If you visit my blog often, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve had the same two books in my “Currently Reading” section of the sidebar for quite a while. Now that my schedule has smoothed out a little bit, I was able to finish reading both of them, and have finally gotten around to writing my review of Dr. Darrel Ray’s new book, Sex & God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality.
Back in January of 2011, my wife and I had the pleasure of participating in Dr. Ray’s Sex and Secularism Survey, which sought to explore how people’s sex lives changed after coming out of religion. Some of the research from that survey went into the book, but you can also download the results of the survey in a PDF report here.
The book is broken up into 5 different sections (Religion in Perspective, Follow the Biology, Follow the Culture, The Psychology of Religion and Sex, and Program Yourself for a Change) with a total of 26 chapters spit up among the sections. Despite it taking me a while to get through the book, most should find this to be a quick read. I’ll state at the beginning that the only real negative thing I have to say about the book is that it was repetitious at times, but that was a minor issue, and does not detract from the book or the subject matter at hand. Others have criticized the Sex and Secularism Survey because of the self-selected sample, but there’s really no getting around that when you’re dealing with the topic of sex. If you disagree, head down to the local shopping mall and approach random people with a clipboard, and tell them you’re going to talk to them about their sex lives. Be sure to report back to me afterward to let me know how that went for you.
Religious people are really hung up on the idea of sex. Whether it’s heterosexual sex, homosexual sex, bisexual sex, oral sex, anal sex, self-sex (masturbation), and everything here, there, and everywhere pertaining to human sexuality – you can bet your sweet bippy that religion is going to have it’s fingers in the pie. The reason for this, as Dr. Ray so eloquently reasons in the book, is because sex is common to everyone, and if the various religions can make you feel guilty about it, then you’re going to have to return to that religion to get forgiveness or alleviate the guilt that has been imposed on you by that religion. Because people are sexual creatures, this guilt cycle is very successful in keeping people coming back to their respective religions. How many successful large-scale religions do you see that are sexually permissive? None, and I would argue one of the reasons is that guilt is a powerful motivator and tool to keep people locked into a religion.
From the Christian perspective, people are often sold this idea that if you just wait until you’re married, you’re going to have this awesome sex life that God is going to bless because you waited. From a strictly anecdotal point of view — I call bullshit, and would venture to say that’s why you see so many Christian marriages ending in divorce, and why you have so many Christians who are disillusioned with their faith. Whether Christians like it or not — no matter how often you speak of sex as God’s gift in the context of marriage, having such a negative view of human sexuality coupled with the guilt heaped on over the years for any potential sexual thought or action is going to create problems in the bedroom for a great number of people even after they are married. It’s amazing how many people I’ve known over the years, both as a pastor and just as a friend, where the sexual relationship within the marriage was far from what people had been promised. Rich Lyons, a former Pentecostal preacher for 20 years, only had sex with his wife about 12 times during his marriage of 21 years! Research from the conservative Schafer Institute matches with the experience of pastors like Rich, and the numbers are not in the favor of the Christian perspective of God’s blessing on sex within the confines of Christian marriage:
- Of the 1,050 (100%) of pastors surveyed, every one had a close associate or seminary buddy who had left the ministry because of burnout, conflict in their church or from a moral failure.
- 808 (77%) of the pastors surveyed felt they did not have a good marriage.
- 399 (38%) of the pastors said they were divorced or currently in a divorce process.
- 315 (30%) said they had either been in an ongoing affair or a one-time sexual encounter with a parishioner.
- Almost 40% said they had had an extramarital affair since beginning their ministry.
- 70% of pastors constantly fought depression.
It doesn’t take long for people to start thinking thoughts like: “My religion told me my sex life would be great in my marriage.” ”My sex life in my marriage sucks.” ”If my religion is wrong about sex, what else is it wrong about?”
One of the most fascinating aspects of Sex & God, was the anthropological exploration of the Hadza, Mangaians, and Na cultures, which differ immensely from the traditional western views of human sexuality. These cultures have a vastly different perspective on sex, which has not been influenced by any of the major monotheistic religions. As a result, it provides an interesting perspective into what things looked like before our transition from hunter gatherer to agrarian societies. If there’s a holy spirit that is universally convicting people of their sin, including their sexual sin, he apparently decided to skip the Hadza, Mangaians, and the Na, because the sexual do’s and don’ts that accompany western religions like Christianity simply do not exist within these cultures, and the people feel no guilt concerning the natural expression of their sexuality.
The 26 chapters of the book are chocked full of information, and I can really only scratch the surface in this review. There are over 7 billion people on this planet, and they all got here the same way. Ignoring or distorting human sexuality is useful to no one, and it is only through studying the topic in a scientific manner, instead of relying on bronze aged texts, that we can hope to understand what makes humans tick sexually. I highly recommend Dr. Darrel Ray’s, Sex & God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality as a useful resource in understanding the topic of human sexuality, as well in helping people to heal from having a warped perspective on their sexuality as they come out of religion. The book is available in both paperback and ebook formats.
Read Full Post »