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Vol. 11, No. 5, 2012
 
     
 
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GOD AND SEX

by
ROBERT J. LEWIS

___________________________________

 

Make me perfect but not yet.
St. Augustine

At the outset, we want to distinguish between the many who passively believe in God, and the exponentially smaller percentage who are God-fearing, who believe there are measured, theological consequences as it concerns their moral conduct. The latter not only believe that God disapproves of infidelity and other sexual improprieties, they fear that He, in his own inscrutable manner, punishes the offenders. For the truly God-fearing, this is sufficient reason to be extremely wary of all but the most conservative sex.

From our earliest years, most of us are raised to believe in the existence of a Supreme Being, a God responsible for all of creation. We come to this near certainty by way of the world’s great religious texts: The Old Testament, the Christian Bible, the Koran et al, primary works which have generated an industry of expository and analytical material dedicated, in part, to the revelation of the Divinity’s directives as they concern morality and ethics.

If consequent to the Industrial Revolution, the influence of the Church has waned and morality and ethics become a matter of personal responsibility, it comes as no surprise to find the God-fearing concentrated in regions that are mostly rural and poor, where the religious institutions responsible for the propagation and inculcation of the word of God have not yet been destabilized by progress.

Among the truly God-fearing, moral conflict arises when our sexual desires, either in their expression or object, don’t conform to what we believe God wants of us. When face to face with the verboten, we may earnestly endeavour to prove to ourselves that God approves of a particular kind of sexual conduct only to discover that He emphatically does not: we therefore decline that particular pleasure. But the disapproval clause does not prevent us from wondering why the forbidden desire rose up in the first place. How did it get there if God didn’t will it? The conventional theological retort has been that God is testing us and will reward the virtuous and punish the weak. But for an increasing number of sophisticated believers, this facile logic marks not closure, but the necessity of questioning that very assumption, at which point, even for the God-fearing, everything becomes problematic, but for one non-negotiable: that there is a God or a prime mover responsible for all of creation.

Since the kind of sex God rewards and punishes is known to us through Holy Writ (the word of God), we know that God frowns upon masturbation, pre-marital sex, infidelity, homosexuality, incest, bestiality and condones conventional heterosexual, procreative sex in the strict context of marriage or a monogamous relationship. But what if the major religions and their commandments do not accurately reflect God’s views on sexual conduct? Based on observable sexual behaviour, we are forced to conclude that more and more erstwhile believers have decided that God’s views on sexual conduct, or the interpretation of His views, are erroneous. The vast majority (closet secularists) still claim to believe in God but assign to Him a much reduced role in human affairs.

In this brave new ‘God is on the ropes, everything is permitted’ world, the God-fearing person -- looking on in a state of perturbation and wonder, albeit receptive to new evidence that would permit him to overrule, with impunity, the conventional wisdom imparted by The Book as it concern his sexual conduct – comes to understand that if he is to make peace with his desires, he must inquire about the nature of God in order to determine for himself what kind of sex God condones. He comprehends that he has no choice but to restrict his inquiry to what is objectively, epistemologically knowable: the world as he perceives and understands it, the spectacle of which must tell something of God, since he believes the world and himself are God’s creation.

What is empirically known and verifiable begins with the cogito ergo sum self and extends to the on-going revelations of astronomy and astrophysics.

Our speck of a planet is one among billions of stars and planets in the Milky Way (MW) galaxy. How big is our galaxy? It takes light one hundred thousand years to travel from one end of the galaxy to the other. Our galaxy requires two hundred and fifty million Earth years to make one complete rotation. The MW is not only incomprehensibly vast, it is only one of the countless number of galaxies that comprise the universe – all of it confectioned by God. Which means God is one sui generis extraordinary creator, whose powers are so far beyond human comprehension He and we are perhaps best served when we don’t try to comprehend them. On this point, both believers and non-believers can find common ground in surrendering to the unfathomable facts of the universe.

To fully grasp the means and method underlying the creation of the universe is tantamount to asking an ant to understand human behaviour. The ant can’t begin because human behaviour is wholly, absolutely outside its experience. Therefore, in light of the immensity of the universe and the unknowability of God, it is surely beyond presumption on the part of any religion to claim that it not only knows what God wants of us, but that God wants us to worship Him at either Church, Mosque, Synagogue or Temple at a specific time of day, and that He will frown upon us if we don’t show up. Disbelievers and sceptics, who perfunctorily dismiss Christian doctrine as if it were bad air, should be reminded that since God is responsible for the creation of the universe (no small undertaking), among his achievements it would hardly rate as newsworthy the fact that he brought one human being back from the dead. Is it not theologically (syllogistically) self-evident that if God can create and destroy galaxies at His willing, he can surely resurrect one human being or endow dumb life with intelligence? But of course asking Darwinists to even consider the possibility is like asking rock to yield water.

Since God is responsible for the creation of everything, is it possible for Him, in the act of creating us, to assign attributes such as love, hate, anger, jealousy, lust, envy and compassion, while being ignorant of their essential properties and purpose? Could God endow us with the capacity to lust if He Himself didn’t understand what it means to lust? Ask a six-year-old child to describe or write about sexual desire. He won’t be able to begin because the experience is totally foreign to him. Which means if God has endowed us with the capacity to love and hate and lust, it is because He Himself knows and has experienced these feelings, and to a degree and scale that are beyond our comprehension.

An all-knowing God responsible for all of creation not only knows what lust is, he knows (just as we don’t and shouldn’t presume to) each and every possible object of lust as well as all the reasons that determine its final expression. When a man finds himself in the throes of desire and seeks to relieve himself in the context of marriage, or by his own device, or with a sex worker, or another man or an animal, the reasons are the same in each and every case: he feels compelled to disburden himself of an excess of seed that is there at the behest of his genotype. We also know that God has endowed this individual with the freedom to choose or not to choose to indulge his sexual desires. At one extreme, there are nuns and many priests who opt to live celibately, and at the other extreme are men and women for whom sex is the be-all and end-all of human endeavour.

Given our quark-like status in a universe of which only an infinitesimal part is knowable, what can we conclude about God’s view on how we should comport ourselves in the expression of our sexuality as it relates to being endowed (by Him) with the competence to act on some or all of our desires?

All cultures frown on bestiality, which The American Heritage Dictionary describes as “sexual relations between a human being and an animal.” To better understand God’s design as it concerns human sexuality, we adduce this extreme, universally disparaged recreation and ask if it is possible for a legitimately God-fearing person to ‘fearlessly’ engage in bestiality, when he always has the option not to.

To begin with, when a man decides to engage in sexual congress with an animal it is because God has endowed him with the capacity or predilection, just as He has not endowed a water lily with it. Furthermore, God knows the reasons behind the predilection -- and there are always reasons. But this does not mean that God has chosen for him since he can always choose not to. Among societies that are not God-fearing, the criterion that is most often invoked in defining or defending the expression of the individual’s sexual behaviour is that it must be consensual, which is why pedophilia, to which a child cannot give consent, is universally censured. The second consideration condemns sexual encounters that result in either physical or psychological harm. So if an animal can neither consent to having sex with a human, nor (annoying swish of the beast’s tail notwithstanding) protest against it, we must inquire whether the beast is harmed by the act. And while it is self-evident that engaging in sex with Bessie the cow is a harmless activity in that her orifice can more than accommodate even the most endowed male, it is altogether another matter as it concerns a sexual encounter with Daisy the hamster. So it would seem that so long as we discriminate among the world’s variety of animal species, there are no apparent theological grounds to dissuade a man from engaging in, for example, bovine sex. However, given the fact that Bessie and her kind are among the planet’s most prolific manure makers, we prescribe, I’m sure with a nod from God, condom use at all times, especially if the man (swinger ad extremis) is also in a sexual relationship with a human partner.

In endeavouring to understand our Creator’s design as it concerns human sexuality, we are not approbating or encouraging bestiality. We are only saying that in the assignation of human attributes, God included the potential for bestiality. Among the reasons to refuse are health considerations and the potential warping effect on children, who, prone to learning through imitation, have been exposed -- either by design or inadvertence -- to explicit bestiality. Nonetheless, in certain men, there are legitimate reasons to indulge the proclivity. For those men who, through perhaps no fault of their own, have been sexually disabled or traumatized by negative sexual experiences and are unable to engage in normal sexual relations, the option of bestiality may, in certain circumstances, enjoy the blessings of the Almighty.

It should be borne in mind that the man who practises bestiality is not physically attracted to the animal figure like normal men are attracted to the shape of a woman. Handsome photography notwithstanding, he will not subscribe to Farm Digest for the same reasons his counterpart subscribes to Penthouse or Playboy. He seeks to relieve himself of seed, which is always pleasurable; and for reasons which are uniquely his own, he finds the pleasure he seeks best facilitated with an animal -- and not another human or by his own device or in conjunction (as in fetish) with something inanimate.

Who are we to claim that God, whose ways are unknowable, categorically disapproves of bestiality, especially in light of the existence of the predilection and the reasons that arouse it? Leaving aside the category of rural pubescent boys, a significant percentage of whom have experimented with animal sex, bestiality, reduced to its lowest common denominator, is a means to an end (bursting seed) and is a safe zone that a small percentage of men, mostly sexual cripples, avail themselves of. Since the etiology of performance anxiety often reaches back to negative childhood experiences over which victims have no control, we can find no theological basis to dissuade those who are incapable of normal sexual relationships from engaging in bestiality with an orifice-capable partner. And while we categorically do not recommend bestiality as a first choice (we recommend masturbation), we salute and encourage the man who chooses it over pedophilia or other forms of non-consensual and/or violent sex.

Sexual imprinting, as distinguished from sexual orientation, is learned, and once learned it is very difficult if not impossible to reset or correct if indeed it should be. Sexually abused children, unwitting victims of negative sexual imprinting, often become abusers as adults and remain predictably deviant for life. And while we would like to imagine that counselling and therapy can rehabilitate a pedophile, asking him to no longer lust after children is probably as unrealistic as asking a heterosexual to reverse his orientation: all the punishment and reward schemes in the world are likely to have zero effect. The best social and theistically friendly outcome is for the pedophile to calculatingly redirect his deviancy into either masturbation, fetishism or bestiality.

And to the affronted reader for whom the mere thought of bestiality is a non-starter, for whom what happens after dark in the O.K. Corral is not OK, to be considered is the fact that the beast, if it’s a cow, is destined to end up on someone’s dinner table. Since we entertain no qualms about killing it for our eating pleasure, there should be no theological qualms about having pleasurable sex with it, the activity of which just happens to leave the animal as alive and well as it was before the encounter.

Be as it may that all the world’s religions are opposed to bestiality, there is a higher authority, and that is our Maker, who is responsible for each and every one of our attributes, which includes our lust and its objects. Among those unfortunate men who, through no fault or choosing of their own, emerge as sexual cripples, perhaps God shows his mercy by endowing them with the capacity to engage in bestiality, especially if it’s a better choice than either pedophilia or non-consensual, violent sex. And in those instances where homosexuality is a deliberate choice that answers to the needs of problematic heterosexual men who are not capable of normal sexual relationships, God again shows himself to be merciful.

Many a God-fearing man has had to grapple with his fear in respect to religiously censured homosexual conduct. Based on what is knowable, what can we infer about God’s position? The argument most often used against homosexuality is that it is an anomaly, that heterosexuality, as a means to propagate the race, is the norm. This argument is not only woefully simplistic, it is an insult to the fine art of fomenting prejudice (homophobia) whose ends are conventionally attained through the artful manipulation of research and disingenuous employment of rhetoric: we can objectively admire the means but are offended by the contention.

Hermaphroditism, being born with both male and female sexual organs, is a statistical anomaly because it happens once in every ten million births. Perhaps, and only perhaps, one could argue that God in fact messed up in the sense that messing up, a capability with which He has endowed us, is an attribute that derives from Him. But if we grant that one in ten million is an anomaly, three out of every hundred certainly isn’t; in point of fact it’s a statistically predictable norm. In other words, if there are two billion sexually mature adults in the world and three percent are homosexual, there are sixty six million homosexuals – the population of Thailand or six times the population of Portugal -- hardly an insignificant number. To suggest that homosexuality is not in God’s design flies in the face of the numbers. One possible response to negative sex and/or negative sexual childhood experiences is to exercise the option of choosing same-sex relations as a means of circumventing, in the case of men, debilitating performance anxiety, or in respect to women, their anxiety as it concerns negative sex with men. The clitoris, which has no function other than pleasure, would seem to facilitate both self-pleasuring and intra-female sex.

In trying to decide, in the context of reward and punishment, what constitutes proper sexual conduct, it is incumbent upon the God-fearing that the vital link be made between the Deity who is responsible for all of man’s attributes, and the gamut of his sexual desires that, of necessity, derive from this same Deity. For every sexual predilection, there is always the option to refuse, especially when consent has not been given or when the sexual practice is deemed harmful to others or society as a whole. But beyond that, there are no theological grounds for the universal censure of a particular sexual practice, especially in consideration of individual circumstance. A married man who is healthy and happy but indulges in sex with Rex instead of his wife should be judged by an altogether different set of criteria than a pedophile who wills himself to restrict himself to bestiality.

In Edith Wharton’s graceful novella Ethan Frome, the God-fearing Ethan is burdened with a sickly wife, Zenobia, who is too ill to provide for his emotional and sexual needs. Ethan is introduced to Mattie Silver, who has come to look after their house. Ethan falls in love with Mattie, who returns his affection, but he is torn between the commandment that proscribes infidelity and those contrary feelings, which originate with God and which compel him to Mattie, the woman he now loves. In this exacting circumstance, what does God want of Ethan? If he takes up with Mattie and together they agree to look after Ethan’s chronically ill wife, they risk the opprobrium of the townspeople for whom the infidelity commandment is an absolute. If he obeys the commandment, he dooms a loving relationship. What the novel leaves unexamined are the choices available to Ethan’s sickly wife, Zenobia. She knows she cannot satisfy her husband’s needs and yet she refuses to release him. If she were as God-fearing as her husband, she would ask what God expects of her, knowing that she cannot fulfil the duties of a wife and lover. Among the choices available are to free Ethan from the marriage contract. If she were truly God-fearing and loved her husband, she would want both her God and husband to be happy. In trying to divine God’s will, we take the position that the infidelity commandment, as it concerns both Ethan and his infirm wife, has no practical, ethical or theological purchase in their particular situation.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In 1954, the philosopher Martin Heidegger wrote in What Is Called Thinking: “Most thought-provoking in our thought-provoking time is that we are still not thinking . . . because man does not yet turn sufficiently toward that which wants to be thought about.”

In a world whose costly political outcomes are still very much dependent on the obedient soldier, the great temptation of the God-fearing is to march to the beat (leave unexamined) of his religion’s equivalent of the Ten Commandments because it is so much easier to be told what to do than have to decide what to do.

Since this essay has unequviocally taken up the cause of the latter, it now devolves upon the fearless reader to decide if the writer has accurately represented his Maker’s design or instead shown himself vain in his exertions.

 

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