Sex and the Religion of Me

Orthospherean James Kalb has written an essay for the latest issue of First Things. Sex and the Religion of Me: A challenge to the project of sexual liberation is about – well, you can pretty much tell what it is about.

The full article is behind a pay wall. Jim’s writing is good enough to warrant a subscription in its own right, of course, but it would be understandable if orthosphereans were to pause before committing their dough. At its beginnings, First Things was a revolutionary pioneer of intelligent, erudite Mere Christian traditionalism, both muscular and optimistic. But gradually it became an institution, and more mainstream. Partly this was due to the fact that its own success in making traditionalism respectable was a major factor of the recent increase in our numbers, many of whom are naturally more radical than the coterie of first class writers and thinkers at First Things. For many of the traditionalists First Things helped to incubate, it was not traditional enough, and too ready to accomodate itself to the terms of the discourse under the prevailing political weltanschauung.

In recent months, however, a number of exogenous factors seem to be radicalizing the whole traditionalist right, and First Things is no exception. The recent reversals on gay “marriage,” the apparent nod to libertinism of Pope Francis, last month’s fractious Synod, and the accelerating progress down the slippery slope to utter insanity of every aspect of our culture seem to have made pragmatic engagement with the political establishment impossible for serious Christians. More and more, it seems, the only options open to us are recusal, protest or civil disobedience. As the issues grow ever starker, the fissures ever deeper and steeper, the middle ground disappears. So, the writers at First Things find themselves more and more isolate from and inimical to the American political culture the journal had hoped to influence. Bruised and saddened, they seem to be moving rightward – or no, wait: upward, rather, and ever more perpendicular to the spectra by which kingdoms of this world calibrate each other.

That might make their conversations more interesting to orthosphereans and our ilk.

As a bonus, there is in every issue, and always at the First Things website, a plethora of insightful theology. David Bentley Hart and Peter Leithart are particularly worthy and voluminous contributors under that heading.

40 thoughts on “Sex and the Religion of Me

  1. Thank you for the heads up on this work. I read as much as I can get my hands on so I will bookmark this.

    The idea that the middle ground has disappeared is certainly true, though paleoconservatives keep the torch burning. I think part of this must be to do with the high level of venom now directed towards things considered sacrosanct a mere two decades ago, marriage being the ultimate example, but things like fatherhood, belief in the Almighty, and a host of other things as well.

    Just today, I had a family member make some disparaging remarks about religion directly to me. I’m not sure what angered me more, the comments themselves or the fact that this person was making very clear their disdain for me and their categorization of me as subhuman. This world of left and right has gone way beyond civil disagreement, it has entered the stage of pure hatred because at this point, we are not really the same species anymore. Modern and Traditional are galaxies apart, and so it matters not if a modern is your childhood friend or even your brother. If you swim against the facade he has built up, he will curse you and spit on you.

    I was prepared for such things when I rejected the despicable doctrine of atheism that my family followed, but it does amaze me how intense the dislike is.

    Do not be deceived, secular, hubristic liberals have taken all forms throughout their 300 year existence from loud-mouth relatives to giggling eugenicists to hammer-wielding Marxist radicals. Once they have become modern sludge, they can be molded into anything the power elite desire through messaging techniques, crises, and triggers.

    If Sweden passed a law tomorrow decreeing the jailing and child abduction of/from Christian parents in the country, what would happen? Nothing. The population at large, like good liberals, would shrug and say “well, religion is child abuse.”

    The main reason why there is such a massive, cavernous gulf between adherents of Modernity and adherents of Tradition?

    Because one is the instrument of evil and the machinations of the dark one, and the other is in the heroic service of the way, the truth, and the life.

  2. While I am glad to see someone like Kalb get published at First Things, I cannot help but see them as part of the problem, for the which the Orthosphere was created to respond to. Leaving aside the obvious problems inherent in First Thing’s ecumenical approach, First Things has more often than not come down on the side of liberalism instead of carving out an authentically anti-liberal position.

  3. Pingback: Sex and the Religion of Me | Reaction Times

  4. I had mentally written off First Things altogether due to their denial that homosexuality is objectively disordered, but their being willing to publish Mr. Kalb’s work is a heartening sign. A more mainstream publication like First Things would be useful if they would ever dialog with those on their Right. An occasional link to us or our friends (even while expressing disapproval with our radicalism) would help funnel in people looking for something more coherent than what they’ve got on offer.

    The trouble with First Things remains that it was founded to promote two of R. J. Neuhaus’ most passionately held beliefs:

    1) Liberalism and Christianity are compatible.
    2) The Catholic Church isn’t really as bad off as it seems.

    In 2014, these positions are not only as false as they always were, they are so obviously false as to be indefensible. When I was a reader a decade ago, I more-or-less believed them, and although that was dumb of me, nobody would be so silly as to even consider them now.

    So where does that leave First Things? Like the Republican Party, it’s an infrastructure without a clear purpose, adrift until some new ideology takes hold. It would be great if they’d all just sit down and read “The Tyranny of Liberalism” and realize that it’s the truth they’ve been fumbling towards, but I’ve learned not to expect things like that.

    • Am I wrong to say that “objectively disordered” sounds like a mealy mouthed way to describe sodomy? I would think that previous generations of Christians would have called it “evil.” Or “intrinsically evil” to sound more academic.

      • Bruce B:

        Am I wrong to say that “objectively disordered” sounds like a mealy mouthed way to describe sodomy?

        The temptation to masturbate is objectively disordered. Masturbation is evil.

        “Homosexuality” is one of those deliberately ambiguous terms which can refer either to an objectively disordered temptation or to evil actions. I rarely use the term at all, except when explaining to people why we shouldn’t use it. Objectively disordered temptations are legion and don’t really need shortened names: there is no specific term for “tempted to commit adultery specifically” or “tempted to charge usury on a loan specifically”.

        So the temptation to use the term “homosexuality” is almost always objectively disordered. We are almost always better off just using “sodomy” and its variants, since the function of the word “homosexuality” appears to be to obscure the distinction between temptation and action.

      • So the temptation to use the term “homosexuality” is almost always objectively disordered.

        I appreciate your clarity. This puts in clear terms just how wrong-headed our society is. A sane society wouldn’t foist upon its typical members the need even to speak about the evil of sodomy at all, much less in casual conversation. Yet we are confronted on a regular basis with this “gay” character in a sitcom, or that “transgender” accommodation by municipal authorities, such that day-to-day conversation requires us either to euphemize, or be an outcast, as is sure to be the case for anyone who dares to utter sodomy in “polite” company.

    • The Catholic Church isn’t really as bad off as it seems. . . . nobody would be so silly as to even consider [this claim] now.

      i got interested in this and headed over to Fr Z’s blog—it’s the furthest left Catholic site I read regularly. Now, he has a happy-talk-on-the-Church category called Brick by Brick. So, I thought a good index of the the whole “not as bad as it seems” chatter would be the ratio of Brick by Brick posts to overall blog posts.


      I did not find an easy way to count posts by category and time, so I had to improvise a bit. I went to the category brick by brick. Then I went back through the archives. For each month in the table above, I recorded the archive page on which I saw posts from late in that month (I was not super-precise, but around the 20th).

      Interpreting the first line of the table, if you go to the first page of the brick by brick archive, you will find that the post at the top is from Nov 2014. If you go to the first page of the overall archive, you will find that the first post at the top is from Nov 2014. Interpreting the second to last line, if you go to the 68th page of the brick by brick archive, you will find the first post is from March of 2011. If you go to the 745th page of the overall archive, you will find the first post is from March of 2011. In general, I was aiming for around the 20th of the month, but I was not that careful. NOTE: These exact locations are only going to be true today, Nov 20, 2014. The archive is relative to present, so things will change as Fr Z adds more posts.

      The differences in the archive page numbers between successive lines gives the number of pages of archives Fr Z filled up during the interval indicated by the dates on the successive lines. For example, from Mar 2013 to Nov 2014, Fr Z filled up 14 pages of brick by brick archives and 280 pages of overall archives. From Nov 2013 to Nov 2014 he filled up 7 pages of brick by brick and 170 pages of overall archive space.

      Finally, the last column of the table is the paydirt. It is the ratio of overall archive pages to brick by brick archive pages. 20 means that one out of every twenty archive pages on the blog were brick by brick.

      What the table shows is that happy talk has dried up since Mar 2013. Over the entire Francis period, one in twenty archive pages are happy talk. Over the pre-Francis period covered (Mar 2010 to Mar 2013) happy talk made up one in ten archive pages, a dramatic drop-off. If you just look at the most recent year, after Francis’s honeymoon, happy talk now makes up only one archive page in 24.

      So, as Bonald surmises, happy talk is on the downswing and sharply.

    • They’ve had Peter Leithart on board for quite a while now. He’s Reformed, not Catholic, but he most certainly does not buy into those two beliefs of Neuhaus.

      BTW I think Joseph Bottum’s essay, which offended you so, was more confused and contradictory than a straightforward capitulation.

  5. I know that this is essentially off topic but I have been waiting for an appropriate article to offer a reading suggestion to Orthosphere readers and this is probably the best place that I have seen in the last several months.

    If the readers would like an analysis of leftists and traditionalists in Western Civ, I highly recommend A Conflict of Visions by Thomas Sowell. It is a rela tively short book on unbridgeable differences of belief between us and them. The progressives i.e. radicals have an unconstrained vision of life while we have a constrained vision of life. This is obvious to any regular readers here. But, Sowell puts flesh on the bones by extensively quoting about a dozen writers from three centuries to illustrate both sides of the divide. His prose is clear and to the point even for a working class american joe like me.

    • Though I enjoyed this book when I read it years ago, it is not traditionalist, and it does not really discuss traditionalism. Sowell is in that space occupied by Hayek and Frank Knight. The book is a statement of the right liberal case against left liberals. It is implicitly or explicitly utilitarian throughout. Personally, I like The Vision of the Anointed by the same author better. It makes the same case but with less academic pretension and much more bile.

    • There is definitely something to the tragic/constrained vs. utopian/unconstrained distinction, but that is too simplistic to account for all the important distinctions in politics. Right wing liberals and traditionalists may both have a tragic view of (current) reality, but they have other vast differences, such as on what is the ultimate end of morality. I’d recommend reading Jonathan Haidt whose transcendant morality (purity/loyalty/respect) vs. utilitarian morality (harm/fairness) distinction is even more fundamental.

      • Haidt, as far as I’m aware, does not control for System 1 and System 2 thinking. The fundamental differences between most conservatives and liberals may lay in the fact that they are cognitive misers and are thus strongly influenced by their neurobiology.

  6. Bonald,

    I think what you say about Neuhaus’ beliefs is interesting, specifically this one:

    “1) Liberalism and Christianity are compatible.”

    I know folks in the Orthosphere/reactionary world like to lump liberalism in with the American Revolution and constitutional, republican government in general; but this seems like an error that at the very least obscures more than it illuminates. To suggest that your average “right-winger” in America who still believes in the traditional family, hates abortion, wants to impeach Obama, get rid of many federal department because they are unconstitutional, believes in traditional gender roles (e.g. in the military), etc. is NO DIFFERENT than a left-wing radical who voted for Obama but is disappointed he hasn’t been more liberal (e.g. someone like Paul Krugman or the harpies at, well what can I say. To me there is a real difference between the two and calling them both liberal because the Republican hasn’t thrown in his lot with monarchy and a hereditary aristocracy seems like a category error.

    As for Neuhaus, remember his little magazine caused quite a stir when he wrote despairingly about the ability of democracy to ever stop the abortion holocaust:

    • “To suggest that your average “right-winger” in America who still believes in the traditional family, hates abortion, wants to impeach Obama, get rid of many federal department because they are unconstitutional, believes in traditional gender roles (e.g. in the military), etc. is NO DIFFERENT than a left-wing radical who voted for Obama but is disappointed he hasn’t been more liberal (e.g. someone like Paul Krugman or the harpies at”

      I definitely wouldn’t say they are the same, although they both occupy the same paradigm (liberal democracy). I have often said that conservatives (of which I was one until recently) are like blind men who smell the rotting corpse but have no means of addressing the problem besides groping in the dark.
      The reactionary should realize that however well-intentioned the Founders were, inevitably, this is what was going to happen. Even Ben Franklin seemed to have some idea that the Constitution was going to fail as a governing document because he knew society would degenerate and then, as Joseph De Maistre famously said “people will get the government they deserve”.

      Whatever you think of Obama and his conduct in the Oval Office, the American people voted for him, twice, in the electoral college as well as the popular vote. And let us not consistently attack America, take a look at the PATHETIC monarchies that remain in Europe. British society and government is twice as corrupt, degenerate, and illegitimate as American society, and don’t get me started on Norway and the Netherlands. The American system actually proved more resilient than its liberal European counterparts.

      The reactionary need not be as old-hat as you make out. Personally, I do not support a ‘monarchy’ per se. I do support a zealous right wing non-hereditary autocrat bolstered by a bi-militaristic/aristocratic_hyper-regional representative legislature, and a theonomic ecclesiastic judiciary. A future society need not totally mirror its antiquated counterparts, it must only have the same principles and essence. Remember, the monarchies of the Medieval world were quite a bit different from the monarchies of Ancient Mesopotamia.

      As a former conservative, I respect real conservatives (which does not translate as ‘Republican’). I think it is undeniable that they care about things that actually matter, unlike ANY element of the insane left. It is simply that for me, I see no way forward with the shredded Constitution, the will of ‘the people’ which for some reason includes bums, women, and those with virtually zero critical thinking skills, nor really even the concept of peaceful protest. I have lost ALL faith in the Western system of government and society that has been dominant for almost 300 years.

      I despise progressives and consider them willful traitors not only to their respective nations and the sovereign God, but to the entire human species. For conservatives, I simply feel they are misguided and often deluded, as I once was, and it is my mission to convert them to the more radical right wing position.

      • I have often said that conservatives (of which I was one until recently) are like blind men who smell the rotting corpse but have no means of addressing the problem besides groping in the dark.

        It’s this but it’s also Charlie Brown trying to kick that football. I believe that the people volunteering and voting for the GOP really care, fundamentally, about socon issues and only instrumentally about the economic garbage. But Lucy just keeps snatching that ball away, and they just keep falling for it.

        Even Ben Franklin seemed to have some idea

        Not just him, either. The Southerners generally were non-fans of capitalism and especially of finance capitalism. Patrick Henry, for example, was an extreme non-fan of bankers. It took a while for the Adams and Hamiltons of the world to crush all resistance.

  7. I am not really sure if it is only about egoism. Rather it is a fundamental clash between two worldviews:

    – The Catholic-Scholastic, where the abstract thinking ability of man is very important and ultimately every morality derives from that

    – The utilitarian, where the sensations of pleasure and pain are paramount, morality is largely about not causing pain to others, and one level higher being resistant to pain yourself.

    Small-ego utilitarians exist: Zen and Stoicism being the first two examples that come to my mind.

    I mean, a utilitarian can understand that with a small ego less pain is felt. But it is different from what is discussed here, as it seems to me the Catholic worldview is much more strongly based on rules that derive from man being an abstract thinking being, having a supernatural part of the soul that is abstract thinking.

    This is pretty unique BTW. I don’t know a lot of religions or philosophies that say similar things. E.g. in the Catholic thinking animals have no morality, despite being perfectly being able to have a vicious character or a friendly, nice character, as everybody who owned dogs or horses knows. Yet Catholics define morality not as these predispositions, attitudes, but compliance with abstract principles only abstract thinking human beings can do.

    This is pretty unique a worldview. Does this aspect of your view have a specific name? Logos-orientedness, that kind of stuff?

    I guess from your viewpoint the modern world must be not only very ego-centric (it is), but also kind of animalistic. A lot of talk about morality today is about “being nice” vs. “being mean” which I guess something a horse could do as well, it is not really principles.

    I think from your viewpoint liberated sexuality may be something similar to gluttony: feelings over thoughts.

    Funny how the list of sins looks a lot like a simple description of animal behavior?

    I guess if you wanted to rake in more popularity points you should work on attacking gluttony more as it has clearly identifiable disutilities that is understandable to modern people. Yet it is very compatible with your worldview. If your worldview is hugely based on not being an animal, controlling eating is very, very basic, just like controlling sex.

    • In a certain sense, Catholic ethics are not much different that say the concepts of Brahman and Dharma, or the Tao; one must act in accordance with nature, where nature is the objective metaphysical reality of the one and the many. According to both the Aristotelian Scholastic tradition and Taoism (I’m not sure about Hinduism), only man (of animals), whose nature is that of a rational animal with free will, can choose to rebel against the Tao. Also, in all three traditions, understanding ones Dharma requires philosophy and tradition and reflects the social nature of man as well.

      • Indeed, it is the serpent that made us fully human. God may have been angry at him and our Edenic ancestors, but we owe him a debt of gratitude.

      • Human nature as the willed abolition of nature. The summum bonum humanum as the arbitrary will that establishes its absolute sovereignty by doing things that are obviously a bad idea. Sade as the seal of the prophets. What sense does it make to say we should be grateful for such tendencies?

      • Well, if we were pure, innocent, and sinless, as in Eden, we wouldn’t be very human, would we? At best we would be like children. Also no sin, no savior, so your religion wouldn’t have a lot to it, would it?

      • Simone Weil is to the point:

        “Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.”

      • I am not arguing in favor of evil — that would be stupid. I’m saying that (and this is implicit in the Judeo-Christian worldview, it’s not like i’m being very original here) that sin and evil is an integral and necessary part of the world we live in. We may hate it, but it is an inescapable part of ourselves and our world and we wouldn’t be human without it. And the original rebellion of the snake and Adam and Eve encodes the story of how we got from a static and bland paradise to the violent and interesting world we actually live in.

      • Yes, paradise lacked the “vibrancy” that make Detroit and Liberia so gosh darn interesting.

        Incidentally, do you know that you are espousing a gnostic doctrine or is it just a coincidence?

      • Not really. Gnostics thought the world was created by an evil demiurge and so we should try to escape it; I don’t believe in escape.

        But I am a bit confused, because another gnostic belief that has always incensed right-wingers is the supposed desire to “immanetize the eschaton”, or IOW create heaven on earth. If you don’t want that, then you have to acknowledge the reality of various forms of hellishness on earth. Acknowledge, perhaps even embrace, perhaps even give thanks to the forces responsible for it. The alternative is Manichaeism which is also a heresy, I believe.

      • @a.morphous

        At best we would be like children. Also no sin, no savior, so your religion wouldn’t have a lot to it, would it?

        I’m sorry that I am so late to the party on this sub-thread. You would enjoy the Easter Vigil Mass (nighttime Mass the night before Easter). At one point in that Mass, we pray thus, talking about Adam’s fall: “O happy fault that earned for us so great, so glorious a Redeemer.” The prayer is called the Felix culpa. I found it quite shocking the first time I heard it (at the Mass at which I was Baptized).

    • I guess from your viewpoint the modern world must be not only very ego-centric (it is), but also kind of animalistic.

      Yes. Not kind of, either. Animalistic is very apt. It’s more than that, though. It’s not just that the animalism is kind of accidental, a mistake, an unfortunate drift in culture. Rather, the animalism is aimed at, embraced, exalted—exactly because it is animalisitc. It’s quite demonic.

      The old Star Trek series was basically about this demonic embrace. What did everyone on the show think made the humans human and Spock and the various machines they encountered inhuman? The facts that the humans were ruled by their emotions and revelled in this and that Spock/machines were ruled by logos or at least tried to be.

      Is there a worse theme for propaganda than this? It’s horrifying. It’s 180 degrees out of phase with reality. What makes humans human is their ability to appreciate the logos and their ability to try to be ruled by it.

      I choose Star Trek because it is old and because many righties like it. But this theme runs through Hollywood products to a great degree. The movie Footloose is the epitomic example. To be really, fully human, we must throw off the restraints of morality and become as animals. “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” is the teaching of a prophet of what religion?

      • I am not one of you but I still do hope you don’t give up this fight, because yours is a unique and interesting worldview and addresses some things the others don’t. I don’t think you are right, but if you keep this alive perhaps one day someone will be able to synthetize these two antagonistic views into one.

        I mean, do I admit I am bothered by the modern view on morality, for example, at some level. It is all “be nice, don’t be mean” – and it bothers me that this metric can be used to judge both a man and a horse. But horses don’t make nukes. A species with nukes that thinks on the level of horse-morality seems to have gotten something really wrong and something potentially dangerous.

        So while I am not buying in, I hope you keep it alive – one day maybe this will be resolved, and I am pretty sure the currently fashionable nice-not-mean horse-morality (or kindergarten-morality) is probably not the last word in morality.

  8. Thanks for the mention!

    It does seem there’s been a shift at FT. They always wanted to be neoconservative, but they also want to maintain integrity, and here’s where they’re coming out now:

    “The season of sewing is ending. Now is a time for rending, not for the sake of disengaging from culture or retreating from the public square, but so that our salt does not lose its savor.”

    • Sounds like an ideal solution to everybody – in fact wonder why it wasn’t Step 1. Why did Christians fight the redefinition of civil marriage instead of disengaging from it. I figure this is because, I am not sure what the best term for it is, but Christianity has always been a highly social religion. I don’t know why it is the case. The kind of strict distinction between them and the world, which both Chrisian and Buddhist monks in monasteries maintained, was not maintained by Christian priests and believers. The Church was always an instution with deeply ingrained social functions, funding hospitals, inventing universities etc. religion and state may have been separated but religion and social life wasn’t, and then of course separating social life from state would be something only the most adamant libertarians would maintain, so… agan I don’t know why it was so, I guess the “salt” parallel is apt, Christianity used to give a flavor to every aspect of social life.

      However, in recent decades, maybe even centuries, this led to a lot of conflict. Liberal redefinitions of marriage and a thousand similar social issues are all about un-salting social life.

      Through this separation, through Christians becoming a bit monastic – a bit withdrawn from the world, into their own communities and spaces – social peace could be restored. After all a “government registered partnership” can be between two men three women, a goat and a toaster, who has to care about that one anymore? The bitter arguments will end.

      I don’t know what the long-term consequences will be, though. Perhaps back to the kind of social organization that existed in the time of Nero.

      The romantic part of my mind envisions a form of a “reverse” Atlas Shrugged – what happens when the Christians go on a strike? No idea, but probably something dramatic and worth watching.

      • Christianity has an essential social aspect because it views the world as real, good, and worth attending to. And the social order has an essential religious aspect because there has to be some explanation what justifies authority, what people owe each other, and what is worth striving and sacrificing for. Liberalism is not about un-salting social life but salting it with a different salt. That’s why it is so extremely moralistic.

  9. Pingback: O Felix Culpa | The Orthosphere


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