Why the Alphabet Grows - How The Gay Rights Movement Requires Christianity to Exist
|Back when the movement just had the G|
The gay rights movement is often thought of as either completely independent from any sort of religious reflection or in direct conflict with religious thought. But the truth is that the whole concept of being gay depends on Christianity. Without the Christian religion, there would be no such thing as 'gay.'
We call something heresy when it takes much or most of Christianity and then makes some sort of significant change. To illustrate, Hinduism is generally not called a heresy by Christians. It is simply called another religion. Hinduism does not find its foundations in Christianity, has completely different teachings, and rather than twisting or changing Christian doctrine, it appears to have been built from the ground up. In contrast, Oneness Pentecostalism is called a heresy because it adopts almost all of mainstream Christian teaching (on morals, on the bible, etc) but rejects one very significant teaching of orthodox Christianity (the Trinity).
Despite what you might expect, I argue that the gay rights movement falls into the second category. But it is going to take a trip into history to make my case.
Let's rewind 2500 years. Remember the movie 300? The story is about the Spartans, a band of just 300 men, who despite being wildly outnumbered by the Persian army, stood at the pass and fought them to the last man. They lost the battle but saved their people. That is the ultimate story of manliness. Macho to the end. The movie contrasted the hyper-macho Spartans with their effeminate enemies, the Persians. So, imagine my surprise when I came across this passage in historian Tom Holland's excellent, "Persian Fire: The Epic Battle for the West,"
"Pederasty was widely practiced elsewhere in Greece but only in Sparta was it institutionalized - even it is said, with fines for boys who refused to take a lover......Yet, traumatic though the experience of submitting must have been for most young Spartans, there were, for boys at least, some significant compensations. Not only was it acceptable for a lover to serve his young boyfriend as a patron; it was positively expected. The more honored a citizen, and the better connected, the more effectively he could further his beloved's career. Elite would advance elite: so it was that a boy, yielding to the nocturnal thrustings of a battle-scarred older man, might well find the secret wellsprings of Spartan power opened up to him."
Now, that made me almost puke just reading it again. Terrible stuff. And what the hell is going on here? Why are "battle-scarred older" men thrusting on young boys anyway? Did they have a bunch of gay generals? That seems strange.
Before I answer that question, let me fast forward another 500 years or so. Up to the Roman Empire. In another book by Tom Holland, "Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar," he discusses the sexual mores of the Roman elites. He notes that while female citizens had sexual restrictions (due to offspring and inheritance issues), the men were almost completely free to indulge whatever sexual tastes they might have. With regards to the emperors, this freedom was complete and absolute. Holland discusses the sexual behavior of many of the emperors. An interesting passage comes when he discusses Claudius. Here is a passage:
"Those who wanted [Claudius's] ear, often made sure to exploit his sexual tastes, for everyone knew that he only ever slept with women. Like his concern that people should feel free to break wind at table, or his insistence on adding three new letters to the Latin alphabet, the complete lack of interest he had always shown in forcing himself on male partners marked Claudius out as a true eccentric."
What the hell? Claudius only had sex with women and he was viewed as eccentric for that? What is going on here? Was everyone gay? Or at least bisexual? Maybe 'questioning?'
Holland goes on to talk about the rest of the emperors who practiced all sorts of sexual depravity. From Tiberius, a battle hardened general, who trained young boys to lick his testicles while swimming, to Nero. Maybe we should discuss Nero for a moment....if you can take anymore of this. Nero likely made his own mother his lover (before killing her). He clearly had no boundaries for his sexuality. But Nero displayed many indications of a straight man (by today's definition). He lusted after women and got them pregnant regularly. Unfortunately for Nero, he also was a monster. His wife, Poppaea, that he loved more than anything - the one human that he apparently cared for - made the mistake of coming into his presence while he was in a bad mood. Despite being his favorite human and despite being pregnant, Nero kicked her to death. Nice guy. But relevant to our subject is what happened next. Nero was terribly distraught by what he had done. He wanted his wife back. He longed for her so much that he had his men scour the world for a lookalike. But no woman of her beauty and appearance could be found. But they did find a young man named Sporus who was a dead ringer. And, unfortunately for Sporus, Nero was fine with that. He had Sporus castrated and then married him.
What is going on here? Was Nero straight or gay? Was he bi? Why are all these guys so hard to classify by our modern categories?
And now we come to the point of this article: the concepts of gay and straight had not been invented yet. No, acceptable standards for sexual behavior for men in antiquity was more like that of a man choosing what to eat in a restaurant district than it was a question of morality. Just as some people prefer Mexican to Italian or Chinese to Korean, the men in ancient days were free to (and encouraged to) indulge, experiment, change, or do whatever they wanted. Just as some people are quirky and only eat one sort of food (I am almost that way with Mexican) it was not unheard of for someone like Claudius to limit his sexual escapades to a single sex. But like with food, most people like a variety and most Roman men indulged in a wide variety of practices. Boys, girls, men, women... even animals. Few stigmas existed. Women that were citizens were restricted (due to the concern that a man would give his inheritance to his neighbor's child) but non-citizen women (prostitutes, slaves, etc) were not. There was a general sense that being too addicted to sex was a sign of weakness and there was a certain shame to the act similar to that of going to the bathroom but it was recognized that everyone would have sex and when they did, it did not matter much what they did or how they wanted to fulfill their desires.
So... now, fast forward another 2000 years. We have these letters: LGBT. L stands for Lesbian. G stands for Gay. B stands for Bisexual. And we expect people to fall within these categories. A giant study was released by Science Magazine last month that said that genetics cannot predict sexuality but this has not stopped anyone from asking, 'Are you gay or straight?' Neat categories..... which one do you fit in? These categories would have been nonsensical to the ancient Greeks or the ancient Romans. And....for that matter most ancient cultures. The question would have sounded like me asking, "Do you like to only eat Mexican food or only eat Chinese food?" It would be a strange and confusing dichotomy.
So, how did we get here? How did we get these nice crisp categories of LGB (we'll talk about T later)?
The answer is Christianity. Christianity arose out of Judaism claiming that a Jewish man, Jesus, was the Lord and King of the world and that he was demanding that all people (from peasants to kings) bow before him in faith. Christians held that both the Jewish scriptures (the Old Testament) and the 27 books written by Jesus's apostles and their associates (the New Testament) were the word of God and represented the law that this King Jesus wanted us to follow. And this law included a long passage in the book of Leviticus that detailed what was sexually permissible and what was not. And what was acceptable was extremely narrow (and straight). To continue the restaurant analogy, Christianity taught that only one restaurant was permissible for the rest of your life. Men could only have one sexual partner: a wife. Women could only have one sexual partner: a husband. All other sexual behavior was considered immoral and unnatural.
As Christianity grew in the empire, there became two categories of sexual behavior: moral and immoral. Either you were moral and only had sex with your wife or you were immoral and had sex with whoever you wanted. And these categories remained within Christendom for the next 2000 years. Islam adopted something similar to Christianity (also only hetero sex with a spouse but adding polygamy). Soon Christianity and Islam grew to be almost half the world's population. And the West was incredibly influential even in the non-Christian world. The British Empire and other colonial powers influenced the moral framework of people groups around the world - from India, to Africa, to China. By the 20th century, these categories of sexual behaviors - moral and immoral were so universal that they were taken as a matter of course for everyone including those that hated Christianity.
But then in the mid-20th century, a group of people who were practicing sexual behaviors that certainly would have been classified as 'immoral,' homosexual sex, decided to push for something bold: to get their behavior reclassified. The Civil Rights movement for African Americans had been so successful and inspiring, some who enjoyed homosexual sex made the novel argument that they, like black people, had been born with an attribute that was wrongly being discriminated against. For black people, it was skin color. But for them, it was sexual attraction. They were only attracted to the same sex. They were unable to be attracted to the opposite sex and as a result, they were marginalized, hated, and excluded.
This novel idea coming when it did on the heels of the Black Civil Rights movement, became an unstoppable force. No one wanted to be on the wrong side of this civil rights movement (racists were now considered the lowest people in society). And if people are born with their sexuality, and some are born unable to be hetero, shouldn't we change society to be equal for them like we did with African Americans? And so we did. First, we legalized homosexual sex in every state that still had bans on the books. Then we started to work for gay marriage - starting with Civil Unions and then ending with the landmark Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states. The Supreme Court, essentially recognized these two categories: Gay or Straight. People are born with their sexuality and the government should establish laws to be fair and equal to all just like we did in the 1960s with African Americans.
Now.... this was all nonsense. These categories were manufactured as any ancient Roman or Greek would clearly see. Genetic studies have shown the idea of being "Born that way," is nonsense. But a campaign like this does not require truth, just emotion and the nation was in no emotional state to go through another nasty Civil Rights battle. So we rolled with it.
And this is the history of how the question, "are you gay or straight?" was invented. It is a category that is necessarily linked to Christianity. Only with the Christian category of limiting sexual tastes to one restaurant does the movement make sense at all. The Ls and Gs didn't reverse this Christian innovation, they simply wanted to open up another store for some people (with Bs coming in later wanting access to both). They still hold to many Christian sexual morals (on incest, bestiality, pederasty, etc) but they want society to recognize another sexual taste as moral for people that were "born that way." It is a Christian ethic changed ever so slightly.
And this is why I say that the gay rights movement is a Christian heresy.
What about the T's? Transgender is an interesting addition to the LGBT alphabet because in ancient days, this would have been viewed as a very different thing. While it was always acceptable for battle hardened men to engage in homosexual activities, there was a taboo on them acting effeminately. If you were a soldier, you didn't act like a girl. As a result, even in gay sex, it was considered shameful for a nobleman to be the 'receiver.' Gender roles then were well established and violating them was considered shameful (or comical depending on the context). Most of the time, whenever anything like transgenderism was practiced was when it was done to you. As with the example of Nero and Sporus it was not strange to take slaves, chop off their manhood, and then treat them like women.
There are a few examples of emperors that would dress up like women. Elagabalus for example is listed by some modern scholars as a transgender emperor. But the problem with this is that transgenderism in any sort of modern sense requires modern technology. Plastic surgery and hormones enable a transformation that simply was not possible just a century ago.
And so the T in LGBT doesn't quite fit with the rest of what we have discussed here. It is a category that was created by modern technology mixed with a philosophical conviction that your anatomy doesn't determine who you are - only what you feel. This might be more in line with ancient Platonic Greek thinking (that viewed the body as only a unhelpful shell for our soul) than with the Christian conviction of the dignity and significance of the human body.
But we have added the T. Now we have LGBT. But more letters are being added. Depending on who you talk to, the letters are now, LGBTQIA. I am not going to go through all the letters but I think is very significant that we started off with "gay rights (G)" and now we have half the alphabet. What is going on here?
I think that this is clearly a move back to pre-Christian sensibilities. As I started off by saying, in ancient days it was not strange (and even expected) for men to do whatever they wanted sexually and for those tastes to be as variegated as our tastes in food. An alphabet of options. And now we are back to the alphabet.
It is interesting that the first century thinker and author of much of the New Testament, St. Paul, spoke of this trend as a matter of course whenever a society is ungoverned by the Law of King Jesus. Writing in the days of Nero, he says for following,
"Because of [the rejection of God], God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error."
If Paul was writing today, he would say something like, "without God, the alphabet will continue to grow."