A Christian Engagement of Raunch Culture

This is the third part of three in which Florence Gildea considers the background and consequences to Raunch Culture and offers an alternative Christian view.

Part 3: Beyond the Honeymoon

Raunch Culture, and modern romanticism, is premised on eros being the strongest, most authentic of emotions. When the initial, physical attachment wanes, therefore, being true to oneself and one's feelings means it is right to end the relationship. The Song of Songs, however, shows a deepening of intimacy as time goes on. It realistically takes account of potential and real difficulties, frustrations, pain and suffering which the couple face and must overcome to honour and strengthen their commitment to each other.[37] The angry brothers (Song 1:6), the "little foxes, that ruin the vineyards" (2:15), the "many waters" and "floods" (8:7) are presented as potentially disruptive external forces against them. But rather than presenting a narrative of the lovers against the world, the Song recognises that love itself is not straightforward: it can get out of hand (Song 2:7; 3:5; 8:4) and become destructive (8:6). And perhaps hardest to comprehend in modern culture, the lovers must also come to terms with mundanity. In chapter five, Solomon arrives late at night, and the woman is annoyed at the inconvenience:

I slept but my heart was awake.
Listen! My beloved is knocking:
'Open to me, my sister, my darling,
my dove, my flawless one.
My head is drenched with dew,
my hair with the dampness of the night.'
I have taken off my robe –
must I put it on again?
I have washed my feet –
must I soil them again?
(Song 5:2-3)

This midnight visit presents what Carrie Miles calls "a crisis of candour".[38] Eros has hitherto blinded the lovers to each other's foibles. But now the humdrum intrudes. Unlike an Epic, the lover is not returning from a heroic distress, but seeking to come in out of the dew, with wet hair – a somewhat pathetic predicament. She, rudely awakened, would rather not be bothered, or possibly not seen in her unglamorous state. This is the sort of situation that kills eros. Yet while Hollywood would pronounce the relationship dead, the lovers respect the permanence of the covenant uniting them.[39] The KJV translates 5:4b as "my bowels were moved for him" (as opposed to the more common "my heart yearned for him"). Accordingly we see a transfiguration of eros into agape: this image in Hebrew thought represented compassion, the love of mother for child, of God for creation, and now, the grace that the Shulamite grants Solomon – self-giving, tender concern for her beloved.[40]

Raunch Culture is premised on eros being the strongest, most authentic of emotions

The conceptual centre of the Song comes as she changes her mind to open the door to Solomon: in agape, the lovers can fully give themselves to each other, free from self-consciousness and self-interest. As in Eden, two lovers are again naked and unashamed. Hence it is agape that Paul commands when he writes to the Ephesians: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her" (Ephesians 5:25). Agape, unlike eros, is never earned; it is love that makes the beloved worthy. Thus while Raunch Culture represents an approach to seek sex without relationship in order to have the physical pleasure and escape the emotional pain, the Song of Songs shows how the joy of intimacy is enhanced by keeping sex in the context of marriage, with all the trials and tribulations daily life together entails.

The Song of Songs thus models the potential depth of the "one flesh" union described in the blueprint for marriage in Genesis 2:24. This term connotes a:

sexual concourse and psychological concurrence, in the full sense of the conjunction of bodies and minds, at once through eros and agape ... a psychic as well as physiological gift of loyalty and exchange.[41]

Indeed, as the Song presents a deepening of the couple's love, so is Genesis 2:24c better rendered "they will become one flesh", rather than implying an instantaneously achieved state.[42] True to this emotional, physical and spiritual union growing through marriage, it is only in the final chapter of the Song that the Shulamite says to her lover: "Place me like a seal upon your heart / like a seal upon your arm" (Song 8:6). A seal functioned as an official signature, and on a document served to prove that the text expressed the will of the seal's owner. The heart conceived the will and desires, and the arm put them into action.[43] So in this verse, the woman asks for their wills to be aligned, just as there is a sense of mutual abandon in her declaration, "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine."

Paul similarly writes to the Corinthians:

the husband should fulfil his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. (1 Corinthians 7:3-4)

The woman in both passages gives herself away, but not in the sense endorsed by Raunch Culture since the husband makes the same surrender of independence. It is not a transaction of one's body for a limited sense of validation, but a mutual surrender in order to become "one" in the same safe, secure, and mutually nourishing sense as the Trinity is one.[44] The coming together of two people might first appear like loss and subtraction. But in this union, the sum is greater than the parts – and the individuals become more of who they truly are. Frederick Buechner explains it thus:

by all the laws of both logic and simple arithmetic, to give yourself away in love to another would seem to mean that you end up with less of yourself left than you had to begin with. But the miracle is that the reverse is true … to live not just for yourself alone anymore but for another self to whom you swear to be true is in a new way to come fully alive.[45]

In contemporary secular culture, there may be a widespread fear about making normative judgements with regards to sexual morality, yet that does not mean that no one is being judged: in fact, vast numbers of women cannot escape the feeling of perpetual inadequacy – and it is this low view of self that motivates them to spend on make-up, dieting products, and to religiously study women's magazines for tips on improving their sexual performance.[46] This is the reverse of liberation: it is to be imprisoned within a one-dimensional view of what it means to be human. Where many women of the Bible were praised for who they were – Mary had been "blessed ... among women", and the woman of Proverbs 31 heard that "her price is beyond rubies" – at best, the modern woman can be told that she looks divine (for now, at least). Men, too, are hurt by the sexualisation of culture: their desires are manipulated in such a way that can render them deluded about real pleasure and real women. Raunch Culture teaches them how to avoid love and to repress their instincts to be gentle and compassionate towards women.

at best, the modern woman can be told that she looks divine (for now, at least)

Jesus demonstrated a desire for both men and women to be free from sexual objectification in sharpening the Mosaic law on adultery – "I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:28). Most obviously, women would thereby be protected from exploitation, and, released from having to spend time and energy on cultivating their appearance for male validation, they could be focused on the more fulfilling task of bringing God's Kingdom on earth. But this passage also addresses social pressure on men to prove their manhood through sexual conquests.[47]

Aggressiveness, virility and sexual prowess were significant parts of a man's claim to social status in the Greco-Roman world as they are today. Jesus' redefinition of manhood offers redemption from the cultural pressures to detach sex from emotion, putting sexuality back into its rightful context as the fruit of relationship, rather than a marker of personal worth or achievement. If promiscuity is the route to acceptance within macho culture, it is not women's duty to facilitate this misguided hierarchy among men. Acquiescing in another group's sexual sin is not the way to achieve more equal, loving treatment; it is a way of perpetuating suffering. Acquiescing in another person's idolatry is not freedom.

To all this conflict – within oneself, between, and among the sexes – Jesus declares:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. (John 10:10-11)

We are never truly free until our hearts are enraptured by God's love

This does not simply mean that belief in Jesus is how one enters God's Kingdom, but that living in a way that glorifies Him is the only way to true shalom. What Raunch Culture shows us magnified are the dehumanising and abusive effects of asking more of something in the natural, created order than it could ever give – what the Bible terms idolatry. God created sex to be pleasurable, powerful and intimate. Like everything else in creation, he recognised it as "good". But sex is also meant to point us to God: just as real intimacy in sex is based on trust and faithfulness, so are those qualities at the heart of relationship with God. Sex can never satisfy all our needs and desires, irrespective of whether it is in the context of a heterosexual, monogamous covenant, or a 'one night stand'.

We are never truly free until our hearts are enraptured by God's love. We are never truly powerful until we admit our weakness and allow God's Spirit to be at work in us. And nothing reminds us of that more clearly than Jesus' dialogue with the Sadducees in which he declares there will be no marriage in heaven (Matthew 22:30). If sex expresses our yearning for connection and intimacy, it will no longer be significant when we are fully connected and intimate with our Creator.

Go back to Part1: What is Raunch Culture?


[37] Peter Chave, 'Towards a Not Too Rosy Picture of the Song of Songs', FemT, 18, 1998, pp.41-53; Glickman, Song for Lovers, pp.96-97; Payne, 'Song of Songs', p.333; and Barry G. Webb, 'The Song of Songs as a Love Poem and as Holy Scripture', Reformed Theological Review 49, 1990, pp.96-97.
[38] Carrie A. Miles, The Redemption of Love: Rescuing Marriage and Sexuality from the Economics of a Fallen World, Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006, p.204.
[39] I concur with numerous commentators who demonstrate that the chiastic structure of the unified Song reveals a symmetrical design focused upon a central section that describes the royal wedding of Solomon and his bride (Song 3:6-5:1). Only in this section of the Song does Solomon address Shulammite as his "bride" (kallá, 4:8-12; 5:1). P.B. Dirksen, 'Song of Songs III 6-7', Vetus Testamentum, Vol.39, 1989, pp.219-25; David A. Hubbard, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, DalIas: Word Books, 1991, p.301; L. D. Johnson, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Nashville: Broadman, 1982, p.136; Delitzsch, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Vol.3, pp.81, 90-91.
[40] Miles, The Redemption of Love, p.205.
[41] Samuel Terrien, Till the Heart Sings: A Biblical Theology of Manhood and Womanhood, Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985, pp.15-16.
[42] The waw consecutive plus the perfect plus the preposition implies a process ("become"), not just a state ("be"), ibid., p.15.
[43] Miles, The Redemption of Love, p.243.
[44] The word 'one' in 'one flesh' expresses a sort of unity that doesn't erase meaningful diversity within one perfectly integrated whole. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., Bruce K. Waltke, eds, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Vol.1, Chicago: Moody, 1980, p.30.
[45] Frederick Buechner, A Room to Remember, San Francisco: Harper, 1984, pp.68-69.
[46] Shalit, A Return to Modesty, p.16. In 2011, TV shopping channel QVC found that the average British woman will end up spending £133,000 in her lifetime on products for face, hair and body maintenance. See http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/news/the-staggering-average-lifetime-spend-on-cosmetics-and-grooming-revealed-9709654.html.
[47] Miles, The Redemption of Love, p.86.

Go back to Part1: What is Raunch Culture?

© 2016 Florence Gildea

This article is reproduced here by the kind permission of the author.