The first stage in Paul’s announcement of the gospel of God’s grace is a concise anatomy of sin (Rom 1:18-32). Sin is, at its heart, a suppression of truth. This suppression of truth has a kind of logical progression to it: rejection of God (vv. 19-21) leads to worshipping the creation (vv. 22-23), then to sexual degradation (vv. 24-27), then to “all unrighteousness”, particularly rejection of family (v. 30), foolishness, faithlessness, heartlessness and ruthlessness (v. 31). Then there is the ultimate suppression of truth: the shameless promotion of sins committed by others (v. 32). At first glance, though, this logical progression might seem a little arbitrary. Does sexual immorality, for example, really lead people to approve of other people’s heartlessness and ruthlessness?
Well, just recently I heard an example of this perverse logic. It was in the final 10 minutes of Andrew Marr’s BBC program “Start the week”, broadcast from the Charleston Festival. Charleston is the home of the Bloomsbury Group, a group of artists and intellectuals–including, for example, Virginia Woolf and John Maynard Keynes–famous for their enormously influential intellectual and artistic output, and notorious for their complex polyamorous sexual relationships. The contributors were discussing the various sexual revolutions that have occurred in Western society from the eighteenth century Enlightenment until today. And the conversation ended up in a fascinating (if heartbreaking) place.
The topic of discussion in the final ten minutes was how Englightenment-style sexual “freedom” usually has disastrous effects on children (I’ve provided a transcript here). The contributors to the program, one by one, acknowledged that children are almost always the “victims” of sexual revolutions. They affirmed that children suffer “emotional schrapnel” from the sexual exploits of their parents, that in fact the eighteenth-century Englightenment witnessed large numbers of illegitimate children being exposed and/or left to die in ill-equipped orphanages, that Rousseau (a chief figure in the Englightenment) was guilty of packing countless numbers of his own illegitimate children off to such homes, that sexual revolutions always hurt people and disrupt their families, that the Bloomsbury Group itself seriously messed up the children of their polyamorous relationships, and that this all stems from a misguided Western notion that sex is just a private matter for individuals.
But just before the end of the discussion, there was a brisk change in tone. Almost as if they realised that they were getting a bit too harsh on Bloomsbury, the contributors back-pedalled. After all, these sexual revolutions are good things, aren’t they? For all the damage they do to children, the sexual revolutionaries are commendable because they “change things” and “push out boundaries”. Here’s the final statement:
And I still think that sexual freedom of that kind is better than sexual repression by the state and the church of a kind that used to persist in Western history until the eighteenth century and indeed still exists around the world in many places today.
So to summarise their logic: what matters most is that we have freedom. Freedom to do what we want. Freedom from social norms. Freedom, most of all, from God. Of course, this means that the most vulnerable people in our society will be hurt, that our offspring will have life-long emotional scars, and that children will be left to die. But so be it. That’s the price of our freedom.
Now hear Paul again:
They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:29-32)