Innocent Ecstasy

How Christianity Gave America an Ethic of Sexual Pleasure

Reddit icon
e-mail icon
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
LinkedIn icon
Peter Gardella
  • New York, NY: 
    Oxford University Press
    , October
     2016.
     264 pages.
     $24.95.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780190609405.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Description

This book has been reviewed in JAAR by Richard McCarty. Please click here to read the review.

Though they disagree on virtually everything else, evangelicals and gays, Catholics and agnostics all agree that sex should be innocent and ecstatic. For most of Western history people have not had such expectations. Innocent Ecstasy shows how Christianity led Americans to hope for so much from sex. The book explains how the sexual revolution could have occurred in a nation so deeply imbued with Christian ethical values.

Tracing our strange journey from the hands of Jonathan Edward's angry Puritan God to the loving embrace of Marabel Morgan's Total Woman, Gardella draws his surprising evidence from widely disparate sources, ranging from Catholic confessionals to methodist revival meetings, from evangelical romances to The Song of Bernadette. He reveals the sexual messages of mainstream Protestant theology and the religious aspirations of medical texts found at the Kinsey Institute for Sex Research. He sheds new light on such well-known figures as Henry Adams, Margaret Sanger, Aimee Semple McPherson, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, and introduces us to such fascinating, lesser-known characters as Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and Sylvester Graham, inventors of corn flakes and Graham crackers, who devised their products as anti-aphrodisiacs. While detailing the development of moral obligations to pursue sexual pleasure and to follow certain patterns of sexual practice, Gardella incidentally provides one of the few books to bring together the liberal Protestant, Roman Catholic, and evangelical perspectives on any aspect of American culture.

Gardella attributes the American ethic of sexual pleasure to the eagerness of Americans to overcome original sin. This led to a quest for perfection, or complete freedom from guilt, combined with a quest for ecstatic experience. The result, he maintains, is an attitude that looks to sex for what was once expected from religion.

In this new edition, a new conclusion explores how popular music, gay liberation, and recovery from sexual abuse have substantially expanded innocent ecstasy during the past thirty years while continuing the Christian themes of redemption and mission. A new afterword deals with contemporary developments in popular culture and offers thoughts about the future

About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Peter Gardella is Professor of World Religions at Manhattanville College.

Add New Comment

Reading Religion welcomes comments from AAR members, and you may leave a comment below by logging in with your AAR Member ID and password. Please read our policy on commenting.

Log in to post comments