Is Celibacy Even Possible?

Wed, 03/13/2013 - 14:19
Submitted by Lawrence Lanoff

Many people, including the Catholic Church, believe that the highest form of human evolution is the transcendence of sex in the form of celibacy. But as Church sex scandals abound, the question we really need to ask is: is celibacy possible?

I’ll get back to this question in a moment, but first I want to explore what an ideal is. An ideal is a value principle that we pursue as a goal. We humans are interesting animals in the sense that many of us live our lives guided by ideals.

But ideals are based on the underlying myth of perfection – and perfection doesn’t actually exist. So ideals can be powerful motivators, yet they can also be completely out of touch with reality. This is because ideals are composed of thoughts – and thoughts are boundless and infinite.

For example, right in this moment, close your eyes and imagine you are dancing on the surface of the moon naked, without a spacesuit. In thought – you can do that. That’s what an ideal is. We can imagine and believe anything. And in thought, anything is possible. In reality however, not so much.

This is why the ideal of celibacy is so interesting, because it cleverly assumes we are even capable of celibacy, which in my experience, we are not. I’ll explain more in a minute. Also implied in the ideal of celibacy is the belief that sex is inherently bad, evil and wrong, which in my experience, it is not.

This is where things get really interesting, because the ideal of celibacy is identical to dancing on the moon naked. Yet we humans tend to believe that the thoughts in our head are real and that these thoughts are magically capable of occurring. That's one of the flaws in the human brain architecture. We genuinely believe that if we can think it, it's possible. It’s a common new age myth that is incredibly easy to disprove.

To me, it's a little bit scary how many people actually believe that literally anything can happen at any given moment simply because they “believe” anything can happen at any given moment. People suffer terribly because of this mythical misperception. Regarding celibacy they think, "Oh, I should be celibate because maybe I read about this in the Bible or heard it from some spiritual teacher or some Indian master who said celibacy is the highest form of evolution." When they can’t live the ideal, they feel twisted up inside.

I personally figured out that celibacy was just a story when one of my spiritual teachers, who used to talk a lot about how bad sex was for human evolution and how it needed to be transcended, had a big fail. He told me that my girlfriend's consciousness was not evolved enough for me to be with her. He said to me, "You need to leave her" which being young and impressionable, I did. I know, it’s embarrassing. But then something really interesting happened.

He had sex with her.

That’s when I realized that ideals are just made up. Take somebody like Yogananda, for example, who preached all about celibacy and transcendence of sex. As it turns out, he had a daughter. So the guru of celibacy, Yogananda, had a daughter who was shunted aside and forced to live in exile for her entire life in shame. It’s just another tragic story in a long line of tragic stories about people failing to live celibate lives.

Sadly, this happens all the time, which is why predator priests, hiding behind the ideal of celibacy, can get away with molesting kids for decades. We believe in the ideal and can’t imagine a priest not living up to that ideal.

Frankly, ideals make us both gullible and in the case of the Church, delusional.

Here’s the real problem. Because the Church sees sex as a moral issue, elders wrongly believe that priest can magically tune into the ideal of sex, which is no sex, and just live in service to god forever. But there is no actual training for celibacy. It's just pray to God and if your heart is pure, then God's going to help you be celibate – because he wants your sex energy focused only on him. Kind of creepy-stalker god if you ask me, but that’s another story.

But even coming close to celibacy is not going to happen with no training. I've trained in tantra since I was 11 years old. I've also been celibate for periods of time, which my training helped me achieve. I think the longest time I went completely celibate, as an adult, was six months. There was no self-pleasure, no sex, no orgasms, no porn, nothing. But of course, I thought about sex. I dreamt about sex. So even though that was a huge amount of time for me, technically, it was celibacy FAIL. Additionally, there was no particular benefit to me one way or another. I certainly wasn’t having magical conversations with God because I was such a good boy.

Sex energy is part of our life. We're not going to learn anything by pretending to not be sexual creatures. We're not going to transcend anything. There's no place to transcend to. Where are we going to go? Do we transcend sexuality and, suddenly we're knocking on heaven's door? That's insanity. Heaven is a metaphor.

So what are we talking about here? Why are we so obsessed with overcoming sexual energy? We're obsessed because it's so powerful. Sexual power is everywhere and we're asking priests and religious people to set standards that they are not capable of because the ideals are not even possible. Telling priests celibacy is the ultimate submission to god is equivalent to saying "Hey, you're not going to live a fully human life until you dance on the moon, naked, without a spacesuit.”

That’s what religion is about. It's taking impossible ideals and holding us to these standards that exists in thought but not in reality, and saying "but that's the way you should be living." The only thing that can follow from this kind of idealized thinking is shame, guilt, self-loathing, etc, for failing to live up to impossible religious ideals.

I've even heard of priests having so much trouble with their sexual desires that they cut their penises off thinking that's going to change something. They actually think, "If I cut off my penis, then I'm not going to be interested in sex", which is, uh, well, completely missing the point.

Rethinking Celibacy
The bottom line is that we have to rethink the religious ideal of celibacy because, at some point, there will be failure. Here’s why: if you really take celibacy to the full ideal, which is "Don't even think about sex", well that's not going to happen. You already failed. No masturbation, no sex, no self-pleasure of any kind, no fantasies or thoughts and no looking at anything that is even remotely sexy is just not possible.

When the new Pope arrives, he'd do well to reconsider the whole Catholic priest celibacy ideal, because, as Cardinal Keith O'Brien knows all too well, it hasn’t worked in the past, it certainly ain’t working out now, and I guarantee you it won’t be working out in the future.

Celibacy is just another made up ideal in a long list of made up ideals that are as impossible for humans to follow as the ideal of running around naked on the surface of the moon is. Let’s deal with reality instead of idealistic fantasy, and perhaps we can begin to get predator priest practices under control.

I’d much rather priests have the new Pope’s full permission to jerk off to porn, rather than to act out their sexual desires in shame and secrecy – hidden in plain sight behind the unattainable ideal of celibacy.

President of Pleasure. Buster of shame and myths.

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Celibacy and 'chastity' as a means of control

Thu, 03/14/2013 - 12:39

Lawrence, thanks for bringing up this extremely important and timely topic. Celibacy as an 'ideal' goes back to the early Catholic Church, and goes hand in hand with the Church's perennial hatred of women. The Church loves to claim that sex is 'God's beautiful gift' to humanity. What the Catholic Church actually believes, however, is that any expression of human sexuality, even in our thoughts, that occurs outside of a valid heterosexual Catholic marriage is so evil that the only suitable punishment is excruciating eternal torture. This applies to kids, too, by the way. Teens or even pre-teens who do what we all do and discover their sexuality by masturbating and having fantasies 'deserve' to go to Hell, simply for growing up as normal and healthy human beings.

The problems with the Church's teachings have become all too obvious in recent years: What the Catholic Church demands is both impossible and impossibly cruel. By making sexuality---a very strong and universal drive---the chief source of constant 'mortal sins', the Church can exercise virtually complete control over the lives of its members. Salvation---escaping what the Church calls 'the pains of Hell'---can only be had through the Catholic Church and its sacraments. The faithful are thus in a position of absolute dependence on the Church and its priests, and the potential for abusing that power is obvious. Priests and nuns are forbidden for their entire lives from any voluntary sexual thoughts or feelings. Since this requirement is impossible (but any 'transgressions' can be severely punished), the tendency among the devout is to try to brutally suppress normal sexuality, both in oneself and in others. But natural drives don't just disappear. Their energy has to go somewhere. And when healthy sexuality is never allowed to develop, the unhealthy, unloving side of sex is what develops instead---just as we've seen with the abuse scandals in the Church. Celibacy itself is a lifelong prohibition against healthy adult sexual intimacy, and persons drawn to such a life are hardly likely to be models of psychological health. Until the Church radically reforms its anti-sexuality the scandals will continue, and the Catholic Church will continue to make millions of its members unbearably miserable.

church property

Thu, 03/14/2013 - 17:09

I was amazed when CBS Sunday Morning had a piece on celibacy and actually mentioned the roots of its existence in the RCC. For the first thousand years priests married, but their widows said church property was theirs, so then celibacy stepped onto the stage in a starring role. I knew this, but was glad to see it on mainstream media.

One of the women who is part of Nuns on the Bus has written a book in which she speaks positively of female masturbation. The church hierarchy hates these women (especially their popularity with ordinary people).

Control - Well Said

Lawrence Lanoff's picture
Thu, 03/14/2013 - 18:03

 Patrick, thank you for pointing out the pure cruelty of the teaching... that's well said...
Additionally, I had heard that celibacy appeared in the RCC over concern about property rights... so thank you for sharing [= 0.8em]I'm happy to hear that CBS is speaking out a bit.[/]
Thanks for the comments!

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