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Conversation with Dr. Darrel Ray on Christian Fundamentalism and Sex: Founder, Recovering from Religion


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2018/02/15


An Interview with Dr. Darrel Ray. He discusses: Christian fundamentalist upbringing; Recovering from Religion; individual factors in recovery; Richard Dawkins’ terminology of religion as a virus; unexpected allies; secular therapists; sex addiction; most bizarre sexual taboo; criteria for asexual; universal attractive characteristics; guilt around sex; unsupported and non-scientific ideas around sex; and admirable aspects of religion.

Keywords: Christian fundamentalism, Darrel Ray, religion, sex.

Conversation with Dr. Darrel Ray on Christian Fundamentalism and Sex: Founder, Recovering from Religion[1],[2],[3]

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: You grew up in a Christian fundamentalist family in Wichita, Kansas. From a youth perspective, what’s running through a child’s mind as they’re growing up in a fundamentalist household that is Christian?

Dr. Darrel Ray: If you think about it, as you’re growing up, you’re being taught a whole lot of things. One is which language you’re speaking or you’re going to speak. There aren’t any children that sit around thinking, I wonder why mom isn’t teaching me Chinese, or why am I not learning Zulu.

Jacobsen: [Laughing] That’s right.

Ray: It is. At the same time, you’re learning the language. You’re also learning a lot of other things. You’re learning how to have polite manners at the table. You’re learning how to treat other people, your brothers, and sisters, and you’re learning what the religion is.

To the child, language acquisition and religious acquisition are happening at the same time and you’re not going to question why am I not being taught Catholicism or Buddhism. You accept whatever it was.

That’s what’s going on in a child’s mind. Here’s the deal, in a hunter-gatherer society, and we’re only separated by only a few thousand years from being hunter-gatherers. In a hunter-gatherer society, the child is genetically and biologically built to listen to their parents.

Because if there’s a lion out there that could eat you, you better listen to your parents. So, the parents say, “Don’t go into that bush over there, because there are tigers and lions that might eat you.” “Mom, dad, that sounds like a good idea.”

Then the mom and dad turn around the next day and say, “Don’t go into that over bush over there because there are demons that will send you to hell.” How does a child know the difference?

Jacobsen: They don’t.

Ray: They can’t; they can’t know the difference, right. So, by age 10, you’ve programmed all those kinds of ideas and you have no ability to critically analyze those ideas. Once they’re embedded in your brain, they’re embedded deeply and probably permanently.

So, notions like hell, the notion of hell, once it gets embedded, can scare the hell, literally, out of a 10-year-old. Think of a 10-year-old that goes to a Pentecostal meeting, somewhere where they’re shown the fear of God and talking about how terrible hell is.

That gets deeply embedded into your brain and can easily trigger responses that are as if the lion is about ready to eat you. Your brain is going to respond to that threat, whether it’s the threat of hell or the threat of a lion eating you, and buried somewhere always.

So, I see as a child grows up. One of the most interesting things is tragic. I work, we work, with a lot of people who are dealing with the fear of hell. They are atheists, they’re secularists, they’re atheists or agnostics, but they were raised in families like the Westboro Baptist Church that are fearful of hell.

The poor people, now, they’re an adult, they’re 30, 40, 50-years-old They’re still scared of hell, waking up with cold sweats at night, they have nightmares. We know now that’s probably related to post-traumatic stress disorder.

In fact, Dr. Marley Rinella, pioneer psychologist over in the Bay Area renamed it religious trauma syndrome because she could see from her work as a psychologist that post-traumatic stress of somebody coming back from Afghanistan in a war zone looks a lot like the stress people had being raised in religious environments from early on and then terrorized with things like fear of hell. That’s a long answer to a short question.

Jacobsen: That’s an important answer to a deep question.

Ray: That’s what you’re looking for, I’m happy to help you to give it to you.

2. Jacobsen: I appreciate that. You have the relevant qualifications – anthropology, sociology, education, clinical psychology. These provide a framework from which to speak authoritatively on these issues. So, I appreciate that.

So, with Recovering from Religion, for those that don’t know, what is the elevator pitch of what it is?

Ray: We help people deal with the consequences and trauma of leaving religion. That’s much of our mission. So, somebody 40-years-old with 2 children, now recognizes that everything they were taught is a bunch of phooey, what do they do now?

They raise their kids religious; their wife or husband is still religious. Who do they turn to? They certainly can’t go talk to their minister. I started this in 2009, Recovering from Religion; we’ve now grown phenomenally.

We now have a hotline somebody can call and say exactly what they feel. We get those kinds of calls all the time. Their kids are religious, but they’re an atheist and they raised their kids religious with their religious husband or wife. Or their wife has become an agnostic, but they’re still a Catholic.

We get calls from religious people. We get parents. Parents, for example, will call us and say we love our child, they say they’re an atheist now and we found you on the internet. We want to respect our child, but we don’t know how to deal with it because we’re Catholic or we’re Jewish or we’re Buddhist.

It could be anything. So, that’s our goal. We have small group meetings all over the world. People meet about once a month, talk to each other about recovering issues. We have many other programs.

But the short answer is we’re helping people deal with the trauma and consequences of leaving religion.

3. Jacobsen: What personality factors or personality variables, and individual factors, play into the rate at which someone can recover? So, for example, the level of general intelligence, or the degree to which someone can adhere strongly to engaging in executive function behavior? Or having “grit,” what are some variables there?

Ray: I write extensively about that in my book, The God Virus. It has little to do with intelligence. That’s not to say intelligence doesn’t have something to do with it. I’m not going to focus on it right now. There are five major personality components in human beings. Four of those components do not correlate at all with religiosity.

The fifth one, however, does; the fifth one is the only one I’m interested in with respect to this research to answer your question. It’s called openness, curiosity, and openness to new experience. Here’s what the research seems to show.

The less curious you are, the less open you are to new experience, the more likely you are to be in check with religious notions of any kind. It’s much easier for parents. Let’s be serious here, most religion you get from your parents.

That’s where most everybody gets it. You’re most likely to be infected, more easily infected, if you have a low level of curiosity and a low level of openness to new experience. On the other hand, children being raised by parents who are religious, but the child is high and open to experiencing curiosity is going to be that darn child that asks why mommy, why daddy, all the time.

It irritates the hell out of the parents. It’s hard to infect that kid or keep them infected because they keep asking the wrong questions. The other child, the one that’s not open to new experience and not particularly curious; they don’t ask those questions in the first place.

And I’ll tell you, I have three examples of that in my own family. I can see it. Sometimes, it’s amazing how those two things happen. So, what you get is a person that gets older and then realizes, starts asking tougher questions, or getting answers to some of those questions.

Then they start moving away from religion; they were still infected at that pre-critical age, prior to 10-years-old. That’s before the questions could even be asked. So, while their logic says one thing, their emotions say another thing.

So, generally, people go through a phase, generally, two to three years, of having to deal with that dissonance, that conflict between my emotions say, “There is a hell,” or my emotions say, “That God is watching me all the time.”

My logic says, “That’s crazy.” So, it takes quite a while, like I said, maybe two or three years, maybe longer – and sometimes a lifetime. Like I said, I got people dealing with it; they’ve been nonreligious for decades.

So, I don’t think there’s a formula. At least Recovering from Religion, we take people where they are. Obviously, we don’t give them personality tests or IQ tests or anything. Where IQ comes into effect is obviously, a lower IQ, the less curious and openness, open to new experiences, that has some correlation to it.

It’s not perfect, but intelligent people are more open to new experience, more curious. That’s why you get the phenomena that the more educated you are, the less religious you’re likely to be.

And that 94 percent of all the top scientists in the United States are atheists, pretty much. That thing is what you see and that’s where the correlation with intelligence comes in.

4. Jacobsen: Also, if I recall correctly, but I might be misremembering, the data on non-belief in any deity by professional academics goes up especially if you go to natural sciences or fields that require higher cognitive demands in general. So, that’s also a factor as well.

Ray: Absolutely.

Jacobsen: You use the term “infected” when talking about children. Does that come from Richard Dawkins’ terminology of religion as a virus?

Ray: In my book The God Virus, it was largely inspired by an essay he wrote back in 1989 called “Viruses of the Mind” or something like that. It’s this notion has been around since he wrote his book The Selfish Gene back in 1976.

What I noticed was that Dawkins is a biologist and Daniel Dennett is a philosopher and Sam Harris is a neuroscientist, nobody is a psychologist. Nobody is looking at it from an anthropological, sociological, and psychological point of view.

So, I basically stole Dawkins’s notion of a mind virus and applied it specifically to religion. He quite approved of it. I met Richard several times and he likes the book, The God Virus, likes its specific application, from a psychological perspective.

I give Dawkins full credit there; although, he didn’t come anywhere near what I did on the psychological side, anthropological and sociological sides too.

5. Jacobsen: With Recovering from Religion, and something we haven’t mentioned, the Secular Therapy Project, which seems self-descriptive. Who have been unexpected allies that are religious—organizations, individuals, researchers, and so on?

Ray: There are two questions there. Let me address Recovering from Religion. We have seen that there are allies out there. We are appreciative of Unitarians, for example. While they may be somewhat religious, they can be secular too.

Secular Jewish organizations have been allies of ours. Other groups like the Satanic Temple, Flying Spaghetti Monster. People like that love us. Those are all groups that we have some alliances with, that we cooperate with.

Also, the LGBTQ community is one big ally of ours. It might be the other way around. We’re more an ally of theirs than they are of ours, often times. So, many people in the LGBTQ community have been disfellowshipped or thrown out or in some way ostracized by their families, by their community, by the place they were raised in.

And as a result, they ask questions. They start asking questions—you don’t know; this is funny. How many music directors and choir directors that who are now in some way, shape, or form affiliated with? Why? Because they’re gay!

They were gay. They loved music. So, they were the choir director in their church for 15 years until they got caught or they outed themselves. They confessed and got thrown out of a church. Now, they’re looking for a community, looking for a place to land. We’re one of the places that’s easy to find on the internet.

So, I would say probably top of the list is LGBTQ. They love us; we love them. There’s still a lot of religious gays. There’s a lot of religious LGBTQ people out there. It makes no sense to me why you would want to go to a church that hates you, but there are still gay Catholics.

It’s amazing to me that they still do that. But, when they find us, they’re on their way out, or somebody outed them and now they’re searching for answers to questions.

Scott, the beautiful thing is that in 2009 there was no organization to call.

The only person you’d probably talk to maybe were psychologists if you could find one. And you certainly wouldn’t talk to your minister. Now, there are people to talk to around, and here. There is an enormous resource page on our website. Enormous.

You go to our resource page. We have hundreds and hundreds of links and resources for people in every walk of life and from every religion. We’re expanding rapidly as we speak. That’s the first answer.

The second part of the question is the Secular Therapy Project. That’s a different piece there and a different question. I don’t see the alliance with everything being too much a part of that, except that those groups, once they become aware of us, then they realize there’s a need.

There are real people out there, real psychologists, real social workers who still believe you can pray the gay away. There are psychologists who went to seminary and learned that homosexuality is a sin, being a lesbian is a sin, being trans in a sin, and so on.

They do believe this. They practice it. In their practice, they still use Jesus to heal people. It is crazy. It is dangerous. Because if a person comes into your practice as a psychologist and says, “I’m depressed.” I say, “You’re depressed because you’re an atheist. You’re depressed because you turned your back on Jesus.”

Wow, that certainly doesn’t help the depression. That’s what we faced, and I faced that in 2010 and 2011. After my book The God Virus came out, people who never heard of me realized I’m a psychologist, from reading my book.

They said, ‘I’m going to contact you, find out, and find a good psychologist.” So, I got countless calls and emails and texts from people saying, “Help me find a good psychologist, the last psychologist I went to send me back to church, or the last psychologist I went to said I need to get Jesus or I need to – part of my problem is that I’m an atheist now.”

So, I said, “I’ll help you.” So, I start looking, and Scott, it’s impossible to find a secular therapist by searching on the internet. It’s impossible. The reason I say that is no therapist admits they’re an atheist.

No therapist says, “I’m secular.” Because in Oklahoma City, if you said, “I’m a secular therapist.” That’s like saying, “I’m a second cousin to the devil.” No, the religious judges will not refer people to you, the hospitals won’t refer to you, ministers certainly won’t refer you.

And so, the notion of a Christian counselor has ballooned in popularity over the last 20 years. Entire programs have been developed around Christian counseling. Some of them are Biblical Christian counseling.

So, I mean this is crazy. There’s no science behind this stuff and yet these people are getting insurance money. They’re licensed. They’re certified in various states. So, I realized that I’m going to have to do something about this.

So, I started the Secular Therapy Project in 201 and got a website developed and everything. Now, people around the country, and soon around the world, are coming to us. We’re opening soon to the international community in full and will be able to register with us as a secular therapist.

We have four highly qualified therapists on our vetting team. If you were a social worker and you wanted to become a part of our database, you would apply. You’d have to prove two things to us. One, that you’re secular. We need evidence of that.

We don’t take what groups you belong to or something on your webpage. Second, you need to prove to us that you use evidence-based methods. Not a new age woos or something like that; none of which have scientific validity to them as a therapy.

So, once we’ve established you’re bona fide, we let you into the database. Then if I’m searching for a therapist who is secular, I can go into our database. I can register for free. All of this for free: free to the therapist; free to the client.

I can find out if there’s anybody in my zip code or anywhere close to my zip code, like a between therapists and clients. But it maintains confidentiality and anonymity for the client and for the therapist.

Because we don’t want to out the atheist therapist in Dallas, Texas, or Point, Texas, or, whatever, Timbuktu, Texas. Because the moment it is learned in your community that you are not a Christian, you’ll lose your practice.

Imagine: Tennessee, a psychologist saying, “I’m not a Christian.” 99, 98 percent of the people in that town are out as Christians. They’re not about to go to a therapist that is not a Christian, especially an atheist.

6. Jacobsen: I suspect that would be reflected in the treatment of atheists, if not attitudes reflected in surveys, but also in the treatment of young people who go against the norm of belief – as in the given examples.

People, they might still go through as secular therapists, possibly, because they have been battle-hardened in life for their atheism or agnosticism or some form of nonbelief in the standard, dominant religion.

Ray: Right. There’s a lot of problems with being a religious minority. I mean atheists are the most hated religious minority in the United States, even more so than Muslims. It’s funny, but that’s what the few trusted religious surveys have shown for quite a few years now.

So, it’s highly intelligent trained therapists who should be using evidence, and because of being highly trained and educated, are probably also secular. What has happened in the United States is, like Liberty University or Regents University, Paul and Pat Robertson’s institutions respectively, and other institutions, like George Fox University, they’re all fundamentalist colleges and universities.

But they have created these new programs for family therapy. It’s insidious around family therapy. But it’s a religious institution teaching family therapy or psychotherapy methods and requiring people to adhere to their theological perspectives throughout their training.

For example, Birmingham University, if you are a Ph.D. candidate, master, or lower Ph.D. candidate at Birmingham University, you’d have to sign a statement, or nobody will admit you that on: you will not masturbate and two you won’t have sex acts outside of marriage.

Jacobsen: [Laughing]!

Ray: So, right. [Laughing]! So, the funny thing there is: now, first, there’s finish graduating from that college, goes out in the world of practice. What are they going to teach people?! How are they going to get over their own stupidity around masturbation and help somebody who’s having a lot of guilt?

They’re a Catholic. They’re guilty as hell about masturbating. How is that therapist going to work with them? They can’t. Their own indoctrination is going to get in the way. It does. We get this repeatedly.

My therapist sent me back to church. In fact, reading a good article, interviews, another interview, it’s right on her website. The Psychotherapy Project website, ‘has your therapist tried to save you?’

David Niose did the interview with me for Psychology Today a couple years ago.

7. Jacobsen: You have written on “sex addiction.” Is it not a real thing? So, one of the major, or main restrictions, boundaries, borders that are put up, traditionally speaking, by religious texts and subsequently communities, and even societies, are strongly around sex.

So, why isn’t sex addiction a real thing? And what do you see as the main reason for religion in general, especially the Abrahamic ones, to restrict and direct sexual activity of the young especially, and even more especially the women?

Ray: First, sex addiction is a religious construct. It is not a psychological or scientific construct. The reason I say that is in 25 or 30 years of research; nobody has been able to figure out how you would scientifically define and diagnose this notion of sex addiction.

Most addictions are questionable and difficult to define, but we found ways to define some of them. But let me ask you a counter question, “Do you believe in Facebook addiction?”

Jacobsen: [Laughing] Not really.

Ray: Okay, people who spend hours after hours online on Facebook. They waste a ton of time. It interferes with their work; it interferes with their life; it interferes with their relationships. Doesn’t that sound like an addiction to you?

Jacobsen: It does fit some criteria that I would tacitly have.

Ray: And yet, those researchers aren’t concerned about Facebook addiction because sex has a special component to it. So, that’s my answer to the first piece. The second part of the sex addiction piece is, since there’s no science, we can’t diagnose it.

If you can’t diagnose it, you can’t treat it. So, anybody who claims to treat sex addiction is a charlatan; they’re selling snake oil; they should be disbarred. And yet there are people who advertise themselves as sex addict counselors.

They should be disbarred; they should have their license taken away. But it’s a powerful religious lobby. The religionists make a lot of money off the notion of sex addiction. DSM-5 does not have a category of sex addiction in it.

In fact, hypersexuality has even been severely changed and modified because: how do you define hypersexuality? Is somebody masturbating 10 times a day hypersexual? If it doesn’t interfere with his life or her life, then it’s not hypersexual.

But, in the Catholic worldview, masturbating even once makes you a sex addict. Masturbating to pornography makes you a porn addict, even once. I have quotes. I have a video of a Catholic spokesman for the Catholic Church of the United States saying, ‘If you’ve masturbated to porn once, you are a sex addict.’

That’s ludicrous. But not to a Catholic. I have a nice 50-minute talk on the myth of sex addiction. You can see it on YouTube. Google it, it’s right there. There’s a hell of a lot to talk about on that. But the main thing to know is that sex addiction is a religious notion, not a scientific one.

So, women and sex, all patriarchal religions have discovered over centuries that the best way to control people is through their sex and sexuality. I use the term in my book The God Virus, I call it the “guilt cycle.”

But religions, they teach that when you’re 5 or 10-years-old; that sex is bad; that masturbation is bad, touching your own genitals is bad. If you do it, then you’re going to hell: Jesus is watching you.

There’s a voyeuristic God out there that wants to see everything you do and is going to condemn you. I often tell Christians that if you’re a Christian, and you have sex, then you have a threesome with Jesus. He’s watching you the whole time.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Ray: So, patriarchal religions, once they realize that, they’ve taught you that your own body is your enemy: I mean look at the story of Adam and Eve. That is a signal that your body is the enemy and particularly women are the enemy.

Women were the temptress; women succumb to temptation. Women tempted men. All those are sins and crimes and all women are guilty of that crime in the Catholic worldview. Also, in the Islamic worldview, and to a somewhat lesser degree, even in Buddhism, Buddhists clearly are misogynistic, and male-dominated, patriarchal.

Hinduism, the same thing. So, you can name the patriarchal religion and control of women’s sexuality as number one in their list of priorities from their worldview. It starts early on with girls being taught about the religious concept of virginity.

Virginity is not a biological concept. At all. It’s a religious concept. So, what we do is we teach girls that virginity is precious, God owns your virginity; in other words, you do not own your own body, and losing your virginity is a dangerous thing.

You must guard it carefully. Of course, on the opposite side, it assumes that boys are out to get your virginity; that you must protect yourself; that you keep your legs together with an aspirin between them. All these messages.

In the purity culture, especially among fundamentalists, but it pervades our whole culture. And when we have people going into our schools right now teaching abstinence only, bull shit, the girls, most of the messages are guilt messages.

Now, why is that important in a patriarchal religion? Because when a child is taught their body is ba, they commit a sin, where they feel terrible about it. “I masturbated this morning, now I feel terrible, what do I do?”

A Baptist reads the Bible and prays. A Catholic goes to confession. A Mormon confesses to his bishop. Do you realize that bishop Mitt Romney of the Mormon church had to listen to 12-year-old boys tell him if they masturbated or not? Did you know that’s a part of the Mormon church?

12-year-old boys come in to get their talking to by the bishop and one of the questions they ask is, “Have you masturbated?” And if you have, “What are you going to do about not doing it anymore?”

This is a 12-year-old boy. They hand them an 8-page piece of literature. I even quote it extensively in my book, Sex and God. They even give them an 8-page a story or metaphor that does not mention the word sex or penis or masturbation, doesn’t mention it once, but the title is, “Don’t tamper with the factory.”

The metaphor is that your genitals are a factory for creating sperm. It’s going to do its thing and you shouldn’t mess with it. Don’t touch your genitals, [Laughing]! And Mitt Romney was giving this thing to people.

To 12-year-old boys, because the bishop in the Mormon church must do that, it’s one of their duties. Nobody said that during the election cycle, that’s for sure, [Laughing].

8. Jacobsen: What’s the most bizarre sexual taboo that you’ve come across in your research on sex and religion?

Ray: Oh, that’s an easy question to answer. Most Christians say to secularists, “You want to be secular because you want to act like an animal. You want to have all the sex you can.”

Let me tell you something. There are almost no animals in this planet that only have sex for procreation.

There are almost no animals on this planet that can have sex whenever they want to. Humans can have sex whenever they want to, bonobo apes can have sex whenever they want to, chimps can have sex whenever they want to, dolphins can have sex whenever they want to.

But, my dog, she’s walking around me right now wondering why I’m not petting her. She only mates when she’s ready to procreate. That insect that’s getting ready to hatch out of its larva this spring in a few weeks is only going to have sex to procreate.

Most animals on this planet only have sex to procreate. In other words, when the Pope tells you to have sex only to procreate, he’s telling you to have sex like an animal. Now, think about that. He’s telling you to have sex like an animal.

As a human, I have sex whenever I want to, and masturbation is a big part of being human. So, that’s perverted if you think about it. When the Pope says nuns cannot have to sex their entire lives, that to me is one of the most perverted sexual things you can ask a person to do.

So, flip it on its head, your question. What’s the most perverted thing? Telling people, they can’t have sex for a lifetime.

Jacobsen: I can see from their perspective a self-selection of people entering them, but then also telling them: it’s probably both. It’s people self-selecting to go into that, plus then being reinforced and encouraged to not.

Ray: They’re somewhat self-selected at an early age before their own hormones. Many, many priests tell me that they committed their lives to God when they were 12- or 13-years-old before the hormones got rolling.

Now, there is a self-selection. About one percent of the population probably meets the criteria of being asexual.

9. Jacobsen: What are the criteria for asexual?

Ray: Have no interest in sex at all. Don’t masturbate, don’t want to have sex with another person, it doesn’t interest them.

Jacobsen: That’s a lot of people.

Ray: In some ways, they are lucky. The rest of us are so horny. We don’t know what do with it sometimes. If one percent out of the population is asexual, now, there’s probably a large percentage of that that is situationally asexual.

Medically, you have a medical illness or disease or condition. You might lose your sex drive; your libido might disappear. People have told me after they got divorced, they had no interest in sex for three years.

Then suddenly their sex life comes back, their libido comes back. But what I’m talking about is of those one percent in the world, of course, half of those are male. If those people are self-selecting to become priests, then they have a huge advantage.

They’re not interested in sex and never will be interested in sex. So, they’re going to make great priests. But the problem with that is they’re also going to be great priests standing up in front of everybody else and saying, “You can’t masturbate. You can’t have sex.” It’s easy for them to say!

I have no interest in Game of Thrones. I don’t want to ever watch that; it doesn’t make any sense to me; I don’t want to watch it. So, if I said, “You can’t because I don’t like Game of Thrones, you can’t watch it either.”

That’s basically what people are saying, what an asexual would be saying to the rest of the congregation. Now, the fact is that most of those priests are not asexual because they went to an all-boys seminary.

I’ve interviewed so many priests. I’ve done this so many times. They commit themselves to the church at 12 or 13, often at the behest of their parents because Catholics love to have a boy in the family that’s a priest.

That gives them lots of status in the Catholic community. My uncle is a priest, or my son is going to be a priest. They love that. And so, the kid at 12 or 13 under parental pressure and family pressure goes to an all-boys seminary and in the all-boys seminary; there’s a lot of fucking going on.

A lot of homosexual activity going on. And most every person I’ve ever talked to that went to the all-boys Catholic seminary, even if they didn’t eventually become a priest, said there was lots of homosexual stuff going on.

So, these boys are discovering their sexuality, even as they’re going through their celibate and abstinence-only indoctrination. It’s not working then when they get out. They become an actual priest. They have been programmed to sexually respond in that environment.

And as a result, in my own research and several other people have verified this in their own research, that’s a big part of where the pedophile priest issue comes from. It is the way they’re being trained as boys because your brain is designed to labor: what are the appropriate sexual behaviors and sexual object in my culture?

And that’s why what is attractive and beautiful in one culture is not attractive and beautiful in another culture because the brain has been programmed for that cultural expectation. We’re not programmed, our brains are not preprogrammed like an insect.

An insect or a bird knows exactly who to mate with. We don’t. We must learn that. If your brained is turned on to learning who to mate with when you’re 13, 14, 15, and you’re in an all-boys seminary, you look around or your all girl’s nunnery; you look around, all you see is boys, or all you see is girls, your brain is going to imprinted.

I mean by that “imprinted,” the biological printing, to think that should be the focus in your mating behavior. It’s done at a biological level and neurological level. I can go on and on about that, but I don’t think that’s what you wanted to hear.

Jacobsen: It’s all fascinating.

Ray: This is an aside, you may or may not be interested in. You may have noticed this, but every culture seems to have a body type that is more prevalent. I’ll give an example. The most extreme is something called “Steel Page” in Africa. Women with gigantic butts.

Now, why are women in certain tribes of Africa having gigantic butts? Whereas you go to Wales and you look at women there, women there have on average much larger breasts than women in other places.

Then you go to Asia, you see Asian women with almost no breasts at all, tiny, if at all. So, you must ask the question, “Why is there such a massive difference in body types across cultures?” And part of that has to do with what we’re talking about. We literally are breeding ourselves.

There is sexual selection going on right within our own species and different cultures highlight what is sexually attractive in their culture. Then those people tend to breed more successfully. Their offspring tend to have their butts bigger, or bigger breasts or fuller breasts.

It’s fascinating to know we’re doing to ourselves what we do with cattle and what we do with dogs. We’re self-breeding. And it’s because the brain is programmed to look around and say, “What is attractive? What should be? What is attractive in my culture?”

So, you get lots of people at age 12 or 13 – all people, men, and women are – looking around; their brain is programmed to say, “What is the right thing in this culture?” Once they’ve locked in on that, then that becomes their sexual fetish, probably for the rest of their life.

It is especially true of men. The research shows that men fetishize much more quickly and completely and for lifelong than women do. So, if a man has a breast fetish, he locks in on that. H’s probably going to have a breast fetish for the rest of his life.

Lots of other fetishes, we think that’s probably where it comes from, the brain. It is so desperate to figure out what’s the appropriate mating strategy currently in this place and this culture. That it locks onto whatever seems to be right to that 12 or 13-year-old, who is totally inexperienced.

He doesn’t have a clue. He’s responding to the visual and emotional cues of that time and place.

So, that’s my extra bit of knowledge there for you.

10. Jacobsen: What are sometimes termed universal attractive characteristics? Those that would be invariant. So, things across-culture-attractive and that we are self-selecting for no matter the culture?

Ray: I’m not sure I can answer that. The reason I say is that humans, we are the most sexually flexible on the planet. There are almost no other species as nearly as sexually flexible as ours. The interesting thing is there’s a good book called Sexual Fluidity. It came out about 5 years ago.

It’s a long-term – I mean long term, 10- to 20-year – a study of women and shows how women’s sexual behavior changes rather dramatically over a lifetime. And that a woman who may describe herself as straight in her teens may describe herself as bisexual in her 20s and lesbian in her 30s then back to straight in her 40s.

It’s amazing how fluid women’s sexuality is. Men do not seem to be nearly as fluid but still fluid within that window of time that I’ve spoken about that that the brain is programmed. The remarkable thing: obviously, there’s probably some universals.

But even that’s iffy. I’m not sure. Every universal I can think about there’s major exceptions. If you think about it, my dog doesn’t have a wide variety of sexual behaviors that she wants to engage in.

Whereas a female, the equivalent of that, age and all, would have a wide variety of sexual behaviors she can engage in. Some of which would develop by age; I’ve studied people in their 40s and 50s and 60s. They’re still developing new things.

People who are 50 and 60 years old can be kinky as hell. Tell me in my 20s, I’d have never thought about doing that. I’d be scared to death to do that. So, we are amazing. The unique thing about humans is we have a high-level need for variety.

Humans want variety, constant variety. That’s partially what drives our consumerist society. We’re always looking for the new thing; we always want the latest technology, want the newest car, want a different color or shade of lipstick or whatever.

If the same thing that drives our sexuality always labor what’s going to turn us on, one of the problems with religious sexuality is religion has a one size fits all approach, and that’s monogamy forever.

The fact is, there’s no human society on this planet that’s monogamous. There’s never been a time in human history that was monogamous. So, I give talks about this all the time. I ask my audience. Let’s say there are 400 people in the room.

I’d say, “How many of someone who is monogamous?” And I bet half the hands will raise up. The other half have heard my talk before or they’ve read my books, so they know better.

Jacobsen: [Laughing] That’s funny.

Ray: Now, I say, “Keep your hands up if it’s not you.” And almost all the hands go down. Because, for example, my parents, who are now both deceased, told me that they had never had sex before they were married.

That was not true or at least one of my two parents. I have evidence for it. So, people lie about their sexual experience, especially women. Because sexual experiences are shamed in our culture. Women are shamed for being sexual.

So, anyway, the one size fits all religious straitjacket works for people who have a low sex drive, low level of curiosity, who is asexual, who buy into the religious stuff about staying married to your spouse for the rest of your life.

The rest of us, we don’t want to have a deal with that. That’s why the divorce rate is so high. The divorce rate is higher among the most religious. The more religious you are, then the more likely you are to be divorced.

11. Jacobsen: Are they not only the more guilt-ridden around sex as well?

Ray: Oh, there’s a lot of shame and guilt that they don’t know how to deal with. So, they act it out and that leads to divorce. And this notion of sex addiction. You don’t know how many people are going to therapists now saying my husband is a sex addict because I caught him looking at porn and masturbating.

So, who diagnosed that? Was it a psychologist? Or was it the wife? [Laughing]! Or the mother in law, or the minister? I call it the Oprah Effect. Oprah Winfrey is diagnosing sex addiction.

She has no fucking qualifications for doing that. She’s having people on her show like Dr. Drew, who’s an idiot, or Dr. Phil, who has no qualifications and shouldn’t be diagnosing anybody; they’re calling people sex addicts.

Dr. Phil, I mean these people are spreading incredibly harmful notions about sexuality on Oprah and she is not challenging them. Believe me, I’ve tried to get her to challenge them, she won’t answer my emails, that’s for sure.

12. Jacobsen: But that’s in the United States. The United States, maybe outside of the Islamic world, is one among a few extraordinarily religious nations. So, the framework from people, families, groups, and subpopulations that will view the world in one way, which is completely internally self-affirming to unsupported and non-scientific ideas around sex, right?

Ray: There’s a lot of good research out there. You might look at David Barash’s book, it’s a great book called The Myth of Monogamy or read Dr. Marty Klein’s book. Both guys are major sexologists.

Dr. Marty Klein’s essay called “You’re Addicted to What?” It’s an essay. Or you might also be interested in Dr. Marty Klein’s book called America’s War on Sex. It’s an interesting look at politics and statistics and practices of America and sexuality.

And of course, if you’re interested in the sex part of it, go look at my book, Sex and God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality. There’s a lot of people starting to write about it. The reason I wrote both of my books, my most recent books, was because I wasn’t seeing anybody talking about this stuff, especially sex.

Nobody wants to challenge the religious notions about sexuality in our culture. And nobody wants to challenge therapists that are using nonscientific approaches to therapy that cause more problems.

The first rule of medicine is “do no harm” and yet psychotherapists out there are exacerbating the psychological problems that people are having that was initially caused by religion.

As a therapist, my colleagues verify this, about 80 percent of the people that come into my office or have come into my office over the years, dealing with sex problems, 80 percent, probably more, really, is dealing with sex problems directly related to religious training.

So, if they’re going through a divorce because the wife says you’re a sex addict, that’s a religious notion. It’s not a scientific notion. And we got all that stuff going on in our culture. And psychologists that don’t stand up and say, “That’s wrong. You can’t do good psychotherapy.”

They can’t say that without challenging underlying religious assumptions. That’s scary. That’s scary, especially when you’re a religious person as a psychotherapist, scary.

13. Jacobsen: Are there any aspects of religion that you find admirable?

Ray: Religion can bring people together in community. That’s one of its big strengths. But, it is not unique to religion. They have created a corner on that market. Humans are social creatures. We want community.

We want a place to bring our children, we want a place to teach our children, they’re safe. And churches claim to do that for people. Unfortunately, once you get in the church, then your children are going to be taught things you probably don’t want to be taught.

And where’s the secular person going to go? If I said, and too many secular people say, “I went back to church because I wanted a community. I don’t believe a word that minister is saying.” But the problem is you’re putting your children through Sunday school where they’re being taught some nasty stuff.

Like God created genocide, killed everybody on the planet through this cute little story about Noah’s Ark or another cute little story like murdering all the children for making fun of a prophet.

So, the community teaches us what people are after. And what I’m loving right now, Sunday Assembly is a movement out of England. It’s sputtered a bit, but it’s working in some places. Oasis started about 3 years ago. It’s bringing the community together.

I’m watching it. It started in Houston and is thriving in Houston. And it’s now in Kansas City. I say we because I’ve been a part of this movie. They have 3 organizations in Salt Lake City area, one in Okun area, one in Toronto area, and one in Austin opened two weeks ago.

One in Wichita, Kansas that opened a few months ago. Here’s what Oasis is: it’s a weekly meeting on Sunday morning at 11 o’clock where mostly atheists, secularists, and humanists, all come together and have a blast listening to a science culture, hearing some good rock music or good secular music.

There is childcare, which is really important. All churches have childcare. We’ve got childcare. The minute you add childcare to the formula, your population doubles or triples. It’s amazing to see how many people come to these things.

We’re getting 200 people showing up every Sunday. Houston is getting 150 people showing up every Sunday. Now, it sounds crazy and people say it sounds like an atheist church. Oh, no, it’s community, like the Rotary Club is a community.

Nobody calls them a church. Our focus is on education and science, philosophy. We have great speakers; people who challenge your thinking process about stuff like death and dying. What do death and dying mean to an atheist? That’s interesting.

We have polyamory presentations on “What’s polyamory?” and “How does it work?” We show some people that can talk about it. Or swinger, somebody talking about a swinger lifestyle. Now, what church is going to let you talk about swinging or polyamory?

Jacobsen: Not many.

Ray: No, you would be shocked at the number of polyamorous in the atheist community, lots of poly people. About 30 percent of our group in Oasis is poly or poly-friendly. The fact is, there’s probably poly people in churches too.

They couldn’t say it. Or they’d get thrown it. Does that answer your question?

14. Jacobsen: That does, and I’m out of them. So, thank you much for your time, Darrel.

Ray: My pleasure.


  1. ABC News. (n.d.). Atheists Have Best Sex Lives, Claims Psychologist. Retrieved from
  2. An Atheist. (2010, May 20). Darrel W. Ray Speaks Out!. Retrieved from
  3. Filipino Freethinkers. (2014, August 3). A Conversation with Darrel Ray. Retrieved from
  4. Eberhard, J.T. (2014, November 12).  Darrel Ray enters the world of podcasting with Secular Sexuality!. Retrieved from
  5. Gray, H.T. (2009, June 12). New support group Recovering Religionists helps people who leave the church. Retrieved from
  6. Myers, P.Z. (2011, January 24). Prying into your dirty, dirty secrets. Retrieved from
  7. Teaming Up. (2016).  About Darrel W. Ray, Ed.D.. Retrieved from

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Founder, Recovering from Religion.

[2] Individual Publication Date: February 15, 2018 at; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2018 at

[3] BA, Sociology/Anthropology; MA, Religion; Doctorate, Psychology.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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