Perhaps is not so surprising to use this word in a time when science has introduced us — upclose and on video — to non-human meiosis, known in human terms as “sex.” My favorite example of sexual predation is a bug that bores a hole in the female and injects his sperm. Bugs don’t have perineums, which is called in slang about women, “the pink.” Sometimes it’s called “the slash”, which gives it a bug-like violent vibe, or the “slot” which sort of suggests a coin-operated function. Violence and monetization are two characteristics of human intercourse of all kinds. We don’t manage them very well. Men have names for their unruly little man: Peter or Dick. Technically, the perineum is unisex.
Those of us who try to understand existence in ultimate terms as well as in the framework of “embodiment” have been challenged to the point of shifting the paradigm of theology from one big old gramps in the sky to an infinitely interrelated and constantly morphing fabric or symphony of electrochemical atomic interactions — the atom being, of course, a pattern of energy. If being is actually, really, this and not the pattern of brain interaction assembly that goes on through our lives, casting a connectome over the universe that sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t, what are we to use as a guide for human interactions?
Rule out drilling holes in each other, though the NRA will not agree with that. Personally, I’m going to the tension in the relationship between the human individual and the human group, even the species taken as a group. Even “hominins” taken as a group. The point is life-going-on, which we call evolution or survival of the fittest, though we get all incoherent about fitness. It’s not about the biggest, strongest, smartest, prettiest, etc. It’s about what fits.
Most crucially, “fitness” is a shifting target because the planet shifts, the cultures shift, the mood shifts. Fitness shifts. Therefore, a system (meiosis) succeeds if it constantly creates a variety of kinds, so that even if everything changes, some of the kinds will survive. Some will not. (Goodbye hominins. Goodbye cave bears.) In a world jammed with humans, individual survival is often pitched against group survival. Results vary.
A group that has settled upon an understanding of the world that lets its members survive will attract more people and eventually form an institution with leaders, buildings, images, songs, and dogma — lots of stuff to support functioning. What supports the institution is likely to be written down and enforced by the group. Until it doesn’t work anymore. Then, in a freely joined group, people will leave.
American Christian churches of all kinds are shrinking. It’s not that people are going from one group to another, but that they are simply going group-less. The larger culture is not recreating religious sub-groups people want. Or maybe they just aren’t recognizing them as religious. This may be the case with a new consensus forming about creation. Some call it “scientific mysticism” meaning that it accepts all the work of responsible science without wandering off into the woo-woo, but is keenly aware of the awful grandeur of ultimates, eternals, and unimaginables that science points to. I’m hearing rumors about the formation of new congregations, something like the earliest Unitarians and Universalists reacting against Calvin’s paradigm.
Actually it was Luther who admired the pink ruffles of the perineum as a source of salvation. He famously said, as recorded by his students, that when the devil threatened him, he put his hand between the legs of his wife and was consoled. It’s a puzzle to me why the more stringent feminists won’t share the wealth of the original container of life.
There are many jokes about the UU heresies. One is that if there were two gates to heaven, one labeled “salvation” and the other one labeled “discussion of salvation,” all the UU’s would turn off to the discussion access. But I often think that the UUA is best not thought of as a denomination but as a ground for denominations. (I’m trying to echo Tillich resolution between being versus non-being by suggesting a “ground of being.”) Reading “The Silk Roads” is a bit of a revelation in that it traces how the Greek-Persian rivalry/collaboration, the Christian-Buddhist interactions, and all the other tribal institutions formed by ecologies of river and mountain — especially after erosion and exploitation narrowed the world — had to change to survive.
Nothing has changed more abruptly or more drastically than our understanding of sex in terms of fertility, entitlement, protection, identity, leadership and so on. Now we might be prepared to accept the idea that a virgin can have a baby — but so what? We might not think that crucifixion is the most horrible death — today’s Messiah might be more likely to die of HIV/AIDS because of being denied meds. We’ve accepted leaders and heroes who have sex with people to whom they have no legal obligation. I won’t bother to name them — it’s a good parlor game.
But we have NOT reformed our societal protection of children, who are still partly commodities and partly party prizes, rarely human beings deserving of protection for their development. There is NO UUA scandal-monger pursuing ministers who neglect their children or have children they don’t want. The conservatives will punish for abortion, defending it with sentimental appeal to babies, not realistic concern or help for a baby that will need public money and attention.
Can we say that our present institutions and protocols are serving either individuals or groups very well? So many of our schemes from the 19th century have turned demonic so that peace-keeping forces are rapists, humane societies are money-machines, and hospitals are bombed. What are churches? What is the putative role of specifically religious institutions in a world where nothing is sacred?
It’s clear that the journey of the individual has become even more intensely a search for the Sacred, that transcends even individual survival. Thus, the abuse of the pink perineum as a way of waging war is an abomination. The use of someone’s perineum for enjoyment in the face of social disruption is ill-advised but human. It speaks to a greater lack that the individual is not addressing, but there is always the tantalizing hint that sex is sometimes sacred. Ceremonies, even those of being drummed out, are not enough. We must look to the swirling fractals of understanding the Big Picture and I mean galactic, not “me and my neighbors.”
Place settings are from Judy Chicago's Supper Party.
This conversation is not merely an address in a venue on Boston’s Berry Street. It is now on the Internet and global, googleable.