The facts of life


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.”

Concupiscence refers to longing for what God has commanded us not to yearn for.

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.

Blame it on St Augustine. I am with Pelagius. 

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.

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The disease theory you propose has some validity after the introduction of syphilis from the New World, after 1492. The impact of syphilis in tightening up sexual mores was huge. People really were rotting from syphilis. Nevertheless, the attitude that sex was unclean is propounded in Leviticus, and the idea of kosher and non-kosher permeates the thinking of the Hebrews on their way to becoming Jews. And Christianity got this baneful attitude from the Bible, along with much good besides.

Dollops - Eric Doll

jan scheit is right. People have been counselling each other against risky or exploitive behaviour since cause and effect were first noticed. Call it revelation or just human smarts, there has always been a concept of sin because it is just wisdom with a priestly imprimatur.

Jan Scheit

I find it hard to believe that rotten peckers just cropped up after 1492. The written evidence for STDs occurring earlier seems scant but men, and women, being who and what they are, were most certainly participating in “lust” from prehistory to the present. And, the foreskin being what it is, an area of perfect incubation for fetid and furious infection, would have easily fostered the growth of a plethora of unfriendly microbes. Ultimately we get circumcision and religious sin. I’m just especulating, of course, but climate change.

Bill Elder

STDs and VD have been with us from recorded history – Sumerian, Babylonian, Greek and Roman texts tell of the wide spread occurrence of herpes and gonorrhea, primarily spread by prostitutes and brothels which permeated these cultures – either they didn’t relate rotten dik to these activities or if they did it didn’t stop sexual proclivity. The first sign of social stigma attached to sex was with post nation Judea, Jews would treat gonorrhea with herbs and roots, the concoction was to be taken on the Sabbath to banish the evil.

After the time of Moses, the Jews concentrated on the prophylaxis of gonorrhea. If a man was to find his wife afflicted with the disease he could divorce the woman. Many people were banished from their city if they were found to carry the disease.

The concept of sex as a sin is relatively old dating back to the old testament account of Lot and the destruction of Sodom, but it was primarily a tribal taboo against unnatural sex…..until Moses said God condemned “adultery” – but Old Judea culture was comfortable with divorce and all other ancient cultures promoted premarital sex (for men) before marriage – and of course Mohamed was fine with boping slaves, prisoners, children and multiple “wives”. Jesus made sex a matter for only marital union with no divorce – but sex as an “original sin” was only codified after biblical text editorial synods in the 4th and 5th centuries.

Whether you agree with the tennets of Christian sex restrictions the fact remains that if everyone took Christ’s advice/attitude towards sex, having rotten dik would be a thing of the past.

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