Celebration of Bonobo Week

This past week contained my birthday, and on Twitter I decided to take that opportunity to post curious facts about the Bonobos. They are also known as the Pygmy Chimpanzee, and they live in the wild in only one place: Congo, in an area south of the Congo River. Currently, they are an endangered species and need our protection.

I am very fond of them for several reasons. First, they are the closest genetic relative to humans. They share almost 99% of our DNA in common. They are also a Matriarchal society, the only one among the Great Apes. In addition to being peace-loving, they are also highly sexual, being the only ape that has sex outside of estrus. This means, they like recreational sex, and not just bonking for reproduction.

Allow me to retweet here all the tweets I put up from Bonobo week on my Twitter Feed. Enjoy.

Welcome to my birth week. This is a week I give out of who I am to you. This week I am featuring the Bonobo, our closest primate relative, with whom we share almost 98% of DNA in common. A primate who defines what Sex Positive is.

During this week, I will highlight the work of primatologists, sociologists, anthropologists, sex educators, and therapists who have written about what the unique qualities of the Bonobo tell us about the future of human sexual and sociological development.

Almost all Bonobos are pansexual. The males will have sex with several partners a day, but are also happy to massage other males to climax. Females will mount the males as often as the males mount the females. There is a lot of sex with bonobos.

Because female Bonobos have more recreational sex (outside of estrus) than any other primate (including humans), they have evolved the largest clitoris in the primate family. They use this to have climaxes with males and females, with themselves, and with multiple partners a day.

IN Bonobo culture, the females eat first, and the males must wait until they are done. However, the males receive almost endless sexual advances from the females and are quite content most of the time.

As I highlight the work of so many to study the Bonobo culture, I will point out the movers and shakers. Here is the first: Dr. Amy Parish. (@DrAmyParish). One of the world’s leading primatologist/anthropologist, specializing in knowledge about the Bonobos. Feminist Darwinian.

“Bonobo females are remarkably skillful in establishing and maintaining strong affiliative bonds with each other despite being unrelated. Moreover, they control access to highly desirable food, share it with each other more often than with males, engage in same-sex sexual interactions in order to reduce tension, and form alliances in which they cooperatively attack males and inflict injuries.”

Female bonobos have highly advanced relationships with each other: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF02733490…

In Bonobo culture, the females are the nomads and the adventurers. The males stay in the tribe and look after the children. The females will often leave and join other tribes of Bonobos. They get bored with the same sexual partners and go off searching new ones.

According to Dr. Amy Parish, the world’s expert on Bonobos, our closest primate cousins love to see videos of humans dancing. They try to mimic our dancing afterward. They seemingly love the closeness. As this week progresses, you will see how much we need the Bonobo energy.

Female bonobos are known to share food with each other and even humans. They love to bond and form protective cliques. Female bonobos regularly stimulate each other to climax and do a lot of G to G sex. Afterward, there is a lot of snuggling. They have very little violence.

If you’re enjoying this weeks’ focus on the Bonobos on my Twitter Feed, consider helping to preserve this amazing primate. Here is a link on Dr. Susan Block’s website where you can help in many ways:Block Bonobo Foundation – DonateOrganizations Helping to Save the Bonobos from Extinctionblockbonobofoundation.org

In spite of Bonobo culture being philopatric (Males care for the children) females not only eat first and have sex when they want, the females are mostly bonded and affiliated to each other, and they are DOMINANT! And, they are mostly non-violent!

Female bonobos, when they want sex with a particular male, go up to him and put an arm around his shoulder. If he won’t comply, she will keep following him around, keep with the arm around the shoulder, sometimes biting him. If he doesn’t comply then, she smacks him in the head

In Bonobo culture, if it does happen that a particular male (who are much larger and more powerful) tries to push his weight around, all the females will group together and will force him to stop this behavior. These are our closest genetic neighbors. What do we learn from this?

According to Bonobo expert Amy Parish, it has been observed that when a female bonobo is sexually solicited simultaneously by a female and a male, she will always pick the female. Apparently, they find the choice quite clear since it is the one they always make.

Bonobo females are very sexual with one another. According to DeWaal, Parish, and others, this is not only about libido. They do this to build good will with other females, creating connectedness to reduce hostility And there is no hostility among females.

(This is a quote from Dr. W. Martin’s book “Untrue”): ““There’s an implicit bias against matriarchy. A lot of people, including scientists, seem to resist the idea that what bonobos do—that females are sexually assertive and strategic, that they build female-female coalitions through sex, and that they are a female-dominant species, period—is part of our evolutionary lineage. Bonobos are part of the narrative arc of humanness,” Parish said, making her point as if it were precisely what it is: a fact.”

Most evolutionary biologists see them as the most likely pre-hominid in our development. They share 99% of our DNA. They: –have sex face to face –walk upright more than any other primate –French Kiss –Use leaves as intoxicants, as antiseptics, antibiotics.

Bonobos Can Teach us: When Bonobos feel threatened, they don’t freak out. Instead, the entire tribe starts having sex. Within just a few pairings, the individual bonobos find their emotions regulate. If you have a Sex Positive mindset, sex can help you self-regulate emotions.

Bonobos are smart. One young male named Kanzi was able to use a symbolic keyboard to communicate; he learned primitive stone tools within days; and he was able to ask accurately for a stick, marshmallow and graham cracker to make Smores.

The peaceful, empathetic nature of Bonobos is hard-wired in their brains. Which tells me that this peace-loving nature is still in our brains. Let’s all find that center. Brain differences may explain varying behavior of bonobos and chimpanzeesBrain differences may explain varying behavior of bonobos and chimpanzeeswashingtonpost.com

On this final day of Bonobo week, I want to show you why this is important to know this small primate. Dr. de Waal believes humans, chimpanzees, and bonobos evolved in parallel with a common ancestor. Therefore, the marked differences between the three can help us see us. Here is the bottom line: Chimpanzees are extremely violent. And they are male-dominated. Sex is only for domination and reproduction. Infants of other males are killed. Bonobos are not violent. They are female-dominated. Sex is mostly recreational and emotional. Bonobos do not kill the infants of other bonobos. They are marked by peaceful co-existence and positive sexual freedom. Humans have a choice. We always have had. We can go down the road of Chimpanzees (which we have since agriculture was invented) or we can change our path. Will we choose the female-dominated path of the bonobos? Or, at least, will we reach a harmony of the sexes and find a way to make peace a central part of all relationships. Candidly, this will mean normalizing Sex Positivity, and all alternatives to monogamy to thrive.

Young male bonobos whose mothers and other female relatives are still in the troop have a sexual advantage. Their female relatives set them up to have sex with other females NOT in the family. They’ll even instruct them when they’re not doing it right.

One final Bonobo observation; Dr. Wednesday Martin (@WednesdayMartin) asks, what if human females were in a female-bonded world, where they felt safe to be in charge of their own sexuality? She posits that human females would see how strong their libidos really are!

Bonobo log: Supplemental Bonobos love green apples. No one knows why. They don’t grow where they live in the wild. But if you drop green apples to them, they will literally have an orgy first, and then share the apples together. Share, people. Sex first; then sharing happens.

Building a New Christian Sexual Ethic

[Update: So many people read the first few paragraphs and assume I am building a case for polyamory. I am not. This is because people aren’t reading to see my key point which is further on. If you’re going to read this article to discover my proposal for a new sexual ethical system for Christians, please read all of it before reacting].

“What does the Bible say about polygamy, polyamory, or Open Marriage?” The man who asked me this had been a missionary for 25 years and was not considering a change in his marital status. He was not contemplating cheating on his wife or taking another bride. He was simply curious.

He was curious because during the previous year, three separate people had asked him these kind of questions. All of them who asked these questions were committed Christians with a good grasp of the Bible and the church’s teachings on sexuality.

"What does the Bible say about polygamy, polyamory, or Open Marriage?" Click To Tweet

“Mike, the Bible doesn’t make it clear where it falls on any of those issues. Though we make excuses for the Bible, there are examples in the Sacred Writings of people who lived with multiple wives, who had sanctioned girlfriends, and who lived this way openly. And from what we can see in the Bible, God never condemns this practice.”

I couldn’t argue with him. The only restriction in the Bible regarding any form of Open Marriage is the 1 Timothy 3 admonition that an Overseer should not be a polygamist. It never expands on this concept by forbidding others to have multiple wives. In short, the biblical ethic regarding Open Marriage was non-existent.

Everyone has ethics; but not everyone has an ethical system. An “ethic” is a belief in how one should act. You can have an ethic that allows you to tell the truth one day and then not tell the truth the next day. But because this is not a consistent ethic, we would say it is not an “ethical system”. I define an ethical system as a series of beliefs regarding a particular behavior that are consistent with themselves. Therefore, if you have an ethical system about telling the truth, that system should apply to all situations. Let me give an example of the difference between an ethic and and Ethical System.

I might believe that it is wrong to kill. That is an ethic. I would not (and do not) kill anyone. But how widely do I apply that ethic? I might believe it is wrong to kill others unless they are trying to kill me. I might also believe it is wrong to kill others even if they are trying to kill me. In addition, I might define killing mosquitoes as killing, killing cows as killing, killing fetuses as killing, killing prisoners on death row as killing. I might believe killing all those beings is considered killing. That is an ethical system.

However, if for some reason I feel that killing enemy combatants on the battlefield is not killing, but killing someone invading my home is killing, then my ethical system is more complex, and perhaps inconsistent.

That is the problem with most ethical systems. Most systems of behavior are internally inconsistent, at least from a logical/philosophical viewpoint. Why is it wrong to kill some people but not others? Why is it wrong to deceive some people, but not other people? Why is it wrong to have sex one day, and then it is not wrong a day later (in the case of someone who may be single and then gets married)? Most people will seek to justify the complexity and variations of their ethical systems by explaining the exceptions.

Why is it wrong to have sex one day, and then it is not wrong a day later (in the case of someone who may be single and then gets married)? Click To Tweet

We will never be free of doing this. Not even those who believe in a so-called “Biblical Sexual Ethic” can get away with it. Let me show how this happens.

In the first paragraph, I noted the question about polyamory. The idea that all sex should be between one husband (male) and one wife (female) is the standard teaching of much of the Church for much of the Church’s existence. But is it a consistent ethical system?

Not really. There are many examples of prominent men in the Bible who married more than one woman. Jacob, Esau, David, Solomon all lived this way. In addition, several Bible characters had sex with sanctioned sex slaves–Jacob, Abraham, David, Solomon, Absalom, Judah and others. God does not condemn any of these men for polyamory. In many cases, God even approves of it. When David raped Bathsheba and had her husband killed, God did send the prophet Nathan to confront David. And in that confrontation, this is what Nathan says:

Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more.

2 Samuel 12:7-8

According to these verses, Nathan is speaking for God and claiming that God gave King Saul’s WIVES to David after Saul died! And God says that he would have given him more women if he wanted. If we accept this as God’s inerrant word, then God not only passively accepts polyamory, but actively endorses it and supports it.

The biblical sexual ethic gets more complicated than that. The concept of virginity (the absence of sexual intercourse in a person’s experience) is touted as a virtue in the Bible. But it only applies to women! Nowhere are men told they must also be virgins. Even the Hebrew word for “virgin” is a word that only refers to females. There is no Hebrew word for a male virgin. There is no place in the Old Testament where men were even expected or ordered to be virgins.

The concept of virginity (the absence of sexual intercourse in a person's experience) is touted as a virtue in the Bible. But it only applies to women! Click To Tweet

What can we say about all of this? Simply that the Bible does not present a consistent or relevant ethical system regarding sexuality. There are many more examples of this to give, but I want to move on to the solution, not just note the problem.

I don’t believe the Bible is helpful or realistic for building a modern ethical system for sexuality. There are many reasons for this, but they can be distilled down to these:

Patriarchy: Everyone who wrote Sacred Scripture believed in patriarchy. They believed that men had privileges and rights which women did not have. This affected everything they wrote, but especially their viewpoints on sexual relations. One classic example: In the story of the woman caught in adultery (John, chapter 8) only the woman is brought before Jesus and not the man. And no one, not even Jesus, openly notes this. It takes modern commentators to sort this one through.

Ancient Near East Focus of Sexuality: Virginity did not focus on sex; it focused on inheritance. A man wanted to know that his wife had not had sex with another man to ensure his offspring were truly his children. No claim could be made by another man on his children. Children and women were considered possessions of a man, even by the writers of the Bible. Even the teachings on “immorality” in the Bible are really focused on discouraging men from visiting prostitutes.

Misogyny: Women were hated in the days the Bible was written. A Jewish man prayed this prayer most mornings: “Thank you God that I am not born a gentile, a dog, or a woman”. How can an ethical system of mutuality with regards to sexuality ever come from that backdrop?

Homophobia: The writers of Scripture not only had a very low opinion of women, they hated anyone in the LGBTQ community–not that there was an established community due to fear. So, any ethic regarding those who are not cis-hetero men is going to be demeaning and incomplete if we rely on the Bible.

So how do we build an ethical system?

Christians have seen the problem with applying the Bible to many of our ethical systems: Money, power, marriage, reproduction, government, criminal justice, human interactions, etc. There have been many proposals through the centuries on how to build an ethical system which keeps some of the good teachings of the Bible but does not lean too heavily on them.

One of the most profound attempts at this was made by John Wesley. He spent years seeking to apply biblical truths to modern-day ethical problems. His view on Holiness required that our faith be lived out ethically and consistently. But he found that many in his day had widely differing views on what the Bible said on just about any topic. So, while keeping the Bible principles central, he added three more sources of revelation in building an ethical system:

  • Tradition
  • Experience
  • Logic

By tradition, he meant the traditions of the faith community one finds themselves in. By experience, he meant the experiences a Christian has which line up with the Bible. By logic, he is referring to the mind which has been enlightened by the Holy Spirit to grasp deeper truths.

Thus, even with these four sources of input to build an ethic, Wesley still saw all of them revolving around the Bible and biblical truths.

I contend that isn’t going to work with sexual ethics. You can certainly hold to it if you like, but the Church’s history with strange teachings on sexuality and moral purity lead me in a slightly different direction.

I still think we can use four sources of input to build an ethical system, including the Bible. But here is how I fashion it:

  • The Bible: We can use the Bible as a source for ethics on sexuality if we strip away patriarchy, homophobia, misogyny, and virginity.
  • Tradition: In the sense that we rely on a trusted community of people whose practices of sexuality are consistent and respectful, we can use certain traditions we trust.
  • Experience: By this, I mean the collected experience of all humans with regards to sexuality. In our day, we are much more refined as a society on what should and should not be allowed in sexual relationships. The #metoo movement did not start the discussion on sexual assault, consent, and misogyny. It simply sought to apply emerging community standards world-wide…to everyone
  • Logic/Reason: By this, I mean that ethical standards need to make sense to a faith community and be reasonable to apply. If the faith community one is a part of does not apply logic or reason to sexual ethics, one might have to find a different faith community.

It should be obvious that this opens the door to many different ethical systems regarding sexuality. But if you think about it, that’s where we currently are. This is even true within the church of Jesus Christ. There are elements of acceptance of the LGBTQ community, and other groups which do not accept LGBTQ as valid. Some faith groups allow for premarital sexual expression and some do not.

But there is widespread acceptance of the following:

  • Consent must be applied to all sexual relationships
  • Honesty and integrity are vital to healthy sexuality
  • The practice of safe sex is paramount for everyone
  • Sexuality with minors is always wrong.

Most of these conclusions do not come directly from the Bible, but rather from experience, logic, and the dialogue of interested communities.

To which I apply my central idea: The Bible itself is only marginally helpful in creating a complete ethical system for sexuality. We should stop trying to make it the cornerpiece of such a system.

To which I apply my central idea: The Bible itself is only marginally helpful in creating a complete ethical system for sexuality. We should stop trying to make it the cornerpiece of such a system. Click To Tweet

Explaining my Exvangelical Status

He was my mentor. He was ordained in a conservative evangelical church. He had been meeting with me for several years as I sought to reconcile what I believed about God and the Bible with the huge discrepancies I saw in the church. It was good to bounce my frustrations off his mind. I think I would have left Evangelicalism for good if he had not helped me cope with the hypocritical practices of the church.

That’s when he dropped a bombshell. He had been attending some evening meetings at a local charismatic group. We both believe the gifts of the Holy Spirit are still given to people in the Church today. We also believe that there are proper and ridiculous ways those gifts can be practiced.

Here was his bomb. The night before, he claimed he saw gold dust appear on people’s hands during worship. Someone else said God gave them a gold filling during the prayer time which replaced their regular filling. My mentor was full of thanksgiving to God for these miracles. I asked him if he could confirm the gold dust or the gold tooth. Could he say with full assurance that it was really gold and not just some glitter or sweat from dancing in worship?

He was really angry with me for asking that question. He warned me not to criticize what might be the work of the Holy Spirit in case I was blaspheming the Holy Spirit.

At that moment, I decided I was mentally done with the Evangelical movement.

I wish I could give you the entire delineated journey of the previous 28 years up to that point. I have written about some elements of the journey in my books, articles, and blog entries. But with this essay, I want to explain to my friends and readers–and perhaps to those in my denomination looking for a reason to disqualify me–why I am not part of that tribe any more.

And I need to explain the parameters of what I left behind. Continue reading “Explaining my Exvangelical Status”