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Sex and Religion

Attitudes towards sex seem rather different between atheists and mainstream religions. Mainstream religions have developed strong moral messages regarding human sexuality. Engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage and for reasons other than procreation are regarded as sinful.

I am not going to debate the religious perspectives. I merely ask: why does the abandonment of religion lead to radically different views on sexuality?

The same cannot be said for other behaviors where morality plays a role. Both atheists and theists reject murder, stealing and lying. Why such disagreement in scxual matters?

I don’t know why religious attitudes are as they are, although I am aware of various theories about it. Religious attitudes were developed before contraception was a widespread practice. So, intact families and care for children may have had something to do with the development of these attitudes.

The “modern” atheistic view is that contraception frees us from the need to regulate or restrict sexuality. Out-of-wedlock children are no longer a central issue (unless the contraception fails, which is relatively rare). Therefore, why place any moral restrictions on human sexuality? Sex can be viewed as a kind of “sport”, or just another activity that brings us pleasure. Use contraception and enjoy the pleasures of sex, no strings attached. Why is sex a sin if it does not lead to unwanted pregnancy?

To me, this divergence of attitudes towards human sexuality is a mystery. Can atheists defend the perspective that sex is a sport? Human sexuality involves our deepest emotions and connections with others. Should it be engaged in lightly? A deep belief in human dignity and worth is a common bond at the core of both religion and atheistic humanism. Human dignity and worth should inform our sexual activities, and prevent us from using others as sexual entertainment machines. This is at the core of attitudes towards sexuality: how we view other people. Are people of sacred value, or just objects we use to gratify ourselves? That is a central question.

Those who are religious will follow the dictates of their religion, few questions asked (usually). Those who do not follow a religion ought to consider how their views on human sexuality fit into their overall world view. Perhaps religion has some useful perspectives to offer as regards human sexuality, derived from a base of belief in human self-worth. Atheists ought to consider whether certain forms of sexual restraint lead to greater joy, because of the positive philosophy underlying such restraint. Pleasure is nice, but there are other gifts to our souls that restraint may bring.

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