Mary Daly’s Pure Lust: A Symposium

Editor’s Note: The incommensurability between occasion and reaction has been called the mark of genius. Mary Daly’s new work, Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy (Beacon Press 471 pp., $18.95), is not, a first blush (we speak advisedly) the kind of book we would want to review, let alone devote a symposium to. It reaches a nadir in postconciliar theology. Nonetheless, this exemplum horribile has elicited from our reviewers a bouquet of delights. Each in her or his own way exhibits the mark of genius.

Mary Daly’s Pure Lust is purely and simply a defense of lesbianism. It is not like the usual mentions of unnatural love we can find among the writings of ancient high pagans. They celebrated a bittersweet affection which they thought was somehow genuine. Daly’s work belongs to low or neo -paganism. In the interim Christ has come, so in some sense most of us really know that unnatural sex is wrong. There can be no return to the illusions of high paganism, for they have been definitively exposed. Therefore, a defense of lesbianism in our day becomes what Daly has written: a tedious, pseudo-learned diatribe against the Incarnate Word of God. Nor is the diatribe limited to the Second Per son of the Trinity. It really encompasses the Triune deity as creator and seeks a return to some kind of animism. This elemental, “earthy” religion denies the possibility that there could be a God who, because He is our creator, could set standards for our behavior. It is an ad hoc religiosity developed to rationalize rejecting God’s law.

Daly wrote the book in a style that is a caricature of a kind of learning we, I think wrongly, used to mock through stereotypes such as that of the pedant and the schoolmarm. There was lots of running to the dictionary with special attention to etymologies, pride was taken in knowing where to put the hyphen when you wanted to separate a word. It was the sort of learning that wins spelling bees. I am sorry we ever made fun of it because in its innocent forms it was good. To see it now all twisted and distorted into the pseudo-learning Daly displays is very sad.

In regard to this and like books, there is only one question worth answering: why would a reputable Catholic journal bother with it? There is, I believe, only one good reason. Daly is an apostate. That is what the anti-Christ will be an apostate. The faith has no worse enemy, from Judas Iscariot and Julian the Apostate Emperor to the Phil Donahues and Mary Dalys of our day. (Adolph Hitler, Fidel Castro, and, I think, Idi Amin have to be added to that list.) The apostate becomes especially evil because he has had a glimpse of the real distinction between good and bad, so when he chooses evil under some pretext, he cannot shed all knowledge of the judgment to come. He is like Frost in C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. Frost had willfully denied the truth that we have immortal souls with free-will and personal responsibility. This denial had made him a servant of the devil during his earthly life. As he was inevitably dying in a fire he himself set. God’s merciful love made one last effort to save him:

Escape for the soul, if not for the body, was offered. He became able to know (and simultaneously refused the knowledge) that he had been wrong from the beginning, that souls and personal responsibility existed. He half saw: he wholly hated.

The apostate has that kind of knowledge within himself: somewhere deep down he knows that he is wrong and sustains himself only by his hatred for the truth. Daly cannot get to page xi, the third page of her preface, before she has turned in hatred on the Vicar of Christ.

The devil has organized the great apostasy of our day, including Daly’s, around the question of contraception. God’s law, which He built into the way He made us, distinguishes between virtuous sex and vicious sex, i.e., sex that is vice. The distinction is simple. All virtuous sex meets three requirements: it must be conjugal (i.e., an act of a husband with his wife and a wife with her husband), it must be loving (which does not simply mean affectionate, for it also requires that kind of friendship and respect defined by the love Christ has for his Church and His bride should have for Him), and it must be natural. “Natural” means it is the kind of act that God designed to use as His instrument in creating new human life. A conjugal act is not unnatural even if we are reasonably sure because of other things we know about the biological wonders God has created, that it will not be a fertile act: i.e., it is an infertile act and known to be such which means the couple are reasonably sure that God will not use it to create a new human life. Nevertheless, the act remains the kind of act that He could so use if He chose to. So, although Abraham and Sarah certainly thought they were infertile because of age, they were performing the kind of act that God could and did use to create new human life, namely Isaac.

Today’s apostasy began by refusing to see why “natural” was a moral requirement. There are a large number, particularly middle-aged types, who staked their reputations on knowing more than the Pope, who still claim that they cannot see why. Pure Lust was written for them because it shows where unnatural sex leads before it leaves this world for hell.

Sex does not leave man alone. Even when masturbating, man is not alone. Sex is not only a power that is larger than man’s puny self-control: the consequences of sexual wrong-doing are never restricted merely to the individuals who commit the acts. This kind of wrong-doing or these sins affect the larger human family in mysterious ways. A contracepting mother may thereby negatively affect her son’s feelings about his fertility; contracepting father may thereby subliminally teach his daughter that guys have “got to have it,” and so forth. The consequences are never limited simply to the sexual wrong-doers. First generation Catholic users of contraceptives should ponder this truth. They should note how developments in their families are beginning to parallel those in the families of liberal Protestants who started contracepting decades ago. Sex either serves the devil’s purposes, or it is domesticated by grace in the service of the Lord.

Even when the sexual wrong is not a sin because of excusing ignorance, the devil gains entrance through the wrong act, and thereby becomes more effectively able to tempt his victim to conscious and deliberate sin. Surely the widespread practice of contraception has demonstrated this truth to all thinking people by now. For example, abortion is back-up contraception. The couple may be contracepting inculpably, but by contracepting they have placed themselves in the state of mind whereby they are easily convinced that when the contraceptives fail, they have the right to dispose of the consequence of their failure, i.e., the baby. The abortion is usually deliberate sin.

But the temptation to abortion is only one way in which those who may be inculpably practicing contraception are unwittingly opening themselves to deliberate sins. The husband who knows that all he is doing is performing stud service because his wife had her tubes tied may well begin to think it unfair to limit his services to only one woman. There are so many others crying for his love. The resulting adultery is usually culpable. I pass over in silence something now known to many priests: namely, how “Mrs. Contraceptively Sterilized” comes on to men she thinks need her help and consolation. Rampant fornication, adultery, divorce, abortion (along with infanticide and child abuse), homosexuality pornography, and increased sexual violence are all the progeny of the contraceptive mentality. Only the tyrannical power of the dissenters in Catholic education, publishing, and Church bureaucracy prevent the Bride of Christ from performing her prophetic office and proclaiming this obvious truth for all to hear. Yet, decency here and salvation hereafter depend, at least in part, on assenting and submitting to this particular precept of God’s law: Sex must be married, loving, and natural, or it is a vice and places one under the devil’s sway.

Contracepting Catholic couples should sit down and read Daly’s book. The wife in particular should ask herself, is this what I want? Is this how I really feel about men? If not, she should go to the medicine cabinet, throw out her contraceptive pills, march off to confession, and then take her husband with her to a good class in Natural Family Planning. Maybe they should even have a child. The alternative is some form, even though attenuated, of Daly’s lesbianism.

The devil makes himself visible in Daly’s work not only through the direct attack upon the Incarnate Word and His morality, but also as the liar he always is. Starting with the same page in the preface on which she launches her attack on the Vicar of Christ, Daly alludes to one of the devil’s most successful lies today to the effect that the restraint, usually characterized as repression by those who hate Christ, which is required in order to observe God’s law in sexual matters causes aggression and leads to war. Daly would like us to think that we have to choose between her Pure Lust and thermonuclear holocaust. When and if that finally comes, the devil will be delighted with the success of his clever lie that sexual sins dissipate aggression and make us more peaceful. Not even the lies he tells about using dope are as successful as this one. The truth, of course, is the contrary. The sexual sins of the past few decades have led to the greatest and most violent slaughter of the innocent in human history, the abortion movement. If we do not effectively repent of that as a people, and we will not do so until we recant the contraceptive mentality, then we can rest assured that there will be a thermonuclear holocaust or equivalent disaster. Sin causes war. It is extraordinary that there are any credulous enough to believe that the choice would be between Daly’s lesbianism or war when the choice is both or neither. Of course, St. Paul said all this much better than I nearly two thousand years ago (Romans 1:18-2:11). He was inspired by God.

Under that same inspiration, he also issued a powerful call for repentance. I want to end by reiterating that call. I too dissented. My dissent was morally sinful. Since I cannot judge another, I cannot know whether Mary Daly has sinned in dissenting and finally rejecting the faith. Only God and Daly know. But we can know that it is an evil, and more importantly, we can also know that God’s merciful love finds nothing, absolutely nothing, He cannot forgive, except the refusal to repent. I have tasted His mercy, and in its light I have come to see something of the evil which had ensnared me. His mercy is pure joy, the vision of the latter terrifying. In the name of Christ I urge Daly and others in her shoes to renounce Wander and Wonderlusting and return to the Lord. The homecoming is terrific!


  • Richard R. Roach

    Rev. Richard Roach was a Jesuit and teacher of moral theology at Marquette University.

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