Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Pubic Wars: Erotophobia and American culture

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “morality issues”?

It seems to me that much of our American culture immediately thinks of fornication, homosexuality, prostitution, and pornography. The American mind tends to equate “morality” with sexuality.

I find that bizarre, rather irrational and perhaps, dare I say it, immoral.

I happen to think morality is very important. But when you mention morality my mind doesn’t immediately turn toward sex. Instead I think of harm done to others

When you mention immorality to me the images my mind conjures up have little to do with people seeking pleasure and much to do with people inflicting pain.

I think of the man I saw in Washington Square in New York City who screamed at his young son for not getting his backhand right while practicing tennis against the arch. The man insulted the boy, called him worthless and degraded him constantly. I almost came to blows with the asshole because of it. I did put a stop to it, at least for that minute, but I suspect this boy faced of a lifetime of insults from this pathetic excuse for a father.

When I think of immorality the images of American officials and their underlings engaging in torture of prisoners comes to mind. There was a time when one of the features of American morality was that we didn’t lower ourselves to the level of the worst regimes in the world. George Bush certainly lowered the bar when it came to morality.

But Bush was seen as a “morality president”. Apparently denying gay couples equal rights before the law makes one moral and trumps any “problems” with torturing and murdering people.

Surveys done of the American public found that religious folk were more approving of torture than the non-believers. Apparently there is a new moral code:

Sex bad.
Waterboarding good.

Much of the opposition that we see to sex education from the Religious Right has to do with their desire that sex have negative consequences. This is an important distinction from what they say. You will hear them arguing that because sex has potentially negative consequences that their ought to be all sorts of legal proscriptions on human sexuality. But their concern is not that sex does have potentially negative consequences at all. Their concern is when sex does NOT have negative consequences.

They promote abstinence education because they fear teens using condoms. Condoms reduce negative consequences. It reduces the risk of disease and pregnancy. And the moralists want there to be a constant threat hanging over the head of the sexual. They don’t want the young learning responsible sexuality at all. Responsible sexuality reduces negative consequences and our religious moralists believe that there is something inherently sinful about sexuality. Since sexuality, outside their very narrow confines, is immoral there OUGHT to be punishment. And what offends them is anything that limits that punishment.

Crazed theocrats like Jenny Roback Morse, who chucked out her libertarian thinking for Catholic fanaticism, argues that the proper way to teach kids about sex is to get them to “take it seriously”. By that she means do what she never did herself, remain a virgin until marriage if straight, remain celibate for life, if gay since gay people, in Roback’s theocracy will not be allowed to marry. She goes so far as to say that “contraception itself contributes to the problem of not taking sex seriously.” How’s that? Contraception lowers the potential threat of pregnancy and in Roback’s theocratic mind that threat must always loom over every sexual act. The view of the fanatic is that if one engages in sex, even with one’s married spouse (no other kind is ever accepted) there must be some potential punishment or threat hanging there. If not v.d. then let them worry about whether or not a pregnancy will result.

While pregnancy can be a blessing, to those who want it, it is not a blessing to the overburdened mother of six, the unwed teen or someone with physical problems making pregnancy risky. But the Catholic Roback wouldn’t allow contraceptives even for these people.

Pregnancy, venereal disease, AIDS, these are things that the moralists welcome with open arms. They are gleeful over the idea that their hated homosexuals might come down with AIDS or that sexually active teens could become pregnant. That is the “sinners in the hands of an angry God” mentality that infects American religion.

Their opposition to sex education, birth control. safer sex practices, and similar techniques is rooted in the reality that such measures reduce the “punishment” which they believe ought to be inflicted on sinners.

This view of morality is directly related to the philosophical premises that American Christianity has tended to embrace—especially the orthodox and fundamentalist sects.

You have heard it said that “life is a vale of tears” and that death takes one “to a better place.” Jesus said “the spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak.”

There is a strong assumption in religious circles that the material world is evil and sinful and ought to be shunned. What is good is the spiritual. Caring for people’s material needs is not critical—only their eternal soul is important. There is an intense hatred for this life and a glorification of the alleged “after life”. The assumption has been that the flesh, the material existence, is evil.

St. Paul was adamant about the evil nature of the flesh. “Those who are in the flesh can not please God.” “For the outlook of the flesh is death but the outlook of the Spirit is life and peace.” “Do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” “If you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provisions for the flesh to arouse its desires.” “The outlook of the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to the law God, nor is it able to do so.” “I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”

Christianity erected a great divide between human sexuality and spirituality. They argued that we are created in the image of God but were equally sure that their God was not a sexual being. (We will leave out the more unique views of the Mormons who believed in multiple Gods who continue to screw throughout eternity.) To be Godly then required a disdain, if not outright condemnation of sexuality. The sexuality of our species was seen as “animalistic”.

That alone tells us much about our culture. Humans consider animals to be a lesser species. Sexuality it seen as animalistic. Sexuality is thus morally suspect at the best of times. Often the moralists will use terms like “barnyard activities” to describe the human sexual impulse. God is not sexual. Animals are sexual. Humans who are sexual are therefore shunning Godliness and embracing their animalistic nature. No wonder they had to concoct a “virgin birth” to explain the birth of the God-Man they worship.

But, this view of sexuality does much more than instill fear—something it is intended to do. It also instils something more important—guilt. The Christian view of sexuality is so unrealistic that no Christian can live up to the standards that are set. No Christian escapes sexual fantasies and desires. And this includes desires for others who are not their spouses. This imposes a spiritual inferiority complex into people, and that is what it is meant to do. Individuals who are wracked with guilt and fear are more easily dictated to and controlled.

A reading of Christian articles written by, or for, teens is astounding. Even the simple act of masturbation is cause for great guilt:
...there were still other things that stimulated me sexually—and I didn't have to make any special effort to find them. It could be a model in a commercial or magazine ad. Or maybe I would stare longer than I should at a girl at school in a midriff-baring top, a short dress or low-cut shirt. I'd find myself daydreaming about what I'd seen. Sometimes those images I tucked into my brain led me to masturbate. But whether or not I masturbated, I knew I'd let myself fall into lust.
I agonized. I pleaded with God:
"God, forgive me!"
"Help me!"
"I'm so sorry. … "
But then I'd find myself giving in and letting my mind go places it shouldn't. The shame and the guilt dug in deeper and deeper.
The author of this article describes spending hours and hours trying to use the Bible to eradicate his sexual nature. He and other Christians would try to help one another escape reality. And the best he can say is: “I must be honest and say that I haven’t gained total control over lust, I don’t believe that will happen until I get to heaven. But, I’m doing much better than I was a few years ago....” Note that he is now a young adult referring back to his teenage years, so it is no surprise he has “more control” (that is less unwanted sexual attractions) than before. By the time’s he 70-years-old he’ll be convinced that God has almost answered his prayers completely by eradicating sexual desire.

One Christian adviser tells young Christians: “Imagine there’s a sign on everyone you date that reads: PROPERTY OF JESUS.”

Imagine literally believing that. Wouldn’t that apply equally to your husband or wife? If so, how anxious would you be to have sex with your spouse?

We call stores that sell erotica “dirty book stores”. Sex is “doing the nasty”. Nudity is called indecent. Sex is called obscene. Genitals are “the ugly bits.” The same word describe sex that describes being violated: getting fucked. We screw someone when we make love to them and when we cheat them. Our entire culture is permeated with two things. One, that sexual desire is unavoidable and everywhere. Two, that it is disgusting and evil.

No wonder our wacko sex laws are becoming more and more intrusive and bizarre. We are turning millions of harmless people into “sex offenders,” not because they have harmed another person but because our culture truly finds sex offensive. When a student streaking a school event is considered a sex offender, when two teens having sex on a date are sex offenders, when urinating behind a tree can make you a sex offender, then we have moved beyond sexual schizophrenia to sexual paranoia.

It isn’t that Americans are any less likely to be sexual. On the contrary, the constant preaching about sex makes it more attractive to many people. People still do it and always will. That is never going to change. But, in America we have to punish it and punish ourselves. We have to satiate the guilt that we experience because the reality of our lives don’t match the theological nonsense that we preach. And, that is a very bad combination of problems.

Yes, we did have a “sexual revolution” where people were more honest about being sexual. But we didn’t have a theological revolution. Now we’re open about sex and open about feeling guilty about it, fearing it, and hating it. In other cultures adolescents have sex in similar proportion to our own, but VD rates and pregnancy rates are much lower. They don’t feel guilty about sex and thus take precautions. Our teens are all doing it but can’t plan ahead as that would indicate a planned desire to “sin against God.” So they can’t take the condom along on the date.

We inundate ourselves with sexual images and pass laws that have inflated sex crimes from those which are real and obvious to those that are absurd and cruel.

We just can’t get away from that gnawing feeling that sex is evil and should be punished. And since nature doesn’t punish us enough for our immorality, we have the law doing it instead. I find that absurd.

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