibility. Also we can't forget those "devil made me do it" horny hormones.
Are we merely slaves of bio-chemistry and cultural conditioning? Not according to Christian teaching. We always have a choice. Without free will, the essence of our humanity is out the window. Equating love with sexual expression is like equating a navel with a navel orange. The "navel" is part of the orange, but lacks the fullest flavor, color, and seed potential for new life. The observable fruits of mere sexual expression cannot compare with the fruits of love. It would be like comparing "sexually expressive" Madonna with Mother Teresa. And Madonna is certainly a model of "neurosis and obsessive/compulsive behavior" (Hepler's words), not Mother Teresa. The full, sweet, nourishing flavor of the fruits of love lasts a lifetime. The flavor of adolescent sexual expression is often short, it may be sweet, but quickly turns sour.
For adolescents, now more than ever, it's common sense, and healthier for hearts and bodies, for them to keep their hands, etc., to themselves until they can supply sufficient emotional and economic resources to support their relationships, and any children who may be conceived through "sexual expression." Then sexual expression could correspond more with love.
In my professional experience, adolescent sex has rarely been an act of love. By love I mean the attitude and act of extending one's sense of self for the sake of another's good. Love is not a fickle and fragile feeling that rises and falls with every heartbeat and mood swing. It's a choice, not merely a chance event. It can also be a true meeting and healing between mutually open and vulnerable persons -- i.e., intimate. Sexually active adolescents certainly have an abundance of physical contact with their partners. But in their psychological make-up, they are more often in touch with a fantasy relationship they are having with their own feverish imagination. Sadly, they are not "making love" as much as mentally masturbating via another person's body. All human beings yearn for authentic love, and not to be used as an object to fulfill a fantasy. "Sexual expression" usually offers adolescents a very poor education in love. It may even be the primary way we learn not to love. One of the sexually active and pregnant adolescents I have counseled said it so well: "Teen sex life is full of lies."
Hepler seems to be what could be called a sexual fundamentalist. Not unlike religious fundamentalists, sexual fundamentalists see sexual expression -- i.e., the urge to merge -- in an excessively literal way. Their logic is that fantasies must be compulsively acted out. But sexuality is not just between our legs or even between our bodies. Adolescents experience an abundance of sexual stimuli fueled externally by sexual evangelists of the media, from the soap operas to MTV, but without any other comparable competing models or guidelines, they can take it all too literally.
Hepler suggests that Maslow's hierarchy of needs illustrates "the objective causation of the 'problem' of teen sexuality." But Maslow's self-actualization message is basically a lot of bourgeois baloney. It's an ideological assumption of certain egomaniacal elites. In the Christian tradition, in contrast, the "true self" can only be fully actualized through transcendence of oneself (Ms. Hepler, read your Scriptures again!).
La Paz, Mexico
Excuses or Forgiveness?
L. Anne Hepler, in excusing sexual promiscuity, says that "Christ's message...is that we are to act ultimately in a loving way toward everyone " (letter, Dec. 1992). I would like to shift the terms of the argument slightly by pointing out that the command to love one's neighbor does not require one to approve of that neighbor's conduct. Surely Hepler knows the wisdom of the saying, "Love the sinner, hate the sin."
As fallen, imperfect, broken creatures, we often do things that are sinful, foolish, and unhealthy. These deeds must be recognized for what they are. Otherwise we will not even try to avoid hurting ourselves and others. If our fallenness makes us less than angels, our moral capacity makes us better than beasts. The bridge between loving the person and hating the sin is forgiveness, not self-righteous condemnation, nor the sort of excusing on the grounds of difficult conditions that Hepler engages in. A forgiven sinner is a better and happier person than someone who is told, "Oh well, that's about all that could be expected of you, given the circumstances."
Sara Thurow, Director
Center for Christianity and the Common Good
Acknowledgement & Apology
With regard to my review entitled "From Positivism to Postmodernism" (Oct. 1992), I wish to add a note of acknowledgment to Prof. Neil Tennant for his article "Carnap and Quine." I also wish to apologize for inadvertently using a sentence from this article. Readers interested in pursuing the topic of the review are referred to Tennant's article, forthcoming in W. Salmon (ed.), Logic, Language and the Structure of Scientific Theories.
Prof. Gary Mar
State University of New York
Stony Brook, New York
Lousy, Lazy Liberal
Regarding Mark P. Shea's "The Liberalism of Fools" (Jan.-Feb. 1993): His article was mistitled; it would more appropriately have been titled "The Liberalism of a Fool."
Shea's piece is framed around two unsubstantiated opinions: The first is that the magazines at the grocery checkout line are noteworthy sources for the illogical spewings of Hollywood leftists, and the second is that at least one left-coast liberal understands the Reagan legacy. Shea's piece inadvertently demonstrates that, even if the latter were true, the "one" would not be Shea -- and this is sufficient to qualify him for a year's subscription to each of the above referred-to magazines.
Shea characterizes "the liberal community in the U.S." (in the image of himself?) as those who have "decried the Reagan and Bush administrations." He is correct here. This is what liberals do. While the rest of us work for a living and save so that we may substantially help others as we freely choose, liberals decry.
Shea offers a list of things which he supposes typified the Reagan and Bush administrations. I will refrain from commenting on the ketchup issue, as I yield to Shea on matters of vegetables. As for the S&L "debacle," those administrations were not the cause, specific individuals were, and said individuals ought to be punished.
There are some specific individuals in this world who work hard and do not suffer from moneyphobia, and who freely choose to donate specific amounts of their earned income (like President Bush to the American Negro College Fund) and/or to volunteer their time (like President Reagan, who worked with handicapped children) for specific people in need. This is the credo of the Reagan era: "Power With Reason."
But Shea states that "Power Without Consequences" should be the credo of the Reagan era, as if consequences are consequent upon actions and power is not an action. So much for Liberal Logic, which in addition ignores consequences which are not obvious. So Shea decries Bush's veto of the family leave bill, which would allow Shea's nameless/faceless Big Government to appear to "express concern for the powerless" while wedging itself further into the day-to-day affairs of small-business owners.
"That exercise of reckless power known as Iran-Contra" which Shea cites has yet to result in one conviction, despite the 31 million taxpayer dollars Shea's Big Government has stuffed into the pockets of special prosecutor Walsh and associates. Regardless of who was actually calling the shots, if true, arms were sold to terrorists who would have acquired them from someone else anyway, and all of our hostages have been safely returned to freedom and their families. This Shea considers careless and inconsequential?
My analysis already far exceeds what Shea's piece deserves. I would only suggest that, in the future, if Shea would begin with an objective assessment of historical facts, his conclusions would be less likely to be founded in the Swiss cheese of his emotionalism. Thus released from an illusory mindset, perhaps he could begin to work to bring relief to those in need. News to "Seattle writer" Shea: Power is not something you can be given.
John L. Wall
St. Louis, Missouri
Ed. Note: If you don't think writers work, what must you think of priests and ministers? Or the Pope? In any case, for the record, prolific scribbler Shea is also gainfully employed (40 hours a week) as an office worker in a major cancer research institution in Seattle. Young Shea and his wife have two children, own a home, and tithe 10 percent (half to their church, half to charities).
Another Touchdown for Notre Dame
Bravo for Glenn N. Schram's penetrating study of Yves R. Simon's classic Philosophy of Democratic Government (Jan.-Feb. 1993). Regarding Schram's last paragraph, where he notes that the University of Chicago Press is allowing the book to go out of print: I am happy to announce that this work will soon see publication in a new Revised Edition by the University of Notre Dame Press, which has also recently reprinted that book's sequel, A General Theory of Authority, making these companion pieces readily available for textbook -- and other -- use.
Anthony O. Simon, Director
Yves R. Simon Institute