God’s Design for Men and Women in the Church

America and much of the world have undergone a sexual revolution. The Church and the Family have largely followed. How is it working out? Is there another way?

How are relations between men and women in American society? How about the rest of the world? Are they better than they were one thousand, one hundred, ten, or even two years ago? How are relations between men and women in the Church? Are they as God intended?

Is the Bible a misogynistic book? How can Paul, and the Scottish Presbyterian Preacher James Fordyce (1720-1796, in his Sermons for Young Women), and ministers like me even talk (“mansplain?”) about the differing roles of men and women in the Church? We can, and indeed we must, because the Bible is the word of God, profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Long after our bodies, and those of our adversaries, return to dust, His Word will remain. In these and all other areas, the Word burns within us (Jeremiah 20:9).

Continue reading “God’s Design for Men and Women in the Church”

Sex, Imagery, and Religion

Throughout history, religion and sexuality have been closely related in most cultures of the world. As a result, the images and vocabulary of human sexuality have often been used to express, and to experience, religion.

Sex is power. Sexual imagery is present in every world religious tradition and pervasive in some. Male Australian aborigines sang a sexually explicit song to attract young women.[1] Sexual imagery is pervasive in the major Eastern religions. Hinduism sees men as fire and women as water, but simultaneously sees a man’s semen as water entering the fire pit of a woman’s vagina. Such sexual transformations suggest the religious transformations inherent in Hinduism. As Hindus represent the god Shiva with a phallus and his consort Sita with a vulva, Daoists represent male gods like Mu Kung and goddesses like Hsi Wang Mu in the same way.[2]  Many Eastern traditions such as Daoism and Tantric Buddhism represent female genitalia with the lotus flower. Siva worship, which involves anointing a phallus-shaped rock or other symbol, often with milk or water, is common. Hinduism, Buddhism, and other eastern faiths sometimes teach that sexual intercourse itself is a pathway to perfection. Canaanite and Egyptian female figurines used in fertility rites had large breasts and prominent labia.

Sexual imagery is present, although much debated and much less prevalent, in the Abrahamic traditions. Islam forbids images, fearing idolatry, but sexual imagery describing Allah’s love for man and man’s love for Allah is widespread in the Sufi sect. Sufism is controversial, and is even considered heretical, by many Sunni jurists. Sufi mystics, such as Mansur Al-Hallaj (858-922 AD), have been executed for their beliefs. Still, Sufism remains a vibrant force in Islam. Paul described the Church as being like the “Bride of Christ.” Followers of Christian mystical traditions, epitomized by the Abbess Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), took this farther, describing a “spiritual marriage” to God, often in sexual terms. Jewish commentators such as the Rabbi Aqiba (50-135 AD) interpreted the Song of Solomon as an analogy of love between Israel and God. Christian commentators including Hippolytus, Origen, Gregory of Nicea, Ambrose of Milan, Jerome, and others saw the Song of Solomon as an allegory of the love between Christ and the Church.[3] Modern scholars often dispute these interpretations but cannot deny their influence in the history of Christianity.

In most cultures over the millennia of history, the phallus has been revered as a symbol of the divine in most cultures. The Vedas describe phallus worship as characterizing pre-Aryan inhabitants of India.[4]  Later it was incorporated as a symbol of the god Shiva in Hinduism. The Aboriginal myth of the Wawalag sisters includes Yulunggur, a (generally) male and phallic rock python.[5] Dionysus, the Greek Olympian god of fertility, ecstasy, and wine, was represented in festivals with wooden or metal phalluses.[6] In Egyptian mythology, Isis, goddess of fertility and wife of Osiris, the god of the afterlife, recreated a penis for her dead husband. As a result, he was able to impregnate her and his heir, the god Horus, was born.[7]  During a trip through the ruins of Pompeii in October 1993, my wife and I were surprised to find that most houses had stone or painted phalluses in entryways, courtyards, bedrooms, and altars.

Many people in ancient cultures understood human fertility in the same way they understood agricultural fertility:

  1. As the seed of a plant contains all of the plant within it, so the seed of the man (semen) contains within it all of the baby. No contribution from the ground besides nourishment is necessary, and no contribution from the women besides nourishment is necessary.
  2. As the farmer placed the seed into the ground, so the man placed his seed into the woman.
  3. As the ground incubated and nourished the seed to produce a full-grown plant, so the woman incubated and nourished the seed to produce a full-grown baby.

These assumptions seemed consistent with the fact that men had obvious sex organs, and sex-related emissions distinct from blood and other body fluids. A woman’s sex organs and fluids were primarily internal and were therefore largely invisible. Menstruation looked like nothing more than blood. Without modern microscopes there was no way for ancients to know about the male sperm joining with the female egg – both sexes contributing to the new life.

If this is how early man understood human reproduction, his thinking becomes understandable. If agricultural seed is generally good and failures in the harvest most often arise from troubles in the ground (poor soil or inadequate water), then the male semen should be generally good and failures to give birth must be due to problems in the woman. This helps explain why the onus for infertility fell most heavily on women (examples in the Bible include Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Hannah). Also, ancient people thought that agricultural fertility contributed to human fertility and vice versa. Sexual intercourse with temple prostitutes was intended to mimic sexual intercourse between a god and a goddess, thus gaining their favor. In response to such worship through coitus, the deities would grant reproductive and financial (usually agricultural) success. With its power to generate wealth and sire offspring, ancients found the presence of the gods in the phallus.

Conclusion

People in most cultures throughout history have used sex to understand, communicate, and experience religion. It is no surprise – the ecstasy of intercourse can seldom be exceeded by anything other than the ecstasy of religion. Further, the creative power of intercourse, the ability to make a new human life, exceeds every other type of natural human creative power. Georges Bataille wrote, “eroticism is primarily a religious matter.”[8] Many people from many religions over many centuries would agree.

From a Christian standpoint, sex is a gift to mankind from God, part of common grace, but sex is not God. Further, sex is not a path to God. Believers should not fear, ignore, or be obsessed by sex. Our Creator intended human sexuality for procreation, for pleasure, and to provide a glimpse, albeit feeble and faint, of the rapture that followers of Christ will experience when we finally see Him as He is. In the meantime, Christians must use sex, as with everything else in life, to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.

Related Articles

  1. Song of Songs – the Mystery and Majesty of Human Love
  2. Third Date Sex?

References

[1] Tony Swain and G W. Trompf, The Religions of Oceania, The Library of Religious Beliefs and Practices (London: Routledge, 1995), 35.

[2] Geoffrey Parrinder, Sexual Morality in the World’s Religions (Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications, ©1996), 82.

[3] Frank E. Gaebelein and Dick Polcyn, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 5, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: with the New International Version of the Holy Bible, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House, 1991), 1202.

[4] The Vedas: the Saṃhitās of the Ṛig, Yajur (White and Black), Sāma, and Atharva Vedas, single volume, unabridged. ed., trans. Ralph T H. Griffith and Arthur Berriedale Keith KB Classics ([United States?]: Kshetra Books, 2017), 104

[5] Tony Swain and G W. Trompf, The Religions of Oceania, The Library of Religious Beliefs and Practices. (London: Routledge, 1995), 37.

[6] Anthony Everitt, Rise of Athens: The Story of the World’s Greatest Civilization (S.l.: Random House, 2017), 236.

[7] Byron E. Shafer et al., eds., Religion in Ancient Egypt: Gods, Myths, and Personal Practice (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991), 44.

[8] Betsy Prioleau, Swoon: Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2013), 70.

Buddhism

A compendium of book reviews on common texts in Buddhism. 

The sixth century BC was pivotal in the history of the world. Babylon conquered Jerusalem (586), thus ending the Israelite monarchy. Mahavira (599-527), also known as Vardhamāna, known to Jains as the 24th fordmaker, founded the Jain religion. Siddhartha Gautama (c. 563-480) founded Buddhism, one of the most prevalent religions in the world. Buddhism today boasts almost 500 million adherents worldwide, and others practice Buddhist meditation and hold Buddhist beliefs without self-identifying with the religion. Gautama is variously known as the Sakyamuni, the Tathagata, and the Buddha.

Any student of world religions should know something about the work of the Buddha. Christians should have an idea of what Buddhism is, and how to best minister to the followers of Gautama.

book-review-the-new-buddhism-the-western-transformation-of-an-ancient-tradition

book-review-the-splendid-vision-reading-a-buddhist-sutra

book-review-lotus-sutra-and-pali-canon

book-review-the-historical-buddha

book-review-buddhism-a-concise-introduction

Immigration, Religion, and the West

How do the religious practices of immigrants to the Western World affect their integration? How does the process of immigration affects their faith?

The Syrian Civil War and the advent of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have caused a human disaster of the highest degree. According to recent media estimates, 300,000 have died and 10 million have been made homeless since demonstrations began in the fateful “Arab Spring” of 2011.[1] A terrible situation has become worse. US, Kurdish and Iranian forces are attacking ISIS, but Russian forces in Syria are also targeting US-backed Syrian rebels who are trying to overthrow Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad. There is no end in sight.

Unsurprisingly such misery has generated millions of refugees. Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have accepted 3.5 million between them,[2] but a tide of refugees is beginning to roll towards Europe. Many countries have absorbed some, and Germany has agreed to accept 800,000.[3] Libya, sub-Saharan Africa, and many other failed states also send tens of thousands of migrants to Europe, and the United States, every year.

Continue reading “Immigration, Religion, and the West”

Islam

A compendium of book reviews on common texts in Islam.

Islam is one of the major forces in the modern world. It is the second largest religion in number of followers, surpassed only by Christianity. However Islam is not only a religion, it is also a political system and a way of life. As defined primarily by the Quran, the Hadiths, and the Shariah, the “spiritual” and “material” aspects of the Faith are inseparable. Muhammad was a prophet, but unlike Jesus, who said “my kingdom is not of this world”, Muhammad was also a political leader and conqueror. At his death he ruled over tens of thousands of Arab Muslim warriors that shortly injured the Byzantines, destroyed the Persians, and conquered much of the Middle East. Eventually the sword of Islam spread from Spain to India, from Africa to Central Asia. Below are some reviews on some of the key titles in the study of this fascinating and important faith.

Annotated Bibliography – Some Research Materials related to Islam

Book Review – God’s Battalions, the Case for the Crusades

Book Review – Islam in the World

Book Review – Islamic Philosophy

Book Review – Major Themes of the Quran

Book Review – The Islamic Conception of Justice

Book Review – The Middle East

Book Review – The Venture of Islam

Major Themes of the Quran – Discussion Guide

New Religious Movements

A compendium of book reviews on common texts in Witchcraft, Wiccan, Paganism, and other new religious movements. 

The world seems to be growing ever more diverse, and with modern communication and transportation making the world smaller than ever, each person can come in contact with ideas vastly different from his or her own. More than at any time in history, Christians and members of other religions are challenged in their faith by a smorgasbord of ideas. The internet allows each person to speak to the world, if the world can find his website, and social media such as Twitter and Facebook allows each person to send a message to millions of others, if millions of people wish to follow her.

The secular modernist of 100 years ago would probably be dismayed to see the world today, for religion has become more, not less, important. From ISIS in the Fertile Crescent to the growth of Christianity in Communist China, the disruptions of the modern world have caused more people to seek meaning in faith than ever before.

I have begun a formal study of world religions, a journey which is growing more fascinating with each reading project, each visit, and each interview. As part of that journey I have been reviewing books and articles on various subjects. I will be posting some of these reviews on MDHarrisMD.com. Hopefully they will be useful to others as they encounter the smorgasbord of ideas, and challenges to their faith, in the 21st century.

Book Review – Magical Religion and Modern Witchcraft

Book Review – Witchcraft and Magic

Book Review – Witching Culture

Journal Article Review – The Pagan Explosion Revisited

Journal Article Review – The Status of Witchcraft in the Modern World

Book Review – Violence and New Religious Movements

Book Review – Moon Sisters, Krishna Mothers and Rajneesh Lovers

The Cults of the Millennium

Halloween

On those infrequent occasions when modern man considers the landscape of religion throughout the world, he is likely to think of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and a smattering of smaller faiths. These religions, the “big five”, encompass the beliefs of more than two thirds of the world’s population, though there are innumerable sects and denominations within each. It was not always so.

Of these, before 500 BC only Judaism and Hinduism existed, and even they were different in many respects from the religions by those names today. Instead the world was a bubbling cauldron of tens of thousands of tribal and regional religions. The Greek pantheon, which became the Roman pantheon, the Celtic religion, and the later Norse pantheon, are among the most well known today in the West. Even after the advent of Buddhism in the early 5th century BC, Christianity in the first century AD, and Islam in the 7th century AD, these tribal and regional religions played an important role in the lives of their followers.

No one knows where the holiday today known as Halloween originated, but there is widespread agreement that it came out of the cauldron of Christian and pagan influences in Europe in the Middle Ages. Some link it to the Celtic festival of Samhain (summer’s end) while others to the Roman feast of Parentalia (the festival of the dead). The name “Halloween” is a contraction of “All Hallows Eve”. The common belief was that the souls of those who had died wandered the earth until All Saints Day on November first, when they would be taken to purgatory. All Hallows Eve, therefore, was their last chance to take revenge on their enemies. To avoid recognition, however, the souls would disguise themselves. Those targeted by the souls of the dead could do something good for them and perhaps avoid retribution. Also, the poor would go from house to house in the Middle Ages on All Saints Day receiving food in exchange for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day, November second. From these practices followed the modern customs of dressing in costume and “trick or treat” on Halloween.

During the Reformation, Protestants objected to Halloween as “Popism” and tried to eliminate pagan influences from the Church. The Puritans in New England opposed the holiday but later Scottish and Irish immigrants brought it with them into the New World. Subsequently celebrating Halloween became widespread in America among all social classes and ethnic groups.

Like all things, holidays take on the color of their surrounding culture. The lives of medieval men and women were surrounded by death. The healthiest could and often did perish in an instant, and as Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) wrote in Leviathan “the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” As a result Halloween was heavily influenced by death, its main images being skeletons, corpses, and ghosts, or dealers in death, such as witches, demons, and even the unlucky black cat.

Halloween in America today is less about death, which seems distant in a land with good public health, excellent medical care, and where people die in hospitals instead of at home. Rather Halloween is more about sex. A quick look at almost any costume catalog reveals sexy pirate, foxy lady, sexy wench, sexy gangster, Aphrodite, nurse knockout, passionate princess, and a host of revealing costumes for women and even young girls. Men’s and boy’s costumes are more about violence and arrogance, with outlaws, commandos, and fictional superheroes as standard fare. There are, of course, still the historic Halloween standards of witches, ghosts, ghouls, zombies, and other bloody, rotting and scary costumes. And in the interest of fairness, many children and even a few adults dress up as animals, fruits, vegetables, (modest) princesses, and other fun and wholesome choices.

Christians today sometimes eschew Halloween entirely, sometimes participate wholeheartedly and without discretion, and sometimes celebrate a variation, such as “fall festivals” common among church groups. The Bible does not categorically state what the Christian response to Halloween is, since Halloween is a much later development. Nonetheless it does provide principles to guide our conduct.

First, believers in Jesus Christ should never fear. Some people feel that pumpkins, black cats, and other images of Halloween are so associated with this holiday that Christians must not be associated with them at all. This is false; the God who made pumpkins and black cats allows people to use, and even misuse, what He has given them, and uses their actions for His greater plan. Other people fear the images of death. This must not be, because death is a result of our sin and must be faced, and also because Jesus Christ conquered death once and for all at the cross. Still others fear the magic and what they perceive as demonic influences. Evil spirits undoubtedly have significant influence on the world, as do good spirits, and their influence is not confined to Halloween. However, Christ won the final victory, and if our eyes are on Him, we have nothing to fear.

Second, believers in Jesus Christ should avoid sin at all costs. Most everyone fears death, but few fear sin. This is remarkable because sin leads directly to death, and not just physical death, but spiritual death as well (James 1:14-15). When sin is wrapped in such an alluring package as a scantily clad, beautiful young woman, we fear it even less. While sex between husband and wife bears the imprimatur and magnificence of heaven, the same act between anyone else will result in eventual destruction (Proverbs 7). But sex is not the only good thing which if misused becomes sin. Power and pride, so laudable when directed rightly, so lamentable when directed wrongly, and so prominent a theme in the men’s Halloween costumes, can also lead to sin (Habakkuk 1:11).

Our family enjoys decorating, carving pumpkins, going to fall festivals, dressing up in costumes, and eating treats on Halloween. God made, either directly or through the handiwork of man, every pumpkin, every treat, and even every costume and decoration. He will use it all for His perfect purposes and His glory. Our responsibility, not just for Halloween but for every day, is to avoid the twin dangers of fear and sin. In so doing, we can enjoy all of the abundant life that He gives those who love Him.

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