The Chaos That Ensues When Religion and Sex Collide

Joshua Kelly, like so many of us, has a problem with religion — especially organized religion. He has written a series of essays on the subject for his excellent new book Oh, Your god!: The Evil Idea That is Religion (Dangerous Little Books, 2013):

In the excerpt below, Kelly (who blogs at An Unbelieving Voice) discusses religious attitudes toward sex (Keep reading afterwards for your chance to win a copy of the book!):

The dispensation against sex that religion has always kept is of ultimate anathema to me. (This is, of course, excluding the Song of Songs in the Old Testament — which reads very much like romantic erotic poetry. Biblical porn, if there ever was such a thing.) Not just to the action, which holds no more or less moral relativity than anything else, but the devices and circumstances by how it is enacted. Physically, the discrimination begins at birth with the popular practice of male circumcision and the tribal (but still entirely too prevalent) deed of female circumcision; it is then followed in adolescence by continuous verbal and physical admonitions against sexual acts or education — that masturbation is immoral, that condoms are a pathway to hell, that sexual attraction toward a member of your same gender is recompensed with eternal suffering. All through critical development, children in fundamental religious families are constantly imprinting negativity to the idea of sex and everything involving it — years before they even get the chance to attempt it for themselves (unless it’s forced upon them by older members of religious authority).

In a fundamental principle of religion, sex is confined to the marriage bed — and divorce is spiritual treachery. This means a fledgling adult has one chance at a compatible sexual partner if they are to remain pure in the eyes of god — one person, with whom no previous practice is permitted before the exchange of vows, to gamble physical satisfaction with. And if, for whatever reason, this compatibility doesn’t exist: one is bound to this person for eternity, unable to escape the spiritual and pseudo-romantic prison which has been set up for them. Keep in mind that the freedom to indulge in this matrimonious civil sentence is infinitely more obtainable for women than it was in times past, for which marriages were predetermined and enforced violently — indeed, for many poor girls in the Middle East, such a custom is still thriving. And one who breaks these supposedly holy bonds will answer to god much quicker than expected, as the punishment doled out by the angry hands of surrounding men is usually death in one grotesque fashion or another, such as the man who beat his pregnant wife quite literally to death in Egypt after learning she had not voted for the Muslim Brotherhood representative in June, 2012.

Further than decrying upon sex, limiting its availability, punishing its variety, and butchering its manifestation, religion also supremely monopolizes sex as a spiritual and transcendent act, revoking all other connotations of recreation or human idealism. Pagan societies used ritual sex for act of fertility blessing or conception and monotheisms put terrible stress of the necessity of procreation. To steal a wonderfully human and basic machination and add significance to it is perfectly acceptable — and we’ve done it with every process that our species has been intelligent enough to deliver. But to eliminate entire pieces of the purpose, for love or even for pure fun simply because it doesn’t fall within the exceedingly subjective bounds of one person’s spirituality is an infiltration of liberty. In every vast stage of the sexual process in humanity, religion has tainted, maimed, or warped it into something taboo, unwelcome, and feared.

Finally, the faithful intrude dearly upon the results of sexuality, as though their hand in the limitation of the action of it wasn’t quite offensive enough. Every biological occurrence that has been the result of sex, for good or ill, now has some religious label upon it in order to justify inept dogma: AIDS was the curse of god upon homosexuals, or a fetus is a soul-given organism which god says cannot be aborted, no matter the circumstance — and then all children that do have the luck to be born after this multitude of restrictions and margins must immediately be circumcised, christened, baptized… and the process begins again. Nor can we turn away from the sordid horrors of sex being using as punishment, such as shari’a which permits the literal gang rape of an Islamic woman to repudiate the crimes committed by her brother.

Sex in its many varied forms may be a mysterious subject for some, and the unknown can be daunting and met with retaliation. But it is also unique to the biological process, and noticeably precedes the first religious thought or action that ever occurred on this planet. The plethora of manifestations that sex now indulges in with our species is unique to us, another one of the brilliant varieties that we have had the genius to create. I find that no matter the consensual carnal form, it is integral to the human condition and therefore cannot be decried against any more than having blonde hair or lacking gills — it is a piece of what it is to be human. Religion, with its continuous and all-sacrificing reach for the divine, has therefore rejected it with utmost fervor, ultimately to the detriment of all who follow it.

If you’d like to win a copy of the book, leave a comment about what you think religion gets right and wrong when it comes to sex. Be sure to put the hashtag #SexGod at the end of your comment and I’ll contact one random winner next week!

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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