Different religions have different attitudes towards sexuality. The scholar of comparative religion, Moojan Momen, attempts a comparison between the major world religions, opening with the forward statement that Christianity is the most negative:
“Of the major religions, Christianity is perhaps the most negative towards human sexuality. [...] there are several statements in the New Testament that advocate celibacy (with monogamous marriage being a second-best option) and condemn homosexuality. Such passages have formed the basis of the view of most Christian churches up to modern times.
[In Buddhism:] During the whole of [The Buddha's] ministry, however, he embraced a world-renouncing life which excluded sexual contact. The rules for the Buddhist monks reflect this example of the Buddha. Such rules are still applied in Theravada Buddhism, but married monks are found among Mahayana Buddhists. Of the major Indian traditions, however, it is Jainism that has the strictest attitude against any expression of sexuality among its monks and nuns. In Islam, the attitude to sexuality is, again, set by the example of the founder, Muhammed, who married some fourteen wives and had a number of children. There is thus a much more positive approach towards marriage, sexuality and family life. Monasticism is prohibited and the number of wives is limited to four. Homosexuality is again prohibited. The attitude to sexuality in Judaism is much the same as in Islam, except that polygamy was prohibited in the Middle Ages.
In modern times, the more liberal elements in Western Christianity have responded to social realities by relaxing the strict sexual morality that has characterized most traditional religion.”
There have been periods in history when there existed a determined repression of all overt sexuality. Such times were always the result of religious idealism dictating negative sexual morality and forming culture from the top down. Secular grassroots movements have tended to be relatively libertarian and accepting of the realities of sexuality. Although there are exceptions, in general religious expression has been the arch enemy of sexual expression. The psychological problems that such repression or oppression causes can be severe and sometimes even pandemic.
In "Abnormal Psychology", the psychologists Davison & Neale write that "therapists with a psychoanalytic bent point out that in the second half of the nineteenth century, when the incidence of [some disorders] was apparently high in France and Austria, repressive sexual attitudes may have contributed to the increased prevalence of the disorder"2. Sexual dysfunction may be caused by religious orthodoxy3 and that "pedophiles and perpetrators of incest are often rigidly religious and moralistic"4. The philosopher and academic Friedrich Nietzsche points out that frequently, sexual repression is religiously motivated:
“Up to this point, wherever religious neurosis has appeared on earth we find it tied up with three dangerous dietary rules: isolation, fasting, and sexual abstinence.”
Suppression and distortion of sexual drives is a leading, and dangerous, cause of psychological dysfunctions. British Government statistics in 2006 on the prison population revealed "a strong tendency for prisoners who declare a religious faith to be serving time for sexual offences"6.
The suppression of sexuality and the irrational and superstitious regulations concerning it, are both leading causes of socially destructive behaviour, as we shall see in the rest of this text.
Most religious traditions have subjugated womankind. They have been barred from any leadership, prevented from religious learning or even secular education, and forbidden to hold power, or sometimes even to speak. Although this has partly been the preserve of traditional society and is not purely the result of religious superstition, it is still true that secular society has stood for gender equality for decades and centuries whilst religious institutions continue to struggle with the idea.
“Religion has been an important source of laws and administrative structures that kept women in an inferior position in society. In Hindu law, Rabbinic law, Christian canon law and the Islamic Shari'a, the testimony of a woman is either worthless or given less weight that that of a man. Indeed, in many societies, women have been relegated to a position of virtual slavery. They have no rights or freedoms by custom or in law. Throughout their lives they are completely dependent on males. A quotation from the Hindu book, the Laws of Manu, sums up the reality of the situation for most women in almost every society: 'In childhood, a female must be subject to her father, in youth to her husband, when her lord is dead, to her sons; a woman must never be independent.' [...]
Whether we consider suttee in India, clitoridectomy in Muslim North Africa or the witch-hunts of Europe and North America, it has been religious traditions that have sanctioned and given moral authority to violence towards women. [...]
Women are forbidden to read and study the Vedas in classical Hinduism and the Talmud in Orthodox Judaism. In the United States, women were excluded from Christian theological faculties and seminaries until the middle of the nineteenth century. The religious hierarchy in most religions is male-dominated. Whether Hindu Brahmin priests, Buddhist monks, Zoroastrian mobeds, Jewish rabbis, Christian priests or Muslim ulema are considered, all are exclusively or predominantly male preserves.”
In general, the traditional patriarchal religions are more misogynistic. Pagan and Earth-centered religions tend not only to treat women equally, but even tend to be dominated by women. Early Christianity, based on Roman paganism, treated women equally. Brutal Pauline Tertullian Christianity eradicated this tolerance8. Bryan Wilson comments that Christian churches have remained behind secular society9, which has now come to accept the equality of women both formally and on the ground. Robert Spencer hardly needs to write  that in all Muslim countries, women have severely restricted rights and are deeply subjugated to man10.
Abrahamic religions have contributed to the most negative and destructive attitudes towards sexual issues, especially homosexuality. Christian and Islamic groups are the most vocal assailants on any legal or societal moves towards tolerance and equality. The liberal wings of some of these religions have adapted to the wide (European) acceptance of homosexuality. Many traditional religions reject the scientific, medical and psychological knowledge that we have gained about sexuality and regard homosexuality as "unnatural", a "choice" or a "moral evil". These religions are themselves immoral and evil in their attitude, causing hatred, bigotry, violence and oppression in the name of God. Homosexual communities have become accustomed to the ranting of religious fundamentalists and traditionalists, and this causes a strong anti-religious resentment amongst them.”
My page "Homosexuality in Animals and Humans" by Vexen Crabtree (2005) opens with the discussion of homosexuality as found in the animal kingdom in order to highlight its natural, universal nature. If God created sexuality, then it created homosexuality as a natural and normal part of sexuality, just like it created all the other sexualities and genders found in nature. Monotheists should either police the entire animal kingdom, or give up their irrational aggressions against homosexuality in humans.
The founder of Scientology wrote in his book Dianetics (1950) that homosexuals and lesbians are all "perverts", with mental and physical disorders, and are "dangerous to society", although he does believe that they're not completely to blame for their disease. Other official books published by the Church of Scientology have bolstered this position. The Church uses its invented science, Dianetics, to try to cure homosexuals of this, and many other, mental problems.11
“One of the first major incidents of open dissent against Hubbard's activities came when, in 1959, his eldest son, Ron Junior, or 'Nibs', turned against him and made a very public declaration that his father was insane. [...] Tragedy struck in 1976 when Hubbard's second son, Quentin, committed suicide because he realized that his homosexuality would not be tolerated in the Church of Scientology.”
In recent years, some gay Scientologists have argued that Scientology has changed (although others disagree) Some suspect that the seeming tolerant touted by some Scientologists is an attempt to trick homosexuals into joining the Church of Scientology hoping that they can thereafter 'cure' them.
In Pagan and Wiccan religions there was once a partial personal bias against homosexuality. The Wiccan was an early periodical supported by the major divisions of paganism at that time, complete with a notably anti-homosexual editor. Gerald Gardner was the same way. But that is not how Wicca was to be, and it effortlessly discarded such biases as the Pagan suite of religions grew.
“[Alex Sanders] made two further notable contributions to the history of his Craft. One was to develop forms of it which were more accessible to gay or bisexual men, breaking down the hostility to homosexuals which Gardner had embedded in the Book of Shadows and which was deeply implicit in the Wiccan emphasis on gender polarity.”
"The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft" by Ronald Hutton (1999)13
“Satanism is pro-sexuality. We should all shed the weird and stifling sexual inhibitions preached by the world's traditional religions; Sexuality is a pure form of pleasure, something that satisfies our deepest purpose in life. Modern life allows us to enjoy sex without the risks of unplanned pregnancies and sexual diseases assuming that sense is taken. Satanism supports any fetish, kink or flavor of sexual encounter as long as all parties involved are consenting. We are informed by modern and learned psychological, medical and scientific opinions on sex; there are no dogmatic principles or religious intolerance of sexualities within Satanism. It is very optimistic, positive and healthy: This can only be expected of such a carnal religion of the flesh such as Satanism! Some people like quality, some people like quantity: Just be responsible, take emotions and consequences into account, and above all, enjoy your life!”
Christian clergy have been under much scrutiny over the last two decades after a long series of immoral scandals involving child abuse. The cases have been shocking, wild, numerous, public, and they keep coming. Recently, an Australian fundamentalist pastor was jailed for incest and child abuse after spending the 1990s sleeping with his own two children in order to 'educate' them. Many cases have been settled out of court, some priests have quit, and some have committed suicide. Police and Western authorities have despaired, because they thought that the Christian churches were good place for children (hence governmental support for faith schools, etc). The situation is so bad that the police have called for routine checks of all priests. No other employer or community has such massive problems with sexual immorality than do Christian organisations; and it seems the stricter they are in their beliefs, the worse their transgressions are - note the born-again paedophile priest who murdered two of his congregation.
The abuse has occurred in communities large and small, in private homes and in church. In 2008, the Pope apologized in person to President Bush about the extent of the child sex abuse in the Catholic Church14, and the Canadian prime minister made an official apology to his indigenous population, because "between 1870 and 1996, an estimated 150,000 indigenous children were wrenched from their homes and sent to Christian boarding schools, where many were sexually and physically abused"15. Not even schools have been safe from the secret violence. The worst frequency of abuse has been when Christians themselves live with other Christians, as we will see:
Much of the sexual abuse within Christian churches is internal, for example between priests and student priests, including seniors ignoring and reprimanding juniors when they complained of sexual abuse, and widespread admittance that the seniors themselves had such experiences as juniors. "After reviewing 473 priests or histories of priests who have [abused children] seventy to eighty percent of priests who sexually abuse have themselves been abused as children, some by priests. Furthermore, a high percentage of those who later abused youngsters - whether or not they themselves were abused as children - were in effect given permission for such activity by a priest or religious superior who himself crossed the sexual boundary with the priest abuser during the time he was studying for ordination. Ten percent of priests report that they were approached sexually by a priest during the time of their theological studies"16.
The financial cost for Christians Churches has been great. Recently the USA LA Catholic Church has paid five hundred victims a total of $660m to settle cases dating from the 1940s, and ongoing claims in Ireland continue to receive news coverage:
Faith-based welfare was the norm in Ireland up until only a few short years ago. The Catholic Church, in all its compassion, ran schools, orphanages, children's homes, hospitals - just about everything. The result? A catalogue of cruelty and abuse that has left the state with a compensation bill that could run into billions of euros - not to mention thousands of damaged and traumatised individuals who will never properly recover from the physical, mental and sexual torture they suffered at the hands of priests and nuns. In 2002, the Catholic Church agreed to pay over €128m in cash and property to the State as part of a deal to prevent bankruptcy - the actual total is more likely to be between €1bn and €1.3bn. [...]
To date, the average award has been €66,845. Some 23 victims received the maximum award of €300,000. More than 14,500 compensation applications for sexual, emotional or physical abuse were received by the board by the 2005 deadline.”
In the USA at least, such massive criminal abuse has led to Churches declaring themselves bankrupt.
“In 1993, two archdiocese, Chicago and Santa Fe, declared themselves in danger of bankruptcy due, at least in part, to compensation paid to victims of clergy abuse. Dioceses and religious orders have also paid for legal expenses involved in defending priests and themselves in civil and criminal suits in connection with child abuse, as well as treatment costs for the psychiatric care of priest perpetrators. Compensation, treatment, and legal costs are estimated to have passed the half-billion mark between 1984 and 1994 (Wojcik, 1994).”
Although the legal cases of the past few decades have raised public awareness about paedophile priests, the problem is ancient. The oldest existing commentary on the Christian gospels, the Didaché of the early second century, found it necessary to command that "thou shalt not seduce young boys". Richard Sipe continues by highlighting a trend that has been reflected in church texts since the second century:
“The earliest church council for which we have any records, that of Elvira in 309, has 81 Canons, of which 38 deal with sex. [...] Among those who are threatened with irrevocable exclusion - that is, they could not receive communion even at the time of death (nec in finem) are "bishops [...] committing a sexual sin" (Canon 18), "those who sexually abuse boys" (Canon 71).”
The problems of the ancient church and its grasp of practical sexual morality mirrors shortcomings that Christian churches have today. In the 2nd and 3rd centuries it was noted that sexual offenders moved from one Christian province to another even after they had been excommunicated for their abuse20. This was sometimes the cause of scandals; the same movement of abusive priests has caused outrage in the press in recent decades21. Attempts at reform have been useless. The Council of Trent (1545-63) was held in order to curb abuses in the Church. Pope Julius III presided over this council for three years from 1550. The same pope entered a sexual liaison with a 15-year-old boy he had picked up on the streets of Parma19. That such abuse has been endemic within Christian institutions for so long points to something fundamentally wrong with Christian teachings on sexuality.
The Christian church talks about doing good but now its dirty secrets are out. There is one diabolical organisation that has suffered an opposite fate: frequently accused (falsely, so far) of ritual child abuse, the Church of Satan has watched the truth emerge about Christian priests with a jaded feeling of I knew it! Its high priest, Peter Gilmore, wrote "who can ignore the continuing media-touted scandal of child molestation perpetrated by Christian clergymen?" in his essay The Tide Turns in 1994.25
The rates of child abuse and sexual abuse within the Christian priesthood are confusingly high. No other Human institution, from schools to children's homes, have such high rates. There must be a cause of this level of sexual dysfunction within Christian churches. Christian teachings on sexuality, as Momen mentioned at the beginning of this text, are the most negative. Partially this is due to the teachings recorded by St. Paul in the Bible. Christian teachings on sexuality are pre-scientific, very simplistic and assert some plainly impractical things about sexual behaviour. Faulty doctrine leads to people attempting to bend their sexualities around inhuman ideals.
Many priests, kept celibate and removed from society, fail to develop a normal, adult, healthy sexuality. Sipe bemoans that "the celibate/sexual system as it exists fosters and produces, and will continue to produce, at a relatively stable rate, priests who sexually abuse minors. [...] Civil and criminal lawsuits are bound to continue for some time as there has been no fundamental change in the celibate/sexual education system, and the functional and structural aspects of the system remain firmly in place"22.
Although celibacy is loosely based on Biblical exegesis, it has not always been a required part of the Christian priesthood - it was only made compulsory in the twelfth century. St Augustine correctly said it only certain a very limited number of people.
“St. Augustine, bishop of the North African town of Hippo at the end of the fourth century, is commonly cited as the primary expositor and advocate of clerical celibacy. [...] But he was careful to say that this solution was both personal and God-given. He insisted repeatedly that celibacy should neither be universalized for all committed Christians, nor should it be admired as the result of intransigent will power. Augustine's followers, however, did not heed his cautions. [...] They claimed celibacy as the "higher way." Ignoring his insistence that sexual abstinence is a gif, not the result of teeth-gritting willpower, celibacy developed into a requirement for all Catholic clergy.”
Miles, M. PhD
By forcing the priesthood to accept a lifestyle that is inhuman, and doubling that with teachings on sexuality that are pre-modern and sometimes plain weird, the Christian church may well be fostering the dysfunctions that it tries to fix in society: its broken idealism has resulted in itself becoming a worse brute than the non-religious society it wishes to minister its teachings to. Thankfully, many priests reject the Churches stance on sexuality. Sipe furnishes us with studies, starting with the pleasing fact that Professor Eugen Drewerman estimates that one third of German diocesan priests are living with women. This has been the case for the span of known Christian history, too:
“A noted sociologist, the late Joseph H. Fichter, S.J. [...] says this situation "implies out-of-wedlock partnerships. Some of them are brief love affairs, others are long-term relationships. [...] When Ignatius Loyola assigned the first German Jesuit, Peter Canisius (1521-97), back to Germany to spearhead the reform of the Catholic clergy in the wake of Luther's influence there, the young Jesuit found 90% of German priests living in concubinage. Perhaps today's transgressions of celibacy seem a significant improvement against the sixteenth-century practice. [...] In a random sample study of stress on Catholic priests in South Africa, Father Victor Kortz found that 43.1% were involved in a friendship or love relationship and that 37.7% had terminated such a relationship within the previous 2 years. In 1994 he asserted that these relationships had all the qualities of sexual affairs.
No one has seriously challenged similar estimates of American clergy sexual involvement with women. Regional and national churches can make their own assessments. Whatever the number, women are abused in significant numbers by men who maintain their status and privilege within the celibate system while they relegate their women to the status of a backstreet wife.”
The strain of maintaining, in public, a celibate demeanor whilst in private continuing to live life as a normal sexual adult results in many priests leaving the priesthood. Studies conducted by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops have determined that 10% of priests in the United States leave the active priesthood within 5 years of ordination, 25% leave within 25 years of ordination - most of them to marry. The strain of those who remain in a system that attempts to manipulate human sexuality around otherworldly ideals is one of the reasons why those priests who stay in are much more likely to become child abusers than non-priests.
The Church Father, Augustine, is without a doubt one of the most influential thinkers in Christian history. He taught that sexuality is compulsive and uncontrollable, that once you feel certain impulses, you simply cannot resist. With teachings like these being taught to Christians, it is no wonder that the entire flock has developed such worrying rates of sexual abuse. For if Augustine says that sexuality is uncontrollable, then, that is less the reason to bother to behave well!
“Who can control this when its appetite is aroused? No one! In the very moment of this appetite, then, it has no 'mode' that responds to the decisions of the will... Yet what he wishes he cannot accomplish [...], lust rages in the mind [... and] often opposes its whole combined energy to the soul that resists it”
“'This diabolical excitement of the genitals,' as Augustine referred to sex, is evidence of Adam's original sin which is now transmitted "from the mother's womb," tainting all human beings with sin, and leaving them incapable of choosing good over evil or determining their own destiny.”
Thankfully, the general consensus amongst everyone not tainted by Augustine, is that we are actually quite capable of mastering our sexual impulses in all situations, and that we are responsible for our own actions. But the influence of Augustine and other traditional Christian theorists have had a horrible impact on the morality of some individuals.
“Divorce statistics are sometimes a shock for Christians. The average divorce rate for born-again type Christians (27%) and others (24%) are both higher than that for atheism, which is 21%28. Empirically, atheists are more devoted to each other and commit to more stable relationship patterns than theists, yet the theists are the ones who say they stand for family values. Christian theologians have themselves expressed concern over their own rates of divorce and other marital problems such as wifebeating, which are mostly the same as the rates of non-Christians - and stricter Christians have worse rates29. There is a saying that those who shout loudest are the least capable. The Christian Churches shout loudly about love but... atheists are more capable. Seriously though, perhaps it is that atheists only get married if they're sure, while Christians feel pressurized so sometimes marry prematurely in relationships that aren't permanent. Christian culture can exert unnatural pressure on relationships.”
The high child abuse and sexual abuse rates within the Christian priesthood highlight a problem that many religions face: We should not attempt to mould human sexuality around otherworldly religious ideals. Sexual dysfunction always results.Psychologists and sociologists have noted the association between extreme religious fervour and psycho-sexual problems (the former causing the latter), and the highly negative stance that many monotheistic religions take towards sexuality in general have contributed to a general malaise amongst their lay adherents, and a serious pandemic of abuse amongst professional religionists. The religious attitude towards religion is to behave like an ostrich and stick its head in the sand, hoping that theology can override biological truth, but merely making its victims unable to cope with adult sexuality. Witness the hateful and confusing statements that Christians and Muslims make about homosexuals, the anti-contraception stance that the Catholic church has in an over-crowded world ridden with disease, the harmful and simplistic rejection of abortion and the patriarchal dominance over women that has gone hand-in-hand with traditional religion on every continent.
In the modern world, many modern popular movements provide an alternative to traditional religions, and have enshrined normal sexuality. The secular world merely lets sexuality remain natural, and the New Age movement amongst many others, actively engage sexuality. The results have been much more positive and healthy than those of the classical monotheistic religions. This is one reason why countries that have liberal laws on abortion also have much lower rates of abortion than highly religious countries that restrict it heavily. An atmosphere of taboo and restriction serves limits responsible sexual behaviour. Rather than an ostrich, be a peacock!
"Sex, Gender and Negative Attitudes Towards Sexuality in Culture" (2002). Accessed 2013 Jan 17.
"The Battle Between Monotheism and Homosexuality" (2002). Accessed 2013 Jan 17.
"Sex and Sexuality in Satanism, the Religion of the Flesh" (2002). Accessed 2013 Jan 17.
"Homosexuality in Animals and Humans" (2005). Accessed 2013 Jan 17.
"Birth Control and Contraception: Wisdom Versus Superstition" (2007). Accessed 2013 Jan 17.
"Religion Versus Womankind" (2007). Accessed 2013 Jan 17.
Davison & Neale
Abnormal Psychology (1997). Hardback 7th edition. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Amazon link points to a newer edition than the one I've used here.
Lost Christianities (2003). Hardback. Oxford University Press, New York, USA.
The Dark Side of Christian History (1995). Published by Morningstar & Lark, Windermere, FL, USA.
Gilmore, Peter. High Priest of the Church of Satan (as of 2001+).
The Satanic Scriptures (2007). Hardback. Compendium of texts. Published by Scapegoat Publishing, USA. Many essays are new editions of older texts by Gilmore.
The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft (1999). 2001 paperback edition published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
Bussey Professor of Historical Theology at Harvard Divinity School, Harvard University, Massachusetts, USA. In Sipe (1995) foreword.
Rubenstein, Richard E.
When Jesus Became God: The Struggle to Define Christianity During the Last Days of Rome (1999). First Harvest edition, 2000. Published by Harcourt, Inc. Orlando, USA.
Fundamentalism (2007). First edition 2005. New edition now published as part of the “Very Short Introduction” series. Published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
Cults: Secret Sects and Radical Religions (2007). Hardback. Published by Carlton Books.
Sex, Priests and Power: Anatomy of a Crisis (1995). Hardback. Published by BunnerMazel Inc., New York, USA. A.W. Richard Sipe is a retired Roman Catholic Priest. Lecturer in the Department of Psychiatry, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Chair of the Board of Directors of the Interfaith Sexual Trauma Institution, Minnesota, USA. (Biblio detail correct as of 1995). The Amazon link points to a modern book by Sipe on the same topic as the one referenced here.
The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (2005). Published in the United States by Regnery Publishing, Inc, Washington, DC.
Stenger, Prof. Victor J.
God, the Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist (2007). Published by Prometheus Books. Stenger is a Nobel-prize winning physicist, and a skeptical philosopher whose research is strictly rational and evidence-based.
Religion in Secular Society (1966). Penguin Books softback first edition.
Church scandals prompt action. Business Insurance (1994 Jan 02) p1. In Sipe (1995) p8.