April 26, 2013

Sex, Individualism, and the End of Civilization

(Dale Kuehne is a professor of politics and the pastor of Emmanuel Covenant Church in Nashua, NH. Credit: St. Anselm College)

(Dale Kuehne is a professor of politics and a pastor at Emmanuel Covenant Church in Nashua, NH. Credit: St. Anselm College)

Kristin Rudolph (@Kristin_Rudolph)

Our evaporating sexual mores are indicative of deep confusion about who we believe we are as human beings, what it means to be uniquely male or female, and what our purpose in life is. Dale Kuehne, author of Sex and the iWorld discussed these issues at the recent Q Conference in Los Angeles on April 16, stating: “We were made to love God, self, and others,” not to accumulate material wealth or indulge fleshly desires.

We have been told that freedom from religious and traditional boundaries will make us happy, as we are liberated to pursue self-fulfillment. But, Kuehne, a politics professor at St. Anselm College pointed out in a Q&A session, a Washington Post study of teenage mothers found the number one reason girls became pregnant was not because they were ignorant about birth control, but because they “wanted to be loved.”

Kuehne explained, “There is a design to the world. There are rules to it [which are good news].” He described the shift from a world that recognized and lived by those rules – the “traditional world,” or “tWorld.” This world was built with limits that placed sex within the relationship of husband and wife. The professor outlined how this moral foundation was established through a blend of Judaic and Christian teachings, and Greek and Roman philosophy. As Aristotle argued, “Fundamentally humans are not individuals, per se, we’re always part of relationship. The fundamental relationship for him was family,” Kuehne said.

Further, the “tWorld” recognized the essential connection of sex, procreation, and marriage, but “We live in a time in which sexual activity has been liberated from procreation … and there’s no sense that it should be connected in any necessary way to marriage,” the professor said. “We emphasize relationships of choice over relationships of obligation. We’re not that connected to our extended family, we’re not that connected to our nuclear family, and what matters to us is we’re with the people that we want to be with when we want to be with them.”

We now live in the individualistic world – the “iWorld,” where the “foundational moral narrative” consists of three taboos, Kuehne said. “Taboo number one: You can do what you want so long as you don’t harm anybody or harm anything. Number two: You can do what you want so long as there’s consent … And the third taboo is: don’t you dare tell anyone else that their moral framework is wrong because if you do the fury of hell will come upon you,” he explained.

Kuehne observed that as our culture increasingly embraces these taboos, “the cultural conditions don’t exist to go back [to the tWorld].” Instead, Kuehne suggested the Church should pioneer the relational world – the “rWorld” – “that’s centered on loving God, self, and neighbor.”

“I believe this is the greatest evangelistic opportunity of my lifetime in America,” Kuehne said, continuing: “People are scared to death. They know that individualism isn’t working, they know the economy’s not working … The Christian Church is in a position to open our doors and say ‘come.’ We don’t need to be wealthy we need to be healthy and wealthy in relationship.”

Beyond the devastating consequences for relationships, the economic consequences of our individualistic trajectory are “literally unsustainable,” Kuehne said. With more and more Americans marrying late in life (or not at all), and 40% of children born outside marriage, the relational foundations of our society are crumbling before our eyes. Kuehne reported a child born outside marriage costs society four to eight times more than one born to married parents. These trends have consequences at the end of life too, as Kuehne explained: “Family is the best bargain that society can have for taking care of the elderly, and as family bonds become less and less …  the question before us is how are we going to take care of the elderly … We can’t afford it.”

Reviewing the astronomic national debt figures, “the reality is we can’t pay our debt as a nation,” the professor said. “When I’ve been studying the end of civilizations … There’s this common theme. You have sexual bizarreness go on in terms of promiscuity. Then you have great debt, then things tend to implode civilizationally, then things fall apart and people wake up and they discover each other. When things rebuild, they rediscover this relational matrix that’s part of the very nature of life,” Kuehne explained.

In the next ten to fifteen years before “things fall apart,” the Church ought to “build up the credibility” as a place of refuge for those who will lose everything because “it’s not the economic crunch that’s going to make you unhappy it’s the relational crunch that’s making you unhappy,” Kuehne advised. By loving our neighbors, Christians can point to the God of love who alone can fulfill the deepest longings of the human heart.

A culture that emphasizes relationships and human flourishing begins with each of us recognizing our intricate connection to our families, friends, churches, and communities, and loving people more than things.  

2 Responses to Sex, Individualism, and the End of Civilization

  1. Marco Bell says:

    This article is spot on! Well done Kristin Rudolph!

    Dale Kuehne has described not only the ‘fall’ of humanity, but the prescription for the ‘rise’ of the eventual remnants of humanity very nicely.
    He seems like a rational individual who understands society and the foibles of the human condition.

    Thanks Kristin!

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