- Published on Saturday, 02 March 2013 06:31
- Written by John Draper
- Hits: 3510
If you want to get a religious person upset, be tolerant of gays, abortions, sex outside marriage, prostitution or any of the taboos related to sex. Religions care more about mostly victimless sex sins than they do about violence, robbery and even murder. Rape is really a crime of violence using sex and everyone condemns rape but why all the other sex sins? It can be explained scientifically in terms of our species needed to have evolved with sex taboos that would ensure the survival of our species but there do not seem to be any strong prohibitions in the bible or the Qur'an against promiscuity. In fact multiple wives are common or encouraged, you have to look through many thousands of words to find anything against gays; abortion is not mentioned and in fact sex is hardly mentioned. Most of the stories are about other subjects. Yet sex is a pre-occupation.
Apart from prohibitions on innocuous things, many of the rules are concerned with sex. Celibacy of catholic priests, circumcision, marriage as a Church institution and a virgin birth. In some of the Calvinist Churches, there are prohibitions against dancing and of course Islam has women covered up, men with multiple wives, women as definitely subordinate and men rewarded with multiple virgins in paradise.
We can understand all this if religions were developed by men (not women) and they turned their attention to things at the top of their minds. But if god created religions, then why would he particularly care? If God made rules, they would be like the first few of the 10 commandments - basically "worship me and no-one else!" He might care about murder since someone is deciding for him when a person should die. (See my article on this) But why care about sex? Surely that means more babies and more happy people who would then cause less trouble! Seems to me it supports the case in favour of the creation of religion by men, not by a god.
One of the early major influences on Christian thinking was Augustine of Hippo (later St. Augustine). He spent his early years (up to about 40) enjoying a very full sex life - when he was not yet a Christian. But he was then converted and saw the "error of his ways". He must have had a real attack of sudden guilt because he proceeded to provide all kinds of intellectual reasons why sex was bad. His writing was a major influence on early Christian thinking and his influence persists to this day. It was about this time that the Catholic priests were told to be celibate and many of the prohibitions on sex were established.
I like the way William Hopper describes this:
Let me give you an idea of who this Augustine guy really was ...
After spending most of his life with a mistress, our hero decided that this was bad - not only for him, but for all humanity. You see, at the time there were four words that meant "love." These were amore, philio, agape and eros. Amore was romantic love. Philio was brotherly love. Agape was the love for God. Eros, of course, was erotic or sexual love. Augustine reasoned that all of these forms of love constantly vied with each other for your attention. All four were very intense and had a tendency to displace each other - especially (thought Augustine ) eros and agape. Since agape was the single most important love, Augustine wanted to make sure nothing interfered with it. Basically, what this meant was that at the point where you're at the height of passion, sweating and totally into the sexual act, there was no room in your mind for the love you have for your God, even though that may be whose name you're shouting at the time. According to Augustine, love for a sexual partner and love for your God could not exist in the same mind at the same time. The simple answer: get rid of sex.
This is the reason why sex has been considered bad and evil for so long. It puts God totally out of your mind. The same was said by Augustine to be true of philio and amore, but not to the same extent. Sex was the one occasion when a human would find it impossible to pray or have any meaningful adoration for God, because sex is too much of a distraction. If he'd had his way, sex would be totally banned. However, this would mean no children and the death of Christianity in a generation's time. Provisions had to be made.
The "provisions" were contained in marriage. If you're married by the Church, it was basically a license to have sex, providing you don't enjoy it. You were just doing your duty to keep the faith alive - a necessary evil, as it were. To have sex outside of marriage (as in with a mistress, like Augustine had for years) was seen as a frivolous encounter meant for pleasure, not procreation. And you couldn't have pleasure. If you actually enjoyed sex, you were ignoring your God, and that was evil. Only through a marriage which was designed to create baby Christians could the sex act be justified. This is where premarital sex became taboo and any sexual practice that involved contraceptives or ejaculation in places that couldn't possibly bring about children became considered evil. It all took you away from "the Divine."
As a theological spearhead of the new post-Nicene Christianity (with the Roman military to back his ideas), Augustine became very powerful and so did his beliefs. His notions of sex and marriage, along with the new Codex, became the foundation of Christian ethics - not because what he said reflected the scriptures (he made no real attempt to justify his philosophy with scriptural references), but because he said it all at a time when the Church was forming itself into a legal and political body. Augustine's beliefs are as intrinsic to Christian dogma now as Constantine's [more on Constantine], or Hippolayatus' Apostles' Creed, and were a fundamental contribution to the dominance of Christianity in the western world.
Islam has a different slant on sex but still has it at the top of the agenda. It all seems very human to me - theologians, priests, pastors, ministers and imams should be embarrassed. Or do they just like talking about sex?
The William Hopper quote is from his book "The Heathen's Guide to World Religions"
First published June 2011.