Saturday, May 3, 2014

Religion Like Sex...

Religion, like sex, better when it's real.

The movie Demolition Man tells the tale of John Spartan, a man who had been cryogenically frozen then thawed several decades in the future so that he may resume his job as a cop. He finds out that "all things bad for you" are now "bad" and therefore against the law: tobacco, alcohol, eating meat, eating chocolate, and using foul language. In this particular scene, he is with his cop partner Lenina Huxley. Aroused by the minor violence she's witnessed in a place and time where violence is mostly unknown, Lenina asks John Spartan if he would have sex with her. He is surprised, but agrees.

She retrieves two virtual reality helmets and places one on John's head and one on hers; he has no idea what she's doing. Lenina and John do not touch, and Lenina takes her seat far away from John. Flashes of light and electronic erotic scenes and impulses are fed into his brain through the helmet. While in the midst of the program, he pulls off the helmet and demands to know just what the hell was going on. She tells him that it is sex. John knows full well what sex is--the warm flesh, the sweaty bodies, the closeness, the joy, and he tells her this. Lenina responds with self-righteous modern socially-instilled disgust for what she sees as a primitive, regressive man and she tells him that such activity was outlawed a long time ago. It is here that he finds out that somewhere along the line "bodily fluid transfers" were also considered "bad for you" then "bad," then subsequently outlawed. Sex was outlawed, and kissing had been outlawed too. Her gut-level "eww" and her accompanying outrage was not based on her experience with sex, but on her culture and what she thought she knew about sex--living in a culture of virgins, she didn't realize how little she knew.

Lenina's entire society, long ago, had slowly come to accept the virtual reality program as sex. It had gotten to the point that now no one her entire society knew what sex really was, so this was misidentified as "real" sex. But John Spartan had known what the real thing was, and this was nothing like the real thing: this wasn't sex at all but an erotic virtual reality program that two or more could play. Erotic virtual reality programs that two or more can play...are probably really great things...but they aren't sex even if Lenina and her entire culture claims that it is sex.

We think that's silly now. Of course we know what sex is. But what if we didn't? We would respond similarly to how Lenina did in this tale, unless we had John Spartan's dose of reality--a gift of the ancestors. We, too, would bristle with self-righteous modern socially-instilled disgust for the quaint, antiquated, sometimes jarring or uncomfortable "ways of the 'primitive man'." How do I know this? Because of how polytheists and their practices have been referred to in the past several months. I've seen descriptors tossing around: from superstitious, literalist, backwards, fundamentalist, intolerant, irrational, anti-science, anti-reason, anthropomorphizing, and as having "imaginary friend" issues. These words are just shy of "primitive" and "barbaric." Like Lenina and her culture in the fictitious example above, those making these judgments about polytheism are not polytheists and only think they know about polytheism even as they are steeped in a culture that knows nothing about it and do not realize how little they know. It's like how our virginal character Lenina only thought she knew about sex.

If a polytheist responds with anything from surprise, to misunderstanding, to complete befuddlement when another proposes "religion" and breaks out the virtual reality really shouldn't be a surprise.

Religion, like sex, is better when it's real. Too long we've mistaken a sham of what we thought was "religion" for the real thing. We've mistaken it as a "system of beliefs,"and thinking that religion is created by people about people for people. Religion is—and should be restored in human thinking as—systems set in place with the participation of the deities, the ancestors, and people, as a constant negotiation. When it isn't, it isn't religion.

Image notes: Ames developed (Pop Optics) goggles, NASA, photo in Public Domain.

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