My purpose in these posts is to bring a variety of Christian and other writers in a desire to share significant writings that in my estimation contribute to the common good and directly or indirectly give glory to God and extend the Lord's work of salvation to all of humanity. G.S.
(This is an edit of a previous post from January 14, 2014 which was to be continued but was interrupted. Here this series of reflections is re-framed with a focus on our unique developmental process as human beings and the role of the process of eroticization in our development and growth as persons. Fr. Gilles Surprenant)
We human beings are unique in our sexuality and in many other ways
This is without any doubt due to our unique self-awareness, our capacity and desire for self-reflection and self-understanding, which uniquely equips us for complex forms of interaction with our fellow human beings, and add to that our capacity to make deliberate choices with regards to our relationships with others of our kind, our capacity for deep interiority and spirituality and to enter into a genuine relationship with God, and perhaps most precious of all, our freedom of will, however limited or compromised we may feel our free will to be at any given time.
Sexual abuse is a crime against humanity
The sexual exploitation and abuse of one human being by another is a crime against humanity, a crime against the person itself, because it is a violation of who that person is in their very identity as a human being by way of their sexual dimension . Our sexuality is an integral facet of our distinctiveness and who we are as human persons. We are living beings with a capacity to not only relate to others and to care for them but also to do so in a great variety of distinct ways, with degrees of intimacy and expression appropriate to our age, gender, the nature of the relationship, and what it is that we want to express or give; all of which is deeply tied into our freedom as individuals and our capacity for meaning and responsibility. With human beings, sexuality is not a mere function of a brute instinct genetically ordered towards the continuation of the species.
Sexual and other forms of abuse are particularly heinous when committed against children and other fragile, vulnerable, or innocent beings. They become doubly tragic when those perpetrating the abuse were first of all victims themselves and as a result the distorted product of having in their past suffered sexual or other forms of abuse, often at an early and deeply impressionable age.
One benefit, admittedly an incalculably costly one, of the current scandal of sexual abuse of children and other innocent and vulnerable people is that the great wall of taboo and silence has begun to crumble. By virtue of the actions that have been courageously taken by victims, those who support them, and those individuals and agencies who represent them, but also by virtue of church leaders who have made manifest their willingness to receive complaints and exercise responsible action in response to them, we can finally observe that social taboos are shattering and it is becoming more possible to talk of these things openly and therefore to begin to work together towards solutions and better safeguards. Although the existence of abuse is tragic and sad, increasingly its victims are willing to courageously come forward to denounce what was done to them and bring this terrible crime to public awareness and to the attention of authorities.
Only a few decades ago our society was so deeply locked in by intense taboos that there seemed to be a "conspiracy of silence" around any hints or signs of the possibility of sexual or other forms of abuse. It was as if a whole society was trapped in a stage of denial, with the result that the full weight of responsibility for a victim's abuse fell on the shoulders of the victim himself or herself. It was not out of cruelty or ill will that people and those in authority acted this way for the most part, but rather more out of fear of the unknown, fear of supporting a false accusation, and fear of discovering that such horrible things are actually happening to people. Even mothers seemed incapable or unwilling to believe their own children when they complained of having suffered unmentionable acts damaging their innocence. Whatever the reasons, denial just was.
It was as if people individually, families, social institutions, and society as a whole could simply not bear even the remote possibility that sexual or other forms of abuse could be happening in their own intimate circle, in their society which they considered "enlightened", or in their church they believed to be "Christian". It was not yet the age of "reality therapy" or "reality TV" or talk shows. Thankfully we have passed into another season of human society, one in which we are more willing to admit to ourselves the truth and to deal justly and fairly with the reality, whatever that might be in any given situation.
The fundamental and horrible truth of the matter is that human nature, including our sexuality, has been weakened, damaged, tainted since the dawn of human history. The abominable practices and the pain and suffering engendered by misuse of human sexuality is primarily what has caused - almost across the board worldwide - religious leaders to condemn sexual infidelity and all forms of unusual sexual practices as evil or at least to be avoided if not condemned.
Human history, literature, and culture chronicles the many ways in which human beings cause others to suffer whenever they use their sexuality as a way of taking pleasure, often at the expense of others. While men and women differ by design in their naturally occurring genders - with males more intrusive and females more inclusive - sexual predators can and do exist among members of both genders, even if they admittedly can appear and operate very differently with different degrees of destructiveness in the consequences and aftermath of their acts of deception, seduction, manipulation, and sexual exploitation.
Particularly in our day there is an increasingly universal acceptance that sexual expression and even experimentation are acceptable providing they take place among consenting adults. Yet, increasingly there are those bold and aggressive enough to contend that such sexual activity and experimentation is even acceptable by adults to children and youth, even without consent. These opinions and ideological positions do not take into account the human developmental process nor the subsidiary process of eroticization, nor the importance of free and informed consent and the minimal autonomy that comes with adulthood.
If we are ever to understand what is going on, how the trends in human thought, feeling, conviction, and practice are constantly evolving - and often in ways that bode ill for the common good - we need to have a closer look at the nature of the human person and of our sexual dimension in a dynamic way that makes provision for and takes into account our developmental process and the unique experience and awareness of individual persons.
If sex were not pleasurable, then there would be little need for this dialogue because few would engage in sexual activity. It is because of the pleasure associated with sex and sexual feelings that the human impulse to engage in it is so strong. Sexual pleasure is part of the design of the human person and is directly related to human beings' fertility and power of reproduction. Unlike most other creatures in the animal kingdom human beings enjoy self-awareness, free will, awareness of others as other, and so can and do engage in sexual activity with or without the intention of reproducing, with or without varying degrees of awareness of and of attention to the experience and well being of the other.
Even reluctant or prudish religious authorities have traditionally granted that sex was good with the belief that it was designed and created by God, but only for the transmission of life and the survival of the species. They could not accept that sexual pleasure was good in and of itself, but rather that humanity's capacity for that pleasure had irremediably been corrupted and could never be regained. Paradise and human innocence were lost forever. Christians with a more complete understanding of human nature appreciate that human sexuality is perfectly designed for human couples when engaged in by one woman with one man for life and that the power of sex by design binds them together, activates their combined fertility, allows them to mutually give pleasure and comfort to each other, and over time can evolve and grow with them and their relationship. As they share their lives together, grow as a couple, and develop their family, their sexual union intensifies their mutual attachment, fidelity, and solicitude, that is, their disposition and motivation to look out for the other and to deliberately put the other's interests first, ahead of their own.
Pope John Paul II, the Bishop of Rome from October 16, 1978 to April 2, 2005 was of this view and went much further and deeper in his development of thought on what he called the "theology of the body", which emerged over time from the philosophical reflection he engaged in from his youth on human meaning, freedom, love, and the powers of "the acting person". He held the view that human beings give meaning to their lives by their deliberate choices and that the highest meaning comes in the freedom to make of oneself a total gift to the other. He called this the "law of the gift". His work continues to be promoted all over the world for the common good.
Human sexuality is deeply tied into the nature of the human person, our freedom, our capacity for giving meaning to our life, and our capacity to be open to and care for the other. Sexual abuse is particularly evil because the aggressor "takes" sexual pleasure at the expense of the pain and trauma caused by the violation of the dignity and integrity of the one who is in this way victimized. Even when the sexual violation causes minimal harm, the act of force against the other's will remains a traumatic and damaging experience.
Why do people then perpetrate such violence one upon another? The answer can only be found in the toxic mixture of the beauty, goodness, attractiveness, power, high purpose, and desirability of our "sexual powers" on the one hand, and the distorted or underdeveloped humanity of the perpetrator on the other hand. By analogy we understand that a hammer in the hand of a sculptor like Michelangelo can be instrumental in creating such inspiring sculpture as the Pieta, but in the hand of a vandal can destroy a thing of beauty, or wound or kill living things and even people. In addition, each destructive act further damages the perpetrator.
So it is with our human sexuality, which can be seen as a capacity for tenderness. Human beings don't simply have sexuality, but we are sexual beings. Our sexuality informs, colors, and is informed by our whole being at every level. Comforting a child engages our human sexuality, our capacity for tenderness, but in a healthy person does not generally involve sexual arousal or pleasure. These tend not to activate without specific stimulation, unlike other functions which operate automatically. As a human being develops normally, a wide and extensive variety of meaningful experiences, sensations, and gestures enrich each person's capacity and skill in expressing tenderness in ways appropriate to each relationship and in communicating with others in exchanges that can be either mutually enriching or mutually harmful, damaging, and destructive.
Our sexuality can be considered healthy when we have effective safeguards allowing us to distinguish different types of relationships. Clear distinctions and understanding give us freedom to express a wide range of tenderness - actively in giving and passively in receiving - without any confusion from sexual arousal. The appropriateness, meaning, and significance of sexual expression from a casual glance or tone of voice all the way to the intimacy of the marriage bed takes place in a continuum defined and circumscribed by the nature of each relationship, time, circumstance, and the meaning we wish to give it. In all its manifestations human sexuality can be considered most noble when it seeks and effectively accomplishes the good of the other.
Genital sexuality adds to the expression of tenderness a rich universe of meanings specific to the union of a man and a woman committed to each other for life and the outcome of their sexual fertility the transmission of life itself by the procreation and education of children. The intensity of the sexual union of a married couple strengthens them to face their many challenges and duties as parents and is the fire at the heart of the family. Sexual activity outside of a woman / man couple with a mutual commitment for life sets aside the procreative function, the stability of a life commitment, or other dimensions which have repercussions on those engaging in sexual expression and those affected by it, such as the offspring and other circles around them.
In our day both men and women who understand themselves to have same sex attraction have sought to normalize sexual activity between two persons of the same gender. Any sexual expression between two persons of the same gender must necessarily stretch the imagination and have recourse to means that in the end can only simulate the loving union of a man and woman. In the end such simulations remain a parody of what nature has established as the standard and can only generate fertility through artificial manipulation.
Still, there is no denying the human impulse to love and be loved, to found a family or household, and to engage in the rearing of children. The "gay lobby" has in various places obtained the right to engage in a civil same gender union and same sex couples do acquire children by artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, surrogate pregnancy, or simply through adoption, and do their best to perform the full range of tasks needed as parenting by human children. However, the act of fertilization bringing each new human life into existence can only be an act of loving union of the parents when these are a mother and father joined together.
There is also no denying that our most deeply rooted experience and imagery of couple love remains one man and one woman who commit themselves to each other for life in order to found a family. They have between them all that they need through their own fertility to conceive and rear their own children. In addition, in this traditional model of marriage and the family, the children are not denied their right to have a parent of each gender for their optimal formation and development through their various stages of formation: infancy, childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. There is apparently embedded in the human psyche a need to have a parent "of each kind". This innate felt need goes way beyond a child simply comparing itself and its home situation to that of other kids at school, which merely mirrors and accentuates an innate need.
On considering human nature, it is easily observable that human beings don't just fall into a perfect experience and sexual life stance, but that this requires careful upbringing, learning, mentoring, integrating, and living. We also need to learn to seek and give forgiveness when our expressions of tenderness and sexual union are clumsy or selfish and manipulate, take, and hurt rather than serve, give, and care. When our sexuality and capacity for tenderness are poorly formed, mistakenly informed, or incompletely matured, all kinds of harm can be done on both parts in the missteps, accidents, manipulations, and misunderstandings that occur.
We can see this in every generation and just about in every life. Married couples must invest selfless effort to develop their sexuality so that it becomes a mutual venture that enhances their union and bears good fruit for others around them beginning with their family. The more selflessly parents live their sexuality as a couple, the more benefits their children receive. They develop a healthier sexual outlook from the mentoring they receive.
Other human couple forms have the disadvantage of not having the differentiation and complementarity that are inherent in the basic man-woman couple. This natural difference seems to be a fundamental component in the permanence and stability of being committed to each other for life, and the deepening of their relationship that comes from long term fidelity and exclusivity. In embracing the design in the male / female couple model human beings discover a unique form of freedom that comes from sharing a deep personal relationship with their Creator God as the true and existential source of their love, fidelity, and fertility. When fertility is taken apart from its power to give pleasure and unite, one consequence in our times is that fertility is regarded as a curse or threat and medicated as a disease. In this scenario now playing out it is easy to understand how sexuality can become an arena of disagreement and unpleasantness if not of selfish manipulation and abuse.
When children are brought into the world in a family where at its center the parent couple do not live their sexuality with the purest of motives and the clarity and freedom of unselfish love, one can begin to understand how all kinds of misunderstandings, manipulation, hurts, selfishness, and deviations can occur. It is the tragic truth that it is most often and primarily in the family that children are violated and abused in various ways, including sexually, where parents or other adults take advantage of children precisely because they cannot assert themselves and are in their innocence most vulnerable and easy to manipulate and exploit.
Once sexuality is in this way perverted in the young, they struggle for their whole lives attempting to regain what was ripped away from them, ever desiring to recover their original innocence and come to live a more wholesome sexuality in accord with our fundamental design for happiness and togetherness. Those who are fortunate are able to find help and gradually sanitize or make healthier their sexuality, but others become inclined to reproduce in their own lives the abuse and perversions of sexual tenderness that marked them in their innocent years and inflict it upon others. It is much like the children of alcoholics who tend to gravitate towards another alcoholic when they are seeking out a spouse or life partner simply because that is the type of human personality with which they became familiar while growing up. No matter how twisted and hurtful a parent might be, the child's need for love is so dependent and total that it even soaks up drop by drop what love may exist, however perverted, in the most depraved of parents.
It is the very same raw material of human sexual personality that begins at conception and develops through gestation, birth, infancy, childhood, youth, and adulthood. Why, then, do some become exquisitely sensitive and loving spouses, some struggle with clumsy attempts to please, others have trouble setting aside their own desires and come across as "taking" rather than "giving", and still others become predators: manipulators, violators, rapists, pedophiles, ephebophiles, in short, dangerous offenders and monsters?
It is impossible to understand these differences outside of a "developmental model" of the human person as a sexual human being in contrast to a human being who simply happens to have sexual organs. A human being is not simply born to just exist and be the way it is, unchanging, to continue unchanged in the manner of a stone. On the contrary, a human being is a single living entity that grows until it stops growing and dies. All of a human being's experiences accumulate and interact with all the others throughout its developmental stages and then continues to do so throughout its entire life cycle. You cannot examine or understand a person's sexuality without striving to understand the entire person, at all of its levels and facets, because everything within them is interrelated. You "pull" on one aspect and the whole fabric is pulled along.
Before the advent of discoveries and advancement in our understanding of the human person, it was generally thought - and many people have not caught up with the social sciences and still think - that a person is "born that way", the way they are, and that they cannot change. Advances in scientific observation, analysis, theorizing, and experimentation have revealed that the living entity called a human being is a physical and psychic organism with a wide and complex range of emotive experience as well as expression, and in addition has a more mysterious spiritual dimension that is more difficult to observe and quantify.
The human being begins its development with the genetic material it "receives" from its mother and father and from the moment of conception also absorbs untold billions of "impressions" from both the mother and the father during gestation in the womb and then continues to take in untold quantities of "impressions" from its parents, other people, other living things, and everything else that exists all around it, as well as its own inner processes, moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day, which in turn are also very complex.
Each individual has received from its genetic material certain "predispositions" to a variety of conditions, inclinations, sensitivities, and sensibilities. In almost every instance of identical twins, there are marked differences in temperament, sensitivity, and so many other factors of personality that cannot be explained any other way. As time passes and it takes in quantities of sensations and experiences, the individual undergoes the ongoing cumulative effect of all that it is taking in, its ongoing growth, and a developing and constantly operating process of "updating" or "rebooting" for understanding and interpretation, judgement and orientation, choice and integration, responsibility and freedom. Sensations, perceptions, emotions, thoughts, interpretations, awareness, feelings, moral judgements, free choices, the acceptance of responsibility and responsibilities, freedom to change, deliberate commitments, ongoing learning, admission of fault, and efforts to improve are only some of the multiple facets and operations taking place more or less simultaneously that taken together are in a continuous way formative of the human person.There is more going on within each human person than the person itself can keep track of or than any computer could compute.
In the social sciences it is now generally accepted that the human being is a dependent entity from the moment of its conception until it reaches maturity. We could say that every human being receives from conception all the necessary "raw material" to become human and, as he or she develops, must accept to participate in its own formation and development while accepting the formation and caring of others, and in turn, learn to care for others. One becomes a mature adult, with at least the essential elements and abilities of an adult, after having experienced 8 developmental stages from conception until around twenty-five: fetus, body identity, identity of the doer, individual identity, psychosexual identity, psychosocial identity, identity of the self, and early adult. The adult is the human being who has sufficiently developed to now be able to take care of itself and survive, but also to take care of others independently of whether there is much in return.
We more easily recognize these stages as gestation, infancy (0-1), toddler (1-2 1/2), budding individual (2 1/2 - 3), first parental love or Oedipus Complex i.e. nightmare stage (3-6), the "flocking" by gender stage (6-12), teen age (12-18), and "getting a life" (18-25). Along the way, each person develops "preferences" of sensation, outlook, expression, reaction, and action. During the first year of life after birth, some prefer to be more "captative" / active / grabbing, while others prefer to be more "receptive" / passive / receiving. This preference generalizes in everything and gives each personality its particular inclination. The other way remains possible but won't come naturally and will always require more effort.
During the "potty training" stage, some become more "retentive" and hold things in, hold onto things; while others become more "eliminative" and release things, let them go more easily. This generalizes to every aspect of life from personal hygiene to money to generosity of time and spirit. Again, as in the previous stage, the other way remains possible but won't come naturally and will always require more effort.
From the stage where children "fall in love" with their opposite gender parent (3-6), some males befriend their "intrusive" mode (generally experienced as wanting to be like Daddy) - which is inscribed in the very design of their body - and let it become their natural way of being manly in the world. Some - either because they have been harmed by extreme forms of male intrusiveness or simply lacked an available or admirable model - prefer the female "inclusive" mode (they prefer to be like Mommy or like a very inclusive father). As a result being intrusive takes more effort and energy every time they need to employ that mode, particularly if the mother was intrusive in a way that felt angry or controlling or threatening. If the mother did not esteem or respect the father, he would appear less admirable in the boy's eyes, which would make it more difficult for him to identify with his father's maleness or male mode.
During that same stage when little girls "fall in love" with their Daddy, some females befriend their "inclusive" mode (generally experienced as wanting to be like Mommy) - which is inscribed in the very design of their body and let it become their natural way of being womanly in the world. Some - either because they have been harmed by extreme forms of female inclusiveness or simply lacked an available model - prefer the male "intrusive" mode (they prefer to be like Daddy or like a very intrusive mother). As a result being inclusive takes more effort and energy every time they need to employ that mode, particularly if the father was inclusive in a way that seemed weak or withdrawing, or humiliating. If the father did not esteem or respect the mother, she would appear less admirable in the girl's eyes, which would make it more difficult for her to identify with her mother's femaleness or female mode.
In their teenage years, boys and girls try out their newly discovered personal preferences and abilities and find that they are energized when they are with others and may become increasingly extroverted, or they may find that being with others is more draining than energizing, so that they may become more introverted. These dispositions may also tend to vary in accord with the size of the group and their familiarity with the others and degree of acceptance by the others; as well as their own internal dynamics as they experience what energizes or drains them emotionally. Some will be more inclined to be leaders and others followers and still others, either role depending on the circumstances and the others involved.
Social scientists, philosophers, theologians, varied other professionals, and people in other walks of life will define what is a human person from a variety of viewpoints and a wide range of parameters. What does it take to become fully human? If an individual gets stuck in the first stage of life, infancy, when it was the center of the universe and the mother was still felt to be part of its own body, then as an apparent adult, this individual turns out to behave so selfishly with such little conscience that we call them sociopath - without awareness of others as having a life of their own - or psychopaths - so intent on using others for their own ends that they are actually dangerous to life and limb.This is the case of those who in the face of the prospect of being abandoned will kill their spouse, children, and finally themselves, because they suffocate emotionally at the very thought of being abandoned. They are psychologically like the infant that whimpers, then cries, then screams, then begins to choke when its primary care giver is out of sight and no longer responds.
Those who get "stuck" at the potty training stage may appear as extremely retentive or miserly or up tight, on the one hand, or on the other hand eliminative or spendthrift or irresponsibly carefree. Such an individual may be developmentally incapable of caring for themselves or for others - unable to put out what it takes to care for themselves or for others or unable to conserve what resources or time or energy that living life fully and caring for others takes.
Those who get stuck at stage four - 2 1/2 to 3 - may never have become an "individual" in their own right, either because they became so merged with a needy parent or parents that, discouraged from paying attention to their own feelings and needs, they became paralyzed, incapable, or incompetent as an individual human person. Such an individual, perennially deprived of individuality or personal identity, would be hard pressed to properly care for others, or for that matter valuing and caring for their own life, and as a result being ever depleted for lack of self care. If they manage to heroically care for others, it would then be at extreme cost to themselves, being unable to distinguish differences in priority among the needs and wants of others and their own needs and wants, unable to reconcile the needs of others and their own.
Those who experience difficulties in befriending their own gender come to such difficulties from any number of factors: the degree or lack of masculinity of their father, absence of a father, frightening or humiliating distortion of a father figure, overly authoritative or controlling father, or unsteady, unstable character of their father; the degree or lack of femininity of their mother, absence of a mother, frightening or humiliating distortion of a mother figure, overly controlling or suffocating mother, or volatile, unreliable character of their mother; which factors can be exacerbated by one or several occurrences of one or more forms of abuse: emotional, physical, psychological, sexual; or deprivations that are normally associated with social instability, poverty, famine, homelessness, and violence such as war, unemployment, racial or other forms of negative discrimination, religious or other forms of persecution, and so on.
Healthy, impoverished, or damaged development at any of these earlier life stages has cumulative effects when the individual enters into the subsequent more social stages of human development, which in turn can accentuate or open up delays in development of various facets of the emerging human person. Childhood and teenage bullying, social pressures to conform and even to perform anti-social or criminal acts, neglect or abandonment by significant adults, extreme social upheaval and countless other factors can enhance, hold back, or demolish an individual's human development up to that point in their young lives.
The initial result when the individual "comes of age" and is recognized as "an adult" will be a human individual that is capable of a minimum of self care, awareness of others as independent individuals with their own value and right to exist, ability to live and act in the world and society, and ability to assume the rights and duties of a citizen and member of society. For many, this initial plateau or goal is delayed until later as they struggle to survive, to help their family or basic group to survive, all the while trying to welcome the challenges and events of life as opportunities to continue to grow and to develop into fully functional human persons.
When we stop to consider all the "accidents" that impinge on the young impressionable and developing lives of children and youth, it is astounding that so many people develop as well as they do and become fairly well intentioned and functioning human beings. It appears that the human being has more innate resilience than one would at first expect, given our simultaneously high degree of fragility. In part two we will examine more closely the unique process of eroticization and its huge impact in the development of the human person.
...to be continued....
© 2004-2021 All rights reserved Fr. Gilles Surprenant, Associate Priest of Madonna House Apostolate & Poustinik, Montreal QC
© 2004-2021 Tous droits réservés Abbé Gilles Surprenant, Prêtre Associé de Madonna House Apostolate & Poustinik, Montréal QC
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