Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Radical Progressives Assault Traditional Values

GLBT Western History
Part 1 of 3

As we all know, GLBT History Month is finally over (You all knew that, right? ;-)), and so I can now start posting on GLBT history, without feeling like I’m doing what I’m told. I think I’ll skim the darker side of western civilization and politics first, beginning a bit earlier from where my Sodom post left off. I’ll be using the same references also; Homosexuality and Civilization, by Crompton, mainly. I’ll take it from where gay love was an acceptable, tolerated part of western civilization to one of the lowest points for gays in our hemisphere.

This tale will be much like the Sodom and Gomorrah tale, about a gradual change, with some of the same player. I’m pretty sure I don’t need to quote Leviticus, and Romans. We all know what some of the writers of the Bible say (and have been manipulated to say) on the topic of gays. I’ll instead focus here on how these verses were used in the AD.

One could go all the way to some of the classical Philosophers to find significant evidence of the tide turning on gays around the Mediterranean. It seemed a certain asceticism had been gaining in popularity; many were tripping over themselves to be the most publicly austere in sex and other human pleasures (forgetting, of course, the human pleasure in that :-)).

Ironically Plato, for a popular example, himself known for his same-sex love, makes arguments against such love, in The Laws, his last work. Here the creation of a totalitarian fascist city is discussed, as being a practical next-best to the “Utopia” described in The Republic. Plato hopes to restrict all non-reproductive sexual activity, along with business, and the accumulation of private wealth, and ban travel and trade. He also calls homosexuality unnatural reasoning that it is not seen in other animals, a fact that is clearly false. I guess he never paid much attention to livestock, or knew many monkeys? But he will be quoted and used by future theologians hoping to add his name to justify their anti-gay argument (while, of course ignoring any pro-gay content in his writings).

Just barely stepping into the AD, we have the Jewish Philo, who you may remember from the Sodom post. To get an idea of how the culture was, we can read his complaint. He says "it [gay love] is now a matter of boasting, not only to the active but to the passive partner" in the Roman Empire.

Once the Church began to grow, Clement of Alexandria (~200 AD) becomes prominent. He similarly expressed anger that Roman law allowed gays to live openly and freely, and that it was almost obligatory to have male relations. His contemporary, Tertulian (155-230 AD) then gave one of the earliest records of a Christian hope to put the Levitical death penalty for gays into Roman law.

Public opinion was indeed changing, and like most rights, those for gays were eroded in increments. During the reign of the pagan emperor Severus (222-235 AD), the prolific Julius Paulus, and his colleague Ulpian handed out judgments lowering the social standing of the “passive” gay partner to “infamous”, a status that put him in league with gladiators, thereby limiting his right to vote and hold office. The right to practice law was also taken and certain inheritance laws were limited.

Once Constantine (272-337 AD) was in power and converted, these anti-gay opinions took a larger step, beginning with the killings of homosexuals in pagan cults. In fact, the campaigns against paganism and homosexuality were purposefully chained together, just as Paul had done in Romans. Around 300 AD, Firmicus Maternus, a Roman senator, was instrumental to this end. After his conversion, Mr. Maternus began an attack on all pagan religions, with his creation of The Errors of the Pagan Religions, his justification being Deut 13:

Along with his assault on the pagans, he purposefully links that culture war to homosexuality. For example, in his assault on the cult of the goddess Tanit, he complains about male priests “letting themselves be handled as women”, being “divorced from masculinity” and relishing in “dishonor of their polluted bodies”. They knew how to insult back then.

At this same time Constantine’s sons take the helm, and implement edicts giving “exquisite punishment” to the “passive” homosexual only, in 342. (If “passive” homosexual isn’t self-explanatory, I don’t know what to say :-)):

“When a man marries as a woman who offers yourself to man, what does he wish, when sex has lost its significance; when the crime is one which is not profitable to know; when Venus is changed into another form; when love is sought and not found? We order the statutes to arise, a lot of the armed with an avenging sword, but those infamous persons who are now, or who hereafter may be guilty may be subjected to exquisite punishment.”

Regarding this law, Senator Firmicus, of course, expresses his appreciation.

Theodosius (347-395 AD) stepped up the conflict. He made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire and began a strong, bloody assault on pagan faiths. He finally, in 390, implemented the full Mosaic Law condemning all male homosexuals to death, not merely the “passive” partner.

Early theologians helped out. In The City of God, 412 AD, St. Augustine (354-430 AD) is the first to make homosexuality the primary sin of Sodom, which set up the justification for future governments to rid themselves of gays as a means of pretended self-preservation from the same wrath of God. He also poses homosexuality as a crime against God, which will lead some future theologians to claim consensual gay sex should be dealt with more harshly than rape. After all, God, not some human woman, is a victim then… Um, Yeah…

I hope the importance of this move is not lost. It is not easy to get people to overlook their sense of ethics, the Golden Rule, without using some sort of sleight of hand, without offering them something in return. Here the evil of killing gays, who have no victims, is made to seem good by posing God as the victim. All the victims of natural disasters are also piled on, being a supernatural result of gays in our midst. In return, people get to feel like they are doing God’s will with a disposable and perpetual minority, and that they’ll get all the afterlife bonuses that faith tells them come with that; it’s a tool humanity uses to this day to get good people to justify wrong. Alas, the philosophers just get to sit back with their hands superficially clean of blood.

Now, there was initial pagan and social resistance to the new use of Mosaic Law, and one recorded related riot, a sort of grassroots swell of traditional culture warriors :-). Perhaps due to such controversy, the laws seem to have been weakly enforced at first. In reaction, Saint John Chrysostom, in 380 AD, complained about the “new and lawless lust” of homosexuality. New, Ha! He prodded the government to toughen the laws as “no one is afraid, no one trembles; No benefit comes from law courts.”

He’d get his wish. They’d tremble and burn in great displays.

Going beyond Saint Augustine, Saint Chrysostom makes homosexuality the only sin of Sodom. He called homosexuals “monstrous” and “satanic”, guilty of the most grievous sin, and their defenders “even worse than murderers.” You can find his sentiment resonating in some of today’s radio hosts, pundits, and “holy” men; I’ve even heard folks say heterosexual pedophilia is better, and that’s what they call morality... Anyway, the punishment he advocated was stoning.

Of course all these laws and purgings were too late. Homosexuality and paganism caused Rome to fall anyway ;-), around 476 AD, about a century and a half after Constantine’s rule, with Christianity long established as the state religion, other religions outlawed, a good deal of the population alienated and persecuted, and homosexuality made punishable by death. Funny how that happened.

And so soon after Christians were treated similarly harshly. Power corrupts even the most benevolent of philosophies… It's sad but true.

Next, Creating New “Traditional" Values.


santorio said...

reading all these ancient politicians vehemently opposed to gays makes me think of recent closeted gay republicans who score 100% on anti-gay legislation.

in his confessions st augustine admits to giving into lust, but is it clear exactly whom he was lusting after?

Scot said...

That's a good question, santorio.

Oh yes, I’ve the gossip on that guy from Hippo.

Seems, he had a colorful past, as he appropriately confesses in his Confessions. He had experience with prostitutes, and claims, while in Carthage, “all around me hissed a cauldron of illicit loves”.

But he also seems to be a bit coy. It’s hard to blame him with cultural atmosphere and his theological position (He was wholly anti-sex, claiming even that the original sin was instead Adam’s lust for Eve).

The passages that seems to point to his being gay, or at least bisexual, are found in Book 3 and 4 of Confessions:

“To me it was sweet to love and be loved, the more so if I could also enjoy the body of the beloved. I therefore polluted the spring water of friendship with the filth of concupiscence. I muddied its clear stream by the hell of lust, and yet, though foul and immoral, in my excessive vanity, I used to carry on in the manner of an elegant man about town. I rushed headlong into love, by which I was longing to be captured… My love was returned and in secret I attained the joy that enchains.”

Then the lover dies after about a year of their “friendship.” He writes “It had been sweet to me beyond all the sweetness of life that I had experienced.” And “My home town became a torture to me; my father’s house a strange world of unhappiness; all that I had shared with him was transformed into cruel torment.”

Now he is vague, for good reason, but the fact that it began as a noble “friendship”, quite improbable between young men and women of the time, and the pronoun in that last sentence, which makes sense only if it refers to his dead love and not his father, makes it pretty clear it was a male lover.

This account, despite that I wish it wouldn’t, makes me feel far less willing to condemn him in his attacks on gays later on. In fact, to me it explains his actions, his visceral hated of gay love that brought him so much pain. It had, after all, become a “cruel torment” to him after his loss, and he was born into a culture where his religion was always there, prodding him on with threats he believed.

I hope it’s not taken incorrectly, we’ve no one here as strident as Saint Augustine against gays, no one near calling for blood. But the sentiment alone displayed above, of the man who desperately wants to follow his faith and, for that, has to look back on his love and see it as filth, foul, and immoral, a hell of lust by the lens of his religion… It’s poignantly modern for some around here. It's been going on for centuries.

Great, now I’m starting my day in the dumps.

santorio said...

perhaps there's a similarity here, many men, faced with the choice between instinctual love for another man and approval of society (religious, financial, whatever), choose the latter, and to reinforce their choice become, consciously or not, anti-gay, sometimes stridently so. what psychologists call cognitive dissonance.

it does make me less likely to be upset with the foleys and craigs and other closeted conservative politicians. and with some of our fellow bloggers who are opposed, for example, to gay marriage.

Scot said...

Perhaps like this guy?


“One of America's most powerful evangelicals is accused of paying for a male prostitute even as his state approaches a referendum on gay marriage”

Sad, both if and if not true.

Loyalist (with defects) said...

I think that what also needs to be addressed is in insertion of strident masculinity into the Christian religion. Historically Eve was theologically demoted to a second class citizen because it was she who caused humans to be ejected from the Paradise of the Garden. Adam was theologically glorified (though flawed because he was burdened with Eve) because he would never have left the Garden if it wasn’t for his flaw.

The divinity of masculinity was further promoted when religious rites because unbalanced with the thought that women were thought “unclean” spiritually. In essence as well as reality they became the “passive” member of society.

In relationship to homosexuality; it seems that so long as the partaker of same gendered sex was not the “passive” actor then it was accepted or tolerated. It was masculine to be the “taker” while emasculating if they were to accept the less aggressive role.

I’m sure there are many details that could be inserted to help illuminate the codification of western sexuality, however I do not want to take up your space.

These posts of yours are very interesting. I am enjoying their caliber of thought. Although, I will admit, I must mull over the material some more.


Scot said...

Please, thank you, Loyalist.

I found that quite insightful, and only regret it may seem I’m returning your nice compliment.

Yes, there’s so much interesting material to go over on that topic.

Please, anyone, don’t feel you should cut comments short on my account. It’s an official rule of this blog :-).