The Young Funk

“And by funk, what I mean is, wrestling with the wounds, the scars, the bruises, as well as the creative responses to wounds, scars, and bruises, some of them inflicted because of structures and institutions, some of them being tied to our existential condition, in terms of losses of loved ones, in terms of diseases, in terms of betrayals of friends, and so forth; all of these are wounds and scars and bruises. And it is at that very concrete level that my concept of philosophy operates.”[i]

-Cornel West

Oxford English Dictionary, “adult”, definition A.4.  Within my grandparents’ lifetimes, the word “adult” has come to mean “obscene”.  This is absurd.  It steals any innocence that an adult may have attained, and it levels the requirements of adulthood so that any thirteen-year old with an internet connection can participate fully in all things “adult”, no ID required, just a click to certify that, yes, I am at least eighteen years of age.

In my fifth and last semester of Ancient Greek the class read a 2nd century novel called Daphnis and Chloe, by Longus.  I found in the library and checked out a Loeb Library edition that had the Greek on one page and English on the opposite page.  In certain passages that were devoted to describing sexual intercourse, the English shifted into Latin for several paragraphs at a time, morphing back into English when the hanky-panky was over.

There should be areas – no, not just areas, veritable realms – of culture that are inaccessible to children, not because of the potentially corrupting influences of those parts of culture, but because children are bored or confused by them.  But I digress.

But where shall we lay the blame for this perversion of language?  The narcissistic and shallow youth culture we began building in this country in the 1960s?  Pagans?  Christians?  Free-market capitalism allowing profitable vice to run rampant?  The nanny state coddling us into healthy, well-adjusted individuals with pornography?  American cultural immaturity?  Demons?  Censorship?  Lack of censorship?

On second thought, I’m not actually interested in assigning blame.  Let’s just agree that it’s absurd, and move on.

A lot of the grew-up-in-church conservative inferiority complex is sexual.  And it gets its power from not admitting that part of its nature, from working to maintain in all propriety the fiction that the good church kid is not a sexual being.  Of course, the real dialectic of sex between conservative Christians and the sexual revolution does not deal with the question of whether man is a sexual being or not, but of what the nature of sex and human sexuality is.  Is it an animal act needed to balance brain chemicals, or is it an irreducibly spiritual act of complete personal commitment?  Are you going to trust Alfred Kinsey, or the Vatican?  Choose one to be proud of, or you’ll be stuck with your inferiority complex and your perpetual doubt.  You don’t want to be stuck in church, virginal, with a creeping suspicion that you’re missing out, and that if you got married to have sex you would still be missing out.  But the sexual revolution is all false promises – the most you’ll get from uncommitted sex is a temporary high and some cool psychological scars.  And if your morality is a pretense, you’ll get to lose it, so that’s nice too.

Even Norman Mailer is conflicted.

I know that, while those erotic passions are fully present in me, they are not the deepest thing.  They are not the most true thing.  What I really, truly want is that of which sex is but a shadow and a symbol.  It is longer, harder, deeper, safer, truer, slower, than the physical act or the emotional consequences.  It is a lifetime’s work toward a sacred bond, a true love that finds its satisfaction in the joy of the beloved.  How unimaginably hard!  What we want goes far deeper than the muddy shallows of the sex-obsessed id.

The world of oneiric amatory and erotic passions is, relatively speaking, a shallow and muddy pool.  Those things, that domain of Venus and Priapus, are neither foundational nor even particularly substantial; the id is not bedrock.  Christ is deeper than either of them.  The identity found in Christ is what is truly foundational and substantial.  And paradoxically, that identity in the truth of the gospel is also a light that can fully illuminate the id – the only light that can demystify the subconscious – a light that unsparingly reveals the depths and heights of human depravity, beaming up from the deepest parts of the soul.  All the wounds, scars, and bruises stand out sharp in this glaring light, all the self-doubt, the lust, the shaming inferiority, all the young funk.  Kyrie eleison.


  1. Very well explained.

  2. “What I really, truly want is that of which sex is but a shadow and a symbol.”

    We are all afraid to admit this, because we have been indoctrinated that sex is the pinnacle of “desire fulfilled” – and if that won’t satisfy, what will? Good word, brother.

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