Invictus, S E X, the “Secular,” and the Sacred

In a class discussion concerning the attitudes and actions toward sex in the world and the church,  two penetrating questions were raised: (1) What does the world have at stake in its attitudes toward sex; and (2) Why is the (American) church so much like the world?

At first blush, the world’s attitudes toward sex seem internally, almost mutually exclusive. On one hand, sex is about power relationships. They called it the sexual revolution, not the sexual realization. So power lies in the complete freedom of its exercise. On the other hand, one frequently hears a recreational view–i.e., sex is just another activity, like running, bicycling, or anything else you do with your body (except a little lot more fun).  This second view appears to be largely unrelated to power, in the same way that one would not immediately think of power when one things of cycling.

In reality, these two seemingly unrelated and inconsistent elements are inextricably intertwined in the world’s attitude toward sex.  Really, for world and church the stakes are “soul captaincy.” Willam Ernest Henley helps us out:

INVICTUS (1875)

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

This poem has an interesting and significant history in American popular culture. The last couplet is what I am talking about. Both the world and the church admit that sex extremely powerful. But the church says that sex is about power, BUT it is also intimately related to the soul-what you and I were created to be, what we are living to be, what we are. This is why Paul can say in 1 Corinthians 6:16: “Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh.'”

The last couplet of Invictus and Scripture (this passage and others) cannot coexist. So the world must divorce power and the soul. For the world sex is still about power, but the act itself is purely functional – it has only to do with parts. The world can’t really escape the inconsistency, but the world has papered it over pretty nicely with a forceful humanistic optimism that directly echoes Satan’s lie in the garden. But even with the inconsistency, the world still has a pretty easy sell given the strength of the physical sex drive and the emotional desire for intimacy. Most all of us have felt the inconsistency once it’s too late – after we misuse sex.

So, what is at stake is, “Who is the real captain of your soul?” For the world, the only acceptable answer is W.E. Henley’s.

Now to the second question. Why do so many in the American church, perhaps failing to realize that this is the question, answer the question wrong and (wittingly or unwittingly) misuse sex? Adults and youth alike. I am trying to overcome my case of single-cause-itis, but it seems to me that the church itself has bought into a picture of God in which He is a person whom we can use to get what we want. Access to God is access to therapeutic self-realization. Thus, in this picture, we in the church tell ourselves we are beholden to God in his power, justice, and mercy, while at the same time we intone the Henley’s last couplet under our breath, so quietly that even we cannot hear it.

More on this second question later . . . .

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