Some reflections on Sex and Religion

We give form to the forces of life. This is natural. But we often do more than this; we treat the rules with which we give form to these forces as absolute, to be revered as God-given.

Dag Oistein Endsjo, in the introduction to his book, Sex and Religion: Teachings and Taboos in the History of World Faiths, puts forth the idea that religion is something uniquely human, insofar as we are the only animals who create rules and treat them in such a way. He acknowledges that religion isn’t only about belief, or dogmatic propositions, but is also about regulation. But can we reduce religion to regulation, to the socially constructed forms we give to life?

What happened to religion in its material, embodied, experiential aspects? I speak from my own experiences and interests in psychonauticism and mysticism, but it seems the author overlooks the sort of religion that runs counter to the regulating impulse— namely, the more “mysterian” and speculative impulses of those in the psychedelic community, for example, for whom revelation and the beginning of knowing is more so a revelation or a knowing of how little we actually know. The psychedelic or mystical experience is oftentimes the opposite of regulatory; it is oftentimes “boundary dissolving” as Terence McKenna would often say, and an overwhelming of what Levinas would have called “infinity”, or the excess of the Real beyond conceptual and bodily grasp. So what about the relation between religion and sex as it relates more to these sorts of ecstatic, boundary dissolving experiences? It seems Endsjo’s investigations, in the essays I read, are limited.

The problem with so much religion, as I see it, as someone who has been deeply affected by Christianity, as well as wondered through other, alternative spiritualities, is what the pluralist, William Connolly would call “territorial Unitarianism”, whereby we treat the way given to us by others, with which we give form to life, as the way. The problem is the fundamentalist structure whereby a framework is enforced upon persons by an authority that treats itself as self-justifying. There’s something troubling about the way fundamentalists appeal to the bible. It’s the sort of attempt to justify one’s self without actually putting in the effort to do so. And this is what keeps oppressive power structures in place— the justification of something by appeal to something which is itself not self-justifying. One can appeal to the bible, but why is it even a justification because the bible says so? And the same goes for law and the overarching framework upon which biopolitical governance hinges in so called secular countries such as Finland, for example.

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