Hitchens on Religion And Sex

God Is Not GreatFrom God Is Not Great, by Christopher Hitchens.

The relationship between physical health and mental health is now well understood to have a strong connection to the sexual function or dysfunction. Can it be a coincidence, then, that all religions claim the right to legislate in matters of sex? The principal way in which believers inflict on themselves, on each other, and on nonbelievers, has always been their claim to monopoly in this sphere. Most religions (with the exception of the few cults that actually permit or encourage it) do not have to bother much with enforcing the taboo on incest. Like murder and theft, this is usually found to be abhorrent to humans without any further explanation. But merely to survey the history of sexual dread and proscription, as codified by religion, is to be met with a very disturbing connection between extreme prurience and extreme repression. Almost every sexual impulse has been made the occasion of prohibition, guilt, and shame. Manual sex, oral sex, anal sex, non-missionary position sex: to name it is to discover a fearsome ban upon it. Even in modern and hedonistic America, several states legally define “sodomy” as that which is not directed at face-to-face heterosexual procreation.

This raises gigantic objections to the argument from “design,” whether we choose to call that design “intelligent” or not. Clearly, the human species is designed to experiment with sex. No less clearly, this fact is well-known to the priesthoods. When Dr. Samuel Johnson had completed the first real dictionary of the English language, he was visited by a delegation of respectable old ladies who wished to congratulate him for not including any indecent words. His response—which was that he was interested to see that the ladies had been looking them up—contains amost all that needs to be said on this point. Orthodox Jews conduct congress by means of a hole in the sheet, and subject their women to ritual baths to cleanse the stain of menstruation. Muslims subject adulterers to public lashing with a whip. Christians used to lick their lips while examining women for signs of witchcraft. I need not go on in this vein: any reader of this book will know of a vivid example, or will simply guess at my meaning.

A consistent proof that religion is man-made and anthropomorphic can also be found in the fact that it is usually “man” made, in the sense of masculine, as well. The holy book in the longest continuous use—the Talmud—commands the observant one to thank his maker every day that he was not born a woman. (This raises again the insistent question: who but a slave thanks his master for what his master has decided to do without bothering to consult him?) The Old Testament, as Christians condescendingly call it, has woman cloned from man for his use and comfort. The New Testament has Saint Paul expressing both fear and contempt for the female. Throughout all religious texts, there is a primitive fear that half the human race
is simultaneously defiled and unclean, and yet is also a temptation to sin that is impossible to resist. Perhaps this explains the hysterical cult of virginity and of a Virgin, and the dread of the female form and of female reproductive functions? And there may be someone who can explain the sexual and other cruelties of the religious without any reference to the obsession with celibacy, but that someone will not be me.

– p 53, Ch. 4 A Note On Health.

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