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Sex and the Bible

THE DEBATE over the reproductive health bill points to the fact that, with some exceptions, those against it are really arguing not from rationality but from faith in the Catholic dogma.

The central argument in the basic Church doctrine against the use of contraceptives, Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae, is indeed a metaphysical claim: that the Church has a privileged knowledge of natural law, and that the use of contraceptives violates this law since it prevents sex from undertaking its “natural function” of procreation. We should be thankful that the Lord in his kindness designed sex to feel good, but the natural law should be complied with, it says.

But what does the Holy Bible really say about artificial contraceptives and, for that matter, sex?

Anti-RH bill Rep. Amado Bagatsing, during a congressional hearing, was quick to quote the God of the Book of Genesis: “I cannot be wiser than the Creator. The Lord said, ‘Be fruitful and multiply.’”

However, a divine directive to multiply wasn’t really needed during those ancient times; it was plain common sense. With continuous wars, high infant mortality rates, diseases that were incurable, and numbering only 50 million during biblical times, homo sapiens would have been extinct within a few centuries if those living then did not multiply fast.

Unfortunately, man cannot report back to God now: “Umm, Lord, we enjoyed multiplying so much that we are seven billion now, and we are just multiplying the poor and human misery. Can we at least slow down this multiplying now?”

Moreover for ancient tribes, with little technology, the more people they had, the more powerful they would be economically (more labor power) and militarily (more soldiers). And since women solely carried the burden and the pain of procreation during that patriarchal era, the idea of artificial contraception could not have been conceived.

But even then, rather than solely as a means to procreate, sex in the Old Testament is referred to more often as something to be enjoyed, as long as certain taboos are complied with, among them, sex with a menstruating woman (Leviticus 18:19), incest (20), homosexuality (22) and bestiality (23).

King Solomon, known for his God-given wisdom, had 700 wives and 300 concubines, and I don’t think he took on the arduous task of sleeping with 1,000 women solely in order to rapidly increase Israel’s population.

Our Bible studies at the Ateneo high school even inadvertently introduced us to our first erotic literature: the “Song of Solomon.” Our Jesuit professor, of course, argued that it was simply a metaphor for Yahweh’s love for the Israelite nation, which amazingly presaged Christ’s love for his “wife,” the Church.

Fine, but for a metaphor, the writer wrote so sensuously: “My Beloved thrust his hand into the opening, and my inmost being yearned for him”; “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth”; “Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins, which feed among the lilies”; “Honey and milk are under thy tongue.”

Metaphor or not, it’s pretty clear that the Song celebrates the joy of sex, without even any reference to its “natural” function of procreation.

Transcending what evolution has created in our bodies is one major hallmark of humanity. Evolution developed our gatherer-ancestors’ eyes’ capacity for color in order to quickly pick out the ripest of fruits. But we have transcended that to enjoy the colors of a Van Gogh or a Mondrian. Evolution created for us a pair of ears which gave our hunter-ancestors the ability to triangulate aurally so as to determine accurately where a prey, or a predator, was. But we have transcended that to enjoy Bach’s or Mozart’s symphonies. Even the human mind evolved to imagine where a fruit or a prey would be in the future, and it has been fathoming the secrets of the universe. The same with sex: we go beyond its procreation function.

Sex is so natural (at least for males) in the Old Testament that it doesn’t even condemn procuring prostitutes. On his way to work, the prophet Judah fancied a young woman who he thought was a prostitute, offered a young goat as payment “to come into” her, did it, and made her pregnant (Genesis 38:16, King James Version). Polygamy was the norm in the world of the Old Testament: the prophet Jacob even had two sisters as wives at the same time, and obviously not content with that, had two more slave concubines.

As it was during Old Testament times, birth control in New Testament period was utterly inconceivable, as overpopulation was during those times. Having more people in fact was not a problem but a solution to a tribe’s and a family’s survival.

In the New Testament, there is not even a hint by Jesus that it is a sin to use artificial contraceptives. Jesus, however, is a bit contemptuous not only of sex but even marriage, seeing these as distractions on the way to His Kingdom.

The Old Testament simply reflects the mores and national dreams of a particular community at a particular time. The New Testament, on the other hand, reports what a breakaway Jewish sect said were the teachings of Jesus the Messiah for man to enter the Kingdom of God.

Overpopulation and artificial contraception were simply beyond the biblical writers’ world-views, just like many modern issues, including women’s rights, democracy, weapons of mass destruction, stem-cell research, cloning and homosexuals’ rights. We cannot seek guidance from the Deity, His Book or His purported representatives to address modern issues. We can only decide solely on the basis of reason, on our consensus on what it means to be human, and on what we determine to be the requirements for our species’ survival in this particular era.
From the Philippine Daily Inquirer