© Paul K. Davis, 2012. All Rights Reserved.
Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation
February 12, 2012

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Thank you for being interested in the topic of "sex" on the Sunday before Valentine Day. I would like to thank our Reverend Jeremy Nickel for accommodating my desire to deliver this message on this day. I first suggested a sermon on "sex" and provided a brief summary at the Worship Associates meeting last spring. It was suggested the topic would be most appropriate in connection with Valentine Day, and I agreed. I am copyrighting the audio as well as text version of this message: copyright 2012 by Paul K Davis of Fremont, California, but I hope these words will spread. For permissions please email me, paulkdavis at earthlink dot net.

This message falls into three parts. The first part consists of scientific information about sex, with my comments on specific scientific evidence. The second part consists of my criticism of what I believe is extensive misinterpretation and misuse of the Bible on topics of sexual morality. The third part consists of my own conclusions and comments, based on science, on my understanding of sex in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and on Unitarian Universalist Principles.

There have been various opinions concerning the relationship between science and morality. Some say science has nothing to do with morality; it merely describes the world as it is, and morality is either received independently by divine authority, or is an individual preference, or does not exist. Others say morality can be drawn as a conclusion from scientific facts. I hold an intermediate belief. I feel that science limits and should guide our search for moral precepts, but that it does not completely determine them. In addition to scientific fact, we need fundamental values. The limits that I believe scientific results place on morality are twofold: moral principles should neither tell you to do something which is impossible nor restrict you from doing something which is necessary. In addition, science can give us much helpful guidance. For, as the author of the Biblical book Ecclesiastes wrote, "there is nothing new under the sun". Useful examples can be found throughout nature.

I have a few visual displays for this part of my message.

In Paramecium, a single-celled creature, and other Ciliates, sex is not reproductive. The individuals reproduce by a special form of cell division. They also have a sexual process in which two individuals meet and form two cytoplasmic connections with each individual sending genetic material to the other. They have multiple "mating-types" rather than just two genders, with complicated rules determining who can mate with whom.

From these fascinating and beautiful creatures, who are simultaneously primitive in some regards and highly evolved in others, I draw several conclusions. First, the principle biological function of sex is not reproduction, but creation of individuals with new genetic combinations. Before sex, evolution occurred chiefly by mutation in individuals. Two useful mutations could be combined in one individual only if they both happened in the single ancestral line of that individual. With sex, however, an individual has two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, etc. etc. With sex, two useful mutations can be combined much more quickly, and progressive evolution was much accelerated by the origin of sex. In addition, Paramecium and its relatives show us that the number of genders is not necessarily two, and that sex acts can be quite symmetric.

Another interesting creature is the microscopic yet multi-cellular worm called Caenorhabditis. Among these the two genders are: hermaphrodite and male. The hermaphrodites at first produce sperm which they retain. Then they produce eggs. If they mate, then the eggs are primarily fertilized by the male, but if they don't find a mate they fertilize themselves. They seem to be tending toward female self-sufficiency.

In a parallel group, the Rotifers, within one subgroup males have completely disappeared. For millions of years the females have continued to reproduce and evolve. I have to conclude that, while having two or more genders is good, I'm not a member of the only gender which is truly essential.

Among ants, bees, termites and other "social" insects, nearly all of the individuals are sterile. They contribute to reproduction by being, in effect, the adoptive parents of their younger siblings. In some regards, our culture is more accepting of same-sex couples than of individuals who do not wish a partner. We have many events for which one is expected to have a date. Theatres and other organizations offer two-for-the-price-of-one specials. As we work toward accepting all categories of couples, I think we should also become more accepting of individuals.

The majority of flowers require insects to accomplish fertilization. We owe the beauty of flowers to their need to attract agents of artificial insemination.

In the various marine angelfish, the gender of an individual may change. Normally, an individual is a female first. They associate in small groups and, whenever the group has no male, one of the females becomes a male.

The state reptile of New Mexico is a whiptail lizard species, all of whom are females. They combine in couples, engaging in affectionate behavior called "mock-mating" by biologists. This seems to enhance their parthenogenetic reproductive abilities.

As we all know, many creature live in groups organized around their mating arrangements. I would remind you that either gender may be dominant, or neither. One species, closely related to humans, which is female dominant, is the ring-tailed lemur.

Most mammals find and choose their mates by sense of smell, but among primates the sense of vision is more important. Male baboons, which walk on all fours, have enlarged brightly colored testicles hanging behind. Similarly, male vervet monkeys have blue scrotums and red penises. Female Chimpanzees, on the other hand, have puffy pink rear ends when they are sexually receptive. Nature doesn't establish any uniformity about which gender will be decorated.

Humans are primates; and our principal, though not sole, basis of our sexual attraction is vision. The most widely distributed picture of a naked man and a naked woman are the plaques on certain of our spacecrafts. Pioneer 10 was 7 billion miles away when we were last in contact.

My conclusions from nature are: the initial function of sex was not reproduction, in the sense of increasing the number of individuals, but rather creation of individuals with new genetic combinations; the division into male versus female is not universal; artificial insemination occurs in nature; same-sex couples are sometimes a good part of nature; any gender may have features for sexual attraction, including visible decorations; non-reproducing individuals may still be very valuable to a species; sex often has an important roll in social organization; no gender is necessarily dominant.

In fact, at one time, the false notion of a fundamental male versus female dichotomy, was even more pervasive than now. I have read of the concept that all living protoplasm is either male or female and, most extreme of all, that positive electric charge is male and negative electric charge female. Baloney.

Now I would like to turn to a different branch of science: the science of understanding written texts, in particular of understanding the Bible. This is important to this sermon topic because I feel there have been various misinterpretations of the Bible in regard to sex, sometimes outright distortions. These myths concerning what the Bible says about sex have caused much human grief. I have spoken to this congregation before on this specific topic on May 28, 2006.

Some have felt that sex was the "original sin" of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, but this cannot be the correct interpretation of that passage any more than the apple could be the "tree of knowledge of good and evil". In the Genesis account there was no sex until after the fall. The original sin could be interpreted variously, but it wasn't sex. It is usually considered to have been simple disobedience. It might be interpreted as the desire to know everything: evil as well as good. It could even have been blaming someone else for one's own faults, since God does not punish Adam until Adam says Eve gave him the fruit, and God does not punish Eve until she says the Serpent told her it was good to eat.

Many think the Bible condemns masturbation. It does not. The term "onanism" has been used to mean masturbation, based on a Biblical story of a man named Onan, but the text is quite clear what his sex act was, and it was not masturbation. Furthermore, his punishment was not at all for the specific sex act, but for his refusal to get his deceased brother's widow pregnant. His sin was theft of his brother's property, which, by law at the time, should have gone to his brother's widow's child.

Another misunderstood Biblical passage is in Deuteronomy where we read, "A woman must not wear men's clothing, nor a man wear women's clothing." To the modern reader this would seem to condemn a woman wearing pants and a man wearing a dress. But if we think a bit we realize that when this was written both men and women wore robes as their primary attire. In fact, the passage makes no reference to the style of clothing to be worn. What then does it mean? It seems to me that its intent is to prohibit a man or woman from wearing a specific item of clothing that had previously been worn by the other gender. Before modern laundry facilities an item of clothing might be worn many days between washings. It would have been an important matter of hygiene for a man not to accidentally wear his wife's robe, or a daughter to wear her brother's. So the Bible really says nothing against cross-dressing.

Continuing on, the sin of the city of Sodom had nothing to do with homosexuality. The term "sodomy" is falsely based on this Biblical story. In fact, within the Bible itself among the prophets, Sodom seems to be condemned mostly for inhospitality to strangers which, in modern terms, would be abuse of illegal immigrants. It was not until some centuries into Christian times that sodomy came to mean sexual sin, being used generally for any heterosexual or homosexual sin. The Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne is the first to definitely use the term to refer to specifically homosexual acts. Going back to the evidence of Genesis, placed in context, I have concluded that condemnation of human sacrifice was the original significance of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.

The only clear criticism of homosexuality in the Old Testament applies only to male homosexuality and, by standard Christian understanding, ought to apply only to Jews, or possibly even just to the priestly class. As Reverend Nicole LaMarche said, "Most people seeking to condemn gay people point to the Book of Leviticus, where we read that men lying with men is an abomination. However, we rarely hear of other verses found in the book of Leviticus that are equally challenging. For example, Leviticus also tells us that eating shrimp and lobster is an abomination. And that a person should not wear material woven of two kinds of material - an impossible mandate for a pageant contestant!".

The New Testament references to homosexuality do not limit it any more than heterosexuality is restricted. You should not be in an abusive relationship with a male, and you should not desert your wife for a male lover, for example.

Turning now to heterosexuality, Jesus said, "Whoever looks on a woman to lust after her, has committed adultery with her already in his heart". On the other hand, Gypsy Rose Lee, defending her profession as a strip-teaser, pointed out that the early Christian author Clement of Alexandria said, "Man should not be ashamed to love that which God was not ashamed to create," referring to the human female form. I actually think Jesus's philosophy here, and Gypsy's, are consistent. I see Jesus as telling us that the avoidance of a bad deed starts in the heart, not that we should not appreciate the beauty in creation including sexual beauty, such as the gender to which we are attracted, or a flower which, after all, is the sexual organ of the plant.

Now for the third part of my message, my own thoughts and exhortations on the subject of "sex", though some of them have already slipped in to the first two parts.

I think people's knowledge concerning sex has had a powerful effect on civilization in the following regard. Thousands of years ago, the connection between the sex act and pregnancy was not known. With this lack of understanding, it would have seemed that only females are reproductive, and males are defective females. Archaeologically, from this period of time, we find primarily female figurines. When the connection was realized, it would have seemed that only males are parents, and the female merely holds the baby for nine months. During these periods of time, substantial male-dominant cultures developed in the world. We now know that each new individual is equally the child of a female and a male parent, and we are beginning to realize the equality of our two genders.

We are also in a new stage of development in which cultural, rather than genetic, progress is most important. Some of my teachers and professors were as important in my development as my biological parents. I think we should see, from what sex introduced into genetics - that is, the combination together of new and beneficial mutations - that in cultural development we should also seek to combine divergent sources of innovation so as to more quickly approach solution of ever more complex problems, in both science and values.

I should also let you know what my conclusions are in regard to sexual morality. I believe sexual morality is not a distinct set of rules specific for sexual interaction, but simply the implications of general morality in the specific cases of sexual interaction.

Much of positive sexual morality flows from our first UU principle, "the inherent worth and dignity of every person". This includes the worth and dignity of any child you may produce. Be responsible in producing children. Use effective birth control when production of a child is not appropriate. Participate strongly in the upbringing of your children, or relinquish custody to others who will. Next is the worth and dignity of your partner. Live up to the vows and promises you enter into. If you fail in this regard, be honest and forthright, seeking a way forward which values the worth and dignity of yourself, your partner, and any children. Don't spread diseases.

We should also remember the seventh UU principle, "respect for the interdependent web of all existence" and avoid overloading our fragile and limited environment with an excess of people. There is a Biblical passage in Genesis, which says, "Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth". It does not say "exponentiate"! It does not say "overflow the earth and destroy it"!

I also wish to comment on sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure consists of more than the physical sensations. There is also the pleasure of knowing that you are giving pleasure to your partner. Then there is the pleasure of being the center of attention from your partner, coupled with the pleasure of focusing your attention on your partner. Sexual activity also provides useful exercise, cherished memories, and energizing expectations.

Sexual pleasure serves the function of leading us to reproduce. But in nature it is rare that a structure or process serves only one function. Sexual pleasure also keeps groups together - herds, bands and couples while they care for offspring, so that they assist each other in defense and food acquisition. Among humans and probably others, sexual pleasure is also a reward for being in a loving relationship.

As a final note, I noticed that my birthday, early in November, is approximately nine months after Valentines Day. I thought a little bit more on this and remembered that my Grandmother Pauline, after whom I am named, was born on November 14th, exactly nine months after Valentines Day, and so might well have been conceived on that day. Her husband, my grandfather, was born on November 12th, nine months after today's date, and might well have been conceived on this date.

Thank you, and have a happy Valentine Day.

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