One of things which I have always dug about Jesus is that, unlike many of his followers, he seemed cool with sex, mostly understanding of this drive which has been placed inside of all of us to varying degrees and for which none of us asked. He admonished us, of course, not to lust after the body, for this is a downward-leading path and invites all sorts of troubles upon us. But he never in the Bible (to my recollection) outright vilified sexually active couples. In fact, he is suspiciously close to his consort, Mary Magdalene, keeping her close to him in spite of the objections of his disciples. And of course, he was famously forgiving of prostitutes. So, I’m thinking, this dude’s alright. He’s, like, a practical savior. Sure, maybe as Paul said, we’re better off staying away from sex altogether, but procreation is not sinful in and of itself.
So I was disappointed when I recently read through the Gnostic scriptures and found that the Jesus there was much harsher and more narrow-minded in his condemnation of sex, and that his apostles were outright fanatical in their hatred of this ultimate act of loving union.
For example, the Gnostic-Peter has a daughter who is paralyzed on one side of her body. But he refuses to heal her (even though he could) because her condition keeps her from being sought after by men as a sexual partner. I cannot find Papa Peter’s decision here commendable at all, especially considering the fact that he wouldn’t even have a daughter to mistreat if he had not dipped his own quill in someone’s inkpot. In fact, I find Peter’s actions cruel and possibly even, yes, downright evil.
Perhaps some might counter that if I could only grasp the bigger picture, then I’d see that Peter was actually doing his daughter a huge favor. One short human life-span of paralysis is surely worth escaping eternal punishment. But I find this line of reasoning objectionable on so many levels that I hardly know where to start. First off, how disrespectful of the female intellect and will-power to assume that his daughter would sink into deepest, hottest lust and leap upon the loins of the nearest man the minute her paralysis was lifted. Secondly, keeping someone from temptation does not make them more virtuous; we strengthen our virtue precisely by facing, and overcoming, temptation. If and when Peter’s daughter reaches Heaven, won’t she find herself more spiritually stunted than her fellow angels for never having to conquer worldly temptations? Thirdly, Peter here is acting little better than the stereotypical, bullying, pathetic father sitting on his frontporch with a shotgun in order to intimidate potential suitors for his daughter’s favor. Is Peter afraid that his daughter will be kidnapped and gang-raped the moment she can move her legs in opposite directions at the same time? Surely there are other, better precautions he could take than to keeping her paralyzed. Like maybe mace-spray. Or even the ol’ iron maiden.
Then there’s story of the Gardner’s Daughter. A gardner comes to Peter with his virgin daughter in tow and asks him to intercede with the Lord and ask Him to bestow upon his daughter whatever gift would be best for the future state of her soul. So, Peter prays, and “immediately, the girl fell down dead,” the assumption being that, at that moment, the soul of the gardner’s daughter was pure and would thus gain entry into Paradise, but if she lived, she risked losing her purity. However, and unsurprisingly, the gardener begs that she be brought back to life, and Peter obliges. A few days later, a man comes into the gardener’s home and seduces the girl and runs off with her, and they are never heard from again. We are left to gather that she was better off dead.
And Jesus, who I thought was my homey on this issue of sexuality, says in the Gnostic text, Thomas The Contender… “woe to you who love intimacy with womankind and polluted intercourse with it.” Polluted?! That’s not my man.
And in the Acts Of Thomas, Jesus calls sex “filthy.” Filthy ?! This is not the Messiah I know and admire (I would say “know and love,” but how can we be expected to love somebody we’ve never even met?). In the Acts Of Thomas, Jesus also says, that “if you abandon this filthy intercourse, you become holy temples, pure and free from afflictions and pains both manifest and hidden, and you will not be girt about with cares for life and for children.” For, he adds (and not without reason): “the majority of children become unprofitable.”
As in many of the Gnostic texts, The Acts Of John singles out, of all the desires, the desire for sex as the worst of the worst. “Fornication blinds the mind and darkens the eyes of the soul,” says the apostle, “and is a hindrance to the right ordering of the body, turning the whole man to weakness and throwing the whole body into sickness.”
On the other hand, it should be kept in mind that the Gnostics were a heterogeneous group. For instance, the Manichaeans permitted sex as long as no children resulted from the union, since bringing another soul into the world is bringing another soul into bondage, which mystically aids the evil Creator God (which I’ve talked about in another post).
Other Gnostics considered physical love as a metaphor for union with God. In this way, sex is seen as sacrament, not sin. They believed that there is a deeper meaning in sex than we can comprehend. There is, to them, a significance to the fact that the fusion of two into one is often accompanied by ecstasy and the miraculous creation of new life.
And there is yet another Gnostic view of sex… According to the Caprocrates, the best way to show just how worthless these bodies of ours are is to abuse them in sexual orgies.
Automatically drawn to this line of thought, I researched this sect a little farther. According to the Caprocates, to be free of the body, we must first transcend it. This is done by experiencing it fully– and yo, I do mean fully. By exercising our freedoms totally and participating in all activities labeled as “sins” by the tyrannical Creator God, we more or less pay our debts to this world, and can thus escape further reincarnations. We must transgress the laws of the Creator God as part of our rebellion against him. Women, in this view, are like the sun– to be shared by all. The Caprocates believed, oh-so-rightfully, that no law or custom ever has or will ever destroy the male sex drive. We can repress it, we can pervert it, we can chain it up and watch its face turn fifty shades of grey, but we can never completely get rid of it.