Back in July the crack(pot) father-son team of Ron and Gareth Fraser had an article published in our nemesis, the Trumpet. They were harping specifically on a law that was passed in California that makes it illegal to discriminate against LGBT figures in the teaching of history at public schools. In other words, the precious Gareths were complaining about the non-discriminatory acknowledgment of people who have sexual preferences presumably different from theirs (though one can never be too sure). Of course they explained their reasons for being so bigoted, and those reasons have everything to do with a certain delusion that we’ve made it our business to expose. So, without further ado, get yourself a tall glass of the fruitiest cocktail you can manage, crank up the show tunes, don your leather, and prepare yourself for a fabulously fact-based polemical against the Armstrongist teaching on homosexuality.
So, what’s the big deal anyway? Why should your sex life matter to allegedly straight-laced cult elites? Well, it’s a complicated interplay of factors that give rise to this restrictive attitude toward sexuality. Let’s see if we can sort it out a bit.
You and Me, Baby, Ain’t Nothin’ But Mammals…
One likely influence is biological. If evolutionary psychology is basically correct, we are genetically predisposed to exhibit certain social behaviors that may have a positive effect on the reproductive success of our species, and many of our most deeply ingrained taboos probably result (in a more-or-less roundabout way) from this sub-rational function. It also makes sense, given our natural drive to reproduce, that most individuals are attracted to the opposite sex.
But not all. And in fact, sexual orientation, like sexual identity itself, is often not an either/or proposition. The proportion of those who identify as bisexual and fully homosexual in demographic surveys usually falls in the single-digits, although the percentage of those who have had at least one homosexual experience (but consider themselves to be heterosexual) is usually shown to be marginally higher. And, contrary to what your preacher might have told you, homosexuality is not restricted to humans: almost all other animals do it too.
We humans just happen to be a particular kind of ape. Throughout our pre-civilized stage, some of us were gay apes, and some of us exhibited gay behavior. When we started to put two thoughts together, and later two stones together to build civilizations, still, some of us were gay apes, and some of us exhibited gay behavior. Eventually, apes became temple catamites and fellating priests, apes sodomized each other in fertility orgies, gay apes and straight apes alike fucked their brains out for the glory of their gods and a good crop. It’s just the way things were, because we apes believed stupid shit and liked to have our genitals (and prostates) rubbed. So far, so good. But the shit was about to get stupider.
Us and Them
It wasn’t long before we started to impose a strict, binary dichotomy between gay and straight apes, a socialized abstraction layered over what in reality is a continuum. As our civilizations ramified and unfolded into progressively more complex structures, so did our ape natures unfurl ever more elaborate extensions of tribal instincts, in the form of divisive cultural mores. It eventually became expedient to define social rules regarding this apparent divergence in sexual behavior: now that we had perceived a difference, we had to decide whether to tolerate it or obliterate it. Western culture started out relatively tolerant.
Ancient Greece, for example, apparently tolerated homosexuality to a great degree, although they still didn’t make a linguistic distinction (they distinguished instead between passive and aggressive sexual roles, regardless of gender). It was, after all, a civilization characterized by its value-neutral attitude toward sexual activity in general. But even the Greeks had some standards: besides cultural conventions having to do with pederasty and active versus passive roles, it was also true that, although male-male relations were certainly allowed, exclusively gay men were marginalized through the use of informal social sanctions. Why? Marriage. It seems these ancients were tugged by the age-old prerogative of reproduction: men were expected to produce offspring and, therefore, to marry by a certain age. But remember that the Greeks did not even have a word analogous to our “gay”. They didn’t enjoy our overwrought conception of “sexual orientation”. So, those men who pursued same-sex relationships exclusively did not pay a social price for being gay, but for failing to “man up”, so to speak, and take a wife. (The Romans, for their part, were not so scrupulous in this regard. In Rome, free men were at liberty to take male lovers and never touch a woman if they so chose, without the consequence of stigma.)
Eventually, though, the relatively placid classical cultures were displaced by Christianity, which would in time set Europe ablaze with anti-gay passion (along with a passion for persecuting all kinds of people, like freethinkers, non-Christians, “heretics”, apostates, “witches”, and, of course, “sodomites”–the Christians would arrest, horribly torture and often kill, or have the state kill, just about anybody in the name of Jesus). This new attitude towards sexual relations can of course be attributed to the Bible. But as anyone with half a brain knows, the Bible was written and compiled by humans, and humans (especially pre-scientific humans engaged in the weaving of fairy tales) are not always rational. The biblical injunctions against homosexuality (and even this is a matter of interpretation–something we’re not interested in) can be seen as having been influenced by their authors’ own biases and prejudices, some of which may have their ultimate basis in nothing more divine than the genetic and environmental legacy of their all-too-human natures. (The stifling, bigoted culture of the ancient Hebrews, after all, had to come from somewhere.)
But far from improving this superstitious cultural substrate, the followers of the sweet, baby Jesus quickly turned it into the most diabolical machine of hate, destruction and murder the world has ever known. And, if a certain great historian is to be trusted, Christianity cut its teeth for mayhem on its bungling, unintentional dismantling of the very civilization that gave it life. Rome.
The Triumph of Barbarism and Religion
Armstrong and his spiritual progeny would have you believe that the fall of Rome had something to do with its acceptance of homosexuality, which they consider to be a decisive factor in the “breakdown of the family” (more on this later). They are fond of quoting Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire as supportive of this claim (and the author certainly gave some opportunity for quote mining in this vein). However, anyone at all familiar with this classic work would be immediately struck by the irony in this, since Gibbon lay most of the blame for Rome’s decline on its embrace of Christianity.
We won’t go into detail here regarding the Christian terrorism waged upon the Hellenes: it suffices to point out that it was centuries in length, brutal, unforgivably destructive of priceless knowledge and ultimately–like so many Christ-centered atrocities–swept under history’s rug by the comparatively ignorant victors. But the Christians didn’t acquire their terrible power to eradicate Hellenic culture because of their philosophical superiority (quite the opposite). They were the lowest of the low in ancient Rome, an uneducated mass of marginalized, benighted cultists–until by a fateful historical accident they won the sympathetic ear of an Emperor and turned him to their delusions. And, as Gibbon tells it, it was all downhill from there.
According to Gibbon, the reason the Roman empire was weakened from within was not because of homosexual behaviors, but because of Christianity’s otherworldly message. It turned all of its proponents into hazy-brained lotus-eaters! Softened by fantasies of Heaven and “salvation”, the Roman populace dreamed themselves into oblivion, largely abandoning or developing an indifference toward civic duties as they followed their guru’s advice to “take no thought for the morrow”. As survivors of an insular cult, our readers can readily imagine what might befall the institutions of “this present evil world” if Armstrongism became suddenly popular (think Teabagger movement, but without the Capitalist pretensions–or, in Flurry’s case, with them–only these Teabaggers of the ancient world had an Emperor on the throne and none of our modern scruples against slaughtering ideological rivals and purging their collected knowledge). As a result of this and other corruptions (such as the increasingly aggressive Praetorian Guard), the Roman empire crumbled at the slightest nudge from hostile “barbarians” in the North.
Now, certainly there exist professional criticisms of Gibbon’s view on the Christian cult’s role in the decline of Rome, and it is not my intent here to take sides in that debate. I only wish to point out the fact of the Armstrongist misrepresentation of Gibbon.
But more relevant to this article is the indisputable effect that Rome’s embrace of Christianity ultimately had on Europe’s religious attitudes towards sexuality. Had Constantine never condescended to a conversion into the Christian cult, regardless of the veracity of Gibbon’s analysis, Europe would have turned out to be much different from what it became. Christianity would doubtless have died out in classical antiquity, while the Hellenic culture would have continued to thrive–and the European continent would not have descended into a conservative religious fervor, as it eventually did under the auspices of the Church and its Protestant daughters, with sexual repression at the top of their list of pious priorities. Thus, as happens so often in history, the fate of homosexuality in the West turned decisively upon the deluded spiritual indulgences of a single individual. However, the rise of homophobia would be postponed until the 12th century, some 800 years after Constantine’s time.
Contempt for the World
The early church “fathers” were well aware of the Levitical restrictions against homosexuality, but had already set out on a course of anti-Mosaicism, most probably in an attempt to place some philosophical distance between Christianity and the more restrictive Judaism, and thereby gain new converts. The Council of Jerusalem in 50 CE established a double-standard that allowed Gentiles to join the cult without being “on the hook”, as it were, of having to abide by certain Mosaic restrictions and ceremonial laws (most notably, having their foreskins lopped off) that Jewish Christians were expected to obey. As the Christian cult grew it became progressively less and less Mosaic and more Hellenic, until by the time of Augustine (4th century CE), the Mosaic law was effectively “nailed to the cross” (where it stayed until taken back down and flogged incessantly by Judaizing “heretics”, mainly Adventists like Armstrong).
One of the Hellenic ideas incorporated into early Christian thought was lex naturalis (“natural law”). But the classical conception of natural law was necessarily warped as it passed through the Christian filter applied to it by these Medieval theologians and monastics. What was originally an appeal to broad principles that could ostensibly be arrived at and agreed upon through common reason, became in the hands of Christians a tool of oppression, based not only on pre-scientific blunders regarding observations about the natural world, but also on a substitution of reason with preconceived bigotry.
An essay on the history of homophobia, titled “Saint Aelred the Queer”, by Scott Bidstrup, describes this phenomenon very well:
The early church fathers, particularly those who founded the monastic orders, often looked to “nature” for examples of morality and immorality. This rather risky business was fraught with difficulties, not the least of which was the fact that nature itself was very poorly understood during this period of history. Nature was considered inherently beautiful and moral, even though almost any activity of man considered to be immoral can be shown to be engaged in by animals. This inconvenient fact was simply ignored by the ancients, or they were not aware of it. The exceptions were animals that the ancients considered to be revolting or disgusting for whatever reason, or were believed to engage in bizarre behaviors.
For example, it was believed during this time that hyenas were fond of digging up graves and eating the corpses. It was also believed that hares grew a new anal opening every year, and that weasels mated through the mouth and bore their young through the ear.
Because hyenas were considered a rather disgusting animal, and the fact that they were believed to engage in homosexual sex predominantly, homosexuality itself began to be considered to be disgusting by them through their association with the animals the ancients considered disgusting.
These unfounded stereotypes were perpetuated in books called “Bestiaries” that purported to describe the natural history of the animals that were familiar to the ancients. Two of the most famous of these were the “Bestiary of Barnabus” and the “Historia Animalium.” Both perpetuated many stereotypes about animals, including those listed above.
Because homosexuality became associated with hyenas, an animal believed to rob graves and eat the corpses, it’s not surprising that early church fathers and monastics held homosexuality itself to be repugnant since it was associated with such repugnant animals.
Thus began a campaign against homosexuality by certain church fathers, among them Augustine (a rather nasty piece of work himself, the first known zealous advocate of forced conversions), and Clement, a man who mistakenly associated homosexuality with a form of child slavery in which male children were often sold into slavery as prostitutes. These two men and others like them began to associate homosexuality not just with unsavory animal practices, but with other practices they didn’t happen to like, such as paganism, or pederastry, etc.
So, according to ancient theologians and monastics, homosexuality is wrong because hyenas rob graves. Not exactly pristine logic.
But there were other factors keeping this farce of reason from catching on right away, mainly having to do with the concurrent ubiquity of homosexuality. For a sample of the overheated rhetoric (apparently largely ignored by the common lay Christian) employed by these fanatical monks, take a look at On Contempt for the World, by one Bernard of Cluny. It was written in the early half of the 12th century and is indicative of the popularity of homosexual activity in that period. Here is a particularly expressive segment (found in Homophobia: A History, by Byrne Fone):
Alas! Wickedly public are the fire and heat of sodomites. No one suppresses this sin or hides it or sighs that he is sinful…unnaturally, outrageously, he becomes she. Bemoan the world and everything in it, which are full of sin. Men forget what is manly; O madness! O terror! How like hyenas! Look how many are buried beneath this unnatural filth. What category, what name does this abomination have? The horror of this sin, alas! resounds even to the stars. Act and outcry are naked; groan, O chastened mind! Men become each other’s helpers, this one with that one. Your law, your voice, your providence, O Christ, are half-dead. Sodom’s law spreads openly…billy goats,–O madness!–replace the female. You demand to know the number of this flock. I’ll quickly announce it, broadcast it, proclaim it at once like a tragic actor: they’re as plentiful as barley in a field, oysters at sea, sand on a shore, Islands in the Adriatic, incense in India, or reeds along the Tiber. Castles, outskirts of town, and even our churches are overrun by this filthy plague. O for shame! Horrors overflow. O ultimate madness! There are now far too many hermaphrodites. The law of nature is perishing, acknowledged customs ruined by this plague.
Is that you, H.P.? By the sound of this man’s ravings, one would think the dread Cthulhu had been called up from the dreaming depths of his eldritch prison-grave in R’lyeh. “There are now far too many hermaphrodites?” Get a grip, Bernie–and for the sake of your few remaining sanity points, put down the
It was easy for the European populace at large to ignore such histrionics. At least, initially. By the time of the writing of On Contempt for the World, though, the winds of change were already blowing.
The Sodomy Delusion
We’re accustomed to hearing of Islamic extremism running amok in modern Middle Eastern theocracies, and we are rightly disturbed by the oppression and human rights abuses perpetrated by such regimes. But the sad truth is that this trend was inspired by a Christian Europe during the Middle Ages, at least with respect to the persecution of “sodomites”.
What began as merely stupid bigotry, buttressed by a perversion of the ethical philosophy of natural law, quickly exploded into a full-fledged paranoid delusion that swept over an increasingly theocratic and combining Europe (you know, Babylon the Great, Beast of Revelation–watch for an upcoming article on that subject, by the way). The puritanical purging was to start, ostensibly, in the “inner court”, as it were: sex acts considered to be against the “natural” use (i.e., non-procreative), which began to be called “sodomy”, were thought to be rampant among the clergy. “Homosexuality in the Middle Ages”, a piece by Warren Johansson and William J. Percy, has this to say:
As soon as the Church reorganized itself after the invasions and other disruptions of the late Dark Age, fervent clerics assailed sodomites. About 1051 Saint Peter Damian, a member of the circle of papal reformers, in the Liber Gomorrhianus, bitterly denounced male homosex, particularly among the clergy where it deemed it rampant and asserted that whoever practiced sodomy was “tearing down the ramparts of the heavenly Jerusalem and rebuilding the walls of ruined Sodom”. His denunciations presaged the attitude of later councils and canonists. He charged that such sins were not only common, but escaped attention because those guilty of them confessed only to others equally compromised. But the response of Pope (later Saint) Leo IX (1049-54) was no more than a polite acknowledgement that Damian had shown himself a foe of carnal pollution. The ardent reformer had not convinced the pontiff that sweeping measures against sodomitic clergy were necessary. Leo was quite willing to let the moral status quo in the Church remain, perhaps sensing that a campaign to identify and oust transgressors would only amount to a selfinflicted wound…A new phase in the evolution of attitudes toward sexuality began with Hildebrand (Gregory VII, 1073-1085), the most revolutionary of all popes. He demanded clerical celibacy; that priests put away their wives and concubines. Although not completely successful in enforcement, the relentless drive against clerical sexuality gave rise to a sort of moral purity crusade which also assailed Orthodox, Muslims, and Jews as well as heretics and sodomites. The intensified emphasis upon asceticism and clerical celibacy was to mark Roman Catholic morality ever after. Priestly sexual abstinence was never again doubted and condemnation of “unnatural vice” even among the laity inevitably became more strident and imperative.
But this mad push for chastity did not remain bottled up inside the seraglios and back rooms of the monasteries. It inevitably burst forth like an abscess of ignorance to wash the secular landscape in its toxic purity. The Church’s prudish paranoia against “sodomy” was then available for wider propaganda purposes, and it achieved a fluid currency among the superstition-steeped masses, their crusading monarchs and heretic-hunting popes. Johansson and Percy continue:
The Crusades whipped up prejudice against Muslims, believed to be given over to homosexual vices and against Jews, assumed to be lustful. Westerners now associated sodomy with the dualist heresy of the Bogomils in Bulgaria and the Cathars in Provence.
Toward the midthirteenth century the very word Bulgarus acquired the meaning of sodomita. But most important, the earlier reprobation was now magnified into a fullfledged obsession, which Warren Johansson in 1978 defined and labeled as the sodomy delusion. In its fullest formulation, it is a complex of paranoid beliefs invented and inculcated by the Church, and prevalent in much of Christendom to this day, to the effect that nonprocreative sexuality in general, and sexual acts between males in particular, are contrary to the law of Nature, to the exercise of right reason, and to the will of God and that sodomy is practiced by individuals whose wills have been enslaved by demonic powers.
Beginning at least as early as Gregory IX’s commission to the Dominicans in 1232 to ferret out heretics in southern France, Inquisitors in certain regions extended their jurisdiction to sodomites as well, now viewed as allies of demons, devils, and witches. Those convicted were handed over for punishment to secular authorities, which in time were independently to prescribe and enforce death. Before execution, torture wrung confessions from victims, and often the trial records were burnt together with them.
After 1250, savage penalties were ordained. A convenient political invective that the popes hurled against dissidents, sodomy was also repeatedly linked with heresy.
From the late thirteenth century onward, statutes against sodomy, with penalties ranging from mere fines to castration, exile and death, enter secular law. The sacral offense moved from canon to civil law.
Bidstrup points out that
As crusade after crusade failed to permanently dislodge the Muslims from the holy land, Muslims became a favorite target of propaganda, including anti-gay propaganda. William of Ada wrote:
“According to the religion of the Saracens [Muslims], any sexual act whatever is not only allowed but approved and encouraged, so that in addition to innumerable prostitutes, they have effeminate men in great number who shave their beards, paint their faces, put on women’s clothing, wear bracelets on their arms and legs and gold necklaces around their necks as women do, and adorn their chests with jewels. Thus selling themselves into sin, they degrade and expose thier bodies; “men working that which is unseemly” they receive “in themselves” the recompense of their sin and error. The Saracens, oblivious of human dignity, freely resort to these effeminates or live with them as among us men and women live together openly.”
The reaction of Islam to this kind of propaganda, was, of course, repression of its own. To prove the Christians wrong, Islam came to a repressive stance of its own, eventually outdoing even Christianity in its repression of homosexuality.
This is one of the most insidious of the many perils of theocracy: the delusions of the few go viral, and then hypertrophic, leading to an epidemic of harmful nonsense–an arms race, if you will, of vile stupidity, wherein the foolish and paranoid engage each other in a regressive race to the bottom. Bidstrup again:
It should be obvious by now that homophobia has its origins in ignorance. It is spread by ignorance, by repression, social conservatism and the alliance of church and state. It is self-evident that education leads to an understanding of the truth and that truth itself leads to freedom.
The history of homophobia in western culture is instructive. It tells us how, when we make untested assumptions, we can easily be led into error that can be very destructive, as homophobia has been. It shows us that the path to liberation isn’t through religious indoctrination but through reason and logic.
In a nation that claims to value freedom, let us learn from this lesson from the past. Let us throw off our chains of superstition and ignorance, and embrace the truth that our forebearers knew two millenia ago: homosexuals are a normal part of life and should be tolerated, accepted and integrated into every facet of culture without prejudice or ignorance.
Still not convinced? That’s fine; you shouldn’t be. Just because the origin of homophobia is superstitious nonsense conceived by the mother of harlots doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong to maintain bigoted views regarding gay people. Thankfully, however, we are well prepared to address homophobic claims directly, one by one, until you are satisfied they are all ridiculous myths. Stay tuned for part two: Debunking the Myths!