This latest contribution to The Washington Post/Newsweek On Faith online discussion responds to the question: “Why do you think some religions have regarded sex as sacred while others have regarded it as a sin?”
Well, that’s a funny way to put the question: Is sex sacred or sin? In the Bible, and most religious traditions, sex can, of course, be either.
The divinely intended purposes of sexual intimacy are of course very sacred and deeply satisfying in the context of committed relationships. And the degradation and commodification of sexuality in the media, for purposes of advertising, and in exploitative or manipulative relationships is indeed sin, because it can be so abusive and destructive to the human spirit.
The real question is whether sexuality should be regarded as basically covenantal or just recreational.
Sexuality is meant to be enormously enjoyable and fulfilling, but the context of the relationship and the commitment or lack of commitment it contains is of obvious religious importance. And that religious importance is because of how fragmenting or integrating sexual intimacy can be for human beings – dependent on the context of the relationship.
Are Sex in the City and Desperate Housewives our reigning cultural paradigms now when it comes to sexuality? Or is the reconnection of sexual intimacy with commitment a future worth fighting for? That’s the question I hear most often from a new generation of young people. Perhaps surprisingly, many are moving back (or forward) to committed intimacy rather than serial sexual dating.
The quality of the relationship is indeed the critical factor that distinguishes whether sexuality is sacred or profane. And covenantal vs. recreational may be the clearest and more understandable way to ask the right questions.