So You see, one other reason for my own former resistance to secularism and atheism — and a big reason why many other believers resist Us, too — was just this: it seemed plain as the ring in my nose that the so-called sexual revolution, which is celebrated to a man (again, not a typo! More on that later too) by every atheist, turned out not to be the benign bacchanal Everyone said it would be; it was not the nonstop party of so many panting descriptions; it was not even the Loveshack of the B-52’s; it was instead, from the point of view of many of the believers, proof that secular so-called morality once unleashed would do some real damage in the world.
I mean, even Christians can count on their fingers — You know, about things like the number of peers from broken homes who seemed to have “issues” that the ones from intact homes didn’t; the number of girlfriends unhappy about their abortions, their sexually transmitted diseases, their inability to treat men as disposably as they were treated themselves; the number of men who turned out to make particularly crappy boyfriends because they’d been around the block one or ten or twenty too many times; the number of marriages split by the kinds of things consenting adults do when they’re consenting with people outside of it. Just for instance.
Does any of this sound familiar? I’m sure it doesn’t, because it’s a part of sexual reality that atheists never mention! But that’s exactly why I’m harping on it. If our Movement is really going to go around arguing that the sooner we get rid of all those rules, the happier humanity is going to be, we’re going to get blown away by this kind of counterevidence. It’s enough to make You envy Bertrand Russell and all the atheists who came before Us, isn’t it? Who were able to paint a happy face around all those things that didn’t exist yet? Well, unfortunately We in the 21st century can’t pretend we don’t know.
Third and plus which, it’s another very bad Fact for our side that if people actually followed Dull sexual teaching, this would probably be a better and happier world than one in which they don’t. (Note that I’m not including myself in there! As St. Augustine should have said, “Make them good, God, not me!” But You have to admit, there’s a lot to be said for having the rest of the Species play by the rules.) Even worse, it suggests to some of them that the Dulls are on to something with this notion of natural law. Of course we atheists should call it Unnatural Law, since nothing could be more foreign to our biological imperatives! But the odd thing is, again, that if everyone lived under their Unnatural Law, an awful lot of people would seems to be better off than they are now — and this is even true of the most controversial teachings, the ones You all most enjoy snickering at.
Like, if you had asked me back in my Christian days questions like: Would those girls have been better off without those abortions? Or: Would those kids happier being raised by both biological parents? Or: Do guys who have already slept with a hundred women make worse boyfriends than those who haven’t? Or: — hit me where I really used to live! — Which set of rules, atheism’s or religion’s, would you want your own hypothetical children to live by? I’d have said the answers to all those and more were no-brainers — no-brainers that made points for the religious side, that is. I’ll confess a terrible weakness here and say that even now, after I’ve Evolved so far, I still want to reach for the Xanax just thinking about an Atheist like any of You dating my theoretical daughter — as opposed to, say, a nice, anti-abortion, save-sex for marriage Christian. I know it’s terribly Unfit; but is that just me?
The bottom line is, after everything that’s happened since the sexual revolution, I’m telling you that we atheists really need to knock off all the happy talk about how fantabulously liberating sex is. Privacy, privacy, privacy, Everybody mantras — as if that word settles anything at all! It’s messed up, isn’t it, when you think of how otherwise puritanical our own times are, that the church’s notion of sexual discipline should seem so funny to so many people? After all, it’s the only kind of discipline that’s out of bounds! We all know that people who eat too much are pigs, people who drink too much are drunks, people who don’t exercise are slobs and parasites on the body politic what with all their health costs, and people who smoke are just as disgusting as it’s possible to be, like an old person crossed with a fat one wearing a fur coat and eating venison and cake at the same time or something — and the rest of us are all really put out at every one single of those kinds of people for being such slobs and so hard on our own eyes and wallets. You know?
Yet sex behind closed doors, just as the Dulls point out, has more serious consequences for the world than any of these other kinds of piggishness. It’s those “private acts” outside of marriage that have sent the illegitimacy soaring and put so many kids in the rough hands of mom’s rotating boyfriends. It’s consenting adults who have turned AIDS and STDs into global health problems. All this is to say nothing of the consequences that are harder to measure of all those mature adults doing as they please “in private.” And kids know all about those kinds of consequences, as You can see if You ever look at their music and movies and Facebook pages. There’s a backlash out there that none of You seem to know about — one you might call Ozzie and Harriet, come back — All is forgiven! I would go even farther, based on what I saw as a Dull, and say that this notion of sexual discipline and its importance is not only serious rather than unserious; it is also what pulls many of the Dulls into practicing or even turning to religion the first place, because they feel somehow better about life when it’s lived inside of those rules.
Please understand that I’m not criticizing here! Cheering for pornography and omnivorous sex and by extension, broken homes and abused and screwed up kids and all the rest of the revolution’s fallout may not be everyone’s thing; but most of You new atheist Guys have definitely made it Yours. I respect all that! I’m just saying for now that we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that the believers’ sexual codes are an unmitigated bad on them and a plus for Us, when most evidence suggests it’s quite the other way around.
Meanwhile, while we’re still on this subject of what doesn’t and doesn’t work for us when it comes to bringing others round to godlessness, let me bring up a related point that You’ve been indulging to our possible long-term detriment (though not just You! The Enlightenment started it!). That is the argument that Reason itself is also on the atheist Side. As I’ll explain in the next Letter, that’s one potato we really need to drop before Somebody gets burned by it.
Yours Pretty Faithfully,
A. F. Christian
Editor’s note: The second letter in THE LOSER LETTERS series will appear next Friday on National Review Online.
– Mary Eberstadt is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and author of Home-Alone America.