Review by Dr Pravin Thevathasan
A Better Vision
Understanding, Living and Sharing
the Catholic Vision for Human Sexuality
by Christopher Hayden
St Pauls Publishing
Every so often, I review a book that I consider an absolutely essential read.
This is one such book. To say that it is timely is a bit of an understatement. I am especially pleased that it is written by a priest from Ireland: looking back at my own life, I realise how much I owe to the kindness of priests from Ireland especially in the eighties when being an orthodox Catholic was often a lonely affair. I am confident that Ireland will rise again from the ashes of the sexual revolution to which it has currently succumbed and will also evangelise the rest of the world once again.
The aim of this work is to show that the teachings of the Church on sexuality are a blessing and not a burden. To cut to the chase, I believe it has achieved just that. The book is divided in three parts. The first part looks at what the Church actually teaches about human sexuality. This teaching has absolutely nothing to do with hatred of the body. It has everything to do with love and respect in the way we deal with our own bodies and with those of others. We cannot begin to understand the teachings of the Church unless we understand the beauty of human sexuality and what is meant by chastity and giving ourselves completely to each other in the act of marital intimacy. Human beings are made in the image and likeness of God: this is such an important theme that pervades the entire teaching of the Church on human sexuality.
The second part looks at some of the contemporary ethical issues: contraception, homosexuality and pornography. The central harm of pornography is that it damages our character. It teaches that sex is not about intimacy, caring, love and respect. Sex is instead seen as a commodity. We can certainly argue that pornography has harmful consequences. What the author points out, however, is that it is harmful in itself irrespective of consequences. The chapters on contraception are very good indeed.
Artificial contraception is not wrong because it is artificial. It is wrong because it violates the good of the sexual act. It could lead to harmful consequences, and the author has done a good job in showing us what they are. But it is wrong in and of itself. As to the consequences, Pope Paul VI predicted that it would lead to greater marital infidelity, more abortions and it would also lead to treating women as objects. The Pope also said that governments will use it to promote population control. But, as the author notes, the teachings of the Church on contraception makes no sense unless sex is seen as the deepest form of body-language and not just a matter of biology. The Church teaches that homosexual acts are intrinsically evil, as are lying, masturbation and contraception. This leads people outside the Church, and indeed some within it, to think that the Church regards homosexuals as disordered human beings. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Church respects homosexual persons, because they are persons.They are persons in full, not defective persons. As the author notes so well, "intrinsically disordered" means the act is wrong in and of itself. It does not mean that the act is unspeakably wicked or that the person doing the act is somehow defective. The author wisely notes that people trying to get rid of the term "intrinsically disordered" have an obvious agenda: to change the constant teachings of the Church on matters of human sexuality.
I don't know why but an American Jesuit came to mind while I was writing that last sentence.
I really enjoyed reading the chapter on the true meaning of freedom. We are constantly being told by our secular world that freedom is the ability to do what you like. The Church teaches that authentic freedom means the ability to choose the good, the true and the beautiful. That is why I think the principle of autonomy as understood in current medical ethics is so misleading. Christians and secularists have a very different understanding of the nature of freedom. The commitment and responsibilities of marriage are liberating, as understood by Christians. The sexual revolution is not liberating. I encountered countless victims of the sexual revolution in a previous job when I had to assess suicidal risk in people who had taken overdoses. So many were young people whose sexual partners had walked away. But there are lots of other areas in which we find the sexual revolution not to be liberating at all. The author quotes a young Irish writer as saying that "when students arrive on campus they are handed contraceptives, but also told to attend consent classes." The students are encouraged to use condoms but are held to be sex offenders until told otherwise. What kind of liberation is that?
The results are out. The sexual revolution is an experiment that has gone horribly wrong. It is good to be counter-cultural. It is good to be Catholic.
The third part is about how we ought to pass on the teachings of the Church on sexuality to others, to children in particular.
This is one of those books which should be read by clergy and laity alike. It clearly demonstrates the beauty of the teachings of the Church on human sexuality.