A sermon you will not hear Sunday

Michael Smith:

Something you should know about me is that I am endlessly fascinated by the things humans will invent to justify pretty much any human behavior, no matter how bad it is.

That is why I am doing a deep dive into several social theories, Queer Theory among them.

One commonality in the subjects I am examining is this: postmodernist theorists and philosophers not only object to anyone drawing a line, they do not believe a line even exists,There was a philosophical movement with roots in the 16th and 17th century, mainly consisting of Italian and French erudite cultural and philosophical thought that sought to establish reason and nature as the criteria of morality, politics, and law, and thus questioning transcendental sources of truth and authority. Called libertinism, it celebrated an authority of nature that debunked societal prohibitions as religious superstition and argued for the value of immediate physical pleasure rather than some heavenly reward later.

It gained new-found adherents in the 18th and 19th centuries, particularly in France and Great Britain. Notable among these were John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, and the Marquis de Sade.

A libertine is often defined as “one devoid of most moral or sexual restraints, which are seen as unnecessary or undesirable, especially one who ignores or even spurns accepted morals and forms of behavior sanctified by the larger society.

Libertinism is rightly described as extreme form of individualist hedonism and as such, puts primary value on sensual or physical pleasures. Libertinism also necessarily requires the rejection of any religious stigma, moral code or social mores that argue against the attainment of such pleasures.

Libertinism supposedly rests on a foundation of “reason and nature as the criteria of morality, politics, and law” but modern “libertines” reject both reason and nature for concocted fairy tales that substantiate their actions.

They will only “reason” themselves to a point of emotional satisfaction rather than to a logical endpoint.

The more I studied libertinism, the more I saw the common thread between it and the modern sexual philosophies and how most seem little more than excuses and defenses for desires and behaviors that contradict established social mores and religious beliefs.

As previously noted, I’ve been studying Queer Theory, which, in my opinion, is just an extreme form of libertinism.

Nothing new under the sun.

Libertinism ultimately fails, as will any school of thought sharing its roots.

Like libertinism, many of the modern variants are much like an addiction (a porn addiction is a pretty good analog) because when satisfaction is attained by one thing, to reach satisfaction the next time requires a more extreme approach until the person is completely consumed, their very existence bounded and defined by the addiction.

The addict’s very identity is ultimately destroyed by the very pleasure by which he seeks to define himself.

Ros Ballaster, Professor of 18th Century Studies at Oxford’s Mansfield College, noted:
“Libertinism, rather than reinforcing the natural elements of the self, creates a void within humanity, exposing man as a passionless, diseased ‘non-entity’.”

I have formed a theory that the beliefs that have the potential to unify us in a free society are also the same beliefs that have the potential to divide that same society.

For example, America is a nation founded on individual liberty, individual rights, and rugged individualism – but individualism can take on many forms. What happens when there are individuals who act in opposition to the traditional social mores? If we prohibit those actions, how do we reconcile that with our belief in individualism?

How about philosophies that directly contradict a couple centuries of general social cohesion?

I think the real question is whether we, in our pursuit of a more civil society, are better off for such inquiries or we would be better served to ignore them.

I go back to Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant saying that it does not matter whether the existence of God can ever be empirically proven, people are justified in believing in His existence and following His laws if that belief forms the basis for reason and supports a civil society.

Belief in God produces exclusionary behaviors, so to follow God’s laws means some things are allowed, some are forbidden. It would follow that forbidding individual behaviors that cut against the grain of social cohesion in a civil society is something justifiable in the quest to maintain that society.

Therefore, the question in any civil society becomes not whether it is appropriate and necessary to draw a line, but where that line is to be drawn and who is to draw it.

America’s governance by a “moral and religious” people has done a damn good job of balancing individual liberty with social cohesion.

Whether it can resist the forces of contemporary libertinism seems an open question.


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