Home General Issues Guest Contributor Corey Gilkes: Sex, Guilt, Sin and Social Control

Guest Contributor Corey Gilkes: Sex, Guilt, Sin and Social Control

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Maybe I’m reading too much into things but some of the responses in some of the articles on this website really struck me with the apparent deep convictions of those who engaged in premarital sex that what they did made them fall short in the eyes of god. The very words used to describe their experiences were quite instructive, particularly the word “impure.” I’ve long known this word to be linked to sexual interaction but it’s always sobering to see it still wielding the power it did all through the centuries. Sexual interaction, including intercourse, is by far a most wonderful way of expressing one’s love or emotional closeness to someone else. Apart from achieving closeness with someone you love – or even just like – sexual and erotic intimacy is linked to a wide array of feelings which in turn are linked to mental and physical well-being, relieving stress and not to mention providing a very pleasurable way of burning off calories.

Sex, however, has also been a very good way of exercising social control. When twinned with religion, it is a most powerful way to keep subjected people compliant with whatever claims to hegemony one may have, legitimate or not. Steve Biko said the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the minds of the oppressed while Carter G Woodson said in Mis-Education of the Negro that when you control a person’s mind you don’t have to control his actions. So it is with sex and the control of women. For thousands of years proponents of patriarchal ideas have used sex to suppress attempts by subjected peoples and specifically women to assert themselves socially, economically and politically.

Of all the emotions employed by patriarchists to keep people subordinate, perhaps none has been as effective in keeping people in line as guilt. Guilt manipulation has been by far one of the most effective means of keeping subjugated peoples from being fully self-confident to the point where they challenge established rules, conventions and other attempts to deny the taking control of their destiny. Whether it was enslaved Africans plotting revolt on the plantations, colonised Africans challenging white minority/absentee rule or corrupt local rule, or workers agitating for improved conditions. In these and more scenarios, apart from the direct violent weapons possessed by the coloniser, the psychological weapons used to maintain “order” were embedded in a foundation of guilt, reinforced by imposed ignorance and self-doubt.

Without a doubt religion was the principal vehicle conveying those feelings of guilt. In the Caribbean colonial schooling was controlled by the same people who controlled religious instructions – Europe/Euro-American missionaries. Practically every one of them came imbued with the same negative (yet double standard) attitudes about human sexuality. The same schizophrenic, misogynist attitudes they used to repress sexual interactions among their fellow Europeans were increased tenfold when applied to African and Afri-Caribbean peoples (the differences were noticed when the first waves of Afri-Caribbean immigrants settled in postwar England and noticed that churches were not only sparsely attended but that both men and [albeit more discreetly] women were a lot less sexually conservative than most colonised subjects were made to be).

Now I do not dismiss in any way the legitimate and very real health issues connected with sexual activity particularly in a liberated, non-monogamous environment and I am certainly not in support of any unprotected sexual activity. However, looking at some of the messages geared toward curbing the spread of STDs, oftentimes attempts at reaching out to people the guilt factor more than the medical factor is used utilising themes developed in religious circles which were developed to make their target audiences feel guilty about having sexual desires, particularly when these desires overstepped the prescribed narrow confines of pre-marital and extramarital sex and intimacy. All well and good were it not for the fact that these same religious teachings are what lay beneath the ignorance many possess about sexuality in the first place. It’s small wonder why one Rev Joseph Fletcher, an official of the Episcopal Theological School, reportedly said that “the Christian Church must shoulder much of the blame for the…..ignorance and guilt which surrounds sex in Western culture…” Barbara G Walker in The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets said “it is hardly possible for anyone brought up in….Western (culture) to comprehend the ancient world’s opinion of sex as an experience of divine pleasure or a preview of heaven without deliberate, laborious intellectual progress toward such an opinion.”

Much of the guilty feelings we saw express or feel concerning pre/extramarital sexuality are products of very ancient superstitions and misogynist biases in patriarchal ideology that was erroneously projected as universal ideology or morality. Of course there are those who would argue that the strictures against pre and extramarital sex, polyamory etc are in keeping with Christian teachings. They will as usual quote biblical passages to buttress their argument; passages that are divinely inspired – and you certainly cannot argue with god. Again, all well and good.

Except that these passages were not inspired by any divine, mystical force, they were created by ordinary men and I am arguing. This view of sex became firmly embedded in human consciousness for hundreds of years before Judaism, Christianity or Islam came into existence and so informed the ideas of morality of the priestly elites in these faiths.

If one wishes to choose abstinence or exclusive monogamous on the basis of religious injunctions, by all means. I’d feel somewhat better, however, if those religious beliefs were buttressed and properly informed by the historical and sociological facts. The guilt felt after (or before) thinking about/engaging in pre- or extramarital intimacy against the Christian teachings have very little to do with any god and more to do with certain feelings of insecurity and inadequacy certain men held thousands of years ago that they then reversed and projected onto the very group they had issues with: women.

Apart from the economic factor already discussed, male hunter/warriors in Eurasia had other issues with the more open sexual lifestyle of the older matricentric societies. Sex in most patricentric cultures was idealised as mysterious, dangerous and polluting. Scholars like Cheikh Anta Diop, Charles S Finch and Marilyn French have shown that the roots of this belief are in the fatalistic, unsentimental mindset Eurasia clans developed as coping mechanisms for the extreme conditions in Eurasia at that time. They saw life as a miserable period of probation and that the physical world, made up of matter which was subject to decay, was therefore subject to decay and contamination. One had to fight and sacrifice to get anything and that meant often denying oneself relaxing, sensual pleasures that distracted from and so threatened the rigid, almost unifocal militaristic and hunting lifestyle that was essential for the clans’ survival. Women were specifically targeted as being the controllers of that sexual power. Because of the association with sex and procreation, sex was seen as a quality inherent only in females; it was not a human – that is male – characteristic.

Some scholars further argue that the differences between male and female sexual abilities also contributed. It is believed that the differences between male and female sexual arousal, the energy drained from men upon climaxing, frequency of orgasms, the feelings of terror apparently evoked upon the sight of a blood-soaked penis withdrawn from a menstruating woman – related to the confusion over a menstruating woman bleeding like the animals they wounded on the hunt yet not dying like them – all seems to have contributed to their ideas of sex as something mysterious yet dangerous.

Hunter/warriors developed bonding and coping mechanisms that created images of invincibility. Many aspects of sexuality threatened this aura that they created. To deal with these feelings of trepidation and inadequacy ancient patriarchists re-directed these feelings onto women. Because men’s sexuality was not the same as women, because sex became idealised in terms of power relations, women’s sexuality was devalued and demeaned. Women were made to internalise some of these ideas (using myths and religious teachings as vehicles) and so eventually came to see their own bodies the way patriarchists saw them: as shameful displays of temptation for the warrior protectors. This notion never fully changed even though populations expanded, consciousness developed, civilisations grew, economies changed and societies evolved. Values continue(d) to be defined in keeping with ancient militaristic, competitive ideologies. The Greek thinkers contributed much to “genderising” honour; for men it was through their open, aggressive displays of bravery, assertiveness, competitiveness and sexual prowess. Women on the other hand, were expected to show their honour by how well they guarded and hid their marks of shame: their bodies (use of clothes to conceal necks, arms, legs, hair and especially breasts and vulvas) and their very selves (by remaining at home, by being silent when in the home, by being obedient to men’s authority).

To break just one of these restrictions was to “prove” that the woman was sexual, thus promiscuous, thus shameful and not an “honourable” woman. It meant that she was once again her natural self and so a slave to base, animal nature. All this was reflected in the philosophical writings of Hesiod, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle and diffused to Roman thinkers, the philosophers of the 18th century Enlightenment, down to our own times.

Most importantly, however, it influenced the thinkers who developed the Jewish and Christian tenets. Hellenised Jews who were already influenced by patriarchal Babylonian culture and Levite priests drew from Greek literature. Greek and Roman urban social customs and ideas served as the templates for their social structure and ideas. So too did the Christian theologians who followed them. St Jerome warned Christian devotees to “regard everything as poison which bears within it the seeds of sensual pleasure. Tertullian said chastity was “a means whereby a man will traffic in a mighty substance of sanctity” while Augustine, who more than anyone else, established the core ideologies of Christian doctrine, held the conviction that no sex was sinless even within marriage. His ideas not only came from Greek prejudices but also from Manichean teachings. Mani’s central doctrine was that the physical world was the work of the devil, who invented sex to entrap the souls of the righteous in the prison of the flesh. Compare that belief to the feeling expressed by the author of 1 John 2:15 when he writes “Love not the world, neither things that are in the world…for all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father.”

If we closely examine many of the vernacular expressions denoting sexual interaction we can see how tightly interwoven into our collective consciousness is the patricentric belief that sex is sinful, dirty and contaminating: it’s “the nasty,” the “guilty” or the “forbidden” pleasure, the “deed.” Those who refrain, however, are considered “pure” (as opposed to having sex which is “impure”). And has anyone picked up on the fact that the most obscene words like “fuck,” “cunt,” “boob,” “cock” are the words that either denote sexual contact with a woman or happen to be a reference to some part of a woman’s anatomy?

Even in this so-called Age of Information it is clear that much work and discussion still needs to be done.  Those beliefs we hold were developed at a time and place where the realities of travel, consciousness, urban and rural interaction were completely different to what exists today. There is much to examine and deconstruct. Some of those beliefs of course will be retained but by and large it is high time we rethink a lot of what we call “morality.”

Suggested reading

Beyond Power: On Women, Men and Morals – Marilyn French

The Creation of Patriarchy – Gerda Lerner

Cultural Unity of Black Africa: Domains of Matriarchy and Patriarchy in Classical Antiquity – Cheikh Anta Diop

Civilisation or Barbarism: An Authentic Anthropology – Cheikh Anta Diop

See also

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VvhlX5V7u3g

17 COMMENTS

  1. if I’m distilling down your long disseration correctly, you’re basically saying that all our moral restrictions are just patriarchy keeping the woman down, particularly where religion is concerned.

    Your theories on religion have to begin with an assumption that there is no God, and that religion is simply a human construct and thus malleable to changes in human society. You thus state as though fact that the teachings around sexuality and sin predate Christianity and Judaism, and thus are man-made.

    I believe in a living, eternal God, Who made all that is, just as the Bible describes Him. While the writing down of the book of Genesis dates to Moses, its author, the knowledge of the one true God dates back to Adam and Eve and the origin of humanity.

    That’s not to say that every rule that’s been perpetrated under the banner of religion is from God, certainly. That’s why we have the Bible, to help us differentiate between things that are of God, and things that men in positions of religious power have added. You didn’t even mention the ‘curse of Ham’ line that was used to justify keeping African slaves, which was fortunately countered by many God-fearing men and women who showed the truth of the Scriptures and were active voices in the abolitionist movement. I was surprised to learn recently that this included George Washington. I had heard that he had slaves, but encountered a historian who laid out more of the history, pointing out that he inherited them from his father and was forbidden by law to release them (he was able to do so in his will, upon his death), and listing various speeches and motions he had been involved in both before and after the War of Independence, campaigning to have slavery eliminated in the colonies.

    Because we do not look at the context of Scripture, both the world in which they lived and the whole of the Scripture taken together, some people look at the Bible and see misogyny and oppression advocated. People look at Paul telling slaves to obey their masters or telling women not to shave their heads or not to talk in church, and they draw conclusions based on chosen verses rather than the whole. Looking at the people to whom it was written and the testimony of the rest of the Scripture tells us that Paul was not advocating slavery as good, for instance. This was the same Paul that told us that all men and women were equal in Christ. Here, in a society where slavery was legal and accepted as normal, Paul told slaves who had come to believe in Christ how to treat their masters in a respectful way that would make their masters wonder what this Jesus thing was that had so changed their slave’s attitude towards them. He was teaching women in a society that viewed women in a misogynist way how to live as the ‘perfect wife’ in that society’s view so that others would question what this Jesus was inside of them that enabled them to display such peace and contentment. They were living in an unfair world in a way that showed there was something inside them making a difference in their life.

    We in American society have taken repression and rebelled against it to the opposite extreme, going past simply finding liberty and into the realm of liscentiousness and moral relativism where each individual is his own arbiter of right and wrong and all authority is rejected. But that is enslavement to our own lusts and whims, not true freedom. We become controlled by the drive to do whatever we’re told not to do, rather than by the desire to do what’s right and good.

    We absolutely can look at the teachings of our various denominations and such and compare them to the Bible to see where man has diverged from God’s Word, and reject those that diverge from it, just as happened with Christian abolitionists in the 17 and 1800s. But once we reject the Bible, we have nothing real to stand on.

    I will agree with you on one other thing: you are right that, in our zeal to prevent the sin of sex outside of marriage, we do miss that the Scripture also speaks of the marriage bed as undefiled, and contains such passages as the deeply intimate and sexual physical descriptions exchanged between Solomon and his wife in the Song of Solomon. God invented sex as a means of establishing emotional as well as physical connection between husband and wife, as a good thing to be enjoyed. It is interesting to note that the first apparent possible mention of sex in the Bible, Adam’s speech on the man cleaving to his wife and the two becoming one flesh, comes before the Fall. Whether this contains reference to sex is still debated, but that it references marriage pairing is clear. After the first experience of shame when we had broken God’s first rule, we began to try to cover up our evil, either literally or by rationalizations meant to define wrong as not wrong, so that we could escape the feel of shame without actually eliminating the evil. Or we try to blame others for our actions; I love Adam’s “the woman you gave me” line, managing to blame Eve and God both at the same time for his own failure. Eve then passed the blame on to the serpent (Satan), who besides having initiated the idea also had no one else to whom to pass the buck.

    As a side note for men who want to blame women for sin because of Eve eating first and giving it to Adam (as Adam tried to lay the blame): it is interesting to note that when Paul talks about sin’s origin, he says “Through one *man* sin entered the world….” And he goes on elsewhere to lay the blame on Adam by name. While every woman can thank Eve for painful childbirths, the Scripture lays the blame for sin in the human race on Adam, because he was given the command not to eat the fruit before Eve was created and was placed in authority over the garden. It is why Christ had to be born of a virgin, so that He did not inherit the sin nature from a human father. How does that work? I haven’t a clue. Only God knows. But I suppose it does mean when the wife blames the child’s bad behavior on the husband, there might be a grain of truth to it. 😉

  2. With due respect, I’m not quite sure I want to engage you in this discussion. If this blog is as you say “long” then I have long since learned that anyone who believes that has no serious desire for learning. And I’m sorry but I for one am certainly not going to reduce very serious and complex topics to word bytes to satisfy this current culture of mental laziness. Further, maybe I’m reading too much into your reply but I detect a religious fundamentalist tone that in my experience is pointless to engage in any rational debate. In fact, I had long since told myself to be very short with anyone who speaks about Adam and Eve as if they were actual historical people. No serious academic, intellectual, researcher or even religious scholar believes in the nonsense of interpreting what was allegorical in a literal, historical way.

    Don’t get me wrong, if that works for you, fine. But when I debate or write, I do so from the standpoint of synthesising social history, archaeology, comparative religion, politics, philosophy and linguistics, not theology and I rather anybody debating me did likewise. I don’t mind being proven wrong, just obey the rules of intellectual debate.

    Furthermore – and this isn’t necessarily directed to you – I have no problem being attacked for what I’ve written, but let it be what I HAVE WRITTEN, I don’t care for people adding 2 to my 2 and say I said 8. Case in point:
    “Your theories on religion have to begin with an assumption that there is no God,….”
    Utter rubbish; if indeed you reside in an American society, then you’ve certainly ingested their simplistic, dualistic, mentally lazy oppositional ways of interpreting things. To state that our ideas of sin and the restrictive parameters we are supposed to sexually interact predate Christianity does not automatically mean that the person saying so denies the existence of a divine force. At no point have *I* said that god – or the Almighty/Divine, which are the terms I use as they are gender neutral – does not exist. As a person who is of African descent, I know my history well enough to know that my ancestors were speaking and expressing of a living “god” thousands of years before any hubristic talk about a Jesus of Nazareth (which did not even exist until the 4th century by the way).

    But I will say, though, that the ideas predate Christianity and Judaism; there can be no successful debate about that. One only has to go through the Greek writings to see that and they themselves got those misogynist ideas from much earlier cultures. So they are indeed man-made; religion/”god” was just the convenient cover to provide justification.

    “While the writing down of the book of Genesis dates to Moses, its author….”
    I don’t know anything about that but I suppose it’s in keeping with viewing Adam and Eve as real historical people. I know the oral traditions were first written down circa 800BCE whereas the figure of Moses and the Exodus – which is a very loose mythologising of an actual historical event that had nothing to do with any plagues or killing of firstborn or anything like that – was around 1300 BCE

    “That’s why we have the Bible, to help us differentiate between things that are of God, and things that men in positions of religious power have added”
    Which is practically 9/10s of the whole thing. Now this wouldn’t normally be dignified by an answer, but it needs to be pointed out that if one is a firm believer in the inerrancy of the bible, then one is dismissing volumes upon volumes upon volumes of documentation and even admissions of tampering, editing, mistranslating and flat out forgeries – which Bart Ehrman was honest enough to say outright in his latest book Forgery rather than the more escapist term “pseudipigrapha” which is what most scholars use – of the many books of the bible (see link below). Equally important, one is also ignoring the secular and “pagan” cultures, customs and writings that predated Christian ideas and informed them. And that includes the Codex Hammurabi, the Assyrian Law codes, the Egyptian Wisdom Teachings and so on.

    “God-fearing men and women who showed the truth of the Scriptures and were active voices in the abolitionist movement…”
    Many of whom remained deeply racist as were their god-fearing counterparts who fought tooth and nail to maintain enslavement. Now I’m not diminishing the efforts of the abolitionists but let’s be clear, many of them did hold very bigoted ideas; they just were opposed to the notion of chattel slavery. The “innate” or “natural” inferiority” and godless savagery of the African were ideas many of them subscribed to very passionately…….as do many of their modern counterparts

    And what “truth” would that be? I know there are passages that can be used to attack enslavement but there are equal passages that can and have been used to justify it and don’t insult my intelligence and say that that was man twisting “god’s word” out of context for his own purposes; context is the one thing religionists ignore quite liberally.

    “Because we do not look at the context of Scripture, both the world in which they lived and the whole of the Scripture taken together, some people look at the Bible and see misogyny and oppression advocated. People look at Paul telling slaves to obey their masters or telling women not to shave their heads or not to talk in church, and they draw conclusions based on chosen verses rather than the whole. Looking at the people to whom it was written and the testimony of the rest of the Scripture tells us that Paul was not advocating slavery as good, for instance. This was the same Paul that told us that all men and women were equal in Christ. Here, in a society where slavery was legal and accepted as normal, Paul told slaves who had come to believe in Christ how to treat their masters in a respectful way that would make their masters wonder what this Jesus thing was that had so changed their slave’s attitude towards them. He was teaching women in a society that viewed women in a misogynist way how to live as the ‘perfect wife’ in that society’s view so that others would question what this Jesus was inside of them that enabled them to display such peace and contentment. They were living in an unfair world in a way that showed there was something inside them making a difference in their life.”

    See what I mean? And are you even aware that there were contemporary societies that did NOT practise chattel slavery at that time? That much of Paul’s writings in the bible were not even written by Paul? That in his authentic writings he himself espoused deeply misogynist views in keeping with Greek and Roman culture of his time?

    “We in American society have taken repression and rebelled against it to the opposite extreme, going past simply finding liberty and into the realm of liscentiousness and moral relativism where each individual is his own arbiter of right and wrong and all authority is rejected”
    No argument there

    “We become controlled by the drive to do whatever we’re told not to do, rather than by the desire to do what’s right and good.”
    Easy to say but in striving to find that much sought-after balance and desiring to do what is right and good, you cannot possibly know what is right and good unless you examine a whole range of things including the reality of your environment and the origin of what is considered right and good and what is considered bad and evil. If you choose to do so holding onto romanticised ideas of “god” or Allah or Yahweh or Khrishna or even science, you will get nowhere fast and be enslaved to a lot more than just lust and whims.

    “We absolutely can look at the teachings of our various denominations and such and compare them to the Bible to see where man has diverged from God’s Word, and reject those that diverge from it, just as happened with Christian abolitionists in the 17 and 1800s. But once we reject the Bible, we have nothing real to stand on.”
    What hubristic nonsense. Augustine himself (yes, I know you are not a Catholic but all what you believe in, the structuring of the New Testament and the very worship of Jesus as divine was orchestrated by the Roman Church so to condemn them the way evangelical Christians do is just hypocritical, semiliterate stupidness) said concerning the Roman Church teachings that they were giving the world a belief system that was already thousands of years old. He was referring to the Egyptian and Sumerian concepts of the Divine that he knew quite well. The very 10 Commandments were copied almost verbatim from the Egyptian Confessions of Ma’at which were at least 4000 years old before Abraham even existed. “Christ” “Amen” “Messiah” “Mary” “Satan” “Peter” “Yahweh” etc were all titles appropriated from the Nile Valley going back thousands of years prior along with so many passages including “do unto others….etc”

    “I will agree with you on one other thing: you are right that, in our zeal to prevent the sin of sex outside of marriage……”
    YOU call sex outside of marriage sinful, I do no such thing. I argue the exact opposite and argue that this insistence on stating sexual interaction is something that should only exist within the bounds of marriage is a pernicious lie, it is bogus, its origins had nothing to do with any god but was a way of seeking to control women’s sexuality to ensure offspring for men in patriarchal Eurasia as well as to address masculinist insecurities of hunter-gatherer/militaristic Eurasian tribes. Additionally, keep in mind that according to Christian tradition and teaching, ALL sex, whether in or out of marriage was sinful and was for PROCREATION, NOT RECREATION; any enjoyment was considered lustful. Sex IS the sin itself.

    And if sex is sin outside of Christian marriage then every Christian family up until the 9th century CE going to “hell” because there was no Christian marriage ceremony because the Christian Church refused to participate in marriages altogether. It was felt that by doing so it legitimised lust, so you were/screwed if you did and screwed if you didn’t – and with no foreplay.

    “and contains such passages as the deeply intimate and sexual physical descriptions exchanged between Solomon and his wife in the Song of Solomon.”
    Which one of the wives?

    Hey, did you know that the coronation ceremony of Solomon would have been an erotic ritual known as the hieros gamos? That the solemn swearing of oaths involved placing one’s hand on the person’s penis? (euphemistically called “thigh” or “knee” in the scriptures)? Did you know that the ritual of Jesus being led into Jerusalem on the back of an ass involved the anointing of his head with oil (and no, not the head on his shoulders, the OTHER HEAD, don’t get mad at me, I learned this from Christian writers such as Margaret Starbird)

    “I love Adam’s “the woman you gave me” line, managing to blame Eve and God both at the same time for his own failure. Eve then passed the blame on to the serpent (Satan), who besides having initiated the idea also had no one else to whom to pass the buck.”
    If you can’t figure out that this account is a misogynist treatise and a poetic recording of the sociological shift from matricentry to patriarchy……well I won’t be surprised. But the presence of the serpent is a giveaway; I don’t suppose you’d acknowledge that the serpent (“Satan”) was idealised as evil because it was one of the oldest symbols of the Divine Feminine principle due to its maternal characteristics.

    “it is interesting to note that when Paul talks about sin’s origin, he says “Through one *man* sin entered the world….”
    Given that there is no original bible in existence and neither are there the copies of that original or the copies of the copies and so on (until the 3rd Century) it is quite safe to say that we simply do not know what DID Paul really say.

    “It is why Christ had to be born of a virgin, so that He did not inherit the sin nature from a human father.”
    That would be the “sin” of sex, go read Augustine. And as for the virgin thing, you really need to keep up with the times. After nearly two thousand years of hemming and hawing and dancing around the point, I see that it is finally being acknowledged that the word “virgin” only meant “young woman” in the original Hebrew (ie, “almah”) http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42215497/ns/us_news-life

    Now I know very well that you reject practically everything I say here and I’ve been called all the names already, so let me save you the trouble. You might want to listen though to someone who was himself a fundamentalist Christian until he studied the ancient Greek and Hebrew texts……but I doubt it
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRrq3s3P3Pw
    And this is one of the debates he had (so you can’t say I didn’t show the other side of the argument)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eRQ9WaxEjvc
    I’ll even throw in a debate Ethiopian-born Egyptologist Yosef ben-Jochannan had with a rabbi in for good measure

  3. It is clear you and I subscribe to entirely different sets of facts, not merely in theology but in history and archaeology as well, particularly as you use the usual “no serious scholar believes” line that is to be found in most arguments by those who reject any notion that the Bible is authoritative. By doing so, you make it clear that any evidence or scholarly support I might offer will be rejected as “non-serious”, so there is little room for honest intellectual debate. There’s simply no common ground from which to discuss anything.

    You operate an assumption that the commonalities between older religions and Judaism and Christianity indicate a development of those from the older religions. When I said your starting point had to be without God, I did not mean you were necessarily an atheist. I mean that everything you write is based on an underlying assumption of all religions as purely man-made constructs, inheriting from those before them, with no real room for divine involvement or origin. Therefore you assume inheritance when you find commonalities, rather than accepting that many religions preserved pieces of truth and influences of conscience even as they diverged from the full truth of God’s Word. Your viewpoint is man-centric, assuming a linear construct that leaves God as an uninvolved and really rather useless force.

    There are a great many scholars, both theological and not, who disagree with the arguments you have used, but you’ve already begun by dismissing anyone who disagrees with you as “not serious” “not interested in learning” not “keeping up with the times”. So there is little point to my bringing them up. I do find it interesting that you end by citing a person who “studied the ancient Greek and Hebrew texts”, when you earlier in your discussions reject the idea that we have any idea what was originally written. You can’t both used the Bible text as a basis for argument and reject the Bible text as at all reliable. You can’t both say we have no idea what was really written and attempt to use the texts we have as a basis for argument. That’s intellectually dishonest.

    I leave my original comments to stand, with one addition. I’m not “behind the times” on the virgin birth. The “virgin” vs “young woman” argument you mention has been made by a segment of the population for quite some time, certainly. But it is not the mainstream view. It is known that the word sometimes refers only to a young woman. However, in the majority of cases in the Biblical text it is used to refer to a virgin specificially, a girl who has not had sex yet, and this is further confirmed in the gospel accounts by Joseph’s plan to divorce her, the visit of the angel to Joseph to tell him the child was God’s doing and not a case of unfaithfulness, and the notation tha Joseph did not have sex with her till after Jesus had been born. You can choose to reject the reliability of those texts if you wish, but you cannot then use them for arguments.

  4. Reluctantly, I’ll continue this “debate” at least for a little while

    But in Trinidad we have an old saying: “playing smart with stupid,” that saying is most applicable when religion is the focus of discussion. .

    Anyway

    You are right about one thing, we subscribe to very different things (whether what YOU subscribe to are entirely “facts” is wide open to question), and it remains to be seen if the same applies to history and archaeology. I do like that you cite them because unlike theology, if you are going to argue on the basis of history and archaeology, then you will have to cite your historical and archaeological sources and I challenge you to do that. I make no pretense that everything I say is a fact; no one can do that when dealing with history that ancient where there are numerous gaps and every day new finds become public that often discredits old theories and tenets. Also, once dealing with ancient societies, because of the gaps, there is much room for speculation and what is sometimes called competitive plausibility. However, all that should be done ONLY after examining ALL the available evidence, something most bible-wavers religiously refuse to do.

    Let’s go

    “you use the usual “no serious scholar believes” line that is to be found in most arguments by those who reject any notion that the Bible is authoritative”
    Well it is NOT authoritative, in fact, far from being inerrant, it is riddled with errors, mistranslations, and falsifications; read each passage in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, not one after the other, but side by side and tell me after if they get their stories straight. We have the “authority” of the bible about a Jesus of Nazareth when no such place existed until the 4th century CE. We have the authority of the bible stating a census where “all the world” was to be taxed (the WHOLE world? The Aztecs too?) when there are few records confirming any such census. The authority of the bible says that all the Jews were to return to their native villages for that census when history is clear that because of the intense hatred the Jews had for Rome for their loss of political independence, most Jews would have submitted to no such census and definitely no taxation by an illegitimate ruling administration. What you are citing as authority was redacted for political reasons, namely shifting some of that hostility away from Rome and that nationalistic passion away from the Jews; read the Encyclopaedia Biblica or the Catholic Encyclopaedia and you will see it spelt out for you. Read “Who is the King of Glory?: A Critical Study of the Christus/Messiah tradition” by Alvin Boyd Kuhn; “The Early Church” by Henry Chadwick; “The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail” and “The Messianic Legacy” by Henry Lincoln, Michael Baigent; “Constantine’s Sword: the Church and the Jews” by former Catholic priest James Carroll.

    Not to mention the fact as well that the various biblical books were written for a completely different time and culture. Now I know in the US, because of the extent to which the evangelicals have been able to assert their influence in public policy at governmental level, what passes for scholarship is often radically different than scholarship in say Europe or the Caribbean. But, as Sarah Palin and those of her ilk are beginning to discover, there is indeed a whole other world outside the borders of the US.

    “you make it clear that any evidence or scholarly support I might offer will be rejected as “non-serious”
    Yes I will, if you cite scripture without providing extra-biblical sources (like from y’know, history and archaeology) to substantiate what you cite in the bible. THAT is how one engages in an “honest intellectual debate”

    “You operate an assumption that the commonalities between older religions and Judaism and Christianity indicate a development of those from the older religions.”
    That’s not an assumption mate, have you read the ancient Egyptian writings? Or Ugarithic literature? For that matter, have you read Augustine’s works? He admitted it and he wasn’t the only theologian or bishop in early Christianity to do so either. I can also cite Tertullian

    “I mean that everything you write is based on an underlying assumption of all religions as purely man-made constructs, inheriting from those before them, with no real room for divine involvement or origin.” …..assuming a linear construct that leaves God as an uninvolved and really rather useless force.
    Still making interpretations using this one-dimensional, Cartesian either/or nonsense. Religion – ie, a rigid institution characterised by dogma as opposed to the more fluid and even more ancient system called, for wont of another term, spirituality – is a man-made construct. And it is a man-made construct that had its beginnings when patriarchal ideologies began to come into their own in opposition to matricentry around 4000 BCE (see Gerda Lerner’s “The Creation of Patriarchy,” Marimba Ani’s “Yurugu,” Marilyn French’s “Beyond Power: On Women, Men and Morals” and Merlin Stone’s “When God was a Woman”)

    “There are a great many scholars, both theological and not, who disagree with the arguments you have used”
    I know that, but what is the evidence they cite to refute the arguments advanced by people who argue the things I do? I am yet to hear Pat Robertson, Benny Hinn, Billy Graham, TD Jakes and the other legal bandits (sorry, evangelicals) in the Catholic and Protestant leadership speak openly about the mass of valid works and information from archaeology, Egyptology, Assyriology, translated literature and social history pertinent to biblical history cite any of these.

    “I do find it interesting that you end by citing a person who “studied the ancient Greek and Hebrew texts”, when you earlier in your discussions reject the idea that we have any idea what was originally written.”
    CLEARLY, you did not bother to click on those links; for it is HE who says so and goes on to show how and why he says what he says. I mean I’ve been saying this for years, long before I even heard of Bart Ehrman, but I just cited him because he is the most recent person to say this and one who belongs to the religious academic community.

    “You can’t both used the Bible text as a basis for argument and reject the Bible text as at all reliable”
    Yes you can, but you miss the point; it is the religious fundamentalists who smugly assert the bible as being inerrant and authoritative and morally superior. All I do is point to the fallacies, inaccuracies and most importantly the philosophical and spiritual traditions that existed before. The bible is just a frame of reference.

    “It is known that the word sometimes refers only to a young woman”
    Ok, if you say so, it’s been a while since I’ve been in a church. But judging from my church-going friends’ look of amazement when I point this out, for a great many devotees, somebody still not telling them stuff.

    “However, in the majority of cases in the Biblical text it is used to refer to a virgin specificially, a girl who has not had sex yet, and this is further confirmed in the gospel accounts by Joseph’s plan to divorce her,”
    Again, playing smart with stupid. The New Testament accounts date from the 3rd and 4th century CE, so much in the way of agenda caused much rewriting and redacting to be done to biblical passages by that time. Now I do agree that there was an understanding that girls betrothed to be married were supposed to be chaste so as to fetch a higher bride price in most societies in Palestine, as well as Greece and Rome. But therein lies the clue; these were all societies that were rigidly patriarchal by 900BCE, after that time period in these cultures militaristic patriarchy defined most aspects of their worldviews. Even so, you still have to be careful; Judaism has never been a unifocal belief system; many Jews did NOT follow that ideology which is more in keeping with Levite Judaism (ever heard of the saying he who wins the war writes the history? Pick sense from nonsense already)

    “the visit of the angel to Joseph to tell him the child was God’s doing and not a case of unfaithfulness, and the notation tha Joseph did not have sex with her till after Jesus had been born.”
    You mean the angel Gabriel who, according to your bible “came in unto her” (Mary) which is an old euphemism for sexual intercourse? if you want it put in simple terms, Gabriel screwed Mary and the name Gabriel means “divine husband.” Don’t get mad at me, I’m just citing your own evidence, taken from your own sources. You might also want to check the sources cited by Barbara G Walker in her book “The Women’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets.” Oh and that story has parallels with older stories in Egypt, Sumer and even Greece.

  5. A couple of reading recommendations for you, on the other side of things:

    Isaac Newton’s “Newton’s Revised History of Ancient Kingdoms” makes for pretty interesting reading, as does Ussher’s “The Annals of the World”. Both produced rather extensive timelines of ancient kingdoms. Ussher in particular made extensive studies of source texts, being fluent in many of the original languages.

    You might also be interested in reading Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical HIstory which deals with the church in the 1st-3rd centuries, as well as the works of Josephus and Philo who were Jewish historians contemporary with Jesus.

    You also might find interesting the three-part Africa & The Bible video series from Day of Discovery. The first part is to be found here: http://www.dod.org/Products/DOD1997.aspx

    You and I are unlikely to agree much on dating of things, which is not surprising. I did want to comment on your taxation question, however. We do have, which you acknoweldged even though deriding it as few, records of multiple mass Roman taxations. The Scripture records that Caesar Augustus ordered that all the world should be taxed. Be careful that you do not play smart with stupid yourself in mentioning the Aztecs. Had the Romans known there was such a thing as Aztecs, they would certainly have tried to conquer and tax them too, just like the Spaniards tried when they learned of them. The Romans would have ordered “the world” taxed, because as far as their mindset was concerned, they ruled “the world”. Later copyists would certainly have been aware that the Roman Empire, extensive as it was for its day, was not at all close to ruling the whole world. But they preserved the original text rather than “correct” it. As for the Jews, the era of Jesus is peppered with minor Jewish rebellions against the Romans, but a widespread refusal to be taxed of the sort you postulate would simply have resulted in the events of AD 70 happening 70 years earlier. The Jews were a conquered people, occupied by large numbers of Roman troops. They would not have liked the tax, certainly, but the leaders would have acceded to it to avoid trouble. Any resistances would have been localized just as the other resistances of the period were up until the major rebellion around AD 70.

  6. But what shit is this I seeing here?

    I should have followed my feelings the first time and left well alone. This is no intellectual debate, this is a farce. And so many people could have otherwise used this a a learning resource.

    If the Romans had known about the Aztects they would have taxed them too? Mentioning the “study” of Ussher? And Josephus? Philo?

    I have a much clearer idea of what that letter “J” stands for

    In future, mate, the next time you want to debate someone, actually read the books you cite, verify their info and don’t just engage in name-dropping. Archbishop James Ussher is the clown who started this nonsense about the world was created in the year 4004BCE and he calculated this by tracing the years of the figures in the bible! Josephus made no mention of Jesus at all; the passages in his book were known for be forgeries for well over 100 years, Philo made no mention of Jesus either. I have read all of these books, all, Eusebius too. Stop the pseudo-intellectual foolishness. In any case as of now I am no longer engaging with you

  7. I’ll apologise to you Ms D and to the other members of the site, but that’s about it. This is very very irritating, J and those of similar persuasion make a mockery of mature, intellectual debate. I don’t mind at all if someone disagrees or even proves me wrong, the main point of debating is or should be to exchange ideas in order to enlighten. But all I ask is that people follow the basic rules of debating. The issue here is about guilt relating to sex. The main strictures are based on religious teachings, the initial phase of the discussion shoud involve examining how these ideas and teachings n religion came to be in the first place. History, not theology, is the medium one should use to examine that.

    If you want to maintain a stance based on religious teachings, then cool, do that, but admit that and don’t pass off religious belief as history or academic fact and worse yet, “universal” truth. That’s dishonest, charlatanery

    You can’t be making nonsensical claims and speculations to prove your point and citing works you have never read, or have no understanding of the rationale behind the philosophies of these authors, or understanding what others who have examined their work have discovered. This is what J is doing and making a total mockery of this thing and it’s almost always the American-based or influenced evangelicals who are the principal culprits, forever hijacking good, mature, informed discussions to infect them with their idea of “scholarship”. THAT is what is maddening

  8. It is sad to see so much hatred, bigotry, and anger built up inside you. You think yourself more intelligent and informed than all your opponents, and dismiss as nonsense, speculation, and forgeries anything that disagrees with your beliefs, and I understand that. Ultimately it is guilt you seek to escape, and we will do anything to rationalize or argue ourselves out of that. We build our own sad little kingdoms in which all that doesn’t fit with what we wish to think and do is belittled and summarily discarded. You will see me, and I you, in that statement. One day we’ll both come face to face with the Way, the Truth, and the Life and you may have the debate with Him. I do not think you will win it. I pray you will meet Him before then, as Paul met Him on the way to Damascus, and come to know the Truth.

    I will leave you with a passage you have doubtless heard and dismissed as fabrication before. But it has survived 2000 years of critics and will survive you as well. Romans 1:16-25.

    16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
    17 For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.
    18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;
    19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
    20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
    21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
    22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
    23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.
    24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
    25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

    I have said all I came to say. I grant you your wish of my silence. I hope you find peace someday.

    • Lol! This is a serious topic so perhaps I shouldn’t laugh BUT does anyone else apart from J and Corey have any thoughts on this topic or are you all too scared to comment now 🙂

  9. Not scared to comment, but I haven’t because I think that they are arguing in the wrong forum. This is stuff for specialized journals. Few here really can appreciate the arguments, and I certainly will only rely on some credentialed referees to decipher who is on the mark or not.

    Generally speaking, I have some intellectual empathy for Mr. Gilkes, but utterly deplore his style of argumentation. There is no room for the epithets, nor the heat, he deploys here.

  10. @ Kofi

    I will agree that much of what is argued here is being done in the wrong forum and should be dealt with elsewhere. They are of course related to the issue of sex but indeed are not really pertinent to this topic. I really would have liked more comments or criticisms on the points raised in the article.

    I will say, however, that I make no apologies for my style of argumentation. I am aware that I can be blunt and direct and perhaps I should be more diplomatic in my language. Believe it or not I sometimes try to be. Over the years, however, I could not help but notice that that same diplomacy only went one-way. There is also a persistant anti-intellectualism that creeps into and hijacks otherwise good, mature debate and discussion. The reality is that for years, centuries in fact, Christians have been routinely disrespsctful towards other faiths or even divergent Christian faiths. There is an innate arrogance in the Christian ethic — due to certain SECULAR cultural traits spliced into the theology — that makes it near impossible to have proper dialogue with any point of view no matter how legitimate it may be. That arrogance, also found in Islam, being fed from the same cultural stream, arrogates unto itself a firm belief in an exclusive moral superiority.

    Thus to this day the most demeaning things are said, often openly, about traditional African beliefs, Indian beliefs and so on, and made by people who know very little of the faiths in question. I have heard people say quite matter-of-factly that the people of Haiti are going through the challenges and trinbulations they are facing BECAUSE of their adherence to the “demonic” voodoo “cult;” in 2011 we are still making such statements. The same goes for the Orisa/Yoruba tradition which is very strong in Trinidad. And all this is done with the most astounding sincerity. It is THIS I am confronting using the exact same language and directness as is shown by them to others (is there ANYTHING I said at all that was NOT true? If there is please point it out)

    In the area of sexuality I know of people who are stressed out, torn by internal conflict, some very depressed and one even suicidal, because they deeply believe that their pre and extramarital sexual liasions were sinful and they are doomed to eternal damnation based on biblical and pastoral teachings and condemnations that have never been properly analysed and traced in forums such as these. Here we are (I’m trying to get back on topic) on the subject of guilt and sin as means of controlling and repressing normal, natural sexual activities. One cannot fully deal with that unless one clinically deconstructs the root or origin of these ideas of sin which have been used in a psychologically violent way to keep people in line. It is imperative that this is done so the people can understand that these ideas were HISTORICAL, which means they have a beginning in specific time frames, in specific cultural contexts and had nothing to do with any mystical – read, unquestionable – force far removed from human investigation.

  11. OK, Corey, I could read this and understand every word…

    I still think that all your other points would be better appreciated, the material even read in the first place, if folks like me didn’t think you were writing through a mist of red in front of your eyes. There are those of us, steeped in Christianity, who somehow, without the depth of critical analysis you’ve undergone, come to appreciate the beauty of our religions. We are your allies, but I doubt that you will make a dent with the crowd you want to reach, for whom your approach may be entirely too incendiary to be absorbed.

    Sorry, if I sound wishy-washy…

  12. @ Kofi
    I hear you comrade and I won’t dismiss your views as being wishy washy. I know only too well how discomfoting it can be to learn unpleasant truths about something you hold so close to you. And the fact is that there is much beauty in Christianity as there are in all religions and spiritual systems. I’m not one to make blanket dismissals of religion as say Christopher Hitchens, or Richard Dawkins or my fellow countryman Kevin Baldeosingh and I’m not even sure they all dismiss everything outright either. But there must be an honest facing by devotees of the other, more sordid side of the religious or philosphical teachings and traditions that impact negatively on us in whatever way; that had nothing to do with any god/divine authority but were useful masks for narrow agendas.

    As people who are of African ancestry this may neither be easy nor pleasant but HAS to be done by ourselves and for ourselves. I am not in the least bit happy that my own African people participated in the kidnapping of other African people for European enslavers for hundreds of years but I’m not going to NOT acknowlege it, what I WILL do is put that in its proper context. So too must we examine the misogynist, patricentric and/or individualistic customs that became “divine” ideas now found in the pages of the Bible. It is interesting that the same religions, philosophies and economic systems that were used to exploit us and dehumanise us are the same ones we seem to hold onto as essential to our liberation with very little critical analysis or deconstruction. And I am not saying this to belittle anyone here; I am no less what the late social thinker and economist Lloyd Best called an Afro-Saxon: a person of African descent who is brought up in a Western (Saxonised) society.

  13. Below is a comment I got sent via FB.

    “Just a quick one to tell you how much I enjoyed both Corey Gilkes’ musings on Sex, Guilt, Sin and Social Control and the sparring it generated with J … I have a mind to use the debate with my hapless unsuspecting ToK students …

    The idea that they were debating issues not necessarily suited to the forum is contestable and limited at best… way always leads onto way and issues with humans at the centre will always be characterised by complexity … the wont to separate out issues neatly into different boxes merely renders human affairs as atomised and undermines their essentially dialogic nature…

    gosh, I’ve said far more than I set out to say … which is a simple thank you for providing a forum that makes such lively debate possible… but you do know I’m a ga man with an insatiable appetite for jousting in any form every now and again…”

  14. “way always leads onto way and issues with humans at the centre will always be characterised by complexity … the wont to separate out issues neatly into different boxes merely renders human affairs as atomised and undermines their essentially dialogic nature…”

    That’s an extremely important point; Western and Western-influenced thought is built around compartmentalisation. This is geared towards making things easier to label and thus be reduced to something controllable. The issue of guilt in human sexuality is by no means just about how we are “supposed” to sleep with each other, it’s tightly interwoven with one-dimensional, authoritarian, hierarchical ordering of our respective societies in the social, political, ecological and economic spheres. The sooner more people are aware of that and openly challenge it with alternative models, the better this world may very well be.

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