Death, Sex, and THE GOOD PLACE

When I was teaching theology, I didn't articulate (or understand) end of life issues terribly well.  I knew the general rule of thumb was that we were against hastening death (a la Kevorkian or the terrible things happening in the Netherlands), but that it was somehow also ethical to not prolong the moment of death for a loved one through excessive use of machinery. 

The difficulty comes down not to absolute rules but rather to ethical intents - which are harder to judge from the outside, since two actions may look the same.

For example, one person may refuse chemo because she wants to live as fully as possible in the time remaining, and die whenever the Good Lord takes her. Her intent is to live; not to hasten her death. Another may refuse chemo precisely in order to hasten her death, which is a problematic stance.  
It all comes down to ethics.

Now and at the Hour of Our Death

I personally, and with the Church, condemn any action intended to cause another person harm, to hasten death - which is to put it bluntly: murder. However, the problem in that teaching is that we all want a list of definitive rules: chemo yay or nay? Vaccines? This pill? That drug? Etc. etc. etc.  It's enough to cause some pretty dramatic divides between current political tribes that are based more on tribal wisdom (X is always the right choice!) rather than study of the thing itself ("How does X actually work?") and its application in the particular circumstance. ("X is a good thing, but person Y has a bad reaction to it.  Hence X is not good for Y.")

But this, my friends, is exactly why the commandment is simply: "Thou shalt not murder." Or, "Do no harm." It speaks not only to the action, but to the intent.  It's a matter not just of law, but of ethics.  (You can read about this more fully, especially in regard to end of life issues here.)

Paved with Good Intentions

If you don't have time for reading, however, you can enjoy a quick primer on the importance of intent from the TV show: The Good Place. Season 1 is now on Netflix, and they're currently at the midpoint of Season 2.  This quirky and really excellent show's from producer Michael Schur of Parks and Recreation, and examines what happens if a "bad person" gets into the "good place."  (Spoiler warning: but you can read about his plan here.)

Among the things the show looks at is whether you can do a good action with ill intent, and still get "points" for being good.  This is a concept that's tough to get students' minds around, especially in an age that tends to think along juvenile karmic lines.  As though "The Universe" were one big Facebook like or dislike in the sky. 

C. S. Lewis in The Great Divorce showed beautifully and frightfully how we can fool ourselves with good actions and bad intents: the mother who codependently smothers her son's inner life; the artist who works only for her own glory; the husband who wanted his wife to have no affection for anyone but him.  In a million small and selfish ways, we can corrupt our ethical intelligence which looks honestly at our intent, and not just at our actions.

Looking for a Few Good Men

Which brings me to the current sex scandals breaking from Hollywood and the political scene every other day.  Many of them - Harvey Weinstein in particular - are so gross that it's easy to condemn them.  Even easier, since it's clear that they're only sorry they were caught.  Where there is no remorse, there is no opportunity to forgive.  There is no desire to change.  "The Gates of Hell are closed from the inside," as Lewis reiterated.

However, it's been interesting to see the reactions among my friends to the case of Louis CK.  Partially because he's apologized somewhat.  Partially because his stand-up was almost a continual confessional.  Partially - and this is the important part - because his case has made more people consider their own actions...and the intent behind their actions.

It's easy to see how Weinstein is a monster.  Manipulative, aggressive, scary.  But then we look at the case of Louis CK, not excusing his actions by any means, but understanding how two women felt obliged to allow him to masturbate in front of them.  How the comedian could have considered himself above the line "because he asked permission first."  How, technically, every box of consent was ticked, and journalists even feel the need to keep the permissions open by adding in several articles: "Don't masturbate in front of a woman...unless she asks for it."


A lot of those fingers we were pointing can curve around pretty quickly to make us look at ourselves.

Which is to say, just as ethical intent must be considered in regards to death, so ethical intent must be considered in terms of sex and relations.

Is Consent Enough?

This is the final question I want to ask: is consent enough?

I don't think so.  And here's why:

In order to be able to fully consent to something, you need to have your full mental faculties, but you also need to have been fully formed in the thing you're consenting to.  You need to know your options.

Think of it this way: if a man or woman is traumatized as a child, or is raised poorly (or by sitcoms), and thinks that every romantic encounter must end in sex, then although that person may consent each time, they've never been given any other model or action. 

We see this illustrated in the accusers of Kevin Spacey and Roy Moore: both accusers were molested by those older men as minors, and spent the majority of their lives thinking they had given their consent, that they had wanted that relationship, that what they experienced at the hands of their predators was normal.  

But neither of those victims could consent.  Their ethics were skewered by those men who preyed upon them.  So, too, I'd imagine that many of the women who were victimized by Louis CK or Brett Ratner or Harvey Weinstein were ethically compromised before they ever met their aggressors: just by the culture that we live in; the culture that we make; the culture that told them, repeatedly, that they had no choice but to play along.

Now think about your own shameful sexual adventures.  The ones that make you start to wonder: what happens when they come for me?  That time you pushed a little too hard.  That time you weren't sure if "no" meant "no."  That time, and that time, and that time, and...

Go Now, and Sin No More

So.  Are you damned?  Is each one of us just waiting for the crowd to come with stones to pull us away?  Is there no forgiveness?  No redemption?  Is your one big, shameful sin (and we've all got at least one big, shameful sin) enough to negate any good you've ever tried to do since?

No.  That's a lie.  And it's a lie intended to make you despair, and just do bigger and more shameful violences.

Can you just be forgiven and change nothing in your life?  Can you just say sorry and be done with it?  Do a twelve step program, get your certificate, take some pills and make amends?

That may not be enough.  Words and signatures may soothe your shame, but may not be enough.

What then can you do?

It's that old message: "Repent, and sin no more."

We all are the woman caught in adultery.  Every single one of us deserves to be stoned.  So how can we change our lives? 

A few things: Confess.   Realize the people you broke aren't the people you can heal.  Realize the people who broke you aren't the people who can fix you.  Come face to face with what you did wrong, and (probably) remove yourself from that situation.  Entirely.  People can be an addiction, too.  Habits can be addictive.  "Better to cut out your eye and enter Heaven...!"

And then:
Change your life. Make a conscious effort to be someone new. I don't know what that means for you.  Make amends with your spouse.  Live chastely.  Go to confession.  Go to therapy.  Change your patterns.  You'll make a mistake.  Make a big mistake.  Total backslide.  Begin again.  Confess your sins.  Change your situation.  Do your penance.  Die to yourself.  Pick up that cross and walk.  Every day.  Every day.  Every day.
And in the meantime?  Watch The Good Place.  It's got Ted Danson.



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