A friend once said about Islam: “I don’t know what it is theologically, or religiously, but at the operational level it is hysteria about the facts of life.” He said this after being in Nigeria for a couple of years, and watching and comparing the behaviour of Muslims, Christians and pagans in a multi-religious society.
The Abrahamic idea of God is of an absolute, and with the Muslims, God is conceived in the most remote, all-powerful version. The Christian version postulates the same degree of power, but it is a vision of the Deity infused with love for His creatures, and a will to abide by His own laws. No such compunctions constrain the power of a willful Allah, who recognizes no laws to bind his immaculate will.
But this is not a sermon on the difference between Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
It is a brief meditation on the difference between all three of them and pagan thought and behaviour. We have the Jews to thank for the idea that the world is fundamentally divided into clean and unclean things. Sexual practices are especially unclean. In the words of the 39 Articles of Religion, number nine:
“And although there is no condemnation for them that believe and are baptized yet the Apostle doth confess, that concupiscence and lust of itself hath the nature of sin.”
In case you are in any doubt the word refers to the desire for any form of sex between people not lawfully married, and until a few years ago it referred especially to homosexual activities.
Pagans, by contrast, have never been told about sin, particularly the sins of the flesh. How can there even be sins of the flesh? For a pagan a sin of the flesh is an impossibility. Why would the body’s making mucus or bile be a matter of sin? The body has its needs and there’s an end to it. If you need sex, you get it. Man, boy, woman, girl: it is a matter of taste, occasion and society, but not of sin.
When the Japanese westernized in the latter part of the 19th century, they thought that they needed to adopt all of the Western penal codes. So they had to invent – I am serious – a term for “homosexuality” because they had until then no separate term for the practice. It was just all undifferentiated sex to them, before their contact with legal systems founded in Abrahamic faith.
So when I read in the paper about a gay orgy in the Vatican being interrupted by police, I cannot help feeling that religions founded on a distrust of the body get themselves into huge and unnecessary trouble.
That is, while I accept the need for prevenient grace, I do not think we are fundamentally engaged in sin for lusting and being subject to sexual desire, any more than when our bodies produce blood, mucus, sperm or bile. Lust should be thought of as appropriate or inappropriate, as the case may be, but not as something that separates us from God more than, say, picking our noses or excreting. Augustine never got over his original Manichaeism. But I am off-topic.
Gay orgies at the Vatican are nothing new. Nor is revulsion at the hypocrisy of a formally celibate priesthood behaving badly. A married priesthood would solve a number of problems. But more important would be a change of doctrine as regards the status of lust as the road to sin.
Now I can go to David Warren and find out why I am wrong. I shall be checking the Catholic blogs today for comments on the situation.