Religion and Sex

by Euphemism 9 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • Euphemism

    [Note: This post is written from a secularist, pro-sexual-freedom viewpoint. While everyone is of course welcome to post their views in this thread, I am not particularly interested in debating whether or not the traditional Christian attitude towards sex is healthy.]

    I realize this is a very broad topic, and I'm sure it's been discussed here before, but I was just thinking about it this morning after reading a profile of Kansas Senator (and Christian conservative) Sam Brownback. Sex-related issues--gay marriage, contraception, abstinence education--are key in the Christian conservative agenda here in the US right now, but sexual restrictions are also very significant in the private lives of people such as the Senator. According to the article, when the Senator--a 49-year-old family man--travels, "he tries to avoid spending time alone in his hotel room, where indecent television programming might tempt him."

    So I got to wondering, how and why did Christianity's odd relationship with sex come about? To what extent and why is it shared by other world religions?

    Christian sexual repression dates at least back to the Pauline epistles, but of course Paul did not create it out of whole cloth. I would assume--although the more scholarly posters here undoubtedly have a clearer idea--that Paul was influenced by the Essenes or other ascetic traditions within Judaism.

    But where did the chain start? Sexual restrictions in ancient Jewish culture were primarily about maintaining male property rights. The notion of sex itself as 'unclean' doesn't appear until the priestly 'purity' rules. In the context of the political struggle between local polytheism and centralized, priestly monotheism, this looks like a priestly reaction to the polytheists' inclusion of sex in worship.

    Perhaps both sides of this conflict reflected the same underlying truth: that sex involves such powerful feelings that we are naturally driven to spiritualize them. That spiritualization, however, can either be integrated into the community's predominant spirituality, or it can be regarded as a competitor to be suppressed.

    The latter tack--the need to control sexuality as a part of spirituality--seems to naturally go along with religious and social hierarchy and control. Politically decentralized polytheism embraced the individual experience of sex, whereas centralized, hierarchical monotheism sought to control its chaotic force. This is perfectly illustrated by the 'missionary position'--the idea of Christian missionaries in Polynesia that the physical hierarchy of sex must explicitly reflect the social hierarchy of male over female.

    I don't know enough about other religions to see whether the pattern plays out similarily or not. Do others here think this is an accurate description of views of sex in the Judeo-Christian tradition? How does explicit asceticism play into this? And what about other religious traditions? I'd be interested to hear people's thoughts.

  • greendawn

    Ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato also believed that physical desire was inferior and was better ignored rather than gratified, he saw the body as the prison of the soul that prevented one from enjoying the real freedom. Matter was bad.

    Paul took this over saying that the physical body was imprisoning him. He was expecting at death to be released so as to be with the Lord.

  • SickofLies

    The fact is homosexuality was practiced commonly among the Jew's, this is clearly seen, especially in the account about the tribe of Benjamin, who tried to get a roaming guest to come out and play with them during the night. Interesting to note, that the reason they were retaliated against wasn't because of their homosexual practices, but because they killed a mans wife and there was no mention of their sexual preference afterwards as being good or bad. The fact that the new testament comments on it probably has a lot to do with the fact that controlling sexual habits of people is a very powerful way of controlling their lives/property as you mentioned. The is seen very much in the Catholic Church, where priests cannot have legitimate children, so any property or assets they acquire always go back to the church when they die.

  • Narkissos

    Counter-intuitive as it may be to us, asceticism is more a Greek philosophical tradition (from Plato onward) than a Jewish, religious one. The negative assessment of the body and senses is essential to Platonic idealism and still plays an important part in later schools (Cynicism, Stoicism, etc.). It meets the Jewish tradition in the diaspora (Philo is a very good example in this regard, as he reinterprets the Torah from the perspective of a moral asceticism), and then Hellenistic Christianity -- where stories such as the "virgin birth," which has no OT parallel, really came from. I guess what happens in Christianity is less religion becoming ascetic than philosophical asceticism becoming religious.

  • greendawn

    Blocking instinctive gratifications and diverting their energies is the essence of cultural and intellectual creativity in man and his society, and though identified with Christianity it goes further back as stated above.

    Otherwise we would still be living in caves.

  • heathen

    Interesting topic and one I've been thinking about myself . Like, what is the bible saying about sex ? I think the idea was that since there is a thousand year reign in the kingdom of the heavens and there was an urgency to preach the gospel to the entire inhabited earth that sex was really just a way to slow people down by bringing children into the picture you could no longer focus your attention on the preaching effort . In the kingdom of the heavens there would be no sex so people were better off if they learned to live without it . Even the angels proved to be sex maniacs so it was up to humans to not entice them or provoke them during the thousand years since there will be close contact with them .

  • anewme

    I tend to agree with Greendawn...the intent to repress the sexuality of others by some religious entity goes way way way back.

    But just as far back goes those who defy this type of total control.

    I am fascinated by the spirit of freedom exhibited throughout all of history.

    I spend alot of time reading and watching videos of history (via the library and PBS historical reinactments)

    All throughout history there have been those who have tried to impose restraints on others but whole peoples have successfully found the strength to defy these and found their own maps to God and his favor.

    In every generation of man there have been those hearty souls who have seen through all the gobbeldy goop and in their hearts know what is truly right and wrong and what the father of the universe would approve of and what he would not.

    I am now married to such a soul and am learning daily a new truth........the human heart's truth.

  • Narkissos

    The Indian traditions of asceticism, including Buddhism, have certainly influenced Greek thought in this regard. There are a lot of traditions about the fascination several Hindu yogis exerted on Alexandre the Great and his armies.

  • Elsewhere
    how and why did Christianity's odd relationship with sex come about? To what extent and why is it shared by other world religions?

    It all comes down to control. Anyone who can control the most intimate part of your life can control anything about you. The religions (and republicans) are only interested in controlling you.

    Yeah! That's right! I did throw in "republicans"!!!!

  • heathen

    You got that right elsewhere --- I think it was the repulicans that denied gay people the right to marry legally . I mean what the hell reason did they give --- GW , " I will preserve the sanctity of marriage." Now just a friggen minute here , who the hell gave the president the authority in the first place ? I thought this was for the people and by the people around here and laws were voted on in the house ,senate and congress before the president has a say . Anway government cannot preserve the sanctity of marriage , they have no preserving powers in that regard .

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