Saturday, March 27, 2010

Using Guilt to Fill the Pews

What is sin?

Sin can be an act. It can also just be a thought. It is the deliberate disobedience of the known law of God. Apparently, according to some belief systems, it can also happen without deliberation. Catholics believe in original sin, which is why they baptize babies. It’s not clear to me how someone so innocent can also be a sinner. But there is a lot I don’t understand about religious beliefs.

Take sex, for example. Sex, any kind of sex, is almost always a sin. Only when it takes place between a man and a woman who are legally married is sex not a sin. If two unmarried, though consenting, adults have sex, they are sinning, according to Christian beliefs. If someone resorts to masturbation, it is a sin. If someone lusts in their heart it is a sin.

But sex is a biological drive. It is a drive within every normal adult, whether or not they are married. One would think that God the creator would have built into us a mechanism that would turn on our sex drive only after we get married. Even a cat or a dog refrains from having sex except during the time when the female is in estrus, or “heat.” So God protects the dogs and cats from having sex at the wrong time, but tempts us humans by making us horny all the time? It sounds as though God is either a practical joker or a sadist.

Humans have other drives that do not have to be suppressed, such as the instinct for self preservation, fight or flight, and hunger. So why is our sex drive the only one that gets us into trouble with the Almighty?

It really goes back to the early church. Church leadership understood sex. They also knew that everyone has a sex drive. They knew that infidelity was a common transgression. And they took full advantage of it. If someone commits a sin, and they want to be devout in their faith, they feel guilty about having committed it. When people feel guilty about sinning, they go to church. When they go to church they tithe and the priests or ministers get to continue their indoctrination process. So if you take a universal human instinct and turn it into a sin, you virtually guarantee that everyone will feel guilty a lot, because everyone will commit that sin, eventually. So you get a lot of poor, guilt-ridden sheep returning to the pews week after week. It’s an excellent plan, especially if your flock stays clueless to it.

But wait. Doesn’t the bible itself condemn sex outside of wedlock? How can sex-as-sin have been invented by the early church if it clearly talks about it in the bible? Well, guess who wrote the bible? That’s right, it was written mostly by those who had a vested interest in establishing and maintaining the church. The Apostle Paul allegedly wrote the epistles that appear in the New Testament, but only seven of them were actually written by him. Bible experts don’t know who wrote the others. Some of them are almost certainly forgeries. His mission was to promote the dogma that Jesus was divine, a claim never made by Jesus himself in any Gospel except John. Curiously, the Gospel of John was written last, after the Kingdom of God failed to materialize as expected. The author of John had to make up something to keep the people from vaulting from Christianity in droves.

Oh, and by the way, none of the Gospels was written by the man whose name appears on them. They are all anonymous. And they were all written decades after Jesus died by people who didn’t know him, who didn’t speak his language, and who didn’t even live in the same region of the world as Jesus. This is not a claim of mine; it is a well-established fact. Just ask any theologian.

My point is that whatever the bible says cannot be trusted as being what Jesus actually did. It is not the inspired word of God. It can’t be; there are far too many irreconcilable contradictions among the various books, or even within them. And since none of it is corroborated by other historical accounts, what it says cannot be trusted, especially since the church of the day had a vested interest in making sure the bible reflected their dogma.

This is not to suggest that the church leadership contracted someone to write the bible and have it reflect the church’s orthodoxy. There were a great many manuscripts floating around back then, many claiming to have been written by an apostle of Jesus. None of those claims can be corroborated. The church, while trying to establish a canon, simply picked the manuscripts that it agreed with and that would promote its dogma. And part of that dogma was to make sure that people sinned, so that they would feel guilty about it, so that they would keep coming to church.

It worked very well. People still feel guilty about having sex. It is steeped in taboo. The pleasure aspect of it even gets an odious-sounding name: Hedonism. Some religions and Christian denominations make sex out to be so evil that showing skin is a sin. You can pick out a Pentecostal woman from a mile away with her unattractive long dress, no makeup, and her long hair up in a bun. A Muslim woman is even a better mark.

When you think about it, the whole sex-is-sinful tradition that is built into our American heritage, thanks mostly to the Puritans, is just plain silly. Sex is natural and normal. It is fun and pleasurable. It is useful for both reproduction and for strengthening a relationship. It should be handled in a safe manner, of course. But other than precautions taken for your health and safety, there should be no barriers to having sex with whoever agrees to have sex with you.

There is no longer any place in America for guilt due to natural instincts. There is no reason for laws against sex, such as the sodomy laws that still exist in the law codes of many states. There is no need for blue laws that prohibit liquor sales on Sunday, for example. There is no need for laws against prostitution, which were established early in the twentieth century due to pressure from Christian groups, the same ones who led the drive for prohibition of liquor sales.

Go to church if it makes you feel good. Contribute your hard-earned money to the church’s coffers if you believe it’s all going for a good cause. Sing the hymns. Pray at will. But stop feeling guilty. If you haven’t committed a heinous offense against a fellow human being, there is nothing to feel guilty about. And don’t worry about going to hell; that was invented by the early church, too. Just in case guilt didn’t work to fill the pews, they had fear to fall back on.

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