When I was a boy growing up in Canada, I learned early on that there were certain subjects that were, apparently, unacceptable for dinner conversation. Nobody, for example, ever asked anyone else how much money they made, or how much money they had, or how much their house cost. To ask about such things was considered at best an invasion of privacy, at worst a matter a very bad taste. One’s money was one’s own business.
I was also told that there are three subjects that one should never bring up in polite conversation: sex, politics and religion. Nothing could start an argument faster than broaching any one of those topics at a dinner table or in a restaurant. So adults acted as if they were sexless, how they voted was a secret, and their religious views were utterly private: “between them and God.”
I learned a little about God from childhood prayers: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” “Die before I wake?” What a horrific thought for a small child! And what’s a “soul” and why would the Lord want to “take” it? I had no clue.
The word “politics” didn’t enter my vocabulary until I was a young man with a full-time job. Even then, I didn’t fully understand it. It was much later, in the Worldwide Church of God that I learned that everything in life involving human beings was politicized – even church doctrine.
And as far as sex was concerned, that was something engaged in only by low-lifes. To the best of my knowledge, my family had nothing to do with it. My Yorkshire grandfather and my grandmother, with whom I grew up, lived in separate bedrooms at opposite ends of the house. My aunt, who was single, lived with us and occasionally dated. But I really didn’t know what a “date” was. Somehow the term reminded me of “figs.” I don’t think I even heard the word “sex” until I was in junior high.
Once I became a teenager living on my own, sex of course became a major topic of discussion among me and my peers. Most of the discussion revolved around trying figure it all out. We had no skin magazines to help us sort out the differences between male and female anatomy – at least not until someone discovered a copy of Sunbathing and Health – a nudist publication. Even that wasn’t much help. We learned only that girls were missing something that guys had. Since we were all virgins, no one had any experiences with girls to use in comparing notes. So when it came to girls, we were flying blind.
Today, more than fifty years later, sex, politics and religion are in your face. The discussion of them is ubiquitous. Turn on the television and that’s all you get. Start up a conversation with someone, and sooner or later it ends up on one of those topics – but only after they’ve asked you how much you paid for your house. Privacy today is a dead issue – no one has any. Our credit records are all over the web. Every major financial transaction we make is tracked. If we move money over a certain amount into, or out of, our bank accounts, the Feds keep tabs that. Our grocery store purchases are monitored and fed into a vast marketing data base. Even our cell phone calls are traceable. Every keystroke on our computers is discoverable by those who make it their business to know such things. Our names, addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses are sold and bought by those who view us demographically, not as human beings.
The Demotion of Sex
Sex has been removed from the realms of morality and love. It is now frequently and openly discussed in the context of “lifestyle” or “preference.” Sex is “recreational.” Anything goes between “consenting adults,” and the age of consent is being driven ever lower. Young people don’t date, court and romance each other in the direction of marriage anymore, they simply “hook up.” They may have sex before they even know each other’s names. Parties aren’t really parties in the old-fashioned sense of the term; they are places to locate fresh flesh – and of course much of it may not be so fresh. Sex is no longer an intimate and beautiful thing that takes place between heterosexually married couples – everyone’s doing it. The discourse about sex in our culture has become common, crass and vulgar. Try watching an hour or two of MTV if you don’t believe me. Many of our young people are growing up with a sort of Howard Stern mentality.
When I was a boy, homosexual behavior was generally viewed as perverse; it was in many places illegal; and when it was considered treatable, it came under the heading of “abnormal psychology.” Today, both the psychologists and psychiatrists have removed the “abnormal” stigma and declared it normal behavior for some people; the law has rendered it legal “between consenting adults”; and those who speak against it are viewed as bigots and “haters.” The ideological Left in this country aggressively seeks to help gays and lesbians mainstream, become legally married, and even get ordained in Christian churches. Those Christians who persist in holding to a Biblical view on the subject are attacked, marginalized and characterized as nut cases. Even discussing homosexual behavior in anything but a favorable light is today a stroll through an emotional minefield. In my lifetime, we’ve come full circle.
The Din of Partisan Politics
On television, it’s impossible to escape the debilitating ugliness of partisan politics – especially in an election year. Bush-bashing has become the media’s principle product. Political smear campaigns have become a way of life in some circles. “Hate speech” is legally punishable – except when it comes to Christians, conservatives and patriots. On them it’s open season.
Religion of course is also on everyone’s lips. Those of other religions openly attack the religions they don’t like. Denominations of the same religion endlessly squabble among themselves over nuances of authority, doctrine and practice. You would think that the spectacle of corrupt, morally compromised, money-oriented, religious leaders, fighting faiths, never-ending splits and schisms, and murderous jihads would be enough to cure mankind of religion forever. More and more, some people are beginning to hate all religion because of the pain and suffering it has caused, and is causing mankind. When it comes to religion, much of the world is experiencing a form of “aversion therapy.” (That’s the kind of therapy where they cure you of a craving for certain foods by giving you a mild shock when you eat them. It’s based on the principle that we are repelled by pain, attracted by pleasure.)
If you express an opinion on a religion, a doctrine, a denomination, a religious practice, or anything connected with a religion, some people are going to blow up in your face. Calm, reasoned, factual discussion of religious faith is becoming all but impossible. Today, people are passionate about their opinions on sex, politics and religion, and full financial involuntary disclosure to anyone and everyone is all the rage.
Yearning for the old way
Frankly, I liked the old way better. I’m sick to the gills of the kind of crass, in-your-face, amoral sexuality that prevails today. I’m weary of the politicization of everything – even diseases. And religion, well, let’s put it this way: I’m all for God, Jesus Christ and the Bible, but I’m not big on “organized religion.” Granted, there are some good things in it, but who needs the stress of trying to sort out as a lay person what the greatest theologians haven’t been able to sort out for nearly two millennia? Doctrine is best left to the experts, and even they are confused and divided about it.
For my money, the world needs to either jettison organized religion, or take an entirely different approach to it. Put another way, we need to finish the Reformation and get all the way back to the original teachings of Jesus and early apostolic doctrine (Acts 2:42). That, for me, is the gold standard. What the original apostles taught, they got directly from Jesus, or they based it on what he had taught. When it came to the gentile believers, they did some binding & loosing; but everything they did was anchored in Christ. That is no longer true of today’s post-New Testament Church; we’ve cut loose our moorings.
The Final Analysis
These days, I don’t mind engaging in a rational discussion about any topic, including sex, politics and religion. But once people begin thinking with their viscera instead of with their brains, I’m outta there. I can no longer tolerate the fiery anger of the super-zealots who insist that they alone are right about everything from the calendar to Christmas.
Sex, politics and religion are, of themselves, neutral. How they are practiced can be good, evil or anywhere in between. Worse, erroneous teaching on all three subjects produces bitter fruit. Ideas do have consequences. Ask anyone who survived a Russian Gulag, a German concentration camp, or one of Saddam’s prisons.
The line between pain and pleasure, or life and death, is mighty thin. An innocent woman and her child can be going about their business in Jerusalem, Madrid or Oklahoma City, and in a few hot seconds of mayhem their lives are blown from the earth by a terrorist’s bomb. What was their crime? Existing; that’s all; simply existing. The world today is full of deadly ideas. When those ideas lodge in the brains of deadly people, deadly things happen.
Sex, politics and religion need to be discussed because bad ideas can only be defeated by better ones. As Christians, we have to seek to “be not overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). In a world of so much deadly evil, that’s a tall order, but with God’s help perhaps it’s doable. Good ideas lead to good consequences – given the right promotion, they can change the world for the better.
And it’s nobody’s business how much I paid for my house.