Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Religion and Sex

The religious are positively obsessed with sex.  It seems to matter to them more than almost anything.  Not just their own sex lives but everyone else's as well.  They are intensely interested in who is doing what to whom even when they are neither who nor whom.  More specifically, they are quite concerned with limiting it as much as possible both in type and frequency.

Many of the religious are opposed to birth control.  The ostensible reason for this is that birth control is unnatural and would encourage people to have sex just for fun.  Following that logic, however, would mean that we should never have sex until we are certain procreation would result.

Of course, that is not what people actually do.  In reality the sex drive is so strong and the pleasure is so great that people have sex for fun just about every time they have sex.  In fact, the longer they put it off, the greater the pleasure experienced when they finally give in to their urges.

Part of the problem is the sheer simple mindedness of the religious.  Subtlety and nuance escape them.  They can't understand that humans are complex beings and that our behaviors reflect this complexity.  Reproduction may be the most important biological purpose of sex but that is hardly it's only purpose.  One of the most important functions it serves is psychological.

It gives comfort and validation to the individuals engaged in it.  In bonded pairs it strengthens the pair bond, which is extremely important for maintaining a stable family environment during child rearing.  The importance and naturalness of these secondary psychological functions is amply demonstrated by the fact that humans are nearly unique in the extent to which both male and female desire sex throughout their adult lives, even when procreation is not a possibility.

Those opposed to birth control are not really opposed to all birth control.  They are only opposed to artificial birth control.  (You know, the kind that actually works).   They encourage "natural" family planning, by which they mean that the faithful should try to abstain from sex until they think the female isn't fertile.  The permission that their religion gives for this type of "planning" is, of course, implicit permission to have sex for fun.  The reason that natural family planning is allowed is that it gives "god" an opportunity to make the actual decision regarding whether or not the female gets pregnant and that by using effective birth control people are "playing god."

But the very same religions often encourage their members to play god in other ways.  For instance, they are allowed to play god with regard to many of the particulars of raising the child.  People are allowed to choose not to have sex, not to marry, to marry someone they know is infertile, etc.  Religious people are even allowed to go to war and kill other human beings, which seems like a similar version of "playing god" only worse because of the harm involved.  One could even argue that people are allowed to choose to exercise their free will and decide for themselves that they don't believe in god.

It seems strange that only on this one thing narrow thing are they suddenly to be deprived of control.  Going to war for your country and killing your fellow man is permissible, but putting on a condom and preventing pregnancy is a sin that must be stopped.  (This realization has led more than a few people to abandon their religion.  See ftnt.)  In fact, many of the religious believe that even non-believers should be stopped from doing this.

One wonders why god should have such a huge say in this matter.  After all, god is not the one who will have to endure the risk of pregnancy or bear the costs of raising the child.

The reason is both stunningly simple and startlingly twisted.  The religious see the threat of pregnancy as a way of preventing people from having sex.  This is literally the truth; I am not making this up.  I had one Catholic woman actually say to me:  "You've got to pay to play."  She said this in reference to the possibility of pregnancy--she wasn't saying that she expected her husband to buy her dinner first.

This sort of thinking is moral insanity.  The person is saying it is better to bring unwanted children into the world than to have sex just for fun or just because it is a biological compulsion.  The harm inflicted upon an unwanted child brought into this world is immense, even if no one is actively hostile toward him or her.  Children are hardwired to need their parent's love and attention in order to develop normally.  Unwanted children simply will not get that and will not be able to develop normally.  More often than not, their lives will be filled with neglect and abuse, and the resulting emotional dysfunction will make it difficult for them to have happy and healthy social lives outside the home.

Some will say that this isn't always true.  They are right, sometimes the parents are affected by the birth of the child in a way that brings out their better natures.  I don't think that happens in the majority of cases, but, in any event, it doesn't refute the point that bringing an unwanted child into the world is morally worse than using birth control because in those cases the child is no longer unwanted.

Furthermore, in many cases the child may not actually be unwanted but may simply be too much of a responsibility for the parents at that time.  Raising a child is a huge responsibility.  It takes an enormous amount of time and resources.  Many people simply don't have the necessary time and resources.  This can be true because the parents are too young, too poor, or maybe even already have too many children.

But, it is not surprising that religious people think this way.  One also hears the same sick, twisted reasoning applied to the threat of HIV/AIDS or cervical cancer.  Religious people often openly argue in favor of using the threat of contracting such fatal illnesses as a way of discouraging sexual activity.  These situations make the moral insanity in this type of thinking crystal clear:  Apparently, it is better in the minds of the religious that someone get a fatal illness than have sex even once--because that is all it takes for a person to contract a fatal illness.

This is another situation where fear of the authority figure rather than fear of actual harm has twisted morality into a pretzel and stood it on its head.  The reason people should be hesitant about sexual activity isn't because god doesn't approve; the reason is that it can lead to harmful, long term consequences such as pregnancy or disease.  If the threat of real harm is removed, there is no longer any rational reason for the authority figures to be so concerned.

This is not to say that birth control gives people sexual license, only that the moral restrictions should be understood and applied properly.  The risk of the things I have mentioned cannot currently be removed completely and there are other issues besides those that make sex problematic--particularly psychological reasons.

We are hardwired to bond with our sexual partners, at least for a number of years.  At the same time our bodies mature much faster than our brains.  Consequently, what frequently happens is that we pick the wrong person as a partner because the person was not suitable for the long term.

The problem, of course, is that it is a biological compulsion--one that cannot be denied without consequences that are potentially as serious, if not more so, than giving in to it.  Denial can result in feelings of alienation and hostility, seeking inappropriate sex objects, or, if sublimated, acting out in strange and bizarre ways--even violent ways.

Not only is sex a biological compulsion, it is one related to the private parts.  Controlling biological compulsions related to the private parts in order to please an authority figure is one of the first things most people experience and remember in life.  The Church uses this very early experience (and the resulting anal retentive complex) as a hook onto which it can attach a new but nearly identical false complex.  This new complex replaces controlling urination and defecation in order to win approval of the parental figure with controlling sexual urges in order to win approval of the parental figure.  What makes this useful to religion is the replacement of the actual parent in the mind of the believer with god.

This is why the religious have such a conflicted attitude toward sex and pleasure.  Religious thinking confuses the sexual functions of the private parts with the waste elimination functions.  Consequently, religion teaches that sex is a filthy, disgusting act that you save for the one person you truly love.

If it's filthy and disgusting why would you save it for the one person you truly love? And, why would that person want it?  That is a contradiction. It's a little like saying you should save your bowel movements in a jar to show them to your spouse once you find him or her.

It would make a lot more sense to say that sex is a wonderful thing but should be saved for someone special otherwise you cheapen it or even ruin it.  There would actually be some truth to thinking of it in that way.

Religion's attitude toward sex is just not a healthy one because they see sex as something bad that can't be prevented, like bowel movements only worse, and must therefore be "dealt with" in some fashion. The problem is religion's black and white thinking, the lack of subtlety and nuance, and the lack of recognition of the complexity of the human mind.  (This is yet another symptom of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.)

Sex is a wonderful thing, yet the drive can be so powerful and the consequences so far reaching, that it must be approached intelligently. If one can't do that, then I suppose simply trying to avoid or control it might seem like the next best thing.  Unfortunately, that approach actually backfires and causes worse consequences as the pressures--and unnecessary guilt--will erupt in unintended ways and places.

The religious attitude that sex is for reproduction only is an example.  Unable to control their impulses, they rationalize in a way consistent with the god meme planted in their brain and pretend that their desires are a commandment from god.  A commandment to procreate.  Because if that is what they have to do in order to be allowed to have sex, then that is what they will do.

If they took the naturalistic approach and treated their impulses as nature's way of urging reproduction, then they could find less consequential outlets for their desires until truly ready to  reproduce, recognizing the responsibility it entails.  They could also be more tolerant of those who find non-reproductive outlets for their biological urges.

The general fear and loathing that the religious feel for sex and their own sexuality is, in all likelihood, partially a result of their fear of their inability to control it.  As I mentioned in another post, I suspect this is because they are afraid of their inherent bi-sexual or homosexual urges.  I think this is also one of the reasons they oppose birth control.  If having sex just for fun is permissible, then it is more difficult to justify proscribing homosexual sex.  After all, homosexual sex is the epitome of sex just for fun (assuming one is so inclined in the first place, that is).

I think it is this obsession with trying to control their sex drives when combined with their conflicted attitudes toward sex (seeing it as something disgusting rather than beautiful but wanting it all the same) the reveals why the religious are so obsessed and why they have such unhealthy attitudes toward sex.  I think this is the inevitable byproduct of the fact that religion deliberately traps people in their emotional infancy.  As I mentioned before, the religious are pathologically anal retentive.  In Freudian terms, they are stuck in a very early stage of development where they are still trying to please the authority figure by controlling their private parts.

Their disgust comes from the confusion in their minds between the evacuation of bodily wastes and sex.  Both of these things occur in the same regions of the body, both have been made an issue of control and decency (i.e., approval) by authority figures, both involve urges that everyone has and no one can stop except by giving in to them.

As I mentioned above, this early training in controlling one's bodily urges give religion and its leaders an easy gateway into the infantile part of the minds of others--the part that is gullible by nature and easy to control.  More important in the long run, however, is the extent to which this gives religious leaders and their allies power and control over others.

By making natural functions shameful and the subject of extreme moral disapproval, religious leaders (including members of the congregation) have an easy way to whip up the congregation into a frenzy of unthinking disapproval toward those who displease them.  This allows the leaders to control the congregation directly and those outside the congregation indirectly through threats of bullying by the congregation.  Thus, once again, we see that religion is primarily designed to benefit the religious leaders at the expense of the congregation and the community.

This unhealthy attitude also harms the individuals in the congregation.  This particular phenomenon is closely tied to the development of sado-masochism and the cruelty so often demonstrated by the religious.  Religion doesn't just trap religious people in their infancy, it traps them in their infancy with an insane and abusive father figure who can be placated only by abnegation and denial of all forms of pleasure and, in extreme cases, the embrace of suffering as an act of love toward the father figure.

Suffering usually comes a close second to the desire to control the urges of one's private parts in the minds of such people because that is the only way to make the "father figure" happy--at least in their minds.  How could someone think like that?  The only explanation is that they had domineering, perfectionist, abusive parents.  The parent needed to get the anger out of his system (just like god needed to kill somebody to get the anger out of his system).  So, learning to see suffering as a gift of love and the way to show your love to god is the natural progression.  As is, unfortunately, the notion that cruelty is also a way to show love.

Ftnt.:  James Carroll in the documentary companion to his wonderful book "Constantine's Sword" mentions this as one of the reasons he decided to leave the priesthood.  He was ordained in 1969 but had already developed strong opposition to the Vietnam war.  One day in the early 1970's as he was wondering why his church didn't oppose the war, which he thought of as extremely and clearly immoral, he realized that if the American planes dropping napalm on Vietnamese villages had been dropping birth control instead, then the church would have been vehemently opposed and probably would have used its influence to stop the war.)

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