Friday, December 10, 2004

Christianity and Human Sexuality

In a previous post entitled Christianity and Ethics, I stated that when I am in doubt, I am prepared to accept scripture as a more or less objective moral authority, but that I also believe people can and should use their own reason to make decisions about ethics and morality, putting scripture into its proper perspective. Moreover, keeping in mind the limitations of scripture as an objective moral authority, I think it is incumbent upon those who turn to scripture for moral guidance to reconsider some of the strict laws that God purportedly laid down. Nowhere is this sort of reconsideration of Christian biblical perspectives more appropriate than it is with human sexuality.

Make no mistake about it: The Bible is very clear about prohibitions against free and open sexual expression. Indeed, the Sermon on the Mount narrates the position of Jesus Christ on this issue as being even more restrictive than traditional Jewish law. (See Matthew 5:28.) To wit, Christ purportedly asserted that lusting after a woman in your heart is the same as committing adultery while leaving in place the traditional Jewish prohibitions against adultery, fornication, onanism, and homosexuality. In essence, if one is to adhere to the mores dictated by a fundamentalist biblical perspective on human sexuality, the only form of sexual expression that is appropriate for a man is a sexual act involving one of his wives -- or perhaps one of his wives' handmaidens -- that is consummated by ejaculating into that woman's vagina.

It's not exactly clear in the Bible whether handmaidens who were used to bear children were in reality taken as second or third wives, and there is absolutely no discussion in the Bible of a prohibition on lesbian sexuality or forms of birth control that do not involve the use of a condom. Rather, God's primary concern in both the Old and New Testament seems to have been that a man's semen is routinely deposited into the vagina of a woman who belongs to that particular man. To that end, for a man to even think of any other form of sexual expression where this objective is not obtained is a mortal sin, at least according to fundamentalist Christian biblical perspectives. On top of this highly restrictive code of sexual conduct found in the Bible, various Christian sects have built all sorts of highly restrictive sexual norms that prohibit everything from nudity to birth control.

When it comes to human sexuality, I am prepared to ignore the Bible as a moral compass because my reason tells me that any solitary sexual act or any sexual act that occurs in private between consenting individuals should not be the concern of anyone but the people involved in those sexual acts. This permissive viewpoint on human sexuality still leaves plenty of room for strict prohibitions on forcible rape and child molestation, but it puts a great deal of emphasis on the inherent freedom of people to think for themselves when it comes to deciding what forms of sexual expression they should and should not engage in. To wit, I do not believe in the sanctity of marriage, nor do I believe in the concept of sexual infidelity. Even so, I respect the rights of others to commit themselves to marriages and other monogamous relationships, and I can understand why most people find these types of relationships desirable. Indeed, the pressure to conform to this societal norm is enormous and (at times) overwhelming.

Like Judaism before it and Islam after it, Christianity perceives human sexuality to be a sacred taboo. The biblical story of Christ's birth - to a virgin who gets married before Christ is actually born- is a tribute to this perception. To wit, most monotheists unconsciously perceive sex to be the creative life force of the universe, a powerful force that must be properly channeled to avoid disaster and destruction, and most monotheists accept without question the proposition that marriage is the only appropriate human institution for channeling human sexual desires. Indeed, these perceptions have transcended monotheism and become so basic to Western Culture that most homosexuals in committed relationships are desperately seeking the imprimatur of marriage. Moreover, the roles and rules of marriage and sexual fidelity are generally assumed and imposed upon non-married couples, regardless of the actual level of commitment or romantic involvement of said couples.

There is no question in my mind that human sexuality is a powerful creative force that should be taken seriously, but this state of affairs in no way justifies the imposition of an authoritarian sexual morality in the name of Christianity. Rather, the forms of sexual expression in which a particular individual chooses to engage or explore, or chooses not to engage or explore, should be the sole province of that individual and his or her conscience. Moreover, private sexual conduct between consenting individuals should not be restricted by law, by custom, or by previous commitment. No doubt there are those who will perceive and interpret this permissive attitude to be amoral or licentious, but that's their problem. To wit, "[j]udge not lest ye be judged," and "[w]homever is without sin should cast the first stone."

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