Pagan and Christian Creeds HTML version

12. The Sex-Taboo
In the course of the last few chapters I have spoken more than once of the
solidarity and continuity of Christianity, in its essential doctrines, with the Pagan
rites. There is, however, one notable exception to this statement. I refer of course
to Christianity's treatment of Sex. It is certainly very remarkable that while the
Pagan cults generally made a great deal of all sorts of sex-rites, laid much stress
upon them, and introduced them in what we consider an unblushing and
shameless way into the instincts connected with it. I say 'the Christian Church,'
on the whole took quite the opposite line--ignored sex, condemned it, and did
much despite to the perfectly natural instincts connected with it. I say 'the
Christian Church,' because there is nothing to show that Jesus himself (if we
admit his figure as historical) adopted any such extreme or doctrinaire attitude;
and the quite early Christian teachers (with the chief exception of Paul) do not
exhibit this bias to any great degree. In fact, as is well known, strong currents of
pagan usage and belief ran through the Christian assemblies of the first three or
four centuries. "The Christian art of this period remained delightfully pagan. In the
catacombs we see the Saviour as a beardless youth, like a young Greek god;
sometimes represented, like Hermes the guardian of the flocks, bearing a ram or
lamb round his neck; sometimes as Orpheus tuning his lute among the wild
animals."[1] The followers of Jesus were at times even accused--whether rightly
or wrongly I know not-- of celebrating sexual mysteries at their love-feasts. But as
the Church through the centuries grew in power and scope --with its monks and
their mutilations and asceticisms, and its celibate clergy, and its absolute refusal
to recognize the sexual meaning of its own acclaimed symbols (like the Cross,
the three fingers of Benediction, the Fleur de Lys and so forth)--it more and more
consistently defined itself as anti-sexual in its outlook, and stood out in that way
in marked contrast to the earlier Nature-religions.
[1] Angels' Wings, by E. Carpenter, p. 104.
It may be said of course that this anti-sexual tendency can be traced in other of
the pre-Christian Churches, especially the later ones, like the Buddhist, the
Egyptian, and so forth; and this is perfectly true; but it would seem that in many
ways the Christian Church marked the culmination of the tendency; and the fact
that other cults participated in the taboo makes us all the more ready and
anxious to inquire into its real cause.
To go into a disquisition on the Sex-rites of the various pre- Christian religions
would be 'a large order'--larger than I could attempt to fill; but the general facts in
this connection are fairly patent. We know, of course, from the Bible that the
Syrians in Palestine were given to sexual worships. There were erect images
(phallic) and "groves" (sexual symbols) on every high hill and under every green
tree;[1] and these same images and the rites connected with them crept into the