dietrich von hildebrand featured
The Value of Sexuality... ...Revealed Through Rape? pt. 26:00:00 AMJeremy Schupbach
Why is rape evil? This was the subject of our previous post. What we discovered was that the full reality of the horror of rape includes both a real and abhorrent violation which has been done to the victim and the evil-in-and-of-itself character of the act. We concluded saying that nothing can be violated which was not first sacred, and used this to show that the hideous nature of rape points towards the inherent sacredness of human sexuality. It is important now to briefly consider some counter-arguments before we delve further into this sacredness.
The default counterargument would be to say that the abhorrent nature of the act is merely due to the pain that it causes in the victim. Thus the claim of sacredness is unnecessary. This would be the utilitarian position, which judges an act based on its consequences; namely, whether it causes pain or pleasure. This philosophy fails to reconcile itself with the basic experience of this situation in two ways: first, it cannot account for the actual cause of the traumatic experience in the victim. It merely observes that displeasure has been caused, and therefore it names the cause “evil”. It cannot provide an account for why the trauma is present. In other words, it treats the trauma as a mere feeling, and cannot account for the real violation which we can clearly see is present. The second, and more fatal, failing of utilitarian philosophy is that it can only judge the act of rape based on the consequences, it has no conception of an evil-in-itself, and this evil-in-itself we saw to be clearly present.
Another counterargument would be this: to claim that the sacred thing which is violated is not sexuality, but rather the freedom of the individual. Therefore freedom is sacred, not sex. While freedom is certainly possesses an inherent value, and is therefore sacred, this argument also falls short of the mark. There are plenty of ways in which an individual’s freedom can be violated to an extreme degree, but the trauma and the evil do not even approach that which is experienced in rape.
For instance, if one person were to overpower and violently beat another, causing them serious physical damage, even possibly threatening their life, would this person feel that same kind of abhorrence that was felt by the victim in our previous post, in which the victim, “Didn’t want my own body?” The violation of rape is of a fundamentally different kind and of a surpassing degree than a mere violation of freedom. One could still claim that rape is just the height of the loss of freedom, and this accounts for the difference in degree (although not the difference in kind). But even this argument presupposes the value of sexuality, for what is it about the sexual act that makes it a more grievous violation of personal freedom than any other act? Clearly then, there is absolutely no way to do justice to the reality of rape, without presupposing an inherent value to human sexuality. We are now in an excellent position to leave behind this gruesome talk and look more at precisely what it is that makes human sexuality so sacred.
The last counter-argument even gave us some new data to work with. Not only do we see the evil-in-itself and the real violation but we also now see that the sexual act contains the apex of human freedom. No other act could be more fully an act of the person. In his book Purity the Mystery of Christian Sexuality, Dietrich Von Hildebrand hones in on this specific character of sexuality:
“When we consider eating, drinking, and sleep – indeed, bodily pleasure as a whole – we find this entire province of human experience characterized by a lack of depth... Sex on the other hand... is essentially deep… In [its] distinctive quality there is something which penetrates to the very root of man’s physical being” (1)
“Compare, for example, eating... Whether or no we are conscious of the act of eating as an experience possesses no decisive significance… on the contrary [for the sexual act] the question whether or no my attention is focused on what I am doing is by no means unimportant. From this act the factor of experience may not be excluded. If it is, the act becomes something morally reprehensible, indeed bestial. A fully deliberate conscious attention is demanded. This in turn clearly proves that the act… possesses a special significance for man in quantum homo.” (2)
Crucial to understanding Hildebrand’s insight is the phrase “in quantum homo”. This phrase means “in one’s capacity as a human being”. If an act possesses significance in quantum homo this means that it affects man on the level of his whole person, in the highest possible way. Thus the sexual act demands of man his whole self, the fullness of his being, and to give oneself sexually to another is to give the whole self.
The sacredness of human sexuality, then, consists in the fact that by this capacity, man gives of himself fully. No other gift could be more complete. This sacredness both includes and transcends that of human freedom. For this gift must be free, but it also encompasses the full worth of a human being as a person. This is why the violation of rape attacks the core worth of the human being, and this is also why human sexuality ought to be revered and respected as the greatest possible gift of self.
(1) Hildebrand, Purity the Mystery of Christian Sexuality. Pgs. 3-5
(2) Hildebrand, Purity the Mystery of Christian Sexuality. Pg. 12