|JESUS AND SEX The Da Vinci Code in Perspective|
|May 14, 2006|
The concerted effort by some officials of the Catholic Church to interdict the spectacularly popular novel, The Da Vinci Code and the motion picture based on it, takes on the specter of the surreal and ridiculous when the Easter sermon before Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican’s St. Peter’s (and my local parish) is devoted to a condemnation of these creative projects.
Then on May 6 Rome spoke again through Cardinal Francis Arinse who said, “Esistono mezzi legali—ha detto il porporato—per ottenere che alcuni rispettino i diritti di altri. Questo e’ uno dei diritti umani fondamentali: devono rispettarci, rispettare il nostro credo religioso e devono rispettare il nostro fondatore, Gesu’ Cristo.” Loosely translated I think it means that we have legal means to defend our religious faith and to demand respect for Jesus Christ.
To this I quote Mauriac: The Church turns to politics when it fails to produce enough saints.
But even beyond suing the infidels who are promoting a novel and movie about the putative sexual adjustment of Jesus Christ (does this mean he was heterosexual?) some are recommending martyrdom rather than offering incense before a false god. At least, according to a posting in the May 10 New York Times, “A Roman Catholic organization in India has urged Christians to starve themselves to death to protest the release of The Da Vinci Code in movie theaters there.” I tell you I read the book and will see the movie. It was a good read, but in my estimation is not worth giving up the popcorn in protest. The fast unto death recommended by the organization is to demonstrate, “the extent that our feelings have been hurt.” Boy, if that isn’t one for the Colbert Report! (That is the first time I’ve used an exclamation point in any of my writing.) The demonstrators say that starving oneself to death is a better means of protest than “pulling things down and tearing them up.” Well, that is debatable with some of us who value life. About 100 people in Mumbai burnt pages from the book (I hope they saved the last chapters) but were stopped from burning an effigy of the author Brown, according to the NYT.
What the hell is all this falderal about?
Whatever we believe about Christ’s divinity, Jesus was a man. He was a perfect moral human being. He was good in every respect. But he was a complete man, fully human, and therefore he possessed sexuality. These are logical deductions. At the very least (however distasteful the thought to Jansanists, Opus Dei-ites and their like) we must admit that Jesus had a penis. Jesus had erections, and yes, he must have experienced ejaculations no matter how deep in sleep.
The scriptures, however, say nothing about Jesus and sex. He is not presented as a married man, but neither is he presented as celibate in the clear terms that St. Paul describes of himself. There is a tradition that Christ was celibate, but that is not based on scripture. Only fourth century documents say that the celibacy of Jesus “has been a constant tradition.”
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John say nothing about Christ’s sexual life or sexual orientation. Sexual orientation was not an idea that any of the gospel writers, or anyone else, for that matter, could conceptualize let alone articulate at that time in history.
The portrayals in paint and marble of nude apostles and saints (and Jesus too) that fill the halls of the Vatican and the churches of Rome are not a threat to the faith or morals of well-balanced people. Even the fresco of the Virgin Mary squirting milk from her exposed breast across the ceiling of the church of Tre Fontani into the mouth of St. Bernard is a venerable artistic expression. Some of us dealt with iconoclasm long ago and can appreciate art and symbol for what they are.
The questions that arise now about Jesus’ sexuality are legitimate and helpful in understanding the essence of the gospel message, which is honesty, love, and relatedness.
Those who hold a celibate Christ as their model have in him an unequaled example of love and service to humanity, a paragon of compassion and hope, worthy of emulation.
But married men and women share the same model of self-sacrifice, care, personal devotion, and loving relatedness in the person of Jesus as everyone else.
Christ is not the private property of the vowed celibate. Certainly his life and love are not reserved exclusively for men. Jesus is, and since the beginning of Christianity has been, the inspiration of single, married, and celibate women. On balance it can be argued that women do a better job in the imitation of Christ than men.
Why are questions about Christ’s marital status or his sexual orientation so threatening? If Jesus was married, or if Jesus was a homosexual (or even if he masturbated during adolescent experimentation) in what way would it change his example or his message?
Strong arguments can be made for a love and even a marital relationship with Mary Magdalene. The tradition of this pairing can be based on a particular reading of the gospel accounts and has a long history that such a reading was made by early followers of Christ. No matter how odious the idea of a married Jesus confronts orthodoxy with, it casts as long a shadow as many accepted traditions and is more substantial than some.
Holy Blood, Holy Grail and The Lady With the Alabaster Jar trace the tradition of a married Jesus more closely than some other Catholic myths (venerated relics) and with greater logic.
Likewise the idea that Jesus was a homosexual can also be anchored in the bible, specifically in the evidence of his closeness with the Apostle John, and a text in Mark’s Gospel.
Traditional scripture scholars and dogmatic theologians can probably scoff at any speculations about Jesus and sex (while they enjoy reading the novel). The challenge that a more refined understanding of human psychology and human sexuality present to theologians cannot be avoided. Fifty years ago the question of the “consciousness of Christ” defied the long held traditional assumption that Jesus was aware of his nature and mission from the moment of his conception. Most theologians don’t teach that anymore regardless of its long and venerable tradition.
The foolishness surrounding the novel and the movie cannot be settled by lawsuits, book burnings, or fasting. The real issue must be debated: what are the real Christian values of human sexuality? Not traditions, not laws, not assumptions, but what does the nature of sexuality and the teaching of Christ have to do with each other?
Not all the codes have been solved yet. The sex of Jesus is still a code unsolved even if the novel and movie are interesting and phenomenal successes.