Sex Was Bad and Obscene

I’ve noticed that, whenever someone insists that Christianity considers sex sinful, there will be a reply along the lines of, “No, only when it’s outside marriage.” But doesn’t that mean it usually IS sinful, but there are exceptions? I’m still not sure I realize how marriage can turn something bad into something acceptable. Isn’t marriage mostly a financial act? What does that have to do with a person’s relationship to God? But then, when you look at the Bible, a lot of its rules, especially in the Old Testament, are mostly about maintaining social order. It’s a legal code that’s supposed to be backed by God, in order to make it sound more severe. And a lot of it really is concerned primarily with money and property. After all, in the patriarchal society of ancient Israel, marriage was all about property. I don’t think the Bible ever specifically SAYS married women are considered the property of their husbands, but that’s certainly what the commandment about not coveting your neighbor’s possessions, including his wife, indicates. I would guess that this was just assumed back at the time this stuff was written. So was people wanting to have kids, which is possibly why, contrary to what you hear from modern churches, scripture doesn’t really address abortion or birth control. While the bit in Exodus about the Pharaoh fearing that the Hebrews would outnumber the native Egyptians is almost certainly exaggerated, it might be based on truth. Egypt is known to have practiced birth control as early as the nineteenth century BC (some time before even the earliest estimates as to when the exodus occurred), so perhaps their numbers grew more slowly. Anyway, a strictly financial interpretation is probably the only way the law about a rapist being required to marry his victim (Deuteronomy 22:28-29) makes even the slightest bit of sense.

So what about the New Testament? While there is that odd bit about Jesus saying that even looking at a woman lustfully counts as adultery, it’s Paul who says the most about sex in this part of the Bible. And for the most part, he’s again’ it. I don’t know whether there’s any evidence as to whether he was celibate before converting to Christianity or that was a later development, but the general impression seems to be that he thinks the end is near, so there’s no point in having sex. Funny, I think a lot of people would have the exact opposite opinion if they thought the world was coming to an end. I’ve written before about the Acts of Paul and Thecla, an early example of abstinence porn. (I wonder if Stephenie Meyer is familiar with it.) Anyway, the reason I mention it here is that it presents Paul as preaching that all Christians should remain celibate even if they’re married.

This doesn’t line up so well with the actual known writings of Paul, in which he basically says it’s best to remain celibate, but if you just can’t control your urges, you should get married. Paul is also opposed to homosexuality, in a way that has led some to speculate that he might have been an early example of a closeted homophobe. Homosexuality (well, male homosexuality, anyway) is condemned in the Old Testament, but wasn’t Paul’s big thing that Jesus freed his believers from the Law? Not that part of it, I suppose. To be fair, Paul was a product of his society. I wouldn’t say the problem is Paul himself so much as it is the fact that mainstream Christianity tends to ignore context. We don’t live in Moses’ or Paul’s world, so why should we play by their rules?

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15 Responses to Sex Was Bad and Obscene

  1. Daz says:

    You obviously need this explaining to you…

    Never fear, Betty Bowers to the rescue!

  2. I read a really nice explanation of this…conundrum? That’s the only word I can think of– in a work of fiction, spoken by a rabbi character, explaining to someone who asked why sex could be good and bad and whatever. I wish I could remember it properly. It was a more liberal view of sex, but still based in faith and religion– obviously, it was spoken by a rabbi, and even though she was fictional (yes, a female rabbi at that, so we’re definitely out of the really conservative zone), I seem to recall an author’s note about getting most of these thoughts from a real rabbi, and it wasn’t just something he made up off the top of his head because HE felt that way. It was something like sex in its purest form is of God and so is good, but when people twist it– use it to hurt or control others, use it selfishly or thoughtlessly, so on like that– that was when it became sinful. Personally I think the real meaning of sex belongs in marriage is that this implies that you have a commitment to the other person, a commitment to care for that person as a person and stick by them through life and definitely to stick by them should your sexing result in a new person being made, because dangit, you need partners in THAT situation fer sure (note to anyone who might take offense: NOT DISSING SINGLE PARENTS. Single parents no doubt get a lot of help from friends and family. Whoever you get help from, you do, because you TOTALLY CAN’T do it alone. So it’s NICE when you get that built-in partner in the other parent, which is why it’s so much more convenient if you’re MARRIED before you start making new people, but when that’s not possible– gotta love Grandma). That’s what I personally believe in. So I’m okay with committed adults making babies and sticking together and not getting FORMALLY married (although I often wonder what the POINT is, why not), and I’m okay with committed adult homosexual couples too. I don’t get sleeping around and one-night stands and whatnot, but then, I’d never do that just from a pure personality standpoint, so what have you.

    • Nathan says:

      While I don’t believe in the concept of sin as a whole, that view makes more sense to me than the “marriage changes everything” one does. And yeah, it’s certainly possible to have a committed relationship without being formally married, which is why I don’t entirely get the “sanctity of marriage” arguments. Why not just sanctity of relationships, period?

  3. ozaline says:

    And of course declaring sex a sin has lead to the errosion of women’s rights like nothing else… it’s all really tied together… if sex is evil then so are women. I assume Adam and Eve had more children who wern’t mentioned.

    • Nathan says:

      Genesis 5:4 says that Adam and Eve had “other sons and daughters” in addition to Seth (and, by inference, Cain and Abel). How any of THEM managed to reproduce remains a mystery, though, unless you think they were all incestuous.

  4. Christmas Boy says:

    How is premarital sex being a sin the same as saying women are evil? Certainly no one can claim that the moral state of culture is better off today with people having barnyard morals than it was when people stayed together asa family unit? Everything from morality to test score have been on a decline since the fall of the family. Go look up the numbers. There are several books written about this as well. A few weeks ago a study was even published that now says a single parent home is not as good or better than a duel parent home. Choose to ignore it if you wish but the information is out there. If I were so concerned with women’s rights I’d be speaking out against Islam rather than Christianity.

    Adam and Eve indeed had more children than the three named in the Bible. The Scripture is quite clear on this point.

    • ozaline says:

      Christmas Boy, I’m talking about how the Church from the time of Constantine to used Celibacy Law to demonify women… to claim they were not human. And how this furthered the Church’s control.

      Check out Matilda Gage’s Women, Church and State, especially the section on Celibacy Law, you might find it a bit of an eye-opener, I certainly did:

      And in many ways this is a much more moral age, women have more freedom, minorities of all types are treated with more respect.

      Anyway Celibacy law is about the worst thing the church introduced.

      I’m not attacking Christianity just modern Christianity’s focus on Paul’s teaching over Jesus’. One of the things that makes it difficult for me to stay in the faith.

      Oh and I’m not going to attack Islam either… while there’s a lot of fundamentalist Islamic people (and nations_ out there repressing women’s rights… not all of them do, just like not all Christians do. But there are Christians who do (look at the Quiverfull movement for example). I know some awesome Muslims…

      And scapegoating another faith, to draw attention away from yours… well clear the log out of your eye before you remove the speck from your neighbors (Matthew 7:5)

  5. Christmas Boy says:

    Hmmm. The link didn’t post.

    Here, educate yourselves:

    It’s also kind of interesting that most things the Bible calls a sin always causes us to suffer the most if we do these things. Even things that don’t make sense today like eating pork made sense back then. Pigs are one of the filfthiest animals to slaughter and in the ancient world that is why the meat was called unclean. You were more likely to get sick from pork than any of the clean meats. For someone who claims to be so smart and well versed in everything I’m surprised you were unaware of things like this.

    • ozaline says:

      Right it made sense for a nomadic desert tribe which is what the Jews were when Leviticus was written… but it’s a non-issue today.

      The restrictions on sexuality likewise make sense for that culture due to it being patriachal and needing to keep a clear line of succesion. Especially since the different tribes had different roles, like the Tribe of Levi being the religous sect. The Jews were obsessed with geneology, so knowing who the father is becomes very important.

      Just like bacon doesn’t hurt us today, likewise we aren’t so obsessed with parentage, and even to the extent we are a woman doesn’t need to be a virgin at marriage to prove her children are her husbands.

  6. Just found this article. Good stuff!

    Paul doesn’t actually condemn homosexuality. In 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy, he condemns “arsenokoitos,” which is a word that for years was thought to be a neologism. Someone decided that becomes it’s a compound word of “men” and “beds” it must, therefore, be about homosexuality (the same genius decided that “malakois” meant effeminacy in the modern sense when in ancient Greek, homosexuality was not considered effeminate, but necessary for masculine grown; to be “soft” was to be self-indulgent and pleasure-loving).

    There are around 17 words to describe homosexuality and homosexual practices. Nowhere in the New Testament is any of them found. Paul’s condemnation is a lot more understandable once the actual word is properly translated. Turns out “arsenokoitos” was an offense in ancient Greece as it depicts sexual exploitation and rape.

    The one in Romans requires a contextual understanding, as, on first glance, it appears Paul’s knocking lesbians and gays, but really he’s looking at three factors: 1) a debased kind of pagan worship. 2) pagan worship that involved sexual acts, 3) sexual acts that required straight men and women to have same-sex relations. The text says that in the same way that some people exchanged the worship of God for the worship of beasts and icons, people exchanged their natural sexuality for unnatural sex acts centered on lust. In other words, orgiastic sex divorced from love. Paul’s other point: Freedom doesn’t give you license to whore around. Ancient cultic religions from the time of the Canaanites had temple prostitutes, entheogens and intoxicants, and men dressing as women (or conversely acting the role of the god) to seduce the laity. This was a regular feature of the sex-worship to Baal and Astoreth (and their later Dionysian counterparts in Greece and Rome.) With the context in place, it’s easier to see why Paul was warning Christians to stay completely away from that scene.

    • Nathan says:

      This is largely true of the Old Testament as well, with many of the references people see as anti-gay actually being against religious ritual sex.

  7. Pingback: Every Disability Conceals a Vocation, Except the Ones That Don’t | VoVatia

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