Warning: Sexual content
The evangelical circles in which I rotate tend to be anti-Catholic to the core. In fact, if you attend a conservative Baptist church of any ilk, you can be pretty certain that being against the Roman Catholic Church is one of their core doctrines. If not right up there with the Trinity, it is a pretty close second. So when any of these groups hear the phrase "return to Rome" they instantly start twitching and envisioning Papal plots to take over and destroy the protestant church.
Right. Like the Pope has not conceded this loss and moved on. Yet the conservative churches sometimes act like nothing has happened since the 1500's and the battle still rages. As my daughter says, "Get over it."
No, we are returning to Rome in ways that have nothing to do with the Roman Catholic Church. We should be so lucky. Instead, we are returning to the worldview of ancient Rome, the Rome of the first century. We have begun to glorify the brutal and barbaric.
One of the first posts I made to this site was an article entitled The Porn Culture Takes Over. At that time, I commented that "the teen culture is becoming "Pornified." That is, the values and behaviors found in the porn films are becoming the perceived norm for sexual and relational behavior for our teens." At the time, not being a student of pornography, I did not know just how dangerous that "pornification" could become.
Ancient Rome and its subject cities had their own version of porn. It littered their walls, lamps, vases, and fresco paintings. In their invaluable book, In Search of Paul , John Dominic Crossan and Johnathan L. Reed describe the attitude of the Romans in their Chapter "Violent Pornography in Sex and War." For the Romans, sex was about power, possession, control, and even imperialism. In this environment, equality and even gentleness were foreign to the pagan mind. It was all about the man. It was all about power.
Almost without exception, these lamps reveal a set of positions in which the man is what the Romans would think of as "active" and the woman as "passive." But even when the woman seems to be "active" by being on top during intercourse or performing oral sex, that "activity" is portrayed as service to the male and is depicted iconographically by the man holding and controlling her head or by the man extending his arm back behind his head..which indicates the woman's servile status.
Also, this pornography served to support and even encourage the association of sex with domination and belittlement. It gave legitimacy to a social environment where the power of the wealthy and upper-status gave license to their own impersonal and belittling control. "The wealthy man was free to penetrate actively almost anyone; his object could be a woman, boy, or lower-class man." "But although men protected their women from others, they sought to conquer the daughters or wives of those same others with near impunity, and the number of those conquests served to establish intramale ascendancy."
It was even a part of their public monuments, in which the conquering naked Augustus Caesar was pictured as raping and brutalizing the subject nations who were pictured as naked and defeated women. Crossan and Reed continue to describe the monuments which in the first century lined the streets of a major Roman colony. On the panels of the Sebasteion at Aphrodisias,
..Claudius [the Emperor] stands nude, apart from a billowing cape and helmet, poised to pierce the female figure of Britannia with a spear. She is pinned by his knee to the ground and is dressed with a belted tunic completely off her shoulder to expose her right breast…In the other and very similar relief, Nero's youthful, muscular nude body stands astride the slumped Armenia…She is completely naked except for the Roman iconographic symbols for all Orientals, high boots, a Phrygian cap, and barbarian-style hair flowing out to shoulder length.
In other words, the conquest of the colony nations was depicted and glorified in the Roman mind. This glorification of conquest was depicted as the brutal rape and belittlement of naked, helpless, and servile woman. In the end, how could such an association not end up also glorifying rape, violence, and brutal sex itself? It was all out there, everyday, presented on pristine marble monuments constructed by the funds of the Emperor himself. A better legitimacy of sexual domination one could not find.
It was to this environment that the Apostle Paul preached his message of gentleness and sexual equality. Instead of brutality, he commanded that the "men should love their wives as their own bodies" and "as Christ loved the church." (Eph. 5: 25, 28) The use of sex as an expression of control was replaced with the use of self-control as an expression of love. In the place of sex as male ownership and domination, he taught in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5a:
Let the husband be rendering the affection being owed to the wife, and likewise also the wife to the husband. The wife does not have control [or, authority] over her own body, [but] the husband; and, likewise also the husband does not have control over his own body, [but] the wife. Stop depriving one another.."
Such was a revolutionary sexual ethic for the first century. It re-oriented and condemned the brutality and violence of the sexual behavior of the pagans and especially that of Rome. Even more pointed, it judged the iconography (or pornography) of the Roman world right up to the source of it all, the Emperor. It sought to remake the communities of the Christians into that of the new humanity. Indeed, it sought to show what true humanity was, even in its sexual relations. It was personal, gentle, and empowering to both sides of the equation. It was both revolutionary and seditious to the core.
And more amazingly, it won out. Not only did the women embrace this new ethic, so eventually did the men. As Elaine Pagels points out in Adam, Eve, and the Serpent even those that reject the Christian ethic think is wrong to use slaves for sexual exploitation. The brutality and rape of Rome was replaced with romanticism and love.
But things are again changing. Those that follow the world of pornography, and even former "actresses" are noting a move back toward the violent. In a posting from over a year ago on her website, Julia Christa describes a genre in the pornography films which confuses even her sexually liberated ideas.
(Please note, Ms. Christa is not a Christian by any means and I have not included a link to her site on purpose. Despite her revulsion, she continues to watch this series of films. She questions it, but still continues to watch. In fact, for reasons that seem like a person possessed, she actually recommends "the site to family, friends, teachers, and random folks I meet on the street." I have attempted to clean up the text of her quotes as much as possible and yet still retain the impact of what she describes. I think it important to understand just where we have come and where we may be going.) Her descriptions follow:
The folks at [the pornographic website she is reviewing] are definitely onto something. They have found an audience. Masses of people hungry for more dirty whores, willing to be spit on, sat on, stepped on, slapped around, mocked, humiliated, spanked,… choked, gagged, and more. …. A lot of them cry. It's terribly awful.
How real is it? I don't know. How much of it is "acting" and how much of it is honest moments of realization of what they have become? I don't know.
Is it sick that I watch all the [website's] trailers, all the way through, over and over again, with slack-jawed awe and wonderment at a woman's ability to take punishment and their willingness to be utterly humiliated by [idiots] and goons?
Is it weird that I show this shit to my boyfriend, tell my mother about it, make reference to it in casual dinner conversation, and site it as a phenomenon in Philosophy of Media courses?
My aforementioned boyfriend asked me, after a particularly heinous episode…which we watched, silently, mouths agape, "Why would a girl do this?" I mumbled a bewildered, "I don't know."
Yet still she watches. [And yes, Julia, it is both sick and weird that you do!] I am tempted to conclude that when women themselves become addicted to a genre that devalues and violently belittles other women, then we are close to doomed. Certainly we are well on the road back to Ancient Rome. Such actions should not be even a part of our fantasy. Fantasy has a way of becoming reality for at least a portion of our society; especially if they fall into the trappings of power. Others have noted the connected between this class of pornography and the events at Abu Ghraib . We must remember that at least one of the perpetrators at that prison was a woman .
I don't think that legistation is the answer. As Paul noted, the Law only points out our sin; it does not help us to conquer it. Our only hope is to return to what Scholar Stephen J. Nichols calls Christian pleasure seekers . He notes that "We tend to talk about what we're against. For instance, we tout sexual abstinence when we should also be touting the pleasures of sex in marriage." We should be like the Apostle Paul as he confronted the pagan barbarians of his day. We must not avoid the topic of sex, but like Annie and Eric of 7th Heaven fame, we must openly celebrate our joy in that God-created pleasure. We must never let our animosity or little gripes of the day interfere with sex as God designed it–a source of mutual respect, affection, gentleness, self-sacrificial love, and equality; especially equality. And we should be as open about it as the previously mentioned Camdens. We must fulfill the commission Paul gave us in the first century: we must be communities of the truly human and display those aspects of the truly human to a starving and violence-soaked world.
We must make our married and openly joyful sexual selves our pre-emptive strike into the heart of the pornified culture. I think we can win this one. I have to think that women, and even the men, would flee in rejection of the brutality of sex as represented in the current stage of pornography.
But we have to strike soon. If not, the barbarians will be at the doors before we know it. And they may want to date our daughters.