When we talk about sex, social scientists use terms such as extra-marital sex, premarital sex, group sex, multiple partners. But in the Bible and in our churches, we use the words, ‘adultery,’ ‘fornication,’ ‘orgies,’ ‘promiscuity.’ While they are referring to the same act, our Christian terminologies are expressions of judgement and condemnation.
In her book, Queer God, Marcella Althaus-Reid, laments that Christianity has placed God in a very small box called heterosexual marriages. Only those that submit to these standard encounter God in their relationships, or are ordained by God. As a contextual theologian, she critiques how ‘Eden’, where God brings together man and woman, is constructed as paradise. She argues for ‘beyond Edens’ and how Christians, as resisting people must cross boundaries and encounter God in the most unexpected places.
Riane Eisler in her book Sacred Pleasure: Sex, Myth and the Politics of the Body proposes ‘cultural transformation theory’ where she inspects two models for social and ideological organization: partnership and domination. She grounds her study on the experience of the body, of pain and pleasure, of women and men. Inevitably, she theorizes, how we view our bodies, our sexuality and spirituality our understanding of what is sacred and what it means to love will construct the kind of world we will live in and will pass on to our children.
Eisler’s book is real shocker for conservative Christians, and even the not so conservative. According to her, evidences show that in the dawn of civilization, the female vulva was revered as sacred. It was the primary symbol of what we know now in Western history as the Great Goddess: the source of life, pleasure and love. In cave sanctuaries in the South of France, as early as thirty thousand years ago, archaelogists have discovered many images of the sacred vulva. Furthermore, it is also believed that they were placed in caves as they were likewise symbols of the Great Mother’s womb. Pre-historic art were primarily connected with rituals and myths and it is inevitably associated with religion. France was not the only place where the vulva was a dominant symbol. Similar symbols were found in Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria, Japan, India, Egypt, Italy, Mesopotamia and many other places, in the Paleolithic, Neolithic and in the Bronze Age. She informs further that the male phallus was also an object of veneration in ancient times, particularly in the Bronze Age. There are also depictions of the union of the vulva and the phallus. However, she argues that these ancient sexual images are not pornography. They depicted the sources of life and pleasure.
Eisler argues that sexual attitudes and practices are both constructed and learned. This observation is affirmed in the comparison of early societies where the vulva was revered and of the latter societies where sex is considered dirty and women are treated as objects. She attributes to Saint Paul and Saint Augustine the Christian belief that the human body, especially the body of a woman, is sinful and even demonic. What followed was the demonization of sexuality where men were to deny themselves and torment their flesh. While women, who were constructed as more insatiable, were persecuted and some were burned at the stake as ‘witches.’ Consequently, as humanity was doomed in its sinfulness, according to church leaders such as Bishop Ambrose of Milan, humans had forfeited their freedom and independence and must be governed by authoritarian rule. Eisler validates Elaine Pagels argument that Augustine allied himself with the Roman Empire to justify military force and the tyranny of those in power. The demonization of women’s bodies, the sinfulness of the flesh, the torment of men’s flesh and the necessity of authority by those who are ordained by God was a systematic and intentional movement from partnership models and egalitarian societies to societies of suffering, control and domination. There is a challenge to create new sexual ethics that are more affirmative of life, women and sexuality.