Friday, 30 October 2015

I. Sex and Religion: What's the Connection?

September 9 2015 - SEX AND RELIGION: WHAT’S THE CONNECTION?


-Class & Video:
This question was asked, and a kind of theme ran with it, in regards to this video we watched entitled Love and Sex in the Hebrew Bible--basically the presumption was that the video showed us topics found in the Hebrew Bible that we probably weren’t taught in Sunday School.
Now, as an Orthodox Christian convert who has been teaching Sunday School for many years now to grades 9 to university (and is currently in the process of becoming a certified Sunday School Teacher and Catechist by the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto (Canada)), I thought that that question and theme might make my Sunday School students smirk--because with them I hit all the hard issues and hot topics, holding nothing back. And they know it.  
As for the video itself, not bad, nothing new, but a good way to start off the course as a refresher of Biblical stories as well as a general introduction to themes that I’m sure will come up in much more detail as we progress through the material.
One thing that could’ve been expanded up was what exactly the video meant by the term ‘Hebrew Bible’--was the meaning supposed to be towards the language of the Scripture, as in the Hebrew language as opposed the Greek, Latin, and Aramaic (which would be ironic since the word ‘bible’ is Koine Greek, not Hebrew)? Or to the Bible itself--as in the Masoretic Text of the Tanakh of the Hebrews/Jews--as opposed to the Septuagint, Vulgate, and Pershitta texts of the Old Testament of Eastern Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, and Oriental Orthodox Christians? Based upon the images, discussions and knowledge that was relayed, such as the story of King David and the inclusion of the Song of Songs (both of which aren’t found in the Torah but in the Tanakh proper) for example, I gathered by the video’s title, as well as its content, was meant both the Hebrew language as well as the Masoretic Text of the Tanakh, but including Christianity as well--even though not all Christian confessions use the Masoretic Text. Then again, as a general introduction these types of details wouldn’t be relevant yet.


The video starts of with the first creation story in Genesis 1:27, but then goes on to narrate that human creation begins with the creation of Adam and Eve, even though they are only created in the next chapter of Genesis. That caught my attention, especially because shortly thereafter Lilith is brought into the video, and we are told how medieval Rabbis made a “surprising discovery” of how another woman is created before Eve--which totally contradicts what the video has just told us, that Adam and Eve were the first pair. Looks like someone mixed up their story lines…
This first time I came across the name ‘Lilith’ when I was fourteen years old in an old book I had found entitled A to Z of the Occult by Graham Weaver. Therein Lilith was described in a variety of ways, one of them being as Adam’s first wife, a description I’d find again shortly thereafter in Anton LaVey’s Satanic Bible, but curiously enough for a video about the Hebrew Bible, she’d not found in there.
Lilith was mentioned as a medieval means of explaining away a discrepancy in the narrative, which make since since most of those Rabbis probably believed, as most North American Evangelicals do, that Moses wrote the Torah. But if one takes a more mystical approach (of God working through the community of believers through time), or even just a scholarly approach to the text (such as the Documentary Hypothesis), it becomes quite clear that the text is the result of many different threads of thought (or revelation), and hence no Lilith story needs to added to the equation.
In Act 3 I learnt that lesbianism is never mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. I even went and  checked. I’ve read complete Bible, I also read it every day (as is my duty as an ordained Reader in the Orthodox Church), and I never noticed that before. The only references to lesbianism are found in the Christian New Testament, and even some scholars debate those meanings. Hopefully this will be an area that\ll get covered more later in the course. Interesting for sure, perhaps this is where the ‘culture’ part of ‘religion & culture’ takes precedence over the ‘religion’ part?
The next part of the video to stand out to me was Act 5, and for two reasons in particular. First, the mention of the ‘navel’ in the video, the discussion in class of it as a metaphor for the clitoris, and how looking to the original language can help us to really understand the meaning in some texts really interested me, because as an Orthodox Christian I know that the oldest text we have is the Koine Greek Septuagint (LXX) and not the Hebrew Masoretic Text, and that the proto-Masoretic Text has long since vanished--if that was even the original text. And this causes a problem which lends more credence to the idea that Moses was not the author of the Torah (as I discussed above), because if the Hebrew language is the original language, how could Moses have written the Hebrew Bible (by Hebrew Bible here I am referring to the Torah, not the Tanakh), since he couldn't read or write Hebrew?
Secondly, when Prof. Carole Fontaine rejects the Jewish and Christian interpretations of the Song of Songs by saying, “and then when Christians came along they changed it [the Jewish interpretation], and they said ‘this is really about Christ’s love for the Church.’ So we’ve gone in every direction trying to make this not be about sex when any teenager reading the song of songs can tell you exactly what this text is about.”
That was a pretty disappointing argument, especially coming from someone who is a Professor. Then again, she betrays herself and with her words allows the viewer to see what level of spiritual maturity she’s at, for in Orthodox Christian mysticism there are levels of understanding only comprehended as believers mature mystically, as St. Paul wrote, “But I, brethren, could not address you as spiritual men, but as men of the flesh, as babes in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food; for you were not ready for it; and even yet you are not ready, for you are still of the flesh.” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3a RSV)
Further yet we read the following in the introduction to the Song of Songs/Solomon in The New Oxford Annotated Bible With the Apocrypha: Expanded Edition, Revised Standard Version, “The Song has no overt religious content corresponding to that of the other books of the Bible, and can be so interpreted only by assuming that a mystical symbolism is involved in its highly figurative language. Its inclusion in the Old Testament is to be explained from the prophetic figure of the Lord as the “husband” of his people (Hos.2.16-19). In Christian tradition and has been interpreted as an allegory of the love of Christ for his bride, the church (Rev.21.2,9),  or as symbolising the intimate experience of divine love an individual soul.”


And to finish, I’m left thinking about something Susan said towards the end of the class discussion; I wrote it down because it was really succinct and instantly made me think. She said, “Women and their sexuality were property of husband or father--that’s why Lot could offer his daughters--rape and sexual assault are property crimes…”
This view, of women as property--does it unfold as a result of the religious view within the society, or is it a byproduct of the culture of the society in which the religion has been revealed by God?

-RECOMMENDED READINGS:
I read the “Introduction” to Sexuality and the Sacred as well as the introductions to each section found therein, and immediately in the “Introduction” I encountered a statement on page xix that I’d argue against:


“Dealing with these matters is complicated by the fact that the dominant Christian tradition reflects a long-standing negativity toward sexuality, reinforced over the centuries by two interlocking dualisms. The body-spirit or spiritualistic dualism elevates the superior spirit over the inferior body, which must be disciplined and kept under control. A male-female or gender dualism reflects a patriarchal hierarchy of value, status, and power in which good order requires male control of women’s lives, including their procreative power. Under the influence of these twin dualisms, Christianity has never fully debunked the troubling notion that sex is unclean and should be avoided or, at least, restricted as a necessary evil.”


To begin, first there are no references given for such a broad statement. Second, no definition of ‘the dominant Christian tradition’ is given; however, if the author is writing about Catholicism without naming it, then yes, the rest of the paragraph’s description about ‘two interlocking dualisms” could be taken as true--I couldn’t actually say, I’m not Catholic.
If, on the other hand, the author meant ‘the dominant Christian tradition’ as in “the Christian tradition, which is dominant, reflects…” then the author would be completely incorrect, as this dualism in non-existent in the Orthodox Christian Church. In the Orthodox Faith the body and the spirit together make one whole person, the fact that the spirit is in no way elevated at the expense of the body can clearly be seen in the fact that in the Orthodox Church cremation is forbidden because the body is Holy (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
There for sure is a male-female gender dualism, as God created male and female in both creation accounts found in Genesis (Genesis 1:26-28 and Genesis 2:7-24, both LXX), this in no way “reflects a patriarchal hierarchy of value, status, and power in which good order requires male control of women’s lives, including their procreative power.” Again, the author gives no sources for this information, just conjecture.
The concluding sentence of the quote makes a couple more unfounded and supported assertions: “Under the influence of these twin dualisms, Christianity has never fully debunked the troubling notion that sex is unclean and should be avoided or, at least, restricted as a necessary evil.” Again here the author lumps any and all groups who claim to follow Christ into one group, it must be assumed then that the author is completely unaware that there are over 30,000 denominations of Christianity which all derive--in one way or another--from the episcopal see of the Bishop of Rome alone, not to mention the Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox, and the Assyrians all of whom have always been independent of the Roman Bishop, and as an Orthodox Christian, I can tell you first hand that Orthodoxy has never had to debunk “the troubling notion that sex is unclean and should be avoided or, at least, restricted as a necessary evil” because, as anyone who has been to an Orthodox wedding service or even just read Scripture or the writings of the Fathers (particularly st. John Chrysostom) could tell the author, the Orthodox have never believed such a thing.
In the “Introduction to Part 2” we read,


“Unduly influenced by classical Western body-denouncing philosophies, Christianity has fostered a theological perspective that views sexuality and spirituality as antagonistic dimensions of being human. Influenced by the Greco-Roman world of which they were a part, early Christian thinkers and apologists integrated into their theologies the most prominent philosophies of their day. In so doing they established within mainstream Christian thought a body-devaluing perspective that disavows the goodness of human sexuality. In this view, the body is condemned of a source of sin. The locus of that sin is human passion. The most threatening of all passions is sexual pleasure. It has the most sinful potential for alienating humans from God and impeding their salvation. Therefore, the body is to be overcome. And most urgently, sexual pleasure is to be avoided at all cost.
“ What are the consequences of such body-negating theology? Its proponents condemn erotic sexual engagement unless it has procreative intent. The only “good sex” is procreative sex, and that must take place within the bonds of heterosexual marriage. With such a view of the body and sex, sexuality is considered a curse, not a blessing. Sexuality and spirituality or no longer complimentary, inextricably connected dimensions of being human. Instead, they are seen as opposing, conflicting forces. Unfortunately, this notion of the relationship between sexuality and spirituality still persists within the Christian tradition. In fact, it dominates public discourse, disrupting individuals’ ability to affirm who they are as both sexual and spiritual beings.”


That’s a lot to take in, especially with no sources given. Perhaps it’s best (or at least easier for me) to take this on section by section:


“Unduly influenced by classical Western body-denouncing philosophies, Christianity has fostered a theological perspective that views sexuality and spirituality as antagonistic dimensions of being human.”
Again, a statement is made with no source given as to where this information comes from, and as I addressed above already, which Christianity is the author writing about? As I’ve already detailed above, the Orthodox Christian Faith does not view man as a dichotomy, but rather views man, body and spirit, and a whole person.


“Influenced by the Greco-Roman world of which they were a part, early Christian thinkers [who?] and apologists [who?] integrated into their theologies the most prominent philosophies of their day. In so doing they established within mainstream Christian thought a body-devaluing perspective that disavows the goodness of human sexuality.”
I’m not sure which ‘mainstream Christian thought’ the author has in mind, certainly not Orthodox thought because us Orthodox value the body so much we don’t cremate it after death, we even keep around the bodies of saints for veneration, going so far as to even kiss them! How that view of the body disavows the goodness of human sexuality is beyond me, since the first thing God tells man and woman to do is to go have sex (Genesis 1:28 LXX)


“In this view, the body is condemned of a source of sin.”
In the Orthodox Christian view, as spelled out above, the body is the vehicle through which our salvation is effected, it is with the body which the second Hypostasis of the Trinity, the Logos, incarnated and became what we are so that we could become “partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4b NKJV).


“The locus of that sin is human passion. The most threatening of all passions is sexual pleasure. It has the most sinful potential for alienating humans from God and impeding their salvation. Therefore, the body is to be overcome. And most urgently, sexual pleasure is to be avoided at all cost.”
The Orthodox position would be that the locus of all sin is human passion, even Buddhism affirms this, but I think that what the author here means by ‘passion’ is different from what Orthodox Elders mean when they speak of the passions, meaning the logismoi rather than human sensuality.
The idea that one passion is more ‘threatening’ than other passions, that one specific sin has the ‘most sinful potential for alienating humans from God and impeding their salvation’ over all others is to paint all people as idiot slaves in the face of sexual temptation. In Orthodox Christianity, unlike in the mind of the author of the “Introduction to Part 2”, people are unique, and what might cause one person to fall might not be a problem for another at all. For example, sexual passion for me is easier dealt with than anger, my temper having the ‘most sinful potential for alienating’ me from God.
The body isn’t to be overcome, it is to me transfigured, and sexual pleasure is to be transfigured as well, not avoided.


“ What are the consequences of such body-negating theology? Its proponents condemn erotic sexual engagement unless it has procreative intent.”
I guess proponents of ‘body-negating theology’ would only find merit, by default, in procreative sex, their view would necessitate it--good thing the Orthodox Church doesn’t have ‘body-negating theology’ or my wife and I would be in trouble for our lack of offspring!


“The only “good sex” is procreative sex…”
In the Orthodox Christian view, this is not true: “IIf for a certain period, you and your wife have abstained by agreement, perhaps for a time of prayer and fasting, come together again for the sake of your marriage. You do not need procreation as an excuse. It is not the chief reason for marriage. Neither is it necessary to allow for the possibility of conceiving, and thus having a large number of children, something you may not want.” (St. John Chrysostom, On Virginity)


“...and that must take place within the bonds of heterosexual marriage.”
By ‘that’ does the author mean the ‘good sex’ or the procreative sex? Since the author wrote that, from the view-point of the Christian (which Christian?) “body-negative theology”, the only good sex is procreative sex, she must mean both. Well then, since procreative sex can only happen in a heterosexual sexual encounter, the author has inadvertently brought us to a moot point. Too bad too, since the misnomer ‘heterosexual marriage’ is such a hot topic these days...


“With such a view of the body and sex, sexuality is considered a curse, not a blessing. Sexuality and spirituality or no longer complimentary, inextricably connected dimensions of being human. Instead, they are seen as opposing, conflicting forces.”
I agree, with such a view of the body and sex (i.e., ‘body-negating theology’) all that would be true. Now, if the author would just come out and direct this towards Catholics this would be much easier, since as an orthodox Christian and not a Catholic I wouldn’t have to defend my faith from uninformed opinions. But then again, if the author were to be brave enough and just come out and direct this towards Catholics they’d be accused by some of being discriminatory--the very thing I’m beginning to feel they are very carefully and very indirectly accusing the Catholic faith of being throughout history...


“Unfortunately, this notion of the relationship between sexuality and spirituality still persists within the Christian tradition.”
Now we run into a problem, once again, for these is no such thing as ‘the Christian tradition’, there are literally a plethora of Christian traditions--so which one is the author referring to, because, as I’ve exhaustively made clear, its not the Orthodox Tradition?


“ In fact, it dominates public discourse, disrupting individuals’ ability to affirm who they are as both sexual and spiritual beings.”
Now this last blanket, and in accurate statement, I have a problem with as a philosopher, not as a Christian. Since each and everyone of us has free will--regardless of whether or not the author is correct in their ‘body-negation theology’ theory of Christian tradition (but of which Christian tradition we are not told)--it is impossible for that free will to be abrogated, and as such we are free to affirm whatever we want. The only time one’s free will can be in jeopardy is if someone is physically tying our hands together or taping our mouth shut, otherwise, though the circumstances may be difficult, or the mental and emotional baggage heavy, we are free to affirm whatever, and to say otherwise is to say literally a.) that you’ve given up your free will to something other than one’s self, which would give one no right to complain that that free will has been abrogated, or b.) that free will is non-existent, as the atheist philosopher Sam Harris believes, and that the philosophical view of determinism is in fact our reality, which then would indicate that those (i.e., the body-negating theologians (i.e. Catholics)) who disrupt individuals’ ability to affirm who they are as both sexual and spiritual beings are in fact not doing it on purpose, not doing it of their own free will and that also those who are being dominated and disrupted in their ability to affirm who they are as both sexual and spiritual beings are incapable of doing anything to reverse their plight, as their fate would then be predetermined, and as such, it would be a pretty bleak world we would find ourselves in. And so, if I could, I’d love to ask the author--which is it? Because if the author is not a determinist then how can they stand by that last sentence? Or to extend the idea to its logical conclusion, even if the Christian tradition (again, which one we are not told) was this dualistic monstrosity of sin and sex, if people have free will--which I assert they do--how can it be blamed for anything, when people are free to believe and affirm whatever they want? No one can be made to believe anything ever--unless we don’t have free will. But even then one wouldn’t be forced to believe anything, as whether or not you believe something would have been determined for you, either by Fate or genetics.


I originally intended to leave reflections and commentary on all the remaining introductions to the sections, but it’s just more of the same anti-Christian (without saying which Christianity), liberal, materialism, writing about ‘spirituality’ but really being concerned with worldly cares and concerns, such as the body, gender and genitals, and accepting things as they are as opposed to transfiguring them. And I suppose that’s the difference, where that camp and my position launch off from. They believe that man as he is is in his natural state and that needs no changing, and so change or reinterpret those parts of Scripture that say otherwise, and I believe that man as he is is not in his natural state, that the Fall of Man did indeed occur and that Christ came to heal us.
This is seen when the authors in the introductions use words and phrases like “redefines sin”, “body theology”, and “reconception of sin and grace” (p. 71), “not “to present all sides of the current debate,”,” (p. 137), “heterosexist” (p. 139), “the best sex is “no sex.”...marry, make babies, and then move on…” (p241), “Christianity’s troubling perspectives on sexuality and the body” (p. 319), “redefinition” (p. 376), “revised theological definition of marriage” (p. 377).
Reading through these introductions i’m already feeling morally pushed towards dropping this course, as the textbook has zero representation of the Orthodox Christian view and is clearly hostile towards anyone who has any integrity with holding to the faith as delivered by Christ to the apostles and not wanting to alter it as it has been passed down--the audacity of humans to think that God got it wrong so we must fix it. This brings to mind this portion of Scripture which foretold that this would happen, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4 RSV)
The founder of the Church of Satan, Anton LaVey, would be amused at the hypocrisy of a Christianity that changes Revealed dogma to suite the times rather than changing one's own self to be congruent with the will of the father as Christ Himself did in the garden of Gethsemane--and the real kicker here is that the type of sexuality these ‘christian’ groups are teaching are found in LaVey’s Satanic Bible and not in the Holy Bible! That’s where LaVey would really call out hypocrisy. Just as he did to ‘white witches’ who claimed their magic had nothing to do with the devil, he’d do with Christians who claim their non-christian sexualities are in fact christian--they play the devil's game but don’t take his name.


“If you do not believe in what your religion teaches, why continue to support a belief which is contradictory with your feelings? you would never vote for a person or issue you did not believe in, so why cast your ecclesiastical vote for a religion which is not consistent with your convictions?” Anton, LaVey, "Book of Lucifer Chapter III: Some Evidence of a New Satanic Age," The Satanic Bible, p. 50


Perhaps it’s time they just gave the devil his due? There’s something Nietzschean about it, about a culture that has killed God (in the form of God’s teaching) but once faced with their new found freedom revert back to beliefs they claim not to believe any more, and reminds me of something I read awhile back by Terry Eagleton and Rod Dreher (full article here by Rod Dreher),


“ “Nietzsche sees that civilization is in the process of ditching divinity while still clinging to religious values, and that this egregious act of bad faith must not go uncontested. You cannot kick away the foundations and expect the building still to stand. The death of God, he argues in The Gay Science, is the most momentous event of human history, yet men and women are behaving as though it were no more than a minor readjustment. Of the various artificial respirators on which God has been kept alive, one of the most effective is morality. “It does not follow,” Feuerbach anxiously insists, “that goodness, justice and wisdom are chimeras because the existence of God is a chimera.” Perhaps not; but in Nietzsche’s view it does not follow either that we can dispense with divine authority and continue to conduct our moral business as usual. Our conceptions of truth, virtue, identity, and autonomy, our sense of history as shapely and coherent, all have deep-seated theological roots. It is idle to imagine that they could be torn from these origins and remain intact. Morality must therefore either rethink itself from the ground up, or live on in the chronic bad faith of appealing to sources it knows to be spurious. In the wake of the death of God, there are those who continue to hold that morality is about duty, conscience, and obligation, but who now find themselves bemused about the source of such beliefs. This is not a problem for Christianity—not only because it has faith in such a source, but because it does not believe that morality is primarily about duty, conscience, or obligation in the first place.
“ “Nietzsche speaks scornfully of French freethinkers from Voltaire to Comte as trying to “out-Christian” Christianity with a craven cult of altruism and philanthropy, virtues that are as distasteful to him as pity, compassion, benevolence, and suchlike humanitarian claptrap. He can find nothing in such values but weakness cunningly tricked out as power. These, too, are ways of disavowing God’s disappearance. God is indeed dead, and it is we who are his assassins, yet our true crime is less deicide than hypocrisy. Having murdered the Creator in the most spectacular of all Oedipal revolts, we have hidden the body, repressed all memory of the traumatic event, tidied up the scene of the crime and, like Norman Bates in Psycho,behave as though we are innocent of the act. Modern secular societies, in other words, have effectively disposed of God but find it morally and politically convenient—even imperative—to behave as though they have not. They do not actually believe in him, but it is still necessary for them to imagine that they do. God is too vital a piece of ideology to be written off, even if it is one that their own profane activities render less and less plausible. To look at the beliefs embodied in their behavior, rather than at what they piously profess, is to recognize that they have no faith in God at all, but it is as though the fact has not yet been brought to their attention. One of Nietzsche’s self-appointed tasks is to do precisely that.”
[...]
“Eagleton goes on to say that in postmodernism, we may have finally put God down for good. The Modernist may not believe in God, or may not believe in an orthodox Christian deity, but the god in which he doesn’t believe is the God of the Bible. As Eagleton points out, Nietzsche’s critique of the Modernists was not that they were wrong about God’s death, but that they could not or would not recognize and accept the full implications of that belief. They held on to an ersatz, humanized form of Christianity, one that was moralistic without having a meaningful source of those morals.”
What most of the people who spoke in the video, what we read in the recommended readings, and what no one brought up in class, is that the point of religion is not his or her’s sex life, the point of religion is our eternal salvation, which leads me to end where it began, with the question, “sex and religion: what’s the connection?”
The connection is--at least in Orthodox Christianity--human persons, because sex within the Sacred Mystery of marriage unites two people physically as the grace bestowed in the Sacred Mystery of marriage did spiritually, with the purpose of Orthodox Christian marriage being the mutual salvation of the couple. Based upon that premise I would argue that sex outside of marriage has nothing to do with religion, and/or that sex is just another part of religion (and a very minimal one at that, considering how much more time one spends praying, reading Scripture, reading the Church Fathers, attending various Church services, and volunteering at one’s parish).

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