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Religion & Culture | The religious repression of sex

Published:Sunday | June 12, 2016 | 6:00 AMDr Glenville Ashby
Leonardo da Vinci's 'Last Supper' shows Mary of Magdala on the right side of Jesus.
The Biblical 'myth' of Adam and Eve, reflected in this painting, has shaped human sexuality.
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Human creation and evolution owe everything to the genital or sex act. Arguably, by virtue of its essentiality as the sole conduit of existence, the genital or sex act is sacrosanct.

William E. May, author of Catholic Bioethics and the Gift of Human Life, explored the sanctity and unitive nature of the sexual act, and in his rejection of reproductive technologies, he argued that humans are the "created words" of God, "one in nature with their parents ..." begotten" in an act of self-giving spousal union.

Yet, sex is interpreted, if not depicted in the Bible, as shameful and, moreover, an act that is associated with guilt and sin. This is an unnerving paradox deserving of study.

In Genesis 3: 8-11, we read, "Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, 'Where are you?'

"He answered, 'I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid'.

"And he said, 'Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?'"

Subconsciously, we are taught to view nudity and sexuality as counter to spiritual wholesomeness.

The Bible reinforces this distortion with its plagiarised pagan myths, ascribing virginity and purity to Jesus' mother, Mary.

History has long debunked the belief in Mary's virginity. But the obfuscation of her motherhood was needed to advance the dogma that ultimate communion with the Divine requires renunciation of the sexual act.

In like vein, it was inconceivable, if not blasphemous, that Jesus could have had an amative interest, although it was customary at the time for a young Jewish man, a Rabbi, to be married.

Again, historical findings beckon us to revisit this subject. The Gospel of Philip (Hag Nammadi Gnostic Gospels discovered in 1945) speaks of intimacy between Jesus and Mary Magdalene that caused jealously among the disciples. Her closeness to him was evident in her presence at every major event, including the crucifixion.

Also worth reading is The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Gospel by Karen L. King, a revolutionary treatise that pours new light on the traditional narrative regarding Jesus' relationship with Mary Magdalene.

After the death of Jesus, Paul continues the refrain, subtly denigrating human sexuality as a potential hindrance to spiritual wisdom.

In 1 Corinthians 7:25, he counsels, "Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgement as one who, by the Lord's mercy, is trustworthy. Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is."

Interestingly, Christianity is not alone in promoting an inherent flaw in human sexuality.

 

POLARISING FORCES

 

In The Life of Muhammad by Ibn Ishaq, we learn that Muhammad and his wife tested the spirit that revealed the Word of God. Here, we see another example of a mainstream religion promoting godliness and sexuality as polarising forces incompatible and irreconcilable:

And one day, his wife Khadijah said to him, "Muhammad, let us put that on a test. When the spirit comes to you, tell me, and we will test if that spirit is really Gabriel the angel, or a bad spirit".

He said, "Okay".

One day, he was sitting with her, and he said, "Khadijah, the spirit came!"

She said, "Come, and sit on my right side." So, he sat on her right side.

She said, "Muhammad, do you see the spirit?"

He said, "Yes."

She said, "Then sit on my left side." So, he switched and he sat on her left side.

"Do you see the spirit?" Khadijah asked.

"Yes," Muhammad answered.

"Then sit on my lap." He sits on her lap.

"Do you still see the spirit?" "Yes," Muhammad answered.

Then she uncovered herself to show some of her feminine parts of body.

And then she said, "Do you see the spirit?"

He said, "No."

She said, "That spirit is good because he doesn't want to see my feminine part. You are the prophet of God."

The affinity between this oral tradition and the Genesis story (earlier examined) is striking.

Today, vows of chastity are taken to quiet the restlessness of nature. Once tranquil or void of libido, we are said to be a step closer to God. It's the key to monasticism, the priesthood, and sainthood.

But is it?

 

SOCIAL IMPLICATIONS

 

The religious construct of human sexuality as an antithesis to godliness has had adverse social and psychological implications, erroneously redefining womanhood as seductive and alluring.

Women are the proverbial Eve, the Achilles heel of men. As such, she must be covered, inhibited. The stridently patriarchal Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) have promoted and continue to promote sexism, and more.

Indeed, legislating human sexuality on the pulpit has wrought other related problems.

In Sexual Repression: The Malady That Considers Itself the Remedy, Christopher Ryan writes, "[If] expression of sexuality is thwarted, the human psyche tends to grow twisted into grotesque, enraged perversions of desire ... the rage is generally directed at helpless victims who are sacrificed to the sick gods of guilt, shame, and ignorant pride." (Psychology Today, April 20, 2010)

And of the anti-eroticism that has infected Christianity (and just about every mainstream religion), Mark Twain wrote, "[Man] has imagined a heaven, and has left entirely out of it the supremest of all his delights, the one ecstasy that stands first and foremost in the heart of every individual of his race ... sexual intercourse!"

(Letters from the Earth)

The act that gives life has become a taboo, closeted and confined to unbridled imagination. And behind claims of piety delivered by so-called holy men, sexual deviance and improprieties run wild. And we well know the calamity wrought by this destructive hypocrisy.

- Dr Glenville Ashby is the author of Anam Cara: Your Soul Friend and Bridge to Enlightenment and Creativity available at Amazon. Feedback: glenvilleashby@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter@glenvilleashby