No, This is Not a Joke | Yes, This is a Post About Bestiality


200804072059Or, perhaps more accurately, a post about liberty. An article I read over the weekend was arguing that the Church has let people down by shying away from theologies of sex. So I thought I’d dip my toe in…

Good to hear Peter Tatchell on the radio this morning, talking about the protests over the Olympic Torch in London yesterday, and the extraordinary story of his citizen’s arrests on Robert Mugabe. I’ve heard him in person twice; I expect it’s more to do with my journey than his, but Peter is someone I have increasingly warmed to over the years. At Greenbelt his life of extreme simplicity and strong vision came across very well. His attempts to force the church into facing up to issues of sexuality are well known, and some might disagree with his methods, but he has equally done huge amounts of justice work in other areas, notably the citizen’s arrests on Robert Mugabe (for which he was beaten unconscious by his guards, live on TV). He has also be the focus of huge amounts of hatred, with his life in constant threat.

However, I digress. The second time I saw him was at a debate in school. The question I asked him there was about the liberalisation of sexuality. Over the course of (western) history, things that were previously taboo have become acceptable, things that have previously been punishable by the law have now become protected by the law. So, I wondered, though it’s not really my cup of tea, did he foresee a day in the future when bestiality would become acceptable?

[The all-time most read story on the BBC’s site is that of a Sudanese man who was forced by his tribal elders to marry a goat after being found having sex with it. The goat has since died, for reasons unknown, so the man is a free agent again. Bestiality is clearly a minority interest, but something in the wider consciousness is fascinated by it.]

The heart of what I was trying to get at was whether there was some idyllic just place where what was right was protected, and what was wrong was punished. The boundaries keep getting pushed back, but how far do we keep pushing? Clearly pedophilia is wrong – though I’ve heard people on TV sickenly argue otherwise, suggesting that society has ignored the issue of pre-pubescent sexuality – because the rights of the child are being abused. But there are other grey areas. If you’re not a vegetarian, and aren’t so concerned for an animal’s rights, why exactly is bestiality wrong? Is it about disease control? And what about incest? An Australian couple describing themselves as ‘normal intellectuals’ made a plea on TV this week for understanding of their incestuous relationship.

What about other sexual pursuits? The head of FIA, Max Mosely, is under huge pressure to resign after an exposé of an orgy he’d organized and paid for. Have people been in uproar about the orgy, or about the fact he spoke German to the prostitutes, and there were therefore possible Nazii overtones? Was anyone there against their will? Good question. Did the prostitutes involved really want to be there?

We can get high and mighty about this, but, if we are honest, none of us are free of guilt when it comes to issues of sex and oppression, and society’s twin defaults of romantic fantasy and nudge-nudge humour are clear markers of this.

So, if there are absolutes – and I was cheerily mocked for suggesting one in the area of biology last week – where do they now lie? In the same place that Christianity has always placed them? And if these absolutes are simply unworkable in the world we find ourselves, what should our response be?


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11 responses to “No, This is Not a Joke | Yes, This is a Post About Bestiality”

  1. Ok so I’ve resisted commenting a few times…partly as i was laughing so much. Is beastility wrong? It’s degrading, to both parties – the human and the animal and does not really ‘foster human flourishing’ so on that level – then yes it is wrong. But if the animal is simply a recipient of a sexual act then is it any more wrong than masturbation? and some would argue that is simply a natural human act…so what about necrophilia, where do we draw the line?
    If we see sex as a spiritual act then it shouldn’t be abused and there should be a line that we do not cross – conservatively that’s in the marriage bed, whereas in a society of free love that’s in the pets cemetery…and i know where i’d rather be

  2. Glad someone got the funny side!
    The underlying question is whether the society of free love does end up in the Pet Cemetery, as you so nicely put it. There seems to be tensions that pull both ways: vigilante gangs attacking paediatricians – mistaking them for paedophiles – while parents continue to sexualize their children by exposing them to adult themes in films and television, and allowing them to dress provocatively.
    If the church really does see sex as a spiritual act – and, more widely, sexuality as a valid locus for spiritual growth – then it seems to me it needs to do more than simply police the boundaries. It needs to provide some leadership, examples of good practice and forum for debate. And I don’t think that’s going to mean a sermon.

  3. i think the church is unlikely to provide leadership in this area – in most church leadership contexts where there is difficulty (at least most of those where i have been called in to help), i think sex and sexuality is the most prevalent and commonplace issue (even though that is not what it looks like on the surface), especially for men in ministry leadership

  4. I think you’re right Julie. The only way the church seems to have led the way is in the corrupting effects of repressive sexuality.
    So this begs the question again: how does the church provide leadership? By priests trying – and miserably failing in many cases – to be celibate? By decrying those who co-habit?
    How does the church get the spirit back into sex? Or can it? And should we be drawing firm boundaries for people anyway?

  5. for me one of the starting points would be at least to get into this issue head on with those who are in any kind of formal training for ministry – especially the deeper stuff that really is all about identity and self esteem and how our sexuality is a vehicle for the expression of those – how we manage our egos – human beings don’t really change that much in the course of a lifetime – but in Christ, i really believe that habits of heart and mind that have a stronghold on our deformed sexuality can be reformed in a Godly direction – it is too easy to lie about that stuff – i have experienced ministers of real integrity and long service who suffer terribly in this area because they never ever have the opportunity or environment in which they can realistically face up to who they are sexually – yet deformed sexuality has such a profound effect on every dimension of our relationships and the embodiment of the Kingdom
    i don’t think the church should be in the business of decrying/drawing lines/making rules/bending minds about sexuality as much as it is intentionally, actively, honestly, vibrantly, living out and demonstrating healthy, robust, larger than life sexuality – if we were serious as Christians about becoming that kind of living example, drawing people’s attention to the truth about the possibility in Christ of living the best life ever, we wouldn’t need to say half as much about the bad stuff directly – i know that makes me sound like i am just some idealist that lives in cosmic Christian dreamland – but my experience of life so far tells me that is not only possible…….in small, ordinary, everyday, glimpses, it is also true – healthy life breeds healthy life

  6. barry taylor

    Provocative post as always, good post. In Cities of God, Graham Ward notes that the lack of use of the word eros in the New Testament (which Barth declares makes the church an agapaic rather than erotic community), is probably because of the relationship between sexuality and religion in the mystery cults swirling around at the time of its writing. According to Ward, Barth and others created an unneccessary dualism between eros and agape, a dualism that continues to hold sway over much of the discussion about sexuality in the church. He argues that this has led to a view of sex and sexuality that is characterized as much by its linking to death (an early modern phenomena apparently) as anything else, and I personally think it probably also accounts for the ‘policing around the edges’ atttitude that you mentioned in one of your comments.
    I guess what I am trying to say is that I think we are well past the time when a serious conversation about sex needs to occur within the church, and it needs to be a different kind of conversation, one that addresses not only entirely new contexts (the church is no longer the singular, or at least dominant, moral voice in society) but also one that approaches the issues from new directions (what those might be is too lengthy to get into here, sorry–but it must at least start from a non-dualistic position)–Ward argues for a view of the church as erotic community/ies and I think he might be on to something here. I am thinking out loud and am probably making less sense than I wish but wanted to respond to what I thought was a significant issue raised in a brilliant way.

  7. Yes indeed, high time church addressed sex in a way that led to blessing and growth rather than destruction and division.
    Can we think of absolute values that can be accepted in our contemporary culture? Well, i think we can argue biblically, ethnically and pragmatically that some values are overriding. I guess the clearest one for me would be around the area of consent. Any activity that can’t be genuinely consensual because of age, development, language (how does a sheep say “Yes”???) of animation (a dead body certainly can’t say yes) would be outside of the acceptable norm.
    It also seems to me that we need to change the tone of our conversation. My guess would be that if we took ten messages that included references to sexual intimacy, six or eight of them would be primarily negative messages “Don’t do…..”
    How about we start speaking more about good sex? What if we were able to talk of how much better sex is in the context of a committed relationship. How fulfilling to have sex as the expression of a real relationship of trust and love, rather than the possible gateway to that relationship? I love the fact that the bestselling relationship book “Red Hot Monogamy” was written by a Christian couple who are clearly still madly in lust with each other, but when did a minister recommend that alongside whatever the latest paperback that’s going to revolutionise the church, city, world, your record collection, whatever?
    Thanks for provoking Kester.
    Grace and peace

    listened to this the whole way through.
    so it’s being spoken about in church
    but this so isn’t the tone.

  9. Couldn’t get the link to work… will keep trying, but not sure if you mean this blog isn’t the tone, or the Lee talk isn’t. So I can’t comment on this talk, but I actually think this topic is one of the things that HTB has done very well in the past. I know the marriage course they offer is very popular, and isn’t ‘shy’, and it’d be a great step forward if others took the same lead and positively supported couples in their relationships.

  10. i was a little hasty… this talk about ‘cybersex’ was the first podcast i listened to (i now can’t get the site to load) and it didn’t sit well with me tho’ i think that that they were speaking of it in a main service was a great thing.
    but. since posting i then went on to listen to nicky gumbel’s talks about ‘sex in the 21c’ and ‘how to respond to divorce’ and they are indeed ones to listen to. (all podcasts available from the htb website)

  11. Kester, et. al. An interesting discussion (I think) on sex and sexuality is going on now at my blog: