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.