Fr. Raymond de Souza

Fascination with sex overtakes discussion on religion, public policy

By 
  • April 19, 2014

TORONTO - A debate about how much, if at all, religion should be allowed into public policy debates ended up being mostly about sex.

CBC host Michael Enright took his Sunday Edition radio show to the campus of the University of Toronto April 8 to ask a panel of five experts about “God talk” and its rightful place in relation to public debate. The show aired on April 13.

“Religion has no valid place in public discourse or in the formulation of public policy,” was the proposition addressed to a self-styled atheist Christian, a Catholic priest, a Muslim writer, an Evangelical lawyer, another Muslim writer and a Harvard-trained ethicist and scholar of religion.

Poverty, economic policy, crime and punishment, ethics in government, housing, defence and the environment were barely mentioned at the Tuesday evening taping before an audience of about 300. Gay marriage came up over and over along with one or two mentions of abortion and contraception.

“Why is there such a fascination with what people do with their genitalia?” asked Enright.

Appearing frequently on television and radio panel discussions and at other public events, Catholic Register columnist Fr. Raymond de Souza said he is almost never asked about such difficult mysteries of the faith as the full divinity and full humanity of Jesus. But media commentators are constantly questioning Catholic teaching on homosexuality and related issues.

“When you have religious people speak about sexuality, then we have people asking whether we should have religious talk in the public square,” said de Souza.

In the 10 commandments, adultery doesn’t come up until number six, said the priest. The media link between sex and religion distorts the importance of sexual ethics in Christianity, he said.

Religious studies scholar Richard Chambers, director of the University of Toronto’s multi-faith centre, tried to put the brakes on any suggestion that religion and sex have nothing to do with one another.

“Sexuality is spiritual,” he said. “We need to find meaning around sex.”

That a large part of Western society disagrees with traditional Christian and Muslim teaching about homosexuality shouldn’t translate into a ban on religious pronouncements about sex, said Moustafa Bayoumi, author of How Does It Feel to Be a Problem: Being Young and Arab in America.

“We have to also make space for views we find objectionable,” Bayoumi said. “If we want to live life in a complex society we can’t narrow it down.”

Law professor Janet Epp-Buckingham was challenged to defend the lifestyle covenant of her new private law school at Trinity Western University in British Columbia. The covenant makes all sex outside of marriage, including gay sex, punishable by expulsion from the school.

“As much as possible, we do need to allow people to live within their deepest held beliefs,” said Epp-Buckingham, the author of Fighting Over God: A Legal and Political History of Religious Freedom in Canada.

Speaking from the audience, former United Church moderator and Canadian senator Lois Wilson said she was mystified by how much people want to talk about sex. Religion has a great deal to say about many other topics, she said.

“People who think religion has no place in politics don’t know what religion is,” said Wilson.

Under the title “The Public God,” the Sunday Edition broadcast is available on www.cbc.ca/thesundayedition.

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