I’m always perplexed by comments that Christians are anti-sex, as I am by comments that Christians are anti-Jew.
I’ve been a Christian since 1972, having passed through Catholic-atheist-agnostic-Hindu, and I always found Christians to be quite pro-sex and way overboard pro-Israel. For example, I remember Total Woman, a book used in Bible studies, which suggested meeting your spouse at the door wearing nothing but Saran wrap. So I suspected the anti-sex, anti-Jew ideas come from past-nasty church history, of which there is a great deal, and that is the case. But it does not come from the Bible.
Sex is Good
In Genesis, God makes them male and female, tells them to be fruitful and multiply, and steps back and says, “Well, that’s good.” As the story progresses, people beget, fall in love, cheat on their partners, and let’s face it, have lots of sex. The Bible is at least R-rated, and the Song of Solomon is so hot, rumors have it that young people were once forbidden to read it until they reached marriageable age (which was much younger then.)
The Bible is sixty-six books gathered together; some folk tales, some historical narratives, some poetry, and a whole bunch of song lyrics-otherwise known as Psalms. Revelation is progressive and culturally relevant to the time. That is to say, the culture of nomadic tribal warlords gradually becomes a culture of city-dwellers, artisans, and farmers. Voltaire said, “If God made man in his own image, we have certainly returned the favor.” The people passing the stories down did the same. What else could they do? The tribal God is a god of war, sometimes a god of the mountains, sometimes a god who fits in a certain location, like in the ark which they must carry into battle in order to win.
From Ritual to Relationship
By the time of Jeremiah, the concept has progressed to a God who does not dwell in temples made with human hands, and one who values justice, mercy, and humility. He does not excuse his people from practicing those virtues because they are Chosen. He does not care about outward rules and rituals as much as what is going on in a man’s heart. By the time Jesus shows up, he has the audacity to say, “It is written…but I say to you….” giving the boot to rules and rituals and even “what is written.” Shocking.
As for sex, it is reported without so much as a blush, and nowhere is sex reported as dirty or bad. There are rules about sex, just like there are in every society. Rape is proscribed and incest is taboo. Sex is a good thing, but so is chocolate cake. It is not good to eat chocolate cake all day or to have sex with whoever strikes your fancy, such as your mother, your sister, or another man’s wife. It would be hard to take the whole Bible and say, “This is biblical marriage.” King David had several wives, as befits an Oriental potentate, and his son Solomon famously had seven hundred wives and concubines. He could go almost two years without sleeping with the same woman twice, and that was just fine in his society.
You’ve Got be Kidding, Jesus
Jesus comes along and holds up the Ideal in human relationships-this is the highest and best. The first time I read the Sermon on the Mount about turning the other cheek and doing good to those who despitefully use you, I had the reaction his original audience had-“You’ve GOT to be kidding me.” The Sermon on the Mount still bothers me, because I know he wasn’t kidding and I fall short. My falling short is no reason to argue that he was wrong, or to throw out the Ideal. We need a target to aim at, I just find it to be a very tiny bullseye and keep missing. “To miss the mark” is the literal meaning of the word “sin,” though sin has morphed into meaning “some fun God doesn’t want you to have.” The Ideal Jesus holds up about sex is lifetime commitment. Lots of objections can be raised to this Ideal, and I have raised them. But I admit that to fall in love with one person who also loves you and to live together all your life as partners in every possible way-that is a good Ideal. That would be awesome. That it seldom happens means we miss the mark, not that the Ideal is flawed.
Paul and Sex
The Apostle Paul advocated singleness on the basis of the belief that the world would soon end. If the world will end next week, it is better not to marry. Paul goes on to say that if you do marry, that’s OK and by the way, neither of you should deny sex to your partner. So the Bible is consistently pro-sex. Where does the anti-sex stuff come from?
Certain Church Fathers influenced by Greek, Roman and Persian philosophies, and pushing Paul’s celibacy option to the extreme, came up with the strange idea that sex is detestable and women are evil because, basically, they walk around looking sexy. Plato had said that the soul and the body are at war, and the Persian Gnostics said the soul is good but the body is evil, your poor good soul is trapped in your evil body, and salvation comes by denying that evil body until it gets free. Persian Gnostics-boo. Certain early “Church Fathers” wrote commentaries on scriptures twisted to their own weird worldview. Current church fathers continue to do this, by the way.
Tertullian (150-230) “The woman is in his eyes a public menace. The man has everything to fear from her, and the first Adam would have done well to be wary about her. The eye with which he looks at her is singularly critical, and not only in De cultu. No occasion is lost to show her vain, conceited, sensual, frivolous, avid and at the same time stupid and cunning.”
St. Augustine (354-430) St. Augustine, a very influential early theologian, had a son with a women he lived with for thirteen years. He also claimed to have prayed before he went out to party, “Lord, make me chaste…tomorrow.” He was heavily influenced by Plato and the struggle between body and soul, a battle which he said he frequently lost before his conversion.
St. Jerome (331-420) St. Jerome was rather extreme in that he wanted even married couples to abstain from sex on the grounds that “corruption attaches to all intercourse.” Although married couples can never be as pure as virgins, he said, at least they can abstain from sex and come closer. Today, St. Jerome would be laughed off stage. Three hundred years earlier, the disciples might have suggested he stop listening to those flaky Persian Gnostics and go find himself a hot Church Mother.
Asceticism vs. “Let’s Party!”
Tertullian and Jerome’s disdain for women is nowhere to be justified by Jesus’ words or interactions with females, and their disgust at sex is nowhere to be found in the rather lusty approach to life, including “corn, oil, and wine” depicted in the Bible. Unfortunately, the rise of monasticism as an ideal held sway until Martin Luther protested, quit being a monk, married a nun, and declared that family life was just was as holy a calling as celibacy. He protested and so was called a Protestant, you see.
We stand too close to our own culture to judge it objectively, but even a tiny bit of critical thinking applied to ads leads to the conclusion that here, sex is used to sell everything from cars, to boob jobs, to gym memberships, to toothpaste. An ideal of unrestricted sex with anyone any time, and with no strings attached is presented as natural and healthy, and must have great appeal for say, a seventeen year-old male. Over against that is the ideal of sex with one partner for a lifetime. I actually know a few couples who have achieved this and I’ve been watching for over twenty years for signs of disease or mental illness, but no, they are doing quite well.
Boring, you might say. But you never know, she may be meeting him at the door dressed only in Saran Wrap.