Archive for Sex

Is god opposed to pleasure?

2009-03-07-Pleasure-centersIn recent conversations the topic of pleasure has come up time and time again. It seems that from a Christian point of view we are as a community ambivalent about god’s view on pleasure.

It seems that somewhere deep down we do believe that although god is good and want good things for us, we still have a hard time believing that god would want us to experience pleasure.

As I was thinking about this I ran across this jubilant ending of Psalm 16:

You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

I know that in the context of this psalm, it seems it is taking about the life after, the life after, death (As N.T. Wright would put it). However I cannot help but think that the path of life, must be something that happens, you know, in life!

What if gods wish for us actually was “fullness of joy” and “pleasures forever more”. How would that change your view of god, how would it change your view of self? How would it change your view of all those experiences that give pleasure?

It also seems to me that while we are ok with some forms of pleasure, we are dead scared of others. We are ok with the pleasure of reading a good book or seeing a great movie. We are ok with enjoying a good meal and to enjoy the buzz after a good workout. We are also ok with the pleasure of good company, as long as it is not wit the opposite sex, then it sadly becomes sinful or guilty pleasure.

I wonder what would happen if we, instead of feeling guilty for all kinds of bodily pleasure, started thanking god for it. What if we before we go into the bedroom (or whatever place we enjoy each other) with our significant other prayed a prayer of thankful blessing over the gifts we are about to receive (kinda like praying grace before a meal). What if we said grace before seeking pleasure on our own, be it from a book, from a movie, from a meal, or from our own hands? And what if we instead of walking around feeling guilty for having received the gift of pleasure, prayed prayers of thanks afterwards? How would this change our experience, our enjoyment?

What if we could affirm god as the creator of pleasure, who, according to scripture created the first humans “naked and not ashamed”. The god who created humans in god’s own image uniquely able to experience and give pleasure. What if we could affirm ourselves our bodies to be part of the glorious creation of god and that we are not only good creations but “very good” and that as god’s creations made to experience pleasure, also could affirm that pleasure also is “very good”?

Sexuality in the Song of Songs – Part 5: Conclusion and bibliography

song-of-songs-titleThe primary focus of the Song is the passion and the desire between the two lovers yet there seem to be something deeper underneath the surface. Rob Bell astutely asserts that: “You can’t talk about sexuality without talking about how we are made. And that will inevitably lead you to who made us. At some point you have to talk about God” (2007: 15) He goes on to say: “Sex. God. They’re connected. And they can’t be separated” (Bell 2007: 15) and then Bell asserts that: “sex is all of the ways we strive to reconnect with our world, with each other, and with God” (2007: 42). If this is true then more can be learned about life, about spirituality and about God through the Song, than merely how to handle our sexuality. John Toy suggests that the erotic is a dimension of God’s love, of Eros. He also suggests that erotic is so much more than sex and that we need to reinstate “eroticism as one of the ways to love God for what he gives us and so to love our neighbours” (Toy, 2007: 331).

It seems clear that the Song has a lot to offer into the biblical dialogue about human sexuality. The Song affirms and praises the physical enjoyment of human sexuality and maybe more importantly, it offers a corrective to the otherwise androcentric world view  offered in the biblical texts. Dietrich Bonhoeffer “has suggested that the Song is a superb articulation of ‘creation theology’, for it celebrates the unquestioned ‘goodness’ of creatureliness” (Brueggemann, 2003: 325), it does so by countering the fall if not directly as suggested by 7.10, then implicitly by it’s vivacious celebration of what it is to be a human and a sexual being. By this the Song also offers an important counterbalance to modern societies superficial view of sex, not by condemnation, but by redeeming erotic passion and human sexuality as deeply spiritual and deeply human. It does so without side stepping the difficulty and pain that is also associated with passionate love but by inviting the reader into an imaginative fantasy of risk filled passionate love where the reader may encounter not only what it means to be human but also what it means to be passionately loved by God.

Bibliography

2005 Spiritual formation bible – New revised standard version.
London: Hodder & Stoughton

Beckford, Robert
2008 Theology Beyond iIlusion – Exploring Contextual Theology. Lecture given at the William Booth College, London. 25 June 2008

Bell, Rob
2007 Sex God – Exploring the endless Connections Between Sexuality and Spirituality.
Grand Rapids: Zondervan

Brueggemann, Walter
2003 An Introduction to the Old Testament. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Prss

Eldredge, John
2001 Wild at Heart – Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul. Nashville: Nelson

Estes, Daniel J.
2005 Handbook on the Wisdom Books and Psalms. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic

Freed, Edwin D.
2001 The New Testament – A critical introduction. Belmont: Wadsworth

Hess, Richard S.
2005 Song of Songs. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic

Lewis, C.S.
1960 The Four Loves. London: Geoffrey Bles

Murphy, R. & Huwiler, E.
1999 New International Biblical Commentary – Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs.
Carlisle: Pater Noster

Toy, John
2007 ‘God and Eroticism’ in Theology. Vol CX. No. 857 (2007) 323-331

Sexuality in the Song of Songs – Part 4: Sexual Ethics

Shulamite BrideIt should be very clear at this point that the Song is unashamedly and explicitly sexual. Describing the growing love and passion between two individuals. While It remains uncertain if they are married (what the Song has to say about marriage will be considered later in this essay) the Song clearly describes a passionate love affair or courtship. This love that they share is expressed openly and passionately as the two lovers take turns describing each other. Nowhere in this song is there even a hint of shame or sin induced guilt. Hess argues that this “positive theme of physical love contrasts with the persisting negative statements on adultery, promiscuity and the images of Israel as the unfaithful wife as found in the prophets” (2005: 33), he goes on to state that the imagery of a sexuality that is praised “counters the negative association of these things with sin as developed in the prophets” (Hess quoting Hunter, 2005: 33).

The absence of sinfulness and guilt does not mean that the song portrays human sexuality as problem free, there are a couple of darker episodes of the Song that seem to point out, as Rob Bell states in his book Sex God, that: “Love is risky” (2007: 94). Earlier in the same chapter Bell comments on this risk, it is, when in a relationship you give the other person power by allowing that person to accept or reject you (Bell, 2007: 89). And this is what we see happening in the Song 5.2-6 if you choose to read the surface narrative. First the man takes a risk, knocking on her door late at night and she rejects him, when she realises what she has done she changes her mind but to late he has left and Bell comments: “Now she is the one risking, searching, trying to find him. And coming up empty. The heart has tremendous capacity to love, and to ache. And that ache is universal” (Bell, 2007: 95).

If the Song is a positive statement on human sexuality it is even more affirming about female sexuality. This has led to an argument for female authorship. Fifty-three percent of the dialogue is given to the woman (Hess, 2005: 19) and some of the thoughts expressed in the song have been considered so feminine that they cannot possibly have been written by a man (Estes, 2005: 394). Whoever wrote these love poems did give the woman an unusual role not only as she gets to speak for herself but when she does she claims to have complete control of her own sexuality (Murphy, 1999: 242). This of course stands in stark contrast to most of the biblical narrative where women may be “seen but not heard” as Freed comments on Luke which is to be considered as one of the more feminist texts in the Christian canon (Freed, 2001: 170). “The song presents a view of male-female sexuality which is neither exploitative or hierarchic. Both man and woman act on their own initiative as well as in response to one another” (Murphy et al. 1999: 242). It has been suggested that the imagery where the woman is portrayed as “succulent fruit” stands in stark contrast against the otherwise passive imagery of woman in other bible narratives like Samson’s metaphor for intimacy in Judges 4.18 (Hess, 2005: 29). Hess goes on to argue that this “provides a counterpoint to the institutionalized patriarchalism of much of Israelite society” (Hess, 2005: 33)

This places the Shulammite woman in the Song in the same category as Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Uriah’s wife (Baatsheba) who are the only women mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus (Eldredge, 2001: 190). These women are not soft spoken and demure, but rather women who stepped up and took matters into their own hands clearly in control like the Shulammite woman of the Song.

There is a striking resemblance to the story of Ruth, a narrative that is also part of the Megilloth who uses her own sexuality to secure a future for herself and her mother in law. Robert Beckford argues that the uncovering of Boaz feet is a euphemism and that Ruth, like the Shulammite woman, secure in her own sexuality, initiates a sexual encounter and seduces Boaz by uncovering not his feet but his manhood (Beckford 2008). Although Eldredge argues that Ruth and Boaz did not have sex that night, he states that: “There is no possible reading of that passage that is ‘safe’ or ‘nice.’ This is seduction pure and simple” (Eldredge, 2001: 190). The book of Ruth is just as the Song filled with “verbal sparring in which she [Ruth] employs subtle yet recognizable double entendres” (Brueggemann quoting Linafelt, 2003: 321).

As the Song promotes what seems to be at least equality, if not complete independence, for the woman it seems to point back to a time before the fall and the Song has been described as “an extended commentary on the very good spoken over creation, particularly the creation of humankind as male and female” (Murphy et al. 1999: 242). It has also been suggested, although it cannot be proven, that the phrase: “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me.” (Song 7:10) stands as a counterpoint to Genesis 3.16: “your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” (Murphy et al. 1999: 242) This seems to suggest at least by implication that in the union between man and woman the goodness of Eden can be found.

On the topic whether this is within marriage or not, the Song stays silent. Brueggemann asserts that: “it is love of an innocent kind unrestrained by morality or even a suggestion of matrimonial context” (2003: 325). Although Hess argues that the passion of the Song sets it apart from other wisdom literature, but that there is an “emphasis on commitment that prevents a capitulation to promiscuity” (2005: 32) He goes on to link this emphasis links the Song to Prov 5.15-19 and states that “some six or seven explicit verbal images relate this passage to the Song and render explicit the theme of exclusive commitment that is assumed in the love poetry” (Hess, 2005: 32). Although some scholars argue that chapters 4-5 include a marriage ceremony, the text “does not explicitly relate sexuality to marriage and overall does not seem to insist that the appropriate expression of sexuality is necessarily limited to marriage. Neither does it claim that marriage is insignificant. Marriage is simply is not an overt concern in the text” (Murphy et al. 1999: 243).

Sexuality in the Song of Songs – Part 3: Symbols

newBefore looking at the Song’s message and theology, some of the Song’s symbols and images must be decoded. It is important to not get carried away in doing this. While the Song is rife with sensual images appealing to all five senses, it is easy to take this decoding too far and end up with something as subjective as the allegorical interpretation. It is important to remember that while there are a multitude of symbols and images layered in the Song they are not consistent and what symbolises one thing in one verse can symbolise something else in the next. It is therefore impossible to create one-one relationships between symbols and meanings. The Song is a collection of Poems and as such it tries to “communicate in language what is beyond language” (Estes quoting Landy, 2005: 401). Therefore a delicate touch is required not to destroy the beauty of the song with crude decoding and paraphrasing. The Song must be experienced and perhaps even felt (Estes quoting Exum and Bergant, 2005: 401) rather than simply read. Murphy suggests that: “the poet calls attention to the lovers’ imagination and, in so doing, invites the reader to imaginative activity as well” (Murphy et al. 1999: 222)

With that caveat in mind it is time to look at some of the images in the Song without intending to probe the depths of this text but rather to sample some of the imagery. The language of the song is filled with similes and metaphors. It is often compared to an Egyptian poetry form called a wasf, which is a list of physical features where the different aspects of the beloved are likened by different things, places or animals (cf. 4.1-7 and 7.1-4). The woman is described with a plethora of images describing her beauty.  The most common imagery is taken from nature, likening the woman to fruit, trees or animals, but some of the images are more imposing, like the use of tower and warlike imagery such as shields.

The poet shifts from image to image. For example in 7.7 where the woman is likened to a palm tree, and “then the speaker enters into his own metaphor, expressing his desire to climb the tree and gain access to its fruit” (Murphy et al. 1999: 222). Perhaps this shifting is most noticeable as: “metaphors keep shifting between the actual landscape, suffused with erotic associations, and the landscape of the body” (Murphy quoting Ariel and Chana Bloch, 1999: 225). For instance, it is unclear in 2.17, where the man is likened to “a gazelle or a young stag on the cleft mountains”, whether the mountains in question correspond to literal mountains or to the woman’s breasts just as it is not clear whether this is an invitation to a sexual encounter or a request that the man goes away for the night thus preserving her chastity (Murphy et al. 1999: 261). Another passage with this kind of double entendre and layered images is the dream sequence described in chapter five. This passage is dripping with sexual overtones and the suggestive language offers all sorts of erotic imagery. However, the same passage can be read as a completely innocent literal sequence of events. This sequence uses the imagery of oil and myrrh dripping of the woman’s fingers possibly referring to the myrrh found in the “female’s ‘garden’ (4.14, 5.1) or her ‘mountain’ (4.6)” (Hess, 2005:173). Murphy states that: “all of this is in the realm of double entendre. Contrary to the claim of some interpreters, on a descriptive level the passage narrates the man’s visit to the woman’s house. Yet the language raises sexual associations with every line” (Murphy et al. 1999: 276). It seems that at every turn the poet is using evocative language to achieve this ‘double entendre’ and provoke the readers imagination to break out from traditional or religious thinking and to fully immerse and even loose themselves in this passionate erotic narrative.

Sexuality and the Song of Songs – part 2: Interpretation

song-of-songs-ii-1957-10Song of Songs have been read and interpreted in several different ways, the predominant interpretation is some form of allegorical interpretation (Estes, 2005: 396). Most scholars throughout history have approached the Song this way. Starting with Theogenes who interpreted the Song to be about the relationship between Yahweh and Israel. In this tradition great Christian theologians like Origen and Gregory of Nyssa have produced volumes of commentary on the Song. Later on both Calvin and Luther commented on the Song and chose an allegorical interpretation although they normally argued for literal interpretations of bible texts. This tradition still exists today where certain evangelicals choose this kind of reading when, interestingly, in all other instances they would defend a literal reading of any other bible text (Estes, 2005: 397).

There are obvious problems with an allegorical reading of any text, the most disturbing problem is how to decide what the allegory stands for, this is a highly subjective exercise and looking at the varied attempts at interpreting the Song allegorically shows that it has been made to allegorise any number of things.

Perhaps these theologians have opted for an allegorical approach only to avoid such explicit sexual language in their holy texts, but it seems that even as an allegory the clear sexual allusions in the Song are equally problematic as they “assign to God lustful inclinations that do not come readily to the thinking of conventional theology” (Brueggemann, 2003: 325). Brueggemann goes on to assert that: “if this text is theological disclosure, then it must be taken without weakening the force of passion or diminishing the delight that God takes in God’s beloved, either by moralism or by institutional constraints” (2003: 326)

However, Estes argues that, although the allegorical interpretations of the song has been the most common approach, “There has also been a long-standing commitment to its literal reading as a song about human love or to celebrate a human wedding” (Estes, 2005: 399).

In modern times a growing number of scholars are willing to approach the Song literally, this shift can to some degree be explained by a shift towards literary and rhetorical criticism. There has also been a shift towards historical criticism in which the Song has been compared to ancient Egyptian love poetry, this in turn has led to an understanding of  the song as a unified collection of love poems (Hess, 2005: 25, 27).

Brueggemann argues convincingly that it is not necessarily a case of choosing literal or allegorical but rather that the Song can be read as both (Brueggemann, 2003: 328), however, it is as a unified collection of love poetry about human passion and sexuality that this essay will try to establish what the Song has to offer into the Jewish and Christian canon and the extended Christian traditions.

Sexuality and the Song of Songs – part 1: Background

0596_song_of_songs_pThe Song of songs is a much debated and unique book in the Old Testament. It is near impossible to find consensus on any statement about the book except that it is unique. The book has no parallel in the rest of the Jewish or Christian Canon. It becomes difficult to assert anything about authorship, dating or even context with such a divided collegium of scholars to refer to. This essay will, however, try to avoid these debates and engage in the main debate of what if anything can the Song teach us about human sexuality and how does the Song stand in the dialogue, that is what does it have to say to other Old testament texts, to New Testament text and what does it have to say to the church of today about human sexuality and spirituality.

The Song of Songs is the first of the five scrolls called the Megilloth in the Hebrew Bible and it has been suggested that it was part of the last addition to the Jewish canon (Hess, 2005: 20). While many scholars have asked how the Song came to be canonised it seems that it has been settled into the canon with no room left for uncertainty by Rabbi Aquiba who stated that “all the ages are not worth the day on which Song of Songs was given to Israel, for all the writings are holy, but the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies” (Hess, 2005: 20f). With this the Song was accepted into the Jewish canon (Hess, 2005: 21). Due to the inclusion into the Jewish canon it was also accepted as canon by the early Christians (Estes, 2005: 395) and Eusebius includes Song of Songs as Christian canon, in his Ecclesiastical History, as early as the second-century AD (Hess, 2005:21).

It seems that the general message of the Old Testament on the subject of sexuality is a negative and undermining, and especially, regarding feminine sexuality (Murphy et al. 1999: 242). This is especially evident in the Levitical law that regulates sexual conduct but does so only by that which it condemns and never with any positive statement. It also becomes very clear that as the Levitical law condemns specific sexual practices it also emphasises the uncleanness of women and judges women more harshly than men when it comes to sexual misconduct. The prophets also pas harsh judgement on human sexuality by condemning bad practice and never condoning positive examples.

It is into this negative view of sexuality that the Song speaks. Whatever interpretation is chosen, literal or allegorical, clearly the Song speaks in a positive and affirming way about sexuality generally, and especially about female sexuality as more than half of the verses in the Song are attributed to the woman. The woman is also portrayed as the initiating party as well as in clear ownership of her own sexuality (Song 8.12) which stands in stark contrast with the view of women in most biblical texts.

People are still having sex

I have been putting of writing this post for nearly a week now, I get both uneasy and angry just by thinking about it.

Stephen Court wrote the following in his blog the other day:

Evangelicals Encouraging Contraception for Singles?

http://t.co/w0Y29aLA It turns out that 80% of American Evangelicals are going to hell. That is, they admit to being involved in fornication (and intentional, habitual sin as implied by ‘being involved’ keeps you out of heaven). This is a ‘Christian’ application of the harm reduction fallacy (that we blogged on last week – scroll down or ‘find’ on the page).

So it it seems it is that simple, these Evangelicals who admit that they have sexual relations (although there is no mention whether these relationships are committed, loving relationships) are simply going to hell by Court's judgement. because they are intentionally involved in an activity that according to Stephen Court is a sin.

The sin in question (I am guessing) is fornication (Gr. porneia) another one of these words that are hard to define what they actually mean. In OT times this was an action that would mean somebody was unclean (until the evening) not condemned. The graver offence, that of adultery, that is actually dealt with in the ten commandments is not a sexual crime but that of wanting (coveting) or making designs to acquire somebody else's property, and as disturbing as it may be that women where considered property and that property law has become an integral part of our sexual ethics that is not what is discussed in this article.

So on that shaky ground Steven Court is announcing that 80% of American Evangelicals are going to hell. It never ceases to amaze me how fixated the evangelical church is on sexuality (The lady does protest to much) . I wonder how many of the American evangelicals are intentionally and habitually over eating or intentionally and habitually sponsoring slavery, human trafficking and other injustices just by their comfortable life styles. Sure you could argue that some of this is not intentional but as a Christian in this day and age I think claiming ignorance about justice issues is a bit naive and lazy. Not to mention all the Christians gossiping and hating each other within their churches or denominations and that is narrowing the scope not to include the hatred and bigotry towards LGBTQ persons or persons of other faiths.

Following this logic not only are all evangelical Christians (with maybe some few shining examples) going to hell but the rest of the world and all other Christians with it.

I am reminded of the old 'Judge not lest ye be judged'. I am also thinking that sex education, even for Christian single are of the utmost importance. I have said it before and I feel the need to say it again: THIS IS SOMETHING WE NEED TO BE TALKING ABOUT!

When I as a young single Christian asked questions about sex to my Pastor I was told: Patrik, don't ask me to bless your perversions. And with that the conversation was closed for all times. The only ones who would receive any kind of sex ed in church where married couples and that consisted of, you need to do it and when you do god will bless it (best case scenario, although I do have a friend who was told to open the windows during intercourse so the demons could fly out) then the course would move on to how it was important to spend time together, light candles and work on keeping the romance alive (and yes I agree that this is important, but it is not sex ed).

I wonder is it really our job as Pastors and fellow Christians to add a new law to our friends and church membership, surely our job is to encourage people to seek god and listen to the voice of the spirit in any and all relations whether sexual or not whether within marriage or not?

To quote the song “People are still having sex”, and they will no matter what rules, judgement and/or condemnation we spew from the pew. Everybody (unless asexual) have sexual drives and will on occation act on these especially young singles. It really does not matter if we consider this part of our brokeness as a result of the fall or as a blessing and a part of our original glory, we still have to face the fact that this is a core issue and if we want to be a part of peoples lives we need to accept the fact that they are sexual beings with active sexualities (and this applies whether or not they are actually having intercourse at this time in their lives).

I would rather they had safer sex with their heads screwed on and informed consent on all sides rather than headless secret sex that leave them just screwed with broken lives, relations, hopes and dreams.

The big masturbation post

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Not so long ago I sat in a room with a group of young Christians, no longer teenagers but rather young adults. We where talking about the bible and Jesus. Was it possible that Jesus could have sinned and what does it mean that Jesus felt every human emotion, did he then lust? Masturbate?

The disgust that went through the room at this point was palpable and when I put my foot down and said “Masturbation is not a sin”, I was met with “Well then we may as well go of and masturbate and sleep with anyone we want!”

This immediate jump to the slippery slope argument (which in it self is a fallacy whenever used) prompted a further discussion that in turn prompted this post.

In Christian circles today it seems that masturbation, while both natural and a part of the teenagers discovery of his or her own body, is even more stigmatised than sex. It is somehow even more shameful to touch yourself than to have someone else do it. Why is this? Where does it come from? What does the bible say about masturbation and how does that sync with the churches traditional teaching on the subject? What does science and society say?

Let’s consider a few different voices on this issue.

It is beyond contestation that both psychology, anthropology and medical science say that masturbation is a healthy way for young persons to discover their bodies and come to terms with their sexuality. Furthermore, sex-councellors worldwide would advice men with longevity issues to learn control by practicing on their own.

Science also tells us that the resulting orgasm is beneficial for our health in many ways. Consider the following scientific findings as presented in the book Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan:

men who had ejaculated more than five times per week between the ages of twenty and fifty were one-third less likely to develop prostate cancer later in life.

daily ejaculation dramatically reduced DNA damage to men’s sperm cells, thereby increasing male fertility—quite the opposite of the conventional wisdom.

Frequent orgasm is associated with better cardiac health as well. A study conducted at the University of Bristol and Queen’s University of Belfast found that men who have three or more orgasms per week are 50 percent less likely to die from coronary heart disease.

These are just a tidbit of information on what ejaculation and orgasm does for a man. For women there are a lot less research available (go figure) but here is one slightly off topic remark from the same book:

women who do not use condoms are less likely to suffer from depression than either women who do use condoms or who are not sexually active

So women who are sexually active are less likely to suffer from depression. On this note it is also interesting to recognise that one of the oldest documented pathologies is said to be female hysteria and the medical treatment was massage of the vulva, that is masturbation and orgasm. What may be even more shocking for some is that doctors around the world administered this treatment to women with an increased libido well into the 20th century and women lined up for the cure!

On a slightly less scholarly note, the book the 4 hour body has the following to say:

Nina emphasized, a woman has to be comfortable masturbating. “If she doesn’t masturbate regularly, she’ll be more trouble, baggage-wise, than it’s worth, unless you get off on being the fixer.”

While this sounds a bit of the cuff and misogynistic, science does tell us that body pleasure lowers aggression.

“deprivation of body pleasure throughout life—but particularly during the formative periods of infancy, childhood, and adolescence—is very closely related to the amount of warfare and interpersonal violence.” (also from Sex at Dawn)

Therefore we are told by the scientific corner to just chill out and not to be so uptight when it comes to these issues.

A reasonable relaxation of moralistic social codes making sexual satisfaction more easily available would also make it less problematic. (also from Sex at Dawn)

Hang on what about the Bible doesn’t the bible forbid masturbation? Well, thank you for asking, the short answer is no. The bible actually has no teaching on masturbation. The most cited passages are the story of Onan and a few remarks of Paul.

Let’s start with Onan. He married his dead brothers wife Tamar as the law instructed him but when the time came to consummate the marriage he practiced coitus interrupts (he pulled it out and spilled his seed on the ground) so that he would not give a child to his dead brothers wife that would not be considered his own, again according to Jewish law). Onan was then killed by god for not adhering to the Mosaic law. This story has nothing to do with masturbation and the fact that Onan’s name has become synonymous with masturbation in many languages in an attempt of controlling peoples sexuality is a serious abuse of scripture and power.

In Pauls first letter to Corinth there is a passage where Paul condemns a whole row of sexual deviations. Non of which are easily understood or translated the words used are porneo, malokos, and arsenokoites non of these words have anything to do with masturbation. Feel free to read my other commentary on these words here.

And even if Paul’s words had included masturbation, which they do not, I have to echo the sentiment of Marcus Borg in his fantastic novel “Putting Away Childish Things“: What if Paul was wrong? It sounds heretical, I know, but consider the fact that misinformation has been the norm on sexuality related facts throughout our known history. It was common to believe for example that masturbation caused both seizures, blindness and madness. Why is it that we assume that Paul to be an authority on every issue on the planet?

What we have left to consider is Jesus strong words on adultery: A man who looks upon a woman with lust in his heart has already committed adultery with her. If we assume that these are indeed the words of Jesus and that he recommends putting out our eyes to avoid it then every man I know should go blind immediately. For some men (I talk less about women simply because I have no experience in being one and do not presume to have an inkling on how female sexuality works) it may be that the act of masturbation preserves their fidelity and therefore their marriage.

It is interesting to note that hip youth ministers within the free churches will often be heard stating that masturbating together with your spouse can be a beautiful thing and part of a couples normal sex life. While this is a nice softening of the stigmatising view of masturbation it still leaves the ones in need of liberation, that is teenagers, sorely bound by shame and guilt.

Now let’s for a second consider how the bible supports and encourages sexuality and then maybe using the same inferring as the negative case is built on propose a more positive approach to sexuality and the topic at hand, masturbation.

First let’s again look at Adam and Eve or mythical hunter gatherer ancestors who lived in Eden, Naked and not ashamed. Right there is the first clue that sexuality understood correctly should not be a source of shame but rather a source of joy.

Moving on rapidly then to the song of songs (there are other more obvious examples in other OT narratives but it quickly gets oh so provocative and complicated to get into those) where unmarried sexuality is if not celebrated then simply a fact. The poetry in the Song is simply “not concerned” with the marital status of the young lovers.

From the song we can find a positive body image in regard to the young lovers genitalia and an exuberant celebration of their passionate sexuality. The following verses are from the CEB.

I have come to my garden, my sister, my bride!
I have gathered my myrrh and my spices.
I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey;
I have drunk my wine and my milk.
Eat, dear friends!
Drink and get drunk on love!

Here the lover has come to his garden, this garden was of course earlier the womans garden dripping with myrrh and spices sweeter than honey. We must understand that every word in the song is dripping with double entendre and the metaphors switch quickly as to leave you dizzy, the Song is probably more to be inhaled and experienced than read and understood.

Keeping the images of a garden dripping with myrrh lets move to the young womans bed room a few verses later.

“I have taken off my tunic—
why should I put it on again?
I have bathed my feet—
why should I get them dirty?”
 My love put his hand in through the latch hole,
and my body ached for him.
 I rose; I went to open for my love,
and my hands dripped myrrh,
my fingers, liquid myrrh,
over the handles of the lock.

Why is she naked in bed? Why is her hands dripping with myrrh? And let’s not even try to decipher the image of the hand through the latch hole ….

It seems to me that the bible is as capable of creating a positive and healthy image of both sexuality and the exploring of the same as it is in creating a misogynistic damaging and controlling one.

Fr. Richard Rohr makes an interesting comment about women being saved through childbirth, where he states that in childbirth women get the upper hand on the men as they are forced into body knowledge and self discovery through childbirth he also suggests that this is why male initiation rites often include arduous challenges and painful quests that will force the young man to get to know his body.

There is a certain composure and authority to a human being that is completely comfortable in his or her own body. There is a self awareness and confidence that only comes to those who know the ins and outs and limits of their own bodies. I suggest that a healthy exploration of ones sexuality, where masturbation is a part of that exploration, may help grant such body knowledge.

In conclusion I must also add that the gnostic notion of separating spirit and body, where the spirit is good and the body evil is one of those unspoken meta-narratives that derive from greek (Plato) philosophy hat stand in our way of a more holistic and healthy view of our own bodies. Those who desperately cling to it may benefit from stepping out of the spiritual and getting their hands dirty or as the case may be oily.

Sex at dawn …

I have just finished reading Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan. It may be the first time in a long while that I read a book that so persuasively and thouroughly deconstructs one of the often unspoken meta-narratives of our contemporary culture, namely the hetero-normative monogamy centred narrative of human sexuality.

I also realize that this leaves us in a precarious situation. It could be dangerous to deconstruct such foundational beliefs as how we view human sexuality without having a clearly defined narrative to take it’s place. Still, this must be a work in progress and we may, more likely than not, take a wrong turn and be forced to repent and retrace at any point.

Sex at dawn makes a really simple point, it is not in human nature to be monogamous. This is backed up with a thourough anthroposophical argument based on evolutionary theory. I realize that many evangelicals will stop reading at this point (if not already at the sentence before) as they will not be ready to recognise any argument based on evolutionary theory. This is sad, not only because the sciences have a lot to offer in the theological arena but also because I still think it is an important endaevour to question the standard narratives of sexuality, and how we look at the concept of marriage, no matter what the reason is to doubt that the current narrative may be flawed.

Any evangelical who is still reading after the E word may quickly conclude that, while the main point of Ryan’s book may be true that obviously depicts a human after the fall. I think maybe that Christopher Ryan may agree, or at least in part.

Ryan describes a hunter gatherer society that was structured by a “fierce egalitarianism” where promiscuous (as in many partners, not as in hooking up with strangers) sex was a normal social protocol governing friendships and social engagements. This hunter gather society lasted significantly longer time than all the following ages together and must therefore be seen as formative as far as our genetic coding is concerned. These findings are based on scientific studies of the bonobo societies (a primate that is as closely related to humans as chimps) and describe a society with completely free sexuality where the bonobo’s are “naked and not ashamed”.

Where Ryan may disagree with our post-fall assessment is that according to the scientific findings this longing for sexual liberty and sexual promiscuity is what defines us as humans. To restrict sex to only produce offspring as per the medieval/Christian paradigm is to, according to Ryan, be more like animals as most species on the planet cannot, and do not enjoy sex for sex itself. Let me say that again, our pre-occupation with sex is one of the traits that make humans human.

What if this free state is truly the image of god. What if the biblical description of Eden is really a mythologising of the hunter-gatherer society where we where naked and not ashamed. What if we, when we are praying for the salvation, the healing, the restoration, the ticcun olam of the world, what if what we are really wishing for,mlonging for is the deconstruction of the whole agrarian, urban experiment and a return to living closer to nature, naked and not ashamed?

What is ultimately clear is that monogamous marriage is not something that is difficult and straining for a select few perverts but it is actually a social convention placed against our genetic predispositions. Whether one then chooses to see this as brokenness or as holiness it does explain why we are having so much trouble as a species to make our marriages work and our sex-lives functional.

This means at the very least that we need to, as a church provide a safe environment where lust, desire, sexuality, eroticism can be discussed without stigmatising or demonising the drives and the desires of our church-members.

But how do we do this? How do we approach this subject with care and dignity when social convention pressures us to be ashamed just for thinking these thoughts.

 

Who is queer?

I am not underprivileged, marginalised or persecuted in any ways. I am a Caucasian, heterosexual male with a DipHE in Theology and Mission. I am employed as a full time minister, doing what I love to do: to teach theology; to build and nurture relationships; to be a sign towards a mystery I may never understand.

When I started this journey THEY where the queer (weird) ones, the sinners. After some time they where still the weird ones but I had come to realise I was a sinner too. Slowly the line between them and us was blurred until I today realise that “we are here, we are queer, get used to it.” Today I am not sure that sin has anything to do with it (it being sex and sexuality). Don’t get me wrong I believe that it is entirely possible to abuse sex and sexuality, just as it is possible to abuse nature or friendships, or trust. What I have come to understand is that sex and sexuality is probably abused just as much (if not more) in the heterosexual bedroom/closet than the gay or lesbian bed.

The Q in LGBTQ stands for the Queer, not weird but rather that which crosses the boundary of what is generally consider normal. Just as “queer theory” is about the breaking down of traditionally fixed boundaries and categories. So if we are to stick with the traditional boxes and categories we are stuck with LGBTQ persons on the one side and the heterosexuals on the other. However what is normal heterosexual conduct? When do we cross into the Q? Are you queer if you only prefer blondes? If you only want to have sex standing up? If feet turn you on? If you prefer oral to vaginal? When are you queer, really, who’s to decide? I think it may be prudent for us heterosexuals to follow Marcella Althaus-Reid’s suggestion and come out of our hetero closet. In most marriage courses and classes on intimacy there will be a section on sharing our sexual fantasies (it seems the biggest hurdle to a healthy sex life is to what degree we are still in the closet) to share our personal queerness.

Patrik S. Cheng defines the Q of LGBTQ as those who are queer or Allies. At first when my theology started to shift I saw my self as an ally, one who could help them, over there. As my understanding of the term and myself grew, I realised that as an LGBTQ ally I was quickly becoming queer myself. Not that any of my sexual preferences changed, what changed was my perspective. By knowing “them” I came to love them, and by loving them I realised that them was really us. And so the boundary between them and me was blurred out by this radical love.

I agree fully with Patrick S. Cheng wh wrote:

“Christian theology is fundamentally a queer enterprise. That is, like queer theory, classical Christian theology is about the breaking down of traditionally fixed boundaries and categories.

God is a queer god, who crosses all boundaries by becoming a human, born by a woman, raised as part of a human family. We follow a queer Christ, who continually challenged the fixed boundary between clean and unclean, sacred and secular. The queer spirit then completely blurry the distinction between god and me as the spirit enters into my life, penetrating every part of me, incarnating into me if you will and the border between the world we know and the spiritual becomes hard to distinguish. Everything is spiritual, and if that is true then all our sexual queerness is spiritual too.

So while I may be a heterosexual, Caucasian male with a good education and a privileged position within the church I am also queer not only by questioning the heteronorm status quo but also by recognising that heterosexuality is exactly that: hetero, it is diverse and different from itself. Heterosexuality is not homogenous in any way, not that homosexuality is homogenous either. Maybe we would be better of talking about heterosexualities and homosexualities, indicating that rather than homogenous states they are two points in a complex matrix of sexualities.

In the end we come to a point where we must ask, what is normal? What is natural? And in the asking we become queer, and maybe that is the truth of it, maybe we are all queer?

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