Sex Matters

The modern instinct is to treat sex as a private matter that is of no real consequence to the body politic, and thus no legitimate concern of the sovereign, or of the public. Against this conservatives argue that sex has all sorts of important consequences for the health and welfare of the body politic, whether demographic, epidemiological, economic, pedagogical, or cultural, so that sexual morality matters to the polis a very great deal, and is therefore a fit concern both of the sovereign and the people.

These sorts of pragmatic objections to liberal social and sexual mores do tell, of course, and heavily. But they don’t begin to get at the immense importance of sex in the long run – the really, really long run, under which the whole history of the universe is like an evening gone.

The ultimate end of sex – which is to say, the true end of sex – is the actualization of human souls in the lives of immortal persons who by virtue of their very existence have the option of enjoying forever the Beatific Vision, and the endless other beauties of Heaven outside the throne room. Each life that succeeds to Heaven represents an infinite increase in the realized value of Creation. A forgone human life then represents an infinite cost to the whole economy of Heaven, forever and ever. Being himself infinite, God can of course cover that defect of creaturely perfection with no problem; but for all the other citizens of Heaven, the failure to implement a single tiny life is a catastrophic injury to the wealth of glory they might have enjoyed, had the imperfection of procreative potential implicit in creation ab initio never occurred.

I pray that all three of my kids get into Heaven, so that if I am able to join them there we can all enjoy each other forever. If that works out, I shall be happy indeed. But I might have had six children, or more. If I had, and if the whole family had got to Heaven, think how much more wonderful it would have been for us, all – in worlds of worlds, to everlasting and everlasting!

Sex is the way God has arranged to generate gods. For all Christians, then, it’s a really big deal, almost the best thing there is.

12 thoughts on “Sex Matters

  1. You hit on an important question, which is how the notion (incontrovertible) that God has a plan in motion to redeem creation and to become ‘all in all’, is to be reconciled with the notion (also incontrovertible) that the effects of freely chosen Evil are permanent.

    Is it better to understand the permanent effects of Evil as victory against God, the successful and eternal destruction of something originally existent and Good, or merely as an abortion, thwarting the creation of what might have been?

    On another note, this is why eternal damnation in Hell is a doctrine I remain somewhat dissatisfied with. While I can appreciate on an intellectual plane the argument that states “free will; therefore, inevitably, Hell”, the common lines of apologetic for it all seem to me, either to concede too much on God’s end, leading to His diminuition, or descend into a barbarism of the spirit.

    – Either the damned retain the image of God, in which case their suffering is to be regarded with compassion; and the saints in Heaven continue to spend all possible effort to redeem them, even after the dread judgment. Or, if they can attempt nothing, their beatitude is tainted with despair. Or, if their beatitude is not tainted with despair, then compassion for the damned is a disease, and the saints in Heaven are not sick with it. A sad picture! This is not anything out of Christianity; this is the pagan tale of Princess Kaguya, whose coat of feathers makes her to forget she ever had any compassion for the suffering humans with whom she once mingled.

    – Or the damned lose any image of God they had, which is a common line of apologetics: it says that the damned will not inspire pity, since they are essentially reduced to demons with no commonality or resemblance to human beings. But this is effectively annihilationism, without the mercies of actual oblivion; it states that a soul may be irreversibly transformed into something which retains no common nature with what was before, which is to say, destroyed entirely. Because if the damned have no commonality or resemblance to human beings, in particular they have no commonality or resemblance to their own past selves. One thing can be transformed into an entirely unrelated thing. Where then, is the claim of Christianity to stave off the metaphysical aberrations inherent in such notions as reincarnation, or eternal oblivion?

    – Granting the aberration, and saying that the living image of God can be destroyed, we then ask — is the subject of compassion gone? The imageless damned does not inspire compassion; but they were a person once. Either the fact that they existed once upon a time bearing the image of God, remains true eternally, and through that eternal facticity their past self continues to draw the frustrated compassion of the blessed — where, then, is the full beatitude of Heaven, or the true resurrection? Or their once-upon-a-time existence has no eternal facticity, which means that the person who is damned turns out to never have existed. This takes the argument into incoherence, claiming that some people (who we are able to clearly hold discourse with) exist, whereas others (just as visible to the senses) do not.

    I may be enumerating the possibilities regarding damnation in Hell sloppily; but they all lead either into a denial of some moral sensibility that seems essential to humanity, or sheer incoherence.

    The natural conclusion seems to be that the intellect is insufficient; these are things God has not revealed, except to the blessed in Heaven. (As a corollary, anyone who elevates an intellectual justification for Hell into the status of dogma, I submit is making a mistake akin to that of Job’s comforters. The very basic premise of evil and suffering is that it is unjustifiable from the human viewpoint, and its existence presents an incurable offence to the mere intellect.) It may be that the end state is some kind of universalism, for everyone who had the fortune to be created in the first place; but again, honesty demands me to say that the intellect is equally insufficient to justify this.

    But I am left with the impression that the destructive view of evil may simply not work. In the abortive view, we ask “what is evil?” and the terrifying answer comes back “it is to have the chance to do Good, and not take it!”. In that very moment, something fails to come into being — and thence the impossible moral standard of the Beatitudes becomes starkly obvious (and indeed the notion that humanity in some way needs an impossible standard, even to fall short of), and the basic evil of sterility in all its forms, and all those otherwise difficult-to-justify matters.

    Sorry, I’ve been waxing a bit existential lately.

    • Thanks for this searching and trenchant comment, Arakawa. As it happens, I have over the last few days been preparing a post on just the questions you here raise. I shall respond there, rather than here. Please stay tuned; I’d very much like to hear your reactions.

      I will now however say this much: I think we must take what you call the abortive view of evil, which I understand as Augustine’s privative view of evil.

  2. An interesting question arises here, Kristor, re. _number_ of human souls and _uniqueness_ of human souls. Here’s how it goes: Suppose that my married friend Ginny (I’m making her up, but she’s modeled on real people) does not use Natural Family Planning nor, it goes without saying, any form of artificial contraception. She ends up having, let’s say, ten children before her fertility wanes. These facts of Ginny’s history mean that she is pregnant at this or that contingent time, that this or that contingent thing happens as far as which of her eggs is united with which of her husband’s sperm, and the upshot is that she conceives _these_ particular children. That is, assuming that we take it that which children are conceived is in part at least a result of the contingent facts of human intercourse. For example, if we think that there are in some sense masculine and feminine souls, we presumably think that God acquiesces in particular biological facts that determine the gender of a child rather than intervening after the fact and changing a female embryo to a male embryo or vice versa.

    Had my friend Ginny and her husband used NFP, they would very likely have had _fewer_ children. But more interestingly, they would almost certainly have had _different_ children. At a time when she was, in the real timeline, pregnant with Mary and hence unable to conceive any other child, she would instead, had they used NFP, been conceiving John.

    Is it really true that Ginny has done the only right thing by *not* using NFP, because she would have deprived heaven of glory if she had had six children instead of ten? Is quantity of souls the one and only determinant of the best thing to do in this area? Or would it simply have been a *different* scenario in which the glory of heaven was enriched by John and his (fewer) siblings instead of by Mary and her (more numerous) siblings? You’ll notice that I’m trying to hold “all else equal” by just simplifying and assuming that all the children end up in heaven in both scenarios.

    • Wow, you’re taking the analysis much farther than I had. Thanks!

      I think it is not true that Ginny has done right only if she refrains from using even NFP. Not because either quality of kids, or character of kids, are more important than quantity of kids, but because there are other factors of everlasting beauty aside from sheer quantity of inseminated eggs per mother that influence the quantity of Heavenly joy.

      The limit case would seem to be the religious celibate. Celibacy deprives Heaven of many millions of souls that might otherwise eventually have been generated by the descendants of a monk, nun, or priest. But the sacrifice of the celibate can itself lead many souls to Heaven, that might not otherwise have arrived there; can influence families toward devotion, and reproduction. Presumably the sacrifice of celibacy is worth the, er, the opportunity cost, or the Holy Spirit would never have moved anyone to the religious life.

      I actually think that thinking in terms of opportunity cost is helpful in parsing this. Had I chosen the holy order of Priesthood rather than the holy order of Marriage, I would have foreclosed the opportunities of many descendants. This would not necessarily mean that I had made the wrong choice. *Every* choice entails paying opportunity costs. There’s no way out of that; and this is part of the awful predicament of being a creature: we are faced at every minute with the obligation to discern the best among choices that, no matter which way we go, will have the effect of ruling out the possibility of many millions of everlasting lives.

      This all goes without saying, I suppose.

      To me, the main point of the post – perhaps I should have spelled this out – is that the reason Christians care so much about sexual morality is that we understand sex as immensely important, far more important than even an ardently conservative secular Burkean might be able to comprehend – and, thus, immensely important to get right.

      • Good example re. priests and nuns.

        I actually know people who use the argument that even NFP is wrong because they are thus avoiding the creation of more souls, so that was why I went into that a bit apropos of your statement in the main post that, had you had six or more children instead of three, it would have been more wonderful for all of you. (This is the “providentialist” movement in Protestant circles, sometimes associated with the “quiverful” movement. There may be something similar to it in Catholic circles.) I’ve thought it through sometimes and thought of saying in answer to them that it would be a different set of children and hence a comparison of apples and oranges–really, strictly speaking, incommensurable. Those with fewer children would literally not have had those children if they had had more, which would be a loss in its own way. Each scenario is unique.

        I certainly agree that the very fact that sex is the act-type whereby a child comes into being endows it with incredible importance.

  3. Pingback: This is Hell | The Orthosphere

    • That sounds like the kind of moral conclusion that would make me want to go back and check where I went wrong in my earlier assumptions.

      Subverting an enemy nation to ensure the earthly prosperity of your own, _may be justified_, but deliberately lowering (anyone’s) birthrate hoping thereby to specifically _deprive Hell of new souls_ is intervening in affairs far above our station.

      Regardless of what the actual probability of anyone avoiding Hell is, God seems to treat almost any new soul, even in a completely godless nation, as a worthwhile risk… surely? You’d need a mighty specific reason to contradict Him on this….

      • And I would point out also that if God wants to providentially deprive Hell of new souls by lowering national birthrates, he seems to be doing so just fine without your help. Just look at *ahem* the current trajectory of Western society….


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