Either/Or isn't just a great album by the wonderfully contradictory and tragic Elliott Smith, but also a tendency in my thinking I can't seem to shake off. No matter how fervently I defend the shades of gray in my life (easily more than 50), the nuances, the individual cases, the absolute need to evolve, way more often than I'd like to admit to myself, I am falling back into the old black-and-white, either/or mindset.
You can either be into God or into sex. If you follow God with all your heart, it will leave no place for an equally intense sex life. And if you focus too much on sex and want to find out all there is to find out about it (even within a faithful relationship), then somehow it seems like God wouldn't feel quite comfortable. I know in other traditions the level of intense spiritual and sexual experiences are mutually dependent. No one without the other. But in traditional Christianity, it seems to be one or the other. The virgin or the whore. The priest or the patriarch. Back-slidden or purity ring... And our role models like Jesus and the apostle Paul mirror a kind of super-calling that seems only possible as a celibate. Of course, even in a secular context, certain professions – a dedicated artist career, or the 16-hour-day-manager-type – might not always be the best setting to have a family or even a happy, fulfilled relationship. I get that.
I assume that Christian couples who got married really young might not have these issues at all. They couldn't built up years and years of sex guilt. But why do I feel like I have to choose between sex and God? And believe me, for a long time I did. I was the Christian girl, so I didn't have sex. I didn't even date, to REALLY make sure that I wouldn't even be tempted to have sex (quite subconsciously, of course). Now that I am having sex again, I really struggle to keep my faith. Is it that I think God secretly condemns my sex life (and the evangelicals were right all along)? Or was the brainwashing just that effective? Is my sex guilt the conviction of the Holy Spirit? Is it that my interest in sex is blinding my spiritual sensibilities? Or do really deep-seated feelings of guilt just need a super long time to wear off?
I find it very confusing to understand what kind of sexual behavior God condemns in the bible and what he finds totally okay. Having several wives, totally okay, even though maybe not part of the original plan. Sleeping with your sister's groom in the wedding night? Apparently okay (Genesis 29,23ff). Incest, hopefully not generally, but occasionally okay (Genesis 19, 32ff). Sexy time outside of marriage is okay (Song of Songs, coz married people don't go sneaking around the garden). Several prostituted are mentioned (like Rahab in Joshua 2,1ff) without condemning their profession. Pretty much every one of Abraham's closer family was married to a cousin. All that is okay according to Rabbinic law. It's very hard to know, what type of “immoral behavior” it is that Paul later condemns then. In the newer translations of the Bible (English Standard, NIV) the word 'immorality' is only found three times in the Old Testament, but over 30 times in the New Testament. And it's not Jesus, but Paul who uses it mostly. Why was it so important to him to talk about morality? Because the new Christians were all from different religious backgrounds and it was easier to have them all follow one corporate idea of sexual behavior? I don't know. All I can see right now is that the Old Testament (and Hebrew thinking) doesn't seem to focus on the individual's behavior so much. (I'm hoping for a guest contribution on this topic!)
So to sum up, I'm still stuck with feeling like too much sex, eroticism, fun etc. will somehow “replace” God in my thinking or in my soul. Why? If I open myself for sex too much, is that going to steal God's thunder? Diminish His glory? Is he going to feel insulted? Shamed? I sure don't hope so. Because that would be the reaction of an immature jealous boyfriend. I know God is described as a jealous God. But is that really the same thing? Because that's not exactly what I was hoping for in a divine relationship. Just more of the same trouble. Is that really it?