Thursday, April 29, 2010

"The only kind of discipline that's out of bounds"

I just received my copy of The Loser Letters, and have read the first several chapters. I'm liking it. P.J. O'Rourke's blurb may be a bit over the top:
As a Christian humorist, Mary Eberstadt is the rightful heir and assignee of C.S. Lewis, and her heroine in The Loser Letters is the legitimate child (or perhaps grandchild) of "the patient" in The Screwtape Letters.
But the book, so far, is very good. Here is an excerpt from the first chapter. The "Brights" are, of course atheists [self-labeled] so Christians are the "Dulls." The author is a convert to atheism, but thinks its most prominent advocates need to improve their arguments if they wish to appeal to the young. This is part of what she advises they keep in mind about sex:
The bottom line is, after everything that's happened since the Sexual Revolution, I'm telling You that we Atheists really need to knock off all the happy talk about how fantabulously liberating sex is. Privacy, privacy, privacy is everybody's mantra — as if that word settles anything at all! It's messed up, isn't it, when You think of how otherwise puritanical our own times are, that the Church's notion of sexual discipline should seem so funny to so many people? After all, it's the only kind of discipline that's out of bounds! We all know that people who eat too much are pigs, people who drink too much are drunks, people who don't exercise are slobs and parasites on the body politic what with all their health costs, and people who smoke are just as disgusting as it's possible to be, like an old person crossed with a fat one wearing a fur coat and eating venison and cake at the same time or something — and the rest of us are all really put out at every single one of those kinds of people for being such slobs and so hard on our own eyes and wallets. You know?

Yet sex behind closed doors, just as the Dulls point out, has more serious consequences for the world than any of these other kinds of piggishness. It's those "private acts" outside of marriage that have sent illegitimacy soaring and put so many kids in the rough hands of Mom's rotating boyfriends. It's consenting adults who have turned AIDS and STDs into global health problems. All this is to say nothing of the consequences that are harder to measure of all those mature adults doing as they please "in private". And kids know all about those kinds of consequences, as You can see if You ever look at their music and movies and Facebook pages. There's a backlash out there that none of You seem to know about — one You might call Ozzie and Harriet, come back — all is forgiven! I would go even further, based on what I saw as a Dull, and say that this notion of sexual discipline and its importance is not only serious rather than unserious; it is also what pulls many of the Dulls into practicing or even turning to religion in the first place, because they feel somehow better about life when it's lived inside of those rules.

Please understand that I'm not criticizing here! Cheering for pornography and omnivorous sex and, by extension, broken homes and abused and screwed-up kids and all the rest of the Sexual Revolution's fallout may not be everyone's thing; but most of You new Atheist guys have definitely made it Yours. I respect all that! I'm just saying for now that we shouldn't fool ourselves into thinking that the believers' sexual codes are an unmitigated bad on them and a plus for us, when most evidence suggests it's quite the other way around. .... [the entire letter is online here]
The Loser Letters: A Comic Tale of Life, Death, and Atheism. By Mary Eberstadt.