In an article titled A 20th Century Philosophy of Sex, Joseph Fletcher, teacher of social ethics at the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, states, "The Christian churches must shoulder much of the blame for the confusion, ignorance and unhealthy guilt associations which surround sex in Western culture. The Christian church from its earliest primitive beginnings has been swayed by many puritanical people, both Catholic and Protestant, who have treated sexuality as inherently evil."
In The Bible of the World of Dr. Kinsey, William Graham Cole, head of the Williams College Department of Religion, put it even more strongly: "There can be no quarrel with the secular world at this point. It is right and the church has been wrong. Sex is natural and good.... It is attitudes which are good and evil, never things.... Those who take the Bible seriously must stop apologizing for sex...they must begin with a concession to the secular mind, granting that sex is natural.
"In its efforts to prevent irresponsible procreation, Western civilization has used the device of what Freud called the walls of loathing, guilt and shame. On the whole this method of social control has worked reasonably well, but a price has been paid for its success—the price of sexual perversion, which is the product of fear and anxiety.... The method of moralism has been weighed in the balance and found wanting, partly because it moves in the wrong direction and partly because it has based its case on fear."
In "Religion and Sex: A Changing Church View", David Boroff wrote in a 1961 issue of Coronet, "Much of Protestantism no longer wishes to be identified with repression and Puritanism. 'In fact,' says Professor Roger Shinn, of New York's Union Theological Seminary, 'repression is a Christian heresy.... In this country, Puritanism...has been hostile to the expression of sexual feeling. But in recent years, Protestant theologians have reexamined these concepts. They now argue that Puritanism, when it insists that sex is evil, is actually a distortion of Christian doctrine. These thinkers have been influenced not only by recent Biblical scholarship, but also by the findings of psychiatry—especially the revelation of the psychic damage that may be done by sexual repression.'"
As we observed in the July installment of The Playboy Philosophy, England is undergoing a Sexual Revolution. Time reported in its March 22, 1963 issue: "...The British are deeply concerned with their search for what some call 'a new morality' to fit the hushed-up facts of life. 'The popular morality is now a wasteland,' said Dr. George Morrison Carstairs, 46, professor of psychological medicine at Edinburgh University, in a recent BBC lecture. 'It is littered with the debris of broken convictions. A new concept is emerging, of sexual relations as a source of pleasure but also as a mutual encountering of personalities, in which each explores the other and at the same time discovers new depths in himself or herself."
In a controversial report, an English group called The Religious Society of Friends attacked the onus attached to "a great increase in adolescent sexual intimacy" and premarital affairs. "It is fairly common in both young men and women with high standards of conduct and integrity to have one or two love affairs, involving intercourse, before they find the person they will ultimately marry." This, the report concluded, is not such a sin. "Where there is genuine tenderness, an openness to responsibility and the seed of commitment, God is surely not shut out."
The same month, Associated Press carried a story, date-lined London, which reported that a pastor of the Church of England challenged religious taboos against extramarital sex: "In a sermon delivered from the pulpit of Southwark Cathedral in London, Canon D.A. Rhymes declared the traditional moral code implied that sex is unavoidably tainted. 'Yet there is no trace of this teaching in the attitude of Christ,' he said. 'He does not exalt virginity over marriage, or marriage over virginity—He merely says in one place that some have chosen virginity to leave them free for the work of the kingdom.
" 'Nor does Christ ever suggest that sexuality, as such, is undesirable or that marriage is the only possible occasion of any expression of physical relationship.'
"...Canon Rhymes said the moral code of today is being ignored because it is outdated. 'We need to replace the traditional morality based upon a code with a morality which is related to the person and the needs of the person....'" The pastor concluded that if we want to live full and healthful lives, "we must emphasize love," not an inflexible, impersonal and unfeeling morality.
Morality and the State
There is obviously much theological disagreement regarding sex in America today and there is most certainly no single sexual ethic to which even the most pious individuals in contemporary society would subscribe. In truth, each individual is apt to view the piety and morality of his fellows in terms of how closely they conform to his, not their own, religious ideals.
But even if all of the religious leaders of the nation were of a single mind on the subject, it is clear that in this free democracy, they would have no right to force a universal code of sexual conduct upon the rest of society. Our religious leaders, of every faith, can loudly proclaim their moral views to one and all, and attempt to persuade us as to the correctness of their beliefs—they have this right and, indeed, it is expected of them.
They have no right, however, to attempt in any way to force their beliefs upon others through coercion. And most especially, they have no right to use the power of the government to implement such coercion. Any such action would be undemocratic in the extreme—it would contradict our most fundamental concepts of religious freedom and the separation of church and state. It would frustrate the intent of our founding fathers and their dream that all Americans should be forever free of the tyranny and suppression, that, historically, have accompanied all church-state rule. It would oppose the guarantees of the U.S. Constitution.
Since no common agreement exists among the clergy of modern America, it is all the more incredible—if no more monstrous—to consider the extent to which religious dogma and superstition have, all democratic ideals and Constitutional guarantees to the contrary, found their way into our civil law. And nowhere is this unholy alliance between church and state more obvious than in matters of sex. In our most personal behavior, no citizen of the United States is truly free.
Moreover, many of the statutes dealing with sexual behavior in all of the 50 states reflect the extreme antisexuality of the medieval Church and Calvinist Puritanism, with which an increasing number of the clergy of most religions are no longer in agreement. The most common kinds of sexual behavior, engaged in by the great majority of our adult society, are illegal. Almost every aspect of sex, outside of marriage, is prohibited by laws on fornication, adultery, cohabitation, sodomy, prostitution, association with a prostitute, incest, delinquency, contributing to delinquency, rape, statutory rape, assault and battery, public indecency or disorderly conduct. And though few realize it, every state but one (and that one, we are personally pleased to report, is Illinois) has statutes limiting the kind of sexual activity that can be legally engaged in within marriage as well, between a husband and his wife. The precoital love play endorsed by most modern marriage manuals and family counselors on sex is prohibited by law in 49 states.
Marriage itself is regulated through religiously inspired laws on divorce and bigamy (although the Mormon religion endorses polygamy, it is outlawed by legislation passed by more powerful religious factions). Abortion remains illegal in all states of the Union, although it is undergone by hundreds of thousands of women annually, under circumstances that seriously endanger not only their health and welfare, but their very lives.
Modern birth control devices and drugs are nowhere publicly advertised and a number of states have laws curtailing or prohibiting their sales. In a recent article for Look on the importance of the separation of church and state, the Reverend H.B. Sissel, Secretary for National Affairs, of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. wrote: "Seventeen states prohibit the sale or distribution of contraceptives except through doctors or pharmacists; five states ban all public sale of such devices. Although these statutes were enacted in the 19th century under Protestant pressure, times and attitudes have changed for many Protestants. Today, they believe that Catholics have no right to keep such laws in operation. Some Catholic spokesmen have agreed that their church is not officially interested in trying to make the private behavior of non-Catholics conform to Roman Catholic canon law. Meanwhile, the laws stay on the books, though they are being tested in the courts."