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Saint Thomas Aquinas, as a philosopher, wrote several works that
justified Christianity in a philosophical context, taking cue on Aristotle's old
writings. Naturally, Aquinas took up on the Church's
"ultra-conservative" views on sexuality and worked to rationalize them
through his own theory of natural law. Aquinas argues against any form of sex
where the intention to produce children is not involved. He explains this
through his theory of natural law, where sex is purely for the purpose of
reproduction to ensure the continuance of the human race, only in the context of
a monogamous relationship, and not for simple physical pleasure. There are many
laws that Saint Thomas Aquinas speaks of, such as eternal law, human law, divine
law, and natural law. All humans are part of "God's plan" and
therefore subject to eternal law, where we are guided to God's
"supernatural end in a higher way" (47). According to Aquinas, humans
in particular follow God's eternal law through a natural law, and inborn
instinct to do good. Something is said to be part of natural law if "there
is a natural inclination to it" and if "nature does not produce the
contrary," (51-52). Natural law includes such ideas as self-preservation,
union of the male and the female, and education of the young, which is easily
found in nature. Humans also have a unique knowledge of God and were meant to
live in a society. Aquinas explains that even though concepts such as slavery
and personal possessions are not found alone in nature, they were created by
human reason, and in such cases "the law of nature was not changed but
added to" (52). Because we can do such things, we are separated from the
rest of God's creatures. After explaining his theory of natural law, Aquinas
goes on to explain sexuality in the context of it. According to him,
"promiscuity is contrary to the nature of man" because "to bring
up a child requires both the care of the mother who nourishes him and even more
the care of the father to train and defend him and to develop him in internal
and external endowments" (78). Therefore, he finds fornification to be a
mortal sin because "it is contrary to the good of the upbringing of the
offspring" (79). Curiously, though, he does not bring up the more likely
scenario where fornification does not result in the impregnation of the woman.
His reasoning makes much better sense in the case of adultery. Not only does it
upset one's obligations to his family, but also because the Ten Commandments
specifically condemn adultery as a great sin. The Ten Commandments are God's
laws and are not relative, so there is no disputing their validity. However,
Aquinas' argument that monogamy is "natural" for humans is not easily
justified. If we look carefully at nature, most mammals have to be raised by
their parents just as humans are, but only for a few years. Also, in many cases,
the mother may raise her young with a different male, or on her own altogether.
Therefore, this makes it harder for Aquinas to appeal to natural law to prove
his case for monogamy and life-long relationships. Also, Aquinas does not agree
that a male should have the option of leaving a female who has had a child even
if it is properly provided for, making an indirect case against divorce (79).
Curiously, in Islam, the Koran allows divorce and remarriage, and it is based
for the most part on the very same Bible that Aquinas defended. Aquinas makes
clear that sex is right only when it is for the purpose of reproduction and it
should only be between a male and female in a monogamous relationship; all other
forms are sinful. However, he brings up a very striking exception. The acts of
fornification or adultery are not considered sins at all if they are performed
under the command of God (52). This is simply a case of common sense, but it
explains clearly any such indiscrepancies to natural law in the Bible. Aquinas
goes on to define more serious mortal sins which he refers to as indecent sex.
This includes homosexuality and bestiality. He quotes bestiality from the Bible:
"'[Joseph] accused his brothers of the worst sin they had relations with
cattle'" (80). Perhaps he is right, but homosexuality, on the other hand,
was accepted in societies even before Aquinas' time. For instance, the ancient
Greeks accepted intercourse between a younger and older man as a higher form
love. Even if Aquinas tried to ... more
Find essay on Sex Race
Hans Christian Andersen
In the course Y2k and The End of The World, we've studied apocalyptic themes, eschatology, and for some, teleology. Apocalypse, which is to unveil or reveal, eschatology, which is a concept of the end, and teleology, the end or purpose to which we are drawn, are all themes used in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. The book is apocalyptic in that it revolves around dystopian ideals. Atwood creates a world in which worst-case scenarios take control and optimistic viewpoints and positive attitudes disappear. It has been said about this book that Atwood's writing echoes numerous motifs and literary devices, such as in Huxley's creation of a drug-calmed society, her characters awaiting execution seem tranquilized by pills or shots.
Atwood's Book has also been compared to other novels like it, such as Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, Burgess' A Clockwork Orange, and the most obvious, Orwell's 1984. These books have many things in common, including the perversion of science and technology as a major determinant of society's function and control. Like most dystopian novels, The Handmaid's Tale includes the oppression of society, mainly women in this example, the prevention of advancement of thought and intelligence, and an overwhelming sense of government involvement and interference.
The Apocalyptic themes and situations found in Atwood's fictional city of Gilead focus around the mistreatment of all females. Women in this city, set 200 years in the future, have no rights, and get little respect. The rule by way of theocracy in Gilead also adds to the sense of regression and hopelessness in the future. The way babies are brought into the world, only through pregnant handmaids, the idea of a black market for things considered luxuries and privileges all add to the fact that society in this novel is in a desperate state of disrepair.
Other Apocalyptic themes found in the book can be compared to sections of the bible, particularly the Old Testament. The Handmaid's Tale has many elements of social decline written into its plot. From the way women are mistreated to the way corruption and evil have infiltrated the government and army, to the way the black market plays a key role in many people's lives causing a majority of society to become criminals makes it clear how social decline plays a key role in the book. There is also a strong sense of moral decline in the book. If a person, regardless of sex, doesn't fit into the tight pattern of role expectation, he or she is eliminated, exiled from Gilead, and left for dead. Also, God plays virtually no part in this soulless, sterile theocracy. The Commander locks away the family bible and the only other worship takes place through a computerized prayer service which people order through the phone. The society of Gilead also attempts to weed out all non-whites, even though it is ultimately unsuccessful, while at the same time, it successfully prevents women from gaining any individual identity.
As you can see, many apocalyptic themes are present in the novel. Planned pregnancy of surrogate mothers, an oppressive government, and an absence of God all contribute to the themes inherent in the story. Although some have called the novel a warning about the future, others claim it is a forecast, the fact still remains that characters in the book have less respect for the officials in society, less respect for the religions that now run the government, and less respect for themselves making the future into a terrible, terrible place.
The Handmaid's Tale is set in the futuristic Republic of Gilead. Sometime in the future, conservative Christians take control of the United States and establish a dictatorship. Most women in Gilead are infertile after repeated exposure to pesticides, nuclear waste, or leakage from chemical weapons. The few fertile women are taken to camps and trained to be handmaidens, birth mothers for the upper class. Infertile lower-class women are sent either to clean up toxic waste or to become "Marthas", which are house servants. No women in the Republic are permitted to be openly sexual; sex is for reproduction only. The government declares this a feminist improvement on the sexual politics of today when women are seen as sex objects.
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