Sex, morals and religion- an odyssey

We continue with our summaries of the book by Bethwell A. Ogot, History as destiny and history as knowledge. This is possible, to a great extent, because the chapters stand alone and can be treated individually.

A man revered by Kenyans generally but Catholics specifically, Cardinal Maurice Otunga, in 1998 termed calls for gender equality unchristian, ruled out the ordination of women as priests terming this ungodly and to crown it all, led a group of catholic faithful in burning condoms and books on AIDS prevention, and family life education.

The author tells us, starting with the ancient Chinese civilization, the basic form of marriage was polygamy. A married man, besides his wives, would seek entertainment in the company of ‘singing girls’. The grounds for divorce were; disobedience to parents’ in-law, having no son, adultery, jealousy of the husband’s other wives, leprosy, thieving and talkativeness. However, a wife who had no family to go back to wouldn’t be divorced or if, having married her when he was poor, he had become rich.

Starting in 8th Century BCE India, the gods were no longer important. Hinduism and Buddhism sought new ways to transcend the gods, to go beyond them. The Buddha appearing in 538 BCE taught that the only thing that was important was the good life. To the Indian, platonic love was inconceivable. To them, Bethwell notes, love, if it existed, had to be consummated. Those who renounced love had to do so utterly and completely. He notes the Kama Sutra, a manual of etiquette, dealing entirely with eros still has some application today.

Moving to Japan, the author notes the attitude towards sex, marriage, chastity, adultery is more concerned with etiquette and manners than with religious beliefs or tenets. To them, he writes, sex is considered a minor matter but something good, part of the general human feelings which cannot be evil and subject to moralizing. The real aim of marriage in Japanese society is the procreation of children and thereby to ensure the continuity of family life. He adds any purpose other than this simply serve to pervert the true meaning of marriage.

Turning our gaze to Africa, we find in Egypt, a religion that was a fertility cult, with the earth as the female element and the sun as the male and their union beget life. Monogamy was the general rule. The position of the woman was exalted. Her security guaranteed be legal provision that a father could reclaim his daughter if his son in-law insulted, injured or humiliated her and demand return of the dowry.

Elsewhere in the Tigris and Euphrates Valley, arose the Babylonian civilization. They bequeathed humanity with the Hammurabi code which had a strong and direct influence upon Mosaic law, though it was considered more liberal and humane.

From here, we see the birthing of monotheism in Palestine with their god which they argued transcended gender but would remain essentially male and with it the demotion of the women. In Judaism therefore, women were not required, and therefore not permitted to become rabbis, to study Torah and to pray in the synagogue. To their credit, however, it could be sinful to avoid such pleasures as wine or sex, since they had been provided for man’s enjoyment. We must however note their obsession with female virginity and almost pathological fear that illegitimate children might be smuggled into a family, which saw them promulgate a law

A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the lord.

Christianity through the works of Paul, its architect, Augustine of Hippo, Tertullian and contrary to other religions looked at already, regarded sexual relations outside marriage as a grave sin. Total abstinence was considered a nobler state than marriage. Gregory the great declared it was the lust of our parents’ flesh that was the cause of our being and to this extent, human existence was itself sinful. To Augustine, the originator of the doctrine of original sin, god had condemned humanity to eternal damnation simply because of Adam’s one sin. To Augustine, we owe the heritage of a religion that teaches men and women to regard their humanity as chronically flawed. Augustine writing to a friend wrote

What is the difference, whether it is a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any women?

Augustine was clearly puzzled that god would have made the female sex, after all,

If it was good company and conversation that Adam needed, it would have been much better arranged to have two men together as friends, not a man and woman.

Tertullian, writing before Augustine had already instigated women as evil temptress and eternal danger to mankind. He wrote

Do you not know that you are each an Eve? The sentence of god on this sex of yours lives in this age; the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the devil’s gateway, you are the unsealer of that forbidden tree; you are the first deserter of the divine law; you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You so carelessly destroyed man, god’s image. On account of your desert, even the son of god had to die.

In 1059, Pope Leo IX formally insisted on the chastity of all priests. During the reformation and counter reformation, the celibacy question arose. Melanchthon preached against celibacy, Zwingli married at 40 being the first priest of RCC to dare do so in five centuries and Martin Luther married a nun. The Anglican church arising from the King’s lust for a lovely damsel, in this view, was conceived in sin.

Contemporary works on sex can be seen in the works of Kant who argued there is no way in which a human being can be made an object of indulgence of another except through sexual impulse. The conclusions from the work of Paul Fleischmann is that the substitution of sexuality for religious life constitutes one of the most prominent and pervasive elements of cultural pathology. The works of Freud are also important, at least, to the extent that he laid the groundwork for the liberation of the sexual aspirations of women from both an oppressive personal sense of guilt and the shame and humiliation of social stigmatization.

Of most recent publication that has had a great bearing on sex, morality and religion is the Kinsey Report in the late 1940s. Of the many conclusions, two are of interest to us

  1. The complete failure of orthodox morality- in spite of religion, moral philosophy, the influence of schools, church, mosque, temple and social conventions, it is obvious that human beings obey their sexual instincts to a far greater extent than the most pessimistic puritans ever hinted at. They noted that sex could not b sublimated. Fear of punishment or exposure made little difference to a person’s sexual activities.
  2. The rules of self-conduct were invariably influenced by personalities of those who set up the rules. The report shows, indirectly, that practically all the popular conceptions of sex morality are ill founded, hence, moral judgements are dangerous because they are unavoidably personal.

In his conclusion, the author notes contemporary evidence shows a progressive shift in attitudes. In all societies throughout the world, the prize of the virgin in marriage has given way to sexual enjoyment on the part of both sexes before marriage.

His last paragraph, below, is almost a lament. He writes

Where does all this leave us in Africa? We abandoned our Old Testament for other peoples’ Old testament, Torah and Quran. Now that our mentors are abandoning their gods and their rights, we are blindly following them in their wastelands inhabited by hollow men and women. A catalogue of indecencies now stares us in the face, including nudity, transvestitism, prostitution, pre-marital sex, extra marital sex, rape, incest, homosexuality, lesbianism and other emerging unnatural mode of sex.

He finishes by asking a question

How do we obviate this sexual rot that is threatening to deplete the human race? Perhaps Africa need a Kinsey Report to analyse all the popular conceptions of sex, morality and religion, before we can pontificate ala Cardinal Otunga. Perhaps Africa needs its own sex manual, its own Kama Sutra. Perhaps Africa needs its own sex text books, from which ignorant teenagers can acquire basic biological facts.


On morality. Again

SB has a post about conversations but somehow it ended up being about morals.

The visiting fundamentalist asked

If morality is subjective, how do you condemn slavery as immoral?

This question asked by a fellow who believes the bible should be used as a moral code reeks of high irony. Or is it sarcasm. I can’t tell which.

In different ages, society has condemned slavery in many of its myriad forms because of the belief that all human beings deserve equal treatment before the law. In that period of time, who is worthy of the consideration of being human has changed too.

And what does it even mean to say that subjective morality is inconsistent? Maybe the question to ask is what is morality? I think that’s the source of all confusion.


Here we go again: Morality

On the stone god’s blog, I ask

Ark, could you ask your Christians whether a thing is good because God commands it or god commands it because it is good?
Could they give an example of an objective moral and with supporting justification.

and then I get

What is the nature of God. God is good. God is love. Love and goodness are the very essence of God.

God is certainly not arbitrary in His moral actions, nor is God subject to some external standard of morality that governs His decisions…God isn’t arbitrarily deciding what is good and what is evil on a whim. Rather, it is God’s nature to do good, and God never acts contrary to His nature.
…the ground of morality is God’s nature and not some external standard to which God must adhere. God’s sovereignty is preserved as well as an objective standard for morality, i.e., God’s nature.

The Scriptures, God’s self-revelation to humanity, illustrates this quite nicely. A sampling of passages that demonstrate that goodness is grounded in God’s nature:

God commands certain actions as good and therefore to be done and forbids certain other actions as evil and therefore not to be done. What is good is not good simply because God commands it. It is good because it is reflective of His divine nature.

My first question is, did he understand my question? My question is about the nature of good. Are things good independent of god or do they get their goodness from god? And if all that is is the handiwork of god, how can anything be bad? IS it conceivable that a good god has through omission let bad exist? Is this fellow willfully ignorant or do we blame it on his upbringing?

The claim god is good is asserted without proof. The author has not demonstrated that god is and that it is good. It is not enough to claim god is good. God’s existence has not been demonstrated. It is quite evident the author of the above comment is ignorant of theologians who have argued god’s nature is unknowable. I propose they settle this small matter first then get back to us.

By saying god doesn’t act contrary to its nature, we must assume the author implies all a god does is good. That must include, in the case of the god of the bible, drowning all that lives, save a few, is good. Cursing the earth is good. Turning out A & E for a minor infraction is good. A further question is how does this fellow know all this about god? And the value judgement of god? Can he tell us what to god is evil? IS it the same with what he considers evil or are they different?

I have deleted the bible references because they are useless in this discussion. So far as I can tell, the theologian has not demonstrated the bible to be the word of a god, any god. On the contrary, most of the bible passages look like the ramblings of a deranged mind. Or maybe, god is deranged and we have been thinking the bible as is, could not come from a god. I think we have been holding god to a high standard without justification.

The god of the bible gave Joshua express orders to kill the Canaanites. The god of the bible is recorded to have drowned the Egyptian army, to have sent bears to kill children. The list of the moral things this god is said to have done have been listed before by others with much patience than yours truly.

It is tiring dealing with people who will not read.

Got a question 

Most animals are not malicious. This does not mean they do not call their mates occasionally. They do. Recently a chimp was killed and eaten by members of his troup or colony?

My question is why are humans capable of expressing the whole range of behaviour from altruism to sheer unbridled malice? What is it about us that makes this possible? 

the moral sense

There are authors who can make you laugh. There are authors who can make you think. Then there are authors that can make you do both. I think Mark Twain is in the last class.

In Mysterious Stranger, he does this so well. The character Satan, ably represented by Philip Traum, cautions against misuse of the word brutal. He insists, and you would agree, that the things treated under this heading no brute has been found guilty. He suggests we respect the higher animals.

The things were classify inhuman too are wrongly classified. Only humans are capable of them. Think rape, slavery, torture, war, exploitation all very human. It is our nature to do these things. We find them abhorrent, that I admit, but it is in our nature to do them. No lion kills another out of malice or kills a zebra because it can. And he says we are capable of these abuse because of the moral sense – the judge of good and bad.

He writes

No brute ever does a cruel thing, that is the monopoly of those with the Moral sense. When a brute inflicts pain he does it innocently; it is not wrong; for him there is no such thing as wrong. And he does not inflict pain for the pleasure of inflicting it, only man does that. Inspired by that mongrel Moral Sense of his! A sense whose function is to distinguish between right and wrong, with liberty to choose which of them he will do. Now what advantage can he get out of that? He is always choosing and in nine cases out of ten, he prefers the wrong.

I think, here

There shouldn’t be any wrong; and without the Moral Sense there couldn’t be any. And yet he is such an unreasoning creature that he is not able to perceive that the Moral Sense degrades him to the bottom layer of the animated beings and is a shameful possession

he took a lot of liberty with facts. Would we be better off without the moral sense? Would we find slavery abhorrent or it would be as natural as marrying off a nine-year old?

Is Mark Twain right [ the Moral Sense again] in defending the brutes? Should we find a word to replace brutal in our description of cruelty to one another. No other animal, I think, treat their fellows as we do. And whatever we describe inhumane, acts very human, can we find a more proper word for them?

This brings to mind the issue of whether human persons are naturally good or bad or whether these traits are learned. Jean Jacques Rousseau, I think, argued that we are naturally good. Another philosopher, I can’t recall claimed we are not good and are in need of salvation but the one I agree with is we are not any of the above. It is our actions that should be judged. If I dispatch the president and his cabinet, do I become a bad person or a person guilty of murder?

And while talking about murder, if in a revolution, we kill the president, his family and cohorts, no one gets arrested, why should I be, if I do it on my own for the public weal?

good without god

I will, as with Socrates in Euthyphro, ask what is good.

The author of can you be good without god wants us to believe that without following his holy book we are incapable of being good. And good, he tells us is what the Koran says is good. He tells us reason or ends are not required, blind obedience is what counts.

He writes,

What is needed in a system of morality is not the end goal, but actually clear directives on which actions are right and which are wrong, covering all conceivable contexts. This is what the Qur’an in particular, claims to achieve.

Had this been the case with the Koran or any holy religious book, interpretation or exegesis would be unnecessary. If the bible directs you to kill your neighbour for working on Sabbath, there is no debate. If the Koran says kill the infidel, it is absolute.

I, for the life of me, do not know how one can arrive at a conclusion that

Humanism is therefore no more than a formalised system of convincing yourself that what you are doing is for the betterment and wellbeing of others.

Maybe this fellow understands humanism to mean something different from what I know it to mean or represent. Put simply we are capable of solving our problems and no god above will do anything to improve our lot.

But he lies when he writes

People try to claim that it is religion which is utilised as a pious front for the doing of evil, and that more people do evil in the name of God than for any other reason. This may be the case but there is a difference here – people do evil in the name of God, in spite of the clear teachings of various religions on which actions are right and which are wrong. Humanism on the other hand has no teachings which could act as a buffer against the evil done in its name.

For example, the directive in the bible to not suffer a witch to live was used as a justification for the witch burnings and similar commands appear in the Koran as justification for jihad, which is English for killing for god or is it Allah! And humanism has many teachings that one could look to if one were interested. And these go thousands of years before some pedo dreamed the Koran into existence.

When our author writes

It is also worth asking the question that “what makes a good, moral person?”

it is evident, at least in my view, that they are asking the wrong question. The question that ought first to be settled is what is good, what is moral. The question Socrates wants dispensed with in the Euthyphro. And I don’t think this author has addressed this small matter of definition.

What is instinct? Is there a difference between when a person acts instinctively and when they just act? I am even confused here.

It may be true, I don’t know, that

Humanism gives no directives and no instruction on what action is right in which context and which action is wrong in which context, it totally falls short of defining morality.

but I will say without fear of contradiction that neither does the Koran nor any religion for that matter deal with all available scenarios or even any scenario. All we have from the hot heads who make religious proclamations is don’t do this or that and why because god, speaking through me commands it. If any precept is empty in directing human conduct, religion must be the most empty.

When our author writes

Humanists can also look to the human conscience, but in doing so, they are admitting that morality is a universal and absolute concept.

I am convinced he failed his philosophy classes. The conclusion that morality is universal and absolute is not arrived at by admitting human conscience as a guide. And while still on it, if human conscience is the guide, the it makes moot any need for gods and proves the case of the humanist.

I am yet to read a religious book that has as a context a starving mother forced to steal to fend for her starving children. If there is, I am open to correction.

There is a lot of material on the internet dealing with this question. Anyone with an internet connection has access to so many, it is depressing that most people with such access write such silly things about atheism.

A question for thought

In his book, The hidden face of god, Friedman writes, and I want it to be the subject of discussion

Moralities were constructed in association with deities for millenia.
How is it possible to construct any morality that will have substantial acceptance in the absence of appeal to a god?

He says elsewhere

The moral debates of this generation have the unfortunate, absurd, frustrating, annoying quality that, frequently, the two sides do not engage one another.
[…] few on either side argue head on the validity of each other’s moral starting point.  They concentrate more on the opponent’s last claim or they challenge his or her statical points.

What are your views?
And while you are at it, a meditation on death