Flesh and Spirit

I recently came across a documentary about a guru who specializes in tantric sex in eastern Europe. This guru stood in front of a group of fully-clothed people, both men and women, and through a series of exercises of the mind and his expert vocal coaching, without anyone touching anyone (not even themselves), brought them all to multiple orgasms while they sat in their chairs. It took only minutes. The guru insisted it wasn't about body and sex, but about spirit and energy. What fascinated me most was how much it reminded me of some religious meetings I've been in. The speaker wouldn't even have to change his words that much ("let's wait. don't force it. invite it"; "let it come, let it come!"; "more, more!"; "deeper, deeper!"; "don't resist, don't hold back, release!"; "it's here, can you feel it?", and so on). It sounded the same (groans, screams, moans, invitations), and it looked the same (writhing, shaking, head back mouth open, falling, eyes closed, sweating, hands raised, etc.). The only difference were some of the words. Only some. The French philosopher Jacques Ellul, in his pivotal book, Prayer and Modern Man, after discussing the demonstrative expressions of spirit in many religions, both ancient and modern, asserts:
So there is nothing specifically Christian in this exalted, diffuse, intense prayer. The intensity is not a sign of the truth of Jesus Christ. It can be very nice to have experiences of that kind, but one must remember that the experiences are evidence only of a certain phenomenological continuity among religions. They are also a reminder that at that time the revelation of God also gave rise to a religion... One occasionally admires such a vigorous expression of lofty tension, but is it spiritual? Yes, if in the use of that word we are not thinking of the Holy Spirit, but simply of the spirit of man... we are obliged to point out that this is the same phenomenon as that which characterizes the whirling dervishes, shamanism, etc., and that to attach the name of Jesus Christ to it is simply demonic. There is no expression there of the nearness of the Lord... I do not find the citation of a biblical text convincing in view of the survival of such psychic phenomena in all religious forms... If one would conform to a true prayer before God, one would need firmly to reject these seductive temptations which carry a sort of label of authenticity. Unfortunately it is the label of a false authenticity, one which man authenticates for himself when he confuses his own psychic phenomena with the hidden but solemn presence of the Lord of his life.
Considering the religious movement I find myself in that promotes the charismata and physical manifestations of spirit, I take this warning seriously. I see the "manifestations" not as manifestations of the Holy Spirit, but as manifestations of the spirit of people in response, maybe and sometimes, to the Spirit. Therefore I place no importance on these phenomena. In fact, from what I've seen in the past (and I've seen lots), I hold them suspect, especially when they allege to be authentications of the Spirit's presence. Oh yes, there is spirit, but which? What complex beings we are! In the middle of group tantric sex you can feel the spirit. In the middle of a charismatic religious meeting you can feel sexual. In the middle of a group sex lesson you can feel like you are in a religious meeting. In the middle of a religious meeting you can feel like you are in the middle of an orgy. Which is why we should be careful when a woman prays for a man or a man for a woman in such meetings. It is fascinating and dangerous, this intersection of flesh and spirit. We need to question, explore and understand this.

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