TAKE SEX, FOR INSTANCE
What follows will certainly touch on organised religion, and I don't want anyone to think that I'm attacking their own personal faith. It would be offensive of me to do so. But organised religion and faith are two very different beasts with differing agendas. Organised religion has taken the route of weaving itself into the foundations of society. It has become so pervasive that it has been able to create its own moral structures, some of them identifiable as being contrary to the demands of evolution itself.
Organised religion has one objective in its existence and that is to control the twenty-four hours of every day that its believers live. And part of that control is replacing the more enjoyable aspects of life with elements of itself. Take sex, for instance.
I'll bet some of you shuddered inside when you read that sentence: take sex, for instance. I blanched myself. It's an uncomfortable topic – something in the head says so.
Sex, after all, is private, and that's only right and proper. I, for one, don't want personal behaviour becoming a matter for public consumption though I acknowledge that in a minor way it is. But that doesn't mean it needs rules and regulations. Yet in the past, and much that is thought today has its birth in the last few hundred years, the church took that matter of when a loving couple could try for a family in hand. And when the forbidden times and days are removed from a year there's not a deal left.
Throughout the Middle Ages you can find various religious laws and proclamations that tried to restrict when, how and with whom you could have sex. For example, people were not to have sex on Sundays, because that was the Lord’s Day, and also on Thursdays and Fridays, which were supposed to be days preparing for Communion. There were also three lengthy periods of abstinence – during Lent, which could last between 47 to 62 days; before Christmas, which could be at least 35 days; and around the Feast of Pentecost, which could range from between 40 to 60 days. Also, many Feast days for particular Saints would be considered no-sex days as well*. Add to those the natural rhythms of the human body and it's a miracle the population grew at all.
There were punishments a-plenty for being caught in the act at the wrong time. Islam isn't the only organised religion with a penchant for cruelty!
Things have changed since then, of course. There are now no days when your local Bishop will have you flogged for disobeying his sex-laws. But a taste of what lay behind those dire dictates persists, more in some societies than in others. Hence the assumption that some of you shuddered inside at the sex word.
It's my belief that the most fundamental contribution of non-physical evolution to our species (and evolution took place over millions of years and not the mere centuries of church control) was to do with the protection of the young over a long childhood. If you've got a puppy it is old enough to leave its mother at a couple of months, but a human being needs above a decade, and the child is still a child. And, especially in a primitive pre-history society when nothing was easy, that child would need both of its parents, or at least two adults, to care for it. The hunter and the carer. It's what helped us pass from the wild into civilisation.
One of the fundamental ways this has been achieved is in the way the biological parents stay together as a union. I know that in these days divorce is a fact of life, but pressures are very different from those in the jungle, and yet a huge number of couples do stay together. Ally this with the fact that the human female retains her breasts throughout her adult life (unlike most other species, who merely develop them during the period of feeding their young), and then add the fact that the human male has a disproportionately large penis compared to other primates, and you might get an inkling that mutual attraction has been a factor. I don't want this to sound crude or vulgar (both of which were invented by the early church) but these physical toys are unique to our species because they go some way to ensuring a long protection for the young. They hold people together, bind them into a union, a parental union at that. Yet such fascination is something scowled at by church authorities down many ages. After all, being obsessed by the body of your partner is a sure distraction from the weekly sermon!
You see, I believe that evolution has more to do with us than merely governing our gradual physical change from a simple-minded hominid to the creature we've become. It has also favoured those with a robust mental attitude to each other and the future. Distant blokey-bloke ancestors with a penchant for going it alone won't have added many of their genes to the future roll-call of humanity as a single parent struggled in her cave without him, and maybe failed.
Other proscribed activities fall into place when you examine the church's dictates. The euphemistic self-abuse (you must know what I mean) among teenage boys is a fact of life, and harsh clerical words have been said about it – yet there is evidence that it is actually an aid to fertility and is consequently a natural phenomenon, and thus desirable. Again, men in frocks have taken to themselves the right to cast moral laws when those laws might fly in the face of what has evolved to be part of a complex process. The solitary activity might be a distraction from praying to...?
And what in the name of goodness sense is there in celibacy? What's that got to do with the steady human march to a rosy future? I'll write a book one day, My Father was a Priest... He wasn't, but it could be fun!
My conclusion is that the organised church has done its damnedest to influence society away from sensible practices that have led human evolution to the point where we are now. After all, the alternative may well have been a much longer spell in the jungle! It has always been vital that for our species the young are protected during a long childhood by both parents, and nature has found a way that this can be achieved - and yet self-interested bodies like the various organised religions have battled against that nature, and continue to do so. You see, they have their own self-orientated agendas and they often even deny the existence of evolution.
*Italicised paragraph Taken from Sex in the Middle Ages by Medievalists.Net.
© Peter Rogerson 28.06.14