Loving to learn, and learning to love, in America.
Dec 29, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 15 • By EVE TUSHNET
Freitas portrays "spiritual" students as prone to exoticism, glib in regard to the traditions in which they were raised, intensely misogynist despite their best efforts, and-most poignantly-utterly tongue-tied when asked to connect sex and God.
Fortunately, Freitas is willing to give practical advice to both evangelical and "spiritual" colleges and their likely customer bases. She offers a series of questions with which parents, professors, and administrators might fruitfully challenge colleges of both stripes.
Her fundamental position is in favor of intellect, in favor of open discussion, in favor of explicitly and rigorously connecting the spiritual and sexual realms. Anyone with any interest in mentoring young people should read this book and its recommendations, because there's great hope and wisdom in them.
Perhaps her greatest fault in Sex and the Soul is that Freitas doesn't bother to articulate her own sexual and spiritual ethos. She assumes a standard of sexual "health" which seems to mean something like "ability to find meaning in one's sexual choices, whether that means sex in a loving and demi-committed relationship or whether that means no sex 'til marriage."
This is really not up to any standard of intellectual rigor, and it's sad to find it at the heart of a book otherwise so passionately in favor of the body, the mind, and the soul. How I feel is conditioned in large part by my society and its messages-the very thing Freitas wishes to combat. It's conditioned in large part by my biology, by wishful thinking, and by pride.
The culture of "committed relationships"-as journalist and recent graduate Helen Rittelmeyer puts it, "Like marriage, only smaller"-seems more like an underspiced, self-comforting mix of these influences than a sign of spiritual depth.
In his introduction to The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis described two kinds of religion: the apprehension of the Numinous-the fear and awe of the sublime-and the following of a moral code. And he noted how bizarre it was that Judaism and Christianity had brought the two together:
We desire nothing less than to see that Law whose naked authority is already unsupportable armed with the incalculable claims of the Numinous. Of all the jumps that humanity takes in its religious history this is certainly the most surprising. It is not unnatural that many sections of the human race refused it; non-moral religion, and non-religious morality, existed and still exist.
In Freitas's "spiritual" interviewees, the numinous and the moral have re-separated, to the benefit of few. In her evangelical interviewees, the moral may crowd out the numinous. Getting these two elements back together would be the most intellectually stimulating "hookup" of them all.
Eve Tushnet, a writer in Washington, blogs at eve-tushnet.blogspot.com.