Chapter 2 continued   Leave a comment

Chapter 2  continuedBook illustration for Song of Solomon ( source: Photobucket)

Judaism  :  Sacred Sexuality

Since Judaism could possibly be seen   as mother or model to both Christianity and Islam ( all three religions have their origins in Abraham and his lineage)  it is worth looking at what Judaism has to say about sexuality. This is very important. What one discovers, is that  in many ways, sacred sexuality in various guises, is found there.

Judaism at the very start was surrounded by sacred sexuality  and fertility rites from other cultures,. Early recorded fragments of social history, from that time, attests to the early struggles Judaism had with being attracted to fertility cults and the monotheistic impulse/motivation. In fact, in an effort to break away from their neighbours’ cults, the Jewish god Yahweh, became masculine, or seen as a “husband” of the people, moving it away from the more feminised version of  the then current spirituality. The Song of Solomon, is generally read as a spiritual relationship between God and his people, even if it is very erotic in tone. The eroticism, in fact, ties in with a sacred sexuality or a wholism, and even  forms  a basis of an early mystic tradition. Therefore, sex and sexuality are very much connected and linked, in this song,  and not separated.

Further to this, when you examine ideas, feelings and thoughts on sexuality, Judaism sees sex, as in kosher sex, as both a pleasurable and spiritual activity within the context of marriage an actual duty to fulfill. Moses and other prophets of Judaism gave their thoughts and set instructions on issues regarding  sexuality and kosher sex. What follows is more or less, proscribed things, followers of Judaism should try to do.  Kosher sex (kosher from the Hebrew word ” Kashrus”: pure  ) within marriage, is not viewed as evil or “dirty”, but should be done with love and with great joy. It is not seen as purely procreative, , but spouses are encouraged to express their physical love for each other; it should be there for selfish gratification.

In the Torah, the word for sex , comes from the root word “Yod- Dalet Ayin “to know”(sexually). To know, therefore evokes the notion of knowing someone’s mind as well as body: http://www.jewfaq.com,  explains comprehensively what kosher sex is , along with exploring contemporary views about sexuality, sexual identities (including same-sex relationships) and practices. “In Jewish law, sex is not considered shameful, sinful or obscene….. Sex is not thought of, as a necessary evil for the sole purpose of procreation. Although the sexual desire is seen as coming from the evil impulse (Hebrew “yetzer ra”), it is no more evil than hunger( from where ” yetzer ra ” comes from,” writes  http:// http://www.jewfaq.com)

Kosher sex sees sex as a woman’s right and the husband has a duty to fulfil her needs. Sex purely for one’s own sexual gratification, without thinking of the partner, is deemed to be good, acceptable behaviour. Therefore each spouse should be thinking of making sure they satisfy each other.  Sex merely reinforces a loving bond between husband and wife.

Although sex is a woman’s right, she is not to use it as a weapon to punish or manipulate. A man, or the husband, since kosher sex is allowed within a marriage, cannot force his wife to have sex with him. Sex is not allowed between a couple when drunk or arguing, because sex is meant to be savoured.  A husband is “obliged to watch for the signs that his wife wants sex and to offer it to her, without asking for it.” ( http://www.jewfaq.com) . A couple cannot deny, withhold or force sex.  The Talmud in various passages talks about the husband using foreplay to arouse his wife.

Sex is seen as a force to be channelled and controlled, but not denied.

2. Islam  and Sacred Sex

Islam has a similar take : one has to be married first, and sex is seen to be something performed for enjoyment and pleasure. More so, the husband , as in Judaism, has to make sure his wife’s needs are met. A husband is expected to, under Qu’ranic law, satisfy his wife, satisfying her, before “she has satisfied her need from him”                     (  http://www.gaia-web.org/philosophy/sex.islam.html). Scholars such as Imam Al-Ghazzali, in his work Opus Encyclopaedia for the Islamic Religious Services( Ihya Ulum Ideem )   wrote that a man should  wait for his wife to orgasm, before he does.

Making love is seen as  “Sadaqa”  (Arabic)  a gift or an act of worship:  a gift , or a reward to the spouse ( on the lowest level)  or ,  an act of worship, as in seeing the spouse as having attributes of the divine, by forming a spiritual union, becoming one on a higher level , and reaching the Divine/Allah at this level.  The latter level has deep  mystical connotations, and all three religions have branches of mysticism ( e.g Sufism, Qabbalah, Catholic monsatic orders, etc)  recognise the sentiments of this)

Now , in this snapshot summary of both religions and what is expected in terms of sexual practice  (  here heterosexual sexuality and within marriage )  we see forms of  a sacred sexuality, where both partners are meant to satisfy each other, AS A DUTY,  to reinforce a deep bond,  that sex is seen as evil or dirty,  and it is not necessarily for procreation, that the man, in both instances , has to either  satisfy the wife  or make sure she has sex ( by sensing she needs it ) and using foreplay .  Space is too short to go into more detail, but there is a lot of literature dealing with both religion’s adaption/retention of specific elements of sacred sex ( e.g rules concerning birth control, abstaining from sex. and so on)  Even though, Judaism,followed by Christianity and then Islam tried to suppress the sacred sexuality practices around them, creating specific patriarchal symbols and thought, somehow elements of sacred sexuality could not be resisted, and so was contained into the various institutions of marriage.   What is interesting is, all three religions are  often  as having a prudish stance on sex and sexuality, and yet the spirit of sacred sexuality , in a different /altered form is actually  there.

2: Prudish? Islam?

Before discussing Christianity’s take on sexuality, there will follow a brief look at how Islam has become to be seen as “prudish’ given, that a form of sacred sexuality exists within it.

Prior to the 19th century, with the various wars, invasions undertaken by followers in the name of religions, elements of Christianity  probably saw  both Judaism and Islam as  rivals( which more often than not had political implications)  and this went back perhaps even before the Crusades. There is also the very complex relationship Christianity has had with Judaism, and not forgetting  the issue of how  Jewish groups were treated/mistreated within European societies.

With the various Islamic empires, on Europe’s doorsteps:  such as the Moorish Empire and the Ottoman Empire, there was misunderstanding and misinterpretations of a different spiritual paths and cultures within them.  Many Christian writers and travellers were often confused, in awe of, captivated  by such splendid buildings , like the Alhambra , in Spain; many were even more confused by the Muslim sexual morality, at the same time, which was espousing that women should be sexually pleased, and satisfied by their husbands. Because, and this will be explored later, Christianity had been influenced by some Ancient Greek philosophies that advocated a mind/body split, anything that was sensual and of  the body, be it eating, drinking, sex, the wearing of perfumes and colours etc, was very disconcerting to followers, who saw all this as a distraction from spirituality and worship. Islam (and perhaps Judaism to a lesser extent) , was seen as religions of  sensuality, too engrossed in pleasures of the world( http://www.gaia-web.org/philosophy.sex/islam.html. This view reached its peak in 19th century Europe. One has only got to look at the Orientalist paintings , of that era to see the obvious curiousness of  a different culture, the Other, framed with lush stereotyping, indicative of a longing to be freed from specific  and strict cultural norms of Christian Europe ( using painting as  a way to explore  sexuality, forbidden desires and dreams) and yet displaying the fact, that the Other is less, not equal, thus reinforcing the Other as overtly sexual, wild, uncivilised.  Painters from all other Europe,  such as Gerome, Delacroix, Ingres,Lord Leighton and others, are striking examples( Lynne Thornton, Women  as portrayed in Orientalist painting)

Now something changed, post 19th century,  to bring about a reversal to this very thought of Islam being a sensualist religion to the current idea, it is a prudish religion. So what happened?

“There is no doubt that puritanical(…. elements …..) have entered Islam. It has been noted that some sociologists ( see Barbara Metacallfe’s .work.) on 19th century Indian Islam, have noted that when British and French colonialim took over much of the Muslim world, there was an inferiority complex produced”, writes http://www.gaia-web.org/philosophy/islam.html.

During the 19th century, much of  Europe lived under the ideals of “Victorianism” (named after British monarch Queen Victoria and the age in which she reigned,, who  and which seemed to embody to some people, those particular moral ideals) a strict moral code , that covered sexuality, relationships, private home life,  public mores, public life, religious observance,  gender roles and so on. It ( this moral code)  more or less was used to convey industrialisation and the new civilised  ways of the town and city to the rural masses ( a hugely significant shift in human history). Imagine the impact, then ,  on those colonised territories’ cultures/spiritual and social  etc ,lives in both the Middle  Eastern world and outside  of the Muslim world ( The Americas/Sub-saharan Africa and so on).

The moral code (“European Victorianism”) that defeated the colonised Muslims ( and others) ” came to see as superior manifestations of their conquerors’ civilisation, (which) was oddly Victorian prudism” (ibid). British India perhaps was singularly affected by this new way of thinking, of taking on the ideas and views of their conquerors, and other colonies across the world, followed suit. The British passed a number of laws,  during the 19th century in India , such as the Anti- Nautch ( dancing girls) laws, which has had such an impact on Indian modern culture- in many respects devastating- ,one is not surprised, how cultures become prudish and lose that sense of the irresistible  life force, sex  and  invert all this and repress it, so values become unrecognisable.

“It has been said that the “burqa” cloak that women in Afghanistan wear, was almost unknown, prior to the 19th century (ibid)

The irony is now Islam is viewed, now, as the complete opposite to the sensualist religion that much of Christian Europe declared it was .  And much of Western civilisation and cultures influenced by western civilisations, are now becoming  sex-obsessed to the point, it  probably can no longer recognise sensuality, only overt sexuality and  instant gratification ( author’s words)  “It is vital in today’s world that we try to transcend stereotypes on all sides and realise people other than ourselves have much to contribute to our world “( http://www.gaia-web.org/)

Establishing that elements of the sacred sex, exists in both Judaism and Islam, we will summarise a report on Christianity and sacred sex. I will talk about Christianity in general,  as there isn’t enough space to discuss the specific/relevant historical differences between denominations and their philosophies.

3 Christianity and Sacred sexuality

While the story of Eve in Genesis , perhaps, over centuries, influences the way  women in Christianity,  have been seen and socialized, and ultimately sex,  it doesn’t appear to be as dominant in Judaism or Islam. Although   all patriarchal religions, the latter  two view Eve differently.  Eve perhaps doesn’t play such a central role, in Judaism, maybe because  it  is the compelling story of Lilith ( Adam’s first wife) , who seems to have  symbolised the matriarchal religions that Judaism was up against.  However, both Eve and Lilith are cursed in many Jewish writings.     Islam sees Adam and Eve as both to blame for eating the forbidden fruit. ( http://www.themodernreligion.com)

Eve is important in Christian ethics, because the idea of Jesus Christ’s  spiritual mission on earth , evolved due to Eve’s “sin” of tempting/seducing Adam to eat the forbidden fruit, disobeying God. Hence all humanity, born from Eve, were born flawed.

Putting aside  women as temptress and seductress, and the message  of “be fruitful and multiply” procreative sex,  it does appear that sacred sexuality does exist in Christianity and there are several writings urging followers to regard sex as sacred. The now infamous line  often  misquoted by many people , has been that women should submit to their husbands ( physically/sexually and mentally)- Ephesians  Chapter 5: 21-29 , New Testament).

But this  is  actually truncated, therefore misquoted.  Its longer quote, says: a husband  has to  also submit to his wife: “Husbands love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her” ( verse 25).  Some Christian thought looks at the word “submit” as in  spiritual duty( similar to the Arabic word “Islam)”)  rather than the more derogatory term of submission as in a slave to a master.  The English language, while rich in vocabulary, sometimes doesn’t have specific technical language to describe specific spiritual terminology. What it suggests is, within a marriage, a husband as well as the wife, are both expected to nurture each other, as they would themselves, both mentally, sexually and spiritually. Therefore it suggests, sexually, husband and wife are meant to satisfy each other and be considerate , thoughtful respectful, emotionally and sexually- but within the context of a marriage (  comment by Berenice33eunice, Youtube).

” For many years Christians have been told that sex is God’s creation, designed by him, as a gift to husband and wives…. A (Christian ) couple’s sexual relationship  has a far  higher purpose than pleasure and procreation. Scripture makes it clear that sex is one thing on earth that joins two people into one,” says the publishing notes for Tim A Gardner’s Sacred Sex: A Celebration of Oneness in Marriage.

So, again, there is a similar message here, in striving for a both  a pleasurable and spiritual/mindful union.  Again, the charge is, if sacred sexuality exists in its own form, in Christianity, as in sex is viewed as sacred, how did much of Christianity become viewed as prudish/puritanical anti- sex, as Islam is, today?

3. Christianity and Anti-Sex

Early Christianity, in establishing itself , had been influenced by many Ancient Greek philosophies. From the time that Alexander the Great, (Alexander III of Macedon, known as Iskendar by the Arabs)  had conquered much of the Middle East  ( countries which we now call Egypt, Iran, Persia, Iraq Syria,Israel, to the Himalayas, falling short of India- an empire stretching from the Ionian sea to the Himalayas,  www.bbc.co.uk/historic/historical_figures/alexander_thegreat.shtml)

Thus forming his Greek empire, much of the world then, was very much Hellenized ( based on Greek culture, customs, dress and of course language, religion and philosophy).Much of the ancient world, under the grip of Alexander ( who died very young in his reign) and the following heirs, wrote and spoke Greek (Ancient).

Greek philosophy had a huge influence on the Roman world, even after the Greek world was absorbed by Rome. Remember by the time the Roman empire had been established, Greek ways of thinking and living was one way of being able to control many of the different/diverse groups of peoples and cultures. Alexander’s legacy perhaps was the existence of diverse cultures fusing with Hellenistic traditions, civilisation  and beliefs.Multiculturalism, Ancient Greek style.

During the early years of Christianity, as a young religion, in the Roman Empire, where, Greek ideals and civilisation formed the bedrock , it would have been very surprising, if Greek influences hadn’t been strong!

In a nutshell, there were so many philosophic branches of thought, and many early Christians saw Greek philosophies as divinely preparing for their religion . There were Christians such as Clement of Alexandria (Egypt) who believed this, in particular.

“This was an attractive strategy in the philosophical community with the Christians, a seriousness about living a good life and …rejection in the vulgar excesses of pagan worship and pagan mythology”( Noel Reynolds, Why Early Christianity adopted Greek philosophy www.maxwellinstitutebyu.edu/publications/insights/?vol=21+NUM10&ID=220 )

Early missionaries could cite beliefs of the contemporary that were similar to Christian beliefs, as a way to get people to listen.

The topic of ancient Greek philosophy is so huge and detailed, there is no conceivable way I could do justice to even a fraction on summarising differences. That is to be left to the great scholarly minds, who have spent life times on this. What I will do , is  point you in the direction of a reference, which explains the diversity of thought, and in this chapter, explore in brief, the main points of influence  for early Christianity. (http://webspace.ship/cgboer/latergreeks.html). References about Ancient Greek philosophy in this chapter, will mainly derive from this website, unless otherwise stated.

Dualism, an ancient Greek theory, arose from the combination of  philosophers Aristotle and  Plato’s ideas ( fourth and fifth centuries, BCE)  that the mind and body were separate, unlike the holistic idea, believed by many of the ancient cultures, of mind and body being one entity or organism working together. (Reynolds)

Plato said that the mind was non-physical, but the faculty of reason was peculiar to people. Added to this,  Plato suggested that there was a hierarchy of souls, according to the function of an animate/living creature (animal or plant). Plato believed that the soul was not dependant upon the body. There was after death a metempsychosis or migration of the soul to a new body(Reynolds). Bear in mind that much of Ancient Greek philosophies were not “constructed or made in vacuo, but depended , often heavily, on the work of their Middle Eastern predecessors and contemporaries, ” says P.G Maxwell (  Chapter 2 Greece and Rome BCE 50 BC : The Religious Zodiac, from Astrology). So , in a  logical nutshell, this implied the mind was superior to the body, if it was dependant on the body.

Moving on, we need to explore, how has this become intermeshed with anti-sex sentiments or even anti- female sentiments? One of the threads for this is,  St. Augustine,( born in present day Algeria: 354-430 CE   and  considered by many Christian scholars and theologians, as one of the most important thinkers/influencers on Christian  thought)  had been  a  very wild young man, and perhaps as he got older, after being converted to Christianity, he sought to overcompensate for this. (Reynolds et al. See Appendix for more on St. Augustine).

He brought into the Platonic belief of separating mind from the body. This started to feed into some early  Christian  thought on the discomfort with sex and pleasure mingling together.   Other threads are Socrates, who believed sex harmed the soul ( various sources, including Robert Franoeur: Religious Suppression of Eros) and various Ancient Greek philosophical movements, such as  Cynicism and  Stoicism, all expressed reservations about sex.

The Stoics believed nothing should be done , for the sake of pleasure, which influenced  some early Greco-Roman culture. Cynics, actually,  were very much influenced by some  of the early monastic Jewish and Christian sects, so we have an interplay of influences going back and forth.  For both movements, living an almost “spartan”, focused , back to nature life  was crucial. Virtue ( Cynicism’s main ethos) and Apatheia ( Absence of passion , which was Stoicism’s main ethos of non-attachment) were considered the route to true happiness and acquisition of wisdom….

So pleasure (read sex for pleasure, orgies, too much eating and drinking, etc: the usual suspects etc) was very much a diversion , to attaining  these qualities.  Therefore, we can see how early Christian would have re-interpreted Adam and Eve’s sojourn in the Garden of Eden, as luxurious seduction, an awareness of sexuality , and loss of  paradisal innocence, due to an awareness of sex-  so sex equalled sin.

In addition, there was another floating tradition, around the same time,  that demons affected the world, sex and the body, trapping the soul. The key to freedom for the soul, was salvation, by not surprisingly, denying sexual and physical temptations (Francoeur).

Francoeur adds, “Within 3 centuries of Christianity (.. all these various influences..) combined to seduce Christian thinkers into a rampant rejection of human sexuality and sexual pleasure.” So, we have an evolution from early sex-affirming Hebraic culture to Christian discomfort with sex and pleasure.

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