What’s left in judeo-christian prohibition for sexuality ?

Presentation at the World Conference of Sexuality. Paris 2001

It seems that Judeo-christian religion has an extremly repressive reputation in the Occident , not only apprehended for its acts, but also regarding that which is more serious : desires and fantasies.
In this domain, it is the catholic church which takes first place regarding criticism, but actually, it is the whole of judeo christian tradition that seems liable for the massive culpability responsible for serious neurosis, for the rejection of the condom, homosexuality, masturbation, contraception, and for all that relate to pleasure.

Having said that, one realizes from now on, that there also disadvantages regarding the “prohibition to prohibit” and that to enjoy sexual pleasure without restriction is neither libkely to protect physical nor mental health.

in order to indict religion, let us call St Jerome in front of rhe jury.
Jerome says that ‘ Nothing is more horrid than to love ones wife like a mistress’!
St AUGUSTIN, more or less naively, makes the observation that people hide themselves during their sexual activity.
He finds in this an argument to believe that there is therefore something evil in it !
The height of the guilt is reached in the 19° Century , when one notes the example in reading the confessor’s manual which indicates ” in re sexuali, non datur parvites materiae” ( in that which concerns sexuality, there are no small sins).
This sentence can be understood in two ways, one of which is more or less generous : There are “great” sins (rape, pedophilia, incest…) as for the rest, do as you wish!

Religious interdictions can be understood in two ways :
– On the one hand, from the perspective of the faithful, who see in interdictions a precious guide for their daily live.
Let us point out that, regarding this the interdictions are easiers than the obligations, because they authorised everything that is not taboo, whereas obligations serve to lock the person into a specific behavior.

Non-believers, on the other hand, will thus complain that they are forced to accomodate, by aspects of a guilt purveying cultural education, a condition hindering their developpement which would be at the origin of some more or less curable neurosis.
The discussion regarding all this people is relatively difficult to initiate :
Regarding equally believers, who do not ask anything from anyone, and who are happy to practice their religion, and for those of whom are fighting against their up-bringing, their culture, their parents, but who only know their religion for, precisely expressed, what they underwent: that is to say, the castration of the desire.

What is left to be examined is : what the religions actually think of desire and its sexual dimension : this will be the subject of this paper :

All the same, this extensive problem ought be condensed into the time given to me, therefore I shall limit myself by evoking mainly Judeo-christianity which is largely constitutive of our Occidental culture.
We will just say a word, concerning Buddhism, or more aptly phrased the “Buddhisms”, insofar as they are numerous and different : sexuality is seen as the territory of passions, attachment, desires, powerful emotions…
It goes without saying that it is not about advisable guidelines, it is without a doubt tolerated in couples, but sexuality disposes itself poorly to the sought detachment of this philosophical approach.
Thus, there does not exist any particular prohibitions, but a generalized wariness concerning the space where sexuality and sexual desire meet.

In Islam, sexuality is especially evoked in the exlusive context of couples’lives, and with a facet emphasizing fertility, and sexual pleasure is, in and of itself is not condemned, at least not for men.

It is in the Judeo-Christian trandition, it must be said which is criticized all over, that one is going to find a more complex attitude, and thus an attitude subject to more misunderstandings.

The misunderstandings did not begin only yesterday : Celse, a neoplatonician from Second Century, designated christians with the quip “philosomaton genos”, meaning people who love the body !

It was necessary that they love the body, in order to fathom a religion or the ressurection of flesh, and not only the soul, a religion of Incarnation, and where the sacraments are given to a certain materialism, which however symbolic they are, do not relate any less to the senses ( bread, wine, water, oil,etc.)

As, if responding to the body contemptators, François de Sales, in “Treaty of the Love of God” recommends loving one’s body as the living image of the body of the incarnated Saver.
Certainly, Christianity has valorized more easily the suffering body and the working body than the joyous, climaxing body ( corps jouissant). Again, the descriptions that mystics make of their “extasies”, seem to resemble, and even more intensively, deep and profon joy ( jouissance).
We can plainly demonstrate : in the Bible, there are no marks of suspicion regarding either the body or pleasure.
Proberbs, ( 5,19) : ” Find joy in the woman of your youth, lovable doe, gracious gazelle, let her breasts tantalize you…” up until the famous ‘Song of Song’ Cantique des Cantiques, in which physical love between two lowers serves to describe the mystical union of the soul to God.

They are at least no less than three of these misunderstandings :

The confusion with the stoïc approach : for the Greeks, in fact, the height of the “good” is found in self-control and in reason. It will have sufficed that the biblical message found itself reduced to moralism destined to control behaviors, so that the superposition of theses approaches made the damage that we know. In fact, one does not find the condamnation of sexuality anywhere, in as much as such, in the Bible, and Jesus refused to judge the Adulterous Woman, further more by finding a way to avoid her death which was prescribed by law.

The confusion with the bourgeois order : which dates from the seventh century, for which social regulation passed by a kind of system of reforming the population from which one hope that the population went to work every morning, instead of lazing in bed after passionate nights of love.
The moral imperative is nothing here but an alibi, clumsily masking a political project of the strict structuring of the society in profit of a demanding economic system.

The confusion with the necessity of revealing filiation : Equally important the for law systems as for economic or psychological systems is the importance of knowing whose child is whose. The deregulation of sexuality, for which medical contraception brings a mediocre solution, would provoke an impossibility to differentiate and a major social disturbance.

Even beyond these misunderstandings, we need a comprehension chart of theses prohibitions.

1- They secure the conditions in which the person is going to be able to stay in control of his own life, and in control in relation with others : in fact, it is going to be a question of avoiding violence, intrusions and abuses of all kinds, of the strong against the weak.
Sexual pleasure ( jouissance) is a surplus, that needs to be channeled. From the greek verb : orgoa ( to boil) comes the words : orgasm, orgy et anger ( orgê).
One can encounter this disorder in many situations :
– participation in cosmic forces -transgressing limits touching upon violence
-private or collective festivity
-recreation, soothing of internal tensions
-staging of fantasies
– experience of the free play of desires
Sexuality being a propitious zone of over flow, it is about the arrangement here and there of the necessary precautions, for example the bales of hay on the go-cart track.
This comparaison shows how no one hurts himself in such a zone, you can not drive your race car as you wish wherever you find it fitting !
2- They indicate a referential, an ideal toward to reach.
They serve neither to judge nor to devalue those who can not or do not want to apply them : must on say that it is not “allowed” to mix lemonade and Champagne ?
We just can say that it is too bad for those who do it, and that it would be better to train their taste than to let them deprive themselves of a true pleasure of life…

Certainly, Eric Fuchs was right to express the idea that ” Christianity is not guilty of having refuses sexuality, but may be to have had, on the contrary, tried, by all means possible, including repressives ones, to extract from sexuality an ethical signifiance”. ( In “Desire and Tenderness)

It appears that the Bible labors with the meanings of sexuality by engaging three directions :

First, by a desacralisation, a desanctification : sexuality is not understood as a participation in a divine force : sexuality is good AND startling; These attest to it : violence, rape, incest, adultery, fatal passions and diverses crimes. It is thus realism that must master the discipline, not a troubling idealization.

Next, the biblical text takes sexuality very seriously, unlike the surrounding peoples, like for instance the Greeks. Among the Greeks, a tranquil relativism reigned, but only tranquil for the strongest. The Bible has, on the whole, a distate for mixes : thus it recommends avoiding confusion between generations, sexes, spouses, between life and death.
Denis Vasse goes on to say that the denounced perversion is confusion, literally ‘ way of traverse” principally, between the truth and lies, between generations and sexes.

Finally, the third direction is that of personnalisation : the person is unique, and thus singleness of relationships. The text more than prohibits, it prefers to insist on a unity between sexuality, love and alliance. To submit sensuality to the mastery of will was a way to render it personnal, even spiritual.
We prefer to submit it to amorous relationships : the suggestive nature of disorderliness of sexuality is no longer saved by procration, but by love.
But the question asked by Michel Foucault, which seeks to answer how to become subject of one’s sexuality, remains a relevant inquiry. Neither object, nor toy, but subjects, this is without a doubt that which Freud evoked when he wrote : ” Where the ID was, it is necessary that “I” go”.

To conclude, the biblical prohibitions seem to me to serve in fact as street signs regarding three human zones :

– The call for a veritable liberty, at the heart of which the pesone wishes to be dominated by nothing at all, and notably not by his body or his hormones.
Thus freedom is much more to ” want that one which one does, and to be responsible” than to ” do what one wants”!

– The valorization of an engagement of the person in all his bodily movements, in the framework of a coherence between mimed, staging exchange and a real, existantial exchange.

-The taking into consideration of the future of sexuality and the “new” from which it permits to emerge. Far from compulsion, from determinism et from repetition, it will be a question of looking for alliance, on the one hand ( like the entry of two bodies one in the other corresponded to the entry of two histories , one in the other) and on the other hand, fertility ( fécondité ) which certainly does not correlate to a child, but which represents all that builds itself in maturity and stability.

From the permissible and the prohibited, we are here in front of a gaze upon humanity, an inspired gaze, that which does not only seek to propose the best in ourselves avoiding that which, finally, pushes us further from God :

Dr Christophe Marx


Bibliographie :
Jean Claude Guillebaud : La Tyrannie du plaisir- Seuil Paris 1998
Peter Brown : Le renoncement � la chair – Paris Gallimard 1995
Eric Fuchs, Le Désir et la Tendresse, Labor et Fides Paris 1982
Pascal Ide, Le Corps � Coeur, Ed St Paul 1996
Pascal Haegel, Le Corps, quel défi pour la personne, Fayard Paris 1999
Xavier Lacroix, Le corps de chair, Cerf Paris 1992
Xavier Lacroix , L’avenir c’est l’autre, Cerf Paris 2000

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