dietrich von hildebrand feminism
The Value of Sexuality... ...Revealed Through Rape?6:00:00 AMJeremy Schupbach
Rape, especially on college campuses, is one of the weightiest and darkest issues facing our society at present, as well as one of the most controversial. Who hasn't seen a plethora of links on their newsfeeds, representing countless instances of this tragedy? And yet, by one of reality’s most mysterious and yet precious qualities, the true character of some of life’s greatest goods is often revealed in and through tragedy. What I would like to suggest in this series of blog posts is the following: that the sheer horror of rape actually gives testimony to one of life’s greatest values, the value of human sexuality.
Let us begin with a concrete example. There was a recent incident which occurred at Stanford University in which a young woman became intoxicated and unconscious and, while unconscious, was raped. When the guilty party was sentenced to six months of prison time, public outrage ensued at the length of the sentence, and an online petition to increase the sentence time to six years went viral. The victim’s compelling testimony revealed that, even though she had no personal recollection of the rape, as she was unconscious, merely the very knowledge of what had been done to her was enough to make her feel so violated that, “I didn’t want my body anymore.”
There are two realities which are present in every instance of rape, and this incident places them on prominent display. One is the simple fact that the victim is a victim. If we were to hold that the feelings of shame and abhorrence which the victim suffers are merely feelings, that they don’t actually correspond with anything in reality; this would not be a justified response based on the character of her feelings. What we we can only say, then, is that something has been done to her. This reality, this thing, can only be described as a violation. The testimony of victims of rape is far too compelling, it presents us with a far too vivid reality, for us to play them off as “mere feelings.” There is an actual violation which has taken place, and a violation with an utterly abhorrent character.
The second reality which is made clear is the utterly evil character of the perpetrator’s actions. This is what caused the justified response to the online petition, there is a universal recognition that what this individual did is wrong in-and-of-itself. This evil character is such that the act can be seen for what it is regardless of the consequences, (though this in no way diminishes those consequences). The act is not evil solely as a result of the trauma that it created in the victim. This much is clear because even if the victim had never been informed of what occurred while she was unconscious, and therefore had never experienced any pain, then we would still consider the act to be every bit as evil. The heinous nature of the act belongs to the act in itself.
These two realities which are presented to us in our analysis, the real violation of the woman, and the evil of the man’s action, will be the two foundations of the argument in this, and the subsequent posts. The first thing which they reveal is the intrinsic value of sexuality. There is a basic law of reality that whenever a disvalue is present, it is because a value was at stake. In the case of theft: there is a loss of property, in the case of deceit: there is a falsification of the truth, in the case of murder: the negation of life. Simply put a thing cannot be violated if it was not first sacred. So if we are to hold that there is a real violation which takes place in an act of rape, then there must have been something sacred, some high good: the good of human sexuality.
But this can be no ordinary good, or else its violation would not merit the degree of justified outrage that this violation rightly merits. Indeed the degree to which human sexuality must be good is proportionate to the degree to which rape is evil, in short it must be an immensely high good, truly meriting the title of sacred. In the words of the philosopher Dietrich Von Hildebrand:
“The positive and negative values attaching to sex belong to a level far deeper than those which attach to the other bodily appetites… ...it is characteristic of sex that in virtue of its very significance and nature it tends to become incorporated with experiences of a higher order, purely psychological and spiritual.” (1)
The value of human sexuality, then, must be one of the highest and most noble values which is accessible to human experience, and as hinted at by Von Hildebrand, the source of this value is the spiritual center of man. But the source of the high value of sexuality will be the subject of later posts, as will dealing with a utilitarian counterargument. For the time being, what we have shed light upon is that the abomination that is rape, makes no sense unless human sexuality is a deep, profound, and sacred reality.
(1) Hildebrand, In Defense of Purity, pgs. 3-5.