INNOCENT ECSTASY: How Christianity Gave America an Ethic of Sexual Pleasure by Peter Gardella

INNOCENT ECSTASY: How Christianity Gave America an Ethic of Sexual Pleasure

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Standing history on its head: a spirited but basically cockeyed attempt to put the churches, and especially Catholicism, in the vanguard of the sexual revolution. Gardella (Religion, Manhattanville) produces a vast amount of evidence to illustrate such themes as the fading importance of original sin and the growing stress on marital satisfaction, but he ignores the obvious explanation that this represented (and still does) an accommodation, not to say capitulation, of orthodoxy to the prevailing winds of secular sensuality. Individual Christian women may have found a newly eroticized life by reading Marabel Morgan's The Total Woman, just as 18th- and 19th-century Americans may have been enlightened to read in the anonymous Aristotle's Master-Piece that, ""without this [the clitoris] the fair sex neither desire nuptial embraces nor have pleasure in them,"" but scattered departures from Christianity's suspicion of the flesh do not an ""ethic"" make. Nor is there any reasonable way to gauge the impact of such pioneers of (heretical) Christian sexuality as Benjamin Rush, Sylvester Graham, John Kellogg, and Andrew Ingersoll. Gardella claims that a whole series of Evangelical figures from Phoebe Palmer to Aim‚e Scruple McPherson ""did much to remove the suspicion that all passion was tainted by sin,"" but he can't show how. On the subject of Marian devotion, Gardella is even more extravagant (having ""conquered sin through desire,"" the Virgin ""would teach the race to desire without sin""). And, of course, he is struck with the paradox that the promoters of ""innocent esctasy"" have steadily persecuted people seeking ecstasy anywhere outside the marriage bed. Lots of interesting documentation, but the thesis won't hold.

Pub Date: May 30th, 1985
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press