Sex and death, pt. 1
But public image aside, some days I think I’ve almost worked out almost all the sexual tension once so ubiquitous on this blog — well, most of it, anyway. And no, that’s not due to sedatives in the food (which I hear they give the boys at boot camp; makes things simpler all around). A god has been displaced, so to speak. How’s that, you say? Well, let’s talk life for a minute.
From a time standpoint, one thing we’re sure of is that we each have a finite span of days to live; evidence is pretty clear on that point, right? Just as the facts are equally emphatic about that bit of days directly preceding us (parents, ancestors, world history and all that). At the point of death for all people so far, there is another stretch that follows them (children, descendents, more history and such). But depending on how you view things, there’s either a divergence or not at that point: the dead person goes on to some sort of post-life existence (good, bad or prolonged) while life on earth continues ... or life on earth is the only time line following death. Grim thoughts, I know, but bear with me.
Now when it comes to good stuff, most of us are reasonably confident it exists, right? But what it is and when you get it, that there’s some disagreement on. For those in the post-death extinction camp, it’s pretty clear that life is your only chance to take in good stuff. Hence hedonism, hence sucking the marrow out of life, and such views. Within such a view, it’s safe to say there’s equally strong consensus the good stuff gets doled out disproportionately in this life. Not much you can do about that, except try to share sometimes, and make sure you get enough for yourself.
But for those who think there’s any sort of life after death — on earth as well as for the dead — things get a little complicated. You’ve still got the unfair-distribution problem regarding good stuff on earth, but if you believe there’s life after death, is there good stuff to be had in that spell of days, or not? This is where the world-renouncing camp emerges: that group of people who think the post-death good stuff is actually better than the good stuff life has to offer, so there’s little point getting too caught up with the whole business of life. It’s like that relationship you maintain while waiting for your real soul mate to come along.
In theory, the split between the world-renouncing and the world-embracing camps would closely track the life-death-extinction/life-death-life divide I talked about earlier. But not always so. After all, there’s this thorny problem of certainty. No one’s really come back after death to verify what happens, so both sides — both — are forced into a faith position. Which for the life-death-extinction crowd might mean you try to do a few good things here and there in case there’s any sort of post-life investment program it might be good to save toward, or some sort of, uh, reckoning after death. But for the life-death-life crowd — if that view (supposedly) goes along with renouncing the goods and joys of this world — it means sometimes you start to eye the apparently quite-fun goods of this world a little uncertainly.
Ultimately, I think that’s where a lot of the problem with sex has happened for the Christian tradition. The leadership has tended to decide that since we’re life-death-lifers, we should also be world-renouncers. And while we’re renouncing the “goods” of this world in quasi-Buddhist fashion, we might as well renounce sex as one of the least-fulfilling, most-deceptive and therefore destructive “goods” to be had. Well, OK, maybe that’s slight caricature. But still. A church that’s trying to marshal people around this vision of future ultra-good good stuff (because supposedly that’s the best way to compel our good behavior, which of course is the chief function of the church) will be inclined to demean this world’s goods. Otherwise, you get people like Lot’s wife, who should have been looking toward the future and instead looked back to the part of this world she was leaving, and turned into a pillar of salt! Salt, mind you! (Which was clearly not at all what Jesus meant in that part about being the salt of the earth.)
I’ll admit I’ve been setting up something of a straw man here, but personally I think both extreme world-renouncing and extreme world-embracing are out of balance. In their own way, both tend toward extreme selfishness. Cause who doesn’t want good stuff? We all do. Even us un-admitting masochists. So, depending on where we think it’s at and where it’s gotten (now or later, by grasping or virtue), we put all our energies toward getting it. And this is where sex comes in. Even if, supposedly, you should be in the world-renouncing camp, it’s hard not to notice all the power here. I mean, what, beside what water does to the ground, is possessed of equal life-making force as sex? And it sure seems to be a good time — people hollering and moaning in the closest approximate to non-narcotic ecstasy most of us have probably ever seen (which is why, I’m telling you, more people should listen to Joe Cocker).
.... And check back next week for the riveting conclusion!! Sex and death, pt. 2!!