A Brief Thesis on Sex and Shame as Political Leverage

Dr. Darrel Ray writes a guest post for JT in which he discusses how religious leaders have used shame as a means of guiding the political process. Dr. Ray is much smarter than I am (it’s a low bar, in all fairness) and has written about this thesis extensively in a couple of his books, but this is a good quick overview of the idea.

Essentially, Dr. Ray suggests that by making sex and those things associated with it actions for which one should be ashamed, it later allows leaders to set a standard by which forgiveness might be given. The problem is that these are entirely arbitrary violations in the first place, so the system is a sham. For example, if I am your spiritual leader and tell you that His Saucy Mass frowns upon and condemns those who do not read my blog daily and introduce it to at least five people per week, after a while that becomes ingrained in you. However, there’s an escape clause: you can demonstrate your devotion by voting for the person I want you to, it only takes a few minutes, and you don’t have to feel guilty about not promoting my blog like you heathens damn well should be doing. This last bit is important because, as the adage goes, “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission,” and living by arbitrary rules all the time is really, really hard.

Since most believers end up breaking the laws they have set down before them at least a few times, then all it takes is somebody to come in and offer you an opportunity to publicly repent all past sins, but do so in a private way that can be easily hidden, like voting for somebody or buying somebody’s book or eating hate chicken while misunderstanding what “free speech” means.

Here’s an excerpt:

The real crime, according to religionists, is not being ashamed of being homosexual, having an abortion, masturbating, practicing safe sex or premarital sex. These are a direct affront to those who believe these behaviors are shameful. Thus the religious rage against unashamed sexuality. The proof is in how Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart, Sen. David Vitter, Newt Gingrich, (and I predict, Dinesh S’Souza) have all come back. Once they show proper shame, they are allowed back into religious leadership roles. That is why liberals cannot be forgiven for just sexting (think Anthony Weiner), while a conservative religionist can engage in all kinds of sins, and still get forgiven by the community.

I find this particularly interesting because he mentions homosexuality in there as an aspect of sexual shame. You’d be surprised how often I hear “why are there no straight pride parades?” and “‘Pride’ isn’t something just queers feel”, and it makes me want to yell back that that’s because “pride” is the opposite of “shame,” and straight people have never been told they should feel ashamed of their heterosexuality. Just a thought on that.

Go read the whole thing.

9 thoughts on “A Brief Thesis on Sex and Shame as Political Leverage

  1. Right on target. Shaming homosexuality has been the cornerstone of the Religious Right. That stone has crumbled to pieces and they don’t even know it yet. Without shame, religions crumble. Even young religionists in evangelical churches are much more LGBTQ friendly than just a few years ago. “the times, they are a’changin.” Thanks for the post.

    • Thank you very much for reading it, sir. I’d read God Virus and Sex & God and was just hoping I was making interpretations that reflected the thesis.

      And I think you’re correct that shame is a major cornerstone of so many religions. I was reading recently, and I can’t remember where, about how evangelists will begin their pitch by trying to convince the listener how filthy, repugnant, and spiritually sordid they are, and then come in to offer their particular form of “redemption.” They manufacture a problem, then sell the cure.

  2. Thank you for providing a clear, accurate, yet snarky answer to the obnoxious” why are there no straight pride parades?” comment! I’ve been asked this before in all seriousness, and was unable to formulate an answer past inarticulate sneering.

    • My pleasure. It’s an aspect of privilege that I don’t think a lot of people get. When minorities celebrate their culture, it’s because their culture was erased for so long that extraordinary measures need to be taken in order to remedy that. In many cases they still are erased. And, like I said, when it comes to LGBT people, they are told they need to be ashamed, something that straight people are never told about their orientation (though, as Dr. Ray points out, all aspects of sexuality carry some shame in various religious circles). Or, the simplest answer is, and it’s not mine but I can’t remember who said it, “Every fucking day is a straight pride parade.”

      • …Not to mention, if there ever WERE a parade to celebrate the joy of straight sexuality, I’m betting a dollar that the same complainers would be right there again, calling it immoral. (The Slutwalk springs immediately to mind, though – to the best of my knowledge – it wasn’t exclusively hetero. But you get the idea.)

        Reminds me of the time I was on a white supremacist forum (…what? Does me good to get my blood pressure up sometimes. It’s bracing) and someone was bitching about how all these minorities get festivals for their culture, but if anyone ever tries to celebrate white European culture, it’s considered racist.

        Understand, I had just come from a… I forget, either a Highland Games or a Ren Faire, where European history and culture were being celebrated quite openly. And yet no one called them racist. So… maybe these celebrations that are being called racist, maybe that’s because they’re… oh hell, I dunno… RACIST.

        So here’s my proposed compromise, hear me out. It is totes ok to have a straight pride parade, so long as you can figure out a way to do it that a) doesn’t seem kinda ridiculous, and b) doesn’t celebrate heterosexuality by putting down or implying that it’s somehow superior to homosexuality or bisexuality or all the rest of the QUILTBAG sexualities.

        (And if you can’t – if you can’t think of any way to express how awesome your own sexuality is without either putting someone down or stating (what the world generally considers to be) the obvious, that… that’s kinda what privilege looks like. When your stuff, your life, is so openly accepted that trying to defend it or tout its benefits seems redundant to you.)

        There, see? Problem solved. Now quit bitching about who gets a damn parade.

  3. Pingback: Marriage Equality Opponents Only Support Shotgun Weddings | Reasonable Conversation

  4. Pingback: Punish the Girl First | Reasonable Conversation

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