Archbishop Chaput, incoming chairman for the Bishops’ Committee for Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth, shares segments from the report on sexuality and gender from The New Atlantis in his column this week.
He notes: “We live in a time when fundamental elements of human identity are routinely challenged and reimagined, with consequences impossible to predict. The New Atlantis does all of us a service by publishing the ‘Sexuality and Gender’ report, and restoring some badly needed clarity, scientific substance and prudence to our discussions.”
Note: Over the next few weeks, we’ll be reading through the Viewer’s Guide for the video “Made for Each Other.” In the video, married couple Josh and Carrie reflect on the meaning of sexual difference. Each section of the Viewer’s Guide takes a quote from either Josh or Carrie and fleshes it out. The goal of the Viewer’s Guide is to help you, the reader, become more confident in promoting and defending the meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
In part 5, we’ll see why sexual difference is more than anatomy, and we we’ll talk about the spousal meaning of the body and the role of science.
“It’s not just about biology…”
Returning to sexual difference, Josh makes an important point. The difference between a man and a woman is not just an insignificant biological fact. [i] “We’re wired differently,” as Josh says. Biology is important, but the body and the person are not reducible to biology. Sexual difference involves the whole person, body and soul.
Furthermore, as Pope John Paul II taught, the body has a “spousal meaning.” [ii] The body, in its masculinity or femininity, reveals that we are persons who are made to be a gift to others and to be received as a gift by others. This spousal meaning of the body speaks an essential truth relevant to all people, not only those called to marriage. It also indicates what was said above, that the body is more than just a biological reality. The body reveals the person. We’re not souls trapped in bodies. We’re “body-persons.” We don’t just have a body. We are our bodies in a real sense. Our bodies are fundamental to who we are. The body of a man and the body of a woman are distinct, personal realities.
A husband and a wife have unique and personal gifts that they offer to each other. Not only do they give each other their physical bodies, but they give their distinct persons to each other, as man and woman, in and through their bodies, in and through their sexual difference. Their bodies speak a unique language of love, reserved specifically for marriage. Neither biology nor culture alone can explain this. It has to do with the nature of the human person as a unity of body and soul, created as man and woman. [iii]
That being said, it is a curious phenomenon of our time that, while the natural sciences have advanced in so many areas, including in the study of the human person, an appreciation and application of these sciences in relation to sexual difference and human sexuality in general is often lacking in our contemporary society. Why is this? It’s a worthy question to consider. For example, when it comes to food and diet these days, we do not hear things like “eat whatever and however much you want because there won’t be any consequences (or we’ll handle the consequences as they come).” Medically and scientifically speaking, no one buys that.
But what about the body and sex? Our culture’s prevailing philosophy seems to deny that there are powerful consequences to sex. Even when faced with the facts of such consequences, the dominant philosophy continues to say “do whatever you want with your body and we’ll deal with the consequences as they come—in fact, we’ll do whatever it takes to let you do anything to your body…” Sounds like a disconnect here and a lack of medical and scientific rigor. And what about sexual difference? While some play down the reality of sexual difference or limit it to the difference between female and male anatomy, sciences such as neurobiology, gynecology, evolutionary psychology, endocrinology, histology, and reproductive physiology—to name a few—point to the intricate, unique and complementary physiologies of women and men. Sexual difference is more than a surface difference in human anatomy, and attempts to explain sexual difference as a socially constructed reality are lacking in rigor. The body/person dualism of today (i.e., which holds that the body is separable from the person and that we can therefore do whatever we want to with our bodies) is neither realistic nor scientific. All of this is to say that while sexual difference is more than a biological fact, biology and the related sciences can be of great help in appreciating the unique gifts of men and women.