De Botton recently defended his latest book, Religion for Atheists, in the Spectator from crushing reviews by Terry Eagleton, among others. I haven’t read the book and probably won’t, given that Eagleton’s indictment is far more interesting than de Botton’s rebuffal of it.
“Three of my fellow males admitted they’d recently come through profound periods of internet porn addiction – not the mild curiosity one can expect, the sort where you can’t wait to get home to look up the latest offering and are up till 3a.m. every night. This makes me think that nowadays, only religions really still take sex seriously, in the sense of properly respecting its power to turn us away from our priorities.”
I’d be among the first to admit that the Church has of late been depressingly one-tracked minded, particularly as far as homosexuality, the status of women and contraception go. And of course, one could say that after last year’s abominable scandals among so many churches, religious people should put their own houses in order before they dare to tell anyone else about sex.
Still, I think de Botton has a point. While we may scorns certain religions’ insistence on women covering up, as de Botton puts it, even the ‘glimpse of a pair of knees’ can really turn someone’s life upside down if it leads to adultery or to porn addiction: the loss of family, livelihood and even liberty in the worst of cases. Perhaps I am transferring my own proclivities, but it does seem that sex is one of humanity’s greatest weaknesses of the will.
Much of our culture teaches that sex is little more than a marketing tool or a vehicle of self-expression. Few voices challenge these notions, and outside the religions, very few indeed. I have yet to encounter a convincing secular resistance to the power and sheer danger of human sexuality, and certainly none that affirms the great responsibility that comes with its gift.
Ironically, considering the patriarchal order of so many religions, feminists seem to have a stronger voice within the Church than their counterparts in the secular world, which tends increasingly to laugh off their concerns. If this is not so, then it should be. In a world where the woman’s body has become the ultimate consumer luxury, we need a firm riposte. The religious recognition of sex and each individual person as sacred is one such. It may not be the only one, but as de Botton points out, there are very few voices offering a substantial alternative.
Perhaps I should read his book, after all.