Sexual Extremes in Ohio

Hedonism and a kind of Puritanism battle life-giving love

“Les extremes se touchent” means the extremes touch each other, they overlap. People say the Church’s teachings about sex and life are extreme, but the truly extreme, truly contradictory response comes from its opponents.

That sex can give life and foster a unique spousal relationship is not some esoteric Catholic dogma, dug up by twisting some Biblical text. That teaching coincides with the normal experience of people from the beginning of time and the thought of people who, taking a moment away from the stimulation of sex to think about it, realize its truth.

The teaching’s opponents, however, fall into two camps. What the King of Siam would have called a “puzzlement,” however, is that some of those folks occupy both camps, oscillating between them as the ideological world turns.

On the one hand, there is hedonism. Severing sex from its objective meaning leads to reducing it to pure pleasure. Such license is often mistakenly called “freedom,” sometimes a “right,” and — for the juridically inclined — a “liberty.” None of this is new. When St. Paul preached about “freedom” from the Law in Corinth (a port city with the “rigorous” morality port cities are known for, given that in the ancient world, “Corinthian girl” had the same meaning as our euphemistic “lady of the evening”), the Corinthians announced: “party time!” Paul, whose Jewish understanding of the Law structured his theology of freedom, was scandalized on returning to Corinth to discover a man in incestuous relationship with his father’s wife (I Cor 5:1). No doubt the Corinthians would have said, “well, ‘freedom is freedom,’” but that opened the door for a broader Pauline catechesis on sexual morality (I Cor 6:12-20).

On the other hand, there is Puritanism, a Victorian duplicity that degrades sex as something beneath humans. Such false prudery has taken multiple masks in Christian history: Gnosticism, dualism, Catharism, Albigensianism, Victorianism, etc. At root, it treats sex as “merely” something physical, the “person” as something spiritual, a ghost in a machine, a spirit trapped in matter, an animating principle stuck in a corn husk, maybe even the “wrong” corn husk. If you think this was just a problem of early Church Manicheanism, don’t scratch gender ideology too hard.

Both extremes share a common disregard of matter and the physical, which become just raw material for a mind to manipulate and, shorn of any connection to objective realities outside that mind or not deliberately chosen by it, use for pleasure. That’s another paradox: deprecating the body and senses leads back to the most direct sensory experience possible, the pleasure principle.

On August 8, Ohio voters go to the polls in a special mid-summer referendum to vote on Issue 1, which raises the bar for adoption by referendum of amendments to the Ohio Constitution from a bare majority (50% plus one) to three-fifths (60%). The latter matches the majority the Ohio Legislature must muster in each chamber to propose an amendment to the voters. So it’s consistent.

The Issue sounds legal and technical, but the background is anything but. Abortion extremists have identified the low threshold required to push an amendment into the Ohio Constitution and have put forward an extreme amendment on the November 7 ballot that would guarantee “reproductive rights” in Ohio, i.e., abortion-on-demand throughout pregnancy, paid for by the state, with no rights of parents vis-à-vis their minor children. It also guarantees artificial reproduction including, almost certainly, surrogacy. In other words, it is the Constitutional embodiment of “I can do whatever I want with sex, regardless of the consequences.”

Ohio pro-life groups are urging voters to get out Tuesday and vote “Yes.” Catholics might want to take a look at the bigger moral picture and what their vote tomorrow could prevent (or their lack of vote could enable) in November.

August 8 is the feast of St. Dominic. Dominic’s idea for his religious order, the Dominicans, crystallized when he was sent on a mission to engage in some royal matchmaking that brought him through southern France. Southern France in the late 12th century was a hotbed of Albigensianism, a heresy whose fundamental tenet was that matter is evil, sex and marriage are corrupt, and so the entire bodily reality of the human person is denied. Thanks in part to the assiduous work of the Dominicans, Albigensianism was eventually defeated. Tradition also holds that at that time Our Lady revealed the Rosary to St. Dominic as a powerful tool of conversion. As Ohioans vote in a referendum whose clear subtext is life, we ask St. Dominic’s prayers for our world as once he prayed (and converted) his. And, please say a Rosary.


John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) was former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. All views expressed herein are exclusively his.

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