Ed: Part of a Guardian 'Comment is Free' discussion to which I have been asked to contribute. The writer of this first piece is Stephen Tomkins, contributing editor of shipoffools.com and deputy editor of Third Way magazine.
[...] Augustine believed that this was how original sin was passed on from one generation to another. By being conceived in an act of passion, we are born damned. So, in order for the Mother of Christ to be free from sin herself, her parents were miraculously enabled to do the deed without physical pleasure. The obvious corollary is that the church should embrace in vitro fertilization as a way to create sinless humans (with complete mental willy control in men). I can't understand why it hasn't.
Not all western Christians today would take Augustine's word for all that, of course, but it's still a pretty dysfunctional spiritual heritage for us to have to deal with. Then again, secular society has the same ancestry if you go that far back, and its own sexual obsessions, though different to the churches', are evidently forbidden fruit of the same family tree.
Protestantism has escaped from much of the sex phobia of Catholicism, but not from the obsessive policing of private relationships, and putting sexual rules at the centre of right living.
If only western Christians could rediscover Augustine, and see that our whole sexual ethics is based on a man who was more scared of his plonker than he was of talking like one, and who wished he could work it like a finger puppet. Maybe we could clear away some of these obsessive regulations and get back to basics. Read more