Monday, February 13, 2006

Christian fundamentalism and sex

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Who put the mental into fundamentalism?
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I have been engaging regularly with another blogger who has decided (for unrelated reasons) to cease blogging on political matters – this is AJ Chesswas. I did so because I have, what some may say is a masochistic tendency, to engage with those and ideas that are almost the complete opposite of mine. Friends know this in my collection of North Korean propaganda, but I also find engagement with socialists, ecologists, religious zealots and racists all intriguing. At best it challenges me on what I believe and tests it, at worst it just gets me wound up.
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My main engagement has been the curious religious fascination with sex. As Muslims get all agitated about cartoons depicting Mohammed, Christians get most agitated in New Zealand about sexual behaviour. The opposition to the Civil Union Bill was driven by people opposed to homosexual behaviour and relationships. Simple as that.
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Opposition to legalising prostitution was driven by people opposed to sex being a commodity – although there is a wider concern about this, as prostitution makes many people uncomfortable with the “what if it was your daughter” argument. Few defended the right of adults to choose to have sex with money exchanging.
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Christians got extremely wound up when sodomy and male same-sex acts (they ARE different, sodomy is not just a homosexual practice and lesbian sex has never been prohibited) were legalised in the 1980s. Marches with the flag and enormous petitions, concern that teenage boys would suddenly start bumming each other because it was legal. I was 15 at the time and it didn’t cause me to look at my friend’s bums in a new light.
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So why do they get so wound up? I figured AJ Chesswas would enlighten me as his views on these matters are some of the most radical I have seen. I didn’t want just some quotes from the Bible, but some reasoning and to be fair, scripture was the weapon of last resort.
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He, after all, got extremely agitated when I explained I had engaged in behaviour that, at one time, was illegal in New Zealand. Check out this :
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“When a person consents to making a bad choice there is a huge duty on us to help prevent them doing it. How much more a duty when we are the one causing them to do it? How much more when as a man we're abusing the fickle choice of women who we know are so easily manipulated?”
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“If only you knew the repulsion and wrath that is flamed in the belly of a God-fearing man when he hears of a woman being sexually perverted. Get help Scott. That is both an insult, a compliment and a threat.”

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So before the lynch mob was sent on a plane to London (where, frankly we are talking genocide proportions if all the people in Britain who did this are going to get punished), I had to ask. Why does this matter? Why do they get SO angry?
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If people respect each other, don’t assault, steal or defraud from each other and get along peacefully, isn’t that enough? Why should the state be involved in private matters and why, indeed, should individuals give a damn whether their neighbours are married or not, enjoying sodomy, banging their sheep or making chocolate capsicum and parsnip cupcakes?
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It is a fundamental liberal maxim that people should be able to do what they wish, as long as they do not infringe upon the right of others to do the same. Christian fundamentalists dismiss this as a secular religion - and say to enforce this is "forcing my views on them", as if NOT doing something is MAKING you do something. Leaving people to choose is not forcing anyone, it is free will.
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Not only is liberalism utility maximising (allowing maximum creativity, risk taking and accountability for risk taking), but is moral. It is moral because people own their lives – anybody else owning your life is called slavery. It is also moral because it seems absurd and offensive for anyone else to have control over your body - if you (and whoever you are with) consent to do something, why is someone not participating in a better position to not only say no, but to punish you for not agreeing? What made that person the guardian of your body?
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Well this is the answer I got:
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"Sex is a private act, and that is the basis of my resistance to what has become a very public debate. But it is only a private act when that privacy actually means something - ie when it is expressed monogamously in a committed and covenantal relationship. When it is exposed, or people expose themselves, that deviant sexual practices are not only common but being publicised, celebrated and encouraged - then sexuality is of significant concern to any moral person who's in touch with the next generation".
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A private act, but only when you do it the way they want you to (and because they don't want any manuals of naked people showing you different ways of doing it), because otherwise it is a "bad choice”. Although he wanted to punish people for the bad choice too because:
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“What I'm saying that where a choice is a bad choice then it doesn't matter whose consent is involved - it is a bad choice and both participants are acting in a destructive, irresponsible, undignified and inhumane manner.”
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Not clear why it is destructive to enjoy a sexual act, irresponsible to whom, undignified (is just an expression of taste) and inhumane is unclear when two adults consent.
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Then there is a plea to the majority – with one problem. Unfortunately Christian fundamentalists surround themselves with people who agree with them (as many of us do, life is happier when you don’t have to deal with others) he said:
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“most people need little help in trying to understand how the practices you talk of are perverted!! Most people couldn't bear to even use the srts of terms you are using in this discussion!”
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I said sodomy, oral sex and masturbation. Terms I have used in discussions with quite a few people. I think most people would not think of those as perverted, particularly the latter two – some may not be a personal preference, but he is clearly deluding himself if he thinks "most people" think that way. Given the best Christian political result in the elections has been around 6% for United Future (and much of that vote was not on religious ground), it is clear that, as a bumper sticker in the US read, the "moral majority is neither"!
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However then we come to the crux of it – scripture was quoted and:
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“In marriage a husband and wife have chosen to refrain from the most pleasurable experience available to them, and save that as a gift for each other. This gift and its ongoing life withtin their marriage is a symbol of the exclusive love and life they share in their hearts for each other. When people figure out the right place to put things the blessing that follows is the joy of being a parent. The joy of bringing into the world new life, and meaningfully recreating something that will live and last because of you”
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Ok, I would disagree with much of that, but – setting aside agreement on this - this surely is still a matter of choice. Why regulate to require people have no sex unless it is heterosexual coitus within marriage? Why throw people in prison for sodomy? Well..
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“How can such an important matter not be the interest of a people's government? This is even more important than things like smoking, alcohol and obesity, because it deals with a person's core relationships and identities. If we get this right, and children are given the right start to life by two parents who truly love each other, we probably won't even have to deal with the problems and addictions that arise from a person's depression and lack of meaningful relationships and identity.”
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Furthermore..
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“And if there are any sexual acts that are more risky than sodomy they certainly should be illegal!! Force is certainly a very good argument when dealing with the immoral and unreasonable!”
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I wont even mention a long list if he wont search the internet for them!
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Apparently the state should control our core relationships and identities. Keen on a state arranged marriage anyone? Can’t have been hooking up with the wrong partner now can we? Should the state determine your career (identity)? What else must the state protect us from?
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Two people apparently will truly love each other if they withhold sex and this will deal with the problems from depression and lack of meaningful relationships. Of course if you are gay, then the glowing “love” of those who “care” will seek to “cure” you, because, after all, just because you are “immoral and unreasonable” doesn’t mean you can’t repent – rather like those who offend against the Party under communist systems.
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So there you have it – beyond simply saying the Bible says so (the Bible bans eating shellfish as well) it is simply immoral, offends Christian fundamentalists and apparently has some amazing effect on depression, meaningful relationships and identity. Anyone who has had a less than optimal marriage or is gay will find this laughable. I believe Christian fundamentalists (and other religious fundamentalists) have an obsession with sex for bigger reasons. Yes, the Bible is strict on these things (although the Adam and Eve story means that humanity was bred from the incestuous coupling of their children), but I think sex cuts to the heart of what it is to be human in many ways and that is why religious people want it regulated. Mr Chesswas once argued:
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“Comparing fihgting to sexual immorality is like comparing apples to sausage rolls. It really bugs me when people say it's hypocritical of Christians to want to ban pornography, but not violence.”
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Well when you are into banning, which is a violent act in itself, it would be more hypocritical to ban people from it! In short, this was in the context of how good fist fighting can be!! Mr Chesswas regards that as ok, but many sex acts as abominable.
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Sex is an expression of self – the most selfish act anyone can commit. You can’t have sex (short of lying on your back and thinking of England) properly without it being something you want and enjoy. If you do it just to give someone else pleasure (while you are nonchalant about it) you are – more than any other activity – being untrue to yourself, and you wont do it very well. Sex is THE act of selfishness, two people (or more) getting immense personal pleasure from performing acts for their own gratification. It just so happens that you enjoy giving the other person their gratification as well, as it heightens YOURS.
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It is immensely pleasurable, one of the most highly regarded entertainment activities – partly because it doesn’t happen very well without someone else wanting to do it, and because it involves revealing physical and personal traits and habits that most of us don’t want to observe in most people we know. In short, most of us find a small proportion of people attractive for sex and of them, a small proportion find us attractive, and of them, some still wont regardless – making it highly prized, highly pleasurable and very selfish. Sex is the ultimate hedonistic experience – highly desired and often denied and often restrained by reality – you can never always have sex with whoever you want. When you use force or try with those unable to consent, it is a crime and rightfully so.
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Christians don’t like the pleasure from sex – they prefer sacrifice. After all, they worship a God who is said to have sacrificed the life of its son for the sake of everyone else alive then and forever more. Not just sacrifice the life, but through an enduring humiliating painful torturing death. The omnipotent God does this to its son and this is an act of love? Bizarre. However, throughout Christianity is an asceticism and denial of self. Christians accept sex for procreation because biology means they have to. You can live your life without any sex of any kind – women will still menstruate and men will still ejaculate spontaneously (through overflow), but it is rather sad. It is no coincidence that nuns and priests are meant to be celibate (choir boys were nowhere in the Bible as an exception), sacrificing themselves to God.
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Christian fundamentalists have taken this further by celebrating the pleasure of sex within heterosexual matrimony as a privilege that is granted by God – in thanks for you making a procreative couple. If God wanted children (explains the interests some priests have in them) then, the omniscient being could have ensured women laid countless eggs and men fertilised them extra-corporally.
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It is a paternalistic authoritarian attitude which effectively claims ownership of everyone’s lives under the umbrella of “love”. In George Orwell’s classic novel 1984 – the state had perfected artificial insemination, in order to ban sex and intimate relations between people. This was because they interfered with love for Big Brother. How close is that to the theocracy proposed by Mr Chesswas? The acts are to be banned and depictions and promotion of them too – so your body is controlled and your mind too, through censorship.
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The best explanation of the attitude was in THIS comment
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“There is a big difference between administering law and punishment responsibly and lovingly, and doing it hatefully a la Hitler. This is very much a reality in the way a loving parent disciplines and punishes their children..
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No there isn’t – it is mere semantics and a matter of degree. There is nothing loving about locking someone in prison, the difference is that Nazi Germany exterminated many of those it despised – a matter of degree. The state lovingly will do violence to you, lock you up and tell you what you did is wrong – because the state is controlled by people who believe in a ghost you don’t believe in and which cannot be proven to exist. Brian Tamaki and those Christian voters who switched to National in their droves last election are seeking an Iranian style theocracy - like Europe had in the middle ages. One that treats you all as children, and which has the state controlling your body and your mind. The fundamental difference with Nazi Germany or Maoist China is degree – theocrats would probably not be genocidal, just prison wardens.
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There is no substance of reason behind Christian fundamentality – it is as dangerous an idea as Islamic fundamentalism – both forms of religious fascism, both trying to enforce a subjective supernatural based belief system and ban others. The key difference with Islam is that, outside the USA, there are very few Christian fundamentalists. They want your body and your mind, as the followers of fundamentalist religion not only know the truth, but they will use all means they can to enforce it.
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As a footnote Mr Chesswas has noted that he is being challenged already because of “a romantic involvement with a Labour party campaigning feminist law graduate! All of this has resulted in a significant challenge to my views on biblical literalism. But then, as has so often been pointed out, if I were to truly be a biblical literalist I’d have to tie scriptures to my hands and my forehead, refrain from trimming my beard, and not wear clothing made of different types of material!”
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Indeed! I think it is odd that people who hold a book in such esteem then decide it is appropriate to skip over significant portions of it. Now I am no theologist, but I don’t think the Bible says anywhere “these chapters supersede these ones”. That is why I find it difficult to understand people who choose a religion, but only those parts they like, it is like they want a “god” but the “god” they want must be too nice to have meant all that was said in that “holy book”. Maybe they are too scared to do this.

5 comments:

Rick said...

Chesswas is so lame! I could do better than that! Surely you can find someone with a better case than that! Hell.

libertyscott said...

He is so extreme though and easy to fire up - and he is leaving, he had a far harder time with a gay man who linked him to Nazism.

A. J. Chesswas said...

“If people respect each other, don’t assault, steal or defraud from each other and get along peacefully, isn’t that enough?”

Frankly, Scott, no it is not. You emphasise consent and individual autonomy as the basis for people’s rights and freedoms, and have a simplistic and isolationist understanding of human action. I emphasise a person’s health and wellbeing, and recognise that every action is part of a much wider context of actions, each of which have a causative effect on another. While a one-off sexual encounter may seem harmless to you, the fact is that dependencies and addictions are made up entirely of one-off actions, which have accumulated within a short space of time.

Sex, like drugs, is an experience which may seem good, pleasurable and harmless when considered as a one-off event. However sex, like drugs, is a highly addictive activity, and this addiction can consume a person to the point that those cumulative one-off events suffocate and drive their life. Thus it is the duty of all of us to protect each other from high risk activities that distract us from participating and recreating a healthy and moral way of life. In the case of both drugs and sex, the benefit of the one-off event to an individual person is simply not meaningful enough to justify the risk posed by the potential for addiction. Furthermore, when one considers the joy and beauty of a life free from drugs, and a life that honours chastity and marriage, one can only consider the motivations for avoiding such a life stem from fear, depression or depravity.

You’re discussion re “Christian fundamentalists dismiss this as a secular religion - and say to enforce this is "forcing my views on them"” totally misunderstands what I was saying. I’m concerned that in a postmodern age you think I should accept “people should be able to do what they wish, as long as they do not infringe upon the right of others to do the same” without you providing a philosophical justification for such a view. What if all people aren’t equally rational and capable of decision-making? What if we do have a duty to protect people from their own poor choices? What if some of us are destined to rule, and others to follow? Your anthropology, like all libertarians, is lacking Scott. Your inability to see beyond your libertarian box shows the shallowness of your indoctrinated thinking.

The “sex” you talk about is a “bad choice”, is destructive, irresponsible, indignified and inhumane, in the way it belittles the significance of the gift of extra-marital chastity to the institution of marriage. Chastity and monogamy are expressions of loyalty, faithfulness and devotion – values that are essential to humanity. Values that, when integral to a marriage, provide a great atmosphere and example for children who grow underneath that marriage.

As for your comments re “most people”, I’m fairly adamant you’re the one who’s out-of-touch. When’s the last time you talked to your father about oral sex? Do you and your Gran regularly talk about masturbation? I’m sure you’re best mates daughter would love to hear you rabbiting on about sodomy. Point and case.

I love it how the only way you can discredit my argument is jump to an extreme view that I would never endorse and accuse me of that view. The classic strawman argument (look it up on google folks, its commonly employed by people who can’t justify their views). I would never say the state should choose your marriage partner, or your career. However the state has a role to say what partner you CAN’T choose (ie same sex), and what career you CAN’T choose (ie prostitution).

Your view of sex is incredibly narrow Scott. Sex is only a selfish act when you actually feel like doing it. The rest of the time it is a selfless act. It is an act of devotion and dedication that symbolises commitment and love, and it is in such a context that sex finds its truest and deepest meaning, and its participants find the most truly pleasurable experience. It sounds to me like you interpret “The Wealth of Nations” as a manual for sex, and you put more faith in Adam Smith’s invisible hand than your own.

Sex is not an act of entertainment – it is an act of inspiration. You call sex the ultimate hedonistic experience. This may be true, but sex is also an incredibly spiritual and dutiful experience – as by it you are affirming your own role as the committed spouse of your partner, and willing provider for her children.

While it is true, there is much deeper meaning in sacrifice than pleasure, it is wrong to say “Christians don’t like the pleasure from sex”. Such a view has existed in the “established church” in the past, but it is not mainstream thought in the circles I know.

Your Orweliian interpretation of right-wing christian fundamentalism is way off. We are actually concerned at the way sexual promiscuity weakens marriage and family, and makes people more reliant and more readily manipulable by the big brother state. It’s ok for you at the moment when you have all your rights, but once those are taken away who can you rely on to help resist the force of the big brother state?

Your views on liberty, individual autonomy and atheism are as subjective as my belief in God, order and morality. Prove them to me, go on!! This isn’t about “choosing a religion”, and following all the rules. It is about being one who observes life, studies humanity – both present and past – and does not shirk back from making an honest judgment.

Rick said...

See what I mean?

libertyscott said...

"While a one-off sexual encounter may seem harmless to you, the fact is that dependencies and addictions are made up entirely of one-off actions, which have accumulated within a short space of time."

They are but I am no addict, certainly have not had many sex partners and have yet to see negative effects from it. I don't know how you can know better than I do. Virtually everyone I know who has lived sexually OUTSIDE the philosophy you adopt is a happy healthy person without a sexual addiction, who hold down good jobs and raise happy health families. A small minority are unhappy.

"Thus it is the duty of all of us to protect each other from high risk activities that distract us from participating and recreating a healthy and moral way of life."

Why? Why don't you call for the banning of extreme sports which cripple and kill people every year? Do you want alcohol banned? Why is sex a "high risk" activity?

"In the case of both drugs and sex, the benefit of the one-off event to an individual person is simply not meaningful enough to justify the risk posed by the potential for addiction."

How do YOU know? YOU claim to know what is best for an individual. I know of someone who was suicidal for the WANT of sexual experience because they felt unattractive to the opposite sex - there are people with severe disabilities who find it very difficult to attract partners so find other arrangements (prostitution) as an outlet for their desires. How DARE you claim to know what is best for people? Who made you their guardian? and why are you right?

"Furthermore, when one considers the joy and beauty of a life free from drugs, and a life that honours chastity and marriage, one can only consider the motivations for avoiding such a life stem from fear, depression or depravity."

Well drugs are one thing, although alcohol is a drug and there are many people using it quite happily without ill effects. There are alternatives to the lifestyle you propose - not out of fear or depression, but a sense of joy and beauty and passion. This is not depravity and just because you have not experienced it does not mean it is wrong.

"What if some of us are destined to rule, and others to follow?"

Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot - need I say more? This is the attitude followed by people who justify rivers of blood. People need to learn to lead themselves, not follow like sheeple.

"Your inability to see beyond your libertarian box shows the shallowness of your indoctrinated thinking."

Pot calling the kettle black - I could turn that on you, but I think you have chosen your philosophy, don't insult me by claiming I haven't. I've been a Christian and a socialist, who indoctrinated me? Or does reading books you haven't read or don't like count as that? Come on, you can do better than this.

"Chastity and monogamy are expressions of loyalty, faithfulness and devotion – values that are essential to humanity. Values that, when integral to a marriage, provide a great atmosphere and example for children who grow underneath that marriage."

I believe monogamy does - yes, but I think there are also other ways of expressing loyalty and devotion. A couple can be like this without being married, and many are - most premarital relationships have this as the subtext. Ask people - it is the societal norm Allan! It doesn't mean the state should get involved!

"I would never say the state should choose your marriage partner, or your career. However the state has a role to say what partner you CAN’T choose (ie same sex), and what career you CAN’T choose (ie prostitution)."

OK I wont make you be Muslim, but you can't be Christian or Buddhist or Hindu or atheist. There is no fundamental difference, restricting choices is compulsion and if you want to ban things it is no essential difference from compelling. You said that the state should be involved in people's core relationships, you're just arguing how and I gave you another example.

"When’s the last time you talked to your father about oral sex? Do you and your Gran regularly talk about masturbation? I’m sure you’re best mates daughter would love to hear you rabbiting on about sodomy. Point and case."

I have talked extensively to my parents about sex over the years and to a number of friends. What matters is that you are offended about even engaging in something that is part of life - most people masturbate Allan and there is nothing wrong with it, it hurts NO one and there is medical evidence that for men it substantially reduces the risk of testicular cancer.

"Sex is only a selfish act when you actually feel like doing it."

So you suggest people when married do it when they don't? How do you propose men manage this physically? Would you want your wife to have sex with you when she doesn't want to? It is TWO people engaging in selfish acts that are mutually pleasurable and reaffirming of each other - it is BOTH selfish and selfless, but cannot happen without the selfish first. People shouldn't (and typically don't) have sex without wanting to.

"We are actually concerned at the way sexual promiscuity weakens marriage and family, and makes people more reliant and more readily manipulable by the big brother state. It’s ok for you at the moment when you have all your rights, but once those are taken away who can you rely on to help resist the force of the big brother state?"

I think you'll find Libertarianz are full of people like this - and I don't want to swap big brother Helengrad for big brother Allangrad. My body is mine and you want to control it because you think you know best how to run my life. I simply don't understand why my body should be the property of everyone else.

I WILL post as to why my philosophy is objective and I respect your challenge to have a go at proving to you.