By Neil Carter
I recently tweeted something of an epiphany and I’d like to take a minute to unpack what I meant when I said it:
Some days I wonder if an honest look at human sexuality isn’t the strongest counterapologetic to the Christian faith anywhere.
— Neil Carter (@godlessindixie) January 27, 2016
That statement reflects a growing conviction in me that talking about sex triggers something among the religious, something which no other discussion will provoke. There is a fierce protectiveness, a visceral knee-jerk derision which you won’t get when talking about any other topic. This touches a nerve.
Of course, everyone is interested in sex by nature. That’s nothing new. But I’m suggesting that an open and honest discussion about sex threatens something fundamental to the Christian faith. It may very well be that a whole blog about sexuality jeopardizes something which mere argumentation and debate could never touch.
Unless I am wrong (and I am never wrong)* the core of the Christian faith (and of most religions in general) is emotional, not intellectual. It originates with and draws its power from emotions like fear, trust, guilt, hope, ambition, the need to survive, and the need to belong. So try as we may to address the philosophical and theological underpinnings of this religious worldview, we don’t “get through” to them because they already have centuries of intellectual defenses built up against the usual criticisms of their belief system.
I’m not just talking about apologetics, though. I’m also talking about a personal, existential awareness among those of us who deconvert. Many of us, whether gay or straight, gender fluid, trans, or cisgender, encounter this same peculiar discovery: Our growing awareness of our own sexuality drives us further into discovering who we are, and simultaneously away from being able to identify with the Christian faith.
And no, I’m not suggesting that subjective emotional things like sexual attraction and the need to “get your rocks off” are an adequate basis—in and of themselves—for rejecting a worldview which makes claims as grave and consequential as Christianity makes. There are plenty of other, more substantial and objective reasons for doing that. What I’m talking about is more epiphenomenal, like a secondary layer of signals which our own psyches have been sending us, warning us that something about what we were taught just isn’t right.
The Story We Were Told
Put simply, the standard Christian narrative about sexuality is this:
God designed human beings to be heterosexual and sexually dimorphic (distinctively male or female). He designed sex to occur strictly between members of the opposite sex who have entered into lifelong, exclusively monogamous relationships. No other context for sexual intimacy is legitimate. All other contexts produce harm.
Furthermore, sex is either primarily for procreation (if you’re Catholic) or else it is for procreation and pleasure (if you’re anything else), but it still shouldn’t get too kinky, because that is a perversion of what God wants. And when done right, sex is great but it still should never be allowed to rival more spiritual pursuits like prayer, worship, evangelism, and service to others. Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all of that, yada yada.
This is the narrative we were taught. It was, quite frankly, beaten into us from our youngest days. And I’m not just describing one or two outlying factions of the historic Christian faith. I’m talking about a standard narrative that has dominated every major stream of this religion since its inception. Anyone who suggests otherwise has not done his homework.
It may be true that today you will find people who have essentially left historic Christianity and are reimagining newer, more progressive ways to reframe their understanding of their religion. More power to them. They may very well find more sex-positive ways to embrace the rich diversity of natural, healthy human sexuality we discover when we aren’t so compelled to shoehorn everyone into this preconceived mold. But they will have to do so in spite of the rest of their Christian brothers and sisters, who will cry foul and label them heretics. These folks will probably feel more at home talking about sex with non-believers than they will with “their own kind.”
In the space that remains, I want to enumerate five different ways that a healthy view and experience of human sexuality creates cognitive dissonance within the mind of a devout Christian. I trust that as I work my way through the list you will see that these are the very reasons why an open and honest discussion about sex feels threatening to the defenders of this religion.
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