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From masturbation to being comfortable with your sexuality, religion is pretty adept at inflicting undeserved guilt and misrespresenting human nature

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In the process of conceiving this article, a powerful memory dominated my mind and forced me to climb on back onto my soapbox to share a thought-provoking anecdote from my middle school years. A girl in my class, a good friend of mine, confided to me that she was in fact adopted. Her biological mother had died due to complications resulting premature birth, and her birth father had left soon after, leaving her in a Baptist orphanage. Nothing much was known about her parents, apart from the conspicuous fact that they were unmarried. She had been born out of wedlock.

This girl, now, is a fantastic person. She’s a brilliant, charming human that makes you feel good just by being around her. But in the densely religious, stiflingly conservative environment she grew up in, being born out of wedlock has gotten her a lot of crap. In her recollection of her life to me, she quietly reminisced the humiliation she faced from local Baptist missionaries who criticized her abrasively “for being a child of unwed parents”, embarrassing her to no end. So these religious leaders, overlooking what an amazing person she is, takes note of only the (largely superfluous) fact that her parents weren’t married. Doing God’s work, I see.

Far from being a passing anecdote of my friend’s life, this is frighteningly reflective of the widespread culture of using organized religion as a vehicle for instilling undeserved guilt by distorting perfectly normal issues you have no reason to feel guilty of. This is most ostentatiously visible in topics of human sexuality—an issue notoriously mishandled, misrepresented, resented, and sometimes outright shunned by many religious teachers. Apart from that, there’s still a wide practice of inspiring guilt of a religious nature for what’s generally, if not completely, harmless: being born out of wedlock, listening to certain music, marrying nonbelievers, being friends with unbelievers , and doubting your religion (which really just goes without saying). There are surely many, many more, far exceeding the capacity of what I can list.

Above, I have described this issue as “using organized religion as a vehicle for instilling undeserved guilt by distorting perfectly normal issues you have no reason to feel guilty of.” The guilt in question here is a manifestation of the crippling fear of the divine: the sense of believing in an all-seeing security camera placed always above you and everyone else, perpetually taking note of everything you do, feel, and think. This security camera, now, is something no one can provide legitimate evidence for, but continues to believe on the basis of faith, tradition, and the “authority” of religious teachers and leaders. Believing in the perpetual presence of this security camera gives rise to a feeling of vehement anxiety and pressure to conform to the very specific rules and procedures set by this camera—and this list of rules, canonized and vigorously maintained by its followers, contains a plethora of laws that you see no logical basis for—the illegalization of homosexuality, dissuasion towards skepticism, maintenance of superstition, among others. But, finding yourself in a community of people rigorously upholding such laws, it is near impossible to express dissent towards the culture established by the worshiping of this security camera. And deviation from the camera’s rigid laws is met with utmost punishment, ostracism, criminalization, and, as pertains to this article, guilt.

The Many Layers of Sexuality

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            Human sexuality is a complex issue. In fact, it’s a very complex issue, and definitely not something psychologists and sociologists have an airtight assimilation of. What you have to take into account when pondering such a topic is that much of sexuality is an enigma, dancing beyond our reach, only giving glimpses at what is surely deeply nuanced to the core. Far from being “straight or gay” or “male or female”, sexuality is an issue far from the black-and-white views of Aristotelian logic. The more we find out about it, the more we come to grips with just how elaborate, subtly nuanced, and well-layered it is in reality.

So how do we trust something as primitive and pre-scientific as conservative religious doctrine to guide our thinking and understanding of something as thoroughly complex as human sexuality?

Thanks to religion, all we have now is a convoluted, distorted perception of sexuality wherein all things sexual are demonized and labeled Satanic—a twisted, misrepresented perception that misguides children into shunning all “experimentations” and questioning about their sexuality, due to the ill-conceived notion that it is inherently wicked or “disgusting.” What we need is a generation of thinkers who have liberated themselves from the shackles of such a rigidly anti-sexual worldview and promotes free, open, non-judgmental civil discussions about such controversial topics, especially in regards to an issue as deeply nuanced as human sexuality. What we have now is a mass of parents and teachers whose central teaching on this topic is based on primitive religious texts that espouse complete abstinence from delving deeper into our understanding of and experimentation with sexuality.

Many have labeled sexual topics such as masturbation as sexual abuse—a moral crime. It defiles your heart and makes you impure, or at least according to them. Let’s explore this heavily stigmatized topic further.

Masturbation, stripped of all its negative connotations, is  simply the practice of stimulating the genitals to achieve pleasure of a sexual nature. This is displayed rigorously throughout the animal kingdom. Specific to humans, it is prevalent—if not universal—among both men and women. But as it is portrayed and distorted by conservatives, masturbation is apparently a heinous crime of a reprehensible nature, lying at the root of evil and causing children to bloom into rapists and perverts. According to ex-US presidential candidate (Republican, obviously) Ted Cruz, it should be illegal altogether. In a nutshell, these conservatives intend to color masturbation as something evil, unhealthy, unnatural, and perverted—which is how we generally perceived masturbation centuries ago, before the advent of modern science. These guys basically want to drag us back hundreds of years. They want to erase all that has progressed in the field of psychology, medicine, and study of sexuality, because they apparently prefer the teachings of millennia-old superstition-based doctrines.

In reality, though, masturbation is generally harmless as long as it’s in moderation . It relieves tension, provides release, lowers risks of prostate cancer for men, prevents urinary and cervical infections for women, improves fluid circulation and blood flow, and provides sexual release for those worried about pregnancy and STD’s.

Now comes the elephant in the room. The unnecessarily tabooed issues to trump all unnecessarily tabooed issues. The condition that you’re born with and have no choice in that apparently define your worth as a human being. The conditions that can get you bullied, beaten, legally stripped, and killed: being born a homosexual, bisexual, or transgender. Let’s refer to being gay, bi, or transgender as “being LGBT” for the sake of keeping this article coherent and concise.

No, you don’t choose to be LGBT, you are born that way. No, it doesn’t make you stupid, perverted, corrupt, or disgusting. Yes, you should have every right enjoyed by heterosexual citizens. Yes, religion is almost universally to blame for the blatant censorship, silencing, suppression, bullying, and difficulties faced by LGBT citizens.

Children are growing up in an environment toxic with homophobia and vitriol against the LGBT community. Spurred by religious doctrine, there is a deep-seated practice suffused in global culture that jeers down upon the non-heterosexual, stripping them of their rights and crying “it’s against my religion!” when this crime is pointed out. Hate speech is covered with a nice lace cloth and labeled “freedom of religion” and succeeds to demonstrates a complete misunderstanding thereof.

 

The Primitive Mindset

The bulk of the restrictions exerted by religion are reflective of the primitive mindsets of its original Bronze Age creators and sustainers. Not the messages of the Lord Almighty, but the fallible humans in need of laws to govern their civilization—laws that reflect the pre-scientific perception of the world. Religion reveals its own man-made origins.

Most laws—don’t cheat, don’t kill, don’t steal—are universal and have existed long before the advent of Abrahamic religions. These laws aren’t exclusively in the domain of religion—such instincts are artifacts of evolution, intended to preserve peace within groups and spur altruism,  and can be reached through rational thought and reasoning. This is known as provisional morality.

A range of religious customs and laws—don’t masturbate, don’t “be gay”, don’t associate with nonbelievers—aren’t fully compatible with the perception of religion as an inerrant inspiration of a perfect deity. However, when placed on a naturalistic framework that considers religious laws to be a pre-scientific set of guidelines intended to bring order to ancient civilizations, and religious stories to be an ad hoc explanation for the origin and sustenance of nature, this discrepancy makes sense.

I suspect that at the very roots of the origin of religion is the necessity of providing a legal and social framework to guide ancient peoples while feeding humankind’s insatiable curiosity about the universe by assigning it a divine nature via creation myths and stories. The negative attitude towards all things that foster sexuality—masturbation, for example—and premarital sex, can be explained by pointing out the state of mind that led to such laws: the perception of virginity as “a gift to be preserved” and the consideration of women as property (inarguably, preserving a woman’s virginity was consistently deemed far more important than a man’s.) Homosexuality was criminalized solely out of misunderstanding human sexuality; gays were seen as demon-possessed and abnormal (infamously described by Leviticus as an “abomination”). Human psychology, let alone sexuality, was far beyond the reaches of the religious leaders at the time. Abstinence from mingling with nonbelievers was necessary for the preservation of belief in their religion, while kindness towards fellow believers was encouraged.  The clearest examples of this can be seen in the Old Testament.

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Along comes science, doing away with the negative connotations and myths encircling masturbation, homosexuality, and a myriad of other baseless claims. The abrupt flurry of new information and rejuvenated understanding of the universe endorses a worldview constructed  upon rationalism and observation as opposed to faith and submission to authority, essentially upheaving the basis of religion in the tumult that followed. After the dust cleared, we are gifted a new sense of enlightenment that assisted us to forge ahead without being encumbered by the superstitious dogma proliferated by religion. For the first time in history, we have attained an informed, educated, rational perception of sexuality and human nature.

It is up to as to whether utilize this understanding, or perpetuate the fear and guilt enshrouding what makes us human.

 

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11 thoughts on “From masturbation to being comfortable with your sexuality, religion is pretty adept at inflicting undeserved guilt and misrespresenting human nature

  1. A co-worker mentioned at lunch today that 35% of people have crippling guilt that haunts them every day. I wonder how much of that guilt is religion-based? Since letting go of religion myself, I am a much happier person. The guilt is gone. I’m finally free.

    Liked by 1 person

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