Archive for the ‘religion’ category

Sex in an Enlightened Society

March 15, 2008

Elliot Spitzer has been caught in a media and federal web for arranging to meet a prostitute in a Washington hotel. He has now resigned as Governor of New York. This is only the latest in an endless series of political and social tragedies dating back to prehistory. Thinking about this “crime”, several points need to be made.

1. Most people have strong sexual desires from about age 12 to age 60. It is not possible to understand the strength of this desire in your neighbors (for eample, in men “normal” testosterone levels vary from 300 to 1000 units, with attendant effects on behavior)

2. These desires are hard for some people to satisfy within the confines of the social codes of their place and time. These vary widely. For example in Iranian Shiism, “Mut’ah” or “Sigheh” marriage is sanctioned. Some jurists insist that one can only have four sigheh marriages at a time; others disagree. Many societies have allowed sex before marriage, for example to prove fecundity.

3. Some will, inevitably, evade the codes of their social group on occasion.

4. Some societies make evasion a great crime; others understand and live with it. In older tyrannies, whether tribal or national, powerful men generally had access to a wide range of women (as we see in the Old Testament). Modern American and conservative islamic societies head the list of those who make sex outside marriage a major crime. (even in those islamic societies that allow sigheh).

5. “Prostitution” is the term used in our society for the form of evasion for which social or judicial punishment is most commonly exacted.

At this point we should stop and notice that keeping a mistress or having sex at the conclusion of a casual date are generally overlooked in many societies, including our own. Payments in kind seem to be generally accepted, but not in cash.

The Spitzer affair led to a number of op-eds in the NYTimes. Most of them argued that prostitution is not a victimless crime. The writers insist that laws against prostitution should be vigorously enforced, especially against the Johns. The argument is made on the basis that coercion is often involved. However, one prostitute offered an op-ed that said that if prostitution is conducted on a private referral basis, no one is hurt while all parties benefit.

It seems to me that coercion and mistreatment is what should be criminalized. Many service people are mistreated. Laws should perhaps be strengthened to cover coercion in the sex for hire business. Enforcement should be directed especially at the entrepreneurs who bring people across national boundaries for sex, or traffic in underage persons of either sex. If retail prostitution were decriminalized, it would be much easier to gather evidence against the brutality and coercion by pimps and johns that are the real problem.

In an enlightened society, the importance of sexual relations of any kind will be downplayed at the same time that laws will be developed and enforced against any forms of oppression and cruelty in the family or outside it, whether or not sex is involved. It is time to lift society above slavish acceptance of inherited dogmas, deal with people as they are, placing law and condemnation on the side of humanity instead of prejudice.

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Secularism Still “Winning”

February 16, 2008

Those readers who might be discouraged by the inability of enlightenment ideas and ideals to replace the dedication to the superstitions of organized religion might be encouraged by reading Alan Wolfe’s “And the Winner is. . .” in the March Atlantic. He argues that the assumption that secular values are losing out to religious values is wrong.

His thesis is based too much, in my opinion, on the fact that the more wealthy countries become, the less religious they are — with the singular exception of the United States. Religious countries do tend to be poor countries, which is perhaps another way of saying that religious countries are relatively uneducated. After all, the pleasant Mr. Huckabee is probably the only major candidate in a while to not believe in the theory of evolution (although President Bush tinkers with the idea, I am not sure he has ideas).

It is remarkable that with all the talk of the evangelical vote and all the hype about Huckabee, and the fierce (if unconventional) religiosity of Romney, the Republican candidate in November will be a moderate, centrist who makes relatively little of his religiosity — while the democratic candidate will stick largely to a secular script with spiritual decorations.

Looking back at the world, the less progressive countries in Europe are the poorer cousins to the east. The rising stars of Asia are largely secular, with the notable exception of the Republic of Korea. A few years ago the secular Congress Party was ousted in India, but the Hindu nationalists have lost their steam and seem to be both less popular and less fanatic. Today’s New York Times tells us that Pakistan is actually much less religious and much less fanatic than we have been led to believe. The real heart of religion in the country is in the Sufi orders, and they notably believe in live and let live. We hear relatively little of them in the news because they are generally apolitical. Elsewhere in the country, the people are sick and tired of the Taliban. In the upcoming parliamentary election, the religious parties are expected to lose out nearly everywhere, including the Northwest Frontier Province.

Another strong current within the religious communities, even in the Middle East and Africa, is an evangelism that sees religion as the road to wealth and pleasure. This new current is found in Egypt and Nigeria. In the latter, there is even a competition between a Christian and Muslim versions of this gospel of wealth and pleasure. This may be religion, but I doubt it is what the enlightened have feared.