Read a book about sex and the bible

May 18, 2011

It’s called Unprotected Texts: the Bible’s surprising contradictions about sex and desire by Jennifer Wright Knust. She covers a lot of ground in a relatively short book. I dog-earred many pages of it so I’d remember specific things that were interesting or downright hilarious. I had a lot to choose from, like:

- She notes the conflict in Genesis regarding two creation stories, “two seemingly immutable principles: in sexual intercourse, men and women seek to reunite the flesh they once shared, and, in marriage, women neccessarily accept subordination, which is rooted in their desire for husbands.” (p.49) Desire is a big, big problem all over the bible, apparently and should be avoided whenever possible.

- The adam, the creature made by God may have started life as androgynous as an angel, not male or female but both. God split the being, resulting in two incomplete forms that seek to reunite and even Paul thought we’d get those kinds of proper bodies back in heaven. “Among later Christians, the separation of the two genders was sometimes interpreted as the moment death and sorrow entered the world.”(p.52)

- Genesis is a creation myth that holds a lot in common with the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh (they both feature snakes and a trick with some fruit, for one thing) and Atrahasis (where humanity’s created specifically to till the created land, something Adam is told he’ll have to do “by the sweat of his brow”). The writers of Genesis also thought it was important to highlight agriculture and its connection to raising families. People and the land all have to be fertile to make it work, and work it is. (p54) She also notes that the Israelites back then were trying to live on land not ideally suited for agriculture. The mountainous steppes required terracing and and knowledge of water conservation techniques to make the most of it. Not an easy task at all.

- Jesus has conflicting lessons about love and relationships. He bought into the heaven/androgyny theory and appears to be against divorce (in Mark at least) because marriage “anticipates the ressurection to come” so “the additional mixing of one flesh with another could not be tolerated.” (p70-71) You can get a different answer in every gospel, judging by the table she provides a few pages later. (In Matthew, for example, divorce is cool so long as it’s the woman’s fault for why you want one. Remarriage is still a no-no for all parties.)

- Paul believed single people shouldn’t even bother getting married. He believed time was getting short anyway and they all should want relationships with God more and that the desiring of flesh was evidence of “the depravity of the world.” New bodies were soon to be available in heaven, bodies free of all desires of the flesh. (92)

- She notes the cultural similarities that existed between the Canaanites and Israelites. Always thought to be complete enemies of each other based on scripture (i.e. Joshua) and usually with the Canaanites being sexual deviants of some kind, it’s not a theory that bears fruit historically or archeologically. They were all neighbours who mingled lifestyles and belief sets for generations – including the times when it was okay to think Yhwh had a consort named Asherah. She was a goddess native to Israel at the time, and so was Baal. The writers of Judges remarked on the fact that not everyone thought Yhwh was the only one worth worshiping. Of course, they thought it was akin to prostitution, this throwing one’s self at other gods and all. Disgusting. (136-38)

- Chapter 5 is devoted to the sins of angel lust. I didn’t know that the idea of speaking in tongues was to talk like angels, hence the reason women had to cover their heads in church. If they didn’t, then angels might desire them and bring about another reason for God to flood the earth. The “sons of God” that got it on with the “daughters of men” created the Nephilim, the Watchers that supposedly taught evil and wickedness to humanity.

- Chapter 5 also touches on Sodom and the idea that desiring “strange flesh” is the big worry. It’s less about man on man sex and more about wanting to screw foreigners (angels included). It’s about keeping a race pure. If you intermarry, then you’re wasting seed and polluting the blood of your ancestors. You are honour-bound to put travelers up for the night (in the days when hotels were non-existent) but don’t you dare want carnal relationships with them.

- There used to be a Cult of the Holy Foreskin (a whole swath of the book is devoted to the history of circumcision also) where the relic in question came to be in the hands of Charlemagne, along with parts of Christ’s umbilical cord, supposedly delivered to him by the Saviour himself. “Now preserved in at the Abbey of Charroux, as well as in other locations, the foreskin became an object of veneration too precious to deny.” (215) and the reason why later Christians were encouraged to not bother with circumcision had to do with a belief that Christ let himself go through that agony so nobody else would have to anymore. He did you boys a favour, see… But the debates about the need to cut bits off are still there in the bible for anyone who wants to read them.

Last thing, a quote from the very end of the book (p.247):

Anyone who would use God and the Bible to deny touch, love, and affection to others has failed to present a valuable interpretation, not only of the Bible but also of what it means to be human, whether or not some biblical passage somewhere can be found to support their claims. Those who attempt to belittle or demean a class of people, denying them rights on the basis of an unexamined interpretation of a few biblical passages, are expressing not God’s will but their own limited human perspective, backed up by a shallow and self-serving reading of the biblical text.

The bible is a set of stories best enjoyed with an awareness of context. What laws and rules were in place for those people at that time? What was acceptable behaviour and what wasn’t? How did people treat women? How did women handle the punishments and low status they often held? What did people do to get around restrictions and have a bit of fun? It’s important to understand the cultural history that led to these ideas getting written in books in the first place.


Phallic art has Texas neighbourhood stiff with rage

May 13, 2011

Or at least, mildly embarrassed to get caught staring at their neighbour’s dong.

A family moved into an Abeline neighbourhood and placed their replica statue of David in the front yard. People uncomfortable with sexuality in art (and everywhere else probably) contacted the media.

No one has asked them to remove it — yet — though some families believe the statue is offensive and needs to go.

“It’s there. It’s right there,” neighbor Alina Hatcher said of the statue’s “assets.” “You don’t have to look for it. You don’t have to stare hard. It’s right there.”

And how many times has Ms Hatcher been out in her yard staring and comparing, hmm? Is David better equipped than the men in her life? Or has she just not seen one in a while?

The homeowners didn’t want to go on camera, but said they’re not trying to offend anyone and that the statue is just art.

Neighbors say they understand art, but ask does it have to be this anatomically correct?

For sculptures who care about realism, yes. Michelangelo cared. He wanted an accurate depiction of David, he who slayed Goliath. A check of Wikipedia provides some history:

Originally commissioned as one of a series of statues of prophets to be positioned along the roofline of the east end of Florence Cathedral, the statue was instead placed in a public square, outside the Palazzo della Signoria, the seat of civic government in Florence, where it was unveiled on 8 September 1504. Because of the nature of the hero that it represented, it soon came to symbolise the defence of civil liberties embodied in the Florentine Republic, an independent city-state threatened on all sides by more powerful rival states and by the hegemony of the Medici family. The eyes of David, with a warning glare, were turned towards Rome.

Perhaps this couple ought to line David up so he’s facing Washington, D.C.? Or maybe they’d rather he mooned the government instead. Who knows what their political leanings might be. Back to the article.

“Some art needs to be left in the doggone museum,” neighbor Jacqueline Hince said.

A place Ms. Hince will never set foot in, thus will never be at risk of seeing something that offends her? I expect the replica standing in Florence square is proudly naked and admired by all manner of tourist wanting a photo opportunity. So what’s up with these prudes?

Local police say it’s not illegal to display nude art. However, they’re encouraging the owners to cover the statue to “keep the peace” in the neighborhood.

Which reminds me (via same wiki):

The plaster cast of David at the Victoria and Albert Museum has a detachable plaster fig leaf which is displayed nearby. It was created in response to Queen Victoria’s shock upon first viewing the statue’s nudity, and was hung on the figure prior to royal visits, using two strategically placed hooks.

Anyone who wants to claim that morality comes from God is either forgetting or deliberately ignorant of the fact that that morality (and therefore attitudes toward sex and sexuality) is not a static, unchangeable thing. It varies from place to place, from culture to culture, from history to history. Hopefully the couple won’t feel forced give their neighbours the same royal treatment.


An uncensored version of Dorian Gray has been published

April 30, 2011

I don’t think I’ve ever read that book. I might have to now.

First published as a serial novel in 1890, parts of it were considered too risqué and vulgar for audiences at the time, so a heavy-handed editor took on the task of stripping (haha) the most offensive parts or rewriting them entirely. Plus, Wilde had to go back to his drafts to edit even further before he could get it published as a novel. From the Guardian:

critics and academics in the US have not been universal in their praise of the uncensored version. Reviewing the new edition, author and columnist Brooke Allen wrote on the Barnes and Noble website that “whether the original text is actually ‘better’ than the book version published in 1891 is a moot point”.

“Some of Wilde’s original material may have been lost in the latter … but much was gained, too,” she wrote. “This annotated version, though a treasure for scholars and for anyone with a serious interest in Wilde, the 1890s, and Aestheticism, should serve as a supplement to the standard text rather than a replacement.”

Which is how it should be, I think. It’s important to be careful when reading older books because we can’t help but try to apply current ethics and ideologies into them (the Huck Finn thing comes to mind). In this case, understanding the reasons for the alterations in the first place is also important. Issues that affect us today were issues back then, too. Gay rights have come a long way but there’s still work to be done. Sexuality is still a taboo topic for a lot of people. They’re comfortable remaining uncomfortable with it for some reason, but others feel more freedom to be and do as they like and that’s not a new concept either. I think it’s terrific that this version of that classic piece of fiction will be available.


Pole dancing for Jesus just seems seedy

March 23, 2011

Back in 2007, mojoey was “What the hell”ing over an article he’d found about Christian women at a spa who’d started a pole dancing exercise group and today I come across another such story.

“God gives us these bodies, and they are supposed to be our temples and we are supposed to take care of them,” instructor Crystal Dean told ABC affiliate KTRK-TV. “And that’s what we are doing.”

For one Sunday each month, Dean teaches free classes to Christian women who bring in their church programs.

There is biblical approval of mixing religion with song and dance, namely, Psalm 149:3: “Let them praise His name with dancing; Let them sing praises to Him with timbrel and lyre.”

The assumption being, sexy in the bedroom with a pole will stop husbands from becoming adulterers and thus sinning out of the bedroom. Or as Ms. Tweed states, it “actually brings a husband and wife together as Christians to deepen the marriage bond” so go ahead and install one, presumably.

Dean and her students say the class is indeed just another opportunity to worship God and practice their faith. The students dance to contemporary Christian music.

One local pastor is less than convinced by their arguments, however. Rev. Ron Krueger is quoted in the article as he tries to play the “it’s demeaning to women” card which just makes me laugh, considering how many bible verses there must be about women needing to be subservient to men and should shut up when a man speaks and yadda yadda.

Contrary to my post title, I’m in the “they can if they want to” category. If the marriage is worth improving and this looks like a way to spice it up, crazy go nuts with it. Anyone who wants to try this to spice up a love life should take the opportunity. They’re not wrong about the fitness aspects of it. I’ve seen pole dancing done and I was really impressed. Sure, there are other ways to get fit but they want to show off their newly fit bodies during a private bedroom activity designed for an audience of one and the pastor is not the one being invited. What two people choose to do in their bedroom is up to them. Personal opinions to the contrary should stay out of it.


Part 2 for the Break the Silence conference

March 19, 2011

So then in the afternoon, there were a lot of choices as to where to spend time. For my first session I chose to listen to three different people talk about their experiences. Eric is a university student who made the transition from tomboy to lesbian in his teen years to real boy now and reported on how supportive the USSU Pride group at the University of Saskatchewan campus was as he went through this, and continues to be family and support for him and so many others.

Deanne McKenney, a professional educator, talked about the man she once loved who went through the process of becoming a woman and how she herself dealt with that surprise – badly. She shared her mistakes and regrets and very emotional, heartfelt moments from her life as she went from anger, to grieving for the loss of this man she knew, to getting to know the woman she’d become and finally realizing she was still the same person after all. It was quite moving, especially for some nursing students in the audience who realized their education was missing something very essential in terms of how to deal with this end of the medical spectrum. Some of them hope to entice a speaker to a conference they’re prepping so more students can become aware of these issues.

The third one was actually the second to speak but I wanted to write about her last because Sara went through a bullied hell at my old high school, a hell I never imagined it’d ever be there. Mind you, I was there from 1990-92 and was totally clueless. I hung with the church girls and went to bed early. I never knew about parties or drugs or alcohol or gangs or anything else that was going on while I was there. I was so very, very sheltered and ignorant.

I do recall there was an area in the school called Jock Hall, though, where all the cool sporty guys would hang out and tease anyone who looked a bit weird. There was one guy I knew who dealt with that all the time. I don’t know if he ever reported it as harassment though. Probably not. I know other kids were in the habit of taking the long way around to classes and lockers just to avoid them. So the idea of Sara being bullied wasn’t unsurprising, but the extent of it shocked me, from assaults in the hall to swirlies (people actually do that?!) and other shit.

[edit Mar 20/10: looking at what I wrote here, this needs amending. I just meant that bullying is so ubiquitous and it doesn't take much for a kid to be made a target of it. It's bad enough to be picked on for hairstyle or weight or physical features or interests (this I know all too well). When it ramps up to the level of insulting one's identity through race, religion, sexuality, and people still don't do a hell of a lot about it, then that's a bigger issue than what's happening to one kid. PFLAG started an ad campaign in Saskatoon to raise awareness of this issue, and has posters for schools, too.]

It got bad enough that she had to switch schools. She found a lot more acceptance coming out as gay there, and got involved with a Gay Straight Alliance group there. They soon came to the conclusion that it’s not enough to have such a thing at one school; the whole city is in need of it. So they made arrangements for space somewhere in town and just had their first meeting. She never said how many turned up but she was pleased with the number. It’s about time the city’s crappy motto, “Where life makes sense,” edges a bit closer to reality.

Since that talk was titled “It Gets Better,” the Youtube videos that run with similar promises got a mention but one of our Freethinkers attending this session pointed out that it’s not enough to make that promise. It’s not enough to assure kids that things will improve after high school. Things have to improve now. Things need to be getting better now, and the only way that’s going to happen is if support is there from every side, gay, straight, or whatever. They need allies every step of the way.

The other talk I chose was done by Carla Blakely, an ally herself, and a Lutheran pastor. Her focus lately has been on going back to the original translations of the bible to reexamine its interpretations, especially considering the fact that most interpretations have come from a heterosexual male perspective from a time when the notion of “woman” as we have it today didn’t really exist. She shared some alarming medical nonsense people used to have about what women were (misbegotten men) and how reproduction was thought to work (sperm was babies). She showed illustrations from old medical texts where the uterus was considered to be an inverted penis and the fallopian tubes were mislabeled as testicles. They just weren’t making the cognitive leap that women were a completely different gender with different sexual organs. They supposedly didn’t even know there was such a thing as a clitoris until Renaldus Columbus “discovered” the thing in 1559.

Yeah, her talk was really really really interesting.

Anyway, the point she was getting at was that beliefs about humanity and men and women and male and female and theories about the “reality” of Genesis versus the nature of creation mythologies has had a big role to play in where people get the idea that God hates gays and why they’ll embrace that nonsense and fight any attempts to increase the rights of gays and lesbians. She suggested that some of this trouble has lied in the way the original Hebrew was translated, losing its intent through misunderstandings and misinterpretations. She gave an example out of the Greek, too, a Roman soldier asks Jesus to heal his slave. She said in the original Greek that word wasn’t slave, it was “dear one,” suggesting to her that Jesus accepted the nature of same-sex relationships and had no problems with it and translations edited it to be other than intended. She also said she’s run into people who believe the bible’s always been in English. I find that to be quite hilarious.

And that was that for the 14th annual Breaking the Silence On Issues in Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity conference.

Well, almost. An achievement award was given out. It’s named after the late Peter Corrin, who I never heard of, but he and his long time partner, Murray, were heavily active in gay rights across Canada and their list of accomplishments is a long one, including the right to adopt and foster children. What also interested me was a situation in Surrey B.C. involving a fight between a teacher and his school district regarding his desire to include three gay-friendly storybooks in his classroom as part of a lesson plan. The school vetoed that idea initially but in 2002, the Supreme Court of Canada

held that a local school board could not impose its religious values by refusing to permit the use of books that sought to promote tolerance of same-sex relationships.

So that was good. Anyway, the recipient of the award this year was the one name I did not write down. I guess I was too busy listening at the time but now I don’t even remember what he said.

This day was so jam packed with education and information..it really could have been set across two days for the amount of stuff they had going on. Other Freethinkers were in attendance and went to some of the other sessions so after I’m done my oath talk and discussion session tomorrow, I hope I can find out what some of them got out of it.

One point that did get brought up on our way out today, the concern that this conference is going to get too religiously leaning. A lot of sessions had to do with how churches are dealing with gay rights and that’s going well and terrible, depending on what church they talk about, or even what parish of what denomination. Some of the speakers were gay and Christian, or at least still retain much of what must have been giving them some solace during their struggles, but I think I can return to the question Shawn was asking here: why stay with a group or community that isn’t going to respect you?

Yeah, some churches are changing, allies are coming out of the woodwork and willing to put their careers on the line for human rights and a good fight and all that but over all, will the stress of this be worth it in the end? Will changing the churches get easier as young people take up the spaces elder (bigoted?) leaders will eventually leave behind? Are they going to make a difference? I heard a few speakers mention other churches aligning themselves with countries like Uganda, which consists of a government that’s on the cusp of making a terrible decision for dealing with homosexuality: death sentences. If any of those churches have their fingers in local political pies, what kind of future policies will they support or kill?

Something that maybe could have gone on the evaluation for suggestions… I wonder if they’ve ever asked GBTL atheists to share stories. There must be some who lost their faith as they embraced their sexuality. There have to be some who realized their religion wasn’t going to allow them the freedom to be themselves, questioned what they’d always been told and came to realize freedom could be easier once free of god-belief. I think it’d be worth getting that word out, if they haven’t yet. [mar 20/10: meant people in and around Saskatoon or further who'd come and speak at something like that.]


Saw Marci McDonald speak last night; should’ve read her book first

March 19, 2011

It’s called The Armageddon Factor: the Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada. A revised paperback edition is coming out later this year with some updates, some of which I think she touched on last night. I think I’ll get myself a copy when it comes out.

Marci’s the keynote speaker for Saskatoon’s 14th annual Breaking the Silence On Issues in Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity conference. She’ll be discussing other things regarding her political journalism in a session at the university today, but there are several running at the same time and I’m at a loss for deciding which ones I should sit in on. They’re running two sessions over the afternoon with a choice of 4 talks in each one.

A few sound like they’re geared mostly toward educators, counselors and others who might work with youth. For the ones that interest me, one’s called “Giving Voice to the Trans Community: A Saskatchewan Perspective” which will deal with trans people and their thoughts about the DSM-IV and revisions to the section on Gender Identity Disorder. The other is “Three Different Stories About How It Got Better: Opening a Conversation” where people who’ve dealt with social and personal challenges are willing to talk about those experiences.

In the second session there’s a talk called “Que(e)r(y)ing the Image of God” which gets my vote for most likely to pique my interest. According to my weekend itinerary the talk

“challenges the foundation for the male/female binary which undergirds cumpulsory heterosexuality, the foundation of heterosexism. The queering and querying of the traditional interpretations of traditional myths destabilizes heterosexual hegemony and offers an image of God which is inclusive of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transexuals, and intersexed persons.”

There’s also one about human rights that would be good blog fodder, though, as might “The Hetero-Patriarchal Gaze: A Capitalist Story” which will focus the straight white men that dominate media and corporations. No doubt I’ll find myself wishing I had a time turning device so I could repeat the same hour three times and hear all of them.

I’ll write up a synopsis of the day when I’m done it, I guess. Things kick off at 8:30 am and I see there are three talks filling the morning – one about a couple people exiled from church, another from the police about bias and hate crimes, and something called “Good News: Hope We Can Believe In” which will get us to lunch.

It should be good and informative.


Breaking the Silence

March 7, 2011

Should they wish to fork out for this, those in and around Saskatoon can attend the 14th annual Breaking the Silence On Issues in Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity conference. If you register by March 11, it’s $40 for the whole thing and $50 after that date (there’s a cheap deal for students, retirees and the under-waged). It’s being held at the University of Saskatchewan’s Edwards School of Business and they did nothing in the way of making their website about this pretty. But no matter.

Marci McDonald will be speaking in ESB’s Room 18 on Friday, March 18th. She wrote The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada and will be talking about where “in Heaven’s Name” Canada’s politics are going. If this is all you want to take in, $10 is all they’ll charge you. I haven’t read her book but it looks pretty interesting.

Other weekend events listed on the program:

A plug for Camp Fyrefly: “Canada’s largest, volunteer-based, summer leadership retreat for sexual minority and gender variant (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-identified, two-spirited, intersexed, queer, questioning) and allied youth.” — as stated on their site.

Plus workshops —

* Andre Grace: “Helping Sexual Minority and Gender Variant Youth Grow into Resilience”
* Jai Richards, “Giving Voice to the Trans Community: A Saskatchewan Perspective” • Sheelah McLean, “Sexy You!(th): ‘Buying in’ to Raunch Culture”
* Zakaery Gudmundson, OneSong Transgender Support Services, “Human Rights and the Transgender Individual”
* Jen Green, “The Experiences of Lesbian Teachers in Saskatchewan Schools”
* Kit Loewen “Habits of the Heart: Teacher Advocacy for Social Justice”
* Deanne McKenney, “It Does Get Better!”
* Carla Blakley, “Que(e)r(y)ing the Image of God”
* Peggy Schmeiser, “Conversations with Marci McDonald”

It’s really sounding like it’s worth the money. Consider checking it out.


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