Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Catholicism and Sex: The Ugly First Message

Christopher Hitchens has used the word "toxic" to describe the teachings of many Christian faiths regarding sex. My own experience as a Catholic "indoctronee" tells me this is not far off the mark.

While there is plenty of room for disagreement with the Church's teachings regarding the nature and purpose of sex, birth control, abortion, homosexuality, masturbation, etc., these teachings are not what necessarily offend me most. As I recall the earliest days of my subjugation to Catholic education, one firmly-planted idea stands out more than most: the notion that Jesus, both God and the son of God at the same time, was conceived by, and born of, a woman who, the whole time, remained a virgin.

In the second grade, of course, I didn't understand what a virgin was. It wasn't until I reached adolescence that this concept jelled in my mind and I began to question why virginity was a prerequisite for the birth of man's saviour. The message I was receiving was not even subtle: sexual intercourse would have tarnished Mary, the mother of Jesus, and her image, as well as offended God himself. Why was it necessary for the Holy Spirit to be the vehicle for this non-corporeal impregnation?

To my mind, this doctrine of the virgin birth had the distinct effect of sullying the whole concept of sex, and in so doing implanted in my psyche the idea that sex is a bad thing. After all, if we were to aspire to be Christ-like, or God-like, then certainly we should not engage in anything that either of them would look so disdainfully upon. This was plainly an ugly first message about sex.

It took a while before an understanding of the normalcy of sex replaced the "toxic" notions instilled in me as a young person. I eventually learned that when sex is seen as the basic, instinctual human need that it is and not as a vehicle for sin and evil, it assumes a much healthier role in the development of mind and body.

1 comment:

  1. I have to agree with you, our society's views on sexuality need drastic improvement in the modern world. Much of that, in our country, at least, is probably due to Christian influence. It has changed from a simple religious and moral dilemma to something far more dangerous.

    Also, thanks a lot for stopping by my blog! I'll keep up to date on yours, as well. As a reasonably devout Catholic, liberal, and aspiring astrophysicist, I have had the interesting personal and social experience of "reconciling" my varied and often (I quote again) "conflicting" beliefs. I have come to find that comparing, contrasting, and interpreting my religion in terms of science (and vice versa) to be virtually impossible. They are two completely different worlds, that, in my opinion at least, have little to do with each other. When I read about the physical creation of the universe, I don't look to the Bible for answers. I don't see anything in that book that concerns particle physics or stellar parallax, so I see no conflict with my chosen profession. When I read about Jesus, I don't look to the stars for answers, either. I have found nothing in science that reliably addresses the existence of God, so I don't look to science to reaffirm my faith in God. Of course I am not one who reads the Bible literally, as that was not my upbringing. Anyway, I guess what I'm trying to say is that I do not think my religion has "shackled" me at all. Thanks for reading, and I'm looking forward to more great blogging!


    PS Carl Sagan is a hero of mine, and also an atheist. I often wonder what other people of my faith would have to say about that.