Sunday, April 18, 2010

Religion and Sexuality

OK...I know I have been on a string of blogs about religion and philosophy that some of you have no interest in, but since so much of my history has been about pursuing reason about the mysteries of life...I have to sound off on a long festering subject for me...Sex and religion.

My disconnect with organized, manmade religion is that it seems quite focused on telling people what they CAN'T do versus instructing followers on what they CAN do to make things better for humanity. I made a fundamental choice decades ago to reject any theology that was based on "sacrifice and castigate yourself in this world to qualify for the next one". I can surely understand the desire for a perfect "afterlife" and living eternally with our creator. I also HOPE that is our destiny...but I don't think it reasonable to live in such a way that everything is sacrificed today for some mystical future world that we deem promised by a God we have made to fit our own image, desires and needs. Life here stinks enough for most people to where it is understandable we are ripe for wanting this future, better life. Yet, in my mind most religions manipulate the masses with the focus on spurring you to do or NOT do things in this life in order to qualify for the next. This is what the Islamic fundamentalists believe who strap bombs around themselves and seek to kill as many "infidels" as possible. This is fundamentalism on steroids. And before those of us from Christian persuasions get too much on our high horse, we need to study early Christian history and times like "The Crusades" in order to understand that Christianity has its own dark past with this mentality. to the good part...SEX (I say that facetiously...well, maybe not). Today I was reviewing this BIG news today online about Christian music star Jennifer Knapp coming out as a lesbian. I have to admit that I have never heard of her, but I have been out of the "Christian" music circles for decades now. (For some of you who don't know me well or long...I was in the CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) industry for almost a decade back in the mid 70s and went to one of their first conventions in Estes Park, Colorado around 1980. I produced and performed in Christian Rock bands and other contemporary music forms for many years). As I read the short version of Jennifer's "coming out", I actually found myself in support and respect of her decision to do so. Here's why...

For millenniums now, churches and various religions have primarily been about repression and controlling behaviors of the world. It seems as if reason alone is not sufficient for population control or honoring relational commitments, so somehow you must include threats from God and the church to honor your vows to another person. It is purported that without these religions somehow we can't know right from wrong or what is reasonable and rational. Yet even the Christian Bible itself simply defines "sin" as "knowing to do right and not doing it". It also says in Romans 2:15 when discussing those with no religious training that "since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing". To me this passage always leaped out to me as saying that the Creators mindset on right and wrong, the LAW if you will, is written within our own DNA. We don't need holy books, priests or preachers to tell us what is right or wrong. It is somehow inherent in our nature…and we know the difference without being told that murder, stealing and lying are not the best approach to getting on in this life. I also believe our sexual natures are pretty obvious whether we want to admit or give in to them or not.

In today's world, it is pretty hard to be sexually "naive". Our media is inundated with sexual explicitness that in my own teens was not tolerated in public media. I'm not discussing that point right now, but let’s just say most humans are now confronted with more explicit sensuality on a mass scale than any civilization of the past 1000 years. I see it somewhat as a reaction to the Victorian and religious intolerance of recent centuries. The world being based on "cause and effect", it seems quite understandable that after centuries of sexual repression built on false pretenses, people are somewhat overboard in reacting when they discover some of their most basic desires. The power and allure of sex is one of our most primal human traits. To deny that is not healthy in the long run. Yet, sex and sensuality has been continually demonized by most of the world religions and we have been made to feel “dirty” or guilty about our sexual natures from earliest childhood programming. I think the reasons are more obscure than meets the eye of reason.

Religions have used extreme limits and castigation of our sexuality to control behavior. These controls have been often based on trying to control population growth and protect the institution of family and community. While these controls and parameters can be understood through reason, to relegate and stipulate that the only way we can control our sexual natures is with strict rules and guilt manipulations over our “weak flesh” and make sex the great battle ground between spirit and flesh is not necessarily healthy in my experience. Kids get confused and guilt ridden when they hit puberty and their hormones start kicking in towards sex…and all the institutions and “authority” figures start telling them how evil and sinful those thoughts and actions are. Up until recent history, there has been little objective approach to teaching children and youth about sex. Most instruction in the last couple centuries were only about rules of abstention and the vulgarity of sexual impulses or acts. We were made to feel guilty about sex, and it is still considered rude and “off color” to talk about it…unless in the form of jokes and humor. Historically, the girls have talked to the girls about what they supposedly need to know on the subject, and the boys/men the same. Yet, it seems from my experience that the best lessons and expressions about sex have come from talking to or understanding a member of the opposite sex intimately.

I also have always had a disconnection with “the rules” from a historical perspective. In most of the historic civilizations, most have been Patriarchic (see interesting wikepedia piece on Patriarchy). In fact, most religions have been based on patriarchy…God is always deemed as “Him”. The Greeks and Egyptians were some of the first cultures to elevate women to any deity status in their imagery or likenesses. The Patriarchs of the Bible and Torah…Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had “primary” wives and then multiple other wives and “concubines”…who were basically non-marriage sexual partners for the Patriarch. In many cases these were slave/master relationships from conquered kingdoms, etc. Without going into in depth analysis of this history, suffice it to say it was a rich man’s world where he could have as many partners as he could afford and support. To a degree this probably goes back to “caveman” days of survival and propagation of “the fittest”. God didn’t seem to have to big of a problem with this back then. Natural order might explain it as is often seen in the animal kingdom where the males are the hunters/providers while the females were the caregivers for their offspring. Men were focused on procreating and providing for their offspring…and they made the rules. I know some of my feminist friends probably don’t want to think about this fact of history. For all our mental superiority and evolution of our species, I’m not sure we humans have really advanced that much beyond these animalistic stages. We just like to THINK we have.

There ARE modern day versions of this same basic approach. The Mormon religion…which has been one of the fastest growing religions in this century…was founded on strong Patriarchal beliefs. A man could have many wives and had children with all of them as much as possible in the beginning. This was all justified to propagate the lineage and mindset of their society. Many religions have justified this tradition over the millenniums to populate themselves faster than their enemies. It is probably a foundation for many Islamic fundamental movements now who strive to conquer the world through breeding and bringing up their own to overcome other religions and mindsets they see as the enemy. Sexual rules and mores have been established or changed sporadically by the perceived need of a society at that time. In more modern times, over populated countries like China have started making it illegal to produce offspring, or at least more than one per couple. So whether from political or religious expedience, we see sex and relational rules established to serve the needs of the perceived order of things. Yet…at the end of the day…human sexuality and desire for intimacy has not changed since the beginning of time.

Now we throw in the aspect of homosexuality and other sexual orientations. Very little was discussed in many ancient writings about this subject…but we know in increasing detail now how much non heterosexuality is being pursued and practiced in our world. While most of us probably don’t question that males and females were created or evolved in order to mate and propagate the species, one has to acknowledge a growing awareness of a significant portion of our world who find themselves attracted to or sexually involved with members of their own sex. Many people find themselves bi-sexual…and while I have sometimes thought how easy it must be for someone seeking companionship to walk into a pickup bar where everyone is a candidate…I have never felt an interest in anything but hetero sex. Yet, I have had people close to me who apparently have these leanings…and I have not found it necessary to judge them or limit friendships because of one’s sexual orientation. While I may not relate to that, there are many other great things that some of these people have taught me in life and I am better for having known them.

What has bothered me most about the church in this regard is the coverup and hypocrisy regarding homosexuality. I have met a number of “closet” gays during my years involved in churches. I have known significant figures of leadership who either had gay leanings or were quietly active sexually. I have always felt that while it was none of my business, how could you stay in a church or religion that condemns your sexual proclivity? And yes, there are some modern, liberal religious organizations where gays can safely join together and worship as they see fit…yet I find this a paradox within Christianity. Are we soon to have separate churches for “asexual” single people? Will we soon be seeing churches catering to those of us who have issues with “gluttony”? If you believe in a loving God and believe the words of Jesus, how can you judge and cast out people based on their sexual preferences? Why should gays have to pretend they are something different in religion and society? Why should they have to cloister themselves in gay only groups…or submit to some convent or “treatment center” for reprogramming? Will this truly change their nature? I have a feeling NOT. I will resist going into the number of true stories I know about along these lines, but I am tired of seeing gay bashing in religion and ostracizing from organizations that include plenty of hypocritical closet gays and pedophiles (I am not equating gays with pedophiles…pedophilia should be heavily outlawed and punished). I think it is much more humane and loving to be honest and open about this whole agenda.

One of the biggest sexual problems I see in modern day religion is pedophilia. I think the epidemic of pedophilia is based on this repressed sexuality that some people grow up severely affected by. I have studied it for reasons very close to me…and there is no cure. The Catholic church is obviously going through a lot of scrutiny now since the media and other institutions have now started confronting the long historic trail of child molestation going on in the church. Within such religious orders where they forbid the priests and nuns to have sexual partners, is it any wonder you have this kind of problem? I don’t think the total reason for this is about being denied traditional marriage and relations. I think such instincts come out in different, hidden ways if you forbid the obvious natural order of things. For me, mans religions have taken one of God’s greatest gifts and drives in our human experience and by trying to marginalize and control it…we have turned it into a hideous and twisted response drive in some people. It’s like religion has locked these people into a dark cage where the denial of their nature turns them towards other aggressive and hidden acts. When they are directed at helpless children….it is time to really examine the craziness of religion on the taboos of sex.

So…if you want my latest apologetic on all of this coming from an existential Christian framework…here is my current take…and probably subject to change over the rest of my lifetime…

How do we then measure "right and wrong" whether sexually or otherwise? On what basis are we to judge any other human, let alone a "fellow Christian" if we count our self as one? If you count the Bible as your source for direction, I might suggest Romans 13:8-10...

...he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

There are many more passages that sum up New Testament treatment of gray areas concerning human behaviors. There were many laws in the Old Testament that are no longer upheld or deemed relevant for today. If love guides our life, I think we will live pretty happy, abundant lives. If we treat others as we would be treated…the world would be a pretty sweet place to be. I think any sexual act shared between two consenting adults is none of my business and there should be no law against it. At the point where someone is forcing themselves on someone that is not interested…especially towards children or raping of women…this is obviously a serious crime against another and the offended person should be protected by our society and its institutions.

If America is a “Christian” nation as many people close to me portend, then we should be establishing legal rights and freedom for consenting adults to enter any kind of relationship they choose as THEIR faith would lead them. To this end, I hope Jennifer Knapp finds love and acceptance somewhere within her community of believers (hang in there Jennifer...I know how hurtful believers can be when they are saving the "lost"...). I’m sure that her essence and quality of her art are the same or even better than when she was living under the shadow and hiding her relationship. Love and the lack of judging others is the essence of New Testament faith. The religious world has seen enough of hypocrisy and repression when it comes to sexuality to last another millennium.

So I end with two questions...

What is it about homosexuality...and even sexuality in general...that so threatens fundamentalist religions?

Why are sexual "sins" treated so preferentially by society on one hand as "hush hush", and yet we love reading the tabloids about famous people's sex lives?

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