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.