James Kushiner: Military and Monastics

Meteora Monastery

This essay appeared in the Fellowship of St. James Creed and Culture newsletter.

By James Kusner

It dismays me to read the blog post (Homosexual Assault Grows in the Military) by Michael Avramovich about the rise of sexual assault in the military. I remember reading in Stephen Ambrose’s works about homosexual activity among American troops in Europe during WWII—it was nearly non-existent.

Today’s military problems are a part of the larger cultural problem bequeathed to us by the Sexual Revolution of circa 1968. But it began earlier, certainly in the mainstreaming of deviant sex—supposedly merely reported but—fraudulently promoted by the pervert “Dr.” Kinsey. The “everybody’s-doing-it” and “they’re-all-going-to-do-it-anyway” philosophy of sexual instruction have been merely self-fulfilling prophecies. Permission was given society-wide for stimulating the sexual appetite “as you like it,” as long as there is no coercion.

But you reap what you sow. Now the military and campuses are rife with “coercion.” But remember that the appetites grow the more they are indulged, recruited and promoted. Is it possible to diminish this wildfire, and return it to the fireplace where it belongs, where it is the only really “safe sex” and is productive rather than destructive?

While the biblical examples of treating such wildfire are not encouraging—using brimstone and more fire—I am put in mind today of a strong counter-example that many have forgotten about or sidelined: monasticism.

May 15 is the Eastern feast day of Pachomius of Egypt (d. 348), a contemporary of Anthony, who shared in the establishment of monasticism in Egypt in the fourth century. One of his foundations had 3,000 monks, I read this morning, and that’s just one.

What in the world was going on that, rather than sexual license exploding, warfare against the passions was receiving a flood of new recruits? We shouldn’t dismiss the phenomenon as a blip, or an abuse, since chastity and the gift thereof are clearly laid out by our Lord and his apostles as one expression of living “for the sake of the kingdom.” But it is a gift.

Monasticism was quasi-military in the sense that it was viewed as warfare and required strict discipline. We may think some of it overboard, but compared to Navy Seal training, is it? Discipline and self-control can make a comeback, in sexual matters, spiritual matters, economic matters, in all matters pertaining to life and godliness. It requires faith, hope, and love. Prayer. Repentance.

St. Anthony of the Desert

St. Anthony of the Desert

Egyptian Monasticism even spread. Monks from Egypt are referenced in connection with Switzerland (!) and even more so with Ireland. St. Verina was a Coptic hermit, who evangelized in Switzerland near Zurich. She was a relative of St. Victor, who along with St. Maurice—all from Egypt—we martyred in Switzerland. Twenty-one Swiss communities were dedicated to St. Anthony of Egypt. Ireland’s Stowe Missal gave prominent position to the Egyptian desert fathers. And the Book of Leinster contains a litany of St. Oengus, which “invokes unto my aid through Jesus Christ” the “Seven Egyptian monks in Disert [hermitage] Ullaigh.” Art, organization, artifacts all suggest the influence of Coptic monks afar. Quite an army.

One of Pachomius’s largest foundations, after his death, gradually declined through the influence of decadence. Monks are not infallible. Nor soldiers or armies invincible. The point is to struggle toward the right target, under the good grace of God, toward love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law—only true freedom, and no coercion.

Chastity for all. It’s a good word. And some people today—burned out by an oversexed “culture”—are pulling back from the “sex”, finding out they have spiritual capacities waiting to be discovered, renewed, by grace. We should all want chastity, and all to be chaste.


  1. James Bradshaw says

    “On the morning of September 20 [1999], two weeks before the warship was due in port, three men ambushed [Steve] Stovey in a remote storage area of the ship, where he’d been sent to get supplies. They threw a black hood over his head, strangled and sodomized him, then left him for dead on a stack of boxes. ”

    DADT was lifted sometime in 2011. Prior to that, many sexual assaults simply went unreported (though many still do). A number of these assaults are against gay men by self-described heterosexual men.

    I have a real problem with implying that these incidents of sexual assault are somehow intrinsic to the sexual orientation of the offender. A man who rapes a woman is not “expressing heterosexuality”. Very often, it doesn’t even involve lust. Men who rape other men in the military (or in prison) often do so while in a group and against a lone individual, and this assault sometimes involves penetrating them with foreign objects.

    What this all has to do with a lack of chastity I have no idea.

    I must confess to not having served, but it seems rational to me that putting an individual in an environment where authority, obedience and patriotism are the prime considerations and where taking the time to ponder the moral nuance of war is discouraged will reasonably result in young men and women whose relationships with others may be deformed in some sense (at least so long as they are in this environment). Racism is still a problem in the military. It would never even have been integrated had it not been for Truman’s Executive Order. Prostitution was so common in Korea that they set up brothels near US bases.

    I don’t want to appear to malign the folks in uniform serving this country. I’m not a pacifist, and I understand the necessity of military force. I’m just saying that taking youths whose moral and mental faculties are still forming and putting them in this environment is going to result in some problematic behavior.


    ARMY, 2009–13

    “The way we socialize people probably has some effect on the incidents. We cut your hair, and we give you the same clothes, and we tell you that you have no more privacy, you have no more individual rights—we’re gonna take you down to your bare essence and then rebuild you in our image.”

  2. Michael Bauman says

    Chastity is much more than sexual purity. It encompasses all virtue and requires a focus on God.

    Chastity is the guard against many passions including abuse of power, desire to control and willingness to hurt others: immoderate and destructive behavior of all types including gluttony and sloth and avarice.

    Chastity is widly mocked and denigrated even more widely misunderstood.

    Thus while there may be no direct causality linking sexual assault and lust or sexual depravity chastity is certainly part of the cure.

    Chastity is not to be understood solely as an act of will–a suppression of desires. It is rather a recognition of and a reaching for something higher an active participation in goodness no matter the utility or the ease of the base.

    There are a lot of counterfeit chastities in the world but they need not give real chastity a bad name. They just need to be recognized for what they are. One of the false chastities is the identification of it as solely sexual and coercive in itself as in the chastity belt which is a form of rape IMO.

  3. Gregory Manning says

    Please re-read what you wrote in the fourth sentence. There’s “no direct causality linking lust with sexual assault or sexual depravity…”? If sexual assault doesn’t arise out of lust I don’t know what does. That’s why it’s called sexual assault. By the same token, sexual assault is sexual depravity. The remarks of the JAG cited in James’ comment are, in the immortal words of Bill Clinton, “a bunch of hooey”!
    James is correct about one thing. Homosexuals are highly unlikely to be perpetrating sexual assault on straight men. It’s the other way around. Straight men, in the military or in prison, see homosexuals as deficient in their masculinity; they’re not real men, and therefore do not deserve respect as men. The same applies to thoroughly heterosexual men and women who are perceived as being weaklings. That means you can treat them like scum without batting an eye. Unless you can effectively change their collective minds so that they no longer see homosexuals (and women) as less-than-human sexual objects we’re always going to have this horrible problem. But then, that’s the nature of animal lust.

    • Michael Bauman says

      Gregory, you give my words more strictness than I meant them. I was responding to Mr Bradshaw’s comment that rape was not a sexual crime put a crime of power and control. There is certainly a significant element of the power/control motivation in many rapes and it should not be dismissed out of hand. Thus, I was partially agreeing with him and still reaching for the deeper motivation for rapes which is a depraved sexuality in a larger sense. The depth of the sexual depravity and hatred that rapists demonstrate may not be one that is easily identified with lust as we usually think of it. There is no simple or even obvious sexual interest per say.

      Sex is supposed to be a vehicle of fecundity and communion. To twist to its opposite, degradation, violence and death, is evil. It is a lust that goes beyond simple sexual desire run rampant. It is unfortunately quite easy to reinterpret sexual depravity by over simplifying the problem and not looking deeply enough.

      The sexual assault(s) of which I have the most direct knowledge involved a man I thought a friend. Over many years he systematically sexually assaulted his own daughters (4) starting around age 5 and going to puberty. His ex-wife is still a friend and she has told me since that all of her children (6) were conceived by what can only be described as spousal rape. The man is no doubt sexually perverted in many deep ways, yet at the depth of that depravity is an incredible hatred (which I got to see in an unguarded moment). His essential motivation was to terrorize. I have no doubt that he does not have any genuine human feelings, even lust, at all because he has given himself over to demonic rage. He’s scary. He is not in jail

      Actually IMO because rapes cannot be tied simply or solely to lust actually makes them more heinous, not less since such crimes damage even destroy both body and soul.

      Thank you for making your point. I needed to expand my thought.

  4. Toby Grubbs says

    I retired from the USAF in 2007. The Air Force seemed to be at war with sexual assault constantly. I always wondered why the sexual assault rate never seemed to improve after spending millions of dollars and man-hours on it. I finally realized that the Air Force was fighting the wrong battle. Most of the sexual assaults reported (in the Air Force) seemed to involve 2 very drunk individuals. Neither remembers much at all, but the woman reports sexually assault after waking up next to a man she did not want to have sex with when she was sober. The law says that she could not have consented since she was inebriated and therefore it was sexual assault. It does not matter if the man was inebriated or not for his defense. The man’s career and life are ruined, and her reputation causes fear and destroys cohesion within the unit. The Department of Defense has inadvertently regulated the inequality of women in uniform, and the criminality of being male. I believe that many of the same-sex sexual assaults probably happen like this, even though many are mostly likely perverse acts to impose dominance and/or punishment over another they consider weak.

    If the DoD were to enforce rules about drinking and fraternization between the men and women in uniform, they would see a drastic fall in sexual assault reports. In short…they need to return to a policy of promoting personal responsibility, military bearing (even when out of uniform), and tighten the noose on alcohol use/abuse. IMHO

  5. Christopher says

    The law says that she could not have consented since she was inebriated and therefore it was sexual assault. It does not matter if the man was inebriated or not for his defense.

    Wow! That seems to be to so obviously wrong that such a “law” had to have been written with a hot coal from hell . When you say “law”, do you mean administrative government and/or air force “law” or do you mean actual legislative (it would be state by state right?) criminal “law”?

  6. Christopher:
    I don’t know about the USAF, but at least in Canadian jurisprudence, we are not talking about feeling a little tipsy after a drink or two, but about being so utterly wasted you literally cannot consent (whether passed out completely or substantially unable to understand the nature of what is going on). In other words, not “better call a cab”, but “whats a cab where am i who are you” (lack of punctuation intentional).


    … There are a lot of counterfeit chastities in the world but they need not give real chastity a bad name. They just need to be recognized for what they are. One of the false chastities is the identification of it as solely sexual and coercive in itself as in the chastity belt which is a form of rape IMO.

    Thank you! Before I converted to Orthodoxy I was only familiar with “chastity” in this false sense, and no one had properly articulated to me the correct sense you describe (and I never thought to ask, forgive me) until this comment. This is going to save me so much doublethink and unease when reading the Fathers, etc. when they praise this virtue.

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