In 1968, German housewife Helga Goetze left her husband after an affair with a Sicilian lover with whom she claimed to have her first orgasm, and spent the rest of her life as a restless activist for “free love,” with a fondness for outrageous and obscene art and language in her activism . Meanwhile, starting yesterday, I have been reading, and hope to finish soon, a rather grim book about the “rape culture” present in the college town of Missoula, Montana. At first glance, these two matters do not have much relation to it, but in reality, they are two sides of the same coin. Free love, and the peace that comes through orgasm, is what we want for ourselves when we wish to pursue our own sexual longings apart from any concern for what is objectively right and morally proper, the duties or repercussions that spring from our conduct, or how anyone else feels. Rape culture is what we call free love when we are the object whose feelings and rights are disregarded by others who are merely concerned with their own pleasure, without concern for the consequences. One cannot be separated from the other, for in fact the two things that appear so different in how they are trumpeted and proclaimed or castigated and condemned are merely the same acts and the same mentality of viewing others merely as a means to a desirable end from the point of view of the one seeking pleasure on the one hand, and feeling used and degraded on the other hand. Those who do the using and the abusing seek their freedom to do what they wish, to act according to their longings, to be able to cast off all restraint, while those who are the used and the abused seek elusive justice from a harsh and uncaring world who is quick to blame them and let the guilty go free, to let bygones be bygones.
What is it that makes rape wrong? This ought to be obvious, but sometimes we need to state the obvious in order to understand the larger implications of the obvious that we are apt to neglect, especially when our longings get in the way. What makes rape wrong is the absence of mutual consent. Children and teenagers are protected in this requirement, as are those who are mentally handicapped of any age, because they are assumed to lack the ability to provide consent on account of age or disability. This is also true of those whose reason is temporarily impaired by drugs or alcohol, and who therefore cannot give consent to anything that is done to them. Not only is consent necessary and must be freely given, and it can be withdrawn at any time prior to an act being done if anyone feels uncomfortable for any reason, and this withdrawal of consent must be respected. To push any level beyond what someone consents to or accepts is an act of violence, and it behooves all of us to respect the sensitivities of those people we are dealing with. That respect and consideration concerning the effects of what we say and do is the foundation of any kind of genuine relationship, whether in the family, among friends, or among those with whom we seek intimate and romantic relationships.
Why is consent so important ? At its core, consent is at the heart of human dignity. In the 1760’s, the colonies that later became the United States of America became increasingly upset that they were being taxed without their representation. At its heart, this was a demand that consent be received for any action taken by Parliament. The response of Parliament, which helped inflame rebellious feelings, was that Parliament had the right to do whatever it wanted with the colonies, without regarding them whatsoever. This is at the core of why imperialism is violence, in that those who rule empires do not genuinely care about the consent of the governed, or else they would not rule empires, but some more just form of government that makes the consent of the governed a central aspect of institutions. It should be noted, as a matter of defense, that consent is of the utmost importance to God and any godly institutions. Although Christianity and biblical religion in general get a bad reputation when it comes to matters of consent and matters of justice, in truth God and God’s Church have always cared greatly about consent.
This is worthy of some extended comment, again, because of the larger implications it involves. Although Paul is often thought mistakenly to be a misogynist, his views about mutual consent are clear and unambiguous, perhaps most bluntly expressed in 1 Corinthians 7:1b-6, which reads as follows: “It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife and each woman have her own husband. Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” Whatever else may be misinterpreted about biblical morality when it comes to such matters, let us note that mutual consent is at the core of Paul’s discussion of the duties and obligations of spouses. Neither a husband nor a wife has control over their own bodies or has the right to do what they please, but their relations require mutual consent, both with an understanding of the needs and wants of their spouse, as well as the obligation they have to behave honorably and decently towards them.
All too often, this honor and decency is lacking because of a lack of empathy. This lack of empathy is a problem that no one is immune to when one takes the larger ramifications of our behavior into account. A rapist clearly lacks empathy for those whom he rapes. No one who believes that human beings have dignity and honor as a result of being created in the image and likeness of God is going to deface and degrade that image of God in other people. No one whose nerves are continually frayed, who feel unsafe everywhere they go, whose attempts to build trust and intimacy are awkward and full of intense anxiety, and whose days and nights are filled with the torment of flashbacks and nightmares is going to willingly inflict that suffering on others. No one who desires that any interaction, whether a conversation or anything more, be mutually pleasurable to both parties involved, is going to think simply about their own peace and relaxing of tension. These concerns do not make such happiness and pleasure more likely, but it prevents the search for personal pleasure we seek in our lives from becoming acts of violence towards others, and that is no small thing.
Yet the lack of empathy is not limited to rape alone. For this belief that others are merely objects, that our will and pleasure and convenience are all that matter, is at the core of the murder culture that endorses abortion as a right that women somehow possess over the babies inside their own body. There is no argument for the lack of care and concern for unborn children and infants and toddlers that cannot be turned against the women (and men who claim to speak on their behalf) who make such arguments. If the right to life and dignity depends on it being granted at any point by those with the power over life and death in the womb, then anyone’s right to life and dignity depends on the will of those who have power in any situation, and that is precisely what rapists deny to their victims. This is true whether the rapist is a football player who takes advantage of a drunk girl at a party or a father who, sexually frustrated in his own marriage, uses his own offspring as a means of releasing sexual tension. To view one’s own offspring as property or a possession or a mere object is to threaten the dignity that one seeks to rise above the status of a mere object in the eyes of others. We attack the ground of our own well-being and honor at our grave peril.
So, what then are we to do? As is true in many areas of life, we must return in some respect to the old ways, but with new eyes. We must cease our fallacious claims that it is the identity of people that is the most important aspect of morality, whether they are rich or poor, male or female, unborn children or adults, teens or elderly, but rather our identity as human beings created in the image and likeness of our Heavenly Father that is of the utmost importance. We must remember that consent is important not merely because it is sexy, or merely in matters of sexual union, but also that the consent of those who are or are judged incapable of giving it must be respected, whether that involves their life or their dignity and honor. We must also see that God is not the enemy of human dignity, but rather the author of it, by creating us in His image, and making us painfully conscious of our honor and dignity, and also of its lack. If we seek to be honored, we must be honorable in our conduct, and we must show honor in all occasions to all, whether high or low, whether awaiting birth or after burial in the grave. For if we have any rights as human beings, they belong to us by virtue of our humanity, not our smaller and separate identities into which we so frequently and easily divide. The peace we truly desire is not the peace of self-satisfied release, but rather the peace of harmony between and among all, the peace of the glorious symphony, where everything has its proper and honored place in creating a beautiful whole. Let us make that kind of peace.
 Senft, Elena (22 February 2008). “Helga Götze (Geb.1922)”. Der Tagesspiegel (in German). Retrieved 16 March 2016.
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