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Thursday, September 15, 2011

from Lawrence, Sunday PhiloMadrid meeting: Why are religions obsessed with s€x?

Notes by Matilde and a short essay
Dear friends,

The subject for this Sunday is: Why are religions obsessed with s€x? And because of today's paranoia
with anything that is human, I have replaced the "s" word with s€x.

We are lucky that this time we have some notes from Matilde, but unfortunately she won't be able to
come to the meeting.

No doubt this is a very interesting subject to discuss after such an eventful summer. On the other
hand it is also a subject that might touch a few raw nerves.

In the meantime, this Sunday we will be back to the Centro Segoviano. The meeting details are therefore:

Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
914457935
Metro: Bilbao
Take care
Lawrence

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Why are religions obsessed with s€x?
----------------notes by Matilde----------
Dear friends,
I won't be able to attend the next tertulia. Nevertheless, I've been thinking about the topic and
got a few notes.
The origin of the s€x mania in religions could come from a policy to avoid pregnancies out of
marriage, let's say, kind of birth control, in favour of the family institution.
But in those days, the only way to obey was to involve sin, punishment, God, and all that jazz in it.
Something similar to the prohibition of eating pork or drinking alcohol in Islam, which were hygiene
measures at the beginning, but nobody followed till they were turned into sins.
The problem is that religions don't change with the times. They go on and on, and on for centuries Amen.
Sorry for not being with you to discuss the topic.
Matilde

---------short essay--------------
There are good reasons for religions to be obsesses with s€x and those reasons are more encompassing
than why, for example, health services are obsessed with s€x. Unfortunately for religions, their
teachings and their dogma about s€x, have failed their followers and more importantly they have
failed society.

However, the topic itself seems to be more relevant in sociology or anthropology or even theology to
wit, but of course philosophical investigation can me applied to most things. And I would argue that
the first step we need to do to understand the question is to prepare the ground, or the mind set,
for our discussion. And that mind set involves an epistemological problem.

Consider the situation where a state amends its constitution limiting the activities of the
government because of inequitable behaviour of a minority group in society with probably
disproportionate influence in that society. In effect the amendment takes away a right from the
general population, to confer a privilege and to guarantee the function to the said minority group.

Now, as most of us know, constitutions, or at least equitable constitutions, are there to confer
rights and to protect the rights of the whole nation and not to favour a minority group. Of course,
many jurisdictions pass laws to protect people against racism and prejudice. However, constitutions
that confer all the privileges and minority group at the expense of the rest of society, would be
regarded as apartheid.

Going back to our subject, are people in a hundred years time more likely to remember the real
causes for the introduction of the inequitable amendment, or are they more likely to view the
constitution as being inequitable?

This, I would argue is precisely what happened with religions and s€x. Today, we remember (or are
conscious) the obsession of religion with s€x, but forget the real reason for the obsession in the
first place. No doubt, and this is not to argue against the obsession (or amendment), the beliefs
and measures at the time of need might have been seen as a good short term solution to a long term
problem. But short terms solutions, I would argue, should best be kept to the short term; a stop
gap, need not be a suspension bridge.

A philosophically relevant and fundamental difference between religion and s€x, and by religion I am
limiting myself to those originating from the Middle East - Judaism, Islam and Christianity - is
that a religion is a rational solution to a major problem for humanity, whilst s€x is a functional
solution for biological life.

In other words, the raison d'être for religion is diametrically opposite to the raison d'être for
s€x. Now, s€x is a biological solutions for reproduction which has been adopted and successfully
selected by a number of biological species for reproduction. And in effect the s€xual act is just a
small part of the whole process of the reproduction cycle.

I would argue that religions are a rational solutions created by human beings to solve a major
problem in a society that is made up of more people than a natural family unit. Precisely, I would
say that religions were set up, first and foremost, to rationalise actions that would bring about
stability in society based on law and order. Indeed, at the heart of a religion is the desire to
reduce aggression and inequity in a society. For example, all religions advocate charity and helping
the weak, in many religions helping the weak is even a duty, in others they even have or given rise
to a whole ethical code of conduct on how to treat an enemy.

Of course, unlike the amendment to the constitution, we are today not privy why our ancestors
decided to be so obsessed with s€x. And even though religions are obsessed with s€x, not all of them
adopt the same level of obsession, not the same dogma on the issue, and none out law s€x completely.
(Wikipedia on Religion and S€x and what happened to those religions who outlawed s€x see Daniel C
Dennett, Freedom Evolves – basically they disappear!) This suggest that matters of s€x are not that
easy and clear cut.

But maybe we do not need to be privy to the thinking of the founding fathers and mothers of
religions to understand why they adopted obsessive policies. After all, today we have enough
knowledge on the biology and scope of s€x to be able to deduce relevant arguments.

Despite the often heard claim that our ancestors did not easily make the connection between s€x and
procreation, I find it difficult to believe that at least the leaders of society did not have an
inkling to what was going on. Indeed, we can safely assume that many women would have figured out
the real connection between s€x and procreation, hence the mothers above.

So, the first problem with s€x is that s€x can easily lead to conception with the real danger of
maternal death (mothers dying giving birth) to any mother to be. The Wikipedia article, Maternal
death, gives a global figure of 342,900 maternal deaths in 2008. We can only assume that the further
back we go in time, the more serious the problem becomes.

A challenge that society, and especially a small society, has to grapple with is to make sure that
the female population does not die out because of the reproduction cycle, as a consequence of
promiscuity. This fact alone is enough to give any rational being long sleepless nights.

I also find it difficult to believe that no one in the long distant past had not connected the
possibility of being sick and dying with s€x. S€xually transmitted diseases, whether acknowledged or
suspected, would be another reason for religion to be obsessed with s€x. I would argue that being
rational does not mean that one acts from a position of perfect knowledge, but rather from an honest
belief that something might be the case ( a chance that something is the case.)

Thus, if someone suspects that there is a connection between s€x and ill health it would be rational
to stop/limit having s€x in order to prevent ill health, even if this is not necessarily the only
cause of ill heath or too late to prevent ill health. It would therefore be correct and rational for
a religion to be obsessed with s€x.

But the first and foremost pre occupation of any religion might have about s€x is that s€x is a very
aggressive behaviour. First of all s€x is a biological trait based on competing people. Hence, s€x
can be the cause of aggression between competing people for a partner (male rivalry), between
partners (domestic violence), and between different groups (tribal conflicts, social classes etc).
Thus by prescribing when s€x can be performed, with whom and how, I would argue, that religions are
trying to limit the opportunities of aggression.

But s€x itself is a challenge to rationality that attempts to employ models of social coherence
based on equity and fairness. S€x, given it biological function, is a subjective act, based on
instinct and prejudice. It is an accepted fact of biology that creatures try to mate with a partner
they perceive to be the best within their group. Subjectivity and selfishness are of course not
compatible with equity and fairness; or at least we do not perceive them to be so.

So why is it that most of us, today, interpret obsession to have a negative connotation, and not a
positive implications as the rationale I outlined above seems to suggest. Of course, the first
reason is that today we have lost that rationale and just have the incongruence between the dogma
and real life. More or less the same position decedents of those living under today's constitution
would be in a hundred years time.

But of course, the main problem with religion and s€x is that religion does not necessarily live up
to the promise of keeping a stable society based on equity and fairness. Those with money or power
still have a higher chance of partnering with the most desirable people in society. And this is
important since religion only prescribe s€x within marriage for life. Moreover, in matters of s€x we
still apply the subjective criteria of selection rather than fairness. Indeed, can there be such a
thing as a selection of a s€x partner based on fairness? This does not make sense because s€x is
amoral irrelevant to the idea of fairness.

The most serious problem of all for religion is that although religion and its premises are
rational, its prescriptions are dogmatic and not educative. Dogma states what has to be done,
education helps us find a way of what is best to do. Religions today, in my estimation, know, for
example, that syphilis (or AIDS to be up to date) is a s€xually transmitted disease, but instead of
being dogmatic about seeking medical advice and following any treatment prescribed by a health
carer, we get the impression that religion tries to solve the presence of a disease by being
dogmatic about abstaining from s€x. For those with syphilis, any dogma about abstaining from s€x is
as useful as an ice cube in the middle of Antarctica.

But dogma itself is of course a form of biological aggression, except that instead of using brute
force we use brute emotional language. Moreover, dogma is not necessarily the best way to deal with
a changing and dynamic world. A solutions to threatening events (e.g. maternity mortality) cannot be
a code of conduct based on coercion, but rather in this case on medical investigation and education
on how biology actually work in life.

We can change our education and body of knowledge on how things function, but dogma is fixed and
impinges on our emotions. It is very difficult for most of us to accept changes to the principle of
universally available free health service at the point of use, than to change the pills our family
doctors prescribes us because of more effective therapy.

And to end, I purposely did not mention the ethical properties religions ascribe to s€x. And my
reason is simple, s€x does not have any ethical properties, only physical and biological ones. Thus,
by ascribing ethical properties to s€x, such as bad and evil, we are really falling foul of the
ought/is fallacy. Just because something has undesirable physical consequences, it does not
automatically follow that it ought to be evil and immoral. No reasonable person would suggest that
chemotherapy is evil and immoral, despite being one of the most toxic and deadly things a person can
experience.

The main problems presented by s€x are probably best solved by education, supervision, medical
advancement and creating an environment where abuse and exploitation are prevented. And the main
problem about religions, like constitutions, is that they bother themselves too much with the ought
and the prose and not enough with solutions to real problems people have.
Best
Lawrence
from Lawrence, Sunday PhiloMadrid meeting: Why are religions obsessed with s€x?

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