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Psychology and Christian Chastity

A Catholic Evaluation of Sex Education

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

It must seem strange to associate two subjects like Psychology and Christian Chastity and A Catholic Evaluation of Sex Education. My hope is that this conference will help you to see how these two issues are not only related, but one depends on the other.

In the last forty years sex education, as it is popularly called, has become a staple diet in public schools in America. It has also become widely accepted in many professedly Catholic schools, from kindergarten through the eighth grade. For not a few parents, this has been one of the main reasons for joining the rising number of home-education programs throughout the nation.

My plan for this conference is first to briefly explain how secular psychology paved the way for introducing sex indoctrination into elementary education in the United States. Then, in sequence I will point out some of the principal departures from historic Christian principles which have penetrated sex education even in nominally Catholic institutions.

Secular Psychology and Sexual Inclinations

With few exceptions, modern psychologists consider any effort to "control" the sex impulses as repressive. The problem, they say, is that the sex impulse is perfectly normal, natural, and intended by nature as a source of deep pleasure. Religions like Christianity claim that this impulse is "bad" and therefore the urge to sexual pleasure must be repressed.

Experimental psychologists like Alfred Kinsey are literally honored as "patron saints of sex." Their books set in motion "the first wave of the sexual revolution." They inspired the sexual philosophy of Hugh Hefner's Playboy magazine. According to Hefner, "We believe...we are filling a publishing need only slightly less important than one just taken cared of by the Kinsey Report." According to another psychologist, Kinsey was "the giant on whose shoulders all sex researchers since his time have stood."

It can honestly be said that the strongest assault on sexual restraint in our country has not come from the pornographic fringe or from the popular culture. It came from the respectable domain of science. Sexual psychologists purported to show a wide divergence between real sexual behavior and the publicly espoused norms of morality. By implication the moral norms surrounding sex behavior needed to be revised.

In my judgment the growing sex education of children is part of this crusade of moral revision. The reflections that follow will be drawn from a fairly common denominator of the religion textbooks used in Catholic schools to teach sex education.

Nestorian View of Christ

If there is one thing that distinguishes Catholic morality it is the role of Jesus Christ as the model whom we are to imitate. But this imitation of Christ presumes that Jesus Christ is the living God, who is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity become incarnate.

On these premises, any tampering with Christ's divinity is to undermine Christian morality, here the morality of Christian chastity.

Yet what do we find? We find a resurgence of the old Nestorian heresy which claimed that Jesus was not a divine person but rather a human person who was very close to God. On these terms the Blessed Virgin is the mother of Jesus; but she is not the mother of God. Nestorius was condemned by the first council of Ephesus in 431. Yet Nestorian ideas have penetrated Christian history for the last fifteen centuries.

We return to a typical sex education textbook. All the familiar Nestorian terms are applied to Christ. The Savior's humanity is so stressed that He is no longer a divine person. "It is important," the children are told, "to reflect on the fact that [Jesus] experienced life as a fully human person, with His own male sexuality. He related to others, both men and women, as a man."

There is never any question, for the authors of this sex education series, of distinguishing between Christ's sinless human nature and His all-knowing and divine nature. Yet He is presented to the children to imitate, because He is human like the rest of us. Or, as one of the sources recommended, Christianity may be described as "a schismatic Jewish sect founded by an obscure Galilean preacher named Jesus."

Pelagian Idea of Grace

The authors and advisors of sex education textbooks for children give token acknowledgment to the Church's teaching on original sin. But they insist that human nature is basically unflawed.

This opens the way to accusing present day Catholics of not "catching up with the times." The following quotation is quite lengthy, but deserves to be given in full:

This principle [of the innate goodness of human nature] lays to rest an error which entered Christianity in its earliest days, namely that the body lacked some basic quality or gift such as goodness, grace or redemption. According to this approach, the purpose of life was to overcome the tendencies or appetites of the body (seen as evil) because they were at odds with the tendencies of the soul (seen as good). The relationship of body to soul was often described in terms of combat, and human perfection was described as the victory of the soul over the body. This viewpoint had great difficulty appreciating the Incarnation---God's union with human flesh --the sacramental life of the Church, and God's loving presence in physical creation. The consequences of this approach for an understanding of sexuality become obvious with the tendency to identify sexuality with the body. Sexual activity is regarded as something to be overcome rather than appreciated as a gift of God. The end result can easily cause anguish, suffering and scrupulosity.

Having set up this straw-man, the way is cleared for the sex educators to ignore the ravages of original sin in fallen human nature. The children are told to free themselves from the error of regarding sexual activity as something to be overcome rather than appreciated as a gift of God. Their teachers ignore the constant need for supernatural help to master the imperious demands of their sexual appetites.

Indifference to Sex Stimulation

The prevalent sex education would have been unthinkable except in a society which has become morally callous to sex stimulation. The advisors and authors of sex education books provide erotic stimulation on every age and grade level. Their periodic comments about the dangers of pornography are useless when compared with a venereal stimulation which is built into the textbooks.

To be stressed is that this stimulation is at the essence of present-day sex education. It can be said that instead of educating the young in Christian chastity, they are being trained in the practice of non-Christian sexuality.

Building on their own assessment of human nature, the new educators do not hesitate to provide an avalanche of sex stimulation, not only to the children in adolescence but to the teachers and parents as well.

Venereal terms must be learned and their meanings memorized. Pictures and sketches, examples and illustrations, physiological details--preoccupied with sexual activity--are the staple diet of young children being re-educated. What is missing is the prudence that characterizes true Catholic instruction. What is obvious is indifference to the moral effects of imprudent sexual stimulation.

Moral Subjectivism

The writers of sex education programs are quite aware of the teaching of the Catholic Church on sins against chastity and they are generally careful to refer to this teaching, even quoting from Church documents.

What they finally do, however, is leave the moral decisions up to the teacher, parent, or pupil.

Depending on the program, they may label the Catholic teaching as "official" or "considered seriously sinful in principle," or "considered sinful as such," or "classic ideas," or as "the Church's position." By the time a pupil finishes a section of the course, the net effect is to leave the practice of sexual morality up to the conscience of each individual.

Masturbation.  In a typical sex education program, every known argument, often from nominally Catholic sources, is presented to weaken the Church's teaching on autoeroticism.

The pupils are told that, "Questions have been raised about whether masturbation is a grave matter, and pastoral theologians stress that, while masturbation is sinful in principle, extenuating circumstances may minimize or completely eradicate personal guilt. They apply this especially to adolescents."

Moreover, in explaining the subject, teachers are told where to place the emphasis. "Emphasis should be on causes, in so far as those may be symptomatic of more profound problems, rather than on direct repression of the phenomenon."

Whether explicitly or implicitly, the familiar Freudian fear of repressing a perfectly natural instinct is an underlying theme in sex education.

Contraception.  As with masturbation, so to the rehearsal of "non-Church positions" is a summary of all the arguments of the dissenters from Humanae Vitae.

Some argue that the capacity of the human intelligence to develop methods to avoid pregnancies while still engaging in marital intercourse makes those forms of birth control moral, provided the motives for avoiding or limiting conceptions are unselfish and life-oriented. The argument is that the mind is natural and its intentionalities and creations can be natural and moral even if physical nature is altered.

Some challenge the underlying natural law approach to morality--and specifically to--intercourse upon which the Church's position is based.

Among the sources which the sex educators use is Human Life in Our Day, issued in 1968 by the American hierarchy as a commentary on Humanae Vitae. This episcopal document assumes that the Church's teaching on the grave sinfulness of contraception is not infallible and therefore reversible.

The familiar arguments of secular psychology are invoked by Human Life in Our Day. There is, for example, a lengthy paragraph on freedom of inquiry and some directives for dissent.

There exists in the Church a lawful freedom of inquiry and of thought and also general norms of licit dissent. This is particularly true in the area of legitimate theological speculation and research. When conclusions reached by such professional theological work prompt a scholar to dissent from non-infallible received teaching, the norms of licit dissent come into play. They require of him careful respect for the consciences of those who lack his special competence or opportunity for judicious investigation. These norms also require setting forth his dissent with propriety and with regard for the gravity of the matter and the deference due the authority which has pronounced on it.

Having stated that the Church's teaching on contraception is not infallible, Human Life In Our Day, goes on to say it is open to reversal. All of this is surrounded by an exhortation to presume "in favor of the Magisterium," and to "give reasons that are serious and well-founded for dissent." But at the heart of the episcopal document is to teach that the doctrine of Humanae Vitae can be reversed.

It is not insignificant that the new term for rejecting Catholic teaching is the psychological word "dissent." To dissent, as the dictionaries tell us, is to "differ in opinion." The issue here is whether the twenty centuries of the Church's teaching on contraception is merely an opinion. It is not, but to say this you must rise above moral subjectivism.

Homosexuality.  The psychological preoccupation with sexual morality is especially pronounced when a sex education program teaches the children about homosexuality. So called "Church positions" are presented in such a way as to leave homosexual practice open to moral approval.

Some argue that those who are homosexuals through no fault of their own and unable to change this condition should be allowed sexual expression of love within committed relationships as a lesser of two evils or a compromise in a less than perfect world.

Some argue that homosexuality is the natural state for some individuals, even though heterosexuality is the natural state for the majority of humans; therefore, genital expressions of love between homosexuals in a committed relationship is natural for them.

Advocates of this position maintain that Scriptures are not always properly understood in reference to homosexuality. They are described as perversions for heterosexuals who engage in them and the Scripture must be read in that context.

Then in giving "Church Position" the writers, in effect, accept the reasoning of those who defend homosexuality. Consistent with their ambiguous stand on concupiscence, they say that the homosexual person "May or may not be responsible for or capable of changing the orientation. No general judgment can be passed that can be applied to all persons in this state."

Once this is said, it would be cruel for the Church to consider the homosexual orientation "a grave disorder." No wonder the children are taught that the Church should have a "pastoral approach" which is "challenging and comforting" to homosexuals.

Homosexuality gives the sex educators an opportunity to compare the uncompromising teaching of the Catholic Church with the widespread psychological research going on to justify homosexual activity.

There is serious, scholarly and prayerful study within the Church by theologians, psychologists and sociologists about the question of homosexuality. But there is no indication that the Church's official teaching on the immorality of homosexual genital acts will change.

With this sympathetic attitude towards homosexuality, it is not surprising that parents are recommended to discuss the following questions with their children.

How do you think Jesus would treat a homosexual who came to Him? What advice might Jesus give? What advice might Jesus give His disciples in terms of welcoming or rejecting the homosexual who sincerely believes in Jesus?

The implications are clear. Given the widespread practice of homosexuality in the United States, children are to welcome and not reject lesbians and homosexual men. They are also to be warned against certain prejudices against homosexuals. One stereotype is "that homosexuals are child molesters."

There is one other premise of sex education that is brought out by its treatment of homosexuality. This touches on the essence on Christian chastity. "Human beings are different from animals," the children are told. "The only purpose for sex in animals is reproduction. In human beings, sex is different. People are meant to love each other."

On the basis of this principle, it is logical to approve the "general expressions of love between homosexuals."

It is also logical to approve artificial birth control between married persons, "provided the motives for avoiding or limiting conceptions are unselfish."

To say that these are "non-Church Positions" is irrelevant. Glossed over is the teaching of the Catholic Church, that sexual activity is permissible, indeed laudable, only in marriage, between persons of the opposite gender, and engaged in marital acts that do, indeed, foster mutual love between the spouses, but are not contraceptive.

If there is one word that human psychology has coined which undercuts the meaning of Christian chastity, it is the word "love." Both contraception and homosexuality, on these premises are morally licit and, in fact, praiseworthy, as long as they are practiced in love. After all human beings are not mere animals. Unlike animals, their sexual activity is an expression of love.

Let me close with a statement of the late Pope Pius XII. "The virtue of chastity," he says, "does not mean that we are insensible to the urge of concupiscence, but that we subordinate it to reason and the law of grace, by striving wholeheartedly after what is noblest in human and Christian life." For us who believe in Christ, chastity is a tribute to the power of God's grace to rise above human psychology in following the Divine Master and His immaculate mother Mary.

Copyright © 1999 by Inter Mirifica

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