By: B.J. Ouellette
What is called traditional or old ways, when it comes to the sexual conduct, rules, and formats are not really old or traditional at all. What is really old is what in today’s culture is considered new! It’s actually quite the opposite of what we have been told over and over again. Have you ever thought about that? Don’t believe the hype. Read Sex In History by Reay Tannahill or any book on the history of Sex at all for that matter and you will come to find out that the sexual ways of humans have been normally non “traditional.”
When we use the term traditional or old ways, we are, more than not, referring to a monogamy format in relationship (Leave It To Beaver like). But not just monogamy, but the belief in strict monogamy. What I mean by strict monogamy is one man and one woman staying together without sexual relations with any other human being as long as they both shall be alive on this planet. But is this the norm?
For instance…in the ancient middle eastern cultures men had many sexual partners. Lamech is recorded of having multiple wives very early on in the history of mankind according to the Bible. And after the fall of Adam and Eve (no not the porn company Adam & Eve), strict monogamy was never the norm. In the Bible it is clear that the norm was anything but. And if monogamy was adhered to, the kind of patriarchy that was in effect (or happening) meant men did divorce their wife for practically any reason. Divorce breaks strict monogamy. If you have been divorced, you might have been in strict monogamy, but though you might be in another monogamous marriage, the first is broken. Strict monogamy is one man and one woman for life. The end. To say that the Jews followed strict monogamy is like saying people drive the posted speed limit. Liberties were taken. So much so that by the time Jesus is in dialog with the religious leaders of his day, he has to explain to them that from the creation of mankind, divorce was not a part of what was called “good.” Divorce is iniquity; a bending of what was straight.
In ancient eastern culture sexual ideas revolved around their ideas of enlightenment, like Tao. “If in one night he can have intercourse with more than ten women it is best,” (Sex In History, Tannahill, pg. 164). Sex was a exchange of not just a physical pleasure but a energy transaction. This is not strict monogamy.
In ancient greece, young boys were often used as sexual partners for men of power. “The bloom of a twelve-year old boy, ” said Straton, “is desirable, but at thirteen he is much more delightful,” (Sex IN History, Tannahill, pg. 85). Another telling quote is; “We have hetairai for our pleasure, concubines for our daily needs, and wives to give us legitimate children and look after the housekeeping.”
There is also the famous lustful behavior of the Greek pantheons. Cronus the god of earth and sea cut off the testicles of his own father and threw them into the sea! His father’s seamen gave birth to Aphrodite! As the gods are, so are the heroes of Greek myth. Heracles was said to have 5 virgins in one night!
There have always been many kinds of sexual relationships defined in our world: Concubines, prostitutes, escorts, mistress etc…All had different roles in the lives of men. And there were few cultures where women had the sexual freedom to enjoy their own desires (See Wednesday Martin’s book, Untrue).
We read a good short paragraph on wikipedia concerning general non-strict monogamy:
“While forms of long-term sexual relationships and co-habitation short of marriage have become increasingly common in the Western world, these are generally not described as concubinage. The terms concubinage and concubine are used today primarily when referring to non-marital partnerships of earlier eras. In modern usage, a non-marital domestic relationship is commonly referred to as co-habitation (or similar terms), and the woman in such a relationship is generally referred to as a girlfriend, mistress, fiancée, lover or life partner.”
What is being described in that brief paragraph is something that has been in our world for ever. But what is new is the idea of a better world through strict monogamy without divorce. The world has experienced for far longer the old way of ‘everything you desire,’ man driven, sexual behavior. The Christian way was clear. Jesus said, “have you not read that He who made them from the beginning made them male and female. And for this reason a man shall leave mother and father and be joined to his wife. And the two shall become one.” From that point on for the believer in Jesus, strict monogamy was the way to go. This is what was intended, and Jesus would not bend to accept another way. He already declared this monogamy good, why would he succumb to another order?
To drive the point further, Jesus says that if you marry a divorced woman (speaking to men) you make her an adulteress! Why? Because she will likely marry again while her first husband is alive. It was not so from the the very, very beginning. No divorce. Jesus and Paul never talk about remarriage to another while your wife is still living. Why? Because the bar is set real high in God’s view of marriage. One man and one woman for life. Everything else…everything else is a distortion.
Some certainly will argue that you can divorce your spouse for sexual immorality. But this does not help us. It still does not tell us a person can remarry after the divorce. Another interesting thought is that trying to figure out when is a proper time to divorce and remarry (what is meant by the term, sexual immorality, in Matthew) could very well be moving us right into the same mind frame that the Pharisee’s had when asking Jesus the question about divorce! “When can a person remarry Jesus?” “Can you divorce for lust, self gratification, pornography, an emotional affair?” All these questions could very well be answered by Jesus the same way he did with the religious of his day. “Have you not read, He that made them from the beginning made them male and female.”
Divorce, no matter under any conditions is a distortion. If you think this is the narrow road, you are right! Is is the path least taken. How many really want to remain single after a divorce? Maybe our bickering over divorce and remarriage is a avenue to feel better about ourselves. Who wants to think they have disobeyed God? Yet we do. All do. Sorry if you thought you were the exception.
Most of us have a pagan tradition! Pagan was a term that was used by early Christians to show disgust for the worship and lifestyles of opposing cultures. It is a derogatory word, and one I am not sure should have been used so much (not convinced it helps in reaching out). When Jesus was discussing who really worships the right way with a woman of Jericho, he said, “We know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.” It was clear to Jesus that Samaritans and other cultures influenced by opposing ideas on God from the Jews were wrong. But he did not use a term like pagan to describe them. He used the word Gentile.
This term had at first not the slightest connection with religion. Derived from the Latin pagus, the country, a paganus denoted a peasant or villager. Removed from the refinement of the cities such a one had, of course, very little acquaintance with the complicated system of Roman mythology. On this account only could it be said that those who remained unconverted to Christianity were Pagans. .https://www.definitions.net/definition/pagan
Interesting for sure…What does it mean? Whether we use the term pagan or another, we can be sure that our great, great, great…etc…grandparents were into all kinds of sexual practices that go against strict monogamy. But not just that. Most of our Christian ancestors did not uphold a strict monogamy as well. Christians throughout the ages divorced for many reasons. The strict monogamy way is certainly the new compared to the normal way of sexual relationships. It is so super difficult to live this way that it might be just a very few that never deviate.
“more than 83% of human societies were preferentially polygamous, and that polygamy was also prominent in the ancient Near East from which that presumed Western move to monogamy originated. So my question for now is: Why did such a large segment of human society switch from polygamy to monogamy? And my first answer is: at present, we don’t know.” David P. Barash Ph.D.
The reason today’s culture see’s the ‘old way’ of pagan behavior as ‘new,’ is because all it has known is the new prosperous way of stricter monogamy as a dominant structure in society. The reason I say prosperous is because I am not convinced the women’s liberation movement could thrive in any other circumstance than in a monogamous culture. Could it have progressed in a commonly oppressive polygamous one? It didn’t. It was a monogamous culture that gave way for women rights, and for the husband (one man) to think once again about how he treated his spouse.
Though this structure has been in place due to the strong influence of Christianity, we now are finally realizing that maybe we don’t want the Christian way dominating our lives? Maybe the old way of doing things was better, or at least we can do it better today with our more civilized way of treating women and children. Today’s version of humanity will do better. But this logic if taken as true presumes that the past society’s version of humanism also believed it was doing better than the one before. This becomes a infinite regression of thinking we are doing it better, but if that’s the case, we can’t say we are doing it better, as a future generation is sure to think our way is unorthodox or even destructive. It is normal for us to think we have it down better. This was atheist Christopher Hitchens argument. We can do it better. Humanism has improved. But when one says, ” this is better,” there must be a best, and ideal. And who’s to say what that is?
But in a supposed civilized society which we all like to think we are in, there is the constant de–humanizing and objectification of one another through the various forms of entertainment we have around us. Our music, games, movies, etc…all portray ill behaviors that do not benefit the other. This is just a reflection of us, is it not? Are we really becoming more civilized or just greater pharisees? I’m reminded of a great quote by Blaze Pascal at the moment (but I’ll spare you).
There is a three year rule we see in the Bible. It’s found in the book of Judges. After three generations the people of Israel go right back to there old ways of following hard after other gods. They forgot the “I AM,” altogether. The book of Deuteronomy Chapters 4 and 6 focus on remembering God and what would happen when they would’t. Maybe the reason King David told His own soul to bless the lord was that he knew how prone he was to forget.
Christianity says that there is an objective way to determine was is best. It is not what we think, but what God has revealed. Can Christianity be true? If there is just a tiny bit of possibility that it could be, then all current judgements should be measured by the surety of what could be after we die. As Pascal once said, “Death is eternal…no matter what state it is in.” If we see a lack of evidence for God, it could be that He does not exist, or it could also indicate that we are that bad, to be unworthy of such a God.
It’s easy in any generation to forget what has been! Our human condition thinks we are inventing the new. But is there anything really new under the sun? I tend to think we are in a game of chess. We can move positions, but we still are on the board. Humans can only play according the rules of human nature. We have always, only been able to do that.
So in a way, what we call traditional marriage today isn’t really traditional. We have it all backwards! The liberal view of sexual relationships is actually the traditional way that has dominated the globe. It is the strict monogamous peeps that are wanting to do the “new thing!”
Many times we read things like the below quote, “We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goals consist solely of one’s own ego and desires.” From a homily given by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
This is the way of mankind. It always has been. Selfishness is the norm, we are woefully given over to it! A super natural grace is needed to pull us out of such a place. This is where the words of Jesus penetrate the most! If you being evil know how to give gifts to your children, how much more will my Father give you the Holy Spirit! And isn’t that what is needed; Something new…really new!