“i never asked anybody to give up marriage,” claims jesus christ
RACHEL This is Emisoras Latinas broadcasting from the monastery of Qumran, where the famous Dead Sea Scrolls were found. After our last interview with Jesus Christ, some priests and nuns have called, feeling very upset and frustrated. They say that they have renounced the pleasure of the world in order to follow you, Jesus.
JESUS And what pleasures have they renounced?
RACHEL I suppose the pleasures of eating well, dancing, enjoying life… Some monks even renounce talking.
JESUS They don’t talk?
RACHEL Only the most essential. They say that by silence they come closer to God.
JESUS What craziness! Wasn’t it God that gave us a tongue to speak and ears to hear?
RACHEL What’s harder for them is not getting married. They claim that it was you who ordered them to renounce matrimony; you told them to become eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven – to get castrated.
JESUS They say I told them to get castrated?
RACHEL According to them, you said that some people are born that way, and that others make themselves that way to follow you.
JESUS That certainly sounds a lot like the people of my time they used to sing when they should have cried, and they cried when it was time to sing! They understood everything backwards.
RACHEL But then, what did you mean when you spoke of the eunuchs?
JESUS What I meant was that each person must travel along his or her own path, in freedom, without prohibitions. And that all the paths lead to God if you have a pure heart. If you want to get married, get married. If you don’t want to get married, you’ll have your reasons.
RACHEL However that may be, your church proposes the life of celibate chastity as the way of perfection.
JESUS That can’t be so, because if everybody followed that way, the world would come to an end. God wouldn’t call perfect something that would ruin his creation.
RACHEL So what, then, is the path of perfection?
JESUS The one that each person is on, if they really walk on it with freedom and love. There’s no one path. In God’s house there are many places, and each person has to discover his or her own.
RACHEL So, according to you, the virginity that is practiced by priests and nuns is not a state that’s superior to matrimony? It’s not more spiritual?
JESUS How can it be superior and more spiritual? I always used to compare the Kingdom of God to a wedding banquet, never to a monastery or a desert. Because God is love, and what is most like God is the love of a couple.
RACHEL Well, these people renounce all partners and even mortify their own bodies in order to elevate their spirits. They flagellate themselves, beat themselves.
JESUS And who gave them their bodies, if not God? The body is sacred, it is the temple of God. How can they punish the most beautiful thing they have received?
RACHEL They punish it and they hide it. Didn’t you see in Jerusalem? They walked through the streets wearing black habits, buttoned up cassocks, extravagant headgear. Just look at those people who are getting out of that bus over there, coming to visit Qumran.
JESUS Who are they?
RACHEL I’m not sure, but to judge by the crosses, the chains, and the footwear,… I think they’re called Legionaries of Christ, … or Heralds of the Gospel, I’m not sure. That is to say, they are your soldiers.
JESUS My soldiers?
RACHEL That’s what they call themselves.
JESUS And why do have such strange clothes? Look at me, Rachel. How am I dressed?
RACHEL Just normally, like an ordinary person. We’d say “casual”. Maybe that’s why the other reporters aren’t looking for you, because they see you as just like everybody else.
JESUS I think that the Kingdom of God is leaven, Rachel. Tell the people who are listening to your program that if the leaven is separated from the dough, it spoils. The Kingdom of God is salt. If the salt is hidden away, it loses its flavor. It dies, like the waters of this Dead Sea.
RACHEL So, then, from the Dead Sea, this has been Rachel Perez reporting for Emisoras Latinas. We remind our listening audience that this interview and all the previous ones with Jesus Christ can be found on the internet at www.emisoraslatinas.net.
ANNOUNCER Another God is Possible. Exclusive interviews with Jesus Christ in his second coming to Earth. A production of María and José Ignacio López Vigil, with the support of the Syd Forum and Christian Aid.
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Sexuality: sacred pleasure
There are religions that accept the human body, and there are others that revile it, but there is none that ignores it. All the religions have a tendency to control the two principal functions of the body: nutrition and sexuality. Since sexuality is such a vital drive and is closely linked to the meaning of life and death, it has been a primary concern of all religions.
In the ancestral religions of humanity there were many rites that exalted fertility and the feminine principle as a symbol of the divine and the sacred. With the advance of the patriarchal religions – that is, all of today’s religions – all this changed.
Sexuality as the source of sin
The myth of Adam and Eve and their original sin, which is a foundational myth for Judeo-Christian culture, already expresses a profoundly patriarchal vision. This myth was very soon understood by Christianity as the explanation for the origin of all the world’s sufferings and evils, as proof that we are born evil and contaminated by sin, and as the reason for the body’s inferiority to the spirit. The myth has also served as the basis for discriminating against women, since they are all “clones” of Eve and therefore bearers of a body which is temptation, risk, and a vehicle of sin. Women are the “gateway of the devil”, according to Tertullian.
This cluster of morbid ideas, quite foreign to Jesus’ message, though already present in the Judaism of his time, received reinforcement from similar prejudices that existed in Hellenistic culture. Contempt for the body took firm root in the doctrine of the Church Fathers, who had a profoundly negative view of sexuality, especially female sexuality. Sex and sexual relations ceased to be an expression of sacred pleasure, a sublime vehicle of human communication and a metaphor for God’s love, and became instead something dirty, negative and degrading. From the very first Christian centuries such negative views of sexuality led to ideas about how celibate chastity, sexual abstinence, and refraining from all corporal contact with women constituted the height of virtue, bringing people closer to God and leading them to “perfection.”
This anti-sexual vision soon became fixed in theology, got translated into prohibitive laws, and affected the whole of Christian spirituality. Today all Christian sexual morality is heir to the taboos derived from the myth of Adam and Eve, especially the morality promoted by the Catholic Church, which, for example, even now considers such an innocuous and normal expression of sexuality as masturbation to be something “intrinsically and gravely disordered”.
In recent years theologians from all the continents have been working to develop an alternative vision of sexuality, but the damage that has been done to entire generations is incalculable. We might even claim that the trivialization and cheapening of sexual relations that is common today among wide sectors of the population is a visceral reaction against the unbearable weight of the taboos that have been imposed during many centuries of repression and obscurantism.
Other cultures aren’t like this
The native peoples of Latin America were quite bewildered by the divorce between sexuality and divinity that Christianity promoted. In the pre-Columbian societies sexuality was celebrated as a powerful, sacred force that helped the community to develop and become bonded with the divine. As opposed to the Jewish God, who was male and solitary, the original pre-Columbian traditions always worshiped both goddesses and gods; these deities practiced sexual love and thus projected a sacred aura around the equality of men and women in the community.
In contrast with Christian traditions, which consider sex to be taboo, something hidden away and never talked about, the positive, sacred vision of sexuality that the Native American peoples have engenders many rites that are still practiced among them. For example, the rites of initiation which mark the passage from childhood to adulthood are spiritual feasts and celebrations in which young people begin their sexual education, an education in which women always play a key role.
Even today, among the peoples of the Andes, the youngsters practice “trial matrimonies” (servinacuy): they live together for a year before deciding to marry. All the Latin American peoples celebrate female menstruation and use natural, herbal contraconceptives to avoid or interrupt pregnancies. Those of us living in the “advanced” countries have much to learn from the treasure house of beliefs and customs that these peoples have developed over the centuries.
At odds with sexuality
All cultures have, in one form or another, exercised some control over sexuality, which is viewed as a wondrous mystery, but also as a terrifying human activity full of contradictions.
Christian suspicion of and opposition to sexuality is fostered by several beliefs. One is that spirit and matter are enemies and that God is pure spirit. On the basis of this belief it has been taught that the most “spiritual” path involves negation of the body: all sexual pleasure and bodily delight are seen as negative, or at least suspect. Such ideas got translated into the law of celibacy, the vow of chastity and the dogma that sexuality must never be separated from reproduction.
Another belief that promotes enmity with sexuality is the idea that the body is transitory, an outer casing that we will lose at death, when only the immortal soul will survive. Such beliefs gave rise to the teaching that by sacrificing the body and making it suffer we put ourselves on the road to spiritual perfection. Another pernicious idea is that God became flesh in Jesus in order to suffer in his body, and by means of that suffering to save us. Thus it was long taught, and is still taught, that imitating Jesus means suffering and offering him our sufferings.
The naked body
The naked body is the most expressive symbol of sexuality, but since sexuality is taboo in Christian culture, nakedness has been associated with sin and subsequently with our dirty, stained, sinful human sexuality. Indeed, nakedness was the first “shameful” consequence of Adam and Eve’s sin of disobedience!
This shame regarding nakedness explains the provocative, taboo-breaking power of the photography of Spencer Tunick, a U.S. artist born in 1967. After traveling around the U.S. photographing naked groups of people in urban landscapes, he toured different cities of the world creating artistic photographs of huge crowds of naked men and women. In Glasgow, Rome, Montreal, Sidney, Barcelona, Sao Paulo, Santiago de Chile, Caracas and Mexico City this ingenious photographer has brought together hundreds and even thousands of persons (20 thousand in Mexico in 2007), who voluntarily offer to serve as models in his evocative graphic compositions.
These images have a strong esthetic and emotional impact. There is no pornographic or erotic intention in them; rather they seek to contrast the vulnerable naked human body with the anonymity of public spaces and to make people reflect on the tensions that exist between the public and the private, between the tolerated and the prohibited, between the individual and the collective. Ecologists and nudists support this initiative, and those who have participated in it as voluntary models have emphasized the feeling of freedom they experience when posing for Tunick.
As a sign of the vulnerability that poor people experience when faced with cruel exploitation and the abuses of power, there has been a proliferation of protest demonstrations in which small farmers or social activists demand their rights, wearing only their birthday suits! They are demonstrations that cause a great impact, especially when the bodies exposed are ones that have been exhausted and worn out by hard labor and tough living. Whatever the protest is about, it demonstrates the profound symbolic power of the naked body, which expresses many aspects of human reality and not just the one which Christian tradition has for centuries assigned to it: sinfulness.
The body is sacred
Punishing the body with penances – flagellations, hair shirts, fasts, denial of pleasure in eating, sexual abstinence – is unchristian. One of the most telling aspects of Jesus’ message and work was his concern for the sick, his healing of bodies. Physical health was a priority for Jesus. It is therefore the height of contradiction to claim that reviling the body and inflicting pain on it are types of behavior that are pleasing to God, and yet that has been the Christian claim for centuries and is still so today in many churches.
The most scathing analysis of religious and clerical life as a “way of perfection” or a “superior state” has been offered by the German theologian Eugen Drewermann in his polemical book Clerics: Psychogram of an Ideal (Editorial Trotta, Madrid, 1995). Using brilliant irony and drawing on his lifetime experience as a psychoanalyst, Drewermann analyzes the traditional trio of essential negations (sexual drive, personal goods, and freedom) to which “clerics” (including religious men and women) submit themselves by their three vows “for God”. He then makes use of a metaphor from quantum physics:
If they are faithful to the ideals of their profession, they live almost like photons, those minimal, electrically neutral particles whose task is to light up the world, but which, if they come to a stop, dissolve into nothingness, because in a state of repose their mass is zero… In their total identification with their profession, clerics suffer an innate fear that without a life of activity and effort they will be transformed into nothingness…. They are persuaded that their mission is to illuminate the world, and they imagine that the best way to carry out that project is by avoiding all interaction with even the least strand of humanity, of “matter”…
And it must be repeated endlessly: in our world of today, a hundred years after the discovery of psychoanalysis, no holiness is possible if it is not fully human. It’s a shocking fact, however, that the “joy in Christ” experienced by so many priests and nuns can often be shown to be totally lacking in freedom and excessively rigid in form, because in practice it based only on an attitude of duty and obligation, conceived apart from – and even against – their deepest feelings.
Matthew’s gospel (19,10-12) is the only one that mentions Jesus’ saying about “eunuchs” (that is, castrated or impotent men, sterile men, men without wives or children). Jesus “classifies” eunuchs into three types: those that are born so (perhaps the barren and the impotent), those who were made so by others (castrated men who served in the royal courts as guardians, singers, and artists), and those who became so “for the Kingdom of God.”
In Israel religious law prohibited the castration of men, and also of cattle. A castrated man could not enter the Temple or the synagogue, nor could a castrated bull be offered as sacrifice. Nevertheless, castrated men were a familiar phenomenon, since there were many of them in the courts of the kings of Israel, who were influenced by the customs of neighboring countries or brought foreign eunuchs to Israel as slaves. Given this context, there is great significance in the narrative in the Acts of the Apostles (8,26-40), according to which an Ethiopian eunuch becomes one of the first followers of Jesus. The story clearly condemns the traditional exclusion from the Jewish religion of foreigners and those stigmatized by castration.
Since the Catholic Church historically did not allow women to sing in the churches, the custom developed of selecting the boys with the best voices and cutting off their testicles before they reached puberty, so that their voice would not change. This practice was known as “sopranization” or musical castration. For many years these “castrati” served in the church choirs. The last of them was Alessandro Moreschi, a singer in the Vatican, who died in 1922.
What was Jesus referring with his third category, those who were “eunuchs for the Kingdom of God”? Rather than a “way of perfection”, he was speaking of the kind of passion that absorbs a person’s whole life and energies, a sense of mission that is given a passionate priority in one’s life. Jesus referred only to male “eunuchs”. Knowledge and appreciation of the characteristics and specificities of female sexuality is a very recent achievement of science and psychology. Furthermore, since in the culture of his time it was not the women who decided whether to get married or not – their fathers decided that for them – Jesus could not even imagine anything like female “eunuchs”.
Jesus: married or not?
Some interpreters believe that with his saying about eunuchs Jesus was giving an explanation of his personal situation. They go further and claim that Jesus remained single, not because he feared women or was homosexual or was castrated, but because the Kingdom of God required it of him in order to serve God better, since the celibate single person is the one who best serves God.
We really don’t know whether Jesus got married or not, or whether he was a widower. We don’t know how many times he fell in love or with whom. We don’t know if he had children. It is difficult to imagine him single, since Jewish culture looked askance at men and women who remained unmarried and childless. It would have been difficult for Jesus to have had the authority and the appeal that he had with people if he were considered “weird”. But we simply do not know, and we never will know. What we do know is that, whatever might have been Jesus’ family situation, nothing of his message is changed by it. Those who wrote the gospels considered Jesus “civil status” to be an unimportant detail in comparison with the supreme importance of his message and his deeds, and for that reason they show scant concern for it in their narratives.