The Peacock vs. the Ostrich - Religious Behaviour and Sexuality

1. The Attitudes of World Religions Towards Sexuality: Be an Ostrich

Different religions have different attitudes towards sexuality, but in general, the major monotheistic religions have had very negative attitudes towards sexuality, leading to a statistically high number of psychosexual disorders as a result of suppression and abnormal teachings on sexuality. The scholar of comparative religion, Moojan Momen, attempts a comparison between the major world religions, opening with the forward statement that Christianity is the most negative:

Book CoverOf the major religions, Christianity is perhaps the most negative towards human sexuality. [...] there are several statements in the New Testament that advocate celibacy (with monogamous marriage being a second-best option) and condemn homosexuality. Such passages have formed the basis of the view of most Christian churches up to modern times.

[In Buddhism:] During the whole of [The Buddha's] ministry, however, he embraced a world-renouncing life which excluded sexual contact. The rules for the Buddhist monks reflect this example of the Buddha. Such rules are still applied in Theravada Buddhism, but married monks are found among Mahayana Buddhists. Of the major Indian traditions, however, it is Jainism that has the strictest attitude against any expression of sexuality among its monks and nuns. In Islam, the attitude to sexuality is, again, set by the example of the founder, Muhammed, who married some fourteen wives and had a number of children. There is thus a much more positive approach towards marriage, sexuality and family life. Monasticism is prohibited and the number of wives is limited to four. Homosexuality is again prohibited. The attitude to sexuality in Judaism is much the same as in Islam, except that polygamy was prohibited in the Middle Ages.

In modern times, the more liberal elements in Western Christianity have responded to social realities by relaxing the strict sexual morality that has characterized most traditional religion.

"The Phenomenon Of Religion: A Thematic Approach" by Moojan Momen (1999) [Book Review]1

Nearly all fundamentalist religious organisations reject human rights, and in particular, reject women's rights and are also hostile to homosexuality, transvestitism and any other sexuality that is not traditional patriarchialism. They "typically exclude women from the senior ranks of religious leadership. All or almost all express concern about control of female sexuality"2. But in history, all these things were not the preserve of extremists: they were the mainstream positions of mainstream Christian churches. There have been periods in history when there existed a determined repression of all overt sexuality. Such times were always the result of religious idealism dictating negative sexual morality and forming culture from the top down. Secular grassroots movements have tended to be relatively libertarian and accepting of the realities of sexuality. Although there are exceptions, in general religious expression has been the arch enemy of sexual expression. The psychological problems that such repression or oppression causes can be severe and sometimes even pandemic.

Book CoverIn "Abnormal Psychology", the psychologists Davison & Neale write that "therapists with a psychoanalytic bent point out that in the second half of the nineteenth century, when the incidence of [some disorders] was apparently high in France and Austria, repressive sexual attitudes may have contributed to the increased prevalence of the disorder"3. Sexual dysfunction may be caused by religious orthodoxy4 and that "pedophiles and perpetrators of incest are often rigidly religious and moralistic"5. The philosopher and academic Friedrich Nietzsche points out that frequently, sexual repression is religiously motivated:

Book CoverUp to this point, wherever religious neurosis has appeared on earth we find it tied up with three dangerous dietary rules: isolation, fasting, and sexual abstinence.

"Beyond Good and Evil" by Friedrich Nietzsche (1886)6

Suppression and distortion of sexual drives is a leading, and dangerous, cause of psychological dysfunctions. British Government statistics in 2006 on the prison population revealed "a strong tendency for prisoners who declare a religious faith to be serving time for sexual offences"7. Irrational and superstitious beliefs concerning sexuality are two leading causes of socially destructive behaviour, in particular when it comes to the rejection of human rights.

2. Gender Politics: Patriarchal Religions Have Become Anachronistic

"Religion Versus Womankind" by Vexen Crabtree (2007) contains a fuller discussion of these issues.

Most religious traditions have subjugated womankind. They have been barred from any leadership, prevented from religious learning or even secular education, and forbidden to hold power, or sometimes even to speak. Although this has partly been the preserve of traditional society and is not purely the result of religious superstition, it is still true that secular society has stood for gender equality for decades and centuries whilst religious institutions continue to struggle with the idea.

Religion has been an important source of laws and administrative structures that kept women in an inferior position in society. In Hindu law, Rabbinic law, Christian canon law and the Islamic Shari'a, the testimony of a woman is either worthless or given less weight than that of a man. Indeed, in many societies, women have been relegated to a position of virtual slavery. They have no rights or freedoms by custom or in law. Throughout their lives they are completely dependent on males. A quotation from the Hindu book, the Laws of Manu, sums up the reality of the situation for most women in almost every society: 'In childhood, a female must be subject to her father, in youth to her husband, when her lord is dead, to her sons; a woman must never be independent.' [...]

Whether we consider suttee in India, clitoridectomy in Muslim North Africa or the witch-hunts of Europe and North America, it has been religious traditions that have sanctioned and given moral authority to violence towards women. [...]

Women are forbidden to read and study the Vedas in classical Hinduism and the Talmud in Orthodox Judaism. In the United States, women were excluded from Christian theological faculties and seminaries until the middle of the nineteenth century. The religious hierarchy in most religions is male-dominated. Whether Hindu Brahmin priests, Buddhist monks, Zoroastrian mobeds, Jewish rabbis, Christian priests or Muslim ulema are considered, all are exclusively or predominantly male preserves.

"The Phenomenon Of Religion: A Thematic Approach" by Moojan Momen (1999) [Book Review]8

In general, the traditional patriarchal religions are more misogynistic. Pagan and Earth-centered religions tend not only to treat women equally, but even tend to be dominated by women. Early Christianity, based on Roman paganism, treated women equally. Brutal Pauline Tertullian Christianity eradicated this tolerance9. Bryan Wilson comments that Christian churches have remained behind secular society10, which has now come to accept the equality of women both formally and on the ground. Robert Spencer hardly needs to write [2005] that in all Muslim countries, women have severely restricted rights and are deeply subjugated to man11.

3. Christianity: The Anti-Sex Message of the Church Produces Sexual Dysfunction 12

From the second century onwards, a range of Christian movements emerged which hated sex and all things sexual13. A stream of writings from the Church Fathers and other senior Christians denounced sex in every way possible; it was evil and Satanic, and must only be indulged in when resistance was impossible, and only with your wife for the purpose of procreation. Alongside those of St Paul, these writings appear from the very beginning of Christianity, and can still be found in many modern Christian churches, highlighted by the doctrine of the celibacy of Catholic clergy. This Christian abhorrence of sexual human nature became very influential throughout the West14 from before the lead-up to the dark ages until the modern era in which Christian power has waned. The misguided anti-carnality message has been responsible for more sexual dysfunction in adult males than any other force of history. Statistically, Christians divorce more frequently than atheists and non-religious folk15. Christian clergy and institutions have been under much scrutiny over the last two decades after a long series of horrible scandals involving child abuse. The cases have been shocking, wild, numerous, public, and they just keep rolling on with no end in sight16. The effect of organized Christianity against birth control has had a deleterious impact on the control of sexually transmitted diseases and has been instrumental on speeding us all towards an increasingly overpopulated planet17.

"Christianity and Sexuality: The Damaging Results of Faulty Teachings" by Vexen Crabtree (2015)

Page contents of Christianity and Sexuality: The Damaging Results of Faulty Teachings:

4. Homosexuality

4.1. The Battle Between Monotheism and Homosexuality

Abrahamic religions have contributed to the most negative and destructive attitudes towards sexual issues, especially homosexuality. Christian and Islamic communities and organisations are the most vocal assailants on any legal or societal moves towards tolerance and equality. The liberal wings of some of these religions have adapted to the wide (European) acceptance of homosexuality. Many traditional religions reject the scientific, medical and psychological knowledge that we have gained about sexuality and regard homosexuality as "unnatural", a "choice" or a "moral evil". These religions are themselves immoral and evil in their attitude, causing hatred, bigotry, violence and oppression in the name of God. Homosexual communities have become accustomed to the ranting of religious fundamentalists and traditionalists, and this causes a strong anti-religious resentment amongst them.

"The Battle Between Monotheism and Homosexuality: Religious Prejudice Versus Equality: 8. Conclusions" by Vexen Crabtree (2014)

My page "Homosexuality in Animals and Humans" by Vexen Crabtree (2013) opens with the discussion of homosexuality as found in the animal kingdom in order to highlight its natural, universal nature. If God created sexuality, then it created homosexuality as a natural and normal part of sexuality, just like it created all the other sexualities and genders found in nature. Monotheists should either police the entire animal kingdom, or give up their irrational aggressions against homosexuality in humans.

4.2. Scientology

The founder of Scientology wrote in his book Dianetics (1950) that homosexuals and lesbians are all "perverts", with mental and physical disorders, and are "dangerous to society", although he does believe that they're not completely to blame for their disease. Other official books published by the Church of Scientology have bolstered this position. The Church uses its invented science, Dianetics, to try to cure homosexuals of this, and many other, mental problems.18

One of the first major incidents of open dissent against Hubbard's activities came when, in 1959, his eldest son, Ron Junior, or 'Nibs', turned against him and made a very public declaration that his father was insane. [...] Tragedy struck in 1976 when Hubbard's second son, Quentin, committed suicide because he realized that his homosexuality would not be tolerated in the Church of Scientology.

"Cults: Secret Sects and Radical Religions" by Robert Schroëder (2007)19

In recent years (as of 2011), some gay Scientologists have argued that Scientology has changed (although others disagree) Some suspect that the seeming tolerance touted by some Scientologists is an attempt to trick homosexuals into joining the Church of Scientology hoping that they can thereafter 'cure' them. But Scientology has proven itself to be continuing in its stance against homosexuality politically.

In the book Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright & Alfred A. Knopf, a story is told about Hollywood screenwriter Paul Haggis, who joined Scientology in 1975. "He didn't begin asking questions until 2008, when the Church's name appeared on a list of organizations supporting Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative to ban gay marriage. When Haggis, two of whose daughters are gay, failed to get satisfactory answers about the issue, he began researching the Church he thought he knew. What he learned led to his resignation. He tells Wright: 'I was in a cult for thirty-four years. Everyone else could see it. I don't know why I couldn't' "20.

4.3. Oppression to Enlightenment: Paganism, Wicca and Satanism

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Wicca is one example amongst many New Religious Movements that have rejected the loathing of homosexuality found in traditional monotheistic religions. But in its foundation Wicca could not cope with homosexuality. The Gardnerian Book of Shadows was strictly a heterosexual affair, and, one of the earliest and most successful Pagan periodicals throughout the 1970s was called The Wiccan, and showed outright hostility towards homosexuality21. But all of this changed. Alex Sanders' version of Wicca removed this bias21, and, the entire Wiccan community (alongside Pagans in general) now proclaim their distaste of prejudice based on sexuality.

Another religion that has reached this pinnacle is Satanism. What they have in common is modernity and non-monotheism.

Satanism is pro-sexuality. We should all shed the weird and stifling sexual inhibitions preached by the world's traditional religions; Sexuality is a pure form of pleasure, something that satisfies our deepest purpose in life. Modern life allows us to enjoy sex without the risks of unplanned pregnancies and sexual diseases assuming that sense is taken. Satanism supports any fetish, kink or flavor of sexual encounter as long as all parties involved are consenting. We are informed by modern and learned psychological, medical and scientific opinions on sex; there are no dogmatic principles or religious intolerance of sexualities within Satanism. It is very optimistic, positive and healthy: This can only be expected of such a carnal religion of the flesh such as Satanism! Some people like quality, some people like quantity: Just be responsible, take emotions and consequences into account, and above all, enjoy your life!

"Sex and Sexuality in Satanism, the Religion of the Flesh: 2. Sexuality in Satanism: Liberal and Tolerant"
Vexen Crabtree

5. Conclusions: Be a Peacock (Secular Society and New Religious Movements Excepted)

The high child abuse and sexual abuse rates within the Christian priesthood highlight a problem that many religions face: We should not attempt to mould human sexuality around otherworldly religious ideals. Sexual dysfunction always results. Psychologists and sociologists have noted the association between extreme religious fervour and psycho-sexual problems (the former causing the latter), and the highly negative stance that many monotheistic religions take towards sexuality in general have contributed to a general malaise amongst their lay adherents, and a serious pandemic of abuse amongst professional religionists. The religious attitude towards religion is to behave like an ostrich and stick its head in the sand, hoping that theology can override biological truth, but merely making its victims unable to cope with adult sexuality. Witness the hateful and confusing statements that Christians and Muslims make about homosexuals, the anti-contraception stance that the Catholic church has in an over-crowded world ridden with disease, the harmful and simplistic rejection of abortion and the patriarchal dominance over women that has gone hand-in-hand with traditional religion on every continent.

Many religious practices are somewhat more positive towards sexuality than Christianity. The scholar Veronique Mottier gives the example of Judaism, which disapproves of abstinence22. Karen Armstrong reminds us that "Certain sects in Buddhism and Hinduism have used sex as a mystical activity. Everybody has heard of the Karma Sutra but not everybody is aware that this is not just a sex manual, but a method of achieving transcendence and spiritual enlightenment. Christianity is unique in having hated and outlawed sex and in making people feel guilty because they are sexual beings"23. But it is not just the subject of sex which is important to a discussion on sexuality - it still must be remembered that all traditional religions have normalized the dominance of men over women, and often obsessed over matters such as female dress.

In the modern world, many modern popular movements provide an alternative to traditional religions, and have enshrined normal sexuality. The secular world merely lets sexuality remain natural, and the New Age movement amongst many others, actively engage sexuality. The results have been much more positive and healthy than those of the classical monotheistic religions. This is one reason why countries that have liberal laws on abortion also have much lower rates of abortion than highly religious countries that restrict abortion heavily. An atmosphere of taboo and restriction serves limits responsible sexual behaviour. Rather than an ostrich, be a peacock!

Wicca is an example new religious movement with such a positive stance:

Implicit and explicit sexual symbolism is found in many aspects of Wicca.

"Wicca as Modern-Day Mystery Religion"
Vivianne Crowley (1995)24

Much of the symbolism surrounding the cycle of the year, the festivals, and the idea of divinity, is sexual in nature. Wicca is a pro-sexuality religion, and you will find none of the superstitious, dogmatic or ascetic restraints that you find in other religions. Representations of the sexual, from phallic symbols to mythological stories involving procreation, are not hidden away from sight. Christian evangelicals tend to obsess over belief systems that are open about sexuality, and thusly they criticize Wicca on that basis. But Wicca is not licentious - it simply has a mature and adult approach to sexuality.

"Wicca - The Rise of a Western Mystery Religion Based on Witchcraft: 2.6. Sexuality: A Mature and Adult Religion" by Vexen Crabtree (2014)

Read / Write LJ Comments

By Vexen Crabtree 2008 Jan 24
(Last Modified: 2015 Sep 13)
Parent page: Human Religions

Social Media

References: (What's this?)

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Skeptical Inquirer. Pro-science magazine published bimonthly by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, New York, USA.

Armstrong, Karen
(1986) The Gospel According to Woman: Christianity's Creation of the Sex War in the West. Subtitled "Christianity's Creation of the Sex War in the West". Hardback. Published by Elm Tree Books/Hamish Hamilton Ltd, London, UK.

Crabtree, Vexen
(2002) "Sex and Sexuality in Satanism, the Religion of the Flesh" (2002). Accessed 2015 Sep 13.
(2007) "Religion Versus Womankind" (2007). Accessed 2015 Sep 13.
(2013) "Homosexuality in Animals and Humans" (2013). Accessed 2015 Sep 13.
(2013) "Abortion, Birth Control and Contraception: How Religion is Making Overpopulation Worse" (2013). Accessed 2015 Sep 13.
(2014) "Hot Topics in Human Sexuality" (2014). Accessed 2015 Sep 13.
(2014) "The Battle Between Monotheism and Homosexuality: Religious Prejudice Versus Equality" (2014). Accessed 2015 Sep 13.

Crowley, Vivianne
(1995) Wicca as Modern-Day Mystery Religion. This essay is in "Pagan Pathways" by Graham Harvey & Charlotte Hardman (1995) (pages 81-93).

Davison & Neale
(1997) Abnormal Psychology. Hardback 7th edition. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Amazon link points to a newer edition than the one I've used here.

Ehrman, Bart
(2003) Lost Christianities. Hardback. Oxford University Press, New York, USA.

Harvey, Graham & Hardman, Charlotte
(1995) Pagan Pathways. First published by Thorsons 1995. All quotes taken from Thorsons 2000 edition.

Hutton, Ronald
(1999) The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. 2001 paperback edition published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.

Momen, Moojan
(1999) The Phenomenon Of Religion: A Thematic Approach. Published by Oneworld Publications, Oxford, UK. [Book Review]

Mottier, Veronique
(2008) Sexuality: A Very Short Introduction. Published by Oxford University Press, UK.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. (1844-1900)
(1886) Beyond Good and Evil.

Ruthven, Malise
(2007) Fundamentalism. First edition 2005. New edition now published as part of the “Very Short Introduction” series. Published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.

Schroëder, Robert
(2007) Cults: Secret Sects and Radical Religions. Hardback. Published by Carlton Books.

Spencer, Robert
(2005) The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam. Published in the United States by Regnery Publishing, Inc, Washington, DC.

Wilson, Bryan
(1966) Religion in Secular Society. Penguin Books softback first edition.


  1. Momen (1999) p446.^
  2. Ruthven (2007) Chapter 4 "Controlling Women" p71. Added to this page on 2014 Feb 13.^
  3. Davison & Neale (1997) p164.^
  4. Davison & Neale (1997) p388-389.^
  5. Gebhard et al. (1965), via Davison & Neale (1997), p367.^
  6. Nietzsche (1886) p47.^
  7. The Times broadsheet newspaper (2006 Nov 25) "Prison figures show a link between sex crime and religion". Accessed 2007 Jan.^
  8. Momen (1999) p439-440.^
  9. Ehrman (2003) p46.^
  10. Wilson (1966) p86.^
  11. Spencer (2005).^
  12. Added to this page on 2015 Aug 28.^
  13. Armstrong (1986) p42.^
  14. Mottier (2008) digital location 515-17.^
  15. "Marriage: Its Diversity and Character: 9.2. Christian Divorce Rates" by Vexen Crabtree (2004)^
  16. "Organized Coverups of Sexual Child Abuse by Priests, Clergy and Christian Institutions" by Vexen Crabtree (2009)^
  17. "Abortion, Birth Control and Contraception: How Religion is Making Overpopulation Worse" by Vexen Crabtree (2013)^
  18. accessed 2011 Mar 02.^
  19. Schroëder (2007) p110-111. Added to this page on 2011 Jan 08.^
  20. Skeptical Inquirer (2013 May/Jun) article Clear and Fear: Scientology Under Review p57-59 by Wendy M. Grossman. Added to this page on 2014 Feb 13.^
  21. Hutton (1999) p339, 371.^
  22. Mottier (2008) digital location 515-17. Added to this page on 2015 Sep 13.^
  23. Armstrong (1986) p4. Added to this page on 2015 Sep 13.^
  24. Crowley (1995) p82, 85.^

© 2015 Vexen Crabtree. All rights reserved.