Being religious in nature myself, I’m often surprised by the wide range of views on the relationship between sex and sin that some people hold. In my view they have forgotten that religion is about relationships and is a mode of living. Instead, they seem to believe it is based on a prescribed set of rules narrowly interpreted from an ancient document created millennia ago when understanding of the human condition was not enlightened by the discoveries that we have the privilege of sharing today.
With regards to sex and sin, a fifty-five year old document published by the religious tradition that I call my religious home had this to say:
[W]e accept the definition of sin given by an Anglican broadcaster, as covering those actions that involve exploitation of the other person. This is a concept of wrong-doing that applies both to homosexual and heterosexual actions and to actions within marriage as well as outside it. It condemns as fundamentally immoral every sexual action that is not, as far as is humanly ascertainable, the result of a mutual decision. It condemns seduction and even persuasion, and every instance of coitus which, by reason of disparity of age or intelligence or emotional condition, cannot be a matter of mutual responsibility.
Although it has its defects – the document was created by a committee and it shows in places, and our scientific understanding of sexuality has progressed considerably since the early 1960s – there is little doubt in my mind that it has contributed to the acceptance today of a less rigid concept of what constitutes a relationship. It even had this to say:
We recognize that, while most examples of the “eternal triangle” are produced by boredom and primitive misconduct, others may arise from the fact that the very experience of loving one person with depth and perception may sensitize a man or woman to the lovable qualities in others.
Even today, so many people, religious or not, think of a relationship in terms of two people only. Sure, they might have replaced “man and woman” with “two people”, but why does it have to be only two? Isn’t it the nature of the relationship, and not the number that’s important?
In its introduction, the same document has this observation regarding why many Christians perceive sex as something sinful:
Throughout nearly all its history and in some sections of the Church today, the myth of Adam and Eve (called without justification the Fall of Man—This was never suggested by Jesus, but seems to have come from Paul; see Romans 5, v. 12-14) is treated as though it were historical fact on which logical arguments can be built. In this way, sexuality came to be regarded as necessarily polluted with sin in that event. Even when rejected as historical fact, this myth still has its effect upon the attitude of some Christians to sexuality; it will therefore be wise to think more about it. First, this, like other myths, had an earlier Babylonian origin and was used for religious purposes by the Jewish teachers. Further, like all myths, it is a poetic and symbolic representation of the condition and predicament of man. It is not exclusively or even primarily concerned with sexuality. It is a myth representing the transition of man, either in his racial history (phylogenesis) or his development from babyhood (ontogenesis) from an unreflective obedience to instinct to a condition in which he is responsible for his actions, in which he can reflect on them and make judgments and moral choices, weighing up possible courses of action in the light of a concept of good and evil.
It is a story, not of man’s fall, but of man’s growing up, and of the pain that growing up involves. It is significant that God is recorded as saying (Gen. 3, v. 22): “Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil.” To recognize and love what is good is to know also what is evil, to fear it and to be tempted by it. To know the good is to know joy, but it is also to experience pain, to be tempted to pride and presumption.
It is unfortunate that sexual intercourse takes place between Adam and Eve only after the expulsion from the Garden; this perhaps provides an excuse for thinking that sexual intimacy is associated with a sinful and disobedient state. But this is not given in the text nor is it a necessary implication. Indeed Eve claims the help of God in the matter. The shame associated with nakedness immediately after the eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge need not imply that sex became tainted there and then with sin: it may imply a recognition that our sexuality more than anything else in us can lift us to the heights of self-realization or plunge us into degradation; it is the focus of our self-awareness. The awareness of nakedness may further be a symbol of the awareness of vulnerability, of exposure to pain that must come with self-consciousness.
I acknowledge that the almost 400 year old traditions of my religious group are in conflict with the beliefs of Fundamentalist and evangelical Christians, but (at least, in my home nation) I find the majority of Christians hold values that do not conflict with mine.