Thursday, August 11, 2011

Sinsational!



When did "sin" become synonymous with sex?

The Bible has a few commandments relating to sex--no adultery, no gay stuff, no fucking sheep, no letting the sheep fuck you, no... oh come on you guys, you can't do that with a sheep either, what's wrong with you--but honestly, it's got more to say about humane treatment of livestock than it does about sex. (And, in the case of sheepfucking, there's some overlap.)

If you open the Bible to a random page, odds are very good the message on it will be one of the following:
1) "God is a really really super important big deal."
2) "Love your neighbor, give to the poor, and be a generally decent person."
3) "Want to hear about Mediterranean political intrigues from 2000 years ago? Course ya do!"

Odds are extremely low it will have anything to do with sex, and lower still that it'll be explicit directions for sexual morality. The Bible's a lot of things, but a sex manual's not one of them.

So why are the "culture wars" between religion (well, Christianity) and secularism in this country almost entirely about sex? Why do the "turn from your sins and follow God" sign-holder guys show up at Gay Pride and not at trade summits? (Or slaughterhouses?) Why are the most religiously divisive issues things like homosexuality, "modesty," marriage, gender roles, and abstinence?

To be honest, I'm not enough of a politics/history/psychology wonk to fully answer that question. But I do know that it lies in politics, history, and psychology, and not in religion. Jesus saved adulterers and prostitutes. He didn't see their sins as some special extra sin that was worse than pride or cruelty or the generally sinful life of any mortal.

And yet in modern American culture, sex is practically the only sin there is. When's the last time a Christian kid got thrown out of the house because they coveted others' possessions or they made fun of a homeless person? When's the last time a Christian lawmaker made hyperbolic, slightly-unhinged-sounding promises to a church group to fight the sin of avarice? When's the last time churches protested a movie because it depicted violence? This attitude has even been sardonically co-opted by the pro-sex folks; strip bars don't have names like "Club Sin" because you can go bear false witness against your neighbor there.

I think a lot of people assume that kinksters and sex-positive folk are all atheists, maybe pagans. The truth is, a lot of us are still in Judeo-Christian traditions. (I've prayed with other kinky Jews.) And more of us would be if those traditions were open to us. I spent several years as an atheist based on feeling, essentially, that religion was all about how you were allowed to fuck. Coming back into spiritual life required a lot of reconstructing it to be about the virtues that I could uphold--only to find out that those were the original virtues all along. I'm still not a good Jew and I don't really intend to be, but I'm a believer in the sacred, and I don't think the sacred gives a good goddamn if I have a little fun with my friends.

The religious hang-up on sex is horrible because it destroys families, because it leads people to hate themselves, and because it drives people away from a religion that otherwise might bring them peace and meaning. Not only does it harm the "sinners" it casts out, but it harms the religions themselves. When you close your church to people who fuck funny, you close your church to people who might strengthen it as a community center, a support network for its members, and a contributor to charity. Faith-based programs do genuinely good work in this country and abroad, and if they directed their energies away from policing sexual "sin," they'd be able to do so much more.

He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

I don't see a "but it doesn't count if you have dirty sex" anywhere in there.

69 comments:

  1. Wilhelm Reich explained it all in The Mass Psychology of Fascism decades ago: sexually repressed people are far easier to control by authoritarian propaganda.

    (Have you looked into the Anders Breivik manifesto? It absolutely oozes with sex-negativity.)

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  2. Eli - Wilhelm Reich was kind of a crackpot, what with trying to use orgasm energy machines to make it rain and all that.

    I don't think it's about making people "easier to control;" I think it's about enforcing in-group behavior. Being chaste is a bonding force and source of pride for chaste people, a way to prove and earn one's place in the group--unfortunately, it comes packaged with hypocrisy and with poisonous disdain for the unchaste.

    (Yes, and it does, although it's more racism and misogyny than hatred for sex per se.)

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  3. sex is practically the only sin there is

    Don't forget poverty!

    With regard to the origins (or Origens) of Christianity's distaste for sex, I like this as a quick essay on the subject. I lack the knowledge and the leisure to evaluate the historical claims on their merits, but FWIW, they're not particularly exceptional claims among what relatively little Christian history I've read. HTH! HAND.

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  4. (Or slaughterhouses?)

    I know this is not the point of the post, but THIS. I agree so hard!

    On a more relevant topic, that of how sex became equal to sin, blame the middle ages in Europe and the mistranslation of what is basically a word for "woman who hasn't had any sons yet" for "woman who has is a pure magical special virgin and never been touched by anyone ever, other than God." (Though mistranslation makes it sound like an accident -- when really it was a culture finding ways to control people, especially if those people were women.)

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  5. It's straightforwardly about control; you must be reminded, at every available moment, that your body is not your own, your mind is not your own, your dinner table is not your own, your sex is not your own.

    You are god's appendage, his tool. The priest his lieutenant will wield you as he--God rather than the priest, you hope--sees fit. You will do as you're told, understand what you're told, eat what you're told, and f*ck who and how and when you're told, under penalty of hellfire.

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  6. Nick - I continue to think it's--at least in modern America--much more about pitting the godly against the ungodly.

    Nothing brings people together like a common enemy, and the American Christian Right has established a lot of different groups--Muslims, atheists, gays, the "mainstream media"--as common enemies.

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  7. hooray for Fox news! It's an interesting thought-I haven't read the bible closely enough to play my traditional role of devil's advocate, so...
    I was personally raised in a very athiestic family with a few jewish traditions. I know if my mom knew I was into kink she'd try as soon as possible to get me into therapy, which is fucked up to me, because shit, it's just spice to sex-we do more interesting things with food and there are points in history with that shit not being found acceptable to eat.
    -shrug- go figure. I figure part of it is the whole control thing and part of it is "enemy of my enemy"

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  8. I blame the patriarchy.

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  9. Anon - At least historically, yeah. When you have a system where wealth can only be passed on genetically, and where reliable contraception does not exist, then sexual morality matters much more than when you're in a world where wealth can be passed to whoever and kids are a choice. Some of that mindset has definitely gotten passed down to us.

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  10. There's actually a lot of stuff in the bible relating to sex that would be seen as "lewd" nowadays - like men with multiple wives, and I think there's even a psalm about a couple having sex and it's portrayed as a GREAT THING.

    There were a few lines in the bible that always stood out for me, which actually eventually lead me to move away from it. One: "How can you remove a splinter from your brother's eye when you fail to see the plank in your own?" People just pick and choose what they want from the bible and then throw it in others' faces at incontestable spiritual fact, meanwhile being just as "sinful" as they claim everyone else is. And the other: "Seek and ye shall find, knock and the door shall be opened." Parts of the bible actually tell us to be critical, to always question and always seek. Why do people always pick the few lines that are hateful and condemning to stand behind, and never the nice ones that can apply to everyone and make life better? [also I didn't look those lines up just now so they may not be exactly right, but they're along those lines)

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  11. God's Grandchildren is, I think at least, a pretty spot-on evalutation of how people in general and sometimes cultures as a whole subvert religion. One of the observations is that group activities on every level being diverted from their original purpose by sex obsession is a common pattern, and there's not reason religion is exempt. He makes the same point you did that the Bible is far less concerned with sex than churches are.

    Even chimps and bonobos are highly concerned about who is having sex with whom within their groups. This may not even be a cultural tool of power at its root (though it certainly has been used as one) so much as it is part of our nature as primates.

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  12. My theory on this is that having a crush or being sexually obsessed with something is a very weird headspace and makes you do very stupid, illogical things (such as embarass yourself publicly or risk your primary relationship for a fling). To an outside view, your behaviour is stupid and silly and, once you've calmed down, you often feel the same way about your own behaviour. Sin motivated by greed feels more logical and understandable.

    That leads to a tendency to dissociate yourself from such behaviour, especially by loudly denouncing it. Then when it happens to you, the shame of behaving against your stated principles makes you more likely to behave in stupid, secretive ways. And thus, every Evangelical preacher caught with a rent boy.

    This may all be bollocks though!

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  13. "Nothing brings people together like a common enemy"
    And, well, sex is an effective method for creating a common enemy. Almost everyone is against violence, envy, etc, at least in the abstract. Sex lends itself more easily to dividing people into in-groups and out-groups.

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  14. The one thing I was always conscious of growing up was that the only difference between the "Christian/"Saved" Kids" (who attended groups and all that stuff) and the rest of us regular kids was they claimed to not be having sex, and that they wouldn't have it.

    I couldn't really ever find any other differences. It struck me weird.

    One of the reasons I eventually left the Church was because I couldn't figure out why they were so obsessed with sex.

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  15. It's interesting that "Sex" is now seen as sinful. In the (made-up, but never mind) list of seven, it's Lust specifically that gets the big finger-wagging, this-is-mommy's-sad-face, don't-even-think-about-it treatment.

    My view: sex is not the only "sin" that's destructive to oneself, one's family or even the wider community. In fact, it can (and should) be healthy, harmless and FUN.
    And that's why it's a problem.

    It's the only "sin" that provides real competition, a real threat in fact, to people's dedication to their religion. Would you like to go to the service, or would you rather stay in and have sex? Thought so...

    It's also the only "sin" that provides a real alternative means of finding joy with and bonding with other human beings. And we all know that some religions get a little bit possessive about that sort of thing. They like to put it about that they are the only game in town.

    No wonder it's still the one people feel they have to fight against.

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  16. Bah!

    My badly-stated point should have been that it's not that sex is bad, because it isn't. In fact, where the other sins tend to be divisive and destructive, sex is uniquely nurturing and positive - or at least it can be in a way that, say, greed or anger can't.

    Hence, the problem.

    Now why couldn't I say that first time round?

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  17. Part of the reason Christianity is so anti-sex comes from it trying to differentiate itself from Roman culture in its first few centuries. Roman women were required by law to not be unmarried for less than a few months at a time unless they were priestesses of certain cults, in which case they had to be virginal for however long they were in the priestesshood. Christianity, by offering women an alternative to forced marriage, attracted a very large following.

    The other problem was St. Augustine, who was quite obviously a nymphomaniac. If you don't believe me, go read the Confessions. If you don't feel like it, I'll hit the most important point: after he converted, Augustine realized that he could either commit to Christianity or keep having crazy sex - he chose the latter, not because sex and Christianity are incompatible but because he had to basically go cold turkey on his sex addiction if he wanted to be able to take himself seriously. The problem was, though, that he was so influential in defining what it means to be Christian that people assumed that everything about him, including his self-imposed celibacy, was supposed to apply to everyone.

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  18. Hershele OstropolerAugust 11, 2011 at 10:21 PM

    When you have a system where wealth can only be passed on genetically, and where reliable contraception does not exist, then sexual morality matters much more than when you're in a world where wealth can be passed to whoever and kids are a choice. Some of that mindset has definitely gotten passed down to us.

    Which is why contraception is being blamed for teenage pregnancy.. "Letting 16-year-olds have Plan B will lead them to have sex. If they have sex, they'll get pregnant"

    My view: sex is not the only "sin" that's destructive to oneself, one's family or even the wider community. In fact, it can (and should) be healthy, harmless and FUN.
    And that's why it's a problem.

    It's the only "sin" that provides real competition, a real threat in fact, to people's dedication to their religion. Would you like to go to the service, or would you rather stay in and have sex? Thought so...


    I read somewhere speculation that one reason the Production Code Administration (and, consequently, the MPAA) was more concerned with sex than with violence is that the head of the PCA, Joe Breen, was raised in a strain of Catholicism that felt violence is its own punishment, while sex is (by them, deceptively) enjoyable.

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  19. Great post, Holly! I think the sex obsession of the religious right has to do with how sex-obsessed the U.S. is in general. Maybe it goes back to Puritan days?

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  20. Well, I agree that the emphasis is skewed. I think that the sheep and the goats says a lot about who's not actually going to heaven but thinks they are.

    But to the question of why there's so much emphasis on sexual sin, there's a far more obvious and less demonizing answer than any of the ones above. How many people do you personally know that overtly justify avarice, violence, or animal cruelty? How many do you personally know that overtly justify gay sex or married people having sex outside the marriage? All the emphasis is in the one area where all the argument is; not really a big evil mystery.

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  21. In the book 1984 it goes pretty deep into why their political system repressed sexuality (among other things), and it had everything to do with forming attachments with one another and that was a threat to the System and political loyalties. Seems fitting here.

    Don't even get me started on celibacy. That was just another ploy to control the men in the service of the church and gain more power - if they didn't have children, the church would inherit their property/land upon death. At least, that's what I learned.

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  22. Mousie:

    How many people do you personally know that overtly justify...animal cruelty?

    Spoken like someone who's never been vegan. I had people come up to me on almost a daily basis and go "Pfft! Your stance on animal cruelty is stupid. It's totally fine to hurt animals cuz, like, they're dumber than we are and stuff!"

    People don't need to overtly justify avarice because wanting BIGGER BETTER FASTER MORE is such an ingrained part of society that very few people even question it.

    I've heard enough gun enthusiasts gleefully discuss how they'd blow the head off an intruder that it seems like people justify violence an awful lot, too.

    So, if your argument is that everyone knows violence, animal cruelty, and avarice are bad (and that's why religious groups don't spend a lot of time obsessing on them), well...I might have to respectfully disagree there.

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  23. My thinking is that sex is emphasized basically because it's a stupid thing to get upset about. If they emphasized one of the more reasonable aspects of the religion, they would neither get the attention they want nor the sense of being the only reightious poeple in a corrupt world. It's interesting that several people here came to basically the same conclusion, I hadn't really heard to elsewhere before.

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  24. As a soon-to-be Lutheran pastor, I agree with what you say here. Honestly, Jesus talks more about money than he does anything else. And yet, money is one of the *least* talked-about subjects in Christian churches in America. One of the great problems in religion (any religion, as far as I can tell it's endemic to the human condition) is that people tend, even with the best of intentions, to use their faith to justify their beliefs rather than conforming their beliefs to what their faith actually says. We want to believe that God(s) thinks the same thing we do.

    It's interesting to read the great Christian theologians through the ages. They have many wise and profound insights and explanations of the Biblical text ... and then you get to a part where they talk about sex, and all of a sudden it's oO ?!? You read their stuff, compare it to what the Bible actually says, and the only explanation is that their prejudices have trumped their willingness to listen to the Word of God.

    Actually, from what we can tell, although it had roots earlier, it really got entrenched when Christianity started going mainstream and trying to appeal to the general run of Roman citizenry. A lot of things went by the wayside, then. So blame the Romans. (Well. And St. Augustine's issues with his mother and his mistress.)

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  25. PerverseCowgirl, eating animals is specifically allowed in the Bible, so that's not a Bible debate. And I've never had someone argue with me when I told them I avoid chicken and eggs that aren't free-range. They look guilty and say how expensive it is. Veganism is taking this idea further than the Bible goes with it.

    Avarice, again, when you bring it up in those terms, people look guilty. And there's a ton in the Bible requiring giving stuff away, but having lots of stuff if you give lots away is mostly seen as a sign that God is returning your giving. Public debate on avarice is mostly in terms of taking stuff by force from rich people to give it to poor people, which is nowhere in the Bible. So the public debate is again around taking it further than the Bible goes with it.

    In the area of violence, again, the Bible does in fact allow one to blow the head off a clear and present danger. There's a few Christians who ignore lots of the Bible and fix on an hyperbolic passage in the Sermon on the Mount to promote total pacifism, which is what I guess you have in mind if you pick shooting a home invader as an example of violence. Again, taking it further than the Bible goes with it.

    There are an enormous number of places people fall short of the Bible, but not a lot of overt, public attempts to justify them except in the area of sex.

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  26. I don't want to overstate my case here; the Church has always had a problem with going past what the Bible says into sheer prudery, and as far as I know all other religions have suffered from inordinate prudery as well unless they were the kind with temple prostitutes. But right now in the West, there is no mystery that the arguing is about sex.

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  27. Well basically all I have to say on the subject of "why is sex the worst sin?" is http://www.amazon.com/History-Sexuality-Vol-Introduction/dp/0679724699

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  28. Good and insightful post Holly.

    I've often wondered about the relative sin of not giving money to charity and thus not saving lives versus quietly having sex with no one hurt and no one the wiser! Perhaps the answer is that we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God and compared to his goodness we are all on the same level.

    You make a good point about questioning assumptions about what is right and wrong and studying the Bible for yourself - if you listen to others you may end up overly restricting your options for no gain in 'goodness' at all.

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  29. Wordsoffaith, don't forget Augustine's fiancé. According to him, she was a few years too young (so probably about ten years old), but she was just so beautiful that he had to have her early

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  30. Oh man, and Jerome. There's a guy with some repression issues. In one of his letters, he talks about how he fell asleep reading Cicero and in his dream, a bunch of angels beat the ever-loving shit out of him and he keeps begging them for more. It's really bizarre.

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  31. PerverseCowgirl, eating animals is specifically allowed in the Bible, so that's not a Bible debate.

    I didn't say it was; you said that people (not Christians, specifically, but people) don't go around justifying animal cruelty, and I said that my refusal to eat animals provoked people into telling me, on a regular basis, that factory farming is totally fine because animals are stupid and helpless and humans are "at the top of the food chain". I'm glad you haven't seen people behave like this, but I have.

    I thought your initial post was saying that religion doesn't bother policing people for certain sins (like animal cruelty) because it's already obvious to people that those things are bad. I'm just saying I'm not so sure about that (i.e., regardless of what The Bible does or doesn't say, or whether someone identifies as Christian, that people often believe some pretty sketchy things). So the examples I cited weren't meant to be Bible teachings, just examples of people justifying the concepts you mentioned. But maybe I misinterpreted what you were trying to say.

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  32. Wilhelm Reich was kind of a crackpot, what with trying to use orgasm energy machines to make it rain and all that.

    He called it orgone energy, but "orgasm energy" is probably close enough. :D
    At the time the idea of unknown energies wasn't uncommon; see the Vril Society for example.

    The Mass Psychology of Fascism was written in the 1930s, using the cutting edge psychology and sociology methodologies of the time: Marx and Freud. Naturally a lot of Reich's analysis is awkward and shaky when read today. But that doesn't invalidate his observations - I think it's telling that both the Nazis, the Communists, and the FDA banned the book. He was apparently a crackpot that seriously threatened the authoritarian powers.

    "Suppression of the natural sexuality in the child, particularly of its genital sexuality, makes the child apprehensive, shy, obedient, afraid of authority, good and adjusted in the authoritarian sense; it paralyzes the rebellious forces because any rebellion is laden with anxiety; it produces, by inhibiting sexual curiosity and sexual thinking in the child, a general inhibition of thinking and of critical faculties. In brief, the goal of sexual suppression is that of producing an individual who is adjusted to the authoritarian order and who will submit to it in spite of all misery and degradation. At first the child has to submit to the structure of the authoritarian miniature state, the family; this makes it capable of later subordination to the general authoritarian system. The formation of the authoritarian structure takes place through the anchoring of sexual inhibition and anxiety."

    Personally I see the promotion of shame as a way to get people to fight against themselves. Divide and conquer. It's a bit like convincing a tree that its roots are dirty for sticking in the mud. It messes people up in a whole lot of ways, and it provides ways to manipulate them by promising a way out of their internal contradictions.

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  33. Eli: I'm inclined to think Reich was wrong, and here's why:

    In brief, the goal of sexual suppression is that of producing an individual who is adjusted to the authoritarian order and who will submit to it in spite of all misery and degradation.

    In my youth I was strongly encouraged (by my evangelical nascent-megachurch environment) to regard my sexuality with fear and suspicion, and I did it. I believed everything they told me about sex. Did I adjust to the authoritarian order? Hell, no. I can barely function in society.

    When our youth group leaders lectured us on the dangers of masturbation*, the well-adjusted kids were the ones who smiled and nodded and then forgot it and played basketball. Smiling and nodding at bullshit is an essential skill in an authoritarian system. ("Never argue with a fool. Whether he laughs or rages, there will be no peace." -- Solomon) And most of those kids had boyfriends or girlfriends and I'm sure many of them were having sex, and probably by now most of them are married to someone and back in an evangelical church where their children will be lectured on the dangers of masturbation.

    The people who were really damaged by this were the maladjusted freaks who couldn't let it pass, and had to either swallow the lie (as I did) or spit it out. I had a friend in youth group who decided that he did want to be sexually active, and thus was made to feel extremely unwelcome on a regular basis until he stopped showing up. He had a pretty terrible home environment and some neurological problems and he really could have used the support system, but he couldn't handle being browbeaten about his sexuality. That's a shameful failure of our mission as Christians, and it happens because the system is designed to produce, not obedient True Believers, but doublethinking hypocrites.


    * I swear they actually did this. I learned to panic whenever they split the group up by gender**, and still react badly to being in an all-male crowd for any reason.

    ** The cruelest part of this whole business--it sent a clear message that this discussion wasn't relevant to women because sexual desire is something women don't have.

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  34. "Kinky Jews
    (sorry, couldn't resist)"
    - Debutonk

    Wow, look at the length of that tongue!

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  35. It's not just used to describe sex, it also describes food. In the "chocolate cake" sense, not the "shellfish and pork" sense.

    More generally, it's about policing pleasure.

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  36. As a catholic we call the picking and choosing being a Cafeteria Catholic. Only following the rules we can live with. Ses is beautiful, spritual and dirty. I believe that consenting adults need to be responsible about a life they create even if they only intended to have fun. Parents living in different households destroys families. Every other holiday with mom or dad destroys families. Homewrecking whores who get off sleeping with spouses wreck families. For what? fun? k

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  37. That explains all the hate against homosexuality, what with irresponsibly leaving all those kids behind and all.

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  38. I'm sure many of them were having sex, and probably by now most of them are married to someone and back in an evangelical church where their children will be lectured on the dangers of masturbation.

    I don't think your observation invalidates the basic premise; obviously the point isn't to actually stop people from having sex, because then the church would just die out. It's raising people who won't speak out for what they really believe in. It's fine with the authority - even expected - that everyone masturbates or whatever, as long as the majority will never openly admit to it.

    If these kids you describe had been able to question the authority in a meaningful sense, I would think they'd distance themselves from it and not subject their children to it. It sounds to me that they were well-trained in the authoritarian discipline that George Orwell called "double-think".

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  39. Maybe an analogy will clarify what I meant; consider the beauty standards pushed by the media. Obviously the goal of the media is not to have everyone actually conform to those standards, right? To make everyone beautiful, that would be silly. Neither do they really care how any particular individual actually looks. It's about how people feel about their looks, not about how they actually look. Some people unfortunately take these standards very seriously and so ruin their health and happiness, but the media's aim isn't that you starve yourself or live ostracized.

    The true reason of the media pushing those beauty standards is to sell goods and services that people wouldn't otherwise care about. To make a sufficient number of people sufficiently uncomfortable with the gulf between who they are and who they are "supposed" to be that the discomfort creates a "market" be exploited, commercially or ideologically.

    By analogy, churches or other sex-negative authorities don't really care whether people have sex, as long as enough people are uncomfortable enough about the moral decline of society to buy their Kool-Aid...

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  40. I am with f. that much of this is covered in Foucault's History of Sexuality. Unfortunately, he passed away before he got to the Christian era. I still think that his methodology points to important facets of the development of sexuality. Essentially, what the fixation on sex has done is create sexuality. It is very strange because Christianity isn’t just concerned with one’s practices but one’s thoughts as well.

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  41. @Eli:

    Beauty standards? So you think the media is like a united front that has an agenda? Really? You think that 'the media' (which is a large number of journalists and producers and cameramen and editors) can be said to 'care' about things as if it is a person?

    Don't get me wrong, I understand the whole 'consumerism is bad' thing, but the tendency to make statements like those you've made is just lazy rhetoric and bad reasoning. Nevermind the fact that your claims are unfalsifiable.

    Groups of people =\= a person

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  42. I always hypothesized that this has its roots in post-Constantine Rome. People really absorbed the warning message that people weren't taking "sexual sin" seriously (example, 1st Corinthians 5). However, sex-positive messages seem to be conveniently ignored (heck, the Song of Songs/Solomon contains poetic eroitca). Heck, in the early days of Christianity, there was a movement called the Escharten(sp?) movement that thought that sex was evil and impure. They thought they would be the most pure people possible by getting married (a recognized sacrament) but STILL remaining celibate.

    Whatever the case may be, we have many preachers who go through TRULY INSANE mental gymnastics to justify why theirs is the view of god. Why the lens they see things through is what the holy spirit tells them is true. Preachers telling people that masturbation is "selfish" (and use Philippians 4 to justify their stance, even though it was never remotely about that). Telling people that non-missionary-position-vanilla sex is an act "of the world" and to be avoided at all costs, even though HOW a couple has sex was never regulated once in the bible AFAIK (so long as it is within the confines of heterosexual marriage). This "god always agrees with me" lens (even when it defies the edict of Sola Scripta that preachers supposedly swear by) is, to put it bluntly, their own hubris. However, because it is an issue that involves sexuality (which as you said, is the most recognized "sin" in US culture), the dominant culture prevails, because people conflate that stance with the supposed Judeo-Christian heritage of the United States.

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  43. Beauty standards? So you think the media is like a united front that has an agenda?

    No analogy is ever perfect, and I'm sorry if my analogy offended you in some way. But I find your objection a little strange in the context of a discussion on why Christianity is hung up on sex. Obviously we don't mean the individual Christians who are not hung up on sex, or the reporters who aren't pushing beauty standards. There doesn't have to be a single unified voice pushing a single International Agenda, in either religion or the media, for concepts like "beauty standards" or "sex==sin" to refer to actual phenomena.

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  44. Don't worry, I'm not offended.

    My objection wasn't relating to that part of the discussion, which would be why I didn't mention Christianity in my post. I'll get to that in this post I guess though.

    There doesn't have to be a single unified voice pushing a single International Agenda, in either religion or the media, for concepts like "beauty standards" or "sex==sin" to refer to actual phenomena.

    Even mentioning 'beauty standards' bring in all this baggage from fat apologists that detracts from the discussion. And previous comments on this blog show that any response other than agreement with fat apologists is met with insults and hostility, so why bring it up? Unless you just want an echo chamber, which you don't seem to want.

    What seems like a more interesting point would be to ask 'why do we even need the concept of sin in the first place?'. I'm not even talking from an anti-theistic standpoint; since all Christians pick and choose which doctrines they believe anyway, why not remove the useless idea of sin?

    Altruistic behavior doesn't need some bullshit foundation of punishment and guilt, so why bother with disentangling sex from sin when you can eliminate the idea of sin in the first place?

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  45. I'm not offended, although your courtesy is refreshing.

    The context wasn't really in play with my objection, 'beauty standards' is a ridiculous idea independent of Christianity.

    What I don't understand is why nobody is asking "Why not just get rid of the idea of sin?". Christians have to pick and choose which parts of their doctrines they believe anyway, so why not get rid of sin?

    Altruism isn't improved with a foundation of guilt and punishment, so why bother disentangling sex from sin when you can just stop pretending that sin is a real thing?

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  46. "Cafeteria Catholic" anon - I think condemning lust while engaging happily in pride and wrath would be one of those "cafeteria" things, don't you?

    "Fat apologist" anon - The opposite of "fat apologism" is attacking fat people, and really, I'm pretty happy with an "echo chamber" in that regard. There's really no moral imperative to attack fat people.

    "Uh oh, that fat person is too happy! Perhaps they must think they are thin, or that being fat is an okay activity for them to engage in! I must correct this!"

    As for getting rid of sin, well, I'm talking about this in a religious framework, and "well, why not just throw away your entire religion, that would fix it" is not really a helpful thing.

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  47. I don't understand the double post, I tried posting and it acted like it was deleted or something a minute later. Sorry about that. Anyway.

    Holly:

    You've proven my point about Eli's analogy bringing up emotional baggage. I wasn't interested in getting into another discussion with you where you misrepresent my points and ignore my questions, but again, you force my hand. I guess time will tell if you later accuse me of not letting something go after you started talking to me.

    Well, I'm not sure if the opposite is attacking people, but even if it is, there are more than two choices available. Not everyone who disagrees with you hates you and wants to attack you.

    I'm not sure who you think you're arguing with in the moral imperative thing, but it isn't me. My position is that fat acceptance (or whatever you choose to call it) has false premises, portrays aesthetics as a moral issue, and is often accompanied by some amount of self deception.

    It isn't that fat people should be harassed. Nor is it that the issue should be discussed forever. But when someone (in this case, you) responds to me and misrepresents my position, it's only polite to correct your misunderstanding.

    I'm aware of what you're talking about, actually. Read my post, I said that Christians pick and choose anyway (they ignore what doesn't work for them), so why not ignore sin as well?

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  48. Anon - It was in the spamfilter.

    Please don't live under the illusion that any fat person on the planet hasn't heard that their body:
    1) Is hideous
    2) Is killing them
    3) Could be fixed so easily if they would just act like a normal person!

    So we're all touchy about it and shit when someone bursts in going "you guys! I have three things that fatties must be told!"

    Read my post, I said that Christians pick and choose anyway (they ignore what doesn't work for them), so why not ignore sin as well?
    Because they're Christians. I don't think it's necessary (or productive to suggest) to throw the whole religion out with the bathwater. And throwing out the entire concept of sin would be doing that.

    Understand, I don't want people enforcing every Biblical commandment either, but I think a general concept of commandments and sins can be a good thing, or at least a valid thing.

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  49. Oh.

    I used to be fat, so I know these things (the fact that I made the unpleasant choices and changed things isn't really the point, but it's worth mentioning). I'm not sure how it relates to any of the points I've made against your "with us or against us" position though.

    So we're all touchy about it and shit when someone bursts in going "you guys! I have three things that fatties must be told!"
    Well, that's some impressive intellectual dishonesty. Unless you aren't saying that's what I did, in which case it's a non sequitur. Take your pick.

    Cool, you seem to have read some of what I said this time, sort of. Although you sort of repeated yourself with the bathwater thing.

    No, I don't agree at all about sin = Christianity. The amount of variation within Christianity already is pretty overwhelming (prayer works for everything vs. listen to the doctor, women are brood mares vs. ok maybe they aren't), so I don't see how you could draw the line at sin like you seem to want to.


    Wait, wait, wait. Wait. You're pro-divine command theory? Now, see, that's a discussion I would love to have, once you're done with the "non-fat people are jerks who attack us constantly with their conversational replies" self-pity.

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  50. Holly? Have a heartwarming image. :)

    http://27.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_ljq2rsyRD11qj3vuao1_500.png

    Anonymous: Are you flamebaiting? Because it looks an awful lot to me like you're flamebaiting. That's kind of a douchey thing to do. Knock it off.

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  51. Oh fork, what did I start?

    Anony, I don't disagree with you that the concept of sin as commonly understood is mostly unhelpful. Personally I believe that the world would do better with less divine commandments, but then I don't call myself Christian either. I see morals as a mechanism to improve social interactions, and I think it works best when recognized as such, and not imbued with grandiose pretensions.

    But getting rid of the idea of sin to get rid of the sex-negativity would only work if the latter derives from the former, and that I seriously doubt. Religions wouldn't focus so exclusively on sexual sins if there were no broader cultural reasons for doing so. Hence I think a wider approach will be needed.

    I'm only vaguely familiar with the range of opinions that fall under "fat acceptance" and it isn't what I had in mind or want to be drawn into a fight about. So for the sake of not derailing the topic any further, do you think that you could perhaps take some of your own previous advice and pretend that "fat acceptance" is NOT a united front with a single point of view, and leave it be?

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  52. goth-is-not-emo:

    No.

    I'm curious as to how Holly misrepresenting what I say constitutes flamebaiting.

    Or is it you don't like that I point out when people are wrong? You're aware that disagreement happens when people talk, right?

    (Granted, you may not be familiar with the fact that Holly has done this before, so it may seem that I was perhaps rude when she completely ignored what I posted and decided to tell me I meant something completely different. So maybe we'll give you a pass.)

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  53. Anon, you're very super close to getting your comments zapped.

    What I've done before is also not let you get away with implying that I'm hideous, dying, and could fix this if I just acted like a normal person (and furthermore it's most unsportsmanlike of me to have emotions about this).

    This post isn't about that shit, though. So just go away or say something interesting about sexual sin.

    I think saying "we shouldn't have sin at all" isn't quite right, because we always have to have bad things, right? Murder should be a bad thing. And I'm okay using "sin" as a synonym for "bad thing." Even atheistic moral system should still have sins, even if it doesn't use that words.

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  54. Please will you just stop talking about this? I'm trying so hard to end this conversation about fat acceptance, but when you lie about what I say, I can't do that. So I'm going to go through this one final time.

    Holly, I'm implying none of those things. Not only that, but I've explicitly said the opposite of those things. So cut it out, you don't get to use your emotional baggage to change my intended meaning.

    "Go away"? You started talking to me about this At every turn, post after post, I've tried to get you to let this go, but you haven't.

    How about we make a deal: you don't initiate conversations with me about fat acceptance, and I won't respond to the conversations you don't initiate? Seems like a good deal all round, and we can talk about more interesting stuff.

    "Bad things" aren't the same as sins. There's a substantive meta-ethical difference implied (like, real implied, not "I tell you what you mean" implied) with the term sin that doesn't come with "bad things".

    "Murder should be a bad thing" doesn't seem to be much other than an assertion of preference on your part, without some other premises. That's not an insult or some mean implication, it's just a fact. If you intended some other stuff too, I'd be very interested in hearing it.

    "Even atheistic moral systems should still have sins, even if they doesn't use that words"
    Again, this is just a statement of preference, but speaking as an atheist (which you aren't, right?), I can say that I completely disagree.

    My reasoning about ethics has no need for sin, or any other quasi-deontological nonsense. Empathy and some rough form of consequentialism make far more sense.

    Your assertion that atheistic moral systems require "sin" is interesting though, would you mind expanding on that?

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  55. Anon - You know, you can actually be the first to let things go.

    "Murder should be a bad thing" doesn't seem to be much other than an assertion of preference on your part, without some other premises.
    It is a preference! A really important one. If I really wanted to get philomosophical I'd say that violating consent is bad and death is bad except to end extreme suffering, so killing someone who is not horribly ill without their consent is the real problem here. But even then, the "consent" and the "killing is bad" are pretty much just preferences, if you want to call them that.

    Again, this is just a statement of preference, but speaking as an atheist (which you aren't, right?), I can say that I completely disagree.
    Well, I think even atheistic moral systems should have Things You Shouldn't Do. Whatever you call them, a well-chosen set of TYSD is integral to not being harmful to yourself and others.

    I think they do ultimately go down to "irrational" propositions--there's no exact REASON I can give you for why not-suffering is better than suffering. It's just something we agree on as humans who like to not-suffer.

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  56. Hahaha. I like you Holly, you're funny.


    It's interesting that you state both "violating consent" and "death" as foundational elements of some ethical system that is against murder. "Death" seems redundant, because in nearly all cases, murdering someone violates their consent. Do you include it so that suicide is a TYSD?

    So you're expressing a normative statement about normative statements. That would seem to make it difficult to reliably know which thing we are talking about (the 1st order normative statement that refers to actions, or the 2nd order normative statement that refers to the 1st normative statement).

    Your concept of ethics is still non-consequentialist, which sort of ignores my earlier point, intentionally or not. As I said before, a robust ethical system doesn't require specific restrictions/requirements focused on actions, it could instead focus on the outcome of actions (as consequentialist systems do).


    I think your use of the word "irrational" is mistaken here. I understand your point that, eventually, there needs to be some normative statement that is taken axiomatically (not deduced from something else), but that's not exactly a novel feature of ethical reasoning, all reasoning requires some premise to be accepted as axiomatic. This isn't "irrational".

    I disagree that it's "just something we agree on" though. That makes it sound more arbitrary than it is.

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  57. The comment I posted yesterday seems to have disappeared. Should I draw some conclusion from that?

    Personally I see morals as a mechanism to promote desirable social interactions. So we can say "don't be a jerk" because in general we prefer a society with less jerks, for example. A lot of religious commandments can be understood in the same sense; be hospitable to strangers, help the poor, etc. But a sizable number of them are ancient taboos with no secular benefit for society (leaving aside the question of supernatural benefits here). I think the sexual-sin-category falls under the latter. Perhaps part of the reason that preachers like to focus on sins against taboos is that it doesn't threaten the status quo; you can't preach social justice without advocating social change or questioning your place in society, whereas preaching against those evil sexual deviants doesn't call for any personal effort...

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  58. I didn't delete anything, Eli. I'll check the spamfilter.

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  59. "Well, I think even atheistic moral systems should have Things You Shouldn't Do. Whatever you call them, a well-chosen set of TYSD is integral to not being harmful to yourself and others.
    " - Holly

    That's a really interesting point. You seem to be using the word "sin" to refer to specific actions here. Things you shouldn't do. My understanding of "sin" (although my religious knowledge is little hazy) is that people tend to talk about either emotional states or long-term patterns of behaviour being sinful. Lust, wrath, envy, covetousness, sloth, pride and, um, mint choc chip - I'm pretty sure it was mint choc chip.

    The point is, these are not acts to be commanded against - the Abrahamic TYSD would surely be either or both version of the Ten Commandments, supplemented by Deuteronomy and all those other prohibitory writings - but states of being: the true sins are more pervasive than any one act, even murder, although everyday acts can be indicators of "sinful" tendencies. I think that having sex (in whatever unsanctioned form) has now joined the other sins, in the minds of many modern Christians and others, because to them sex isn't something you do. There are, quite clearly, the "people who have sex", and the "people who don't". Choosing to have sex has become for them a lifestyle statement, a moral signifier. More importantly, it's a one-time decision - you make your choice and live with the consequences. This no-going-back point of view has serious implications regarding virginity, pre-marital relationships, and most worryingly the rape/promiscuity conflation that Holly's written about so well in previous posts.

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  60. Eli:
    Sorry, I missed your post earlier.

    I'm pretty sure that all of us (meaning all of us with an interest in ethics that goes beyond "follow this book") agree that morals serve a social function, after all, how could the concept of morality apply if only a single person existed?

    I'm not suggesting that the concept of sin be abandoned exclusively for the purpose of rehabilitating the public image of sex, I'm saying that sin is a ridiculous concept that fails to address moral concerns, and one of the benefits of abandoning it would be that a great deal of people would have healthier attitudes toward sex.

    I agree about the suggestion to stop talking about the fat acceptance, with the one qualification: in my experience, and in the conversations that I've had, every last person who espoused fat acceptance had the attitudes that I mentioned, AND, I was specifically addressing the canard you brought up of "beauty standards". So I'm afraid your implication of hy

    Mr. Monster:

    Your understanding of sin is correct, but not quite inclusive enough. Sin, at least as I was taught in my tragically Christian upbringing, includes actions, states of mind, attitudes, preferences, thoughts, and probably other things I am sinfully forgetting. It's not a very well thought out category of things, because it's not a very well thought out ethical system.

    It seems like you are giving most Christians far too much credit, in terms of the sophistication of their moral reasoning. Christian ethics are, in the best case scenario, divine command theory, which is laughably juvenile.

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  61. *hypocrisy doesn't quite stick.

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  62. It's funny to see the talk about the word 'sin' here. I'm Christian, but honestly, it's a word that I don't really use and feel no connection to; I don't see it as that important, in terms of my spiritual practice.

    The concept of 'things you shouldn't do/feel,' sure, those are important to me, and are things I grapple with every day, (wrath, wrath is a biggie) but I guess I don't see it as 'sin,' which I associate with a more religious framework. My religion is less about what I shouldn't do, and more about what I SHOULD do. I don't need a religious reason to not be toxically angry, because I know if I'm angry all the time, I'm more likely to lash out and harm someone, for instance.

    That said, I've mostly trashed the concept of sexual sin, but that's part of how I interpret my religion. I experience God as the sheer joy and ecstasy of living, and something to be strived (striven? strove?) for. Sex certainly feels like God to me, and it doesn't hurt anybody, so it just can't be wrong.

    --Mac

    PS from Rogan: "Want to hear about Mediterranean political intrigues from 2000 years ago? Course ya do!" IT'S FUNNY BECAUSE IT'S SO SO TRUE. I keep trying to read Maccabeans for precisely this reason.

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  63. (Yes, and it does, although it's more racism and misogyny than hatred for sex per se.)

    I got the strong impression from Breivik's manifesto that most of his racism and Islamophobia was taken from others. It never seems personal in the way it does when he writes about his slut mother, slut sister, slut friends, and how they threatened his "100% heterosexual" masculinity. I agree it's not per se hatred for sex, it seems to be mostly about gender roles, and the sex and misogyny sort of follow from there...

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  64. Imagine a cult of people who admire Socrates and want to emulate his example. They heard that Socrates could get so lost in thought that he was oblivious to hunger and cold for days. The flock ask their preacher: "how do we get lost in thought like Socrates?" and the preacher replies "by fasting and exposure to the cold."

    I think a lot of religious moralizing is like that; tacked on by and for people who failed to get the point.

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  65. Hershele OstropolerAugust 18, 2011 at 11:45 AM

    Anther answer to
    When did "sin" become synonymous with sex?
    is, of course, broccoli morality, though that may be a little circular. But if something feels good and is virtuous, no one cares that it's virtuous, and if something feels bad and is sinful, no one cares that it's sinful. So the notions of virtue and vice only even come to the fore when it's in regards to things that feel bad and good, respectively.

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  66. Hope it's ok if I drop in with a note to anon's earlier comment: "Roman women were required by law to not be unmarried for less than a few months at a time"

    That isn't quite accurate. I think you might be referring to the Augustan inheritance legislation, which restricted the ability of unmarried women to inherit property. There were strong financial incentives for women to spend as much of their lives married as possible, but they certainly weren't legally obliged to wed at any given time.

    Holly - fantastic post! I don't have much to contribute that hasn't already been said, but I really enjoyed reading.

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  67. Good post, but as a Christian I would say that it's often outsiders who sexualise Christianity, specifically the media. I'm sick of people saying to me, "You're a Christian, what do you think about premarital sex/contraception/homosexual sex. My views on sex are affected by my religion, yes, but as the author of this post points outs SEXUAL MORALITY IS NOT AND NEVER HAS BEEN THE CENTER OF CHRISTIAN MORALITY. The media exists to sell and they will get more attention for writing about religion if they put a sexual spin on things because they KNOW it's going to make people angry.

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  68. DUDE! I was thinking something along these lines just yesterday! I was reading something you wrote about kids being ashamed of sex, because of the stigma our society places on it, and thinking "if Christians consider sex outside of marriage a sin, why should it be treated differently than all the other sins? why is it so sensationalized compared to others? I'm gonna tell my kids that if they decide to try to do that that then it's not necessarily anything worse or better than other things they try to avoid." I kind of never realized this until now myself.

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