Tuesday, November 6, 2012

"It’s Super Uncool": Day 25 of 31 Days of Falling by Faith

In chapter 8—the final chapter—of her book My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints, Dawn Eden writes about one of the more well-known saints, Thomas Aquinas, who lived and died in the 13th century. He had taken vows as a member of St. Dominic's new Order of Preachers (or Dominicans), who at that time "supported themselves by begging barefoot in the streets." His "wealthy and powerful" family was not at all happy about this. His mother succeeded in having him kidnapped and banished to isolation in a castle. Some months later, his brothers tried to tempt him out of his vocation by injecting a beautiful young prostitute into his cell. Thomas, who was about 19 at the time, immediately and forcefully ejected the woman.

Eden considers why Thomas reacted so vehemently. It wasn't just that his brothers had led him into temptation. It was that their actions were "a violation," she writes, of his "peace, privacy," and intimacy with God.
"The effect of witnessing close up a woman who had chosen or was forced to demean herself—and seeing his own brothers urge her on—would have been like being forced to watch a performance of sadomasochism. Here was the crown of creation, a beautiful human being in God's image, reduced to a painted mask ... a caricature, an object, a dressed-up piece of meat. The image was tragic ... And now it was imprinted upon Thomas's mind, put there by the perverted will of the very men who, from his childhood, were supposed to protect him."
People who have been sexually abused, including those whose abuse has consisted of or included pornographic images and language and inappropriate nudity, know how difficult, if not impossible, it is to permanently remove those memories and images from one's mind, and know how those unwelcome and unsought memories and images can poison the rest of one's life. Just as tragic, if not more so, is the fact that in today's world almost no one escapes this kind of abuse, yet so many people don't realize that they have been and are being exploited. Eden writes, "we live in a sex-saturated culture.... it takes effort to imagine a time when people could easily chose not to see things that would assault their purity." In fact, if you watch any TV at all, spend any time on the Internet, or just shop for groceries or deodorant, it's virtually impossible to avoid having in-your-face titillation imprinted on your brain.

And purity? Who talks about that these days? Who (especially in secular culture) even knows what it means anymore? And ads like the one that Lena Dunham made for the Obama campaign, comparing first-time voting to first-time sex, imply contempt for anyone who considers sexual purity to have any value. ("It’s super uncool," she says, "to be out and about and someone says, 'Did you vote' and 'No, I didn’t vote, I wasn’t ready,” followed by a smirk that could be read as meaning "that's ridiculous.")

In chapter 7 of My Peace I Give You, Eden tells why she is "offended" by "radical feminist bloggers" (with whom, she says, she has learned to be more gentle while continuing to disagree with their approach to feminism):
"I saw in their writings the attitudes that had enabled my abuse. In their denial of the personhood of the unborn child, I saw the denial of the personhood of all children. In their praise for what they termed sexual freedom, I saw the elimination of sexual boundaries— the boundaries that, had they been enforced in my childhood home, would have protected me from harm. In their ridicule of modesty advocates, I saw my mother's laughter at me when I, as a child, complained of her and her boyfriend's household nudity.... In their efforts to convince young women that purity was 'repressive,' I saw the culture that had enabled the efforts I made to 'free' myself by means of sexual encounters that served only to re-traumatize me."
Those who struggle consciously with the fallout of childhood sexual abuse are, I think, another equivalent (like people with environmental allergies) of the canary in the coal mine, which most people know refers to the canaries that coal miners took into the tunnels to use as detectors of the lethal gases, such as methane and carbon monoxide, that could leak into the mine. If the canary died, the miners would know they had to get out of there.

We would do well to consider seriously the effect that our culture's (and government's) overemphasis on, and disrespect for, sex has had, is having, and will have on all of us—before it's too late.


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