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The Pleasure Principle vs. the Procreative Imperative

Last month I wrote a post on what I called the procreative imperative.

But almost immediately, the discussion turns to the various issues related to reproduction (abortion, illegitimacy, etc.). That was interesting to me because one of the main responses to the Washington state initiative has been that the only the proponents of same-sex marriage are arguing that procreation is the purpose of marriage.

Yet the very same concept is just beneath the surface of most concerns expressed by opponents to marriage equality, which in this case get down to questions about the very purpose of sexuality. No surprise, since it’s something that’s inherent in their response to a host of other issues. In fact, it goes back centuries, all the way back to the earliest changes in marriage, and Christianity’s response to them.

But to be honest, I always felt that I never really finished that post. There was a comment I intended to respond to, and some things that hadn’t quite fallen into place yet; things that hadn’t yet gelled in my brain until a day or so ago, when I read Chris Hedges’ Alternet piece about “the Christian right’s fear of pleasure.”

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His analysis of a particular anti-choice advocate’s life aside, this passage jumped out at me from Hedges’ column.

The relentless drive against abortion by the Christian right — the first salvo having been fired with the 5-to-4 Supreme Court decision last month to uphold the federal ban on the procedure known as “partial birth abortion” — has nothing to do with the protection of life. It is, rather, a cover for a wider and more pernicious assault against the ability of women to control their own bodies, the use of contraception and sexual pleasure.

…But since this is a war with a wider agenda, abortion statistics and facts do not count. The Christian right fears pleasure, especially sexual pleasure, which it sees as degrading, corrupting and tainted. For many, their own experiences with sex — coupled with their descent into addictions and often sexual and domestic abuse before they found Christ — have led them to build a movement that creates an external rigidity to cope with the chaos of human existence, a chaos that overwhelmed them. They do not trust their own urges, their capacity for self-restraint or judgment. The Christian right permits its followers to project evil outward, a convenient escape for people unable to face the darkness and the psychological torments within them.

The leaders of this movement understand that the only emotion that cannot be subsumed into communal life, which they seek to dominate and control, is love. They fear the power of love, especially when magnified and expressed through tender, sexual relationships, which remove couples from their control. Sex, when not a utilitarian form of procreation, is dangerous.

I immediately thought of my earlier assertion that, despite all their protests to the contrary, the procreative imperative is one of the foundations of the argument against same-sex marriage. In just about any debate on the subject, “same-sex couples can’t reproduce” seems to be one of the fallback arguments of the opposition. Of course, we can’t reproduce with each other. But we don’t check our reproductive organs at the closet door. (Witness any number of lesbians and gay men having children together via IVF.) It was in comments to that post that I realized how the some on the right would try to sidestep the procreative imperative by suggesting that it’s not an imperative, but a privilege.

It’s a procreation *right*, not imperative. Marriage makes it legal to conceive children together. It gets official consent from both parties and the state and announces and welcomes the concept of this couple having children.

Of course it doesn’t require it! It allows it. It also obligates the parties to each other, even if they don’t have children.

This is keeping with the Indiana Republicans who proposed a bill prohibiting “unauthorized reproduction,” so that only married women could legally get pregnant. But it’s not quite in line with the history or marriage or the thinking of some religious conservatives on the issue.

According to one blogger on the Washington State proposal, “[a]ccording to Catholic teachings … impotence or infertility at the time of marriage is grounds for annulment.” And the Vatican, in 2005, updated its guidance on annulments, but left intact the provision for annulment if one partner “hid information on infertility”priorto marriage. I’ve read that through most of the Middle Ages, infertility was grounds for annulment, but haven’t been able to find a citation yet.

Even some religious conservative thinkers clearly have in mind a procreative imperative. In my earlier post I quoted the tenets of biblical patriarchy on the commandment for married folks to “be fruitful and multiply.” But it wasn’t until I happened this article, written in part as a response to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article and this Salon piece on married couples choosing to remain childless, which labeled being “childless by choice” as “an absolute revolt against God’s design.”

Christians must recognize that this rebellion against parenthood represents nothing less than an absolute revolt against God’s design. The Scripture points to barrenness as a great curse and children as a divine gift. The Psalmist declared: “Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; they will not be ashamed when they speak with their enemies in the gate.” [Psalm 127: 3-5]

Morally speaking, the epidemic in this regard has nothing to do with those married couples who desire children but are for any reason unable to have them, but in those who are fully capable of having children but reject this intrusion in their lifestyle.

Marriage, sex, and children are part of one package. To deny any part of this wholeness is to reject God’s intention in creation–and His mandate revealed in the Bible.

The sexual revolution has had many manifestations, but we can now see that modern Americans are determined not only to liberate sex for marriage [and even from gender], but also from procreation.

The Scripture does not even envision married couples who choose not to have children. The shocking reality is that some Christians have bought into this lifestyle and claim childlessness as a legitimate option. The rise of modern contraceptives has made this technologically possible. But the fact remains that though childlessness may be made possible by the contraceptive revolution, it remains a form of rebellion against God’s design and order.

The author — who recently suggested that if your fetus may be a candidate for gene therapy if it turns out to be gay — stops short of suggesting legislative remedies like the ones suggested in Indiana and Washington state, but the author is pretty clear: everyone who is physically capable of doing so must, upon reaching adulthood, marry (presumably a member of the opposite sex) and reproduce. To do otherwise is “rebellion against God’s design.”

The church should insist that the biblical formula calls for adulthood to mean marriage and marriage to mean children. This reminds us of our responsibility to raise boys to be husbands and fathers and girls to be wives and mothers. God’s glory is seen in this, for the family is a critical arena where the glory of God is either displayed or denied. It is just as simple as that.

The church must help this society regain its sanity on the gift of children. Willful barrenness and chosen childlessness must be named as moral rebellion. To demand that marriage means sex–but not children–is to defraud the creator of His joy and pleasure in seeing the saints raising His children. That is just the way it is. No kidding.

That equation even damns the single and celibate — provided they aren’t “called to chastity” via the priesthood, convent or monastery — because they’re guilty of the same “crime.”

There are an endless number of points to debate here. Never mind what would happen to the planet if everyone with working reproductive organs fulfilled their duty to “have every child God sends” to them. I’m assuming everyone would be “raptured up” before that became a problem. Worrying about the population is like worrying about global warming. It only matters if you’re planning to be here for a while.

The most astounding assumption is that everyone should have children. This despite the abundant evidence that there an untold numbers of people who’ve already had children probably shouldn’t be parents, if the results of their parenting thus far is any indication. There are undoubtedly more who realize they may not be parent material and thus avoid becoming parents. Would the author have them become parents too, and subject children yet unborn to living with parents who may not want the, or who may even be neglectful or abusive?

That’s the unspoken but fundamental point in his argument, as well as many on the same side. The assumption is that people who marry and have children should do so within the context of the faith that he practices. Because, if they do so and do it right, there won’t be any abuse or neglect. Just like if all women surrendered to their husbands, there wouldn’t be any domestic abuse so long as they’ve married “godly men.”

It’s an ideal that has nothing to do with reality, because there will never be a time when everyone practices the author’s idealized brand of Christianity. But it seems so obvious to him how wonderful it would be if everyone would, that he can remain oblivious to the unhappiness that is bound to result from attempting to force everyone into a one-size-fits-all family unit.

After all happiness, the human variety at least, isn’t the point.

3 Comments

  1. Oooh, oooh! Can i leave a comment???

    I have something Important to tell you about this!

  2. The following is from the British publication, Telegraph

    The point being rather evident….

    The West’s big problem, he believes, is that people have become too self-absorbed. “I don’t think people have become more selfish, but their lives have become easier and that has spoilt them. They have less resilience, they expect more, they constantly compare themselves to others and they have too much choice – which brings no real freedom.”

    He has lived as a monk since childhood, but the Dalai Lama views marriage as one of the chief ways of finding happiness. “Too many people in the West have given up on marriage. They don’t understand that it is about developing a mutual admiration of someone, a deep respect and trust and awareness of another human’s needs,” he says. “The new easy-come, easy-go relationships give us more freedom – but less contentment.”

    Although he is known for his tolerant, humane views, he is a surprisingly harsh critic of homosexuality. If you are a Buddhist, he says, it is wrong. “Full stop.

    No way round it.

    “A gay couple came to see me, seeking my support and blessing. I had to explain our teachings. Another lady introduced another woman as her wife – astonishing. It is the same with a husband and wife using certain sexual practices. Using the other two holes is wrong.

    At this point, he looks across at his interpreter – who seems mainly redundant – to check that he has been using the right English words to discuss this delicate matter. The interpreter gives a barely perceptible nod.

    “A Western friend asked me what harm could there be between consenting adults having oral sex, if they enjoyed it,” the Dalai Lama continues, warming to his theme. “But the purpose of sex is reproduction, according to Buddhism. The other holes don’t create life. I don’t mind – but I can’t condone this way of life.”

    He laughs when I change the subject and talk about the West’s attempts to become more spiritual through yoga, massage and acupuncture. “These are just physical activities,” he says. “To be happier, you must spend less time plotting your life and be more accepting.”

    Emphasis mine.

    Terrance, In this narrowly focused article you looked exclusively at one religion. One you don’t belong to.

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