Or, perhaps more accurately, a post about liberty. An article I read over the weekend was arguing that the Church has let people down by shying away from theologies of sex. So I thought I’d dip my toe in…
Good to hear Peter Tatchell on the radio this morning, talking about the protests over the Olympic Torch in London yesterday, and the extraordinary story of his citizen’s arrests on Robert Mugabe. I’ve heard him in person twice; I expect it’s more to do with my journey than his, but Peter is someone I have increasingly warmed to over the years. At Greenbelt his life of extreme simplicity and strong vision came across very well. His attempts to force the church into facing up to issues of sexuality are well known, and some might disagree with his methods, but he has equally done huge amounts of justice work in other areas, notably the citizen’s arrests on Robert Mugabe (for which he was beaten unconscious by his guards, live on TV). He has also be the focus of huge amounts of hatred, with his life in constant threat.
However, I digress. The second time I saw him was at a debate in school. The question I asked him there was about the liberalisation of sexuality. Over the course of (western) history, things that were previously taboo have become acceptable, things that have previously been punishable by the law have now become protected by the law. So, I wondered, though it’s not really my cup of tea, did he foresee a day in the future when bestiality would become acceptable?
[The all-time most read story on the BBC’s site is that of a Sudanese man who was forced by his tribal elders to marry a goat after being found having sex with it. The goat has since died, for reasons unknown, so the man is a free agent again. Bestiality is clearly a minority interest, but something in the wider consciousness is fascinated by it.]
The heart of what I was trying to get at was whether there was some idyllic just place where what was right was protected, and what was wrong was punished. The boundaries keep getting pushed back, but how far do we keep pushing? Clearly pedophilia is wrong – though I’ve heard people on TV sickenly argue otherwise, suggesting that society has ignored the issue of pre-pubescent sexuality – because the rights of the child are being abused. But there are other grey areas. If you’re not a vegetarian, and aren’t so concerned for an animal’s rights, why exactly is bestiality wrong? Is it about disease control? And what about incest? An Australian couple describing themselves as ‘normal intellectuals’ made a plea on TV this week for understanding of their incestuous relationship.
What about other sexual pursuits? The head of FIA, Max Mosely, is under huge pressure to resign after an exposé of an orgy he’d organized and paid for. Have people been in uproar about the orgy, or about the fact he spoke German to the prostitutes, and there were therefore possible Nazii overtones? Was anyone there against their will? Good question. Did the prostitutes involved really want to be there?
We can get high and mighty about this, but, if we are honest, none of us are free of guilt when it comes to issues of sex and oppression, and society’s twin defaults of romantic fantasy and nudge-nudge humour are clear markers of this.
So, if there are absolutes – and I was cheerily mocked for suggesting one in the area of biology last week – where do they now lie? In the same place that Christianity has always placed them? And if these absolutes are simply unworkable in the world we find ourselves, what should our response be?