Table of Contents | Poetry | Opinion | Fiction | Nonfiction | Columns | Shorts | Art | Cosmic Connections
By Loretta Kemsley
"Watch" by Lynn Hershman
The common perception of the good Christian is the staid man and the demure woman. The history of Christianity presents a radically different reality, with Christian sexual escapades rivaling television soap operas in lurid intrigues and scandalous characters. Beginning shortly after the death of Jesus and continuing unabated through to the present, the definition of proper and virtuous sexuality continues to be the topic of heated debate.
In The Biblical Source of Western Sexual Morality, Peter J. Leithart wrote, "It is all too easy for Christians, when examining the moral behavior and beliefs of cultures, to impose our patterns of morality on them...The danger of this approach is not only that we will fail to understand another culture, but that we will appeal to a nonexistent 'consensus' as the standard of moral behavior. Conservatives and many Christians make this mistake when they call for the reintroduction of 'traditional values.' The question must arise, Which tradition?"
The early Christians based their beliefs on Roman pagan religions and Greek philosophies as much as they did on the teachings of Jesus. St. Augustine, described in The Catholic Encyclopedia as "one of the most prolific geniuses that humanity has ever known" struggled with his own sexuality. "Plato gave me knowledge of the true God, Jesus Christ showed me the way...In the first dawning of my youth, I had begged of thee chastity, but by halves, miserable wretch that I am; and I said, 'Give me chastity, but not yet awhile'; for I was afraid lest thou shouldst hear me too soon, and heal me of the disease which I rather wished to have satisfied than extinguished."
St. Augustine was heavily influenced by the works of Plato, who endorsed engaging in sexual pleasures, "Is there any greater or keener pleasure than physical love? No, nor any which is more unreasonable."
Both men were uncharitable toward women. St. Augustine shunned them as bewitchers sent by the devil. Plato saw them without souls, placed here for the use and convenience of men.
According to Leithart, "(While) all evidence suggests that the majority of Greeks maintained heterosexual monogamy...Plato's most poetic hymns on love grew out of reflections on (homosexuality)... the Greek emphasis on (homosexuality) was related to the hermaphrodite ideal. As Rushdoony writes, 'the truest symbol of perfection was not Zeus as a male god, nor kings...but rather the hermaphrodite.' Homosexuality permitted the Greek to fulfill this ideal by acting as both man and woman -- again achieving a vivifying confusion of natural boundaries."
According to Barbara G. Walker, in The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, lesbians were persecuted because they did not adhere to the patriarchal view of a good woman, which required her to place faith before family or personal desires. "Amazons took the isle of Lesbos and made it one of their 'isles of women,' a sacred colony dedicated to worship of the female principle, as later Christian monasteries were dedicated to worship of the male...Christian Europe regarded lesbians as 'a crime without a name,' and sometimes burned lesbians alive without trial...The most famous colonist was the poet Sappho, whose contemporaries said she was even greater than Homer. Her work didn't survive the book burnings of the early Christian era. She was one of the first authors to be attacked because of her homosexual tendencies and her devotion to the Goddess"
The anguish of St. Augustine might have been the inevitable result of the clash which would occur if he tried to reconcile the Greek view of sexual propriety and the Judaic teachings, filled with a litany of "Thou Shalt" and "Thou Shalt Not's." Judaism, the primary religion of Jesus, viewed sexual activity as proper only within the marriage bed.
Based upon traditional Judaic views, Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln, in their book Holy Blood, Holy Grail, make the argument for the marriage of Jesus to Mary Magdalene. Under Judaic law, a man was not allowed to speak with a woman who was not his wife nor could an unmarried man become a rabbi. In addition, adulterers were subject to stoning. Mary traveled freely with Jesus, who was recognized as a rabbi. Because there is no record of public condemnation, it is likely, they conclude, Jesus and Mary were married.
The Naj Hammadi scrolls, found in Upper Egypt in 1945, support this view. Authenticated by scholars as Coptic translations written approximately 1500 years ago, the fifty-two books delve into their relationship. The Gospel of Philip states, "...the companion of the (Savior is) Mary Magdalene. (But Christ loved) her more than (all) the disciples, and used to kiss her (often) on her (mouth). The rest of (the disciples were offended)...They said to him, 'Why do you love her more than all of us?' The Savior answered and said to them, 'Why do I not love you as (I love) her?'"
Elaine Pagels comments, in The Gnostic Gospels, "The Dialogue of the Savior not only includes Mary Magdalene as one of three disciples chosen to receive special teaching but also praises her above the other two, Thomas and Matthew: '...she spoke as a woman who knew the All.'
"Other secret texts use the figure of Mary Magdalene to suggest that women's activity challenged the leaders of the orthodox community, who regarded Peter as their spokesman. The Gospel of Mary related that when the disciples, disheartened and terrified after the crucifixion, asked Mary to encourage them by telling them what the Lord had told her secretly, she agrees, and teaches them until Peter, furious, asks, 'Did he really speak privately with a woman, (and) not openly to us? Are we to turn about and all listen to her? Did he prefer her to us?' Distressed at his rage, Mary replies, 'My brother Peter, what do you think? Do you think that I thought this up myself in my heart, or that I am lying about the Savior?'
Levi breaks in at this point to mediate the dispute: 'Peter, you have always been hot-tempered. Now I see you contending against the woman like the adversaries. But if the Savior made her worthy, who are you, indeed, to reject her? Surely the Lord knew her very well. That is why he loved her more than us.' Then the others agree to accept Mary's teaching, and, encouraged by her words, go out to preach. Another argument between Peter and Mary occurs in Pistis Sophia (Faith Wisdom). Peter complains that Mary is dominating the conversation with Jesus and displacing the rightful priority of Peter and his brother apostles. He urges Jesus to silence her and is quickly rebuked. Later, however, Mary admits to Jesus that she hardly dares speak to him freely because, in her words, 'Peter makes me hesitate. I am afraid of him, because he hates the female race.' Jesus replies that whoever the Spirit inspires is divinely ordained to speak, whether man or woman."
Christianity flourished in the Roman Empire. By the reign of Constantine I (228?-337 a.d.), Christianity had become a multitude of sects, none of which agreed with the tenets of the others. With the conflict threatening the political stability of the Roman Empire, Constantine called their leaders into a council, and demanded they agree upon a common doctrine. The modern New Testament were the only books which survived this council. All other manuscripts, about 5,000, were destroyed.
In his treatise on pantheistic Christianity, Paul Harrison wrote, "Unlike Mohammed, unlike the Buddha, there is no reliable body of sayings or teachings of Jesus which represent his own views beyond reasonable doubt. The four gospels are only four out of dozens that were whittled down by the formation of the church canon, and by censorship and physical destruction of rival texts.
"With no authoritative statements from Jesus himself, the field lay wide open for a dizzying range of interpretations. The first centuries of Christianity saw a luxuriant flowering of sects which all used the name of Christ, but differed dramatically in their teachings and practice. Many of these sects were known as Gnostic, and offered exotic blends of Christian, Platonic and Zoroastrian ideas.
"Two of the Gnostic gospels--the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Eve--have a clearly pantheistic tone in places...The Gospel of Thomas was found at Nag Hammadi in Egypt among a cache of other Gnostic documents. It plainly rejects the world, the flesh and woman. It probably originated in Syria in the second century AD, and may have been used by the Manicheans..."
"The Gospel of Eve is known only from one or two short quotations from the great heretic-hunter Epiphanius (310/20 - 402), bishop of Salamis. 'And the pitiful pair, having made love, then proceed to hold up their blasphemy to heaven, the woman and the man taking the secretion from the male into their own hands and standing looking up to heaven. They hold the impurity in their hands and pray . .and say 'We offer you this gift, the body of Christ.' And then they consume it, partaking of their shamefulness, and they say: 'This is the body of Christ and this is the Pasch for which our bodies suffer.' . . When they fall into a frenzy among themselves, they soil their hands with the shame of their secretion, and rising, with defiled hands pray stark naked, as if through such an action they were able to find a hearing with God."
Harrison continued "Jesus himself, they said, was the first teacher of these practices. He took Mary (probably Magdalene) to a mountain, took a woman out of his side and had sex with her, then drank his own sperm saying: 'Thus we ought to do, that we may live.' The sect even claimed that when Jesus at the Last Supper spoke of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, he was referring to this practice."
Most scholars agree Jesus did not claim divinity for himself. This status, his celibacy and his mother's virginity were conferred upon him during the time of Constantine. According to Walker, the cult of Mithra, a Persian savior, was the leading rival of Christianity in Rome, and "more successful than Christianity for the first four centuries of the Christian era...Christians copied many details of the Mithraic mystery-religion...Some resemblances between Christianity and Mithraism were so close that even St. Augustine declared the priests of Mithra worshipped the same deity as he did.
Tarot Card: The Empress by Julie Waters
"Mithra was born on the 25th of
December...which was finally taken over by Christians in the 4th
century A.D. as the birthday of Christ. Some said Mithra sprang
from an incestuous union between the sun god and his own mothers,
just as Jesus, who was God, was born of the Mother of God. Some
claimed Mithra's mother was a mortal virgin....Mithra's birth was
witnessed by shepherds and by Magi who brought gifts to his
sacred birth-cave of the Rock. Mithra performed the usual
assortment of miracles: raising the dead, healing the sick,
making the blind see and the lame walk, casting out devils....His
triumph and ascension to heaven were celebrated at the spring
equinox (Easter), when the sun rises toward its apogee...Before
returning to heaven, Mithra celebrated a Last Supper with his
twelve disciples, who represented the twelve
signs of the zodiac. In memory of this, his worshipers partook of a sacramental meal of bread marked with a cross...Like early Christianity, Mithraism was an ascetic, anti-female religion. Its priesthood consisted of celibate men only.
"Constantine considered himself the incarnation of 'the supreme god, a combination of Apollo, Mithra, Jupiter the sun and Christ....'I banished and utterly abolished every form of evil then prevailing, in the hope that the human race, enlightened through me, might be called to a proper observance of God's holy laws.'"
Under pressure from his priests/political advisors, Constantine reluctantly consented to baptism just prior to his death. Walker continues, "His literary whitewashing began at once. Despite his two wives and numerous concubines, Christian panegyrists said he was 'wedded to chastity.' Eusebuis elevated all the emperor's doings into acts of piety, and invented the legend that Christ had converted him with a holy vision at the Milvian bridge. Later Christian legend claimed Constantine saw the sign of the cross in the sky, with the words in hoc signo vinces (in this sign conquer). However, the holy sign that Constantine placed on his battle flags was not the cross. It was the labarum, a monogram of Mithra...soon after Constantine's death, they (orthodox Christians) instituted extensive persecutions and crusades extending over the next three centuries."
Roman marriage originally was reserved as a privilege for men who owned property; its purpose was to insure a legitimate heir. With the legitimacy of heirs as the only concern, the monogamy of men was not important while married women were subjected to the same restrictive laws as slaves. Scholars have asserted this is the basis for today's "double standard" of sexual mores.
Early Catholics opposed marriage, in part because they preferred the church to be the beneficiary of property inheritance and in part because of their objections to Goddess religions. Walker wrote, "The word marriage came from Latin Maritare, union under the auspices of the Goddess Aphrodite-Mari. Because the Goddess's patronage was constantly invoked in every aspect of marriage, Christian fathers were opposed to the institution. Origen declared, 'Matrimony is impure and unholy, a means of sexual passion.' St. Jerome said the primary purpose of a man of God was to 'cut down with an ax of Virginity the wood of Marriage.' St. Ambrose said marriage was a crime against God, because it changed the state of virginity that God gave every man and woman at birth. Marriage was prostitution of the members of Christ, and 'married people ought to blush at the state in which they are living.' Tertullian said, 'Marriage was a moral crime, more dreadful than any punishment or any death.' It was spurcitiae, 'obscenity,' or 'filth.'
"St. Augustine flatly stated that marriage is a sin. Tatian said marriage is corruption, 'a polluted and foul way of life.' Influenced by him, Syrian churches ruled that no person could become Christian except celibate men, and no man who had ever been married could be baptized. Saturninus said God made only two kinds of people, good men and evil women. Marriage perpetuated the deviltry of woman members, who dominated men through the magic of sex. Centuries later, St. Bernard still proclaimed that it was easier for a man to bring the dead back to life than to live with a woman without endangering his soul."
Any person who even hinted matrimony might be more blessed than celibacy would be excommunicated, by decree of the Council of Trent. Gebhard, archbishop of Cologne, blessed married couples illegally and even took a wife himself. Excommunicated, he was besieged and killed by Catholic forces in Ghodesberg Castle.
St. Hilary was married and the father of a daughter. When his daughter wished to marry, Hilary forbade her. Walker notes, "Fearing she might weaken and lose her virginity, he asked God to kill her. God complied--with a little help from Hilary. After burying the daughter, 'by his prayer' Hilary sent his wife to heaven also."
Priests began to take wives during the 5th and 6th centuries, despite the church's demand of celibacy. In the 11th century, papal decrees, aimed at bringing more wealth to the church, commanded married clergy to abandon their wives and sell their children as slaves. This decree was strictly enforced because new laws permitted the priests to bequeath their property, and their wives property, directly to their children.
Changes in Roman law brought it into compliance with pagan laws, which provided for women to own the land; men could acquire an interest in it only through matrimony. Marriages could be freely initiated and terminated without formality, by either party and at any time. When Christian authorities revised pagan marriage laws, one of the primary changes placed a wife's property in her husband's control.
Despite outside pressure, the church was still reluctant to recognize the validity of marriage. It wasn't until 1563 that the church declared that legal marriage required a priest's blessing. Thereafter, they refused to recognize common law marriages. By 1913, the Catholic Encyclopedia had adopted this position on marriage: "...the freedom enjoyed by married woman during the (Roman) empire had as sole result that divorce increased enormously and prostitution was considered a matter of course. After marriage had lost its religious character the women exceeded the men in license, and thus lost even the influence they had possessed in the early, austerely moral Rome."
Monogamy was not common in early times. Caesar remarked upon the group marriage customs in Britain, which was their standard. The Greeks regarded such practices as barbaric or unusual, even while recognizing their culture was the only one with a patriarchal-monogamous social structure. Only after the imposition of the reformed Catholic policy on matrimony was group marriage forbidden. Despite this, Latter Day Saints (Mormons) practiced polygamy in the United States for a brief period during the late 18th century before renouncing it as a condition of statehood for Utah.
Others defied the Catholic church also. According to Harrison, The Brethren of the Free Spirit practiced divine amorality. "In the early thirteenth century, a number of theologians at Paris were preaching a pantheistic Christianity. Hence the Amaurians indulged in (or at least they were accused of indulging in) sexual pleasures and crimes of all kinds. 'They committed rapes and adulteries and other acts which gave pleasure to the body. And to the women with whom they sinned, and to the simple people whom they deceived, they promised that sins would not be punished.'
Later followers of the Free Spirit took the same principles even further, saying that for all those who realized their identity with God, any action whatsoever was permitted, including theft, rape, incest and murder. As with Tantric Buddhism, the sex act was regarded as the delight of Paradise and the ascent to mystical ecstasy. In the early fourteenth century, the Beghards of Cologne enacted naked masses in which participants rejoiced that they had returned to the state of Adam and Eve before the fall. Denounced by the husband of one of the women, the leader, Walter of Cologne, and fifty of his followers were executed by burning and drowning. If anyone was 'in the Spirit', they said, even if he were to commit fornication or to be fouled by any other filthiness, there would be no sin in him."
"All witchcraft comes from carnal lust which in women is insatiable." These are the words of Jacob Sprenger and Hendrich Kramer, Dominican Monks in the Middle Ages. Clearly, Christian men continued to fear the magic of women. The wedding band was originally used as a means of containing the bewitching power of women. It was believed she could point the third finger on her left hand at any man and cast a spell over him. This fear of women's sexuality spanned centuries. In the 1800s, Dr. Nicholas De Venette wrote, "The womb of a woman is in the number of insatiable things mentioned in the Scriptures. I cannot tell whether there is anything in the world its greediness may be compared unto; neither hell fire nor the earth being so devouring, as the privy parts of a lascivious woman."
Tarot Card: The Emperor by Julie Waters
By the time of the Victorian era in England, Christians generally accepted sexuality as sinful even in the marriage bed. Couples were advised to perform the sex act with as little skin contact as possible. Their bedclothes were designed with small holes with which to accomplish this feat. Geoffrey Grigson recorded, "(Charles) Kingsley assured his bride that by postponing their bliss, they would purify and prolong it, so much so in fact that when they reached heaven they would be able to enjoy uninterrupted sexual intercourse."
Everyday decisions were made with sexual connotations in mind. In her book on Etiquette written in 1836, Lady Gough advised, "The perfect hostess will see to it that the works of male and female authors be properly separated on her bookshelves. Their proximity, unless they happen to be married, should not be tolerated."
Masturbation began to worry the converted. An anonymous text in Onania or The Heinous Sin of Self-Pollution (1730) advised, "This abominable Sort of Impurity is that unnatural Practice by which Persons of either Sex may defile their own Bodies with the Assistance of others, whilst yielding to filthy imaginations."
The Christian view of sex influenced the views of medical doctors also. In The Physical Life of Woman: Advice to the Maiden, Wife, and Mother, Geoffrey H. Napheys, M.D. warned of"...the disastrous consequences on soul and body to which young girls expose themselves by exciting and indulging morbid passions. Years ago, Miss Catherine E. Beecher sounded a note of warning to the mothers of America on this secret vice, which leads their daughters to the grave, the madhouse, or, worse yet, the brothel.
"...though we believe such a habit is more rare than many physicians suppose, it certainly exists to a degree that demands attention. Surgeons have recently been forced to devise painful operations to hinder young girls from thus ruining themselves; and we must confess that, in its worst form, it is absolutely incurable...any indulgence whatever in these evil courses is attended with bad effects, especially because they create impure desires and thoughts, which will prepare the girl to be a willing victim to the arts of profligacy."
Young men were not spared either. In Purity and Truth, Self and Sex Series, What a Young Man Ought to Know (1904), Dr. Sylvanus Stall wrote, "At some point during childhood or subsequent years most young men have learned, either from their boy associates, from some accidental cause, such as sliding down a banister or climbing and descending trees, or because of an unnatural sexual irritability, something concerning the unmanly and debasing practice of self-pollution. In our institutions of learning, and even in our colleges and universities, masturbation and self-pollution, and other forms of self-imposed degradation and defilement, are practiced among many of the students, and sometimes even to an alarming extent. The practice is revolting and degrading, and, if continued, is ruinous in its results. It weakens the intellectual, debases the moral and thoroughly undermines the physical man. The practice is not only a sin against God, but a sin against all that is high and holy in man's nature, and if long persisted in becomes destructive of all the possibilities which coming years have in store for the unhappy person...instead of being developed by this unnatural process, the sexual member is itself impaired, and if the process is often repeated or long continued the result is the dwarfing and wasting of the organ itself and the shattering of the entire nervous system."
Parents who failed to educate their sons were chastised soundly. "I had a hand to help me in every matter, but no one has lifted a hand to save me from the dangers of solitary and social sexual sins to which all must have known that I, like any other boy, was exposed upon every side. . . .How can I ever forgive my parents?...Oh, that my parents had saved me when a child by telling me the truth and giving me a proper warning! My ruin is due to their terrible neglect..."
Despite the seriousness of the situation, there was a movement who demanded an end to repression of sexuality, insisting men would suffer if they did not indulge in sexual activity. In Europe, this movement advocated the regulation of prostitution. They gained such strength, the Union for the Advancement of Public Morality in Norway asked the medical faculty in the University of Christiania to provide guidance. "..The assertion made recently by various persons, and repeated in public journals and as public assemblies, that a moral course of life and sexual continence is injurious to health, is entirely incorrect according to our experience, which is herewith unanimously expressed. We know of no disease nor of any kind of weakness concerning which we may safely affirm that it might proceed from a perfectly pure and moral life. According to the unanimous experience, therefore, not according to the opinion, of these approved physicians, purity is as little injurious to a man as to a woman."
Dr. Napheys wrote, "The laws of every Christian land are hostile to this false teaching because it is hostile to the home, to marriage and to the constituted order of civilized society. It would substitute the harem for the home and the concubine of the east for the wife and homemaker of every Christian land. It would overthrow the constituted order of society and introduce in its place a veritable social chaos. It would dethrone love, and exalt lust to love's sacred and accepted place."
The good doctor took up where neglectful parents left off, expanding the warnings against masturbation into advice on the proper relationship with the opposite sex. "In order that a young man may sustain a right relation to woman, he should have an exalted ideal of the character of woman. He should know and appreciate the fact that the great majority of women are unapproachable and irreproachable. The woman who aspires rises higher than man, and the woman who desires may descend to such depths of moral degradation as are not possible to man.
"The first class of vicious men are those who give themselves up to a life of vice, and who frequent houses of shame in order to secure the gratification of their lustful passions with women who are as degraded and polluted as themselves.
"Another class of vicious men, fearing contagion and disease...support a private prostitute. While such a a man in some measure protects himself from the probability of disease, yet he is sure to suffer perpetual torment from the fact that he is constantly liable to exposure.
"The third class consists of those who are not able to support a private prostitute, and who are restrained by the dread of disease from going with bad women promiscuously, and who undertake to secure the gratification of their sensual passion by seducing innocent and unsuspecting young girls. The man who despoils a pure girl of her honor, and robs her of her virtue, for a momentary gratification, deposes her from a place in the estimation of society which can never be regained, and pollutes her thought, and sends her headlong in a path of ruin and vice...
"While none of these three paths of vice may attract to their ruin the large class of young men, yet there is another temptation more subtle . . .We refer to the danger to which a pure-minded young man and young woman are exposed during a period of courtship, and especially after an engagement of marriage has been formed.
"That you are not severely rebuked, or resisted, or even if consent was indicated by passivity, remember that you are nevertheless the criminal betrayer of one whose confidence you have gained, but whose respect you deliberately sacrifice, and whose name and reputation you sully, and whose character you seriously mar. Even though she should by her own consent prove herself as debased and degraded as Potiphar's wife, your own sense of honor and manhood should enable you to say, like Joseph: "How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" Flee from such a woman. To make her your wife would be deliberately to blight your life, to blast your happiness, and render impossible the happiness and blessing that would probably and reasonably be yours if married to a pure-minded and virtuous woman."
The ban against prostitution evolved in a manner similar to the changing ideas on matrimony. Peter McWilliams, in Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do, asserted, "In the ancient Judaic culture, for example, the only woman with independence was the prostitute. All professions were filled by men. Everything was owned by men. The only valuable commodity a woman was allowed to own was her body and her charm. Women became whores because they didn't want to prostitute themselves to one man in marriage...What men really resented about prostitution was the woman's independence.
"In pagan cultures, however, women could aspire to a parallel but very different profession: temple (or sacred) prostitute. Pagans believed that physical pleasure signified the presence of the gods. Sexual pleasure-among the greatest of physical pleasures-was one of the gods' greatest gifts. Not only was sex pleasurable, it was essential to fertility, and fertility was life...Everything was viewed in sexual terms: the rain falling on the receptive earth, the seed planted in the receptive ground, the net thrown into the receptive sea.
Tarot Card: The High Priestess by Julie Waters
"In this system, the feminine (receptive) quality was not just appreciated; it was worshiped. The temple prostitute-whether female or male-developed this quality to an art. The temple prostitute performed many functions. She was the High Priestess (or he was the High Priest) of the temple. She or he would make offerings to the goddess or god of the temple, explore erotic visual delights through dance, play music, write and recite poetry, prepare sumptuous food, and concoct potions of love. The temple prostitute was, of course, also well trained in the arts of massage, touch, and erotic stimulation.
"Sex was a sacrament; orgasm, a religious experience. The community respected and revered the sacred prostitute as much as any other priest or priestess. Prostitution was a high calling, an honorable and exalted position. In the New Testament, Paul (in particular) denounced pagan practices at every opportunity. Paul speaks specifically against the temple prostitutes, not prostitution in general. Paul is condemning all pagan practices-the work of the temple prostitute being just one of them."
St. Augustine wrote, "Remove prostitutes from human affairs, and you will destroy everything with lust." St. Thomas Aquinas called prostitution "a lawful immorality' and maintained there was a necessity for the profession. "Take away prostitutes from the world and you will fill it with sodomy."
Walker commented, "Hesiod said the sensual magic of the sacred whores or Horae "mellowed the behavior of men." Ishtar, the Great Whore of Babylon, announced "A prostitute compassionate am I....Ancient harlots often commanded high social status and were revered for their learning. As embodiments of the Queen of Heaven, in Palestine called Qadehset, the Great Whore, the harlots were honored like queens at centers of learning in Greece and Asia Minor. Some even became queens. The empress Theodora, wife of Justinian, began her career as a temple harlot. St. Helena, mother of Constantine, was a harlot before she became an empress-saint..."
"The Jews had cult prostitutes in the time of King Josiah, when they lived next to the temple and wove hangings for the sacred grove (2 Kings 23:7). Modern translations of the Bible call them 'sodomites,' but the original wording meant holy harlots. Such holy harlots were often 'brides of God,' set apart to give birth to Sons of God, i.e., prophets and sometimes sacrificial victims...Holy whores were called 'virgins' because they remained unmarried. Like medieval nuns, they took veils as a badge of their office...Medieval brothels were not always clearly distinguished from convents. A trace of the pagan <i>collegia</i> of priestesses still clung to both institutions. Early 'double convents,' with men and women united in one community, sometimes housed consecrated prostitutes. Several popes maintained 'holy brothels' in Rome; Queen Joanna in Naples founds a religious house of prostitutes called The Abbey in the papal city of Avignon. In Victorian times, it was still a common custom to call the madam of a whorehouse 'the abbess,' though the historical precedent was forgotten."
Walker claimed "Because whores occupied a significant position in paganism, Christians vilified their profession. Churchmen didn't want to stamp of out prostitution altogether, only amputate its spiritual meanings..."
By Victorian times, the attitude toward prostitution had radically changed, in parallel with the attitudes on sex within marriage. Walker continued, "Certain anticlerical writers maintained that prostitutes should be respected for their willingness to be kind. Lorenzo Vallas' fifteenth century De Volupate called for a return to ancient customs, echoing Horace's Omnnia voluptas bona est. Valla wrote: 'Whores and prostitutes deserve more from the human race than do nuns with their chastity and virginity.' Of course, such sentiments did not prevail. Two centuries later, English apprentices celebrated each Shrove Tuesday by breaking in to whorehouses and beating the inmates. It also became customary in England for men to 'punish' the whores they patronized by hamstringing: cutting the sinews of the legs to make the woman a permanent cripple.
"Churchmen did not distinguish between a professional prostitute and a woman in love with a lover. Both were 'whores.' the whole point of patriarchal morality was that women must not have the right to pick and choose men. Christian society...half-deliberately looked the other way as many hundred of young girls 'fell' into it (prostitution). Eighteenth century London swarmed with female children struggling to keep themselves alive by prostitution, according to a contemporary pamphlet denouncing 'little Creatures piled in Heaps upon one another, sleeping in the public streets, in the most rigorous seasons, and some of them whose heads will hardly reach above the Waistband of a Man's breeches, found to be quick with child and become burdensome to the Parish.' Far from extending sympathy to these little girls, the pamphleteer called them wicked whores, 'a most enormous Sin to lay Snares for the Unwary, and to be the Means of ruining both Souls and Bodies of so many innocent young Gentlemen.'
"According to the terminology of the time, a 'wench' was a child of either sex. Drydens' description of a gentleman as one who 'eats, drinks, and wenches abundantly' apparently meant a man who picked up homeless male or female children in the streets to service his sexual idiosyncrasies."
America followed England's lead. An article in the San Francisco "Call" reported physicians, testifying before the Board of Health, stated they knew of no city in the world that harbored as many diseased children, the father of whom had contracted some form of venereal disease in the brothels of the Barbary Coast. The paper proposed that a municipal clinic be opened for diseased prostitutes, with laws to compel them to submit to medical treatment until they were disease free. The Protestant clergy surprised the editors with their bitter opposition. Their protest was based on the argument that fear of contamination kept hundreds of men away from the brothels and the corrupt vices which surrounded them. The clergy feared a clean bill of health would only increase the trafficking in sex.
Tarot Card: Judgement Day by Julie Waters
Bertrand Russell, in Why I am Not A Christian, railed against Christian theology masquerading as medical or social science. "Where there are children, it is a mistake to suppose that it is necessarily to their interest to make divorce very difficult. Habitual drunkenness, cruelty, insanity, are grounds upon which divorce is necessary for the children's sake quite as much as for the sake of the wife or husband. The peculiar importance attached, at present, to adultery is quite irrational. It is obvious that many forms of misconduct are more fatal to married happiness than an occasional infidelity. Masculine insistence on a child a year, which is not conventionally misconduct or cruelty, is the most fatal of all.
"Moral rules ought not to be such as to make instinctive happiness impossible. ..when the rules are such that they can only be obeyed by greatly diminishing the happiness of the community, and when it is better they should be infringed than observed, surely it is time that the rules were changed. If this is not done, many people who are acting in a way not contrary to the public interest are faced with the undeserved alternative of hypocrisy or obloquy. The church does not mind hypocrisy, which is a flattering tribute to this power; but elsewhere it has come to be recognized as an evil which we ought not lightly to inflict...The vindictive feeling called 'moral indignation' is merely a form of cruelty."
"Clergymen...condemn acts which do no harm and they condone acts which do great harm. They all condemn sexual relations between unmarried people who are fond of each other but not yet sure that they wish to live together all their lives. Most of them condemn birth control. None of them condemn the brutality of a husband who causes his wife to die of too frequent pregnancies. I knew a fashionable clergyman whose wife had nine children in nine years. The doctors told him that if she had another, she would die. Next year she had another and died. No one condemned him. He trained his benefice and married again. So long as clergymen continue to condone cruelty and condemn innocent pleasure, they can only do harm as guardians of the morals of the young.
Russell was also angered by Christian attitudes on sex education, prostitution and marital sex. "Another bad effect of superstition on education is the absence of instruction about the facts of sex...At puberty, the elements of an unsuperstitious sexual morality ought to be taught. Boys and girls should be taught that nothing can justify sexual intercourse unless there is mutual inclination. This is contrary to the teaching of the church, which holds that, provided the parties are married and the man desires another child, sexual intercourse is justified, however great may be the reluctance of his wife....The total amount of undesired sex endured by women is probably greater in marriage than in prostitution...It is illegal in England to state in print that a wife can and should derive sexual pleasure from intercourse...It should be recognized that, in the absence of children, sexual relations are purely a private matter, which does not concern either the state or the neighbors."
Records within the Catholic Church reveal abortion was not condemned until the reign of Napoleon III, who was concerned about the falling birth rate in France. Napoleon agreed to recognize the infallibility of the Pope if the church would declare abortion a sin. Interestingly, the sin was recognized in the early months if the fetus was male, but not until the later months if it was female. There is no record of the method recommended to prove the gender.
By the twentieth century, Christian theology on sexual activity was being questioned so extensively that the Catholic Encyclopedia felt compelled to reject previous teachings of the church. "It is, therefore, not permissible to take one sex as the one absolutely perfect and as the standard of value for the other. Aristotle's designation of woman as an incomplete or mutilated man ("De animal. gennerat.", II, 3d ed. Berol., 773a) must, therefore, be rejected...
"It was the teaching of Christ which first brought freedom to the female sex...He restored the original life-long monogamous marriage,raised it to the dignity of a sacrament, and also improved the positionfor woman in purely earthly matters... Most decisive, however, for thesocial position of woman was the teaching of Christ on the nobility of freely chosen virginity as contrasted with marriage, to the embracing of which the chosen of both sexes are invited (Matt., xix, 29). According to Paul (I Cor., vii, 25-40) the virgins and widows do well if they persist in the intention not to marry in order to serve God with undivided mind...By this doctrine the female sex in particular was placed in an independence of man unthought of before...Elisabeth Gnauck-Kuhne says truly: 'The esteem of virginity is the true emancipation of woman in the literal sense.'
"Mary, the sister of Lazarus, who sat as a disciple at the feet of Jesus, has become a model for the training of woman in Christianity. The study of the Scriptures, which was equally customary both in the East and the West among educated women under the guidance of the Church, remained during the entire Middle Ages the inheritance of the convents. Thus, next to the clergy, the women in the medieval era were more the representatives of learning and education than the men."
By 1954, Pope Pius XII reaffirmed the church's position in his encyclical Sacra Virginitas . "Holy virginity and that perfect chastity which is consecrated to the service of God is without doubt among the most precious treasures... Our apostolic duty demands that We now in a particular manner declare and uphold the Church's teaching on the sublime state of virginity...virginity is not a Christian virtue unless we embrace it "for the kingdom of heaven."
Although the Catholic Church officially held fast in its attitudes adopted during the Victorian Age, other Christians were beginning to change. Toward a Quaker View of Sex: An Essay by a Group of Friends (1963) was written by a group of eleven British Quakers -- most of them Elders and all respected professionals in education, law, medicine and psychiatry. This work states "one should no more deplore homosexuality than left-handedness." The study calls Christians to reject legal and ecclesial attitudes which condemn homosexuality as inconsistent with the "deepest insights in the Bible."
Love is for Life: Pastoral Letter of the IrishBishops was gentler, trying to straddle the middle. 'The phrase "sexual revolution' has often been used in respect of the radical and rapid change of attitudes towards sexuality and sexual morality which has taken place in recent decades, particularly in Western countries...Some aspects of this modern 'sexual revolution' are good and are to be welcomed. There is a new openness in discussion about sexuality, and an absence of unhealthy feelings of guilt or shame about our sexual nature. There is a more general acceptance of the need for education of the young in an understanding of their sexuality, even though the call for 'sex education' does not always sufficiently stress the human and the spiritual dimensions of sexuality...Harm was done in the past by some sermons, statements and attitudes which associated sex with fear and shame and guilt, instead of seeing it as a beautiful gift from God...
"...A great modern thinker said that 'our whole civilization is aphrodisiac.' Modern culture in the Western world would in some respects seem to be reverting to a cult of sexuality not entirely dissimilar to the old cults of the 'goddesses of love', Venus and Aphrodite, in the pagan culture in which Christianity was born. .."
Others are not so kind. In 1995, Discovery Publishing, a ministry of Peninsula Bible Church wrote, "(Paul) suggests very plainly here that a Christian knows things that a non-Christian does not know. The Christian in his confrontation with society is always to remember that he knows secrets about human life that those around him who are not Christians do not know. '...children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world...'
"Sexual looseness is incompatible with Christian faith because the Christian is directed to expose the true character of sexual evil...The church of Jesus Christ is directed by the Holy Spirit to be a source of correct information on matters of sex. Peter says the church is, 'the pillar and ground of the truth.' I do not hesitate to say today that it is only the church which can teach the world the true nature of sex..."
This rigid interpretation appears to be what Leithart warned against. Its dogmatic theology both frightens and angers some. Jim Drush in Religions Hypocrisy asserts that religious leaders extort their faithful to reject sexuality at the price of perversion. He cites numerous criminal cases involving men of the cloth and their parishioners, often mere children. "Billy Graham was quoted saying recently on a PBS interview that sex addiction among his fellow ministers is a major problem. He gave an example: on one of his more recent European Campaigns, he actually was asked to lock one of his fellow ministers in his room to restrain him from going out and finding a prostitute! "
Few of the Christian sects have escaped unscathed from these scandals. Jimmy Swaggert, of television ministry fame, was prosecuted not once but twice for consorting with a prostitute. After a brief period out of the limelight following the first incident, he re-emerged, declaring God's forgiveness had been revealed to him. The Catholic Church has been besieged by notoriety involving priests and young children, both male and female. In response to enraged parents groups, they have been forced to abandon their previous practice of simply moving the offender to another parish or hiding the offender from the police. Today they have a special panel to deal with the offender, law enforcement, and the community.
Many women were already rejecting the teachings of Christian churches which kept them in a subordinate position. Catholic priests had already begun to call for permission to marry. Now the publicity surrounding cases such as these has taken an additional toll upon the faithful. It remains to be seen how the churches will evolve given the current sexual escapades which, as in centuries past, continue to rival television soap operas in lurid intrigues and scandals. However, it is unlikely the staid man and the demure woman will ever be more than fictitious characters meant to represent an ideal.
Loretta Kemsley is the president of Sandcastle Publications,
an award winning journalist, a freelance writer/editor,
and a coach in the art of writing. Her past credits include editor-in-chief of The Free Spirit and Minority
Employment News. She is currently developing a new web site addressing the issues of early childhood education.
Comments can be sent to Loretta Kemsley at firstname.lastname@example.org
About MD | Submission Guidelines