Category Archives: Sex

Happily Ever After – Fairy Tales and Religion

You may not agree with me, but I really don’t like the movie “Pretty Woman.”  I can watch Richard Gere do almost anything, but trying to pass off Julia Roberts as a prostitute and Richard Gere as someone who needs to hire one was unconvincing and ridiculous.  What is offensive about “Pretty Woman” is perpetrating the mythology of women in need of a rescuer.  There are times when all human beings need or desire a rescue, but that is not exclusively experienced by women.

In The Witch Must Die: How Fairy Tales Shape Our Lives, Sheldon Cashdan tells better stories like “The Adroit Princess” (p.144-8) who saves herself and her sisters from an evil prince while her father is away at the Crusades.  There’s also (my favorite), “The Princess Who Stood on Her Own Two Feet.”  She had a talking dog and was tall and smart.  She tried to dumb it down for her intended prince by not talking and sitting down a lot so he wouldn’t be intimidated by her height, which he was.

The Princess eventually punted the dolt to the chagrin of her parents who gave her a condescending lecture about her duty as a princess.  She said, “I have other duties: a princess says what she thinks.  A princess stands on her own two feet.  A princess stands tall.  And she does not betray those who love her.”  I wish I had heard her story when I was growing up.

Fairy tales didn’t become children’s literature until the 19th century and have evolved to offer the “power to help children deal with internal conflicts they face in the course of growing up,”  said Cashdan (p.10).  Charles Perrault (1628-1703) is credited with establishing the moral of the story and highlighting the good versus evil struggle when he wrote down and edited oral tales.  However, women had already been taking folk tales and infusing magic to create fairy tales in France during Perrault’s time.  According to Jack Zipes in The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales (p.xxii) female writers established the genre.  I bring all of this to your attention not as a bedtime story to lull you to sleep, but to provide context and to suggest what fairy tales and religion have in common.

Cashdan asserts, convincingly, that fairy tales address common fears of children.  In danger or crisis, it’s natural for children to look for a rescuer.  And that’s why I believe this rescue mentality, when applied to religion, is a juvenile interpretation of god.  Many religions apply a parental analogy to help practitioners in how they view their religious leaders, or their god(s), especially in looking for rescue from hardship.  It is understandable, but it is limiting.

In the United States we talk about “fundamentalists” by which we mean Christians who have a fundamental interpretation of their religion and read much of the Bible literally.  And no matter what they tell you, they do not ever take all of it literally or as a verbatim instruction book.  For example, the “Song of Solomon” is an “Old Testament” book that is romantic and erotic poetry.  Not surprisingly, it doesn’t get quoted much.  In book seven, verse 11 (NAS) it says: ‘Come my beloved, let us go out into the country.  Let us spend the night in the villages…There I will give you my love.’  I am not aware of any group of Fundies recommending we all go out in the country and have sex, or even that God is telling us to have sex outside.  That is a juvenile and erroneous interpretation of text.  Abstracting passages from their context and applying a literal interpretation is how Fundamentalist Christians are abusing the Bible to justify gay-bashing.  It’s childish bullying.  Here’s what Jesus said about homosexuality: NOTHING.  The link below is a Huffington Post column that goes into greater detail.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/elizabeth-cunningham/what-were-jesus-views-on_b_554230.html

I posted a CNN story on my Web site (www.allthingsreligiousonline.com) about a North Carolina “pastor” who sermonized on how to “get rid of gays.”  I watched the YouTube video of only part of his sermon because I couldn’t stomach the whole thing.  That his brand of vitriol and ignorance is connected to any religion is appalling.

Last night “Modern Family” had an episode with the gay couple trying to adopt a second child and being disappointed.  Yes, I know it’s fiction, but there are terrific real life gay couples like them.  There are probably some dysfunctional ones, too, but being straight doesn’t prevent bad parenting.  So how about the religious fanatics quit bitching about abortion and gay marriage and get all the already born unwanted children adopted to the gay couples that want them?  And while we’re at it, how about the Roman Catholic Church start ordaining women to address the shortage of priests?  Women in the priesthood would start to breakdown the Good Ol’ Boys’ Club that’s been protecting sexual predators.  In my fairy tales, there would be justice and common sense, heroes and heroines, and protagonists solving problems for ourselves so that we all live happily ever after – not just princes, princesses, the wealthy or the religious.  That would be heaven on earth, and we wouldn’t need to be rescued from it, or each other.  –J.B

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Religion and Theatre of the Absurd

If you think religion and religious people are not influenced by popular culture, then you just aren’t paying attention.  More often, the religious folk are in search of headlines and news clips, not truth or enlightenment.  This happens in small towns and mega-churches.  For the record, I have blogged about mega-churches before (“The Religion of Me Part Two: The Mega-church,” 09/29/2010).  They are not churches, they are theatrical events with a religious theme.  If you disagree with me, then I ask you to consider a Texas story.

Yes, I understand Texans like to do things in a big way.  My best friend from college lives there and turned me on to this story, so apologies to the Lone Star state, but sometimes y’all are just crazy.  At Fellowship Church in Grapevine, “Rev.” Ed Long thought the Easter story of Jesus rising from the dead was not dramatic enough.  He authorized the church to hire a real lion, lion handler, and four-day-old lamb to symbolize Jesus as both a lion and a lamb (April 2012).  One story reported the show cost the church $50,000.  I guess that’s not a lot of money to Pastor Ed because he makes more than $1 million per year.  (Usually I would offer links to stories, but my best source was the Dallas Morning News and you can’t get the story for free.  The Humane Society of Flower Mound has a good summary.)

I was unable to find anything about the pastor’s credentials or education online, but I was able to find plenty of press.  He and his wife made news (February 2012) by doing a 24-hour bed-a-thon on the roof of the church to promote sex in marriage.  More accurately, Rev. Ed was promoting his latest book, from which he doesn’t have to share sales revenue from with his church.

The absurd is not limited to big-time money-grubbing showmen.  It also infects in smaller arenas.  I posted a story on my Web site (http://allthingsreligiousonline.com/) about an Assembly of God Church in Central Pennsylvania that kidnapped youth group teens at gunpoint to show them what life is like for missionaries.  Neither the teens nor their parents knew this was going to happen and the designated kidnapper was an off-duty police officer with a real gun.  It wasn’t loaded, but the kids didn’t know that.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/27/pennsylvania-church-kidnaps-teens-holds-them-at-gunpoint-to-teach-a-lesson_n_1382605.html?ref=religion

Stories like these are why atheists think religious people are nuts.  It’s a difficult point to defend.  The practice of faith is not a concrete endeavor.  Still, there are lots more people quietly honoring their own spiritual interpretations without circus stunts and contrived violence – or real violence for that matter.

If the church folks in Central PA wanted to demonstrate real courage, they would fire their minister.  Rural Pennsylvania is known as fertile ground for hate groups like the Klan.  I am certain that the Assembly of God church could find actual mission work spreading compassion, if they chose, like that ‘love your neighbor’ stuff that is in their Bible.

The best thing that they could do in Grapevine, Texas would be to convert their ‘mega-church’ into a homeless shelter and soup kitchen.  Then they wouldn’t need their $1 million-per-year Showman Preacher and his private jet.  Even if they took all that money and started a business, they would be creating jobs, which would be of more service to the community than devoting extraordinary resources to religious theatre.

Jesus had a lot to say about peace, poverty and humility.  But you wouldn’t know that if you went to church in Grapevine, Texas or Middletown, Pennsylvania.  It’s not just ironic that these two churches are doing such a poor job of representing their own religion – it’s tragic.  These stories demonstrate that you can’t immunize religious practice from human ego any more than you can protect organized religion from politics, or politics from organized religion.

There is a desperate need for reasonable people to have a stronger voice.  This is true in religion and in democracy.  Quite frankly, I don’t know how to make that happen.  The only response I can think of for us non-wealthy regular folks, is to respond to news stories.  I want to believe that if regular people, regularly, demanded better news, we would get it.  If we stopped being consumers of sensationalized non-news, maybe there would be less of it.  That means writing letters and e-mails to news editors.  It also means turning off the TV, or changing the channel.  It might mean getting more news from National Public Radio.

I admit that watching a story about “tanning bed woman” from New Jersey (where else?) who is being referred to as beef jerky on Facebook is a hoot.  We might need to watch a water-skiing squirrel to balance our day.  But if we don’t work in some real news stories of greater length and depth than sound bites, then we can’t expect much more than sound bites and beef jerky, the latter offering more to chew on.  –J.B.

“Football is God”

One of the minor benefits to waiting tables is being able to eavesdrop, which is usually just boring.  However, in the last two days, at two different restaurants, I have overheard discussions about child abuse and the recent Penn State scandal.  As dreadful as the allegations are, I consider this one good outcome, that is, to remove the shroud of sanctity that has surrounded the Penn State Football Machine and raise very serious questions in Pennsylvania and around the country.

I read the Grand Jury’s disturbing report about the alleged sexual predator and former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.  If the report is as accurate as it is believable, then a very destructive individual has been arrested and will no longer enjoy the protection of the Penn State Football Machine.  If you want an excellent summary of that report and recent events, go to the New York Daily News article published 11/13/2011, link following.  It is my interpretation that this time line demonstrates that the University was aware of Sandusky’s behavior and moved to protect the organization and the football program years ago, but did not take steps to help victims or to prevent ongoing abuse.

http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/college/penn-state-scandal-timeline-sex-abuse-scandal-rocked-happy-valley-article-1.976843

If you think being devoted to God means unquestioning loyalty, worship and obsessive enthusiasm, then football is god.  For many, the Penn State Football Machine is the Vatican and Joe Paterno (JoePa) was the pope.  I’m not the first to make this comparison.  CNN contributor Roy Peter Clark, link follows, makes the point well.  When his story was originally posted to CNN’s Web site homepage, the headline was “Football is God.”

http://edition.cnn.com/2011/11/11/opinion/clark-penn-paterno/

Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights, wrote this in the New York Times 11/11/2011: “If the allegations are true, head coach Joe Paterno and top-ranking university officials allowed former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky to roam loose as a sexual predator even though there were clear indications of his abuse of children.  That has nothing to do with the Nebraska game coming up Saturday. It has to do with a culture at Penn State in which the football program, with Paterno as its god, was allowed to do whatever it wanted, including the protection of one of its own regardless of his alleged depravity.”

The football game was not cancelled Saturday and Penn State lost.  Instead of the display like  earlier in the week when students rioted over the firing of JoePa, there were students holding vigil for the victims.  Nonetheless, what continues to disturb me is the image of football players kneeling in prayer on the field at Saturday’s game.  This strengthens the religion of football, but not real religion.  It is a pathetic attempt of self-aggrandizement to elevate a tainted program.

Most likely the majority of those players would claim to embrace Christianity, being the majority religion of the country and all.  How about a quote from Jesus about this kind of behavior?  “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others,” (Matthew 6:6, New International Version)  If you need others to see you pray, then it is about you.  Just you.  Here’s a prayer: “Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; in your compassion forgive us our sins, known and unknown, things done and left undone…”  (Book of Common Prayer, The Episcopal Church).

I admit to not being a sports fan and have blogged about sports in two prior columns: “Smackdown: Man v. Nature” (10/11/2011) and “Sex and Sports and Religion” (6/24/2010).  Neither am I a Penn State graduate, even though many people confuse it with the University of Pennsylvania (Penn), from which I did graduate.  I am close to more than one Penn Stater and they are very upset by any criticism of their alma matter.  The moral failure of the University’s leaders, including JoePa, merits criticism.  That does not diminish things at Penn State like “Thon,” when each year thousands of Penn State students work feverishly for months to raise millions of dollars to help kids with cancer.  I have been to Thon and contributed to Thon.  It remains a valuable and important philanthropic activity at Penn State.  But that does not excuse the lack of morality in the football program.

Football is not god.  In fact, unquestioning loyalty is more appropriately attributed to a cult than a religion.  As we have seen in the past week, it is dangerous.  In both the small decisions and the large ones, each individual has personal responsibility.  Some students were weeping for JoePa while others were lighting candles for victims of abuse.  These are small decisions that I believe affect what will happen next.

I wonder if the Vatican is breathing a sigh of relief that the media winds are blowing a different direction right now.  I hope not.  Because one of the underlying cultural problems is patriarchy.  When you mix men, money and power, bad things will happen.  And when they happen, they will be covered-up because they will protect each other – not the vulnerable and powerless.

Forgive us – for what we have done and what we have left undone.

-J.B.

Photos from CNN online

Sex and Sports and Religion

Religion is not the only means for determining morality.  Religious folks don’t always understand that people without religious affiliation are still capable of being moral people.  The reverse is obviously true as well.  Religious people are capable of a complete absence of morality and frequently demonstrate lapses from ethical behavior.  In fact, it is essential to have a secular moral code so people of all religions (or no religion) living in the same society can survive each other.  The law isn’t always right, but it is a starting point.  It doesn’t really matter if it’s based on the “10 Commandments” or English Common Law.  It matters that we have a code of conduct that prevents us from killing each other.  Just short of killing each other, where should we draw the line?

Prostitution just doesn’t have to be illegal.  It’s all in the definition.  Is selling your soul a little bit every day to work in a cubicle while telling your lazy boss that she is a genius to protect your job prostitution?  How about having sex with your date only after an expensive dinner?  And then, of course, what about trying to barter sexual favors for sports tickets?  (A 6/24/2010 online story link is posted below.)  It’s time for “All Things Religious” to weigh in on this topic because of the newly launched blog by my friend who was convicted of attempted prostitution.

http://www.philly.com/philly/news/breaking/96991164.html?cmpid=15585797

I’m not going to comment, or base my friendship with her, on what she did or how she has reacted since.  I do want to comment on the rest of us.  I don’t think any of this would have been newsworthy if the tickets had been to the opera.  Sports enjoys a religious status that many people take for granted.  How many times have you seen people crying over a lost game?  How about street rioting from a team’s win or loss?  I have been researching the content of the Philadelphia Inquirer.  Stories with religious content in the Sunday paper average less than five percent, which is roughly less than a quarter of one page for the front two news sections.  By comparison, the Sunday sports section is usually 15 pages.  Yet, there are more people in religious services every Sunday than attend all sporting events taking place in an entire week.  (I have a citation on this.  Comment below if you want to know more.)

The CNN article by John Blake (link below) asks better questions and has more examples than I have time for here.  This culture’s reverence of sports and the unholy mixing of religious proselytizing with sports attempts to elevate the temporal to the metaphysical but in fact demotes the divine to the trivial.

http://www.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/wayoflife/05/25/God.sports/index.html?iref=allsearch

The only thing more potent than sports and religion is sex and sports.  That it is even possible to establish a blog on the topic is absurd – though I predict it will be well read.  Because we have the technology for Facebook and the opportunity for free blogs, doesn’t mean we have to talk about every Henry Miller moment that crosses our subconscious.  (For the record, I like reading Henry Miller.)  My erudite response to the sex and baseball blog is: YUCK!