The election of Pope Francis has left some on the left a little disarmed. For decades they have been calling for a pope who is humble and cares about the poor. Now that they have one, they will finally be forced to admit that for them, true liberation has nothing to do with “social justice” — it’s always been about sex. Some on the left want human sexuality put in the service of political revolution, and want that Freudian-Marxist dream validated by the culture at large — including the Catholic Church.
It hasn’t changed in years, whomever the pope may be. John Paul II was regularly denounced as an inflexible conservative, even as he wrote brilliant books about human sexuality like “Love and Responsibility.” In April 2005, Pope Benedict conducted his inaugural mass. Days later “Meet the Press,” hosted by Tim Russert, assembled a round table of Catholics to discuss the new pontificate. The guests were liberal Catholics E.J. Dionne, Thomas Cahill and Sister Mary Aquin O’Neill (liberal Protestant Jon Meacham also joined in) and conservative Catholics Joseph Bottum, Rev. Thomas Bohlin and Rev. Joseph Fessio.
The liberals on the show all called for what liberals always call for: married priests, female priests, the end of celibacy, a looser view of human sexuality. The show was more than halfway over when Joseph Bottum pointed out that Pope Benedict was economically to the left of his predecessor, John Paul II: “If the 1991 encyclical from John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, might be described as three cheers for democracy, two cheers for capitalism, Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, would have gave only one cheer, but you wouldn’t know that from all of the coverage that describes him as a hard-liner, conservative, authoritarian, because the great liberal tradition even within the Church, even Mr. Cahill speaks for, has been narrowed down until it’s all just about sex.”
Everything changes except the avant-garde. This Sunday’s episode of “Meet the Press,” the first since Pope Francis’ election, proved this. The most idiotic remark, of course, came from Chris Matthews. Matthews ran down the checklist of liberal demands: more power for women (never mind the saints, over half of whom are female), more respect for gays and a revisiting of Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI’s famous 1968 encyclical upholding the Church’s teaching against contraception. Humanae Vitae warned that the increased use of contraception would lead to four things: a general lowering of moral standards throughout society; a rise in infidelity; a lessening of respect for women by men; and the coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments.
Yeah, Chris Matthews is right. None of those things have happened.
The one orthodox thinker on Sunday’s “Meet the Press” was Francis Cardinal George from Chicago. When moderator David Gregory prayed the liberal trinity of gay marriage, contraception and feminism, Cardinal George observed that the cultural motto these days should be “there is no god, and Freud is his prophet.” Yet Freud is not necessarily the entire problem; anyone who has read even some of his work knows that the man was something of a genius and more complex than conservatives give him credit for. Our culture is living in the wake not only of Freud, but of the 1960s, when the orgasm was elevated to a socio-political force that, if separated from commitment, could revolutionize the world.
This phenomenon is explored masterfully in Roger Kimball’s book “The Long March.” Kimball traces the sexual revolution from its early days in the Romantic cult of the early nineteenth century, through Freud and sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, to the 1960s and today’s porn culture. In the 1950s, communist, anarchist and atheist weirdo Wilhelm Reich preached that “the sexual question must be politicized” and that the key to a healthy society is healthy orgasms. Whereas Freud’s and Kinsey’s work was often aimed at speaking more honestly about sex, for Reich and those who followed, sex became intertwined with politics. His work was celebrated by men like Allen Ginsberg and Norman Mailer, but was largely popularized by three men: Paul Goodman, Norman O. Brown and Herbert Marcuse. According to historian Richard King, the three men “sought to combine a concern for instinctual and erotic liberation with political and social radicalism, cultural with political concerns.” Or as 1960s Yippie leader Jerry Rubin put it: “How can you separate politics from sex? It’s all the same thing. Puritanism leads us to Vietnam. Sexual insecurity results in a supermasculinity trip called imperialism.”
It’s a direct line from Reich and Rubin to Dan Savage, Andrew Sullivan, Ana Marie Cox, the mainstreaming of porn, the modern movement for gay marriage and the strange liberal obsession with mocking sexual purity. And the left has played its hand brilliantly. I’m a Catholic conservative who is far from perfect, who doesn’t really care what people do sexually and who thought the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal was a colossal waste of time and money. I support civil unions, meaning that gay people can have all the rights and responsibilities of marriage but not the name, because words have meanings, and men and women are different than men and men. Yet liberals would call me an intolerant hater. Why? Because the conjugal union in marriage, and the orgasm, must be separated from the creation of life and put in the service of Reichian “freedom.” By convincing the culture that people like me are fools or insane, the left continue its long march toward freedom — which will actually look a lot more like hell.
As Cardinal George observed on “Meet the Press,” chasing sexual liberation often means losing genuine liberty. There are times when I actually feel sorry for the libertine left. All that obsessive focus on one thing, and they’re constantly missing the best part. I’m not married, but what I understand from my friends who are is that sexual intimacy gets deeper and more satisfying as the love between two people deepens. Ultimately you are able to do what the Catholic Church teaches: make a total gift of yourself. And that way lies true bliss.
The sexual left doesn’t get this. They are still holding out for that ultimate orgasm that will bring the revolution and set them free — thus Andrew Sullivan’s rapture about the “spirituality” of anonymous gay sex and Dan Savage’s open gay marriage. But the new pope won’t change Church teaching about you-know-what, which is why the reaction to Pope Francis on the left has ranged from ambivalence to open hostility. Here, apparently, was what liberals had been asking for: a humble reformist pope — from the liberal Jesuit order, no less — who named himself after a gentle peacemaker and who announced he wanted to dedicate the Church to the poor. And yet, and yet. There is that other thing, that most important thing. If Pope Francis holds firm, which he will, it is only a matter of months before he is condemned as a hater.
Mark Judge is the author of A Tremor of Bliss: Sex, Catholicism, and Rock ‘n’ Roll.