XIII. The Work Continues, 3
Andy spoke up. “What you’re saying, Alan, is that even the most fundamental Christian beliefs have been corrupted by Aphrodiphobia.”
Everyone looked at her in surprise. I hesitated, then said, “I’m sorry, Andrea. The what?”
“Aphrodiphobia. It’s a term I coined. Of course you haven’t heard it.”
“Fear of Aphrodite?” Les asked cautiously.
“No, fear of sex,” Andy replied. “Are you all familiar with the work of Wilhelm Reich?”
Megan looked appraisingly around the room. Sherman said, “I’ll fess up. I’ve heard of him, but psychology isn’t one of my specialties.”
Alan added, “I think that’s a useful term, Andy. I’ve read a lot of Reich. His views on sexual pathology pinpoint one of the major theological problems I confront in my novels.”
“Could you please explain what you’re talking about?” Les asked. “None of this connects with Egyptology, as far as I can guess.”
Andy looked around the room as if amazed that no one there knew anything about such a crucial topic. She shook her head, then began, “Reich pointed out that fear and hatred of sexuality has infected Western civilization, and a lot of others, as far back as we have any historical records,” Andy said. “He called it the Emotional Plague—or that’s how his German term is usually translated. I think that’s euphemistic. It’s not just any old emotions that are the problem. So I coined ‘Aphrodiphobia’ as a more specific name for it, using the blunt Greek verb that Aphrodite is named after.
“My name for it isn’t perfect; it makes the disease sound like a mere phobia, whereas Reich was right to call it a plague. It decimates the human race. Reich agreed with Freud’s argument that the domestication of sexuality, the imposing of rules on it, made us human, formed the basis for the creation of culture and hence of civilization. However, Reich saw that the domestication had run rampant, had evolved into a pathology as severe as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder or sociopathy. He was one of the dozen most important thinkers I’ve ever encountered and one of the three greatest psychologists of the last century—before he went manic, which the Aphrodiphobes immediately used as an excuse to dismiss all his real work. I apologize if I’m preaching to the choir here, but it’s a subject I feel very strongly about.”
“Your term gives us useful noun and adjective forms as well,” Alan said. “Reich named one of his books after a quatrain of Blake’s:
‘Children of the future age,
‘Reading this indignant page,
‘Know that in a former time
‘Love! Sweet love! was thought a crime.’”
“That was a huge problem for me, being raised Catholic in the 1950s,” I said. “As a teenager, I thought that . . . Aphrodiphobia was inherent in Catholic belief . . . “
“No, it’s not,” Alan said. “If you get to the heart of the essential doctrines, they are very prosexual. But you have to scrape centuries’ worth of barnacles off the hull to get there.”
“As an adult, I could see that,” I said, “but I’ve always had to struggle to free myself from that programming.”
“But don’t Catholics generally think that his birth was immaculate because it didn’t result from ordinary human sexuality?” Megan insisted.
“Yes,” said Alan, “they do. But it’s not the birth that was immaculate. Even Catholics are confused by the technical terminology. Let’s try to avoid it.”
“Could we explain it in terms of free will theology?” I asked.
“Of course,” Alan said. “How many here want to hear a lecture on free will theology?” He looked around the room, then said, “I thought so.”
“If we skip over that, there’s no way to answer Megan’s question,” I said.
“I know. But I’ll keep it as low-key and nontechnical as possible. Where to start. There is a traditional formulation, that he was a man like us in all things except for sin. So the issue is in how to define the word ‘sin.’ The Biblical meaning is a refusal or inability to fulfill a commandment. The very first commandment, in Genesis 1, is ‘be fertile and multiply.’”
“As I said,” Sherman commented, “that’s why Rabbis must be married.”
Alan continued, “The only way we humans have to fulfill that commandment is by means of sexual reproduction, which God also obviously created. Something we must do in order to fulfill a commandment cannot in itself be a failure to fulfill a commandment, that is, a sin. Therefore sexuality itself is not sinful.”
“And do we want to discuss clerical celibacy, Alan?” Sherman asked with a large grin.
They both laughed and then Alan went on: “Therefore to say that Jesus was without sin meant that his will was totally free. He was the Messiah because he was able to fulfill all the command-ments, including that first one. His will was free, not because of his divine nature, but because his humanity was perfect.”
“Would that perfection have allowed him to be married?” Megan asked.
“Of course. That we are sexual beings, that we were created as male and female in order to be like God, that God who said ‘us,’ is fundamental. To be asexual is not to be perfect; it is to be less than fully human,” Alan insisted.
“Wow,” Megan said. “I would never have expected a Catholic priest to say anything like that.”
“Yeah, well, some of us feel obligated to defend the status quo. I prefer to seek for truth, if I can recognize it, wherever it might lead me. Presenting it as fiction keeps me out of trouble with the hierarchy,” he replied.
“One cannot fully understand free will theology without understanding what the Immaculate Conception was—but we simply don’t need to go into that now,” I said.
“We do intend to translate and publish this gospel. This story needs to be told. But how do you suppose people will react to it?” Brendan asked.
“Would people care much about the lineage issue?” Les asked. “Maybe Jesus appointed Mary to be his successor instead of or in addition to Peter. That in itself will not generate a lot of heat. The big fight will be over the idea that Jesus was not a virgin.”
“That seems inevitable,” I said. “We’ll have to deal with the uproar when it occurs. Another odd issue did come up as we were working on the translation. Alan, would you explain the issue about malkuth?”
Alan said, “There are two similar phrases that would usually be translated as ‘kingdom of the Father’ and ‘kingdom of heaven,’ but the latter phrase didn’t make sense in some of the contexts. Then I remembered that the Greek word basileia, usually translated as ‘kingdom,’ can also, with a different accent, mean ‘queen.’ There are no accents in texts of the New Testament from before the eighth century, when the grammarians introduced the system of accents. Thinking that the word means ‘kingdom’ rather than ‘queen’ is thus an opinion, not a historical fact. In some places, ‘queen’ made much more sense than ‘kingdom,’ even in the canonicals. For example, ‘The Queen of Heaven is ravished, and the violent take her by force.’”
“My God, what a vivid metaphor,” Megan exclaimed.
“But surely that’s just an odd coincidence,” Brendan objected.
“No,” Sherman said. “That double meaning also occurs in Hebrew. The Hebrew mlkt, when pointed one way . . . “
“What do you mean by pointed?” Megan asked.
“It’s like the accents in Greek. Hebrew was traditionally written with only the consonants, not the vowels; the vowels were added mentally. The Hebrew root mlk, ‘king,’ with the t suffix, pointed one way, becomes malkuth, ‘kingdom,’ but pointed another way, it becomes malkat, ‘queen.’ Again, which is the correct meaning is a matter of opinion.”
“Are you saying that Jesus might have preached about a Queen of Heaven?” Megan asked
“That’s what this gospel says,” Alan said.
“But would anyone have known what he was talking about?”
“Yes, they would have,” Sherman said. ”They remembered who she was. Look at the passage in Jeremiah where the Jewish women in Egypt complain to him that his new-fangled Deuteronomic reform has done nothing but cost them their freedom, and that they are going to go back to ‘offering cakes and wine to the Queen of Heaven.’”
“The Judaeans in Egypt weren’t monotheists?” Megan asked.
“No one was before the second Isaiah,” Sherman said. “They were henotheists—but that’s another story. Also, neither the Judaeans nor their particular God were monogamous, and they hadn’t been since the time of Abraham, whenever that was.”
“Oy, is this going to raise a stink!” Les said.
“I can see why the official church would have been hiding it,” Megan said.
“Is there anything else we need to know about this, gentlemen?” I asked.
Alan looked at Les and Sherman, who shook their heads. He said, “I guess that’s it for now. There are plenty of theological niceties we can discuss later, but those are the crucial points.”