Pic of the day: The Kingdom of Heaven is like unto a wedding, but because I don't have any wedding pics of myself I made my Sims stand in for me.
Celibacy & Christianity
Jesus may or may not have been married, but his disciples were. And the one who was not, still recommended it strongly.
As I mentioned yesterday, celibacy is not a big issue to the body and psyche in its own right. (It can however be a symptom of other problems, or conversely an expression of unusual strength of will.) But in some religions, celibacy is indeed a big deal. Among them is ironically Christianity. Or at least the largest branch hereof, Roman Catholicism.
Ironically, because the Bible does not encourage celibacy. We do not even know whether Jesus was married or not. In that day and age, being married was definitely the norm, and as a supposed descendant of King David in unbroken male line Jesus would have been particularly obliged to carry on the family name. (Remember, very few people knew that he was God's son, not even his younger brothers.) The total absence of any mention of his family status, even from his opponents, is strange in itself. Then again, we would not have known about the marriages of the apostles either, if not for a miracle in which Peter's mother-in-law was healed from a fever, and one single comment from Paul that the other apostles brought a wife with them while he traveled alone. (This was not in a discussion about Christian sexual ethics but about the obligation of the churches to support their spiritual teachers.) So the default value, if nothing else is said, seems to have been marriage.
The account that Jesus on the cross made provisions for his mother but not for any other family members is an indication that he was single. But this is a remarkable event in itself, since normally his younger brothers should have taken care of their mother. Could it be that the disciple Jesus loved was after all not St John, as most scholars believe, but rather Jesus' wife, and the gender has been transposed in error because of this mythunderstanding? This would collide with the complete divine inspiration of the gospels as preserved to our day, but on the other hand would make common sense. (Mom, I'm leaving you now; but since I am your oldest son you should stay with our family.) But if we assume there is no error in transcription, it is clear that the arrangement for Mother Mary was an unusual event and different from business as usual. (Which may be why it is mentioned, after all.) Since we have already done away with common sense, we cannot use common sense to deduce anything about Jesus' marital status from the event. Thus, we are back to "don't know".
The reason why people thoughtlessly assume that Jesus was unmarried and celibate is not that the Bible says so, but that they honestly think sex within marriage is icky and sinful. Since Jesus was not icky and sinful, he could not possibly be married. But in that case, why did Jesus endorse something icky and sinful for others? Why does he say it was God's original plan? But enough about that. I don't think reflexes like this can be changed after the age of 5. I'm perfectly happy about Jesus being single, which is not too unlikely either. After all, he was tried in all things in the same way as us, yet without sin. And I'm tried and tested in being single, that's for sure. I'm perfectly fine with Jesus being in the same situation, but I'm amazed that married people feel the same way.
Certainly Jesus supported lifelong marriage in one of his few statements on such matters. He said that God created humans as man and woman, and this was proof of God's intent of a lifelong unity. (Indirectly this also seems to support monogamy, although in the early church monogamy was only required of men in a special service, not lay members. The apostle Paul mentions this requirement in passing. Incidentally these people were also required to have children. Don't ask me why. But at least it is rather incompatible with celibacy.) Jesus abhorred divorce, which he claimed was only allowed for people with hard hearts, and he distinctly equated remarriage with adultery, to the shock and horror of his disciples. Then again, Jesus equated gawking at women with adultery, so it is kinda hard to enforce. Anyway, it is pretty clear what Jesus thought, and him being the founder of the religion and still its most popular hero, you'd think his opinion would carry some weight. But no.
It is unclear when exactly celibacy came into the Catholic Church. It seems to have been enforced gradually during the early middle age, but long before this there were men who were voluntarily celibate in honor of their deity. It can be argued that this tradition started with the apostle Paul, but actually he clearly sees himself as an exception and also links it to the dangers he experienced in his missions, which he would rather not implicate a family in. He condemns "deceiving spirits", "demons", "hypocritical liars" who "forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods" (1 Timothy 4:1-3.) If that sounds like the Catholic Church, well, it is after all a prophecy about the "later times". At least the Catholics only forbid the clergy to marry and only commands them to abstain from meat on Fridays, so I guess the demons don't have full control at least... Still, it is one of the creepier statements of the Bible. No less so because the Catholic Church was the only institution that preserved those words during the Dark Ages.
For most people, Paul agrees that they better marry, otherwise they are likely to "burn with desire" and be "unable to abstain". They could perhaps stay apart a little while, kinda like fasting, during periods of prayer, but not for too long. This is a far cry from 'you cannot speak the word of God unless you refrain from all sexual activity including normal married life'. Obviously something has happened between then and now. At what point did the other 11 apostles, hand-picked by the Lord, become inferior to Paul? And if they are, at what point did that become due to their marriages? At what point did living an unnatural life for no good reason make you more holy? Sure, living alone gives you more time to think. But there is no lack of Christian thinkers. There are too many Christian thinkers, which is why we have so much crazy stuff claiming to be Christianity. What there is a severe lack of is Christian lives.
It is easy to think of situations where celibacy is desirable. If you have a deformity of body or soul that would make sexual expression unpleasant to your potential partner, that's a pretty good reason to stay clear. (Or contact medical personnel, alternatively, if there is hope of curing it.) And – believe it or not – there are a number of people (2-5% of the population, I have read) who simply find the whole idea of exchanging bodily fluids utterly unexciting. Why can't we all be just friends? Well, you are free to. Just don't think it makes you better than the married people. And if you are celibate even though you don't feel like it, there is no reason to think you gain anything from it. You certainly don't become more holy, any more than you might by tying one hand on your back for the rest of your life. Perhaps that might lead to some interesting conversations at least. Celibacy rarely does.
And there is the small risk that after the end of your life, when you go home to your Lord, He will ask you what you did with your life; and you reply: "I stayed celibate all my life, for your sake!" Upon which the Lord may laugh out loud and reply: "Wait until I tell that to my wife!"
Well, it could happen. Probably not, but we just don't know, and I can think of better conversations to have on that day. Like... "I tried to help people get free from crazy misunderstandings about religion." "Yeah, so did I, and look what happened!"
Visit the ChaosNode.net for the older diaries I've put out to pasture.