"[M]an's attitude to woman is always a measure of his self-understanding," wrote Alan Watts in his 1953 book, Myth and Ritual in Christianity. "The less he understands, the more he projects upon her the contents of his own unconscious." Watts had been tracing medieval theologians who regarded "sexuality with unanimous disgust," permitting marriage only as a "concession to the weakness of human nature."
Fifty-seven years later, certain church members remain in the dark. Such an example comes to us from Warr Acres, Oklahoma, where a crucifix featuring a giant penis in place of Christ's abdomen is unsettling the community. While the Reverend Phillips Seeton claims the image details proper iconography and is actually "showing distention," not portraying a large phallus, pew members have filed out in disgust and outrage.
Said members have used words like "appalled," "ill," and "embarrassment" when referencing the image. That's unfortunate, since the mythology of Jesus is steeped in the regeneration motif, of which popular figures before him -- Christ can be better considered an anthology rather than a singular person -- were concerned with annual agricultural cycles and the worship of a solar deity.
While the first citation of the Egyptian god Osiris, variously known under numerous names, dates back two-and-a-half millennia before the modern calendar begins, his diverse collection of tales kept a few recurring devices intact: the resurrection, the imagery of the shepherd, his murder due to a jealous bystander, in his case his brother Set. After death, Osiris traveled through the underworld until being revived by his wife, Isis, who journeyed around the world collecting his pieces (in one version, at least; in others, he was buried in a tree that stood hidden inside of a pillar in a nearby palace). She wove the fragments together, sat on his erect penis, blew one breath into him, and from that seed was eventually born their son, Horus, who grew up to avenge his father's death by killing his uncle.
Like all good mythologies, this one informs communities of an important process of their existence, agriculture, and the tale of seasons: the planting, growing, harvest, and eventual death of soil, during which time Osiris travels to the underworld, like Persephone's fate nearly 2,000 years later. Humans, contemplating the yearly cycle and our dependence on crops, created varying stories on the same theme, and kept the story moving along, until we reached Jesus, who, as a solar deity and agricultural figure, was somehow permanently personified and frozen in time by a church administration that wanted us to believe they had the only take on the tale.
This is all rather unfortunate but understandable in a culture such as America today, where we no longer need to think much about agriculture. We buy pineapples and blueberries in the winter and consume most of our calories via frozen foods reheated in either our microwave or at a chain restaurant. There's a reason that the most vehement opponents of the ecological movement are often heavily indoctrinated members of such a "faith." You don't need to worry about icebergs melting when Jesus is going to whisk you away to paradise after you die, and thus your physical body is really a secondary concern.
Only some of us take this planet, as well as our bodies, a bit more seriously. Our understanding of time shifted when agricultural rituals turned into consumer-driven holidays. As we lost the rituals of regeneration so important to past cultures, and we chained our minds by demonizing sexuality, most often because men who, instead of celebrating the mystery of life which is embodied in the feminine, denied what they did not understand and started to spout the fearful theology that has blamed Eve for the wickedness of being a woman for 2,000 years.
And so instead of celebrating the beautiful mythological story of regeneration embodied in the Jesus story, we gawk and are made physically sick when seeing his penis. The childishness of this is startling. I remember my first time in Paris witnessing images of nude models on every newsstand and many bus stops, and in Barcelona walking around the beach, which does not have to be labeled "nude" or "topless," where celebrating the body is as natural as sunlight. In our infantile desecration of nature and our bodies, we instead inject what we hate with plastic and shoot poison into our foreheads for fear of showing age, instead of aging gracefully and accepting life's transience.
I don't know what's worse: the fact that these things even need to be pointed out, or that a country that touts itself as the "greatest" in the world is filled with adult juveniles who still have not grasped that sexuality is something to embrace and honor and that religion at its best will always use union as a tool of understanding and not deny the body as a toxic vessel that should have never been.
Wait, I do know what's worse.
Special thanks to Jill Ettinger for forwarding me the Oklahoma article this morning.