Long ago, back in the good old days, to be Christ-like you had to deny sex, marriage, and family. While many see the portrayals of Christ as closeted gay, he was more likely celibate. Christianity was antimarriage, procelibacy. Modern Christians claiming a family position are deviating from the first several hundred years of the church as well as the bible–the old testament is where it says to be bountiful, a barren women is a curse, and the man must perform his sexual duties and not spill his seed onto the ground. Kristen Upson-Saia a scholar of early christianity writes:
The earliest Christian communities considered heterosexual marriage to be fraught with problems and was thus to be avoided. Christian leaders argued that married people were too distracted by their familial obligations to be wholly devoted to God. Rather, they argued that the ideal sexual state for Christians was celibacy. They asserted that since the angels in heaven were asexual, Christians ought to remain single in order to live on earth already “as angels.” They believed that Jesus would commend single and celibate Christians for “making themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:10-12). Finally, given that God’s nature was virginal (literally “uncorrupted”), they claimed that Christian virgins shared God’s very nature and were thus best able to commune with God.
This base of celibacy is common to many religions including Buddhism, Brahmanism, Hindu Ascetics, and Greek Cynics. By the time Christ came along, the mideast had been ravished of most of its natural resources and issues of population were common. Being antipagan meant going against the Roman law to have family.
Although the most dedicated Christians remained unmarried, heterosexual marriage and intercourse was tolerated in some cases. For those who could not control their lust, marriage absorbed their sexual impulses, keeping them from committing worse sexual sins. (Note here that marriage is defended not as a “good,” but as better than other evils.) One of the only reasons to regard marriage as inherently good was that it produced children and that Christians who participated in procreative intercourse participated in God’s creation.
Yes, that would be the backdoor to sex; you don’t have to be celibate because if you procreate you participate in god’s creation. Hmm, sounds like Rastafarianism where they believe making love to one women is like making love to all women and so they’d like to. Also, a great way to guilt and shame as control–guilt that men lust and shame to women as seductress. Asceticism and celibacy are a response to the wanton material acquisition of populations gone awry to depletion of resources and resulting hardship–at which point you either go to war or starve. As humans go we haven’t learned how to live in balance with resource.
It was not Christians, but the pagan state that labored hardest to defend marriage. The poor conditions of life in the ancient Mediterranean made for regular population crises (each woman needed to have approximately five children to maintain a stable population). Thus, the state regularly incentivized marriage and procreation. Emperor Octavian (aka Caesar Augustus), for instance, introduced three waves of legislation that rewarded married people with children (e.g., with tax incentives, expanded rights and released obligations) and penalized the unmarried (e.g., taking away rights of inheritance or rights to hold office). Similarly, small tribes within the Roman Empire also prized procreation for the perpetuity of their line. This explains why tribes like the Jews endorsed sexual arrangements that maximized procreation (such as polygamy and Levirate marriage), lamented barren women and denounced all non-procreative behavior (including same-sex coupling).
A “History of Private Life, Revelations of the Medieval World:”
Ideally a women divided their time between prayer and various kinds of handiwork… Yet all the prayer and all the work (group activities, much as males hunted and made war in groups) did nothing to appease the men, persuaded as they were that women were by their very nature perverse and possessed with fantastic anxieties. What, men asked, do women do together when they are alone, locked up in the chamber? The answer was: nothing good.
While I could tease a lot of meaning from this, for now, the point is the development of honor and preservation of virginity precisely because of men’s paranoia that women would be promiscuous. Promotion of sex for procreation only helped keep women in place while men could philander. And both, ideally avoided joyful pursuits whether nonreligious singing or frivolous dancing. Christians have this in common with Muslims. This antiworldy, antisexual, and constant cloistering of women is historic for both Christianity and Islam.
Physicians alone were not able to bring about the criminalization of abortion. At the beginning of their campaign in the 1840s and 1850s, they aligned themselves with the Know-Nothings, a fledging political party of nativists opposed the tide of Irish-Catholic immigration into America, which had begun to increase exponentially with the potato famine…
It did not escape Protestant notice that immigrant Catholic women had large numbers of children, while native Protestant women were having fewer. Since few new birth control methods had been introduced at this time — although there were the beginnings of condom and diaphragm manufacturing — the Know-Nothings suspected that Protestant women were using abortion as their method of birth control. Hence, the Know-Nothing men readily joined the AMA crusade to criminalize abortion. As contraceptive options increased in the course of the 19th century, those who favored the white Protestant hegemony also supported the criminalization of contraception. As one prominent physician said in 1874: “The annual destruction of fetuses has become so truly appalling among native American (Protestant) women that the Puritanic blood of ’76 will be but sparingly represented in the approaching centenary.”
Ever since Catholics arrived at St Mary’s on the East coast, protestants have feared their US imposition of power–the reformation and counter reformation are still held dear. The secular, religious tolerance of John F Kennedy has much to do with his running for presidency as a Catholic. Upson-Saia concludes rightly.
Given this history, those who wish to appeal to tradition to comment on same-sex marriage must recognize two things: First, Christians who cull the tradition of Christian sexual ethics cannot seize only those aspects of the tradition that support their opposition of same-sex coupling while leaving behind other aspects of the tradition that criticize their own heterosexuality. If one wants to uphold the strand of pro-procreative logic in the early Christian tradition, she must recognize that the tradition requires her also to oppose all other forms of non-procreative sex acts that are performed only for pleasure, including those of married heterosexual couples, and to endorse sexual arrangements that maximize procreation (such as polygamy and marriage at a young age). Moreover, she must also acknowledge that early Christians considered heterosexual marriage and intercourse to be far inferior to Christian celibacy and in need of its own defense.
Second, the pro-heterosexual marriage stance of the Roman state was driven by issues of demographics, not morality. And while we’ll soon see what the court understands to be the state’s interest in the allocation of marriage rights, it’s surely the case that our state faces none of the same pressures regarding under-population as did Roman backers of heterosexual marriage in antiquity.
Once again material culture relates to antiquated ideology. The material reason disappears but the ideology remains and is held fast as absolute.
Jim Newman, bright and well