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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A bit of mulling over

Following up on Sunday's post, I can't help but keep returning mentally to Dr. Darrel Ray's talk at Skeptics of Oz last month, which you can see and hear (both are important in this case) here.

In a nutshell, the thesis of Ray's talk (and, I assume, of his book Sex & God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality, although I haven't read it) is that the essence of religion-- in particular American Christianity-- is sexual control via shaming. Shame and guilt, actually-- Ray doesn't differentiate between the two, although I find the distinction between them very important. He says that religion causes people to be filled with sexual shame to the extent that even as they grow up and live out their lives as mature, sexually active adults, they are compelled to lie about that sexuality to themselves, their friends and family, and especially their children. They lie about the fact that they masturbate. They lie about the fact that they have sex outside of marriage, whether before, during, or after. They lie about sexual attraction being a part of them that exists quite independently of the desire to create and raise children, and as such isn't something which sprang into existence on their wedding day and exists only for the person they married.

In support of this position, Ray points to higher than average levels of divorce, pornography consumption, and teenage pregnancy in the more fundamentalist parts of the U.S. Sexual shame is the source of all this lying, he asserts, because we can't escape from being sexual beings, and yet religious people-- again, mainly American Christians-- yearn to escape this aspect of our nature so badly that they are driven to simply deny it. This shame manifests itself even people who have deconverted, as a vestigial part of our moral thinking as adults, which can be observed when the more secular amongst us nevertheless engage in activities such as slut-shaming against others as well as when they turn it inward and deny their own impulses. In order to properly reject this, Ray says, we must be "secular sexuals," embracing our own sexuality as well as that of other people-- to admit publicly that we masturbate and have since we were kids, to refrain from slut-shaming and condemn those who do, and recognize that other people have their own preferences and these are their own business. In this way, we can subvert the popular assumption that sex sullies a person-- particularly if she is female-- and encourage education while discouraging ignorance and bigotry.

Okay, that wasn't exactly a nutshell. Sorry.

Now, this was both a safe and audacious talk for Ray to give at a meeting like Skeptics of Oz. Audacious because those are some very strong claims-- the original claim was that religion is a "sexually transmitted disease," that religion is all about sexual control, religion is fundamentally about making people feel ashamed of their sexuality and deny it their entire lives even while dating, marrying, producing children, and in general living a typical adult sexual life. And religious people hearing this would think "No, that doesn't remotely describe my experience." Which, in America, for most religious people, is probably true. It's possible that religion in America is as much about sexual control as veterinary medicine is about euthanizing peoples' pets-- a phenomenon which is a near-monopoly, but far from an all-consuming purpose. Which leads to why it was a safe talk for Ray to give at a conference for skeptics-- because when it comes to conferences, "skeptic" generally entails, if not translates to, "atheist." (See this excellent talk by Matt Dillahunty at this year's American Atheists conference for what the distinction is, and why it's important.)

He wasn't likely to hear a lot of argument from the audience about religion's role in sexual shaming and deceit-- and in fact, there was none. And that is because, I feel comfortable in saying, we-- not just secular, but anyone other than socially conservative Americans-- are sick to death of social conservatism. And social conservatism, especially that relating to anything sexual, invariably comes with an appeal to religious sensibilities. Because this is America, Christian religious sensibilities. Abortion? God's against it. Birth control covered by health insurance? Same. Pornography? Same. Gay rights? Same (but please don't look at how many politicians and clergy have been caught having gay affairs). Sex outside of marriage? Same (but please don't examine how many of us have stuck to that). Adultery? Same (but please don't look at our divorce rates). We're used to this, if anything but happy about it. It's called the religious right, and it shows no sign of going away. So of course a group of secularists-- sworn enemies of the religious right-- are not going to speak up about a talk saying that religion (American Christianity) is, fundamentally, about sexual control.

I just think it's overstating things. Just a tad.

To be continued.

3 comments:

  1. It was nutshell enough. I didn't have to see the video to grasp the crux (and I HATE videos). :)

    I have long observed that repression breeds perversion. It seems ironic that Christian sexual repression engenders precisely what it claims to oppose. (shrug)

    Thanks, Gretchen - another thoughtful piece. I so enjoy reading your thoughts again.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks Grethchen, for your summary and comment. No short talk can possibly convey the breadth of treatment I give all religion and sexuality in Sex and God and in The God Virus. Yes, I do make careful distinctions between guilt and shame in the book. No I do not claim that religion's soul purpose is to control sexuality, per my thesis in The God Virus. I just make the claim that it is one channel for continued infection within cultures and across generations. The statistics I site are but the tip of the iceberg with respect to the misbehavior of religionists against their own "moral standards." My contention is we need to look at the behavior functionally. Religions have direct and profound impact on our lives, even those of us who do not believe. I want to bring attention to those impacts. We were born and raised in a polluted culture, as a result, we often are blind to religion's influence on us, especially our sexual beliefs and ideas.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks Grethchen, for your summary and comment. No short talk can possibly convey the breadth of treatment I give all religion and sexuality in Sex and God and in The God Virus. Yes, I do make careful distinctions between guilt and shame in the book. No I do not claim that religion's soul purpose is to control sexuality, per my thesis in The God Virus. I just make the claim that it is one channel for continued infection within cultures and across generations. The statistics I site are but the tip of the iceberg with respect to the misbehavior of religionists against their own "moral standards." My contention is we need to look at the behavior functionally. Religions have direct and profound impact on our lives, even those of us who do not believe. I want to bring attention to those impacts. We were born and raised in a polluted culture, as a result, we often are blind to religion's influence on us, especially our sexual beliefs and ideas.

    ReplyDelete

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