- The Washington Times - Monday, November 8, 2010

By Mark Judge
Doubleday, $14, 192 pages

Some biographical background is in order. This reviewer grew up in Washington state in the 1980s and ‘90s and was educated in that state’s public schools. From fourth grade on, sex ed was a not insignificant part of the curriculum. It was taught so often and so mechanically that teachers almost managed the trick of making sex boring.

With the help of guest speakers, videos and props, they certainly succeeded at making it grotesque. Planned Parenthood paid a visit, as did one sex educator students dubbed “the foam lady.” One class played a rousing game called Wheel of Contraceptives. (“I’d like to buy a condom, Pat.”)

Mark Judge grew up in the 1970s and ‘80s. He went to high school in Washington, D.C., at Georgetown Prep, a Jesuit school. One might guess that sex education there would be a little more reticent, at least. But no, Mr. Judge writes in his latest book, “A Tremor of Bliss,” “Our sex-ed teacher at Prep was a man named Bernie Ward, who would later become a well-known left-wing talk-show host in San Francisco. Ward would also be arrested and convicted for sending pornographic images of children over the Internet.”

On the first day of sex-ed class, Mr. Judge writes, “Ward handed out the day’s reading - a tract about feminism and sex by Betty Friedan.” Ward then announced that they could forget any nonsense about “self-abuse” being wrong and other old-fashioned notions of virtue. For the next six months in his classroom, “the female body became a sort of flesh-and-bone vending machine, something that would respond and deliver if you knew where to insert the quarter and push the right button.”

Mr. Judge tells readers this for two reasons. One, he wants to argue against a “pornographic liberal culture” that should be “repudiated and exposed as a wellspring of poison and lies that can destroy human souls.” Two, he wants to explain why it took him so long to speak up.

Some authors try to separate themselves from their arguments. Mr. Judge’s books tend toward the confessional. His previous effort was titled “God and Man at Georgetown Prep: How I Became a Catholic Despite 20 Years of Catholic Schooling.” In “A Tremor of Bliss,” he focuses on his Catholic education only insofar as it connects with the subject of human sexuality. Ward and company helped remove any restraints that his faith might have placed on him, so he didn’t restrain himself. Mr. Judge looks at the fruits of America’s sexual revolution - an unlimited license to abortion, illegitimacy and the hook-up culture - and finds them horrifying, beginning from personal experience.

For much of Mr. Judge’s life, he slept around pretty freely. For some time, he was seeing a Georgetown bartender he calls “Ellen.” She found out she was pregnant, aborted the child and only told him about it after the fact. Mr. Judge wasn’t quite sure how to take that.

On the one hand: “I told myself that Ellen’s abortion was no big deal. I was a disciple in the Church of Mr. Ward and condom-loving modern America. Only fascists were pro-life. And only prudes wanted to control sex.” And yet: “I wept. I knew that something catastrophic had happened with Ellen. It was the disastrous result of my promiscuity, the deadly endpoint of a narcissism that puts the sexual self and its gratification at that top of a hierarchy of values.”

Mr. Judge proposes a Catholic sexual counterrevolution, though he doesn’t want to call it that. What he clearly does want is U.S. Catholic education to play a vital role in countering the current almost-anything-goes culture.

Jeremy Lott is editor of RealClearReligion.org and author of “William F. Buckley” (Thomas Nelson, 2010).