Eric noted that this piece written years before made a similar statement
This can be done in any number of ways, but I wish to end with a challenging proposition—namely, that the slothfulness and defensiveness of Petronian humanism can be confronted most effectively by daring it to question the most cherished, most morally sanctified, and most Petronian moral commitment of the postmodern age: sexual freedom. The issue of sexual freedom is crucial precisely because it is so automatically and unreflectively affirmed. God forbid that my needs might be stymied, my impulses denied. God forbid that I should have to submit the raw material of my life to God so that I might be melted down and reformed into something very different. God forbid that I should have to change. We defend ourselves against chastity, not because we are prideful and self-confident hedonists, not because we take great joy from the confusing labyrinths of sexual desire and satisfaction, but because we are fearful that, once the invasion of grace begins, it will not relent until the capitol falls. We embrace sexual freedom because it is a crucial line of defense against a whole range of transformative demands.
As St. Augustine knew, if we can change this altogether fundamental part of our lives—a part woven into the fabric of instinct—then the defenses against redemptive change are down. If the perfectly normal and natural needs of the body can be directed toward God, then surely the higher faculties of will and intellect can as well. If something so “impossible” is, indeed, possible, then who knows what might happen next?
My students may not know Derrida, but they are not fools. They well know that the imperative of Christian chastity is a direct assault on what is forbidden by the Petronian humanism of our postmodern age: allowing ideals to enter into our souls in order to reshape our identities. It is a direct assault upon our spiritual freedom, but not because it involves restraint and limitation. I must reiterate. My students know and accept the many restraints society imposes upon them. The surfaces of their lives bear all the marks of aesthetic, hygienic, and economic discipline. No, chastity is an assault from which they recoil in horror because, to the twenty-year-old mind, it is so insanely ambitious, so hopelessly impossible, so ruthlessly physical and personal.
At this point, my students may understand next to nothing about the Christian ascetical tradition, its goals and methods, or about the relation between self-denial and God’s intentions for our salvation. These are matters I am not sure that I understand. But of this I am sure. In their recoil from chastity, they have difficulty maintaining Petronian equilibrium. It is difficult to contemplate chastity with “a laugh and a step of dance,” for none of us can discipline lust at a distance from ourselves. We cannot cool the boiling cauldron with the wink and nod of irony. This is why sexual freedom is the functional center of postmodern politics, morality, and culture. At this center point, the increasingly alien and ambitious teachings of Christianity must cut like a sharp and two-edged sword, or they cut not at all.