Is Desire Enough?

Sex & The Christian Tradition

It seems to me that there are two competing currents of thought about sexual morality, both of them too narrowly conceived to be very helpful. According to one of them, the traditional arguments of orthodox Christianity are a sufficient answer to the questions raised by every aspect of sexual desire. Nothing about those arguments can be seriously questioned. Those who do have serious questions about them are accused of bad faith. The other current of thought recommends openness to the satisfaction of all desires. All sexual desires in particular are natural and therefore not to be rejected or left unsatisfied. In other words, the Zeitgeist is right.

How does a Christian deal with these two currents? The question matters pastorally. The one position can wound people who need to be consoled and reconciled, while both positions reduce Christianity to morality in its narrowest sense—obeying certain rules, or ignoring them—and so allow us to avoid the deeper struggle of real conversion.

The vision of humanity we are given in the resurrected Christ is what Christians are called to. It involves ascesis—the unfashionable demand that we live in our bodies in a new way, whether we are married or single. We know that we can’t cling to any desire that holds us to what is passing. And everything is passing: we must be ready to let it all go. This does not give us an easy place in our economic...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.

About the Author

John Garvey is an Orthodox priest and columnist for Commonweal. His most recent book is Seeds of the Word: Orthodox Thinking on Other Religions.