I’d like to start by thanking Hearne, Jordon, John and others from the Rogue Valley Metaphysical Library for sponsoring these free Tuesday evening lectures. The donation you gave at the door goes to them to help them host this ongoing service. My humble perspective on sex is one among many varied topics on these Tuesday evenings. These cover everything from healing to finance to space aliens, so I figured this fits right in. I can’t claim to be an expert in the topic, though I’ve had my many moments, and have given it a lot of thought over my life. When I accepted the 14th of February date and picked the title, I didn’t notice it was to be presented Valentine’s Day. So I’m adapting my talk to include not just what is lovely under the leaf, but the leaf itself, that is, everything from sex to lovers to the love of nature.
Cupid and concupiscence share the same root word. Cupid you know. Concupiscence implies the problem of desiring eagerly. Are desire, pleasure, lovemaking, and satisfaction problems? They certainly can be. I could exhaust my time here with a litany of sexual woes. I’d rather dwell on and celebrate the wonders.
Having announced the title, I realized I may have gotten carried away with my alliteration. I like the lifting the leaf part and the loving part, but “lovely”? I have to admit, genitals up close look more odd than lovely, unless we can see the beauty in them like Georgia O’Keefe did. If we think of all the wonderful things they do for us, from fascination, to arousal, to exquisite orgasms, to pregnancy and birth, we have to say, “Well done, God.”
Similarly, nudity is nice, because while no one looks that good, no one looks that bad either. I get to be nude with others at the sauna, hot tub, or nude beach. It’s comfortable. People are just people with various body shapes. There’s something innocent and whole about it, something those afraid to be nude or who sit in judgment of it may never understand. Too bad it’s so taboo. We’re all nude under our clothes, and we all came through a vagina because our parents had sex, so why be ill at ease about our body or each other’s? The powerful curiosity we have for each other’s bodies has been satisfied in our culture gradually. Sex magazines began showing the nipple, then more, then the hole truth. Curiosity satisfied, I can enjoy women at the sauna simply as women. Their very different bodies are all beautiful in their own functional and natural way. It would be hard to explain this non-sexual ease with nudity to those from cultures that equate any view of any part as provocative. Imagine the shock of Internet porn to sexually repressed cultures. Those barred from our nude reality are most embarrassed and angry about it.
I knew an old man who revealed to me a lifetime of interest in women’s butts. He was fascinated with his fascination with how they looked, the various types, the subtleties of motion. I had to admit, men look. (Later I learned women look too.) Simply muscles of motion attached to a pelvis capable of giving birth, it is because of this intriguing shape that meetings happen, dinners are offered, vows are made, babies are born, and lifetimes are intertwined. Mere muscle and fat combine to make the ass an asset. He had to admit it only to me, for he knew others would take it as shocking. Our natural interests stay hidden, like some disgusting secret. Yet, we look, perhaps with sneaky peeks. Have you ever peeked? Did you have to sneak?
Here’s my thesis: It is a shame we’re taught to be ashamed. Shame disrupts living well in our own bodies, our natural attractions and connections with each other, even our entire society. It is when we cannot enjoy an erotic culture that we end up enduring a neurotic culture. Finally, it can improve.
Examples of shame: Years ago, I noticed an ad for a bra that read, “The Natural Look: no nipple show-through.” Recently, Attorney General Ashcroft had an eight thousand dollar screen erected in front of a statue of Lady Justice, because she, even only as a statue, was bare breasted. Just after that, in Washington D.C., in the lofty and inspiring Library of Congress where they were restoring the magnificent art on the domes and walls, I noticed they were painting out women’s nipples. They blurred them over or discreetly covered them up. Is there something wrong with women’s nipples? Are nipples dangerous? Should we all be alienated from nipples? Is this something we wouldn’t want children ever to see? Evidently so, for when Janet Jackson briefly flashed her distant breast during the Superbowl Game, the country went irate. Colin Powell’s prudish son Michael imposed a $550,000 fine on CBS. So scorned and shamed were the networks, that ABC pulled “Saving Private Ryan” from being shown, not because it showed hundreds of humans being shot and maimed, but because they used swear words while doing it.
This reaffirms our values, we were told. Swearing and breasts are considered unacceptable, but the two hour systematic shredding and maiming of Jesus in Mel Gibson’s “Passion” movie of that same season was presented as “a lesson for the kids.” It is because they’re so bad and need to be forgiven that this happened, it was explained to the children.
(For further rant on this, see “Passion’s Fog” on my website, earthlyreligion.org. I integrate Gibson’s movie with “The Fog of War,” a devastating look at the propensity of some to inflict widespread agony while feeling justified and righteous.) What values do we promote?
Another example: Why is it that we look at the constellation Orion and say the three stars hanging down are his sword when it could be his huge penis? He seems to be standing there, hip jutted out, his arms up in pride and celebration, showing the whole galaxy his whole magnificent form. We give him a sword – a weapon – rather than see or let him show his dick. Sword: good; dick: bad.
As our leaders ramp us up to World War III while boasting of their “values,” we should consider what our values really are. Do our religions shame our natural dopamine- and oxytocin- laden pleasures for bodies and connection while driving our reactive minds and emotions into judgment, shame, fear, and hate? Are our amydgalas taunted and taught into a socially-expected, low key post traumatic stress syndrome in the name of religion?
Here’s the facts, friends. We are born of sex. We inherit a more evolved and elaborate process than mitosis. We no longer simply divide cells to create a new organism. We long ago evolved a meiosis system of having two sexes which have to come together to create a new organism. Sex wasn’t invented for humans, but humans inherit this evolved animal mechanism. Yet, oddly, some humans seem ashamed of it. They see no irony in the presumptuousness of negatively judging Creation’s design.
Just to make sure we’re all in this together and understand the subject of which I speak, let me take a little survey here. How many people in here have genitalia? If you have either male or female genitalia, please raise your hand…. Go ahead and admit it; it’s not a sin.… How many here have enjoyed your own genitals on your own? How many have shared them with another or others and really liked it? Why any hesitation or giggling? Why not pride and celebration, like Orion? Have we been tricked out of gladly relating to our own and each other’s wonderful sex organs and pleasure centers? Are we ashamed of what Creation has built into us, and covered our sex with leaves and clothes and swords instead? Let us lift the leaves and love the lovely.
When I use the metaphor of the leaf, it is recognized. We all know what’s under the leaf. Our society, along with many others, rests on the cosmogonic myth of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the eating of the apple, the fig leafs, the expulsion, and the supposed need for redemption from our fallen state. The myths a culture holds orient an underlying meaning. Myths are neither facts nor lies; they are symbolic underlying truths in persons and culture. I want to unpack and reinterpret the Genesis myth.
(I do not take the Bible to be the one, only, and inerrant Word of God. Rather, it is a very human collection of stories, histories, and views of God. It isn’t sacred because it’s true and you better believe it or else; it’s sacred because so many revere it. It is one of the scriptures of the world. As such, it has power in us and in our culture. )
Interestingly, the books of Genesis at the beginning of what we call the Old Testament are the foundation for the scriptures of all three of our world’s great theistic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, though each adds more to it in the form of the Torah, New Testament, and Koran, respectively. These initial scripture passages inform all three religions, and all three influence their respective cultures. I suspect that a misinterpretation of the Genesis creation myth lies at the heart of the trouble these religions bring to this world. Reorienting how we view this myth might help not just our sexuality, but our world.
Please consider. Genesis One, page one of the Bible, tells of an evolutionary creation of all nature taking six steps. The God is Elohim, a name containing singular and plural components and male and female images. Elohim God creates light and sees that the light is “good.” S’he does this for land, sky, plants, animals, and humans, each and every stage of which is seen as “good.” Both males and females are created “in the image and likeness” of God. There’s only a bit of instruction in Genesis One. There’s a diet offered (fruits, nuts, and herbs that bear their seed), an instruction to “replenish the earth,” and the problematic phrase, “you shall have dominion” (which we’ll get to in a bit). There’s no demand for worship, simply the creation of the natural universe and the value-label that, seen in its entirety, God calls it, “very good.”
Oddly, the world created, there’s a second creation story. Genesis Two and Three tell of YHWH God (a name having singular and masculine parts only) created the world in a very artificial and engineering-like style, making the dirt and mist of a desert into Adam, as well as all the trees. As if in an operation, putting Adam into a deep sleep, God takes out one of his ribs and makes it into a woman. (This was back in the time when women could take a ribbing.) You know the story. They are naked together and with God in the Garden of Eden. No problem. They can eat of all the trees except one – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A snake subtly tricks the woman into eating it, and she then shares it with Adam. Suddenly, their eyes were opened in such a way that they knew they were naked, felt shame for that, tried to hide from God, and began blaming each other and the snake. God punishes them by expelling them from the garden to live lives of toil, trouble, and pain, placing a “cherub with a flaming sword turning in all directions” to guard against their re-entry. The first covenants are formed, the first murder comes, and soon the animals regard the humans with fear and dread. Shame, blame, and pain prevail.
It is this second version of creation myth which the apostle Paul centered on in his founding of Christianity. “Christ” was not the last name of Jesus. It was a title applied by Paul and others. Paul reasoned that because of this original fall, all need redemption, which Jesus secured in his expiatory sacrifice by willingly dying on the cross only to be magically revived. Matthew, Paul, and many of the related Gnostics, as well as the ascetic Essenes, viewed sex as something shameful, something in the way of finding God. If this were merely a Buddhist-like warning about desire it wouldn’t have grown into a fanatical ascetic formula. Jesus may have come though a vagina, but it was too scandalous to believe he started there. The liberal bishop Clement allowed sex in marriage, but only for procreation.
Hundreds of years later, Augustine deepened the Original Sin to mean all are fallen and all need the redeeming grace of Christ, which the church administered in the sacraments. He went so far as to declare our interest in sex, and our being born because of it, to be sure signs of how fallen we were. Augustine had been a Manichean (a philosophy that the flesh is bad and the spirit is good). He didn’t like the natural world or the empiricism of examining it. He reasoned: “Put a straight stick in the water and it appears to bend; ergo, you can’t trust your senses.” Instead, trust the church. Reason wasn’t logic, argumentation, or free thinking; it was the ineffable, invisible world of God brought down by the church for understanding and obedience. Tertullian reasoned: “It is to be believed because it is absurd.”
In the earliest days of the Christian church this assumption that sex is wrong predominated and prevailed, along with a fanatical close-mindedness that made those with other ideas the enemy. Bishops Irenaesus and Tertullian said any who differed were heretics due ridicule, expulsion, and worse. Punitive zealotry often prevailed. For over a thousand years sex and science was suspect, while chastity and faith were praised. The early emphasis on dogma and obedience prevailed, eventually resulting in the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Reformation (which toyed with irrelevant parts of the faith formula while ignoring more fruitful theology), the hundred years of holy wars, the burning of the heretics and witches, and the general clamp on free thought and natural enjoyments. It was more in spite of our religions that our enlightened humanistic democratic freedoms and effective scientific methods emerged than because of them.
The astonishingly apparent, yet utterly overlooked aspect of this is the obvious point of the two creation stories taken together. God creates an evolutionary, natural universe that includes all of us and all of life, and calls every bit of it “good.” Then, the natural wholeness of that goodness gets divided and destroyed when a subtle deceiver has us see it as “good and evil.” Sex was not the sin; seeing sex shamefully was the sin. When the judgmental, punitive mind prevails, what was created good by God gets confused into an alienating array of shame, blame, and pain. There is nothing wrong with our genitals, our interest in them, or our attraction to each other’s. There is something wrong with the thought, be it religious, political, or marketing, that divides us from ourselves, from each other, from our garden, and from our God.
Evil is not mentioned in Genesis One, but perhaps it can be extrapolated that what God made and declared good ought not be denied, dismissed, denigrated, or destroyed. The problem phrase in Genesis One is “you shall have dominion.” It brings to mind heartless kings arbitrarily bossing about people and laying thoughtless waste to the land. What if dominion were better translated as sovereignty? Much as our Declaration of Independence states, we are born with an “unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” We aren’t subjects to be ruled by authoritarians. We aren’t worms having to believe and obey the Liviticus’, Paul’s, Augustine’s, and Pat Robertson’s of the world. We’re not obliged to live by what Mohamed or Buddha or anyone says. We’re free, fallible, able, responsible human beings complete with minds that think and genitals that we like.
Ironically, those who would shame you and judge God’s good creation as fallen are the ones expecting you to agree with them and obey. They claim the knowledge of good and evil, just like God, just like the myth warns. The knowledge they offer is alienating; it creates sin. They have built their theologies on a guilty, needy world of believers who have faith in their formula. Be guilty, not ethical. Believe, don’t question. Obey, don’t think. Little do most realize that the ongoing subtle deceivers in the garden are the religions (and I don’t mean to denigrate snakes by saying this).
(I claim the right to critique religions. They can say what’s right and wrong, but so can I. So can you. Religions don’t get to avoid disagreement just because they claim some sanctified protection. Piety protects the power that it plies. From Texas to Tehran, religions push a frenzy of fanaticism, confusing our sense of judgment with their judgmental ness. They all need critique.)
I am more familiar with our own. Raised Catholic, then infused with our widespread Christian culture, I went to India, then earned a Masters of Divinity at a highly-regarded seminary at the University of Chicago, and for over thirty years had a lot of latitude to think for myself as a liberal minister.
But our religions are not alone in shaming and repressing our sexuality and love of nature; many forces assume these values, reactions and judgments. I met an elderly woman who had trouble peeing all her life because her mother once whipped her for peeing under the porch. A few years ago, a woman was arrested for breastfeeding her baby in a darkened theater. People keep the nearly universal practice of masturbation universally secret. What most do, few admit. Those parts of the body that are soft, tender, pleasurable, and vulnerable are those parts most reviled. Some religions cut off the tips of boy’s penises, or worse, hack off the clitorises of young girls to “keep them from being sexual.”
This anti-sexuality extends into the natural world and our right to investigate and enjoy it. Science was thwarted for centuries because its methods and findings offended the religious powers. Some theologians taught that all of creation is fallen. The plants and animals are there to be used, even if they’re used up. From the Cedars of Lebanon to our own Port Orford cedars, exhaustion is the norm. Soils eons in the making have washed away. Precious aquifers get drained and polluted. Almost half the songbirds in the New World went extinct because they had no fear and so were easily shot for amusement. Do you see the incredible presumptiveness of the religious perspective that would judge nature as fallen or expendable? What God created and called good, religions judged as flawed and fallen.
This whole wonderful world, billions of years in the forming, this magnificent, interdependent array of life, multi-millions of years in the evolving, these miraculous human bodies complete with smart brains, eons in awakening – all these ought not be denigrated and dismissed by stuffy zealots from days of yore or in our time. When Ronald Regan’s pro-business, anti-environmental policies were being questioned and his Secretary of the Interior James Watt was asked whether such policies could have a detrimental effect on life in future generations, he quipped, “I don’t think we have many generations left before the Lord returns.”
An annoying oddball in his time, the sanctimonious Watt was the cutting edge of whole armies of righteous anti-environment, anti-free love, anti-scientific fanatics. They rule the airwaves, all branches of our government, most commerce, and all the pulpits (from what we’re able to hear on our media). Meanwhile, global warming and its potential to trigger a sudden ice age threatens us all. The mounting of World War III, with the same old cast of good guys and bad (or is it bad guys and good?), proceeds according to plan. (See the book “Shock and Awe” and how it wound its way into the neo-con’s “Project for a New American Century,” created prior to the invasion of Iraq, which was all part of a long process that did in Jimmy Carter’s “moral equivalent of war” (and his promotion human rights) and replaced it with a glut of waste, ruin, and torture.)
We can sanctimoniously mount and launch wars such as depicted in “Saving Private Ryan,” but it would be bad to swear. Freud said, “Civilization is born of sublimation.” By that he meant we repress our innate natures and instead do the work of building up our society. I think he’s right, and that is our problem. We are born of a civilization that has been against sex and nature. We have forgotten life is good and have substituted other goods in their stead.
We’re not alone in this. The once erotic Hindu culture, which celebrated and idolized divine lovers, became a culture divided, the men in one place, the women another, all wrapped up tight in apartness. Many societies have adopted a puritan-like stance. The only thing to match our human interest in sex is our human propensity to be shamed by it. It is trans-cultural.
But not universal. There are cultures where sex is simply part of what people like and do. From Brazil to China, there are places where the women do the picking. They have husbands, but also lovers. They take lovers occasionally throughout the year and during yearly festivals, which deliberately favor liaisons for sexual enjoyment and loving reasons. Jealousy is regarded as less than love. There tends to be not much violence in such places. Could a more erotic society make for a less neurotic one?
The final image in the Garden of Eden story intrigues me. A chubby little cherub angel wields a flaming sword turning in all directions to guard the return to the garden. I see this as a union of the opposites symbol. Innocence and terror coexist. We have to be able to inhabit our own bodies, think for ourselves, and go through the false opposites to reconnect with our wholeness. We have to dare the fires of supposed shame to feel at home in our good bodies and be free with each other. We have to question and free ourselves from the phony set of goods and evils to reclaim our rightful place in the original goods. We can stand naked before God, not with shame or even unease, but with comfort, pride, and gratitude.
Would this violate humility or fulfill it? We tend to see humility as “oh, I am not worthy; thou art great,” or “I’m not to be noticed.” I prefer historian of religions Houston Smith’s twist. Humility, he says, is “being oneself fully in a way that allows others to be themselves fully.” It is self-actualization for one’s self and others. It allows democracy to evolve into an ideal form. Could this be doing our religious work: honoring the Creator by taking our humble human place as co-creators proudly protecting, promoting, and enjoying Creation?
I’d like to suggest we start by being glad about our sexuality. Feel good about your feelings. Sense your sensuality. Enjoy your arousals. Grant lustiness to yourself and each other. Let your juices swell, surge, and flow, just as they do in the garden. What if we looked under the leaf and loved the lovely? What if we exercised sovereignty in our body, relationships, country, and world? What would democracy look like if we were less gullible, subservient sheep, and more healthy, whole humans? Nature, human nature including our sexuality – all this is part of a wise creation. Maybe if we celebrated it more and helped it to flourish more we wouldn’t spend so much time wastefully and forlornly living outside the garden.
Finally, I’m not interested in overthrowing any religions here. Rather, I’d like to suggest that the three great monotheistic faiths reexamine the first three chapters of Genesis towards wisely admitting others had it wrong, then bravely putting it right. Earth can be a garden playground of universal freedom and abundance. We could live well here sustainably and enjoyably for millions of years to come.
There are leaves of shame and blame covering our own bodies, over our connection with each other, over the ways we do our religion and work our government, and over the way we relate to nature and God. Lift the leaves and love the lovely.
Brad Carrier, M. Div
At the Rogue Valley Metaphysical Library 258 A St., Ashland, Oregon
© February 14, 2006
Exercise: From a meditative frame of mind, recall any difficult experience of embarrassment or shame. If appropriate and possible, forgive the offender. Love your self.
Now recall any wonderful experience of pleasure. Love those involved.
Resolve to be open to enjoy such times again. Release any tension you may carry in your genitals. Be grateful to Creation’s God, and relaxed and glad in your body.
Be in a sense of communion with Nature. Love it in you and love being fully you in it.