The New Testament has been the most influential collection of documents in history. Taken by both commoners and those in power as the inspired and infallible “Word of God,” and interpreted ofttimes outside its historical context, its fateful influence has often emerged from single passages with far-ranging consequences:
It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman. But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. . . . I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (1 Corinthians 7:1-9)
The apostle Paul recommends living a single but non-sexual life–sometimes referred to as “celibacy.” He puts this forth as a broad recommendation, not just for priests but for all human beings–male and female. In contradiction to Genesis 2:18, where God declares that “it is not good that man be alone…” Paul recommends the single life as spiritually superior and holy. In fact, in this passage the reason he gives for marriage is that it is an antidote to “lust” or sexual desire. As with his instructions on women, slaves, obeying civil rulers as God’s agents, and other social, economic, and civil relationships he is convinced that “the form of this world is passing away,” and therefore even human sexuality and marriage are a passing and obsolete phenomenon.
He also, in practice, insists that gays and lesbians live a single or celibate life, since their expressions of same-sex love and sexuality are inherently wicked, perverted, and evil, and accordingly subject to the exclusion and punishment of both God and society:
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. (Romans 1:26-28)
The results of these ideas in Western History is immense and far-reaching–the denigration of the body and sexual life, the “virtues” of celibacy, the failed expectations of the apocalypse, and the horrible persecution of gays and lesbians who dare to find love in same sex relationships. I highly recommend Martha Nussbaum’s thoughtful and insightful book, Hiding from Humanity. She brilliantly analyzes the roots of our “disgust” with human sexuality and the body–and thus our own “humanity,” in western history.
Continue with Part 3 here: “Let the Women Keep Silent“