Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sex, Marriage, and the Catholic Counter-Culture

I am an American citizen, and a practicing Catholic. I've lived in this country all my life, and don't plan to move. On the whole, I like living here. Even though I'm frequently reminded of how much my beliefs run counter to American culture.

Catholic Marriage: Counter-Cultural

My wife and I enjoy watching some of HGTV's programming: like House Hunters. It's an easy way to see some houses - and how the folks make their major purchase decisions. It's also a tiny window on how a handful of American households live.

One of the many patterns I've noticed involves a couple where one has either moved in with the other, or the two are planning to consolidate two households. Sometimes they're married - fairly often they're not.

My wife and I didn't move in together until after we got married. That's a distinctly counter-cultural lifestyle in today's America.

Fitting In, Following God: It's a Choice

Despite what a few high-profile allegedly-Catholic politicos say, being a practicing Catholic in America means being part of a counter-culture. (January 20, 2010, January 12, 2010, September 19, 2009, March 8, 2009)

The assorted hippies, acid heads, and dropouts of the '60s formed counter-cultures: But being "counter-cultural" isn't limited to the Woodstock/Timothy Leary experience. (January 12, 2010)

Being a Catholic doesn't involving forsaking soap and wearing love beads, or wearing outlandish clothes. Actually, it could: and that's another topic.

Being Catholic does mean living in a way that hasn't conformed to local or regional mores during the last two millennia - and isn't, in my opinion, likely to do so in the foreseeable future. Yet another topic. (March 21, 2009)

Bottom line: at the end of all things, I'd rather be in trouble with the Supreme Court, or editors of The New York Times, than with God the Omnipotent, Lord of Hosts. Like the fellow said:
" '...As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.' "
(Joshua 24:15)
Which gets me back to domestic arrangements here in America, around the start of the 21st century.

'If If Feels Good, Do It?

'I'll move in with him, to see how it works.'

I've heard variations on that for almost a half-century now. Depending on who did the talking, I've heard it described as "trial marriage," "shacking up," and "sleeping together."

I've known folks who were nice people, lived together 'without benefit of clergy,' and never got struck by lightning. I even moved to another state with the intention of moving in with a woman - and that's another story. I associate the words "sleeping together" with a sort of cozy feeling.

I also think cohabitation before marriage is a bad idea.

More importantly, the Catholic Church says sexual relations outside of marriage is a bad idea. For one thing, there isn't much commitment in a relationship that's based on what two people feel like doing at the moment. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2391)

Sex, Culture, and This Catholic

Attitudes about the sexual facet of being human have changed quite a bit since I was growing up. Not entirely for the worse. I don't mind, at all, living where the dominant culture assumes that women are people: and where "she's as smart as a man" isn't the way a competent woman is described any more. We may even be getting to the point where a man doesn't have to dislike literature and art to be considered a 'regular guy. Yet again another topic.

I've written about my take on being nostalgic before. Fairly often, actually. (February 14, 2011, May 12, 2010)

Where was I? Marriage, American culture, and Catholic teachings. Right.

Conform or be Labeled

I think that folks should be married before having sexual relations. Also, that marriage involves members of the same species who are of the opposite sex.

That's called 'hate speech' in some circles, I understand. But I'm Catholic, and that's what the Church teaches.

Back when I was growing up, some folks labeled those who didn't agree with them 'commies.'

Today a different set of folks identify lack of conformity with their views as 'hate.'

In the particular judgment, I won't have to worry about what any of them think, and - yep, I've written about that before, too. (August 8, 2010)

Catholic Teachings, Not Victorian Melodrama

I'm fairly confident that there are folks who attend Mass who have beliefs like the stern father in a Victorian-era melodrama.

But that's not what the Catholic Church teaches. As a Catholic husband and father, I am not required to cast my daughters out in the snow, if they make me a grandfather without getting married first.

That's not the same as lacking standards.

I am required to do my level best, acting with my wife, to pass along what the Church has been teaching for about two millennia now. That is to love others, not hate them. No matter what. (December 9, 2010, March 13, 2009)

What people do, on the other hand, I don't have to be all that crazy about.

Which is why I've explained to my kids why I think it's a really bad idea to walk on Interstate highways, take illicit drugs, and engage in sexual intercourse outside marriage.

Some "Love" Can Kill

I've lived in America all my life, so I know that some folks are convinced that it's "loving" to let others do any foolish, self-destructive thing they want to. I didn't think that made sense before I converted to Catholicism, and I still don't.

Moving along.

Marriage: Candy, Flowers, and Clogged Drains

When my wife and I married, I knew what sort of thing I was in for: a lifetime commitment; putting her life before mine; and cleaning out clogged drains.

Also changing diapers and running errands.

And I wouldn't have it any other way. There are a lot of perks, besides "sleeping together," but make no mistake: there's work involved.

Here's a little of what the Catholic Church has to say about marriage, including a FAQ from bishops operating in America:
Related posts:

A disclaimer I make from time to time: I've got the full authority of 'some guy with a blog,' and that position doesn't carry much authority - certainly not in the Catholic Church.


Carla said...

I think maybe you're presuming that having sex when you're not married is somehow inherently hedonistic. I'd like to say that my husband and I were completely committed to each other when we had sex ... 3.5 years before we got married, 7 months before we got engaged. It had nothing to do with "carnal desires" or viewing sex as a contact sport. We were ready. We were committed to each other. We wanted to take that step.

I have a problem with these hard-and-fast rules because the fact is that people, and relationships, are unique. I think that the issues my husband and I had to work through, and I'm talking about sexual issues here, were best dealt with before we were dealing with the stress of entering the "real world" - i.e. graduating college and starting our lives together. We had over 3 years to get to know each other sexually, such that by the time we were married and living together, our physical relationship really was a comfort in all that stress, because it was comfortable, not brand new. But everyone is unique. Telling everyone to do the exact same thing, that the exact same things hurt everyone the same, is untrue.

I think there are huge problems with our society and how people perceive and practice sexuality, such as the "sex as litmus test" idea (yes, sex takes practice and communication. Just because it's not incredible the first time doesn't mean the relationship is doomed.) And people do rush into sexual relationships before they're ready. But I think this has much more to do with the fact that, while young people will get a cursory and clinical "sex education" course in school, they don't get any "love education." And that's how they end up hurting each other and themselves.

Brian Gill said...


No. I'm presuming that, in general, sex is a whole lot of fun, whether the participants are married to each other or not.

Also, repeating part of what I wrote before, "I've known folks who were nice people, lived together 'without benefit of clergy,' and never got struck by lightning."

There are folks who live together for life, do a good job of it, and are more 'married' in some senses of the word, than most folks who filled out all the proper forms.

What I do presume is that it's easier to commit to another person after formally committing to another person.

And that the Catholic Church teaches that marriage is a really good idea for folks who want to join sexually.

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.