by Dr. Susan Block
Spring is in the air. Time to catch Spring Fever and fall in love--or lust--and time to worship your concept of God or Goddess. For Christians, it's Easter. For Jews, it's Passover. For many Moslems, it's New Year's. For Buddhists, it's Buddha's Birthday. For Pagans, it's the Spring Equinox, the rebirth of Mother Earth, when Persephone rises from the Underworld, where She reigns over the dead with Her bad boy husband Hades, and enters Eleusis to rejoin Her doting Mother Demeter, Goddess of Agriculture and Fertility, who is so ecstatic to embrace Her beloved daughter that She showers the world in Spring.
Around springtime, all religions celebrate some sort of vital faith-affirming holiday of resurrection, renewal and return, both complementing and contradicting the season's natural blooming eroticism. Sex and God are quite often at odds, but sexuality and spirituality actually have certain key factors in common. The mystical and the erotic experience are the most intense in human life; both connect desire with awe, love, anguish, ecstasy, terror, pain and extreme logic--defying pleasure.
At their most sublime, both religious and sexual feelings are great passions. Indeed, the word "passion" comes from the latin "passio" which means "to suffer." We suffer for love as we suffer for God. Religious mystics love God with a passion that can be feverishly erotic, and to whom do most lovers call out in the throes of erotic passion? God, baby, God, baby, God!
Taboos Make Sex Sexier
Even though men are supposedly more sexually driven than women, Goddesses tend to be more "sex-positive" than Gods. The great Goddesses of ancient times ruled fertility, relationships, and encouraged sexual expression of different kinds, not just sex within marriage. Of course, many male pagan Gods, like Jolly Old King Zeus, had prodigious sexual appetites. But the "all-powerful" ones like the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God, also called Allah, Holy Father, Lord or Yahweh, issued and still (apparently) issue commandments to repress human sexuality. In a sense, the Big Three monotheistic religions that have ruled most of the world over the past couple thousand years continually reinforce the power of the sex-negative God over the sex-positive Goddess.
One of the most damaging sex-negative messages of any religion is the concept of "Original Sin," the idea that because we are born sexual beings, we are sinners who deserve to burn in hell, and if we want to go to heaven, we must only have sex for procreation--and even then, God forbid we should enjoy it. This ideology was developed by Saint Paul, who seems to have been fighting unwanted homosexual urges, and was cultivated by Saint Augustine who sought refuge in celibacy after a love affair gone sour (his wealthy mother disapproved of his low-class lover and made him miserable for it; no wonder he abhorred lust!). Belief in Original Sin feeds the most violent alienated parts of ourselves. It tells us that because we are sexual, we are bad, and God, Allah, Saint Paul or Alberto Gonzales will punish us horribly unless we repress our natural sexual desires. In the name of God, this belief that sex is dirty has perpetrated rampant cruelty, bigotry, timidity and stupidity, creating religious sexual abuse in homes, in temples and in churches, generating intense shame about our bodies and desires, fueling the belief that parts of our bodies are dirty, fostering hatred and confusion about pleasure.
Why so much repression? What real purpose does it serve? Simply put, people in power like to keep their power, and taboos against deviating from the religiously decreed social order help them to do just that. Individual religions may or may not really serve God, and we'll only find out if they do when we pass through the Lord's Pearly Gates or Mother Nature's Great Earthy Cunt. But there's one thing we know right now: Religions serve those in charge of the religion. Taboos help those already in power, keeping those with less power in fear for their souls if they break the taboo and enjoy greater power (or pleasure), than they "deserve."
Religious rules against sex for men are generally pretty excessive. Religious rules against sex for women tend to be considerably harsher, certainly more degrading. But, when you remember that religions serve those in charge of the religion, is it any wonder that women's sexuality is riddled with taboos, covered up, denigrated and despised by all the major world religions, when there are no women priests or ayatollahs, and very few female ministers and rabbis?
Of course, the irony of creating a taboo is that, once something is forbidden, it becomes very exciting, kinky and very, very sexy. Everyone knows that naughty sex is hot sex! Why is that? Because Mother Nature always finds a way of asserting and expressing Herself--no matter what. So, if, according to your religion, sex is bad (and it usually is), then "bad" becomes very sexy.
But is it really so baad? Even according to so-called divine standards? One of the many odd hypocrisies of those that decry modern culture as obscene and hold up the Bible as the Word of God is that they rarely actually read the Book itself. In The X-Rated Bible, Ben Akerley, a "recovering Christian," makes his case against pro-censorship fundamentalists by revealing multiple scenes of incest, rape, homosexuality, exhibitionism, child molestation, child sexual mutilation, bestiality, adultery, swinging, scatology and more that take place (both with and without punishment) in the very book the censors hold most sacred: the Bible.
The Holy Scriptures, a hotbed of sexual activity? You bet your bottom belief system--from Lot's incestuous sex with his daughters to God's anal exhibitionism (on glorious display when He dramatically reveals His Backside to Moses). Some of the sex in the Bible is beautiful and very erotic, as in King Solomon's "Song of Songs." Some of it is horrible and sad, as when Amnon rapes his sister Tamar. But most Bible sex is somewhere in between. That is, it's complicated, like the rest of life.
Of course, the Bible contains far too many rules against way too many kinds of sex. And the punishments tend to be the stuff of Taliban dreams. For instance, a woman who touches a man's genitals gets her hand cut off; and if a man is caught having sex with a sheep, both the man and the sheep are to be executed. But some of the stories are practical, erotic, insightful lessons in human sexual nature. Take the tale of Ruth, a young widow who boldly and successfully seduces her wealthy male cousin-in-law Boaz on the "threshing floor," at the suggestion of her mother-in-law Naomi. Then there's Esther, the teenage beauty queen who uses her powers of sexual seduction to save the Jews of Persia from genocide. Perhaps the anti-sex religious zealots would learn something about sex if they actually read the Bible instead of thumping it so much.
Sex & Jesus
How about Jesus? Though the "Holy Father" of traditional Christianity might be even more sex-negative than the original Yahweh of the Jews, the Jesus of the Gospels is a rather erotic, feminine, even feminist God. He's not exactly sex-positive, but neither is he negative. In fact, the Jesus of the Gospels hardly says anything about sex. Of course, Saints Paul and Augustine more than make up for that later. But Jesus himself, though he decries adultery, never actually denigrates sex. In fact, he advocates love, which is certainly related to sex. Nowhere do the Gospels say that Jesus is celibate or that anyone else should be.
Some Bible scholars (and Da Vinci Code enthusiasts) believe that the "real" Jesus was, in fact, married, and that the Church vigorously suppressed that marriage for political and economic reasons. After all, the New Testament never says He isn't married, and the great majority of Jewish men, especially rabbis like Jesus, were married. Perhaps the wedding that Jesus attended and miraculously "catered" was his own. Without a doubt, Jesus liked women, especially sexual, independent, albeit "repentant" women. After all, who's the first person Jesus took a meeting with when He resurrected Himself on Easter Sunday? His favorite foot rubber, of course, Mary Magdalene: The Original Easter Bunny.
Of course, Jesus also liked guys, being a "fisher of men." Award-winning playwright Terrence McNally's Broadway play Corpus Christie presents a gay Jesus who has sex with his Apostles. Outrageous, of course, but no more farfetched than a walk on the water.
It's not just modern interpretations of the Story of Jesus that uncover the sex angles. Old and modern paintings and sculptures of Jesus on the Cross are often highly erotic. After all, the man is practically naked, and though sometimes he looks anorexic, and all that blood is kind of gross (except to the likes of Saint Mel), basically he's got a great body. Usually, his face is beautiful, "beatified," with his big sorrowful eyes, open sensuous mouth, and long soft wavy hair. Hanging on a cross displays his nearly naked body in an outstretched, inviting, manner. Yes, of course, it looks painful, but we all know that suffering (passion/passio) can be sexy. When the images show Mary Magdalene looking up at him so adoringly, well, little wonder why Jesus is more popular than rock stars. He's not just holy; he's sexy. Which just goes to show: the one has something to do with the other.
As you might imagine, when I discuss the eroticism of Jesus, I get a variety of responses, all quite emotional. Most practicing Christians are, as one would expect, livid. But a few years ago, after I spoke on my show about the sex appeal of certain depictions of Jesus on the cross, a young man from one of the Bible Belt cities where we broadcast called me in tears, so relieved was he to hear that he wasn't the only one who was sexually aroused by images of Jesus.
Of course, worshipping a sexy guy who's bleeding to death subliminally encourages violence. It certainly makes bleeding to death look appealing. And to think His All-Powerful Dad was watching. It seems like passive-aggressive child abuse.. But then, this is the same God who commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son, until He stopped him with something like "Ha, ha. Only kidding., Abe. Just wanted to see if you'd do it." What a sadist! No wonder our leaders, when they undertake military aggression or state-sanctioned torture, always assert that "God is on our side."
Tantric Sex, Tantric Taboos
So, Sex and God are pretty much at odds. An ongoing struggle between organized religion and natural human sexuality pervades civilized history. And though religion is powerful, sometimes seemingly all-powerful, somehow sex always wins. Because no matter how religiously repressed we are, no matter how much people like Saint Auggie, Dr. Laura and the Reverend Donald Wildmon try to deny it, we are born animals--kicking screaming sexual animals--and we die just like animals die.
The secret passion of the erotic is that it puts us in touch with our animal nature. The secret passion of Dr. Laura, St. Auggie and St. Don is that they're sexually obsessed with trying to control the behavior of the rest of us. Although their efforts to establish sex-negative, racist, intrusive, inhumane taboos as the law of the land are ultimately futile (sex always wins), they can do considerable damage. They can drive the peaceful sexy spirit of Eros even deeper into secrecy, deep into the heart's recesses of guilt, shame and fear of a wrathful God who will strike you dead if He catches you so much as thinking about something lustful. No wonder so many of us love a good spanking...or a mystical journey into the spiritual sexual world of tantric sex.
From Asia to California, Buddhist and Hindu tantric "yogis" incorporate sex into worship, practicing the various disciplines of tantric sex to achieve the bliss and harmony with God that is "beyond" physical orgasm. Though much more sex-positive than the Big Three, Tantra has its own taboos. For instance, men are encouraged to help their female partner to enjoy as many orgasms as possible (which is great!), but the men are rarely permitted to ejaculate themselves. Some tantric schools insist that the man not come at all, except when he wants to have children. Tantra is a great discipline for integrating sexuality with spirituality, and I recommend it highly to my male clients who have problems with premature ejaculation. But it's unfair, irrational and bad for a man's health to "command" him almost never to ejaculate.
Eros, the Goddess & the Blood of the Divine
Ancient Goddess-worshipping religions, now revived by moderns disillusioned with paternal monotheism, feature sex rituals, holy orgies, erotic art, even "sacred prostitutes." Perhaps the resurrection of these cults of Isis, Aphrodite, Kali and the rest is nothing more glorious than an effort to create some kind of belief system in which people can enjoy sexual pleasure without so much guilt. Then there are the new worshippers of Eros who come to The Dr. Susan Block Institute to celebrate the Greco-Roman God of Sex, Love and the Breath of Life every Eros Day when the planetoid Eros is closest to Earth. Even agnostics will celebrate God or the Goddess, if a good party is involved.
Speaking of which, back to those sexy Spring holidays when we do not overtly celebrate sex, except for all that egg symbolism. But we do drink! At a traditional Passover Seder, devout Jews guzzle at least four cups of kosher wine. Drinking the "fruit of the vine" is a sacrament to celebrate birth, freedom and the renewal of life, so you're pretty much commanded to get good and shnockered
In Catholicism, the blood of Jesus is represented by the wine of communion. Blood and wine are ancient pagan symbols of divinity. Jesus, at that famous Seder he presided over before getting busted, pointed to the wine and said "this is my blood." Devout Muslims aren't supposed to drink any alcohol, not one of the most endearing aspects of Ishmael's branch of the Big Three. "Wine," says religious historian Dr. Walter F. Otto, "has in it something of the spirit of infinity which brings the primeval world to life again." The moral of that story is: Never drink and drive; however wine is not the drink of the devil, but the blood of the divine.
Sex, on the other hand… Well, the ongoing debate between Sex and God will continue, at least until we all start cloning ourselves.
© March 22, 2005, Dr. Susan Block
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