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Limbaugh, Santorum, Sex, and the Origins of the Roman Catholic Church

Originally published on BuzzFlash@Truthout.

In the year 312, the Roman Emperor Constantine saw some kind of a religious vision at some time before a battle in which he defeated his major rival at the time, Maxentius (1). Just what the nature of the vision was is unclear, but it did lead to Constantine's conversion to what became Roman Catholicism. This event functionally ended close to 300 years of an often underground existence of the early Christian religion, which had previously suffered major episodes of violent persecution from a succession of Roman emperors. Now the Church could exist out-in-the-open. Constantine's conversion led to the calling of a grand Council of Church leaders under the direction of the Emperor himself. (No separation of church-and-state back then. Rick "JFK's-separation-of-church-and-state-speech-made-me-want-to-vomit" Santorum would have fit right in.) It was held in the lake-side town of Nicea (now Iznik, in Turkey). It produced what came to be known as the First Nicean Creed, the first coordinated statement of Catholic doctrine.

Nevertheless, the bishops were hardly unchallenged in the field of competitive religion. There still were a wide variety of both polytheistic and competing monotheistic religions within both the Eastern and the Western sectors of the Empire. As well, there were major schisms (sometimes leading to violent struggles) within their own house over such issues as the true nature of Jesus: human, divine, or both. Nevertheless, over time those conflicts were resolved, sometimes through the use of force (yes, even over such matters as the nature of Jesus.) Then the bishops struggled with what they could do to enlarge their flock and retain their allegiance. They developed a variety of approaches to solving this problem. One major initiative was to focus on sex.

Well before the advent of Freudian psychology, the bishops figured out that humans really liked having sex, well beyond its absolutely necessary role in procreation. Sex, after all, is for many folks just plain fun. The sex drive, as Dr. Freud told us in modern times, is a very strong one. What better way to cement adherence to the Church and its doctrines than to make sex, other than for procreation, somehow "dirty," leading to "sinful." Then of course, in Confession, one could get an excuse for non-procreative sex, but condemnation to hellfire and damnation for having it always lurked in the background. This doctrine was eventually codified by the former libertine St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430). As a scholar of the period tells us, according to St. Augustine, "sin is passed on through sexual intercourse; so once again sexual desire is woven into evil, this through its very transmission" (1, p. 290). In modern times, while Church (Catholic) doctrine still formally adheres to this view of sex, in the United States (and many European nominally Catholic countries as well), apparently most Catholics ignore it, as do (apparently) many adherents of the various Protestant denominations some of which do accept certain Augustinian doctrines. (The latter includes, for example, the concept of "just war" which he invented, despite what the Sixth Commandment has to say on the subject.)

But, you might say, that's all in the past, really ancient history, doc, is it not? Well no, it's not. For here and now, lo and behold, certain leadership of the Republican Party is returning to the sex-is-sinful original Catholic Doctrine, from the 4th century, C.E. For example, listen to Rick Santorum and Rush Limbaugh. The seemingly sex-obsessed (if you listen to him enough) Rick Santorum tells us that: "Many in the Christian faith have said, 'Well, that's O.K. Contraception's O.K.' [Well] it's not O.K. because it's a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be" (2). (One could get into a lengthy discussion of what Rick means by "how things are supposed to be," e.g., missionary position OK, but doggie style not, who would decide, and how would such decisions be enforced, especially by the GOP's beloved "small government." But that's another story.) Rush Limbaugh, like Santorum one of the leaders of the GOP (also seemingly sex-obsessed if you listen to him enough), tells us that women who use contraceptives do so just so they can have all the sex they want without having to worry about getting pregnant. (Of course they would not be able to have a legal abortion in GOP-world.) Since Limbaugh labeled one such woman as a "slut" and a "prostitute," in his mind non-procreative sex is obviously bad.

Limbaugh, Santorum, Blunt, Issa (and the list goes on and on) are obviously waging a war on women on a wide variety of fronts (3). But beyond that, either consciously or unconsciously they, like their forebears among the Catholic bishops of the Fourth Century, C.E., they are waging a war on sex for fun as well. Thus the issues broadens from a war on women to a war on everyone who engages in sex for fun, whether with a member of the opposite sex, the same sex, or in what has been called "sex for one" (4).

So this is what the GOP is becoming, as it proceeds to its conversion to what MSNBC/Huffington Post political analyst Howard Fineman has called "The American Faith Party" (5): "The American Sex-for-Fun is Bad" Party. If Limbaugh, Santorum, et al have their way, it will also become the Party of the Regulation of Sex. But hey, if they have their way on other regulatory fronts there will be a zillion environmental, transportation, health care, financial sector and what-have-you regulators out of work. What better way, especially in the promised "era of big-government-gone," than to put them back to work ---regulating sex.

-----

References:

1. The bulk of the history of the Roman Catholic Church during the time of the Roman Empire is drawn from Charles Freeman's The Closing of the Western mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason, New York: Knopf, 2003.

2. Talbot, M., "Taking Control," The New Yorker, March 19, 2012, p. 23.

3. The Progress Report, "The 70 Sexist Smears Mitt Romney Won't Condemn," Mar. 7, 2012.

4. Dodson, B., Sex for One: The Joy of Self-Loving, New York: Crown, 1996.

5. Fineman, H., "Rise of Faith within the GOP has created America's First Religious
Party," The Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/05/republican-
party-religion-first-religious-party_n_1322132.html.

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Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 30 books. In addition to being a columnist for BuzzFlash/Truthout (http://www.buzzflash.com, http://www.truth-out.org/), he is the Managing Editor of and a Contributing Author to TPJmagazine.net.