Arthur, in his response to my post last week about Christian yoga, asked me to “look at how mainstream Christians can get attention (and differentiation) when overshadowed by the loud—and often flaky…fundamentalists.” I’d love to, but I can’t, and I’ll tell you why.
During one of the debates during the 2004 Presidential campaign, the candidates were each asked about their faith stance. George W. Bush gave his standard response about his personal relationship with Jesus Christ. John Kerry gave what I thought was a fine answer about how his Roman Catholic faith compelled him to respond to the social gospel, i.e., to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, et al. But after the debates, more than a few pundits suggested that Kerry had somehow evaded the question. And, according to that PBS series God in America, that I keep recommending, Kerry himself concluded that he had “blown it” on the religion issue.
In the Biblical tale, it seems that Judah – a son of Jacob, a/k/a Israel – who was behind the selling off of his brother Joseph (the Technicolor Dreamcoat dude) into slavery, moved out of town and married a Canaanite woman named Shua, which wasn’t kosher. He had three sons: Er, Onan, and Shelah. Judah fixed up Er with a woman named Tamar. But Er ticked off God, though we’re never specifically told in what fashion and God kills him.
OK, so Onan is supposed to marry his sister-in-law and impregnate her, but the male heir would be considered Er’s son, not Onan’s. Now Onan didn’t mind having sex with Tamar but didn’t want to put her “in a family way”, as it used to be called, so he engaged in a bit of coitus interruptus, and his seed spilled on the ground. This ticked off God and He killed Onan too.
For one purpose only
Now, what’s peculiar with the interpretation of this story thus far by many people is that what Onan did was masturbation. Thus the word onanism has come to mean masturbation. Others have suggested that it was a text saying that people should have sex ONLY for the purpose of procreation, not recreation since every seed was potentially life. (See, e.g., the video of Every Sperm is Sacred from Monty Python’s Meaning of Life.) The only thing that IS clear is that Onan disobeyed GOD and that he and his elder brother REALLY ticked Him off.
Back to the story: Shelah, Judah’s youngest, grows up and should be married off to Tamar, but Judah was afraid he’d suffer the same fate as his brothers. Meanwhile, Judah’s wife dies. Tamar covered her face, pretending to be harlot, has sex with her father-in-law, and gets pregnant. When Judah discovers that Tamar played a harlot – though not yet HIS harlot – he orders her to be burned until it was revealed that it was Judah himself who slept with her.
He then realizes that she did what she had to, while Judah had dealt dishonorably with Tamar by not providing her with a (third) husband, without which she had no economic means. He has twin sons, Perez (in some translations, Pharez) and Zerah, and though it’s not stated here, Perez’s descendants would include King David, and a carpenter named Joseph, the (human) father figure of Jesus of Nazareth. Which only goes to show that God moves in very mysterious ways.
So instead of mocking Christine O’Donnell, I want to thank her for bringing the conversation of self-gratification to the public forum. Why even Jimmy Carter, the former President of the United States, recently mentioned it, albeit obliquely, on national television. On the September 20 episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, starting at about the 4:15 mark, Carter talks about O’Donnell’s toying with witchcraft in her younger days. He said he’s never engaged in witchcraft, but in his younger days might have partaken in that OTHER thing she had been talking about. A slightly embarrassed Stewart says that didn’t think Carter would be going there. (But he should have: in an interview with PLAYBOY in 1976, Presidential candidate Carter talked about “lust in his heart.”)
I’d hardly be the first person to note how peculiar Americans are about sex. Did you know the movie A Clockwork Orange, was originally rated X, not because of violence but because of an extremely speeded up sex scene performed to an extremely speeded up Lone Ranger theme (William Tell Overture)? People getting tortured? OK to see with the kids. People getting horizontal? Not so much. [And cut! Movie sex scenes not part of the act for parents, kids]
I think, despite all manner of sexuality in the marketplace, that puritanical streak is still stubbornly embedded, at least in the US. If sex is only for procreation, does that mean that people beyond the age of child-bearing oughtn’t to have sex? I think that, even now, that has been the message, which is why younger people tend to giggle at the thought of people in their seventies and beyond still “doing it”. There is a ban on birth control in the Catholic church, which the vast majority of US Catholics ignore regularly.
To the matter at hand – probably a poor choice of words – the Wikipedia article on masturbation has all sorts of health benefits, not the least of which is the lessened likelihood of prostate cancer, as well as increased motility when one DOES want to engage in procreative activities. There’s no proof that it will make one go insane or grow hair on one’s palms.
One is to be “celibate in singleness, and faithful in marriage”, according to the traditions of many Christians and other believers. Even the apostle Paul, who preferred the faithful to be celibate recognized the power of sexuality. So even though I don’t think it’s really anyone else’s business, I’m not quite sure what is it about the act that is so wrong, especially since all reports, going back at least to the 1950s, suggests that a majority of women and a vast majority of males are doing it anyway. How does one talk to one’s partner about what he or she likes without self-discovery? Lack of self-awareness seems the more selfish act.
Incidentally, it was not my intention to dwell on the male side of the conversation, rather than the female. It’s just that it generates greater data. There was even a song in the 1990s called Firing the Surgeon General that contained many euphemisms for the male act, a recent recording of which I found here.
“America has been a land of religious freedom. To many people, it seems impossible that this country could ever be anything but a defender of liberty in matters of faith.
That actually is a very dangerous view because it easily leads to complacency, assuming that what has been always will be…”
I’m not a big fan of Biblical apocalyptic writings. It’s less that I find them true or untrue and more that I see them as irrelevant. If Jesus is coming back, he said clearly that no one knows the day or time when he’ll reappear. Thus, all the speculation about this sign or that “proving” the Lord’s return, something that’s been going on for over 1900 years is, to my mind, pointless at best.
What about “real” books, books with actual sentences?
About a month before Carol and I got married, some of our friends threw us a party. We were supposed to answer a series of questions about each other. I was supposed to pick her favorite book; don’t know what I chose, but it was wrong. It was 100 Years of Solitude, which I had never heard her ever mention.
She guessed the World Almanac. Some folks declared skepticism about her pick, but it was dead-on right. It’s a book I’ve gotten every year except maybe a couple since I was 10.
Now that the computer is so ubiquitous, can’t I find the same info online? Probably most of it. But I know where to find it in this book, with a notation for the source of additional data; in some ways, THAT is more significant than the initial information. Besides, sometimes I don’t WANT to be on the computer.
Indeed I love my reference books on music, TV, movies; that’s why the former is on my list for The Giveaway (see right column until July 3, 2010).
But what about “real” books, books with actual sentences? Certainly, one of the most significant is Lying by Sissela Bok; except for a couple books on the Beatles, it’s one of the books I’ve read more than once all the way through as an adult.
Another would be the Bible, but that’s a special case. Sometimes it’s just too oblique for me. In our Bible study, one of the goals is to ascertain what the reading means for today. But there are plenty of readings, in Leviticus, e.g., that I can’t fathom., even after repeated study.
So I pick the book with the facts and figures as my favorite.