08/01/2011 01:42 pm ET | Updated Oct 01, 2011

Sexual Anarchy and Other Worries

It's puzzling on the face of it. A lot of people calling themselves Christian seem far more concerned with what people do in their private lives, and with their private parts, than what they do in their relationships with God and their neighbor. But actually Jesus had very little to say about sexual morality. What he said directly, according the Gospels, was that divorce wasn't cool (and in that society, where only men could initiate divorce and women had no means to support themselves, it wasn't), and that the self-righteous folks who had gathered to stone an alleged adulteress to death should let the one without sin cast the first stone. That's about it.

Christianity's Great Commandment is to love God completely, and love your neighbor as yourself. The Ten Commandments don't spend much time on sexual mores, either, except for a prohibition on adultery (which meant something very different in those polygamous days). The oft-cited prohibitions in Leviticus and Deuteronomy are actually pretty peripheral to Christianity, so what's going on here?

Is it possible that some of the fundamental ideological differences between Conservatives and Liberals might not really be about the deficit, taxes, big government, compassion, or even Christianity? Maybe it's all about control, which means, at bottom, it's really all about sex (except for a tsunami or a cyclone, nothing feels quite as out-of-control as sex)!

No one says that, of course. It hit me while reading about Michele Bachmann's husband, his anti-gay therapy, and her comments about "sexual anarchy." Anarchy: a situation in which there is a total lack of organization or control. It's quite a phrase. I had to think about it for a while.

The phase implies that if we let go of the old order, there would be a free-for-all somewhere to the left of whoopee. Conservatives like Bachmann and her followers think of it like Pandora's Box: Let one thing out (like gay marriage), and everything else (like pedophilia), will follow. Loosen the rigid, outdated, and outrageous standards of the early Tribal Hebrews outlined in Leviticus and Deuteronomy (which outline equally arcane and rigid food purity laws, which no one seems to think Christians should still follow), and lose all control. Better to keep the lid on it.

Is sexual anarchy something we should fear? If not, what's all the fuss?

Before you throw out the baby with the bathwater, and make that old liberal argument that everything is OK, and no one should judge anything, consider Kesha. I was at her free concert in Budapest a few weeks ago. Lining the street were thousands of tween girls in mini-skirts, some with their hip parents, staring glassy-eyed at the teenage idol, who was pretty much telling them that life and sex are a consumer event, and that their bodies are there for the trading. If I were the mother of a young girl, I would have hustled her out of there. Instead, parents, apparently thinking it was harmless fun, accompanied their children. I saw a father with his child on his shoulders so she could get a better view of the scantily clad, glittered party-girl and self-styled "ho." Vendors wove through the crowd selling little LED devils' horns as souvenirs. No wonder Michelle Bachman has a following! In a binary world, with Kesha at the far left end, you could easily think it was the end times--and you might just want to protect your children from the devil by locking up sexual deviance and throwing away the key.

Of course, we know from experience that such prohibitions don't work. If they did, we wouldn't have the high rate of sexual abuse and pedophilia among highly regulated Mormons and the plethora of conservative politicians and clergy caught red-handed in activities like gay solicitation and every other manner of sexual "sin," some consensual and some not. My sister worked in the hospitality industry in Orlando, where many religious conventions were held. She said it was common knowledge that there were more booze bottles in the trashcans and prostitutes in town during the Southern Baptist Convention than at any other time in the year.

I don't mention these scandals to make Liberal politicians out to be better, cleaner, or holier. We're all human. I believe these men, for the most part, believed what they were doing was wrong. But their laws and prohibitions didn't work for them, and they won't work for us, either. They create a kind of magical thinking, based on denial and wishful thinking. Sort of like the old "Try NOT to think of an elephant" game. Go on, try it if you never have. See?

Laws and prohibitions set up a "must have/can't have" scenario, which, ironically, sets the stage for "sexual anarchy," which then sets the stage for more laws and prohibitions. In systems science it is called an oscillatory system. Like the Chinese finger puzzles we played with as children, the harder you pull on one side to try to get out, the tighter it gets on the other. The more out of control things seem, the harder we clamp down to control them. The harder we clamp down to try to regain control, the greater is the desire to rebel, or break free. And so it goes, with each action creating an equal and opposite reaction. Each side increases the alternating oscillations until the whole thing explodes. In this sense, Michelle Bachman creates Kesha, and Kesha creates Michelle Bachman. You and I are caught in the middle, wondering if there is any basis for sexual morality that honors and lifts up our naturally diverse, joyous, life-giving and loving desires. If prohibition is not the answer, what is?

Progressives abdicated responsibility for setting standards of sexual conduct way back in the 1960's, when youth rejected the repression and stereotypes of the '50's. Now, in the aftermath of the sexual revolution and the gender wars, we find ourselves uncertain of who we are, how to relate to one another, and how to conduct ourselves sexually. Nature abhors a vacuum; Enter the Bachmans.

We are at a crossroads. If we don't want to cede the discourse to Regressives, Progressives of all stripes had better put forward a sexual ethic that works humanely and lovingly. Few people want sexual anarchy, especially as regards their children. We need standards that allow our sexual interactions to enhance and express the beauty and uniqueness of our souls. Such standards would not be rule-based, but relationship-based. We must look at the quality of our interactions and ask, "Does this affirm and respect the wholeness of the individuals involved? Does it increase the odds on love? Does it honor and celebrate Life Itself, in all its variety?" If so, there are qualities, which are more likely than not to be present: regard, mutuality, caring, choice, honesty, openness, and a willingness to be fully present. These qualities constitute sexual and relational integrity. They make way for authentic intimacy, and the flow of erotic love that connects us far beyond our ability to understand or control it.

We can stand for love and responsible relationship, in all its shapes and sizes, as a positive moral force, or risk losing the gains of the past half-century to fear and control. When sex loses its relationality, it becomes mere pornography. In the absence of life-affirming sexual ethics, it would be tragic and shameful to return to the destructive strictures of the past, which destroyed countless lives and cannot, by the standards of love and respect, be called moral at all.