The recent release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report chronicling child sexual abuse by more than 300 Roman Catholic priests over a period of seventy years with over 1,000 identifiable victims is only a surprise to people whove been in denial about the millennia-long history of the relationship of religions to sexual obsession. The report also said that there are likely thousands more victims whose records were lost or were too afraid to come forward.
The real history of religions throughout the world shows how religious leaders and institutions have been concerned with controlling human sexuality through almost any means, especially when controlling that sexuality supports the cultures political and economic powers. And, at the same time, its replete with sexual harassment and abuse.
Obsession with sexual control is due to religions having been useful to kings, emperors, and nations to promote their power kings, emperors, and politicians who funded the religious institutions and were often treated as exempt from the religious sexual prohibitions that were enforced on the hoi polloi. Religious leaders and institutions came to rely upon economic and political patronage and protection from governments just as the religious right-wing wants it to be today.
Sexual control of populations is vastly common to, but doesnt have to be something inherent in, religion itself. Theres as much sexual abuse in those non-religious corporations as in any denomination.
Healthy religion could be used to promote so much else, but that would mean giving up much institutional power. Instead, religious leaders would have to become comfortable with promoting freedom and personal choice.
But sexual obsession and control represent a familiar way religion has been used by its leaders, institutions, and allies to control the populace - adding eternal damnation and other condemnations and threats to sanctify worldly power plays.
Sex has been good for stoking religion because its universal and, in Capitalism, it sells. Thus, at the same time it can be both promoted for profit and useful to raise guilt when its ever practiced.
For millennia, then, religious leaders have been preaching that their divines want all kinds of controls on human sexuality.
Youve noticed that that kind of preaching has mostly failed, right? If you listen to controlling religious leaders who continue to repeat these failed tactics talk, theyre shouting today as much as ever, if not more, that sexual license being out of (their) control - is worse today than ever.
Of course, this is combined with religious leaders claims that its those other religions or denominations that have the problem - proof that they have the Truth and those others dont. Protestants have historically enjoyed pointing out problems with the Roman Catholic Church even though the evidence is clear that Protestant ministers are involved in sexual abuse as much as priests.
Though the Roman Catholic Church has shown that it can act like a major international bureaucracy that has institutionalized sexual addictions and covered them up with religion addiction, the problem isnt just something about celibacy. Married Protestant ministers have also regularly been caught with their pants down.
And, though some still scapegoat homosexuality, that trope was debunked decades ago. The majority of members of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, after all, are women.
The reality is that repression leads to obsession. And sexual addiction and dysfunction and their cover-up with sexual and religious righteousness are widespread cultural phenomena our sexually sick culture doesnt want to face.
As long as we can pin addiction on dysfunctional families and make them the primary cause of sexual addiction, Anne Wilson Schaef asks in Escape from Intimacy, can we then hold onto the illusion of normal, refuse to look at the role of our institutions (especially church and school), and avoid completely the role of addictive society?
As I discuss in When Religion Is an Addiction, sexual dysfunction and addiction and religion addictions are not strange bedfellows. Their relationship has a long history as cross-addictions in the Church, back at least as far as influential Church Father St. Augustine whose own Confessions show that hes a classic example of a sexual addict covering it up by becoming a religion addict.
Augustines theological cover-up concluded that original sin was actually passed down through the sex act he could never reconcile in his personal life. Hence the Church would become a place for sexual anorexia and bulimia.
Even more today, though, its multiplied by that economic sexualization of our culture through conservative corporate, free market consumerism. Sex, the ad industry still believes, sells. Its portrayed as something everyone can have better if they buy, buy, and buy more.
Sex is sold as proof youre a real man or woman. It proves youre finally close to another human being.
Everyone else has the stuff that ensures that they are having the great sex you arent, you should fear. And if you arent compulsive about sex, youre told theres something wrong with you. Even some science colludes with the idea.
This is an ideal environment for religious institutions to recruit followers by convincing them that theyre guilty for having, or even thinking about, sex. This tried and true method for getting people to relieve their guilt would lose much of its power if society werent selling things this way. No wonder right-wing religion is in cahoots with big business and its consumerism.
The resulting societally encouraged sexually dysfunctional thinking and resulting guilt would require institutional and personal healing and learning how sexuality can be holistic and healthy. But the popular method is to try to relieve the guilt and shame by a cover-up the addiction to the feeling of being righteous.
Enter anti-sex politics and right-wing Christianity with its fear of anything it cant control. Hide in the high of feeling righteous and identifying with each righteous cause, cling to the righteous feelings of right-wing Christianitys exclusivism, and you have crossed into religion addiction.
Its easier than coming to terms with what you hate or fear about yourself and rejecting the institutions that promote fear and hate. Its easier than learning to find ones healthy sexual self.
Instead, this righteousness high works, until the addict falls off the wagon.
© 2018 Robert N. Minor
Robert N. Minor, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus at the University of Kansas, is author of When Religion Is an Addiction; Scared Straight: Why Its So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why Its So Hard to Be Human; and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society. Contact him at www.FairnessProject.org
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