Religion and sex in conservative America November 1, 2011Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
Sex is ubiquitous. We see it all over the media, entertainment, and our lives. Most of us think about sex quite frequently, and many of us have a fair amount of it. One thing all of our ancestors had in common was some kind of sex.
Artificial insemination, of course, makes it possible to pass your genes along without having sex, but I doubt more than a handful of people are virgin parents, Mary being no exception no matter what Christians try and tell you.
Religions have varied relationships with human sexuality. In our Christian-drenched culture, this relationship is somewhat strained, but this is not the universal relationship between religion and sexuality. Many Hindu temples, for example, depict sexual acts of all kinds; no prudishness inherent there.
Many new age religions celebrate sexuality in many ways, and I have found many religious people in my years among the polyamorous community. One is likely to find orgies, swingers, sex rituals, or just sex-positive monogamous couples in all sorts of religious traditions.
And yet in the West, where Christianity reigns over any other religious tradition, sexuality has a sort of schizophrenic role to play. On one hand, sex is (as I said) ubiquitous. Secular culture is ripe with it and much of it is great (which is to say some of it is not). And then there are the critics of this phenomenon, mostly from conservative Christianity, who view sex as something limited to marriage.
Which is, of course, excluded from everyone except monogamous couples, one of which is a man the other is a woman.
I have been thinking about this for a long time, and I think that this strategy is somewhat smart, from the point of view of maintaining conservative religious lifestyles. There is a real separation from the mainstream American culture and that of the conservative America which tries to keep its distance from the rest.
Several years back I was invited to attend a Battle Cry event in Philadelphia. What was presented to me there, and what many (many) subsequent discussions with former conservative Christians (as well as current conservative Christians) have shown me, is that there is a concerted attempt to create a Christian culture which keep people protected behind a wall of Christian culture. The goal is to have people protected from the evil, Satanic, secular culture. One part of that is to keep their sexuality repressed, at least until they are married.
And they somehow expect their sexuality to open up and flower when marriage happens, as if one can turn off all that emotional association to sexuality in a day. It’s all a myth, a fantasy, a lie.
If you tell people that sexuality is sinful, that your lewd thoughts are Satan’s influence, and that when you have such feelings you should pray for forgiveness, then you are setting up the best guarantee that many people will keep coming back again and again. It initiates a cycles of activity which keeps people tied to their religion (bonus to anyone who gets the word-play there).
The parts of this cycle go something like this:
- The vast majority of people think about sex frequently.
- Most of those people’s thoughts, if they were raised in a conservative religious environment, will be seen as sinful or even evil.
- Church teachings, including youth groups, provide young people with ways to combat these feelings (especially if they are homosexual in nature).
- Those methods do not actually stop those thoughts or feelings, they just associate them with a religious ritual, activity, or belief.
- Because people think about sex frequently, they have a built-in reminder of their religious upbringing, training, and the emotional associations inherent to that process.
- This guilt (or even fear) often sticks with people even if they move away from their faith.
This cycle is not good for a sex-positive society. And a sex-positive society is good for everyone. Conservative religion, Christianity in particular, is not good for society or the people in it. Sex is only one example of why this is the case.
And while I would prefer people not be raise in religious environments, if I have to choose, I would prefer them to be raised in a moderate of liberal religious home where the damage is less severe. Yes, parts of this shame, guilt, and sinful views on sexuality still exist in many aspects of liberal Christianity, but it is less severe even if often nonexistent. Liberal theology allows people to be exposed to reality, including the truth about sexuality and its role in our lives, and thus it is the lesser of evils.
That’s right, liberal Christianity is the lesser of evils, especially when it comes to sexuality. That is not to say it is not still bad.
Because it is.