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Sunday, December 11, 2005 CE

Why is sex so negative for Christians?


Sex was always part of the normal life in the Classical era and in most ancient cultures. Since Christianity took over the Mediterranean world as a major religion, sex descended to the lowest level. References to the sexual act became taboo and the impureness of everything related to sex was enhanced. The reasons for that phenomenon are unclear for me and, I am sure, for many people. In the following paragraphs I am going to try to find answers that make philosophical sense, not necessarily logical sense.

Were the first centuries of the Common Era a time in history characterized by epidemics of venereal diseases? If the answer were yes, it would have made sense for the primitive clergy to try to stop people from practicing excessive sex. A way of trying to achieve that would have been to demonize sex in order for the common human beings to abstain from practicing it outside marriage. As a result of the use of the sacred influence of the priests, the epidemics would have been controlled. However, there are problems with this theory. History does not recall an epidemic of venereal diseases. In addition, human beings have probably had the same amount of sex then than the amount we have today or the amount we had in the Stone Age. Therefore, the explanation of the venereal diseases does not seem to be a plausible one.

Was the intention to suppress the feminine side of sex in order to better fight the Pagan beliefs that rely of the cult of fertility and mother Earth? A common aspect of the mysticism of the ancient cultures is the profound respect for the soil that give us food, for the fertility in general and for mother nature. All three are identified with our feminine side. In addition, sex was regarded as a way of communication with their gods. Thus, if the new religion had to show predominantly masculine elements, like the obviously masculine deity described in the Bible together with the masculine Christ, the logical course of action was to achieve minimization of the importance of females and sex in society. As a consequence of all this the female sex had to be, if not banned, devoid of all pleasurable experience in order for it to serve only for reproductive purposes. If it not were for reproduction, female sex would have been totally banned. There is one problem with this appealing theory. Masculine homosexuality should have been allowed and promoted, however, that never happened.

Where the early Christians morally concerned about the irresponsible generation of new life through sex? This seems to be a valid thought. By limiting sex, the family would have emerged stronger as the basis of a healthy society. There would be no unwanted children or children with no family as a consequence of the lascivious behavior of human beings. Moreover, the prohibition of sex would lead to a decreased rate of abortions. However, the record of Christians with respect to the respect of the most important of the human rights, life, is not the greatest. Prosecution of Pagans, Crusades, the Inquisition, are examples of the low regard for life of the Christians of those times. Furthermore, the characterization of sex as impure did not stop it nor decreased the number of unwanted children or abortions.

Was sex so powerful that would distract human beings from the divinity? Once religion becomes institutionalized, it becomes a political structure. It needs devoted people to secure and to increase the base of power. The early Christian philosophers probably realized this and decided that, by demonizing sex, they would make people turn their attention to godly things. By doing that through the new institution, it would assure the early Church with the number of people and money needed to show as powerful. The answer seems logical, nevertheless, incomplete. There are other aspects of the religion that had enormous appeal for the common people, like the afterlife and the promise of heaven

As it can be seen, there can be many ways of explaining a mysterious phenomenon. I would be interested if Christians with solid philosophical foundations help me in finding an answer.

28 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

you have some really good points. I'm not sure other than it is in the Bible.

I honestly think they they thought the Pagans and such to be savages and since they freely participated in sex--it had to be bad.

What I don't understand is the sexual mutilation of females as torture but not of males. It doesn't seem very Christian-like.

Beth

http://peebugg.blogspot.com

1:22 AM  
Anonymous Greyor said...

first note: it's multae sententiae (I'm a Classics major). just so you know. :)
I wish I had a solid philosophical foundation... I'm a Christian (Catholic actually)... all I know is that sex is something natural and beautiful, and it is only perverted due to 'improper' use -- to some no facet of it may be improper however -- and is not, as some fundamental Christians would assert, impure and flawed by nature. After all, why would God have created it if it were something to be ashamed of entirely? sorry if I'm not able to offer much insight. I just thought I'd drop in 2¢ and all.

10:42 PM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

Thanks for the correction, I will see if it is possible to change it although the URL cannot change.

Thanks also por the comment. The improper aspect of sex would probably be its abusive side.

10:52 PM  
Blogger Horace Finkle said...

Suhweeeeeet blog! Definitely worth a bookmark!

If you want a really good laugh, visit www.horacefinkle.blogspot.com - People these days just don't get to laugh enough, and here's my remedy!

11:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First, sex isn't sinful: People are. The references in the Bible that "sex is sinful" aren't equated to the process of sex. It's the perversion and sinful nature of people that distorts everything, not just sex. I will base my comment on a philosophical, and logical side.

I disagree with your comment about sex being at the "lowest level" in the lives of Christians. Sex is described Biblically as a Godly thing; an expression comparable to the amount of love that Christ has for the Church.

Where are your references from that imply that sexual acts are impure and taboo? Surely, you aren't referring to the Bible! Ever count the amount of times sex is gestured in the book of Song of Solomen??? Read it and get horny, Dr. Marco.

If we assume that God is the maker of the Bible, and the maker of people--then we must also assume that God is the maker of SEX. God created our bodies to enjoy the pleasures of sex, take for example the female clitoris. If sex was ungodly, why were we created with the "pleasure button"? 2 reasons that support my statement, and also fit into the evolutionary realm of thinking:
1. Pleasure of sex increases the chance of sexual repetition, thus increasing the chances of conception.
2. The spasms that occur in the cervix at time of orgasm increase/welcome the microscopic little swimmers given by man :)

Yours truly,
--Cosmonique

11:22 AM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

I agree with your first point that says that people are sinful and not sex. However, the purpose of the post is to try to look for causes that explain the Christian phenomenon. As far as I know the only negative expressions of sex are the abusive sex and the adulterous sex. There might be a negative element also in the unprotected sex with an unknown person since there are risks involved with that activity. Besides the instances I have mentioned sex should not be regarded as impure as Christians do.

Here are some examples. Sex before marriage is negative for Christians, is not it? Homosexual activities are negative for Christians, are not they? What about the "immaculate conception" of Jesus? Immaculate means "with no stain" i.e. no sex. So why is sex a stain? Why did Adam and Eve have to cover their genital areas in the story told in Genesis? Why are many Christian institutions against the use of condoms or contraceptive pills?

As you have probably read in earlier posts, I do not believe in divinities so introducing the concept of a god in this exchange of ideas is not appropriate.

I am still looking for an answer to a well recognized characteristic of the Christian (also muslim) way of thinking.

3:09 PM  
Blogger PA said...

I like your use of revisionism. I mean, it's not like promiscuity is bad right? I mean if you're with one person your whole life... what fun is that?

In all seriousness I think you may want to explore that Christianity doesn't repress feminity but rather has allowed freedom for women unlike most other religions it was contemporary with. Or have we forgotten that women had been treated as property to be used and disposed of? As a married Christian I find it wholely honorable to know that it is me and my wife alone. This provides for increased intimacy not decreased as it seems your popst assumes... oh wait, you didn't assume sex was intimate at all since you only examined it from a human perspective.

As for the persecution remarks... please reexamine the record. While I agree that mixing religion with monarchy/dictatorship was a bad idea it's not like Christians have never been persecuted by say... the Turks! Let's be honest and admit that both parties have persecuted one another throughout history. Just check out what is going in the Sudan today to see Muslims persecuting Christians.

6:42 PM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

PA, thanks for your comment.

First, I carefully specified the negative side of sex and included the adulterous sex, abusive sex and the risk of transmission of diseases. What you call promiscuity (obviously sounds bad) might be seen as normal sexual experimentation by others. This is precisely the reason for the existence of condoms.

Second, it is not Christianity the one who has given women their rights. The ones who have given them rights are the secular regimes that emerged after the Enlightenment (USA included). If it were only for Christianity women would probably be second class citizens as in the Islamic world.

Third, Christians have been prosecuted by other sectarian religions in the same way as Christians have prosecuted other "infidels". It is all about power. The one who has the power has prosecuted. Only the global spread of human rights will put an end to prosecutions of any sort

7:15 PM  
Blogger mandora said...

First the comment by pa -
In all seriousness I think you may want to explore that Christianity doesn't repress feminity but rather has allowed freedom for women unlike most other religions it was contemporary with.

Not entirely true - buddhism embraces women, as having equal status with men. Woman can be religious leaders, just as men can... something the traditional Christian church cannot claim. Many Earth based religions as well (e.g. native American religions) hold women in the highest regard and show much respect for women as creators. Historically, very few religions have been more repressive to women than Christianity.

As for the topic - Dr. Marco, have you ever ecountered Engels' take on sexuality from a materialist perspective? He argued that sexuality was restricted to a 'family centric' model as a method of ensuring that (once private property was created) material wealth and capital was passed to a man's rightful heir. You can't be sure of the father of a child, and no man wants to pass all of his worldly possessions on to another man's child (or so Engels argued) so capitalist society did its best to repress woman and keep them at home so that they had no opportunity to have children with anyone other than their husband. Thus, capitalism was the driving force behind the repression of sexuality, not religion.

I don't know how much stock I put in it, but it's an interesting idea anyway.

And ps - of course I don't mind if you link my site. The favour shall be returned. :)

7:45 PM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

Mandora:

I never saw the issue from the economic perspective. Thanks for the collaboration

7:59 PM  
Blogger mandora said...

Check out The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State by Friedrich Engels for the full theory. It's worth reading.

10:34 PM  
Blogger The Intolerant One said...

Huh? I am a Christian and I had no idea sex was negative for me. Thanks for the info!

I just asked my wife, she didn't know either!

All kidding aside, I found your entry a very interesting read. I find it unfourtanate that people who are not Christians, seem to make some "general" assumptions about us. I understand why that is because I was not always a Christian myself. Too often I find people "lumping" Christians in with "religious" folk who simply claim to be Christians.

I have always maintained that if God wanted us to have sex soley for procreation purpose's, we would have sex like cats! Exciting at the get go and so painful at the end that it ain't happening again until next year.

I agree with Cosmonique regarding the book Song of Solomon. It is a lover's book and guide to sexual and spiritual oneness. I would suggest "Doc" that sex can be, at times, negative for anyone, not just Christians. Society in general, with it's attitudes of permissiveness and "anything goes" have actually cheapened the act of sex to mere acts of self motivated, self centered, and self indulgence. There is no more emotional or spiritual connection involved (i.e. romance)

Our society is driven on the belief that we are too busy so let's get drunk, get naked, get off, and get on with the next conquest. Then it is purely physical with no relational ties and in my opinion not enjoyable. Christian or not. If you do not connect with your spouse on a friendship, emotional, and spiritual level, then I agree anyone's sex life would suck! Ask yourself this one question...If sex was never meant to be nothing more then physical gratification, why then does it hurt so much when a spouse betrays our trust thru the act of infedelity?

Regarding Mandoras comment(me and her agree on everything) that "Buddhism embraces women, as having equal status with men. Woman can be religious leaders, just as men can... something the traditional Christian church cannot claim."

Not entirely true. It is written in Genesis 2:18 (NLT)

And the LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion who will help him."

Read: a companion means helper, complementary, a partner. Not a subordinate. Women play many roles in the Bible. It speaks of female Deaconess's, Prophetess's(hope I spelled that right) A secular woman's version of equality is different from God's. The world's version says what ever a man can do a woman can do.

God says(my words combining my understanding of scriptures) "I have created men to accomplish many things. I have created women to accomplish many other things that I have not gifted or created men to do."

Women should be honored that God has given them abilities to to work with their husbands complimenting one another with each others indvidual gifts. Not trying to reverse roles and attempt things that God never intended for us to do.

I thank you for the respectful manner in which you portrayed your thoughts on this entry. I will come back to read it again.

11:56 PM  
Blogger mandora said...

When I said 'Christianity' I meant the people who have chosen to interpret God's word, not God him/herself.... Even YOU have to admit that the Christian church does not give equal rights to men and to women....traditionally speaking. Where are the women priests? In scripture a woman (Eve) was responsible for getting us kicked out of the garden of Eden (which, btw, was because women wanted knowledge and weren't content to just assimilate and be automatons of God...) Maybe God (if he/she/it exists) does see men and women as 'equal but different' but the people who have chosen to interpret scripture have not.

11:29 AM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

The Intolerant One

Thanks for your nice words for the debate.

First, you should not find unfortunate about non-Christians making "assumptions". We are just being descriptive of a phenomenon that is well established. Christianity is not a friend of sex. You should ask yourself the same question I am asking myself: Why did the early Christian Fathers created all this negative atmosphere around sex? As I see the world, Christians enjoy sex as much as other people, therefore, thisis a philosophical issue

Second, not all people believe in gods, and I am not a believer. I do not think we can understand each other if you mention your personal god as a creator of things in this universe. Lets keep the debate in the strictly historical, psychological, anthropological, philosophical and logical fields.

6:40 PM  
Blogger The Intolerant One said...

OK first Mandora: Actually it was not Eve that got us kicked out of the garden. The Bible says she was decieved, however, Adam knew better and went along with eating the fruit anyway.(Eve must have been one hot dish!) So you will be glad to know the man is to blame!

Doc: In respecting your request for debate as you are not a believer in anything I will now do my best to keep the debate at the level you have requested. I admit that is difficult to do as my faith is quite strong. I will make reference to your one statement:

"Christianity is not a friend of sex. You should ask yourself the same question I am asking myself: Why did the early Christian Fathers created all this negative atmosphere around sex?"

Very good question. I would like to suggest to you that we replace Christianity with religion. I would then agree with your statement completely. There is a huge difference between Christianity and religion. So much so that even Jesus Christ himself often rebuked "religious" leaders(Pharisee's and priest's) for their hypocrisy and abuse of God's word.

True Christianity means, quite simply, follower of Christ. Religion is different. It symbolize's institutionalised ritualism. Rigid standards That MUST be adehered to. It demands perfection. It is repressive and their is no joy and fulfillment in it. This would sound more like the sex of the church you describe. Religion has "villified" it. Religion has also tarnished sex with the sex abuse scandals we often hear of.(i.e. Altar boys) That is NOT Christian sex that is wickedness at it's deepest levels conducted by religious leaders. They may use a Bible but I would suggest that it is not fair to compare them to Christians. They certainly do not reflect the "light" of Christ.

Many church's may invoke the name of Christ but their more about religion then "relationship"(with God) which is what the scriptures teach.

If I may point one more thing out, respectfully...I know you claim not to believe in any god but you do "believe" that there is no life after death. Unless you have come back from the dead to verify that, I would say you also are a man of faith.

9:07 PM  
Blogger mandora said...

For once (gasp!) I agree with you my friend - I would say that ALL religions (or atleast a good majority of them) have some problems with sex - not just Christianity. And, this discussion would still hold it's weight if we replace Christianity with the more general 'religion'.

9:22 PM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

Probably most major modern religions have a problem with sex. This was not the case 2 millenia ago when sex was a way of communicating with divine elements and religions celebrated fertility associating it with feminine beauty and love.

With respect to my belief/non belief, there is a difference. For my moment of death, I am not expecting nothing, I am not actually expecting.

9:42 PM  
Anonymous Reluctant Atheist said...

Well, there's multiple & complex factors.
I feel that the bible lays down a series of social devices necessary to hold a nomadic tribe together. 1 of those is the familial unit. Sexuality is another. Kinda hard to keep a homeless band together, when they're fighting over a woman, I think.
Now, to my limited understanding, it was Sumer (or Babylon), where originally the goddess Astarte's temple had an interesting ritual: every woman played the part of a prostitute, accepted coin for sex (just that 1 time, BTW), & managed to stay a virgin afterwards (nice trick that).
We also need to remember that sexuality played a large part in most of the ME mythologies. These religions were considered anathema to the hebraic priests: small wonder that particular activity was attached to such things (Solomon's leaving his religion for Molech springs to mind, Judges? Chronicles? I forget).
We also need to take into account the Midrash, & Lilith.
There is some connection to ancient goddesses in the older mythos of the Israelites (which has been altered). & the Greeks had some influence in the area as well.
There are no distinct, easy answers to this 1.
I for 1 believe that when patriarchy took over, they went out of their way to make the matriarchal traces & sources vanish.
http://biblioblography.blogspot.com

4:25 PM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

Reluctant Atheist

I think that the view regarding how to hold a nomadic tribe together make sense. However, Israel is not the only people in the world that have been nomadic. I am sure that other nomadic cultures that do not despise sex.

9:59 PM  
Blogger Nik Saunders said...

thanks for leaving a comment at my new website, Plato's Heaven

i was just reading Bertrand Russell's 'History of Western Philosophy' and in it he suggests that at first, religion is entirely spiritual. Most religions are initially practiced by small groups, and as they grow more and more popular, they gain political power. Christianity must have grown to a certain point where it decided to place rules over sex, for this would give some order to society (no sex outside of marriage). Well, this is my opinion at least.

10:53 PM  
Anonymous Reluctant Atheist said...

True enough. I will look at others, such as the Mongols, etc.
Interesting, however: most nomadic tribes (to my limited knowledge) are patriarchal in nature, viewing women as property. We are indeed a territorial species.
It may be indicative, that the ancient Hebrews had so MANY rules, it boggles the civilized mind.
P.S, thanx for the link, I'll link to yours (when I learn how: new to the bloggin' thing).

2:21 AM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

Niki

Thanks for your comment. I agree with the fact that there is a lot of politics involved with the sex issue.

5:50 PM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

Reluctant Atheist

It may be that since the Hebrews had so many rules, some rules had to involve sex. However, I perceive that all this sex-hatred began between in the 4th century CE.

5:53 PM  
Blogger Paul V said...

Two points:

1) 1Co 6:18 Shun immorality and all sexual looseness [flee from impurity in thought, word, or deed]. Any other sin which a man commits is one outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. (Amplified translation)

2) Gen 2:24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall become united and cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. [Matt. 19:5; I Cor. 6:16; Eph. 5:31-33.] (Amplified translation).

The second point not being so clear as the first let me try to explain. When you look at the meaning of the original text, it is normally interpreted as one flesh, but can also be interpreted as meaning not just flesh, but also a joining of soul, spirit, and mind.

And sadly, from my own experience, whoever your partner has been with, you can feel that. Around 15 demons left me a few weeks ago, because I confessed a sin of adultary. 15? Yes, 15. And most were not mine. One specifically came from a murderer. And I never had a problem with that. Now quite a few of them are wanting to come back in. And I am trying to do my best to keep my inner house not just clean, but filled with the Holy Spirit.

So why is sex outside of marriage bad? The above example should give you some insight. And no, I do not believe in a loony bin. Angels and demons do exist. I believe there is more to the world than just what most people experience in a normal day (unhappy jobs, family troubles - surely life must be better than that). Sorry, I digress.

Dr. Marco, please let me know if I am overstepping boundaries with my comments.

Regards




Paul

10:22 AM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

Paul:

You are not overstepping. So as you do not insult other people, you are free to comment and express your beliefs.

5:54 PM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

Bellatrys:

Thanks for your comment. As you can see, even the aggressive and disrespectful comments are welcomed here. From your comment I will extract the positive stuff.

Being the Stoic school of thought the most important one in the centuries around the initiation of the Common Era, it is kind of logical to conclude that elements from Stoic teachings will be readily adopted by the Greek- speaking early Christians. Marcus Aurelius is just another example.

If you read and understood the title of my post, you will see that I am looking for an answer to a very specific question. I did not ask if the Aztecs or the Asians had a problem with sex. Being a person who claims a deep knowledge of history, you also probably know about Crete and the bare-chested women and the sexually -explicit Moche ceramics.

11:46 PM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

This is the comment by bellatrys, which disappeared from the list of comments in a mysterious way
You don't actually know much Western History, do you? If you did, if you had actually *read* a lot of Classical thought, first-hand sources and not regurgitated stereotypical stuff telling you what you want to hear, you would realize that the sex-negativity of the Western Church comes straight out of classical tradition - particularly the misogyny and general "ickyness" squick.

Roman emperor-philosopher Marcus Aurelius debunking the glamor of sex:

13. When meat and other dainties are before you, you reflect: This is dead fish, or fowl, or pig; or: This Falernian is some of the juice from a bunch of grapes; my purple robe is sheep's wool stained with a little gore from a shellfish; copulation is friction of the members and an ejaculatory discharge. Reflections of this kind go to the bottom of things, penetrating into them and exposing their real nature. The same process should be applied to the whole of life. When a thing's credentials look most plausible, lay it bare, observe its triviality, and strip it of the cloak of verbiage that dignifies it.

Restrictive rules on particularly the sexual activities women and demands that we be chaste always in and out of marriage, and that we are "dirty" and soiled" and disgusting for having sex with multiple partners, or even wanting it - are found in Asia, Africa, everywhere; the ancient Aztecs stoned adulterers to death. FGM is not religious in origin but goes back to the ancient Egyptians.

It would be nice if the world were as simple as you made it out to be, but those inconvenient facts get in the way.

--
Posted by bellatrys to Multae Sententiae at 2/04/2006 11:57:16 AM

8:50 PM  
Blogger MizTickle said...

Christianity, at least Catholicism, follows the classical fertility cults. It is a fertility cult. The Pythagoreans were monks living in Italy, studying the world through numbers and practicing magic. They were also fertility cultists. They worshipped the goddess of Fate, who just happens to look a lot like the apparitions of Mary with a wheel behind her, like Our Lady of Guadelupe.

The Pythagoreans, and the other mystery cultists of the time, were mostly celibate. Celibacy is a big part of fertility worship. Some of them had wives, but only for pro-creation. They thought sex and eating meat was dirty. So the seemingly Christian disdain for sex is actually classical and pagan. Most all Gnostic cults also forbid sexuality, except for the ones that practiced sex magic. Pro-creation is thought of as a kind of sex magic, in the highest degree.

10:49 AM  

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