Sexual Dominance: From Apes to Men to Gods

Alpha God: The Psychology of Religious Violence and Oppression - Hector A. Garcia 2015

Sexual Dominance: From Apes to Men to Gods

God appears to want our women. Despite his resplendent powers, he seems to find himself cloistering women away, monitoring their sex lives, and enacting violent revenge against their sexual independence. We also see him punishing the sexual ambitions of lesser males. Such ordinary sexual concerns do not easily reconcile with the notion of an everlasting being, one that requires neither women nor sex to reproduce itself into future generations. At his worst, we have a dominant male god behaving like a lustful, jealous, sexually acquisitive male primate. The clearest explanations for divine oxymora such as these lay within our own reproductive psychology. Understanding this point, and exposing Gods purported sexual concerns for what they really are, does much to shed light on religious sexual repression and religiously motivated violence against women.


Violence and Sexual Access

Females are often in high demand, and this demand is tied to our reproductive biology. The biological limit for reproduction in female mammals is defined by gestation and lactation, whereas the limit for males is defined by the number of receptive females to which they can gain sexual access.1 Practically speaking, this means in a given population of a relatively even sex ratio, we will find a higher proportion of sexually receptive males than females. This, combined with the fact that females are choosier in selecting their mates, means that most male mammals engage in heated competition for access to females.

Violence is a prevailing strategy for winning access to females among primates, including the great apes. For instance, dominant male gorillas often use the threat of aggression to exert totalitarian rule. Notably in gorilla troops, a dominant male's supremacy confers to him exclusive sexual privileges with the group's females. Further, because total domination is common and rarely contested, gorilla societies tend to be relatively stable (i.e., plagued less by violence).2

By contrast, rank among the common or robust chimpanzee is more fluid, characterized by shifting political alliances and fluctuating alpha status, both of which are principally brought about by violence. Consequently, access to sex varies according to dominance status. This is not to ignore the sexual agency of female primates, including chimpanzees, which may copulate in public with a more dominant male, and then sneak off for rendezvous with lesser males. However, the ability of dominant male chimpanzees to monopolize sex is clear, as is the use of aggression to establish and maintain the monopoly.

In his study of the chimp colony at Burgers’ Zoo in Arnhem, Netherlands, Dutch primatologist Frans de Waal observed a particularly dominant alpha male named Yeroen. Yeroen's rule was absolute. At one point while in his position of power, he managed to secure nearly 100 percent of the mating in the whole colony. When Yeroen was finally deposed, none of the other chimps were able to achieve such total domination over their male troop-mates. Among remaining rivals, mating was highly correlated to the amount of dominance a particular male was able to impose at a given time, which varied according to alliances and fights won or lost. Observing this led de Waal to draw an important conclusion:

There is, generally speaking, a definite link between the rank of a male and his copulation frequency, although it is by no means a rigid law but rather a rule to which exceptions are possible. It is not that high-ranking males are more virile, but that they are incredibly intolerant and chase lower-ranking rivals away from estrus females. If they catch another male mating, they intervene by attacking him or his mate. Females are also clearly aware of this risk.3

Male chimpanzees, then, may be forced to demonstrate submission to the dominant male by ceding reproductive access to him. Females may be forced to submit only to the dominant male or face violent reprisal. The more powerful the male chimpanzee, the more he is able to sexually monopolize females.

This use of violence as a reproductive strategy is reliably seen among other primates as well. In his book Macachiavellian Intelligence,4 primatologist Dario Maestripieri gives an insightful account of macaque mating behaviors. These monkeys live in matrilineal societies in which females hold more power. While male macaques emigrate from their natal groups, females typically remain, allowing them to amass alliances and power in their home territory over time. Nevertheless, even in these matrilineal societies, dominant males manage to enact the usual strategies—winning violent competitions for sexual privileges with numerous females.

High-status females will sometimes mate with several males. They may mate with lesser males when less fertile, which may be an attempt to confuse paternity or to secure favors such as grooming. Even so, knowing the alpha's reputation for violence, the deed is almost always done quickly and on the sly, away from the eyes of the dominant male. But when high-status females are ovulating, they show a strong preference for mating with dominant males.

If there is only one female in estrus, the dominant male macaque may be able to monopolize her completely, but oftentimes many females come into estrus simultaneously. Surrounded by “estrus females,” the alpha male may become something of a tyrannical control freak, pressed with the constant, exhausting task of patrolling his numerous sexual claims and chasing off and punishing his sexual rivals. This can become a veritable marathon of sex and violence. Notably, female transgressors are punished as well. If the dominant male catches a female mating with another male, he usually attacks her. In fact, like brutish men, macaques are known for attacking females for mere flirtations, such as grooming other males. Macaque females use symbolic sexual submission to avoid attacks, briefly presenting their hind quarters to the dominant male. To avert the alpha's wrath, lesser males may also use this gesture.5

Many baboons follow similar patterns of sex, violence, and submission. Hamadryas, gelada, and Guinea baboons live in groupings of females—aptly called harems—that are dominated by a single male that enjoys (virtually exclusive) sexual privileges with the entire group.6 Male gelada and hamadryas baboons win dominance through violent competition with other males and are known for staging raids on other males’ harems to steal females.7 Sometimes coalitions will form between lesser males seeking to overthrow the dominant male for access to females. In order to protect their sexual monopolies, dominant hamadryas males are known for herding females by making threat displays and chasing, restraining, dragging, or biting the necks of those who stray too far or approach lesser males.8 Like macaques, lower-ranking male baboons may present their hind quarters to appease the dominant male, and in response, the dominant male may also briefly mount the submissive male9—a behavior sometimes called a false mount.

The relationship between dominance and sexual access is not unique to chimps, gorillas, baboons, and macaques; while differences in mating patterns exist, most primates engage in some variation of the machinations noted above. Even in bonobos, a subspecies of chimpanzee often characterized as “egalitarian” and “peaceful,” dominance rank exists among males,10 and copulation frequency has been found to correlate to dominance.11

Finally, in skirmishes, nonhuman primates spend a lot of time attacking each other's genitalia. This has been observed in macaques, baboons, and chimpanzees in both the wild and in captivity,12 and such assaults often result in castration. The genitalia are indeed a vulnerable place to attack, with the benefit of inflicting a great deal of pain. Literally castrating another male has the added advantage of removing him as sexual competition altogether.

Infanticide in Nonhuman Primates

Infanticide is an especially dark male strategy, one that has been observed across countless mammals, including numerous monkey species, all of the great apes, and humans. This behavior is almost never performed by females. Infanticide typically occurs when one male gains supremacy by overthrowing another. However disturbing, the reproductive advantages of infanticide are clear. For one, by killing the offspring of rival males, the dominant male eliminates future competition that may impinge on his fitness or that of his offspring. Accordingly, nonhuman male primates will selectively kill the offspring of other males while protecting their own from infanticide.13 Second, in many primate species, a mother immediately goes into estrus when her infant is killed. In an uncertain world of tenuous survival, time is critical and raising dependent infants, weaning them, and returning to fertility is time-consuming. Males who kill rival offspring and quickly reproduce with their mothers have an advantage in the race for survival.

American anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy points out that this behavior can become something of an evolutionary “trap” for both sexes.14 Though counterintuitive, female animals stand to gain from mating with infanticidal males because those males tend to produce infanticidal sons. Having male offspring that are not infanticidal in a world of infanticidal males would be an evolutionary dead end—the genes of those offspring would be wiped out of the gene pool by infanticide. Nevertheless, while the female may make evolutionary gains by mating with the infanticidal male, the death of her offspring, whom she has undergone the risk to bear and nurture, is an unequivocal loss. The obvious stress and anguish involved is another cost.

Primatologists have frequently made observations of infanticide in the field. Below is one account in chimpanzees. Here, two males attacked a female and her infant. The female fled, and one of the males grasped the distressed infant.

Its nose was bleeding as if from a blow and [the male], holding the infants legs, intermittently beat its head against a branch. After three minutes, he began to eat the flesh from the thighs of the infant which stopped struggling and calling.15

The primate behavior patterns we have been discussing clearly emerge in the dominance struggles of men—for example: sexual monopolization, male and female sexual submission, men castrating other men, and even infanticide. As among our primate cousins, the more powerful the man, the more he is able to successfully enact these strategies.


What Men Want

In slow motion, an extremely sexy, young brunette woman runs barefoot through the forest wearing nothing but a skimpy brown bikini. Her hair is messy. She looks primitive, animal-like. Instantly your mind goes to the sexual implications. She turns to see other brown-haired women, also bikinied, young, and beautiful, all running in the same direction. The scene quickly cuts to a young blonde woman, running up a hill. The blonde is also gorgeous and fit, and you see that she, too, is followed by other blonde, bikinied women running up the hill. The scene pans to aerial view, revealing droves of young blonde women streaming through the valleys and hills, not unlike an aerial view of a battle scene. Just then we see waves of black-haired women diving into the sea and riding toward land on enormous tsunamis. There is a crescendo. We can see that the gorgeous women of the world are coming from every direction to where they will meet on a beach. The camera pans to a skinny young man dousing himself with some sort of body spray. The women seem to be attracted to the spray and start rushing more excitedly, although now it becomes clear that what they really lust for is the man. Luscious young women are charging the man from all sides, filled with desire. The sexual possibilities are endless.

This scene is from an Axe® body spray commercial, which follows the scene with the phrase “spray more, get more.” While obviously hyperbolic, the commercial seems to resonate with men by targeting sexual fantasies driven by an evolutionary numbers strategy. Studies overwhelmingly bear out the male preference for quantity, which can be measured by the desire for casual sexual partners. Research on sexual fantasies has found that men strongly prefer casual sex more, masturbate more,16 and fantasize about group sex more than women.17 One study found that men have a higher daily frequency of sexual fantasies and, not far off from the Axe® spray commercial, were four times more likely than women to report sexual fantasies with more than one thousand different individuals over the course of their lives.18 In addition, a set of studies had attractive undergraduates approach the opposite sex and quickly offer casual sex. The researchers found that a whopping 75 percent of men accepted the request, as compared with none of the women.19

Men and women also differ in the perceived importance of sexual infidelity. In addition to casual sexual partners, many men also want long-term relationships.20 While this seems counterintuitive, it fits with the fact that males will invest in women and in the children they have together with them. This often brings male concerns over infidelity to a head. For example, men in one study were distressed by the thought of their partner having a sexual affair with a man (thus risking pregnancy), but were not distressed by the thought of their partner having a sexual affair with a woman.21 Further, a number of studies across cultures have found that men display more distress at the thought of sexual infidelity, whereas women display more distress at the thought of emotional infidelity.22 The general explanation for these findings is that men evolved fear of cuckoldry (which is not a risk for women), and women fear that emotional connection to other women will result in resource diversion. The end result is that, like other male primates, men guard their mates.

Based on evolutionary logic, it would seem that the ideal male fantasy would involve a wide variety of women whose sexual loyalty could be guaranteed. When resources (and laws or religious customs regarding polygamy) have permitted, history shows how eagerly men have competed for this ideal.

What Dominant Men Get

To a greater or lesser extent, every human society is organized by status hierarchy, although our evolved capacity for complex culture has clearly expanded since our proto-human forebears physically fought their way into positions of power. Today, reaching high rank among men no longer requires violence or intimidation to the extent it did in the past. Even so, violence and intimidation are still often used, though more commonly in subtler forms consistent with contemporary social mores. Regardless of whether it is achieved by dominance, or more peaceably by prestige, high rank continues to be characterized by control (or potential control) over resources—which women have traditionally been attracted to for the reasons discussed in chapter 2.

The research on male dominance, wealth, and reproductive success is clear. A cross-cultural study of 104 societies, spanning every continent on the globe, found that dominant men overwhelmingly possessed greater wealth and more mates.23 In hunter-gatherer societies, status is often gained by direct aggression and raw physicality. Yąnomamö tribesmen of the Amazon, for example, gain status through chest-punching duels, ax fights, and by killing rivals from other groups in combat. Men in this society who have killed other men in battle have more wives and more children than men who have not.24 With no currency or means of preserving food, accumulated wealth differs little between men in Yąnomamö society. However, dominant men often receive food tributes from other families in their village. This increases their overall access to material resources, which they use to support more women and children.25

In modern societies, the means of acquiring resources have moved from raids and hunting to more complex forms of acquisition, but the relationship between rank and sexual success remains robust. The obvious winners are the rock stars, the billionaire playboys, the professional athletes, and the Hollywood actors. Gene Simmons, front man for the American rock band Kiss, once claimed to have had sex with 4,800 women, as one example.26 American evolutionary psychologist David Buss's studies speak to this trend, showing that financially successful men typically gain more sexual access to women.27

Differential access to any resource typically creates competition, but competition for mates is driven by special urgency. Most critically, no mating equals no reproduction, and unsuccessful men have a dangerous lack of sex. Though metaphorical, calling this dangerous in evolutionary terms isn't far off the mark. Never reproducing can have the same effect as being killed—it is by and large an evolutionary dead end (with the exception of genes aided by kin altruism, as described in chapter 2). Evolution has accounted for this by a familiar means of dealing with danger—aggression.

In her book Despotism and Differential Reproduction,28 anthropologist Laura Betzig offers a highly generalizable summary of the phenomenon the title so succinctly describes. Drawing data from a large cross-cultural sample developed by Murdock and White,29 Betzig studied the relationship between despotism and differential reproduction in 104 human societies worldwide. She carefully operationalized despotism as “the exercised right of heads of societies to murder their subjects arbitrarily and with impunity.”30 Her hypothesis was also clear: “Hierarchical power should predict a biased outcome in conflict resolution, which in turn should predict size of the winner's harem, for men, a measure of success in reproduction.”31

What Betzig found was an overwhelming tendency for male rulers exercising great power to utilize that power toward great reproductive ends by tyrannizing rival males into submission and monopolizing females—familiar patterns seen in nonhuman primates. Citing societies from every continent on the globe, Betzig shows that when men are in positions to behave despotically, they do so, and with great enthusiasm. In all cases, rulers created laws enabling them to act with impunity, while rule breakers among the populace were tortured and killed, or had their hands, limbs, or testicles removed. Numerous rulers legislated for the castration of male adulterers, thus permanently cutting off their rivals’ ability to compete sexually. Methods such as these resulted in greater access to females—harems in Betzig's sample ranged from two to thousands of women.

Among the ancient Inca of Peru the near perfect correlation between rank and sexual privilege was methodically codified into law. Here Betzig references Poma de Ayala:

Caciques or principal persons were given fifty women “for their service and multiplying people in the kingdom.” Huno curaca (leaders of the vassal nations) were given thirty women; guamanin apo (heads of provinces of a hundred thousand) were allotted twenty women; waranga curaca (leaders of a thousand) got fifteen women; piscachuanga camachicoc (over ten) got five; pichicamachicac (over five) got three; and the poor Indian took whatever was left!32

Census records among the Azande of Sudan indicate that for every one hundred adult men there were twenty-six bachelors, forty-seven men with one wife, eighteen men with two wives, and nine men with more than two. Access to women was a privilege correlated with male status. Zande chiefs (a different tribe), on the other hand, might have anywhere from 30 to 100 wives, and kings, over 500 women.33

In Dahomey (present day Republic of Benin in West Africa), the king also had numerous wives and concubines, numbering into the thousands. Here, sexual submission was codified to an interesting extreme. Should one of the king's concubines decide to go out among the villagers, her presence would be signaled by a bell-ringing servant. All the villagers were required to turn their heads away, and men were required to keep a further distance than were women. When the bell rang, people moved hastily into their submissive positions for fear of the consequences; Dahomey chiefs often dealt with the lustful offenses of lesser men by decapitating them, impaling them on posts, or killing and hanging them upside down to decompose near the marketplace—an unequivocal warning to would-be adulterers.34

Moreover, Betzig found that power not only confers quantities of women but virgins, too. Across history, virgins have been among the jewels gracing the harems of powerful men. Among the Inca, for example, only virgins were allowed into the king's harem. As we have discussed, the evolutionary strategies of men influence the value they place on female virginity. By acquiring virginal brides (concubines, etc.), men ensure that their women come untainted by the genes of rival males. In a world in which power has evolutionary implications, those with rank have the privilege of monopolizing virginal mates.

To further ensure fidelity, harems were fortified enclosures. However lush and serene on the inside, which they sometimes were, harems were typically walled fortresses hidden away in the very center of the palace with armed guards (most often eunuchs) strictly controlling movement in and out. It is hard to imagine a more direct means of controlling female sexual resources. Ganda kings (of Uganda) had their harems surrounded with high reed fences and guarded by trusted servants. Citing Anglican missionary and ethnographer John Roscoe,35 Betzig notes that the guards “admitted passages on the pain of death, or of ’some terrible mutilation in the event of his life being spared.’”36 One wonders how often the mutilation involved male genitalia.


The Lustful Godhead

The Greek gods were notoriously sexual. Following the tradition of primates, the most dominant of the Greek gods (Zeus) gained his power by overthrowing another dominant male (his father, Cronus), and in doing so won dominion over his territory (Olympus). From here, Zeus ruled over the earth and sky with a violent temperament, commanding fearsome thunderbolts as weapons, which he used to enforce his will on those beneath him. As with other dominant males, power and authority conferred sexual privileges; though Zeus was married to Hera, he fathered many gods with other goddesses and with Titans—for instance, the celebrated twins Apollo and Artemis were a product of his affair with Leto, the Titan, not Hera, his wife. Zeus was also known for having numerous affairs with human females: Io, Semele, Callisto, and Europa (whom Zeus abducted and raped), among others. The main point here is that Zeus was a womanizer like other powerful males. This is not an isolated occurrence, but rather a common pattern of conduct across the gods of many religions.

Krishna is considered a supreme being among gods in Hinduism. It is told that in early life he drew scores of young milkmaids into ecstatic “dances” in the forests. To the dances, the women brought offerings of food, jewelry, their clothing, and, naturally, their bodies. As the story goes, after a stretch of playing hard to get, Krishna had a six-month-long marathon of sex with all the milkmaids. The milkmaids fell into deep, ecstatic longing for Krishna, titillated as they were by his reputation as a powerful warrior. Notably, many of Krishna's sexual conquests were with married women, making their cow-herder husbands Krishna's cuckolds in the evolutionary competition for sex. Krishna aptly used his wiles and status as a god toward this end, and the women willingly gave up their lowly cow-herder husbands for Krishna, a more dominant male.37

In competition, Krishna did not rely on charm alone. When necessary, he slaughtered other dominant males to win control over their women and territory. For example, Krishna overthrew and killed his uncle King Kansa and took Kansa's subjects to establish his own kingdom. Krishna then married the princess, Rukmini, by abducting her from an arranged marriage with King Shishupala, whom he later killed. Knowing Krishna's status, Rukmini enthusiastically welcomed this new arrangement. Krishna went on to kill Narakasura, a male demon, and in doing so won 16,100 maidens.38 This was a spectacular prize, even by the standards of the most successful despotic kings. Like other gods, there is a great deal of complexity to Krishna's personality; he can show beneficence and kindness if he chooses, but his primate origins predispose him to engage in violence and sexual domination.

There are scores of patriarchs in the Old Testament who were polygamous, including: Abraham, Abijah, Ahab, Ashur, Belshazzar, David, Elkanah, Esau, Gideon, Hosea, Jacob, Jehoram, Joash, Jehoiachin, and Rehoboam.39 Many of these men achieved their monopolies over women with help from their male alliance with God, for example: “I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul; And I gave thee thy master's house, and thy master's wives into thy bosom”(2 Sam. 12:7—8). King Solomon, however, trumps them all, and rivals even the despotic men in Betzig's study, with seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines (1 Kings 11:1—3). Even the Abrahamic god himself has been known to womanize. In Ezekiel 23, Yahweh is described as having not one, but two wives Samaria and Jerusalem—actually entire cities, personified; a subject to which we will return.

There is much to be said about the similarities between Hinduism and the Greek, Roman, and Abrahamic religions. Evidence suggests that these similarities are not mere coincidence; rather they are a reflection of these cultures having had more historic contact with one another than previously understood, which has resulted in the dissemination of certain religious tenets between them. But there are numerous facets of religious tradition that are not shared between these cultures. Those that are shared with such vigor are those that touch upon our shared evolutionary psychology.

Sexually Repressive Gods: Divine Jealousy

Religion and sexual repression have historically gone hand in hand, and religion's sexually repressive dictates have trickled into the mores of cultures across the globe. To understand the origins of sexual repression we must consider where the phenomenon occurs in nature and whether there is an evolutionary motivation that is elaborated in human cultures. I argue that sexually repressive behaviors and their representative doctrines and ideologies are rooted in mental architecture designed for navigating the social world of our primeval ancestors.

In nonhuman primates, repression is invariably related to rank, occurring when those higher in rank strive to obstruct the sexual impulses of those lower. Dominant male humans enact similar strategies, such as when kings reign over harems and make eunuchs out of other men. And neither are gods immune to such primate desires and jealousies. In many religious contexts we see God's jealousy commanding that men and women stave off their sexual impulses toward others, directing their attention to him instead. During Ramadan and Lent, millions of Muslims and Catholics (respectively) abstain from sex as a sacrifice to God, as one widely manifested example.

For organic beings with finite life spans, jealousy provides important motivation to compete for survival resources, be they food, water, territory, or sexual partners. However, we must take a moment to recall that according to scripture the Abrahamic god is a being who survives eternally without resources as we know them—thus, having no need to eat, why fight over territory that provides a regular food source? Lacking the threat of death, why should there be such a great concern over sexuality? Further, he is described as all-powerful, as having created the entire universe and life on earth, as performing humanly impossible miracles through his will alone—God should be jealous of no one, for a truly omnipotent being should have no truly viable competitors. Nevertheless, the Abrahamic god is unequivocal about his demand for exclusivity:

You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God. (Exod. 20:4—5)

Powerful men often demand exclusivity, in line with powerful nonhuman primates. Among these males, sexual exclusivity is of prime concern. Similarly, God's demand for unrivaled allegiance is often framed in terms of sexual jealousy:

For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God: Lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go a whoring after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods, and one call thee, and thou eat of his sacrifice And thou take of their daughters unto thy sons, and their daughters go a whoring after their gods, and make thy sons go a whoring after their gods. (Exod. 34:14—16)

Likewise, many contemporary religious thinkers posit that idolatry—worshipping symbolic representations of other gods—is the same as adultery. Others have argued that spiritual adultery—the notion that worshipping things over God, such as one's husband, one's wife, money, or other religions—is analogous to cheating sexually on God. Another passage from the Bible that speaks to the sexual aspect of commitment to God: “Now the body is not for fornication, but for the LORD; and the LORD for the body” (Cor. 6:13).

The Virgin and the King

Like other dominant males, the Abrahamic god shows a preference for virgins. The god of Christianity is purported to have had a relationship with Mary of Nazareth. Like Zeus, Krishna, and an endless succession of other dominant males, he took another man's mate. And like the conquests of Zeus, this god never asked Mary if she wanted the relationship; he simply took what he desired. Mary, of course, was said to have been a virgin. Now, as I've noted above, human primates prefer virgins because they reduce the threat of uncertain paternity. Yet an omniscient (or all-knowing) God should already know if a child is his, and an everlasting god, who does not need to sexually reproduce himself into future generations, shouldn't really care. Thus God should neither fear cuckoldry nor prefer virgins, unless, of course, he is based on a male human.

Perhaps most oddly, why is Mary said to have remained a virgin after God is described as begetting a son with her? This child develops in a literal, physical sense in Mary's womb and was birthed in the exact manner as other human babies, and most Christians concede that every step of this process abided by the biological rules of human reproduction…except for the sex. The sex part was somehow bypassed, omitted, or transcended. Interestingly, suggesting otherwise creates huge stirs of emotion, shouts of blasphemy, and feelings of perversion, disgust, and moral outrage. As concerns Mary, such responses have much to do with the evolutionary value placed on the chastity of women, which we have discussed. These reactions also demonstrate the puritanical background of modern Christianity (particularly in America) that would seek to flatly deny the sexuality of God.

The Mormons, on the other hand, have dispensed with the allegorical sex between Mary and God and opt for a more literal interpretation. In the Book of Mormon, God's value of virginity—and abhorrence of its converse, sexual autonomy—is expressed unequivocally: “For I the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts” (Jacob 2:28).

There are many other examples. The consecration of virgins is an enduring practice of the Catholic Church, where a woman is consecrated to a lifetime of virginity in the service of God. Surrendering female sexuality to the dominant male is actually codified by the Catholics. Below is an excerpt from the Church's Code of Canon Law:

Similar to these forms of consecrated life is the order of virgins, who, committed to the holy plan of following Christ more closely, are consecrated to God by the diocesan bishop according to the approved liturgical rite, are betrothed mystically to Christ, the Son of God, and are dedicated to the service of the Church. (Canon 604)

Here we have virgins married off to Christ in the manner of kings. But was Christ a god-king in the manner of humans? Christ is faithfully known as the King of Kings and King of the World. And in keeping with human kings, the Bible has Christ requiring virgins, at least per Paul's description in Corinthians: “For I have espoused you to one husband that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (11:2). It is impossible to know what the historical Christ truly felt on this issue. There was so little written about Christ in his day, and what is written in the Gospels took place across centuries and changing political landscapes, dimming much hope for historical accuracy. Nevertheless, the persistent references to virginity, purity, chastity, and sexual restraint continue, perhaps teaching us more about the need for the legend of Christ than for the Christ of history.

The Koran is similar to the Bible in its emphasis on virginity and contains the most notable reference of this kind with the god of Islam promising virgins in paradise for his loyal followers. Christians also describe virgins in heaven, but in a crucially different context; rather than reserving virgins for God's followers, God's followers are reserved as virgins for God. Here Matthew describes Christ receiving his followers (of both sexes) like virgin brides: “Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom” (Matt. 25:1). Matthew goes on to state that five of those ten virgins were not ready for Christ and were therefore not allowed into his territory. The passage is intended as a warning to those not immediately ready to submit themselves to Christ as virgins:

The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. Later the others also came. “Lord, Lord,” they said, “open to us!” But he replied, “Verily I say unto you, I know you not.” (Matt. 25:10—12)

The idea of Christ as a bridegroom and his followers as his bride is widely expressed in Christian belief, known aptly as the Bride of Christ. The brides of Christianity, whether wedded to Christ or to men, are often subject to the chauvinistic requirements of dominant men. Peter warns that God wants women to dress like virgins: “Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel” (1 Peter 3:3). The attire of men faces far less scrutiny of this kind. Virginity, chastity, purity, and the like are usually more-highly valued by men than by women, and dress is a means to outwardly advertise either sexual devotion or sexual availability.

Gods in religions worldwide share an interest in sex, and the male gods seek and acquire sex in patterned, dominant-male style, with a noted preference for virgins—females free of the genes of rival males. This emphasis on virginity extends well beyond the Abrahamic religions, which we would expect if a concern for paternal certainty originates from our common evolved psychology as humans. For example, in ancient Incan culture there were castes of young virgins dedicated solely to the sun god.40 Like Incan kings, the sun god desired young women certain to not be carrying another male's offspring. East Indian religions share this preference. Like Jesus, Krishna was purportedly born of the virgin Devaki, who, because of her purity, was selected to become the mother of god—meaning that his father, Vishnu, also appreciated virginity.41

Chaste and Submissive

As we have seen in our study of apes, monkeys, and men, dominant males are often preoccupied with blocking the sexual ambitions of their subordinates. This behavior has its reproductive advantages. God also enforces sexual restraint in his subordinates, even though he should have no real competitors of any kind. This is seen across many religions where holy men are expected to be chaste, or to at least possess fewer wives than other men in their communities—with the exception of those instances when men blur the line between themselves and their dominant god, such as in Mormonism, where higher-ranking holy men have more wives and children.42

Accordingly, Catholic priests take vows of chastity. Like the vows of nuns, priest's vows are described by Canon law as enabling men to become closer to Jesus and God. They are, in essence, men vowing to remain sexually chaste in order to serve the prerogatives of a more powerful male, rather than to compete with him:

Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and therefore are bound to celibacy which is a special gift of God by which sacred ministers can adhere more easily to Christ with an undivided heart and are able to dedicate themselves more freely to the service of God and humanity. (Canon 277)

The Church's position has been unambiguous on this point. The Council of Trent, considered among the important ecumenical councils of the Catholic Church, met numerous times between 1545 and 1563 to promulgate church canon and define outlawed heresies. One aim was to excommunicate and curse priests (and nuns) who did not abide by the council's rulings:

Whomever shall affirm that the conjugal state is to be preferred to a life of virginity or celibacy, and that it is not better and more conducive to happiness to remain in virginity or celibacy than to be married, let them be accursed. (Canon 10)

In nonhuman primates, the alpha doesn't repress all sex, just sex with rivals. By default, this leaves sex with the alpha as the only option. Tellingly, religious men are prone to give themselves sexually to God, following the ancient primate legacy of male sexual submission. The Song of Solomon from the Old Testament is considered by theologians to be an allegory for the relationship of God to Israel, or for Christians to Jesus or God. The soul in Christianity has been described as female, thereby enabling both sexes to be brides of Christ and become sexually subservient to Jesus. The Song of Solomon is lengthy and goes on in salacious detail:

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine. (1:2)

Because of the savour of thy good ointments thy name is an ointment poured forth, therefore do the virgins love thee. (1:3)

I sleep, but my heart waketh: it is the voice of my beloved that knocketh saying, Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled, for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with drops of the night. (5:2)

My beloved put in his hands by the hole of the door, and my bowels were moved for him. (5:4)

I rose up open to my beloved; and my hands dropped with myrrh, and my fingers with sweet smelling myrrh, upon the handles of the lock. (5:5)

In nonhuman primates, submissive males often make sexual displays toward the alpha. It follows naturally to find men showing sexual submission to God. If male sexual submission to God is indeed metaphorical, as tends to be the stance of religious thinkers, then it is by definition a “false mount,” as we see in other primates—it is meant to symbolize submission.

Another way to show submission to the alpha is to give his females wide berth. This is clear across primate species, and the rules are fairly stereotyped: stave off sexual impulses, get spared the alpha's wrath. Conversely: try to have sex with his females, incur the alpha's wrath.

In the book of Revelations, God rained down a horrid, violent, and spiteful fury upon the earth. First, God took all the fruits of the earth, put them into a giant winepress, and turned the pressings into blood. With them he flooded the earth and the cities with blood. The blood flowed high, “up to the bridles of horses.” God then sent disease to all the people, producing festering sores all over their bodies, after which he killed every living thing in the sea by turning the sea into blood. For good measure, he then turned every river into blood as well. He then made the sun burn every person alive. Despite these tortures, the people did not show proper submission. In other words, they “did not repent and give Him glory,” so God responded accordingly and turned the world dark and so full of pain that the people “gnawed their tongues because of the pain.” But the people yet again “did not repent for their deeds.” God obliged and thrashed them further; he dried up the Euphrates River and then sent great acts of nature to punish the people—hail storms, lightening, and earthquakes—that effectively leveled cities, mountains, and islands.

Why would God reap such drastic punishment? In the pattern of dominant primates, it was over a female. This violent tirade was punishment for his woman giving her sexuality to a rival male. Ancient Babylon was considered one of God's wives. When she engaged in fornication with a rival male, “the beast,” God punished not only her but all those who would dare to join with his rival:

And another angel followed, saying, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.” Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” (Rev. 14:8—12).

Revelations goes on to explain the sexual nature of the indiscretion:

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.” So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness. And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication. (Rev. 17:1—4)

It is striking that, even among all this destruction and chaos, God elected to spare 144,000 men, on the basis of their good behavior. Given the moralistic focus of the Christian tradition, one might expect to see God rewarding traits such as industriousness or being helpful to those less fortunate, perhaps teaching prosocial behaviors to children, or honoring one's parents and family. But none of these things were ultimately as important as staving off sexual impulses and staying away from God's woman Babylon. He spares 144,000 males because they were virgins:

These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the first fruits onto God and to the Lamb. (Rev. 14:4)

This metaphor is an example of how alpha-male primates typically decide who in their society is allowed to mate and who is not—a society of freely mating subordinates would defy the rules of the hierarchy.

Finally, the most definitive means to surrender to God's sexual prerogatives is the same means to surrender to the despotic king's—through castration, whether literal or metaphorical. Matthew makes reference to this:

For there are some eunuchs, which were so born fromtheirmother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it. (Matt. 19:12)

Religious thinkers have again argued that castration as described here is really a metaphor for something like celibacy, or spiritual loyalty. However, the act of castration has proven so common among despotic men and apes that we are left letting Matthew's words speak for themselves.


What Women Want in Their Men and Gods

Women tend to be drawn toward powerful male gods, just as they are attracted to powerful men. For women, Henry Kissinger famously said, “power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.”43 The extant research literature strongly supports this observation. For instance, one study of 5,000 American college students found that women regarded “status, prestige, rank, position, power, standing, station and high place”44 significantly more important in a potential mate than did men.

Today, this notion of power may be more related to prestige than dominance, but women's attraction to big men (as we learned in chapter 2) reveals that our “modern skulls house a stone age mind.”45 The research on this female preference is clear. During the most fertile phases of their menstrual cycles women tend to prefer taller men,46 more masculine body types,47 more masculine facial features,48 and men displaying competitive behaviors (e.g., derogating potential rivals).49 During fertile periods, women also rate the odors of men scoring high on measures of social dominance more arousing and more masculine.50 One study found that women who were mated to dominant men with high facial masculinity (i.e., sexually dimorphic facial features) had more frequent and sooner orgasms during intercourse,51 and this pattern of female orgasm has been associated with greater sperm retention.52 While sexual dimorphism among humans is not as prominent as in species that are extremely polygamous,53 men are generally taller and more robust, which women like.

Men also bring material investment to their mates and their children. Not surprisingly women across cultures tend to be attracted to material wealth in men (a highly consistent research finding).54 In one study, researchers photographed a group of men in costumes representing differences in socioeconomic status—a Burger King® uniform and another costume comprised of a white shirt, designer tie, and a Rolex® watch. When the photos were presented, women stated that they were unwilling to date, have intercourse with, or marry the men in the low-status uniform, but were willing to consider all three types of relationships with men wearing the high-status one.55 However, success in nature's interminable competition for resources is only as good to females as the winning male's willingness to share. Indeed, research has found that men's overall attractiveness is ultimately based on a combination of dominance and altruism, suggesting that women value dominant men who share.56

These patterns of attraction also extend to male gods. In Blackfoot Indian mythology, Thunder is a powerful male sky-being known for providing protection and provision (in the form of rain), for creating fearsome storms, and for striking men down and stealing their women. According to folklore, one young woman found all the mortal males in her company to be unsatisfactory. Knowing Thunder's strength and power, she sought him out, married him, and had his children. In doing so, she and her children gained rank in Blackfoot society—her children were thunderclaps, and, on behalf of Thunder, she brought the sacred pipe to the Blackfoot people. Morning Star was another male deity central to Blackfoot mythology. A woman became so enraptured with Morning Star's brilliance that she sought him out, married him, and had his child.57

For Christians, there is no more powerful male figure in the universe than God. The Spanish nun Saint Teresa of Ávila (1515—1582) offers perhaps the most illustrious example of the sexual attraction to a god of power. Below is an excerpt from Saint Teresa's diary:

It pleased the Lord that I should sometimes see the following vision. I would see beside me, on my left hand, an angel in bodily form—a type of vision which I am not in the habit of seeing, except very rarely. It pleased the Lord that I should see the angel in the following way. He was not tall, but short, and very beautiful, his face so aflame that he appeared to be one of the highest types of angel who seem to be all afire. They must be those who are called cherubim: they do not tell me their names but I am well aware that there is a great difference between certain angels and others, and between them and others still, of a kind that I could not possibly explain. In his hands I saw a long golden spear and at the end of the iron tip I seemed to see a point of fire. With this he seemed to pierce my heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails. When he drew it out, I thought he was drawing them out with it and the pain left me completely afire with a great love for God. The pain was so sharp that it made me utter several moans; and so excessive was the sweetness caused me by this intense pain that one can never wish to lose it, nor will one's soul be content with anything less than God.58

It would be difficult to deny that Teresa was having a sexual experience with God. Another woman—Saint Thérèse of Lisieux or “Little Flower”—recounts a similar affair centuries later:

I do not know how to explain it; it was as if an invisible hand had plunged me wholly into fire. Oh what fire, and what sweetness at the same time! I was burning with love and I thought one minute, nay, one second more, and I shall not be able to support such ardor without dying. I understood then what the Saints have said of those states which they had experienced so often. For me I have but experienced it that once, only for an instant, and afterwards I fell back again into my habitual dryness. From the age of fourteen I have also experienced the assaults of love. Ah! how much I love God! But it was not at all to be compared to what I experienced after my offering to Love.59

Part of the Abrahamic God's appeal may be his power and dominance. We have explored how God, like powerful men, provides protection from outside tribes and from wild animals, and offers prowess in battle. But for God to have a sexual appeal to women, we would expect him to also be a great provisioner. The Abrahamic faiths abound with references to God's role as such:

·  The Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven” (Exod. 16:4);

·  I will bless her with provisions. Her poor I will satisfy with food (Ps. 132:15);

·  He hath given meat unto them that fear him: he will ever be mindful of his covenant. (Ps. 111:5);

·  But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:19);

·  Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?…For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. (Matt. 6:31—32);

·  (They worship Him) so that God will reward their best deeds and give them more through His favors. God gives sustenance to whomever He wants without account (Koran 24:38);

·  It is He who made the earth tame for you—so walk among its slopes and eat of His provision. (Koran 67:15);

·  And it is He who feeds me and gives me drink. (Koran 26:79)

Combined, God's power and willingness to provide would seem a perfect match for women programmed with the tendency to prefer these traits in men. However, as with dominant male primates, male dominance strategies come with a significant cost to females, above and beyond sexual control.

The Cost to Women and Children

Between males and females we see a mutual exchange of resources—such as sex, childrearing, provisioning, and protection—that ultimately serves the reproductive interests of both sexes. However, the arms race of evolution can also lead to sexual inequities that result in high costs for females and their offspring. In women, these costs may become particularly large when the reproductive strategies of men, by their own evolutionary success, become extreme or exaggerated, or impart unchecked power. The following sections examine examples that have arisen where religion has ideologically championed a male reproductive strategy, often resulting in violent oppression of women across the globe.


The Bible is especially frank in claiming that God wants women to submit to men, for example: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.” (Col. 3:18). When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians advising them that their church was practicing improper worship, he argued that women are made to serve man, and man to serve God, therefore women are to pray to God in a manner that serves man—in chaste submission. Hence women are punished for failing to veil themselves in prayer:

For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is in the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For the man is not of the women: but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman: but the woman for the man. (1 Cor. 11:7—9)

Veiling women is a common religious practice that makes women less sexually tempting to rival males. Paul admonishes that if women dare to pray to God with their heads uncovered, they are to have their heads shorn. Hair has special value for men. Long hair in particular is regarded across cultures as a highlight of female beauty. Like other aspects of female beauty, the ability to grow long hair is also an evolutionary marker of physical health and fertility. Thus in Corinthians, this universal marker of female beauty is forcibly sheared as reprimand for the woman's arrogance. Men with God's backing will not suffer outward displays of beauty that could be interpreted as sexual availability.

Men in some sects of Islam have taken veiling to the absolute limit with the burka, a garment that conceals every inch of a Muslim woman's body. In this manner, men can manage temptation among rival males, and ensure no threat to their women's fidelity arises to damage their male honor. However, the dedication to hiding female sexuality can be taken to stupefying extremes. For instance, in 2002 a fire broke out at school in the holy city of Mecca. Religious police known as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice stopped firemen who tried to rescue schoolgirls trapped inside the blazing building. Some police were seen beating the girls to prevent them from escaping the inferno simply because they were not covered by the traditional black robes required by the faith. Fifteen teenage girls died in the fire because men promoting “virtue” prevented their escape.60 Later that same year, riots broke out in Nigeria over the Miss World pageant that was to be held in the nation's capital, Abuja. From the start, the notion of women wearing bikinis incensed Nigerian Muslim men (and reportedly God) who rule a society in which female sexuality is under male jurisdiction. When a news reporter stated that Mohammed would have chosen one of the contestants as his wife, an explosion of violence tore across the region. In the end, two hundred people lay dead and hundreds more were injured. Many were stabbed, bludgeoned to death, or burned alive. Murderous rioters were heard yelling “God is great” and “Miss World is sin!”61

Violence against Women

Like their male primate cousins, men tend to batter women out of sexual jealousy. Research worldwide shows that sexual jealousy tends to be the leading motivation for spousal abuse, which is almost always perpetrated from man to woman.62 Sexual jealousy is also a leading cause of spousal homicide around the globe, which again is almost always committed by jealous husbands rather than jealous wives. Further, because dominant men usually make the laws, they tend to skew them in favor of their evolutionary concerns. David Buss points out that men around the world, including in the United States, have been exonerated for killing their spouses if the murder was committed in response to the wife's adultery. In Texas, for example, such an act was considered something a “reasonable man” would do, and therefore it was legal to kill one's wife or her lover if caught in the act until as recently as 1974 when the law was changed.63

A casual read of religious canon uncovers a litany of violent acts against women. These are not aimless acts, but rather acts reflecting the reproductive strategies that God and man inherited from their primate predecessors. Jane Goodall recalls a dominant chimpanzee's response to sexual infidelity: “[W]hen Figan did notice he would race towards the pair and, very often, bash the female for her faithlessness.”64 Here we see the alpha male Figan bypass the male philanderers altogether and proceed to bash the female. The Bible has men doing the same.

Here is a verse from Deuteronomy that dumbfounds the rational mind and demonstrates how the exaggerated evolutionary advantage of men can be codified into religious law: “If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death—the young woman because she was in a town and did not scream for help (22:23—24). In another startling verse, God goes on a rampage against his wives Samaria and Jerusalem (represented as the sisters Oholah and Oholibah) for infidelity:

And I will direct my jealousy against you, that they may deal with you in fury. They shall cut off your nose and your ears, and your survivors shall fall by the sword. They shall seize your sons and your daughters, and your survivors shall be devoured by fire. They shall also strip you of your clothes and take away your beautiful jewels. Thus I will put an end to your lewdness and your whoring begun in the land of Egypt, so that you shall not lift up your eyes to them or remember Egypt anymore…. Your lewdness and promiscuity have brought this on you, because you lusted after the nations and defiled yourself with their idols. (Ezek. 23:25—30)

Here God advocates mutilation, stripping, and rape—behavior of a jealous, deranged man bent on extracting violent revenge for sexual indiscretion. For good measure, God had his wives’ children burned alive.

The misogynistic brutality depicted in the Old Testament is recapitulated today in a practice known as “honor killing,” which is now mostly concentrated in Muslim countries. These so-called honor killings—rooted in the notion that a woman's chastity is the property of her family—are perpetrated for various reasons concerning sexual control such as: real or rumored premarital loss of virginity, extramarital affairs, refusing a prearranged marriage, speaking to unrelated men, or even being raped. While some may argue that these murders are not religious in nature because honor killing is not explicitly prescribed in the Koran, it is clear that Islamic ethics, which place an extremely high value on female chastity, are often cited as the justification for the killings by the perpetrators. Islamic courts in many countries are notoriously lenient when it comes to punishing such murders, and many rule them to be justified. Horrors such as this are undoubtedly influenced by misogynistic scripture. For instance, in the Koran, God suggests beating unruly females:

Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because God has guarded them. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them. Then if they obey you, take no further action against them. Surely God is high, supreme. (Koran 4:34)

More specifically, however, murder is condoned by Sharia law. Sharia law is a set of religious laws inspired by the Koran and the examples set by Mohammed in the Sunnah—life guidelines for Muslims based on interpretations of the Koran. Today, a minority of nations enforces Sharia law, but Islamist movements around the globe are striving for formal reinstatement. Sharia law e12.8 prescribes killing for adulterers who are “unworthy (those who may be killed) includes…convicted married adulterers…” While the wording may seem to include equal penalties for both men and women, men are almost never killed for this infraction.

Infanticide in Men and God

As we have seen, male apes and monkeys will engage in infanticide, and this chilling behavior can confer a reproductive advantage. As beings programmed to nurture, cherish, and protect our children, the biological origin of infanticide is a hard pill for humans to swallow. Nevertheless, the empirical literature reveals that infanticide in humans follows the lines of inclusive fitness for males, just as it does for other primates. The number of child homicides committed by stepfathers or boyfriends is significantly higher, in some cases one hundred times higher, than those committed by biological fathers.65 Further, differential abuse of stepchildren, particularly lethal beatings, is a male tendency found to generalize across Canada, Great Britain, and the United States, and in other parts of the world such as Australia, Korea, Malaysia, and Trinidad.66 As with nonhuman primates, infanticide is exceedingly rare among human females. If biology were not a factor, we would not expect such clear prevalence across cultures, geographic regions, and primate species.

Infanticide, this pitiless animal behavior, is rather frequent in the Bible. In the book of Numbers, God advises not only to kill women who might possibly contain the genes of rival males, but also to kill all their male offspring. Virgins are to be kept alive and used for sex:

Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man lying with him. But all the young girls who have not known man lying with him, keep alive for yourselves. (Num. 31:17—18)

In a rather infamous act of retribution against the pharaohs of Egypt, as a punishment for not letting Moses's tribe leave, God commits mass infanticide:

Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the female slave, who is at her handmill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. (Exod. 11:5—6)

And Babylon, yet again, is severely punished. We have heard of her harlotry before, and of God's response, but sexual infidelity has a tendency to produce rival offspring. The behavior described here mimics the technique used by the chimpanzees in the example above:

Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is the one who repays you according to what you have done to us. Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks. (Ps.137:8—9)

Finally, we see a prophecy against Babylon, where the pattern of primate infanticide and mating with the grieving mothers is captured in verse:

Therefore I will make the heavens tremble; and the earth will shake from its place at the wrath of the LORD Almighty, in the day of his burning anger…. Whoever is captured will be thrust through; all who are caught will fall by the sword. Their infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses will be looted and their wives violated. (Is. 13.13—16).


The violent acquisition of territory. Emasculation of male rivals. Sexual acquisitiveness. Winning exclusive sex through violence and cloistering. The sexualization of God. It is one thing to observe these phenomena in the Bible or Koran as ancient texts, but how relevant are they really in religious life? To answer this question, I offer a case study that draws on source material collected by historian Ramón A. Gutiérrez in his book, When Jesus Came, the Corn Mothers Went Away.67 Here we see how the Spanish conquest of the Western Hemisphere provides an illustrative example of the alpha-god parable, played out in epic and dramatic form. In particular, we see religion's dominant-male ethos as wielded by men in violent competition.

When the Spanish rode into North America, clanging in their metal armor, they were a terrifying spectacle—the bearded men, the horses, the firearms, the dogs of war, all previously unknown to the native inhabitants, all predestined to mystify. Capitalizing on the awe, the Spaniards’ first objective was to claim Indian territory in the name of Christ and God. They summarily demolished every religious building, shrine, and relic, and replaced every trace of Indian religion with crucifixes, reliefs of saints, and other Catholic iconography. The Spaniards understood the power of religious symbolism, and they used symbols of their Christian god as territorial markers of their dominant male. With these markers they scored out territories across vast spans of the Americas. After deposing the old deities with symbols of the new God, the Spanish went on to persecute and kill powerful religious medicine men, all with a great deal of purpose and forethought; religious conquest was the shortest route to domination. If religion were not important to this endeavor, the Spanish would have been unconcerned with the existing religious structure of the native peoples. But there was immense psychological utility in marking territories with symbols of a god with a reputation for being fierce, dominant, and male. Toward this end, they also forced the Indians to call themselves by Christian names.

Sexual domination was an indispensable charge of the conquest, and one that links it with conquests across primate history. The atrocities of Juan de Oñate, a Spanish explorer and governor of the New Spain province of New Mexico, are an infamous example. Upon arrival, Oñate quickly made a point to neutralize the Pueblo Indians’ most sexually capable male rivals. Not long after riding into Acoma Pueblo, Oñate rounded up all Indian men over twenty-five years of age and hacked off one foot from each of them—in the name of Christ, the Church, and the Spanish crown. Any resistors were killed on the spot. If this were simply a “neutered” domination of a people, one would assume the mutilations would have been meted out more judiciously across sex and age—to include women and prepubescent boys. Further following Darwinian imperatives, Oñate's men summarily took to raping the Puebloan women as their entitlements of war.

From their own seats of dominance, similar behavior arose among the Franciscan friars, who were explicitly charged by the Church with orchestrating the spiritual conquest of the native populations across the region. Again, an important first step to any conquest is toppling the existing male-rank structures. Accordingly, a primary task of the Franciscans was to break alliances between young men and their fathers. This way fathers would drop in rank and sons could more easily acquiesce to the new dominant males—God, Christ, and the Friars themselves. Inspired by passages from the Bible, the Franciscans publicly humiliated native fathers or physically assaulted them when humiliation alone failed to recruit their sons. More notable, however, was the sexual nature of the Franciscans’ play for dominance. Gutiérrez notes one common domination strategy practiced of the friars whereby they seized Indian men by their penises:

The humiliation of fathers before their own children was most demeaning when the [Franciscan] fathers emasculated the men, thereby symbolically transforming them into women. A clerical technique occasionally used to render an obdurate and cocksure Indian submissive was to grab him by the testicles and to twist them until the man collapsed in pain. Pedro Acomilla of Taos complained in 1638 that Fray Nicholas Hidalgo “twisted [his penis] so much that it broke in half,” leaving Pedro without “what is called the head of the member.”68

Gutiérrez captures how common this was, citing numerous historical documents that describe friars ripping off the penises of Indian men, literally emasculating them and rendering them impotent sexual rivals. This was performed for a variety of reasons, from failing to submit to Christ to maintaining forbidden Indian customs. Here the alpha god paradigm is agonizingly clear: Indian men were to sexually submit to Christ, the dominant-male archetype, and the Franciscans exercised extreme brutality to accomplish such subservience, including attacking genitalia in the style of male apes and monkeys.

Like god-kings, the Franciscans were seen as possessing supernatural powers, and as bridges to God they were thus revered in a godlike manner by the Indians. This power differential was codified by the Catholic Church, which ceded absolute dominion over the Indians to the Franciscan order. The Indians were regarded as children and wards of the Franciscans or, in some cases, as animals. Consequently, Indians were often indentured by the Franciscans or flatly made slaves.

By dominating the Puebloan men, the Franciscans gained sexual access to Puebloan women. There is rich documentation of this, particularly from notes logged by inquisitorial courts. Gutiérrez relays numerous accounts, many involving violence. One example, among many, involved a friar named Nicolas Hidalgo who served the Taos Pueblo. An Indian woman stepped forward with a “half-breed” child allegedly belonging to Fray Nicolas and reported that Hidalgo had strangled her husband and then had sex with her, producing the child. Another Friar, Luis Martinez, was accused of “forcibly [raping] a woman, splitting her throat, and burying her in his cell {priestly quarters}.”69 The civil authorities turned away from prosecuting this rape and murder for fear of an Indian uprising.

To be fair, it was not uncommon for Puebloan women to give themselves to holy men within pre-conquest Indian communities. After the coming of the Spaniards, this tradition transferred over to the friars, many of whom were given sex willingly. The end result was that the seemingly unlikely Franciscan friars achieved differential reproductive success. One document has a friar reporting that “all the pueblos are full of the friar's children” and that many of the friars kept concubines.70 Another Franciscan priest finally gave evidence against one of his brothers, relaying a litany of sexual conquests to his superiors:

María Encarnación and María de García, first cousins of María Guadalupe Valdez, who bore a daughter, Manuela Trujillo, María Lain, who bore a son, Ana María Fresquis, Rosa Mestas, who bore a son, La Roma, La Lupe Sánchez, Antonia Gallego, Ingacia Peña, the daughter of Isidro Medina who bore a son, the daughter of Alejandro Márquez, who bore a son, Manuel Trujillo, alias la Malinche, Soledad Tenorio.71

In this small historical glimpse, we can easily see male evolutionary paradigms grinding their way across the Conquista within a strongly religious context—the acquisition of territory, the sexual repression of males, the acquisition of females, and differential reproduction among despotic men.

Further, following the charge of monkeys and apes, the Franciscans hoarded Indian women, ostensibly for the sake of God. Cloisters were common among the Franciscans in New Mexico, as well as in other locations across America, where claims to female sexuality were secured by God's walled fortresses. The Franciscans spent a great deal of energy running off Indian male suitors and punishing them for trying to breach the cloister walls. While the stated reason for cloistering did not acknowledge any evolutionary motives, the behaviors played out in ways stereotyped across male primates of ages.

Pre-conquest Puebloan religion also saw women engaging in symbolic sex with their native gods. The Franciscans viewed the native religious practices—particularly those involving sex—as filthy, shameful abominations and made eradicating such practices from Indian culture a primary concern. Ironically, the Bride of Christ doctrine was embraced by the Franciscans and used to sway the hearts of the Indians. With it, both native men and women could be urged to submit themselves sexually to Christ in place of their deposed native gods. Again, the soul was made female so that both men and women could sexually serve the passions of Christ as his brides. Here is an extended passage from a Franciscan hymn with Gutiérrez's commentary included:

Listen as the bride (soul) cries out to her bridegroom (Christ): “enflame me and embrace me totally with the fire of your love so that my entire soul melts onto you, flows on you, and is united perfectly with you.” Passionately she begs, “that He kiss me with a kiss of His mouth” with that kiss symbolizing their perfect union. When the Bridegroom beholds the soul's nakedness, “he pities her and spreads his cloak to cover her, saying that this is the moment reserved for lovers and for their sweet breasts, and he gives her wine to drink…from the cellar of divine love.” Now she wishes only that He “penetrate her intimately and to the depth of her heart. She wishes that He whom she desires would not show Himself to her under the exterior form, but as an intimate infusion into her, not that He appear to her but that He penetrate her.” Pierced by the “lovers arrows,” carried away on the “wings of love,” enflamed by the “fires of love,” she sings libations of praise, benedictions, and adorations to her spouse. Rapturously she utters, “O my Love! Ah, Love of my life!”72

The hymn was an allegory of human love, and was intended somehow to be chaste. Naturally, it often wasn't taken as such. After successively repeating the hymn, male Indians would report waking with homoerotic dreams of Christ. Documents show that for this they were urged to give themselves fifteen lashes and “symbolically,” “mystically” enter Christ through his wounds:

Place the eyes of our soul on the holiest wounds of your Redeemer and lord, hugging the cross, looking particularly at the holiest open wound and the blood which flows from him, from his entire person, body and cross which he shed for us; supplicating with loving affection that he defend you from your enemies.73

Gutiérrez notes that the wounds of Christ were often portrayed as disembodied in reliquaries and intentionally not in horizontal form but rather transformed vertically to appear like a vagina and pubic hair.74

The Franciscan's theocratic reign was heavily endured by the Puebloan people. At times the native people attempted to revert back to their own religions, invoking their native gods. For these indiscretions they were punished with a jealous, brutal fury. Whippings were common, and sometimes the Indians were even beaten to death. One such incident (again, among many) took place in 1655, when Fray Salvador de Guerra found that Juan Cuna, a Hopi Indian, was “worshipping idols.” The priest whipped Cuna until the Indian was “bathed in blood.” The next day, in the church itself, de Guerra gave Cuna another violent thrashing, eventually killing him in a shower of flaming turpentine. De Guerra justified his actions to Church authorities as reasonable means to stamp out idolatry.75 Torture by burning was also not uncommon.

After a time the Puebloans became tired of Spanish maltreatment, particularly as was delivered to them by the Franciscan priests. In the early 1670s, efforts to revive their forbidden practices gained momentum, and the Indians soon began revolting against the vicious religious tyranny of the Franciscans. It is striking how warfare between the Puebloans and the Spaniards was not only a war between men (or between cultures) but a war of rival gods. In 1672, the Abó Puebloans revolted and burned down the local church. Recalling their prior treatment, the Abó stripped the church's friar, Pedro de Ávila y Ayala, and flogged him mercilessly. After this they killed him and hung his naked body from a cross. As another symbolic gesture, the Indians slit the throats of three lambs and placed their bloody carcasses at the foot of the cross. The governor of the region, Juan Francisco Treviño, addressed the Indian sedition by launching a violent campaign against idolatry. He hung several known medicine men, whom he called “sorcerers.” Forty-seven other medicine men were arrested, beaten, and then sold into slavery.76

Later, Popé, a medicine man from San Juan, began organizing a massive rebellion. Popé keenly pitted gods against God, entreating his followers to revive the alliance of traditional native gods. Under Spanish rule, only Christ was allowed to have multiple wives; elders and chiefs were burned or had their hair shorn as punishment for polygamy. In hopes of bringing differential reproduction back to men of his own culture, Popé promised that “[he] who shall kill a Spaniard will get an Indian woman, for a wife, and he who kills four will get four women, and he who kills ten will have a like number of women.”77

Popé's forces eventually revolted and overtook Santa Fe. There is record of them shouting from the streets that “now the God of the Spaniards, who was their father, is dead, and Santa Maria, who was their mother, and the saints…were pieces of rotten wood” and that their own deities had never died.78 After retaliating for the years of subjugation and abuse, the Indian forces of the region reclaimed their lands. Accordingly, they reinstated all their native shrines and religious symbols and tore down the crucifixes that mocked them on every corner. They also changed their Christian names back to Indian names and enacted punishments to anyone uttering the names Jesus or Mary.

American psychologist and philosopher William James makes the point that because the evolutionary mechanisms of our brains operate so efficiently, we are often unaware of their presence. For many believers, sexually submitting to a dominant male god, or even following his lead in winning sexual dominion, are behaviors so emotionally familiar that they may be succumbed to without question. This, however, is what makes them dangerous. If, as we learned in chapter 2, we make the natural seem strange, we take a first step toward questioning the gendered dictates of religious custom. Perhaps by questioning we may advance toward a spiritual ethics that does more to foster mutual well-being and less to repeat the violence and rapacity of our evolutionary past.