God and Sex: Religion Made Useful and a Deep Reckoning with Sexual Abuse in New Zealand Churches | Mark Whitwell

“All across the world, powerful men high up within the hierarchies teach and practice misog- yny — women are still taught that they are second to men and that women’s independence of mind and sexuality is lesser. Men are still deprived of the feminine and enacting their repression in sexually abuse”-from God and Sex: Now We Get Both (2019) | Mark Whitwell

This article is part of a series in which Mark Whitwell tackles humanity’s dysfunction around intimate relationship and the root cause of sexual abuse in societal patterns of separateness, conflict, fear of commitment, and co-dependency. He explains how the real pleasure of intimacy that Yoga gives is the social solution that vanishes the duplication of limiting beliefs and transforms life into intimate participation in Life as it actually as, for everyOne.

In my home country of Aotearoa/New Zealand a recent report has revealed that between 1950 and 2021 the Catholic Church received more than 1600 reports of abuse, almost half of which were of sexual abuse. Across patriarchal world religions, not just Catholicism, such horrifying figures have become normal. The need for change in religious cultures is desperate and urgent.

Catherine Fyfe, the chairperson of Te Rōpū Tautoko, a group that includes many Catholic diocese and congregations in New Zealand, said she hoped the church would look behind the statistics and ask how and why the sexual abuse occurred. So what is underpinning these patterns of harm?

To get to the root cause of sexual abuse in the church requires a reckoning with patriarchal religion’s most fundamental doctrine: that of God as ‘other’ who is reached by denying the tangible conditions of life, including and especially sex and bodily desire.

In this article I want to take a long-view at how this dynamic has led us to where we are today.

“The reality of misogyny, homophobia, and sexual violence that is rife across all temple religions stands in stark contrast to the beautiful spiritual ideals that the priests themselves promote and which churchgoers find sincere inspiration in.”-from God and Sex: Now We Get Both (2019) | Mark Whitwell

The doctrine of God as ‘other’ is the idea of God as a controlling distant source, or abstract father figure requiring paranoia and obedience; of God as a future possibility who is absent from the tangible conditions of the world. Civilization itself has been built upon this assumption, so much so that all people, religious or no, suffer the sense of being separate from Truth. Everywhere we look everybody feels bound in a never-ending search for Wholeness. It is simply assumed that a human life is about a search for a future sublimity, a future peace, a future unity.

Now, religious life has not always conceived of God in this way. In fact, deep in the wisdom traditions of humanity is the non-dual idea that ‘the source’ and ‘the seen’ are One. That the source has become seen. Or in Christian parlance, creation and the creator are One. In the beautiful speeches of Christ we hear non-dual utterances like: “The father and I are One” and “On earth as it is in heaven.” “Not two. Only one” is also the beautiful message of advaita vedanta. In truth, across all geographies and times, there have been countless realizers, known and unknown, who have realized that source reality is not and cannot ever be absent from our lives, from our very breath and body, from our Sex.

Through all of this, one thing is true: Sex is completely natural, and we can carve out a path of intimacy and sexual wisdom for ourselves because it is natural. Sexual abuse and predator priests will soon become a thing of the past | Mark Whitwell

Unfortunately for everybody, over time religious teachings from realizers like Christ were dissociated from their origins in egalitarian spiritual community. The language of the creator and the creation was warped into the thought structures of world religions. Separation from God, rather than inherent unity, became the principle teaching. Religious power structures were then built upon the promise that they could offer a disempowered public access to an absent God. Take one look at the Vatican to see a vast concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, achieved through manipulating the public with the beautiful words of Jesus and selling access to that beauty, as if everyone was not the beauty already.

Sadly, once it was believed that God and the earthly life were two separate things, the method arose to reach God by denying the tangible conditions of life. Religious life became about the manipulation and repression of the body and mind in the attempt to get to God. For example, it has been taught for millennia that the ultimate life involves going to the monastery or ‘going within’ through meditation for some ‘higher’ purpose, rather than simply enjoying and participation in your life and relationships. The doctrine of celibacy represents the culmination of this desperate search. Etched into religious language is the idea of ‘higher’ states of meditation and God as opposed to the ‘lower’ body with its ‘base’ desires.

The religious denial of intimacy is disastrous for humanity because when it comes down to it, the most fundamental desire in a human life is for intimate connection. Beyond the aspirations of career, success, and money, as well as the goals of spiritual or religious idealism, what all of us really desire for is connection. To be met and seen by another human being is the healing principle. Actual intimacy, connection with life as it is, whether spending time with a friend or enjoying wonders of nature.

If we take it further, we can acknowledge too that sexual intimacy is the most powerful way that we feel our inherent connection to life. Sex is the essence and function of life. To find mutuality in body, mind and spirit — to be with another of your choice, someone that you like, someone to whom you are attracted — is consistent with life. Whole-body intimate connection is inherent to the way we are created. Sex is God’s method on earth, you could say.

“There are no steps to be taken. We can move through life with the understanding that life is about participation in the given reality and not about a painful, long-term, arduous project of self-improvement. We do not have to struggle to attain a relationship with nature, life, or God, to relate in a particular way, or to attain any kind of ‘higher’ or better state, as if we are somehow not in relatedness already!”-from God and Sex: Now We Get Both | Mark Whitwell

By denying and denigrating Sex as less than Godly activity, religious cultures directly produce the illness of sexual abuse. Just like when you hold your breath for too long, you can’t help but gasp for air when you inhale. So too when you take sex away from people in the search for a future transcendence, it inevitably comes out as sexual abuse. Many famous, supposedly celibate guru personalities achieved worldwide fame, only for sexual abuse scandals to break the lie wide open. Our awareness of the illness within the Catholic Church continues to deepen. Celibacy is not a measure of strength but an indication of confusion — namely, the mistaken belief that sexual practice somehow conflicts with spiritual realization.

All over the world a new generation of sincere people, religious and not, are turning their backs on patriarchal cultures of sexual abuse, misogyny and hierarchy.

Students speak about their experience of discovering the yogas of participation | Mark Whitwell | Heart of Yoga

As we move away from the archaic doctrine of god as ‘other’ and the denial of the body and of women however, we need not throw out our relationship to religious tradition. Rather, religious culture must be turned on its ear. Religious life must become about participation in God, not a search for God.

A life of intimate connection must replace the religious practices of withdrawal and repression. In the presumed separation between God and Sex, each has denied and toxified the other. Now, considered together, each will purify and empower the other. Then we will all get home.

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Mark Whitwell

Mark Whitwell

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Mark Whitwell has worked as a Yoga teacher around the world for the last 45 years and is the author of 4 books on Yoga. He lives in Fiji with his wife Rosalind.