ONCE MORE WITH FEELING
In the last issue of this Newsletter, we noted the brouhaha that erupted at (Catholic) Loyola College in Baltimore, after students complained about sexually explicit videos being used in a human sexuality workshop course. This resulted in a general review of the course, and the likelihood that the offending materials would no longer be allowed as an integral part of it.
Now, following close on the heels of this debacle is another - this one centered on Notre Dame Preparatory School for Girls, also in Baltimore. The culprits this time - to hear their critics tell it - would seem to be a bunch of secular humanist religion teachers who, for the past ten years, have been making use of a 68 minute 'porno' film entitled Not a Love Story: A Film About Pornography (issued by the National Film Board of Canada no less!) to explore the 'links' between pornography and sexual violence to women.
According to an article appearing in The Baltimore Sun (Notre Dame Prep Ordered to Stop Using Video on Sex, March 22, 1995, p. 1B), the controversy erupted when the mother of two school alumnae, sent a letter to parents of 600 of the school's students and the school's Board of Trustees. In the letter she charged that certain memebers of the school's Religion faculty had "failed to support traditional Catholic values." by showing the video.
The clamor for the teachers' collective heads grew exponentially when another parent - an investment broker name Paul Van Sant, actually screened a copy of the video for a group of concerned parents. In the wake of this viewing, Mr. Van Sant described himself as 'flabbergasted' over the film's vulgarity which - according to the Sun article "contained many examples of hard-core pornography including close-ups of genitals, sexual intercourse, masturbation and sado-masochism". The lead paragraph of the same article noted:
"Reacting to complaints from parents and alumnae at Notre Dame Prep, Cardinal William H. Keeler announced that an 'appalling' and 'inappropriate' video containing explicit pornography would no longer be used by teachers there."
In fact, however, the video - as part of a particular Religion course for senior girls - had been used for no less than ten years prior to the uproar. One was certainly left to wonder about the reason for the lack of outcry all those previous years. Were all the parents comatose? Or, were the parents currently in uproar mode merely overreacting? Letters appearing subsequently in the Sun's Op-Ed page made the latter submission, and claimed that the controversy was instigated by a small core of "right wing fundamentalist" parents, with the express purpose of 'censoring' the education of the others' daughters - thereby rendering them ignorant and vulnerable to many real sources of danger in the modern secular world. Teachers responsible for the showing the video, argued in their defense that the film provided a 'no nonsense' way to examine modern issues surrounding sexual violence to women'.
Nonetheless not all the media mavens were happy, even the liberal columnists. In his March 23 Baltimore Sun column, the usually liberal John Olesker noted(p. 1B):
"This is sensitive territory. American schools have done a delicate dance with sex education, trying to take the uncomfortableness out of it for kids while calming skittish parents. But there's a difference between telling kids it's all right to have those funny feelings in their tummies , and showing them the latest in bondage fashion.
So, why no complaints after ten years? For the parents, maybe they simply placed complete faith in Notre Dame's long and honorable history as a place of education and of refuge for some of life's rougher edges. For the young ladies, maybe they're just not so easily shocked anymore. They've grown up with cable, where sex is as near as the dial."
For atheists grounded in the philosophy of Materialism, it seems that much is being made about nothing. Indeed, a recent feature on ABC's 20-20 revealed Dutch children learning all manner of details about sex education - including from graphic (plastic) models as well as films, from as early as the age of 12. One of the Dutch teachers, when asked to comment about such early exposure, displayed a very pragmatic attitude: "Well, why not? They have sex all around them, they should know about it. They will find out anyway - and we prefer it be through educational channels." Interestingly, the Dutch populace is nearly 56% professed atheist by composition, as compared to barely 4% in the U.S.
For those atheists who are former Christians (especially Catholics) there is really no mystery in the obsessive denial of sexuality that resides within these religions. Indeed, the history of the fear of women, and sex - extends far back into antiquity, and minimal effort is needed to uncover the salient historical facts. For example, on consulting the Inquisitor's Handbook, The Malleus Maleficarum of Kramer and Sprenger (ed. Montague Summers, Dover), one finds, e.g.:
p.47: "...all witchcraft comes from carnal lust which is in woman unsatiable"
and (p.26): "The power of the Devil is in the private parts".
Marina Warner (Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth And Cult of the Virgin Mary, Picador, 1985) observes with the clarity of a laser (p.71):
"The foundations of the ethic of sexual chastity are laid in fear and loathing of the female body's functions, in identification of evil with the flesh and flesh with women."
Noted French novelist and friend of Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir (The Second Sex, Penguin, 1972) notes caustically on p. 129 how traditional Catholicism is a religion that "holds the flesh accursed".
In his work, Nature, Man and Woman (Vintage Books, 1970), Philosopher Alan Watts observes (p. 149):
"The general tenor and attitude of supernaturalism to sexuality is unmistakable: it is overwhelmingly negative.."
Finally, Elaine Pagels (Adam and Eve and The Serpent, Random House, 1988) has this to say about the four century transition period of the Roman Empire - during which it went from persecuting Christians to being absorbed by Christianity via Constantine:
"Certain Christian moralists of this period insisted that sexual intercourse should not be pursued for pleasure - even among those monogamously married - but should be reserved solely for procreation."
Moreover, these attitudes are as alive and well today as they were in 1300. I a recent Baltimore Sun piece (May 16, 1995, p. 1D) on the Ineffectiveness of the Birth Control Pill, one Catholic "moral theologian" (a priest you might know) - the Rev. Robert M. Friday was quoted as saying (p. 8D):
"There's no question that the pill has been a contributor to the breakdown of sexual ethics in society." (How 'bout those sexually abusive priests, Padre?)
He then went on to claim that the primary effect of the Pill has been to "trivialize sexuality". Now, to the Materialist this makes about as much sense as saying that "eating a McDonald's hamburger trivializes eating". The point: How exactly does one "trivialize" an inborn, animal appetite?? Because, when one examines sexual activity dispassionately, that is all there is - nothing more and nothing less. The fact is we are talking about the reproductive habits of one mammalian biped species on one pathetic little planet whirling around a dwarf star in an obscure conrner of one galaxy among billions. This is painful to acknowledge - but sometimes humans need to come down out of the ozone of their own delusions and get real. That this is extremely difficult is reflected in the words of one letter writer Lori Vogel (Baltimore Sun, May 25, p.22A), in the wake of the Notre Dame brouhaha:
"Secularization of so much in Western society that was once considered sacred - particularly in the area of sexual matters - is what is at the heart of this issue.."
But what is the "sacred"? It is precisely the perceived supernatural basis of a normal human activity. It is the attribution of "special" properties (e.g. "divine") to the activity by virtue of such association. So, why is sex "sacred" and eating (evidently) not? Religionists would reply that "in sex, humans share the creative power with the divine". Horse pockey and malarkey! Because the process of reproduction is not peculiar to humans alone but is shared by the most menial of organisms. Hence, it is a general attribute of biological systems. It is the perennial need to embellish normal human activities with "divine dross" that prompts descriptions of sex as "a gift from god". The sooner humans can grow up and out of their pet fantasies - namely being 'god's gift to the universe', the sooner issues such as the Notre Dame sex videos will be relegated to the lower priorities they deserve.