Sex is arguably the most pernicious sin in Christianity given that most people don’t commit murder. The first thing Adam and Eve did after eating the forbidden fruit was to hide themselves from God in shame. They felt ashamed of their nakedness. They felt ashamed of their sexuality.
The Bible says that as soon as they ate the forbidden fruit Adam and Eve “knew things they had never known before. They realised they were naked. So they sewed together fig leaves and made clothes for themselves.” (Genesis 3:7)
What were the things that “they had never known”? What led them to the realisation of their nakedness? The Bible doesn’t explain that. John Milton put it in brilliant poetry in his epic Paradise Lost. Adam and Eve were intoxicated as if they had drunk new wine, sang Milton. They swam in mirth and felt divinity taking wings within them. Carnal desire enflamed both of them. Milton says that they burnt in lust.
Milton’s Adam tells Eve, “We have lost so much pleasure while we abstained from this delightful fruit…. If such pleasure lies in forbidden things, we might wish for ten such trees in place of one…. You look more beautiful now than ever. Enflame my senses so that I enjoy you with greater ardour than ever, thanks to the bounty of this virtuous tree.”
Milton’s Adam and Eve then lie down on “a shady bank” with a “verdant roof” over them and with the pansies, violets, asphodels and hyacinths making the “earth’s freshest softest lap” for them. They make love until “dewy sleep oppressed them, wearied with their amorous play.”
They are driven out of Paradise because of the sin of lust.
The Bible is the most confounding place to learn sexual morality from. A few pages after the first couple is dispossessed of their paradise as punishment for drinking deep of their sexuality, we come across Lot who offers his virgin daughters to the homosexual mob of Sodom who wanted Lot’s two male guests for their sexual gratification. “Behold,” Lot tells the men, “I have two daughters who have not known man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please.” Lot’s God comes to his rescue promptly. Sodom, along with the other gay town of Gomorrah, is soon gutted by divine fires. Lot is saved along with his family. But his wife is turned into a salt pillar for the frivolous sin of looking back at the burning cities. Lot’s offer of his virgin daughters to potential rapists is a virtue in the eyes of the biblical Lord while his wife’s skittish disobedience is a cardinal offence!
One more page down the holy book, we will discover the two daughters of Lot having sexual intercourse with their father taking turns in two consecutive nights. The Lord blesses the women with sons and daughters who will eventually populate two tribes.
At the same time we find Abraham, the patriarch of all the three Semitic religions, offering his wife Sarah, projecting her as his sister, to Abimelech, king of Gerar, in order to save his own skin. “I thought this was a godless place and that they would kill me because of my wife,” he explains to the king when questioned about his heinous act. The God of the Bible once again comes to the rescue of a man who had no qualms about saving himself by prostituting his wife.
Earlier when Abraham was in Egypt he had committed the same cowardly act. As they entered Egypt Abraham told his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful to behold; and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife’; then they will kill me…. Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared on your account.” Sarah has no voice at all at any time. She is just another possession of her husband’s which he may give away as he pleases. Sarah is given to the Pharaoh in exchange for “sheep, oxen, he-asses, menservants, maidservants, she-asses, and camels.” But Abraham’s God will intervene with His characteristic caprice, which sandwiches menservants and maidservants between he-asses and she-asses, and punish the Pharaoh with afflictions until Sarah is returned to the rightful owner.
Abraham’s God will later issue the Ten Commandments to his chosen race. The last commandment is: “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbour’s.” [Exodus 20:17] The place given to the neighbour’s wife is not at all enviable.
David who rises to be one of the most popular biblical kings after killing the mighty Philistine warrior Goliath could not control his sexual appetite on seeing Bathsheba bathing. Once again, Bathsheba has no voice as she is led to David’s bed. Her subsequent pregnancy prompts David to get her husband back from the warfront and sleep with her so that the child’s paternity won’t be suspected. However, Uriah the husband is too good a warrior to abandon his duties in order to make love to his wife. Hence David devices a strategy to get the exemplary warrior killed.
David prayed to his God, “Look away from me that I may know gladness before I depart and be no more” (Psalm 39:13). The same God who kept too close a watch on the first man and woman whom He created personally looks away from much baser acts of Abraham and David and many others as it pleases Him. The morality in the Old Testament is purely dependent on Yahweh’s caprices. Nevertheless, sexuality remained the most reprehensible transgression in Christian morality.
Although Jesus endeavoured to rewrite the Old Testament morality, the religion that came to be founded in his name stuck to the old repressive codes. The mercy shown by Jesus to the woman caught in the act of adultery did not seep into Christian dogmas. Saint Augustine (354-430 CE) established sexuality as the “original sin” which corrupted the entire human race. When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, the human nature was corrupted by what Augustine called concupiscence or libido.
Augustine was a hedonist in his youth. Like his contemporary young men, Augustine indulged in sexual delights which he boasted about. But his sharp intellect craved for some higher meaning in life. Like King David, Augustine is said to have prayed to his god: “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.” After many years of struggles with both the flesh and the spirit, Augustine became a monk and cast sexuality into hellfire.
PS. The above is an excerpt from my latest book, Autumn Shadows, available at Amazon.