Sex makes babies. Life begins at conception. People are born male or female. Marriage is for life. Divorce is not something to be celebrated. Homosexual acts go against nature.
To the informed Catholic these are obvious truths. In fact, up until the second half of the twentieth century, these were undisputed statements that most people, religious or otherwise, held as common sense.
But they are not so common today. In fact, depending on the social setting in which they may be stated, one could be shouted down, fined, or even jailed on charges of inciting hate speech. St. Anthony the Great once said, “A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad they will attack him saying, ‘You are mad; you are not like us.’” We are in that time.
On a more indirect level, I suspect there are many people in our culture who sense something is askew, “off”, not quite right about our culture, but cannot quite put their finger on it. Or they may be unhappy, anxious, and unsatisfied but cannot point to one thing in particular that may be causing such subtle duress.
But in a postmodern, post-Christian culture, communication has been severely challenged. Language has been deliberately co-opted and redefined right under our noses, and as the saying goes, whoever controls the language controls the conversation. We are not speaking the same language, sharing a common lexicon with the culture anymore.
An insightful book for our age
That is why I appreciated Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse’s new book, The Sexual State: How Elite Ideologies Are Destroying Lives and Why the Church Was Right All Along. Dr. Morse puts a name to the malaise and sets forth a systematic exploration and identification of the root causes of the misery of modern life. It would be tempting to resort to strictly religious categories to explain this phenomenon (as hinted at in the latter part of the title), but Dr. Morse resists such a temptation. Instead, she begins the exploration of the problem by drawing on research in the social sciences as well as through the sketching of composites and real life examples of the victims of the Sexual Revolution, before proposing the timeless solution as it may be found in the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Dr. Morse’s contention is an observant and important one: the Sexual Revolution did not just “happen” as a social phenomenon. Rather, it was engineered by cultural elites, enabled and underwritten by the State, codified into law, and accepted as normative in the culture as a deliberate matter of course. As one may see in many of the narratives she lays out in the preliminary chapters, the intentions may have been sincere and well-meaning, but the social experiment was an abject disaster when measured against objective standards of human happiness, health, and well-being. When you invest substantially in such an experiment, when you believe your very life depends on the tenets of absolute sexual freedom, you have too much at stake to let it go quietly into the night. You fight tooth and nail against its annihilation, even when it proves to be harmful to human flourishing and a failure as a social experiment.
The pillars of the Sexual Revolution
Dr. Morse breaks down the ideas of the Sexual Revolution (which gave birth to the Sexual State) into three distinct but interrelated ideologies: The Contraceptive Ideology; The Divorce Ideology; and the Gender Ideology. Each ideology serves the functions of the Sexual Revolution and all are supported by the State.
- For the vast majority of people – married and single, men and women, Catholics and non-Catholics – contraception is so much a fact of life that to question it is almost beyond comprehension. The contraceptive culture is in the air we breathe, the water we drink. Unless you are intentionally opposed to it, it gets into the fibers of your being like asbestos or cigarette smoke.
- Similarly, the divorce culture is like sneezing – it is infectious and has the tendency to “catch on” and spread like wildfire when it is normalized, though many might concede a marriage ending as “unfortunate” but inevitable given certain circumstances.
- Issues of gender questioning and gender confusion are the newest chapter of our age of moral relativism and in many cases, especially among young people, can stem from the trauma of divorce. These issues were almost unheard of fifty years ago, but are now ubiquitous and cannot be avoided in everyday life, so fast has the acceleration of the Sexual Revolution been.
Morse systematically breaks each ideology down in subsequent chapters to lay out the methods by which the ideology was created and perpetuated by elites, how it is intentionally propagated, and what the Catholic Church teaches about these issues, illustrating how it serves as the antidote to the sexual sickness. She lets the arguments and social research rest on their own merits, making the case for common-sense rationalism and traditional Catholic teaching rather than falling back on polemical and heated discourse.
The book is not dry or static in the slightest but is buoyed by examples of the victims of the Sexual Revolution that the author has encountered in real life: children of divorce, as well as spouses who sought to fight for the marriage but were ruled against in courts; college students unhappy and unfulfilled from casual hook ups; post-abortive women who were lied to and manipulated into having their children killed; teenagers questioning whether they are male or female and undergoing hormone therapy; the forty-something successful but childless lawyer undergoing IVF without a husband. We all know such people. We are all touched and affected by the rotten fruits of the Sexual Revolution.
The totalitarian tactics of the State
Such examples would be easy enough to catalog as low hanging fruit, but Dr. Morse takes her premise a step farther to illustrate the institutionalized and totalitarian role the State has played in this downward cultural spiral. She makes it clear that the Sexual Revolution needs the State to promote and advance its ideology because the premises of the Sexual Revolution are, in fact, false. “Sex does make babies. Children do need their parents, and therefore marriage is the proper and just context for both sex and childrearing. Men and women are different. The true sexual revolutionaries resent these facts.” But facts are stubborn things, and perpetuating such fantasy requires “government coercion, media propaganda, economic restructuring, and educational indoctrination (not to mention the pills, medical devices, sterilization surgeries, and abortions.” (60)
Furthermore, The Sexual State is not at all despairing but wholly pragmatic and constructive, laying out in the Manifesto for the Civilization of Love and Family very concrete steps (fifteen of them) as a way to address the failures of the Sexual Revolution, and proposing for consideration (for anyone with an open enough mind to consider its merits), the Judeo-Christian alternative to such madness: namely, that sex has meaning. Our bodies were created in a certain way for a certain purpose. Marriage is a safe haven for raising children. Men and women are unique in their differences. Fertility is a gift, not a disease.
In light of the fruit rotting at the base of the Sexual Revolution tree, the timeless teaching of the Church on love, marriage, sex, and children seems like something wholly new, wholly exotic, and wholly revolutionary, not to mention refreshing and liberating. In contrast to the strong-arm, totalitarian nature of the State to advance its culture of death agenda, claims that the Church is anti-woman, anti-freedom, anti-pleasure do not seem warranted. The subtitle for the book, ”How Elite Ideologies Are Destroying Lives And Why The Church Was Right All Along,” makes clear who the real agents of this destructive revolution are and gives the Church the last word. The Church, it would seem, was in fact right all along.
The Sexual State is a revealing and valuable instrument in the toolbox of those who want to fight back but do not know how; those who know something is wrong but do not know what; and those who want to live in reality in the midst of fantasy. Dr. Morse has sounded a wakeup call to Christians and non-Christians alike to reclaim our culture, our integrity as persons, and to protect and promote the most basic element of society – the family – from all that threatens to undermine and destroy it. We would be wise to heed her advice.