Take me to church / I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies / I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife / offer me that deathless death / good God, let me give you my life
– Hozier ”Take me to church”
The connection between church and sexuality, nicely portrayed by Hozier in the above quoted lyrics where the ”deathless death” of course implicitly refers to the french expression ”La petit mort” (the little death) – often used as a reference to orgasm, is a complex one. The stories of how christianity and the church has oppressed sexuality, explicitly the sexuality of women and homosexuals, are far too many to keep count of.
When I look back upon my life / It’s always with a sense of shame / I’ve always been the one to blame / For everything I long to do / No matter when or where or who / Has one thing in common, too / It’s a sin
– Pet Shop Boys ”It’s a sin”
Now, there is another connection between church and sexuality, a connection that is not always as explicit as the oppressive one. The deathless death of an orgasm is not very far from the deathless death of baptism where the subject is, as Paul says in Romans 6:4, buried with Christ and resurrected to a new life – in a very deathless death. A sensation of new life within the frame of the old body. This connection is also noticeable in some of the churches over the world where the singing and preaching is connected to sensation and feeling rather than intellectual and logic. The sensation of coming together (no pun intended!) and the feeling of being bodily and spiritually connected to something above yourself. A connection that not seldom bear sexual undertones as, for example, in the song “The more I seek you” by Kari Jobe:
I wanna sit at your feet / Drink from the cup in your hand / Lay back against you and breathe / hear your heart beat / This love is so deep, it’s more than I can stand / I melt in your peace, it’s overwhelming.
The church is all about sex and thus sexuality is all about ecclesiology: a dividing difference between churches is in the way they handle this sexuality laid down in humanity. Do they repress it (as in, for example, northern european Lutheran churches), or transform it into the worship (as in, for example, evangelical and pentecostal churches)? Is sexuality just an instrument for reproduction (i.e. catholicism) or is it something more than that? These questions need to be answered by the church in order for them to move on from the repressing way of looking at, and handling, human sexuality. And the first question that need to be answered is “What is a sexual relationship?”
The french psychoanalyst Jaques Lacan once claimed “there is no sexual relationship”, meaning that there can never exist a perfectly harmonious sexual relationship between two partners since sexuality, as a part of desire, mainly is of personal and private character. Lacan claims that each person holds his or hers own individual fantasy as a formula for the sexual relationship. A sexual relationship is, in this manner, basically one persons private fantasy, but fulfilled with another person. Every subject has to invent a fantasy of his or her own, a “private” formula for the sexual relationship – the relationship with another person is possible only inasmuch as the partner fits this formula. It is not “self-love” we are talking about here, but not that far from it either.
Lacans thoughts bear semblance to the awkward sex scene in the movie ”Demolition Man” where Sylvester Stallone and Sandra Bullock have sex through some kind of helmets causing them to have the subjective sensations of sex with each other without actually touching, or “having sex” without the physical activity and intimacy of the other. Do we even know they share the experience or are they merely projecting their private fantasy, their formula for sexual relationship, unto the other?
But how private is this fantasy of ours? According to psychoanalysis we learn how and what to desire through the other. Thus fantasy, and desire, is always connected to (the others) popular opinions about sex. The sexual relationship is connected, through fantasy, to the greater part of humanity since fantasy is the way we hope our desires will be fulfilled. By looking at the other we learn what to desire, and by mimicing the other we learn how to fantasize. Fantasy thus becomes a way to actually avoid the sexual encounter, a protective screen from the intimacy of the sexual partner, a way for us to relate to each other without actually having to expose ourselves totally. And also, which is important here, desire and fantasy is something institutions can hold power over.
The Slovenian psychoanalyst and philosopher Slavoj Zizek writes: “Since sexuality is the domain in which we get most close to the intimacy of another human being, totally exposing ourselves to him or her, sexual enjoyment is real for Lacan: something traumatic in its breath-taking intensity, something impossible in the sense that we cannot ever make sense of it. This is why a sexual relation, in order to function, has to be screened through some fantasy.“
And, in another conversation, Zizek declares in a humorous way that the “perfect sexual relationship” is not between humans but rather between robotic partial objects:
“The latest fashion is the Stamina Training Unit, a counterpart to the vibrator: a masturbatory device that resembles a battery-powered light /…/ What one buys here is the partial object (erogenous zone) alone, deprived of the embarrassing additional burden of the entire person.
How are we to cope with this brave new world which undermines the basic premises of our intimate life? The ultimate solution would be, of course, to push a vibrator into the Stamina Training Unit, turn them both on and leave all the fun to this ideal couple, with us, the two real human partners, sitting at a nearby table, drinking tea and calmly enjoying the fact that, without great effort, we have fulfilled our duty to enjoy.” The real intimacy is to frightful for us, instead we just ”fulfill our duty” through the other, without the pain of intimacy and the ordeal of going through the deathless death. Instead we let the robots do ”it” for us.
Now, the fact is that robots actually already are taking over more and more of our daily routines and jobs. A recent study claims that in 30 years time robots will have taken over most of our jobs. If you are thinking of becoming a photo model, think again. According to the study there is a 97% chance a computer generated model will have your job. (A fact that, in a way, makes us all equal in the face of unattainable beauty). But if you want a secure, non-robot endangered, job you should become a priest since the risk of a robot taking over your job then decreases to just above 0% .
But why is the priest irreplaceable? Most of us think that the priest, just like the analyst, should be a human being. Mainly probably because the priest, unlike photo models, meet people in their everyday life. In conversations, in church, in bible groups and talking to children for instance. Most of the week the priest has to be a listener and a speaker, an analyst and a teacher. But in the one instance where the priest actually could be automated is in the rite. In mass or service at Sundays. In many of the liturgical churches over the world the rite is thoroughly controlled and often written on beforehand. The liturg only needs to repeat the words and actions written down in the book of service. If it weren’t for the sermon the priest could very well be automated too. Would that be wrong? Maybe not.
The bond between church and sexuality is strong, Some would even claim that all the glory of the church, the buildings and the lavish clothing and liturgy is just a cover up for the underlying sexuality that is being oppressed. Maybe we don’t have to go that far, but we can at least claim that there are similarities between the sexual relationship and worship. Is not the sunday mass a celebration of the deathless death of Christ? An intimate encounter with another person, with Christ in communion, in death and the new life of the resurrection? The new life in the old body? And is not the rite, just like the sexual relationship in Demolition Man, a protective screen to this encounter? A way to distance us from the body, to transform it from reality into a wafer and a sip of wine.
It is only through fantasy that we really can take part in the mass and the fantasy is, as stated above, individual. Just like Lacan states “there is no sexual relationship” one could very well claim that “there is no sacramental relationship” since we’re not really taking part in it together. The direct intimacy, the ”burden of another person”, is too intimate so we need this cover, we need the distance and the frame of fantasy to take part in it.
There is in church, just like there in society is a burden to enjoy, a burden to attend. Both burdens are explicit orders from something that is not ourselves, culture and society or the church. Both equally hard to pinpoint and grip, and both equally hard and shameful not to follow. And, most important, both are ways of controlling the masses: In a capitalistic society the injunction to enjoy tells us that we have to buy ourselves happiness. Our dreams are controlled through money: we dream of what we can buy, not what we can do or be. And the same goes for church and the injunction to attend, it is a way for the church and clergy to control our desires and dreams.
So, in a similar manner to what Zizek stated above, the perfect worship for the modern man is maybe a fully automated liturgy? Not only with a robot priest but also pews full of robots. A liturgy being celebrated elsewhere, for us, while we sit at home and watch TV. Clean, wholesome and safe. Where we no longer have to risk the true encounter with another person, or even worse, the true encounter with God.
”Woman,” Jesus replied, ”believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. – John 4:21
Is this maybe what the church sees as the sin of sexuality? Of trying to explore a true encounter with another person instead of God, outside church? The sin of not letting ones desire be controlled by the other, neither another person or the church. The sin of realizing that the object we are striving for never fully can be attained, that our desires never will be fulfilled. The sin of living outside of church and it’s power structures?
Then let us be sinners.
There’ll be times / When my crimes / Will seem almost unforgivable / I give in to sin / Because you have to make this life livable
– Depeche Mode ”Strangelove”