The Bible, Christianity and prostitution
Discussions and debates about what to do with the oldest profession have been going on since Biblical times. And it seems whatever attempt was made to stop it always ended in failure. Like jueteng, it has always managed to crop up again, even in the most holy and religious places.
And two great saints of the Catholic Church seemed to agree. In the book “The Medieval Underworld,” author Andrew McCall, (Barnes & Noble Inc., 1979) said, “St. Augustine himself said that if prostitution were to be suppressed, capricious lusts would then overthrow society; and this sentiment was reiterated in a latter period by Aquinas who wrote in his “Summa Theologica,” apropos of prostitution that if you were to take away the sewer, the whole palace would soon be filled with corruption. Prostitution was, in other words, a necessary evil.”
In modern Christian Philippines, prostitution has become news again. The Feb. 11 issue of the Inquirer carried a news item about a photo contest in Baguio that aims to eliminate the stigma and discrimination against prostitutes and other sex workers in the country.
The contest is sponsored by the “Women Hookers Organization for their Rights and Empowerment” with support from the United Nations Development Programme.
The estimated number of male and female sex workers in the Philippines was put around 500,000. The most common reason given for engaging in the sex industry is poverty; and many are single mothers.
This organization’s objective echoes the declaration made by the Asia-Pacific Women’s Consultation on Prostitution held in Bangkok in February 1997 to “recognize the work, dignity and human rights of women in prostitution.”
Human beings with basic rights
Prostitutes should be treated as human beings with basic rights guaranteed by our Constitution and not as criminals. But that is not the reality we see around us. Prostitutes are not only discriminated but are also exploited, harassed and abused by the general public and the law enforcers who should know better.
As I pointed out in my book “From the Profound to the Profane” (Anvil Publishing Inc., 2009):
“It is quite paradoxical that this country, which prides itself as being the only Christian country in Asia, has adopted a more condemnatory attitude toward prostitutes than the Christian Bible itself. The Book of Joshua in the Old Testament, for example, tells the story of how the harlot Rahab and all those dwelling in her brothel were the only ones saved when Yahweh destroyed Jericho.” So thorough was Jericho’s destruction that Rahab’s house was the only structure standing.
She and those living in her house were spared from death because she hid the two spies of the Prophet Joshua, who sought refuge in the brothel. I was wondering why Joshua’s spies who were men of God decided to hide in a whorehouse rather than in an inn or lodging place. Surely it is quite unlikely that all they did there was to pray throughout the evening.
Christ’s link to women of ill repute
Another curious thing which should make us think twice before condemning and discriminating prostitutes and other sex workers is the fact that, according to the Bible, Jesus himself came from a long line of ancestors which included women of ill repute, namely, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba. (See Matthew 1:2-17 and Luke 3:23-38 for Christ’s genealogy)
Tamar was taken for a prostitute and committed incest; Rahab was a whore and a traitor to her people; Ruth was a seducer; and Bathsheba, an adulteress. All those women were sinners and sexual sinners at that.
Also, we must not forget that, according to the “Gnostic Gospel of Philip,” discovered among papyrus religious writings in Nag Hammadi, Upper Egypt, in 1945, the constant companion of Jesus was Mary Magdalene, who, although not really a prostitute, was at least reputed to be a worldly woman.
In Europe during the medieval era, when the Catholic Church owned vast tracks of lands, many of these real estate properties were leased out to brothels or prostitution houses. And it is told that some European bishops would go and collect the rentals from the prostitutes themselves. Of course, we should think that being men of the cloth, or holy men, all that they did when they visited these brothels was simply to collect rentals due to the Church and nothing more.
McCall, however, writes further in his book that “disputes between religious foundations and lay powers over the revenue from bawdy-houses are no rarity, while in 1309, we find Bishop Johann of Strasbourg building, at his own expense, a magnificent new brothel in that city.”
Prostitutes at pope’s feast
McCall tells us also some other juicy items about what really went on in the Pope’s Palace. “Fifty prostitutes were present at a feast in the rooms of Cesar Borgia in the Papal Palace on Oct. 30, 1501. At this party, which was given in honor of Caesar’s father Pope Alexander VI, the courtesans, according to Johann Burchard, danced with the servants and the others who were present. At first they wore their dresses, then they stripped themselves completely naked… The Pope, the Duke and his sister Lucrezia all watched.”
If even the Pope could enjoy the entertainment provided by prostitutes, what more the common Christian? So let’s stop all this hypocrisy against prostitutes, shall we?
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