Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Friday, May 20, 2016


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter… ©

I was in a tense meeting once where a denominational official asked a colleague, “Were you intimate with that woman?” He answered “No.” The official thought that settled it, so I had the unpleasant task of following up by saying, “But did you have sex with her?” He had to answer “Yes.” He was honest in his answers to both questions. Sex doesn’t automatically mean intimacy; it just means sex.

The psycho-social developmental task of young adults is “intimacy vs isolation.” It starts in the teen years, because of puberty, but as teens our main task has to be “identity vs identity diffusion.” [1]

Nature doesn’t care about intimacy. All nature cares about is sex. It simply wants reproduction, so that the species will survive. Nature knows, however, that reproduction alone is usually not enough to keep the species going. The young have to be cared for until they can fend for themselves, so nurturing instincts are built into the parents. In addition to sex, there can be companionship and caring and feelings of loss in the pairings of other species, but those are not really intimacy.

Sex for the sake of reproduction, though, or even nurturing of the young, is not enough for humans. Humans want and need intimacy. We are not meant to live in isolation. That is why solitary confinement is considered the worst kind of punishment. But intimacy is frightening, because it makes us vulnerable.

Sexuality is the basic urge that pulls us toward intimacy, and also propels us away from it. In our fear of the vulnerability of commitment that comes with intimacy, we often treat sex in a very superficial, non-intimate, way.

Violence, of course, is the ultimate “protection” against intimacy. It is the ultimate isolator.

The urges of both sex and intimacy are so strong in young people that they are overwhelming. Religious young people often try to control those urges by fixating on, ritualizing, a particular belief or action. In belief, some theological doctrine like substitutionary atonement or dating the apocalypse [when the world will end]. In actions, examples are ritualistic Bible reading and praying, or speaking in tongues. [2]

The religious impulse propels us toward intimacy, but fixation on a religious concept or ritual helps to wall us off against intimacy. Intimacy is a fearful thing. We cannot be intimate without being vulnerable.

With young preacher types, the underlying problem is often sexual. Either shehe is trying to deny homosexuality, more to self than to others, or is afraid of the power of sexual urges and thinks that a religious “calling” will replace or control those urges. [Fortunately, denying homosexuality is not as necessary as it once was.]

In religion, we try to escape intimacy and vulnerability by excluding those unlike us, for there is no real intimacy with one’s self, and if we only love those who love us, as someone once said, what reward is there? There is no intimacy in that, and so no depth. We escape intimacy through exclusion and call it righteous, because after all, we claim, it is really God who is doing the excluding and not we ourselves.

Intimacy and isolation are not just internal psychic states that determine, and result from, out interactions with others. They are stances toward the world, open or closed. The Good News of Christ is that intimacy with God, vulnerability to God, is always possible, because God forgives our attempts at isolation, both to God and to others, and even with our own true selves.

In a time of shallow sex and gratuitous violence and the attempt, literally as well as psychologically, to build walls to keep others away, intimacy even with those closest to us is difficult, for it is hard to be intimate personally in a world that says intimacy is too difficult or unnecessary.

Every once in a while, I see the statement, often attributed to Tom Clancy, the late novelist who was in love with military weaponry—and what can be a better wall against intimacy than military weapons—that “Money can’t buy you love, but it can buy you sex, and that’s almost as good.”

No, it isn’t.


I tweet as yooper1721.

1] I’m using the categories of developmental psychologist Erik H. Erikson.

2] I was aware when I wrote the phrase “dating the apocalypse,” in the May 15 CIW, “Divided Tongues,” that it had a double meaning. Young people fixated on the end times are dating the apocalypse rather than dating a person. Anne Bingham, a writer of YA [Young Adult] novels, picked up on that and said, “Dating the Apocalypse is definitely going to be the title of my next novel.” That should be a good read.

No comments:

Post a Comment