Why “Sex-Positive” is My New Least Favorite Word

So I want to explain why, as a Christian, “sex-positive” is my new least favorite word, even though I am myself a very sex-positive guy, and I believe that Christianity is also very sex-positive. But I’m going to need to back up a bit to get there.

Christianity is essentially a form of humanism. That is, at its core it is concerned with the dignity of the individual human being and the flourishing of humanity as a whole. However, unlike secular versions of humanism, Christianity recognizes humans as beings in relation to the transcendent, to something—and, specifically, Someone—beyond the material realm. 

humanism

A truly humanistic humanism must begin with an account of humans that is accurate. And humans are not merely physical/material beings. We have, to use traditional language, souls. We are indwelt by the eternal and we yearn for the eternal. We have a destiny, a telos, that includes, but is not limited to the physical. And so our highest and greatest good, our flourishing both as individuals and as a human community cannot be reduced merely to physical health, material prosperity, and just power relations, however important those things might be.

And yet, in post-Christian, pluralistic Western society, the secular worldview has now set the rules of engagement in the public square. And one of those rules is that moral claims—any “should” or “ought”—must be made without reference to the transcendent. Moral claims must be grounded in empirical evidence and be commonly agreed upon by all (or at least a voting majority). Thus, Christians, who are essentially humanists and have a desire to see human flourishing for all people and not just Christians, are now put in the awkward position of having to make a case for their account of human flourishing in secular terms.

It turns out this is impossible. (Go figure: you can’t explain a vision of human flourishing that is rooted in the transcendent without reference to the transcendent.) But Christians have still been doing their darnedest for the past century or so. At first, it worked…at least some of the time. Because enough of the fumes of transcendence still lingered in the air our culture breathed that even if we didn’t talk directly about God or the bible or the afterlife, we could still sort of pantomime enough in their direction that people picked up on it. But the thinner those fumes got, the harder it got. (Mixed metaphor, I know).

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As it has gotten harder, some Christians have respond by just retreating from the public square, but others have just pushed harder at this impossible task of making a compelling case for the “oughts” of the Christian vision without making reference to the transcendent. And the result has been, well, less than compelling. (Again, big surprise). And in the sphere of sexuality, this has been particularly difficult as the mindset of consumer choice and libertarian freedom has come to exert increasingly influence on our views of sex.

See, a Christian with one hand tied behind her back (the hand that would be pointing up to the transcendent/God) is forced to work with just one hand (the hand that only points around to the material/empirical realm). So she is forced to make the case that the Christian sexual ethic will result in more human flourishing than alternative ethics by pointing to “consequences” and “rewards” on the material/plane plane. I.e., to make the case that this ethic of reserving all sexual activity for marriage and maintaining life-long monogamy will avoid more consequences (unwanted pregnancy, STD’s, emotional trauma, etc.) and net more rewards (fulfilling sex life, fewer abortions, stronger marriage, etc.).

Now, I happen to think that this is true. And I think a fairly persuasive case can be made for it. See for example, Wendell Berry’s classic essay, “Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community,” (which is not entirely without reference to the transcendent, but puts most of the emphasis on how we have lost sight of the inherently communal nature of sex and its “consequences”). However, if someone as skilled and winsome as Mr. Berry can make a case for it, it’s also true that most of the time, the Christian, laboring away one-handed, ends up looking like a fool or a maniac.

one arm

More often than not, this one-handed approach comes off as what has recently come to be called “sex-negative.” Having agreed ahead of time not to use her transcendence hand, she hacks and slashes with her “immanent” hand, hammering on the “consequences” of extra-marital sex and the “rewards” that fornicators, masturbators, and pornography-users will miss out on. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. If you do X, Y will be the consequence. She appears to be (and maybe often is) using fear and shame, rather than being, well, sex-positive. The non-Christian observing all this feverish pointing at consequences interprets the Christian as saying—to use the words of one recent sex-positive blogger—SEX IS BAD! DON’T DO IT!

Meanwhile, the secularist, whose core moral convictions (self-expression is a moral good, personal autonomy trumps almost all other considerations, liberty is increased by maximizing choices, etc.) are not only allowed but do not even have to be argued for because they are just part of the Enlightenment air we all breath (i.e., she’s playing with two hands) can talk about sex in the context of these moral goods and calmly make some suggestions about “moderation” and “safety” and come off looking like a sane, common-sensical person who is just really, you know, sex-positive and has my flourishing at heart.

This so-called sex-positive approach has so much traction in our post-Christian cultural milieu, that even a lot of Christians seem to be jumping on board. Turns out mom and dad were overstating the consequences of premarital sex. Turns out our virginal wedding nights weren’t the awesome experience they built them up to be. Turns out we’ve got all kinds of lingering body-shame and sex-guilt from all the scare tactics of our youth pastors. Maybe this level-headed, be-safe-and-responsible-and-do-what-works-for-you approach is a better ethic than the crazy, ol’ fashioned Christian one.

But here’s the thing: I think that many of us (certainly the Christians, I would hope!) believe that humans are spiritual beings, that we do have a soul. And something as powerful and emotional and holistic as sex must involve that part of us. And so we need to untie that other hand if we’re going to really talk about sex. We need to talk about the transcendent if we’re going to make sense of it.

In particular, I think we need to introduce the word “sacred” to the conversation. See, the real reason the Christian sexual ethic puts such serious boundaries around sex is not because its afraid of the “consequences” of illicit sex. It is because it understands sex to be sacred. Sex is one of the rare and special things God has given us that is sacramental, it is a “thin place,” a portal between the material and the transcendent. Or maybe a better way to say that is: a place where God has promised to take up the material into the transcendent.

And even more than that, Christians believe that marital sex is a kind of “icon of redemption.” That the mutual giving and receiving of the spouses in conjugal love is a kind of lived picture of the love of God in Christ for us, the Bride, the Redeemed. And so a way of participating in the mystery of Redemption. 

If any of that is even half true, then sex is holy ground. It’s a place where we take off our sandals  to acknowledge we are in the presence of something beyond us, something mysterious and powerful and not of our own making. Something sacred.

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This is hardly being sex-negative. Sacred things have lots of boundaries around them and strict rules for how they are used not because they are dirty or because using them is shameful. Just the opposite: because they are holy and wonderful and good. To say the fine china is only for special occasions is not a negative view of the china. To say only the priest can enter the sanctuary is not a negative view of the sanctuary. To say that children should be protected and kept safe is not a negative view of children.

In short, if Christians can talk about sex on both the material and the transcendent planes, then I think we have the most sex-positive account going. (What other tradition recognizes all the aspects of sex—self-expression and bodily pleasure and human love and procreative power—and ties them all to a coherent vision of the world as created and redeemed and sustained by a loving God?) So as a pastor, I’m going to keep telling my people not to use porn or prostitutes, not to have sex before our outside of marriage. Not because I’m afraid of sex or squeamish about it or think its dirty. But because I’m sex-positive. Because sex is sacred. And I want to help them keep it that way.

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44 thoughts on “Why “Sex-Positive” is My New Least Favorite Word”

  1. Very key: “And humans are not merely physical/material beings.” This is what the secular world doesn’t take into account about sex. I could do (and have done) an entire sermon on that one idea. It’s what Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 where he says, “The saying of the day for you Corinthians is “sex is for the body just like food is for the stomach; if you’re hungry, eat! If you want sex, then sex!” –Paul then goes on and explains that sex is about much more than just the body. God’s design is “one flesh”, which is a complete combination of all of what two people are.

    Also, great point in that bringing out the benefits of saving sex until marriage isn’t really going to convince anyone to act accordingly. We have to understand the why, the definition, the design of sex. Knowing that sex is God’s and he designed it a certain way to accomplish a much bigger purpose than the world’s shallow version of it.

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    1. People design and make things. In fact making stuff, if not making stuff up, is what makes us human when we make that comparison with the not-human.

      Because of this, when we make god in our own image, we make god a maker and designer too.

      God is made in our own images as a maker because this makes us feel special, which helps us survive as we make our own way in the world.

      Hunter-gatherers societies massively control sex, and so do bronze age makers of monotheistic religion-based kingdoms & theocracies. Usually to the benefit of old men no matter what makes them happy. The further we move away from those economies the more futile will those with preferences-more-bronze-age-in-inspiration be in trying to foist them on those who do not share them.

      Save yourselves by all means, but we designed god for our own purposes, passions and preferences, however conflicted, and not the other way around. I feel it is more shallow to boost one’s own preferences onto the transcendent than to make an effort to understand what is before us. It is more shallow–> because we are indulging ourselves, perhaps with a wiff of entitlement, if not privilege.

      Indulgence is almost the only sin.

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      1. “Hunter-gatherers societies massively control sex”

        Most of the few H-G societies I’ve read about are pretty liberal about sex, actually. Lots of pre-marital sex, low control of women’s body, easy divorce including woman-initiated divorce. I’m not saying they’re all like that, since there’s a lot of such societies with incredible diversity, but it’s certainly not the case that all “primitive” societies have “primitive” morality by modern liberal standards.

        (Also not true of Bronze or early Iron Age societies. Seems that ancient Egyptian women had it pretty good, Babylonian ones not so much, Assyrian women were chattel. Spartan women had more freedom than Athenian women. Early Imperial Roman women had it better than early Republican women, and probably both were again better off than Athenian women. Meanwhile Cherokee and Iroquois women had a formal say in government.)

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  2. And yet, everything you’ve just said would be FINE by the vast majority of “secularists” (although I don’t understand why you would view people who follow different faiths as purely secular) if it was confined to religious spaces. If you want to say that this is my faith and this what I teach my children and what I talk about in church and what I mention when this comes up in conversation, that is entirely fine and a wonderful way to celebrate and live your faith. However, there are a growing number of people who do NOT share the Christian faith, or Christians who practice, interpret or live their faith differently than you choose to. Even in a heavily community-based religion like most sects of Christianity, individual belief and application of that belief varies wildly. I can only think of one reason for this to be such a bone of contention for you, and that’s that you have tried to take a private religious belief into the public sphere.

    The real problem I have in this article is that many things that is being said by heavily conservative Christian groups in regards to sex are untrue, misleading, based in shame rather than joy in the body that God has given you and are being pushed into completely inappropriate arenas, like sex education in public schools. At one point in my adolescence, I remember watching a sex ed video at a church youth group meeting that told us that condoms don’t work because latex is filled with tiny holes that let diseases like HIV through, which is blatantly untrue, but when I asked why doctors wore latex gloves if they didn’t protect against disease, I was shushed and told that I just didn’t understand yet. I know that my public high school’s sex ed class included three weeks of learning about biology and STDs and 20 minutes of going over contraception. There was never a single word spoken about sexual pleasure, masturbation, LGBT issues or alternative sexualities. If “sex-positivism” is a word that you’ve come to dislike, that might be because it’s a word that exists outside the Christian framework and exists equally for people of all faiths and no faith. Public schools or publicly funded clinics should not cater or defer to the wishes of one particular religious group, no matter how prevalent that religion seems to be. Would you support a high school that refused to serve any food and shut off the drinking fountains in the hallways during Ramadan? Why would you support a strict, specific Christian interpretation of the proper role of sexuality being the only one that is taught in schools or available to young people. Ultimately, sex is an individual choice, like faith. You should not have or want the power to ‘fumigate’ choices that differ from your own.

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    1. Lana, thanks for taking the time to write such a lengthy reply. I can empathize with some of your negative experiences with how some Christian groups handle issues surrounding sex. I’m certainly not advocating any sort of approach that promulgates misinformation or encourages ignorance. Also, you pose the rhetorical question “Why would you support a strict, specifically Christian interpretation” of sex being taught in public schools. I’d just like to point out that I wouldn’t.

      I would say the bulk of response seems to miss the whole point of my post, though. When you say that my “bone of contention” must come from the fact that I’ve tried to take a “private religious belief into the public square,” you are operating on the assumption that my views are “private” but the views of non-religious people are somehow “public.” This is founded on the assumption that there is some neutral ground, some uncontested views that we all agree on. But there is no such neutral ground. There is no such thing as (in your words) “a framework that exists equally for people of all faiths and no faith.” Every framework is a built on beliefs and assumptions and articles of faith.

      So my argument is not that I should be able to “push” my beliefs on those who don’t share them. My argument is that the public square should be open to views founded in any belief, not just ones that appear to be non-religious. I should be able to make arguments in the public square that reference God or transcendence or the idea of the sacred without have them disqualified preemptively. If those arguments are appealing and persuasive to others, they can decide whether then to allow them to influence policy (education, clinics, etc.). If they don’t find them appealing or persuasive then they will decide accordingly.

      When it comes to sex, any kind of legislative or policy issues are always moral issues (abortion, contraception, divorce, etc.) So the problem with the “secular” approach to sex is that it presents itself an amoral, merely factual or scientific view (It’s not our place to tell people, even children, that they should or shouldn’t be having sex, that’s a “private” moral decision), but actually it is founded on all kinds of moral beliefs (Why should a woman have a right to choose? Why should teenagers be given information about contraception? Why should LGBT folks have the right to marry?–However, you answer those questions, you will be making a moral claim.)

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      1. I would disagree that legislative policy issues related to sex are necessarily moral as you define moral. In fact, ALL legislative policy is necessarily NOT based in morality (which is subjective, colored by prejudice, and often exclusive), but rather on interpretation of a set of laws that were implemented at the founding of our country. I will admit that our interpretation of those laws are often deeply subjective, colored by prejudice, and exclusive. However, the idea is that there is constant room to improve, to change, and to ensure the best interpretation, as more information is available, more types of people have access to a voice in the interpretation.

        The country is based on the fact that ALL humans have a set of unalienable rights, and that there are a set of freedoms and restrictions that must be enforced to protect those rights. And, I would point out, that these founding ideas WERE in fact infused with your “transcendence”, despite the separation of Church and State (one nation, under G-D).

        So, a decision, say, about whether a woman should have access to an abortion cannot be left to just moral dictates, because that excludes all of the other, very much material based policies and situations that made her need an abortion in the first place (hence the interpretation that her right to privacy is enough to protect her, since nobody else can know the set of circumstances that put her in that position). Or the decision that two men can have consensual adult sex, must be based on the interpretation of equality, not morality. The bible states that homosexuality is a sin, but the bible does not have to be equal for all people. As soon as decisions are made on interpretations of an exclusive text only believed by some, and not the Constitution which was intended for all, we get into dangerous territory.

        I find your discussion of having one hand tied behind your back very compelling. The problem, however, is that religious beliefs are inherently exclusive to those that don’t share them. A polygamist (not a religion, I know, but bear with me) who wants the right to sleep with many different people (adults, consenting), is also, in fact, interpreting that same understanding that sex is sacred — in fact, so sacred, that to share it with only one of G-D’s creations is actually what limits our experience of this incredible act of love. I am in no way saying that you should abide by this or teach it to your children — however, in essence, you are arguing that we should put all of our personal interpretations of sex (whether they be informed by transcendence or not) and have them chosen as the ONE interpretation to be enforced by LAW for all people, regardless of their religious beliefs.

        You argue that sex is sacred, and it is. However, it is also affected by any number of material aspects — not the least of which include access to safe contraception and health care that some members of religious groups have removed from public access for moral reasons. As a citizen of this country, you have the right to personally interpret your understanding of sex however you choose. This is the benefit of living in a democratic country. However, not everyone shares those beliefs. And it is not required of them. What is required of everyone is that we act in a way that preserves the rights and safety of others — we have an age of consent, to protect children, and consent in general, to ensure that nobody is forced into a situation that is dangerous or hurtful to them (although the enforcement of those laws is often lacking). These are based on the understanding that sex is a an act that carries with it consequences (however you want that interpreted), and is both physical and emotional (again, however you want that interpreted).

        But the reason that we do not allow religious views into the public sphere is precisely because they are not public. The reason that you have to hide that hand is because not everyone shares that belief, nor should they have to. Instead, they have to agree to the terms set out by the laws that we all agree to, and then can operate within those laws however they best see fit. Allowing you to have your Ministry, and me to be a practicing Jew (where we interpret sex as sacred, but as important to explore prior to marriage to understand how it operates in a relationship), and allowing two men to have sex because they love each other and consent to it and have equal rights, and allowing a teacher to teach all children about the scientific realities of sex and contraception so that they have access to that understanding, regardless of whether they are saving themselves for marriage or not.

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        1. Maria, I think we may be talking past each other by using the word “moral” in slightly different ways. You are using the word “moral” in a rather narrowly defined way which sort of smuggles in a set of assumptions that tip the balance in your favor and allow you to stay blind to your own moral assumptions. It seems “moral” to you is already carrying the connotation of private and/or religious conviction not shared by everyone. I am using the word more broadly, (and more accurately, I would argue,) to mean simply any assertion about how humans ought to behave. You speak about “laws” and “the founding documents of our country” as if they are morally neutral, and therefore “fair” grounds for establishing public policy. However, these are not morally neutral codes/documents (which you sort of admit right at the outset, but then back off from); they are expressions of moral convictions about rights, justice, and what constitutes the good. So for example, when you say “a decision about whether a woman should have access to an abortion cannot be left to just moral dictates, because that excludes all of the other, very much material based policies and situations that made her need an abortion” you’re creating a false dichotomy between the moral and the material. Both someone who argues for access to abortion and someone who argues against it will be making a moral argument (and I’m sure both would make reference to “material” facts to make their case as well).

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          1. You are correct that law is not morally neutral in the sense that you intend, but I actually don’t think that that is a response to Maria’s point. The society that we live in is built around a restricted moral framework that sets out the preconditions for co-existence between people with complete moral frameworks that diverge from one another. One of those preconditions is that you not kill me. Another is that you not be permitted to impose your complete moral framework on me forcibly. The structure of a society that respects this restricted moral framework must provide services that are immoral in some complete frameworks, and must not restrict things simply based on the fact that some complete moral frameworks find them immoral. Otherwise, that is an imposition of your complete moral framework on another.

            The problem with your response above is that you correctly recognize that law is moral, but take that as a license to attempt to operate on your complete moral framework in the field of law. Any argument based on religion necessarily relies on your complete moral framework, and is therefore ineligible in policy discussions so long as you must respect the fact that your moral framework diverges from others. This is because a policy based on your complete moral framework will take away the ability of others to act on theirs.

            A consequence of this system is that people are not free to apply their complete moral framework in their own conduct either: the restricted moral framework has certain requirements about how you treat other people. Even if your religious beliefs were to include the idea that homosexuality is a sin, that does not mean you should be able to discriminate against gay people, any more than an atheist who believes that Christianity is destructive should be able to refuse to hire or provide services to christians.

            I read this as a piece about moral exhortation however, and in the realm of moral exhortation without recourse to law you are exactly right: people who are religiously inclined should use all the tools of religion to explain their moral positions and why they consider them right. Religious reasons are the primary reason religious arguments are persuasive, and the best reason to adopt a religious moral position.

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          2. I think I agree with you up to a point. I’m not advocating that I, or anyone, should be able to impose my “total moral framework” as you call it, on others. Simply that in a democracy, the negotiation of what you call a “limited moral framework” is a process that should not exclude religious folks from the negotiations. When you say religious arguments should be excluded, you are still operating from the assumption that the “requirements” that the limited moral framework has about “how you treat other people” are somehow self-evident (based on science) or universally-held. But they are not. They are not. E.g., some people think that limited moral framework should include the rule that we don’t abort others, while others think it should include the rule that we don’t prohibit others from getting abortions. That’s something that has to be negotiated.

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      2. A prerequisite for communication is the existence of some common ground, some uncontested points of reference that all the communicants agree on.

        When you’re searching for a metal and plastic object with a physically encoded authentication system that can be used to start the engine of your car, and might ask someone “Can you help me find my car key?” In a world with no common ground, their response might be to point to the nearest water buffalo and tell you that it’s edible. Or just peer at you in confusion. In this world, however, there is enough common ground that, much of the time, your words will convey that you are searching for an object, some key properties of the object, and that you are requesting assistance.

        I certainly wouldn’t claim that the common ground is all-encompassing. Even among speakers of the same language, there can be hilarious and/or infuriating failures to communicate that stem from gaps in common ground. The gaps can be due to misalignments of common ground, such as in how a word is assigned meaning…

        * Two restaurant patrons sharing a whole roast duck, one asks the other to pass the bill, and receives a cooked duck beak rather than an expense ledger.
        * A group of people arguing about whether two people love each other, without first establishing which of the many meanings for ‘love’ are being applied.)

        …though there are conventions for detecting and correcting such gaps. (“Oh, I meant the check…” or “Wait, wait, that makes no sense. Unless… are you talking agape, eros, philia, or storge here? Ludus? What’s that?”). Alternately, the gaps can also be from truly unshared experience…

        * A well fed suburbanite complaining about unbearable hunger to someone who has endured, and lost family to, starvation.
        * Trying to convey the concept of privilege by using a bicycling metaphor when speaking to someone whose parents “worked their way out of needing a bike” and things the solution is to buy everyone a car.
        * Explaining the sacredness of all things to someone who has never been spoken to by the spirit of a stone. Though this can also fall into the misalignment category when the other person *has* held personal communication with the all-mother and has a different but similarly-worded conception of ‘the sacredness of all things’.

        Given my experience in successfully communicating many things with many people in more than one language, and my experience of being capable of at least minimal communication with all coherent speakers of my native language (so not accounting for infants, seniors with dementia, or the exceedingly intoxicated), I’m confident that I inhabit a world that has rather substantial common ground. Call it C0 – language-enabling common ground.

        That common ground also makes a useful foundation for a whole heap of additional structure. Whether you’re a cyclist or a starvation victim, a stone-speaker or an all-mother devotee, the Pythagorean theorem, however surprising, should also be something you can agree with. So too would be the predicted pain of dropping a solid cubic meter of depleted uranium on one’s foot – it’s outside our range of experience, but well inside our range of inference. Call it C1 – Commonly derivable common ground.

        Out of caution, I wouldn’t claim that the impossibility of trisecting an arbitrary angle using classical compass-and-straightedge constructions part of the core common ground. While the proofs are airtight, the statement of the problem is so frequently misunderstood (as evidenced by even modern generations trying to disprove the claim) that it should be in some different category, while universally accessible, may require meticulous attention to detail to avoid easy errors. Call it C2 – Carefully derivable common ground.

        C0, C1, and (with some patience) C2 are all things that apply for all people I’ve encountered, and for all the faiths they’ve had. After learning the language, they’d probably apply for Nunavit Inuit, African Bushmen, Australian Aborigines, and hypothetical undiscovered isolated tribes as well. Fiction encroach on reality and we get a chance to interact with artificial intelligences, uplifted terrestrial species, extraterrestrial aliens, or supernatural beings, then if any communication at all was possible, I’d expect C0, C1, and C2 to be common ground there, as well.

        And given those items of common ground necessarily exists between any successfully communicating beings, regardless of their assumptions, belief structures, faiths, or exclusively-personal experiences, it seems like they’d be a good thing to call “neutral ground”, or “uncontested views that we all agree on” that “exists equally for people of all faiths and no faith”. Better yet, any argument or inference that you could construct based on that common ground would itself be C1 or C2 – again part of the common ground and not the exclusive province of the bike-riders or the stone-speakers.

        I understand that there are plenty of things that fall outside the common ground, including things like “We all agree the rock is hard, but why is it hard?” The stone-speaker may have been told, by the stone, that the stone wishes to be hard. The all-mother devotee may have been granted the intrinsic understanding that there must be hardness in the universe, and stones are an embodiment of that universal requirement. The bike-rider may feel that flat tires are bound to happen, and stones are one of fate’s ways of hastening that destiny. Nonetheless, regardless of the personal revelations that have been vouchsafed to some but not others, “rock is hard” (C0) still gets reliably agreed upon. As does “hard thing hitting head causes pain” (C0) and “rock hitting head will hurt” (C1. Or C0, depending on personal experience.) And for all the baggage that we can’t agree upon, there’s still a huge amount of things that, as evidenced by the continuing utility of language, we do have a useful measure of agreement upon.

        So, here I am, observing quite a lot of neutral ground that doesn’t depend on one’s faith. And there’s your comment (Aug 25/4:45pm) asserting there is no such thing. Asserting, by extension, that any attempts at communication between people with different faiths, different beliefs, or different assumptions… heck, even minorly different experiences… are fundamentally impossible.

        Since you write blog posts, I presume you have some belief in the possibility of communication, and thus the existence of some common ground… so it’s clear that either I don’t understand what you mean by “some uncontested views that we all agree on” (that you claim doesn’t exist), or you don’t understand the distinction between public (C0/C1/C2-based) and private (things that are not available to public experience and understanding, but depend on your private experiences) views, and the great harm that historically has come from mixing them.

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      3. An observation in a different direction, based on reading this post after reading the previous post about bikes and white privilege, and listening to some world news.

        I wonder – if you lived in an ISIS/ISIL-controlled region, or some other place dominated by a non-Christian and not-very-Christian-friendly religion, would you still like to have religious arguments be fair game in the discussion and adoption of public policy? Would you still want un-Christian arguments that are appealing and persuasive to an anti-Christian majority to influence policy?

        If so, could you explain why? It seems like a pretty misery-laden, perhaps even suicidal, position to take. I’d think that more good could be done by having what you could say based on common ground be listened to, than having what you could say based on your religious grounds be ignored.

        If not, please check your religious privilege. I’d urge you to imagine what would be a good approach in situations where you knew that opening up the debate to religious arguments would be to the distinct DIS-advantage of Christians. Then, consider whether that approach might be a better one to advocate in general… even when you’re in the privileged group and wouldn’t need to.

        I do appreciate your point that it’s difficult, and sometimes impossible, to make common-ground-based arguments for conclusions that flow easily from the assumptions of a particular religion. I do not, however, find the ease of making arguments like “Dhimmis should either convert, pay Jizya, or be put to the sword” or Stalin’s “All faithful should be shot or sent to labor camps” to be an appealing outcome. Not coincidentally, I think those would be impossible arguments to make in a public discourse constrained to the common ground. Sadly, without that constraint, those arguments could be made and were (or are) sufficient appealing and persuasive to produce many corpses. I think that sometimes it’s best if certain arguments *are* more difficult to make… or even impossible.

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  3. What proof do you have that humans have “souls” or that humans have some sort of relation to a non-material realm? The reason that religion is not allowed to reference the transcendent in the public square, is that there is no scientific basis for belief in a transcendent power. Absent scientific evidence, there is no reason to allow belief in a higher power to enter into the discussion on moral issues in the public square.

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    1. Michael, your question presumes that the scientific method should set the bounds for what counts as publicly admissible argument. That’s just silly. The scientific method is a tool for doing experiments on the physical/material universe. By definition, it only deals with that which is empirical and measurable. Moral issues, on the other hand, in the public square or anywhere else, deal with the non-material realm. Regardless of your belief system as soon as you start making moral claims, they are not claims based on science (in the sense you mean it here). They are value judgments based on your “take” of the world. If you think that your moral reasoning is based on the scientific method, then you either don’t understand the scientific method or you are blind to how your own beliefs inform your moral judgments.

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      1. Also, that argument defeats itself. The statement that, “Only science should be used to form policy” is itself a conclusion that can’t be reached by the scientific method and is a statement of morality, which necessarily deals with more than just the material world.

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      2. Michael’s two closing statements aside, his initial question still stands: “What proof do you have that humans have “souls” or that humans have some sort of relation to a non-material realm?”

        It is a rather important question given that your entire argument is predicated on those positions. The material realm includes the so-called “mind” since as yet all the evidence points unequivocally towards consciousness being an artifact of electro-chemical activity in the anatomy of the human brain.

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        1. The idea that “all the evidence points unequivocally towards consciousness being an artifact of electro-chemical activity” is just flat-out wrong, Joe. I would highly recommend David Bentley Hart’s _The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss_. He makes a compelling argument that science will in fact never be able to explain consciousness–i.e., that that is literally impossible, and that consciousness remains one of the most compelling arguments for what you call the non-material.

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          1. Dodging the question again I see…what evidence can you present that “souls” exist, or indeed that *anything* “supernatural” exists? It would be nice to for once hear a falsifiable hypothesis presented instead of circular reasoning. Apologetics making absurd appeals to human exceptionalism and recycling the God-of-the-Gaps fallacy, are anything but compelling. What is compelling is modern neuroscience, particularly the research being funded by the current administration in the National Institute of Mental Health, and modern quantum mechanics, particularly the research being performed with the use of the Large Hadron Collider. Cartesian dualism is demonstrably false. Also, I’ll have a good laugh at your expense when computer science researchers succeed in creating Artificial Intelligence, and doubly so if an AI is ever implanted in a body made with synthetic biology.

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    2. Hi Michael, the argument for souls isn’t a scientific argument, it’s a rational argument. Think of it in different terminology…when we argue that humans have souls, we are saying we are different that beetles, bacteria, giraffes and cats. We have sophisticated thinking, we ask questions about why are we here, we appreciate art and music, we have culture, we strive for more than food, sex and survival. Most everyone would agree that we are different than beetles, bacteria, giraffes and cats, on a rational basis. Christians are just adding to this rational thought to say that God did this intentionally and that our souls are actually eternal. I’m not expecting you to take that Christian leap at this point, but to conclude the first doesn’t need test tubes and a microscope as reason is quite sufficient.

      -Noah
      http://www.atacrossroads.net

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      1. “Think of it in different terminology…when we argue that humans have souls, we are saying we are different that beetles, bacteria, giraffes and cats. We have sophisticated thinking, we ask questions about why are we here, we appreciate art and music, we have culture, we strive for more than food, sex and survival..”

        None of the things you cite here are evidence for a soul, they are only evidence for material differences in cognitive faculties, i.e. the particular anatomical structure of the human brain combined with the biology of our neurons and the chemistry of our neurotransmitters has produced the ability to experience self-awareness and to think critically.

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  4. Thanks for this post. I appreciate the attempt to bring the sacred back into discussion of sex, and I don’t think this has to be placed in conflict with being sex-positive. I am a queer, sex positive male — a kind of Blakean Christian but a Christian nonetheless — and I think an understanding of the sacred is essential for any understanding of the psychological, spiritual, ethical profundity of sex. However, the boundaries that demarcate the sacred are not necessarily so prohibitive as traditional Christianity has insisted, and it is not clear to me from your post just what those boundaries, in your opinion, should be… There are plenty of sacred traditions in history and around the globe that celebrate the sexual body and sexual union as sacred, and yet are not so heavily invested in the effort to minimize sex — to minimize instances, partners, or roles, scenarios, and experiences explored — as traditional Christianity has been. Sex can be used to forge profound connections with lovers, a sense of trust, of patience, of openness, of vulnerability, of shared joy, and deep gratitude. Too often we are told this connection must be minimized, with the assumption that something can only be valuable if it is rare; otherwise it is profane, or animal. Yet humans enjoy having sex and connecting through sex much more than other animals do; we are wired for sexual communion. And sex, even when it is rare, is always also animal; even thought it partakes of the sacred, it is always also, inescapably, a little silly, a little weird, a little icky, a little embarrassing, and this is because it is inescapably a part of our animal nature. This is the most important lesson, that the sacred is not completely separate from the profane, and that the spiritual is not completely separate from the material body. They reside with one another in intimate proximity.

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    1. To be clear, my argument is not that something has to be rare to be special. I don’t think that sex should be rare. I just think it should be monogamous.

      As for my understanding of where the boundaries lie that would demarcate sacred sex, my own understanding is the orthodox one, which you critique here as a overly restrictive. Sex is for married people, period.

      While we certainly agree that there is a sacred or “numinous” dimension to sex, I would push back a little on your understanding of where the boundaries lie (if in fact you think there should be any boundaries at all, that’s not clear). In my understanding, when something is sacred that does not just means that it connects to some kind of experience of transcendence. The sacred always bears an ethical dimension. Sacred means that it is something that gets us close to God, and God is holy, pure, and good. If we are speaking as fellow Christians, I would say the story of God’s covenant with his people is always simultaneously a relational and an ethical one. The covenant calls us to communion AND it commands us to be holy.

      So something that is from God, like sex, will always have a transcendent or spiritual dimension to it, regardless of how we use it. We are always walking on sacred ground in the sexual realm. But that doesn’t mean what we’re doing is a good thing. If God gave us sex, then the question of what constitutes good sex (where to the boundaries lie) would be the question of what God’s intentions for sex where. I’m not sure what foundation you would claim for the idea that God intends sex to be used in the way you describe it above (multiple partners, etc.)

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  5. The claims made in the above comments about morality and science are particularly important to address, I think, in clarifying this debate. This is a hugely vast topic, but I think we can focus the debate by asking this relatively narrow question: is the claim that human beings have “inalienable rights” a scientific one? In other words, could someone attempt an experiment in which they could falsify the claim that, for example, human beings have a natural right to free speech?

    I, for one, cannot even imagine what such an experiment would even look like. It is clear, I think, that the “right to free speech” is a political and legal claim; we point to the Constitution, not science or nature, to defend our position. This suggests that if the Constitution were changed, then this right would essentially disappear. The claim to “inalienable rights” is a claim of a natural or necessary fact, but it is not empirically or scientifically based; indeed, the whole idea of natural rights was always defended on purely rational premises–and as Kant pointed out, such a claim to pure reason was, by necessity, non-empirical–that is, to say, transcendental (see his Critique of Pure Reason).

    The point is this: any claim to moral or ethical rights is always a trans-empirical claim, one founded from a specific political, social, or ideological position. As Dowsett makes clear in comments above, there is no value-neutral ground for the discussion of politics. Those who wish to dispense with the “transcendent” and yet then argue for human rights must recognize that purely immanent claims to human rights are incoherent (this is, I think, one of the discomforting points that Nietzsche makes, though many have ignored this thrust of his work). One cannot derive moral truths from science.

    Now, I think here we have to separate 2 related but quite distinct questions: the first moral/ethical/political questions is, “what is good/right?” As I’ve said above, I don’t see how this could be a scientific question, because I can’t imagine there being any experiment that could falsify any such claim. However, the second question, “how do we achieve the good/right?” most certainly *is* a scientific question. This is to say, once we determine what our goal is, we should certainly use science to achieve it. But it’s very easy to conflate these two questions into one (for a great example of this, see Sam Harris’ work).

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  6. To use your analogy, your problem isn’t that you’re fighting with one hand behind your back. Your problem is that you’ve invented a third hand that’s getting in the way of the other two.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Ok. 1st. I love your blog. My first article on your blog used riding bicycles as a metaphor for white privilege. Loved it. I glanced to my left and I noticed what seemed like anti-christian rhetoric. But I read further and I realized that you are in fact Christian. Even more love.
    Question however. Sexuality and the argument of Christian transcendentalism could be congruent if only Christians had the view point that sex also includes spiritual experiences. Strictly assuming, wouldn’t this be a characteristic of those who practice Karma Sutra and Tantra (I believe that is what it is called). I understand as a Christian the truth, but how would one explain Christianity and the deeper roots of sex to one that is already prominent in the spiritual aspects of sex? I.e. someone that practices tantric sex? One hand would still, in all respects, be tied behind the back. Except now, the natural hand is bound and one has to convince the spiritual hedonist that it is more expedient spiritually (and under Christianity) to be in wedded bliss before partaking in sex. Your thoughts?

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    1. Tough question. There is already a comment on this thread by someone who falls into the very camp you’re describing.

      My initial reaction is to question the legitimacy of the “spiritual experiences” you are talking about. I’m completely ignorant of tantric sex, admittedly. But my instinct is that the hedonist who frames his/her sexual exploits in spiritual language is deceiving him/herself if those sexual encounters fall outside a marriage relationship.

      Of course, Christians believe that everything was created “good” in the beginning, including our bodies and sex. So there will be good aspects to any sexual experience. And sex is spiritual whether one recognizes it or not, so there will be a spiritual aspect to any sexual experience. However, if sex is being misused, the destructive power of that misuse is going to outweigh the original goodness of the sex. (E.g., if someone is sexually abused, something spiritual is happening, but it’s not something good. The result will be psychological and spiritual trauma).

      So I suppose the conversation with the spiritual hedonist is one about ethics. How can the spiritual experience of sex be good/life-giving/ healing/etc.?

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  8. I really like this thought, thank you for sharing! I come to this blog via two separate friends from Oregon linking to your automotive privileged article, which blew me away by presenting an idea that I have been wrestling with for a long time in a way that made perfect sense. I was also quite surprised by the coincidence of finding out about your blog from Oregonians when you live right next door (metaphorically) to me, as I am currently in East Lansing.

    Since the first post I read was so amazing, I have been reading through your other recent posts. This one is interesting to me because I would not characterize myself as a believer, but this still sounds like a great idea to me. For one thing, I think Christians would raise happier, healthier children if this argument were used to explain their beliefs about sex. The other thing I really like about it has been pointed out by others, and here I suspect you will lose some support within the Christian community, is that it makes it clear that the argument only applies to people who share this belief in the specific numinous nature of sex, as otherwise the second hand will be perceived as pointing at nothing at all, which seems unlikely to strengthen the argument.

    Once again, thank you for your thoughts!

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  9. I found this blog when someone posted a link on Facebook to your white privilege article. I really liked that article and I agreed with it completely. What stood out to me about it were the several mentions of a truck driver listening to Christian radio as if that were a good thing. My assumption about a truck driver listening to Christian radio is that he would be a right-wing bigot. Maybe Christian radio is different where you are. In any case, I became curious about your beliefs and went on to read this article, at which point I realized you are a pastor. I’m an atheist and a secular humanist and I am kind of fascinated by liberal Christians.

    As a humanist, I don’t believe that Christianity and humanism are compatible. The core of Christianity is not, as you claim, “…the dignity of the individual human being and the flourishing of humanity as a whole.” On the contrary, the core of Christianity (including your church, if my research is correct) is that all humans are born broken and deserve to be tortured for eternity after we die. The worship of an entity that endorses infinite torture is anathema to humanism.

    You say that being forced to make a secular argument for something is like fighting one-handed. To me it does not seem an undue burden to require that any decent argument must, at the very least, be based on observable, testable facts. If you could demonstrate that souls exist and that they are harmed by extra-marital sex then that argument would be quite welcome in the secular arena. I see that you have addressed this argument somewhat in the other comments. If your definition of what is moral is “…our highest and greatest good, our flourishing both as individuals and as a human community,” that is something that can be observed and measured scientifically. People can certainly disagree about the metrics are, but they have to at least be measurable. You can’t measure a soul.

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    1. So our agreement about white privilege and racial justice would be an example of how we are both humanists. And my humanism is most definitely grounded on my faith. I’m not sure what research you did to to arrive at the understanding that my church does not believe in the “the dignity of the human being and the flourishing of the humanity as a whole.” Both of those things are central to what Christians call the gospel, the announcement that in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God has done what is necessary for us to reach our fullest, most whole, most “actualized” selves.

      The idea that humans are all broken is not incompatible with the belief in the dignity of the individual human and the flourishing of humanity as a whole. Any brand of humanism has to give an account for the “mixed” nature of the human person and the human predicament. Humans are obviously capable of great evil as well as heroic good. For my money, Christianity offers the best account of why that would be. Humans were created as fundamentally good creature endowed with the capacity for love, relationship, responsibility, etc. but now exist in a state where that fundamental goodness has been compromised because it has been severed from its Source. This provides both a realistic assessment of humanities capacity for evil and a hopeful orientation for the redemption of humanity–because our goodness is “deeper” or more primordial or fundamental to who we are.

      The Christian concept of the kingdom (or reign) of God as something that is partially realized in the resurrection of Jesus, but still awaits its full flowering, is also a remarkably powerful account for empowering us to be hopeful and tireless workers for “the flourishing of humanity as a whole.” If I know that God is at work bringing peace, justice, and solidarity in the world now, but am also realistic about the fact that this will never be fully realized until God completes that work, then I can always love others and work for justice despite how others might treat me or what circumstances might seem to indicate about the way things are “really” going.

      It’s clear you have a very distorted and partial view of the Christian faith. If that is because of Christians, I apologize on their behalf.

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      1. Perhaps I wasn’t clear. I’m not saying that you or your church don’t desire the dignity of every human being and the flourishing of humanity. What I’m saying is that you do hold that belief while at the same time believing that we all deserve to be tortured forever in hell. I’m saying that you have a bad case of cognitive dissonance. You say you want to see the flourishing of all people, including non-Christians, while at the same time believing that those non-Christians will go to a place after they die where they will be tortured for all eternity, and that they deserve it.

        How can people flourish in hell?

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        1. I see. Your beef is with the doctrine of hell. You see this belief as fundamentally at odds with humanistic values.

          Well, my first response would be to ask how your beliefs resolve this problem? I.e., I could just as easily ask you: “How can people flourish while they rot in the ground?”

          Secondly, I have to point out that your understanding that Christians believe all non-Christians are going to hell is not correct. Classical Christianity has always believed that there is saving faith outside the church. Responding to the revelation of God (however much one has) with genuine faith is what counts. So, no, I do not believe that “non-Christians will go to hell and that they deserve it.” I make no assumptions whatsoever about anyone’s salvific “status.”

          But to be fair, there is a certain tension you’ve picked up on. Christians have made various theological attempts to mitigate that tension historically. E.g., one option is annihilationism, the belief that hell is not an eternal experience but simply the destruction of the wicked. Another is universalism, the belief that God will save everyone (i.e., hell will be empty).

          More orthodox answers though, have focussed on the fact that people’s ultimate destiny will be their own choice, and it is God’s desire for everyone to choose him. (I confess, my own tradition has been guilty of using language that puts God’s agency in conflict with human agency, thus, making God seem like a tyrant).

          Ultimately, to be a form of humanism, Christianity must recognize the integrity of each human being to be responsible for him/herself, to make decisions that matter. Analogy that works for me (but has its limits as do all analogies) is my own relationship with my children. I love them unconditionally, I want the best for them in life, I hope that they choose the good and the destructive/evil/harmful. But a point will come when they are adults and they will be fully responsible for that choice themselves. If they were to choose a path that leads to their destruction, I would do everything I could to stop them, but–even though I love them and don’t want that for them–I couldn’t force them to choose the path of life, because I would be violating their humanity by doing so.

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          1. The difference between the secular humanist’s belief that people rot in the ground and the religious humanist’s belief that people go to hell is that the secular humanist does not belief that the state of affairs has been ordained as a good one by the highest power.

            A secular humanist believes that it is a sad fact that human flourishing is restricted to the time we are alive, and looks for ways to flourish in spite of that.

            A christian humanist who believes in hell thinks that it is morally correct that some people will be subject to eternal damnation for the choices they have made.

            I think we can agree that eternal torment is the farthest possible thing from human flourishing. I would argue that therefore the proposition that a morally correct framework includes people who are tormented eternally is almost necessarily opposed to the ideal that all humans should attain maximal flourishing (which is how I understand humanism).

            Liked by 1 person

          2. Above:–“Well, my first response would be to ask how your beliefs resolve this problem? I.e., I could just as easily ask you: “How can people flourish while they rot in the ground?”–

            Sorry, but that one’s really easy. They become fertilizer, and the worms and bugs and flowers “flourish” from the nutrients yielded from decomposition. A secular humanist would easily see this as a circle of life – which is good. The secular scientist would see it as eternal life in one sense, and, at least, eternal energy in another.

            Love your blog, but “original sin” and the concept of “hell” leave much to be desired for this modern spiritualist of Christian upbringing. Your defense of it here undermines your strained objection that Christianity is really “sex-positive.”

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  10. Yes, sex is transcendent, and it is an incomplete conversation to talk about sex without discussing the spiritual aspects. But sex outside the Christian ethos and sex devoid of sacredness or spirituality are far from the same thing. People in polite society don’t agree to the rules of engagement to not discuss religious rules regarding sex when talking about sex in public because we believe that sex is not spiritual. Quite the opposite. It is because sex IS sacred to so many people, Christian and non-Christian. Nobody wants to start the conversation off on a premise that only people of one faith are having sacred sex and everyone else is just obeying brain chemistry.That’s why we leave out the spiritual side out of sexual “oughts” and “shoulds” when talking about sex in a public or interfaith setting- because every different spirituality has a different ethic regarding sex.

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  11. Still reading, but I feel compelled to state: it’s really not impossible or even difficult to make a case for humans deserving the chance to flourish for secular reasons, unless you think decency is unique to religious folk.

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    1. I certainly don’t think decency is unique to religious people. I’m not saying there is no secular account of human flourishing. Obviously there is. I’m saying the religious account of human flourishing isn’t allowed in the public square unless it is first de-religiosized. Which is not really possible, since we believe God to be part of what makes for human flourishing.

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  12. Applause to you, sir, for both your thoughtful post and your tireless defense of your views in the comments. A book I would recommend to any Christian readers who want to dive deeper into the topic of sex as sacred is “Christian: Celebrate Your Sexuality” by Dwight Hervey Small. Written during the peak of the “Sexual Revolution” in the United States, it fearlessly confronts contemporary philosophies of “liberated” sexuality, critically examines the history of sexuality of the church, and sets forth a Biblical theology of sex in all its glorious meaning both in the physical and higher realms.

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  13. Having come to your blog from your excellent essay on the Bike Analogy of white privilege, it was with some excitement that I came here to read about your take on sex-positivism from a Christian view. Clearly, your egalitarian view on race relations is informed by your faith and an intuitive understanding of how the playing field may be scattered by obstacles of different sizes and severities for different types of travelers.

    I feel like some of that understanding-across-the-traffic-lanes (to borrow and butcher your analogy) falls short here. When you write that “We have, to use traditional language, souls. We are indwelt by the eternal and we yearn for the eternal,” you seem to say that pure secularists short-sightedly deny a major aspect of the human condition. Personally, I don’t believe in the soul, or in the transcendent. I do not believe that any part of my selfhood becomes tarnished or compromised through frequent (and, yes, at times cavalier) communion of sex.

    The point is not about who has the higher ethical authority to make moral decisions. The question of empiricism vs. faith is a question of intuitive, integral preference: your moral questions are answered, or at least attended to by your faith, which you describe as “a desire to see human flourishing for all people and not just Christians”; mine are resolved through self-reflection, a wide education in human philosophies, and a deep love of the empirical.
    The difference between those two is the point. I believe you argue from a heuristic of the false consensus effect. Your (beautiful, exemplary, sensitive) humanism is so rooted in your faith that I’m not sure you believe that anyone can truly understand humanity without acknowledging the Eternal. Your Christianity is so intrinsic to your egalitarian worldview, that I think you confound the fact that you are a beautiful person with the fact that you are Christian. You say that “Christians have still been doing their darnedest for the past century or so,” and the previous quote about “flourishing,” but I think you overlook the vast numbers (not saying they’re a majority! Just that they exist) of Christians who have done some pretty terrible things in the name of the faith, both in the last hundred years and in the present. I think that how easily the concept of the transcendent can be used for either humanism or whatever the opposite of that is demonstrates that it isn’t the Eternal that guides whether you are a good person or not, but the converse.

    My argument is this, and trickle it down to the question of sex-positivism and what it means to have something that is “sacred”: the Eternal, and more specifically religion and faith in general, needs to be presented with the caveat of “this worked for *me*, try it on if you like,” rather than “by denying the eternal, you blind yourself to the true beauty of humanity.”

    So I would like to officially unshackle that other hand and you may speak as much as you like to the question of the sanctity of sex, and how “Sex is one of the rare and special things God has given us that is sacramental.” I believe that that is as valid a way of looking at the world as mine. But please don’t offer it as “the most sex-positive account going.” It’s the most sex-positive for *you*. For some people, that is fulfilling. For me, and others like me, we feel the equivalent to your “sacred” moment purely through a special intimacy with another human being, without needing mysticism. For us, “the mutual giving and receiving of the [partners] in conjugal love” is the endpoint, not a waypoint to “the love of God in Christ for us.” Is it so hard to believe that we could feel the same joy, without needing the ethereal? Is it so hard to believe that we might not want to reserve sex for special occasions, but that we find no diminishing returns in its frequent exercise–yes, even with different partners.

    Thanks for reading!

    A couple of addenda:

    – I think you could stand to pull your Bike Analogy over to understanding some of the pushback Christian rhetoric has gotten over the past few decades. Christians are still an extensive majority in this country and religious power structures are still strongly integrated with the politics of this country, often with some unsavory effects (the recent Hobby Lobby ruling, atheist and other religious minority exclusions from public spheres, fundamentalist throttling of science education in this country, various book bans, etc.). To say that we are in a post-Christian era is overstatement, but also insensitive to the alternate perspective. There are still many places in this country where to be atheist is to be distrusted and to have your car keyed, and places where people will talk about having been “jewed” out of money.

    -I also take exception to the characterization that secularists think “personal autonomy trumps almost all other considerations.” I think that’s a straw-man oversimplification. Especially since, traditionally, organized religions have been at the vanguard of a lot of cultural choice-restriction in this country. A lot of pastors and priests still preach about a woman’s place in the home, about homosexuality as abomination. The idea of sexual and autonomic freedoms would seem pretty attractive after that repressive atmosphere, and the tides of those orthodox attitudes still haven’t fully ebbed.

    -In writing back to you, I’ve picked out some pretty bad things that Christians (and people of other faiths) have done. To be clear, I’m not grouping you in with people that have preached hatred in the name of religion. But it is difficult for me to accurately separate that which is “true” Christianity from that which is “perverted.” The preachers that sermonized about the evils of miscegenation in the 70s, were they as Christian as you? By what metric were they not? I like your brand of Christianity, and not theirs; who speaks for The People? And what is the difference between choosing a pastor who speaks a brand/branch of Christianity that speaks to your soul, and divesting from the whole lot of it and choosing your own brand of ethic?

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  14. To continue with your fine china analogy: while there’s nothing wrong with saying that fine china is only for special occasions *in your house,* there *is* something wrong with saying that it’s only for special occasions in *my* house. Your china use distinctions have no bearing – and *should have no bearing* – on my or anyone else’s use of china.

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