My posts since returning have been very much concerned with my own journey. They have also been, as is clear from their titles, very much concerned with sex. I cannot really speak for anyone else but there is, for me, a clear connection between my own condition of spiritual and emotional health and the way that my sexuality is integrated into the rest of my life. And it is clear that, for most of my life, it has not been so.
I chose the quotation from the stories of Inanna that appears to the left of this post deliberately. When I first read it, I experienced a sense of shock. There was also awe. What really struck was the matter-of-factness of the statement. There is no echo of prurience or shame within it. Only celebration. It implies a state of being in which sex is a cause of pleasure and joy. Of wonder. That wonder is something that I have experienced often. What has seemed to be the inevitable consequence, however, is that this wonder has later been eclipsed by a sense of regret and shame. Somewhere deep within me arose the conviction that I had surrendered my spirituality in favour of the indulgence of my animal nature. I felt that I had betrayed my rational impulses towards purity and clarity and succumbed to the primal urge to rut. I had descended from the search for enlightenment or salvation and become as the beasts of the field.
This is the narrative that I had heard throughout my life, from the earliest remembering. It is the narrative that underpins our civilisation. Propagated by priests and teachers and echoed in the more secular fields by news commentators and talk show hosts, it says that sexual desire must and should be hedged around by taboo and restriction. Above all, it tells us that our only natural and healthy option is to embrace exclusive monogamy, preferably for life, all other sexual arrangements being contrary to our very being. In living by this code we will maintain our position as human and not animal.
But we are, of course, animal. We are apes. No amount of theological and moral wrangling can alter that fact. All of our cathedrals, concert halls and art galleries must and do provide facilities that enable us, like all other apes, to shit and piss. Indeed, we are born, as, I think Augustine said, between those two excretions. No amount of fine clothes can shield us from our basic needs. No amount of money can buy us freedom from the fatal end that comes with being animals. Neither can fame nor status. Since Gilgamesh tried, and ultimately failed, to achieve immortality his quest has provided the template for myriad stories but still we die
It is perhaps our tragedy as a species that we try to deny these facts. It is also, however, the source of much of our glory. The quest for immortality, if only in the memory of those surviving, lies, I believe, beneath the creation of much beauty. In our imaginings, we can grasp at the ineffable and deliver an approximation that lives on when we are gone. Or we can strive for worldly power and ensure a name lives on. Thus Augustus was deified and Hitler has become a cliche of evil.. Most, however, achieve only the fate of Ozymandias, and become simply a name surrounded by a desolation of forgetting. For rulers rarely create - their forte is so often the attempted co-option of that human spirit which yearns for love, beauty and freedom so that it can be used to further their own desire for immortality. Thus, only a statue remains and the man is forgotten.
Religion, at its most extreme in Christendom, has prospered through the harnessing of that will for immortality and claiming it as its exclusive domain. St Peter holds the keys to the kingdom and will determine who enters and who is cast into the outer darkness. And the prime qualification is to deny and strive to overcome our animal nature. Coupled with this and seemingly indivisible from it is the denigration of women. For these men, and they are almost exclusively men, it is women who provide the constant reminder of who and what we really are. The human body, with its needs and drives, becomes the battleground on which salvation is decided. The world, the flesh and the devil are always there awaiting the unwary soul and are always ready to bring it back into corporeality. Religion thrives on opposition. Its model is military discipline, always alert for attack and ready to defend. And, as the sole vehicle of salvation, religion itself must be defended just as the individual soul must be. Crusade and jihad are both divinely ordained. And, incidentally, those twentieth century children of Christianity, Nazism and Soviet Communism, have aped and in many ways surpassed their parent in this regard.
No church has been able to eradicate our human need to excrete. It would be very difficult if not impossible for them, however, to imagine the perfect human, Jesus, straining to expel a turd. But he must have done so, for he is certainly depicted as eating and drinking. It is simply not thought about. But it is conceivable that he could have fucked and a whole literary genre has been created around this notion. The reaction of the churches to what was a bad book and an even worse film, "The Da Vinci Code", is testimony to the desperate need they feel to deny that sexuality is compatible with sanctity. And yet, if he was perfectly human and sharing all facets of our lives, he must have at least experienced desire and nocturnal erections. Religion demands that such unpleasant facts must remain unthinkable. Augustine's tortured speculation, derived from Stoic philosophy, about sexual congress without the inconvenient element of desire was in part an attempt to solve the dilemma posed by his belief in Jesus being both perfectly man and perfectly god.
In its desire to regulate sexuality to the greatest degree possible, religion has inflicted incalculable harm on the human spirit. The first victims of this were women and later, by extension, homosexuals and others who did not and could not conform to the rigid model of the moralisers. It has also ever failed in its mission, for the human desire for sex, and we are particularly hyper-sexualiseded apes, cannot be contained but ever breaks out into transgression, no matter how severely such transgressions are punished.
Inanna, however, comes from a time before this sick charade began. She is among the earliest goddesses of whom we have written record and She revels in her sexuality. Her vulva is the boat of heaven from which all the gifts of civilisation have been born. The wild man, Enkidu, is brought into the civilised world through congress with Her priestess. But She is also the memory of what was before civilisation: those many statues with wondrous vulvas that have been unearthed by archaelogy. She is the muse, for the love of whom the poets write and the painters paint. It is She, by whatever name, who has inspired the immortal works that enrich and strengthen our lives. Plato knew of her power and banned poetry from his Republic, for the poet, like sexuality, cannot in the end be tamed.
Weekly round-up and open thread
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