Friday, January 26, 2007

It’s not just the Pope, Evangelicals, or fanatical Muslims…

Readers of this blog will have noted that I frequently attribute much of the problem we as gays have in achieving self- acceptance and social equality stems from monotheistic religion. Although I have made it clear that my objection is to all monotheistic religions, I have come down hardest on Evangelical Christianity, while other commentators have aimed their barbs at the Pope, priests, and the imams. Since, however, as I have mentioned, I was born and raised Jewish, and since I still remain to a very large extent influenced by the Jewish intellectual tradition, I should make it clear that I in no way exclude my own religious background from my J’accuse. I point the finger not only at the centuries old Jewish tradition, but also at threatening and dangerous elements within the contemporary Jewish community.

It probably is the case that the Children of Israel, along with their invention of monotheism, invented homophobia. The ancient world was otherwise relatively free of this curse. One can argue whether homosexual relations enjoyed the same status as heterosexual sex among the Greeks and Romans; nevertheless, prominent figures of the ancient world, Hadrian and Alexander, for example, were recorded uncritically by contemporary chroniclers as having had homosexual relations. David and Jonathan aside, not so with Judaism.

While it may be that some of the authors of the David and Jonathan story did, in fact, imply a homosexual relationship between these Biblical heroes, this aspect of the scriptures has never even been seriously positively discussed by rabbinical commentators, who, in fact, determined the intellectual and spiritual direction of Judaism. The possible Biblical “gay” couple may very well be the vestiges of a pre Biblical Judaic legend, developed before the Children of Israel decided to separate themselves from the rest of the ancient world. The story of David and Jonathan, while providing some vain hope for homosexual religious Jews, is really not of any significance in terms of the formation of Jewish attitudes toward homosexuality.

It can be claimed that Judaism’s Biblical injunctions against homosexuality began as a survival tactic encouraging every possibility for procreation of a small, numerically weak tribe struggling for a foothold among powerful neighbors. It also can be debated that Christianity and Islam, both much more transcendental than Judaism, and therefore having greater problems with sex in general because of its physical, non spiritual nature, would have developed homophobia without Judaism’s prodding. Whatever the case concerning the origins, rationale, and influence of Jewish homophobia, scriptural Judaism must bear the responsibility of having presented this “gift” to western civilization.

It is, of course, true that Judaism, because of its very firm, non transcendental nature, has much less of a doctrinal problem with sex in general than do the other monotheistic religions. It would seem, then, that its problem with homosexuality would be more easily overcome. In addition, the rabbis have historically been very skilled at explaining away Biblical injunctions that they no longer see as convenient, so, the famous injunctions against homosexuality are not really an insurmountable obstacle. I’m sure they could explain them away, if they wanted to. What, then is the problem?

It seems that the same material definition of reality that protected Judaism from the pleasure depriving transcendentalism that plagues Christianity and Islam exacts its toll on Judaism when it comes to homosexuality. The problem for Jews ultimately is that homosexuality is, in the traditional view of things, not socially productive, or in concrete terms, no grandchildren for Mom and Dad.

The rabbis condemn homosexuality in essentially socially utilitarian terms; even the most mystical, theistically oriented Jews, such as the Lubovicher Hassidim, condemn homosexuality almost exclusively on these grounds. It offends God only indirectly, in that it supposedly harms society. But for a Jew raised to define himself essentially in terms of his role and use in society, this is a pretty wrenching condemnation. The young gay Jewish adolescent winds up being tortured by the idea that he is failing his family and his people; for a young Jew this is as painful a sense of guilt as sinning directly against God and getting on the train for Hell is for a Christian.

In a way, gay Christians have it harder at the beginning but perhaps are better off in the long run. Since a desire in itself can be sinful even without attempting to fulfill that desire, they are forced to confront homosexual desire head on. The lucky ones understand how absurd this all is, and turn their backs on the religion that put them through such agony.

For Jews, however, a desire is morally neutral unless acted upon. The potentially gay Jewish adolescent is tortured by his homosexual desires not because they are a sin against God, but because he understands the anathema they will bring down upon him and his family if he acts on them. He understands that if he can just bring himself to marry a woman and have children, everything will be “all right” despite his desires. No rabbi will ever condemn him because he gets hard thinking about a man, even if he confesses it to him; just as long as he’s a good boy and doesn’t act on his longings. So, his religion and his homosexuality in itself never come into open conflict; all he has to do is deny a large portion of himself.

In short, while Christianity offers no quarter for a homosexual since his desires themselves are sinful, Orthodox Judaism offers a solution for a gay Jew, but at an extremely high price. As a result, many gay Evangelicals and Catholics from religious homes finally leave the church and are free. Orthodox and even more liberal traditional Jews, however, tend to pay the price and remain in the religious community. Of course, it would be better if they left, and in that sense, Christians are better off.

The Orthodox Jewish community has now mobilized and formed an organization, JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality), which regards homosexuality as a curable illness and claims it can help homosexual Jews change their sexual orientation. Although the organization is clearly homophobic, the expressed motivation for its foundation was not exactly homophobia; it’s that previously, the only organizations offering such a service were Christian, and these organizations had converted several Jews seeking their services to Christianity. (Nothing drives the Jewish community crazier than conversion of Jews to Christianity; they’d rather we suck cock!) In fact, being so concerned with emotional motivation, as I suggested, is not really very Jewish; what matters is what you do. Essentially, the Orthodox community has adopted a Christian attitude and methodology to block conversions to Christianity.

If you have a strong stomach and steady nerves, I suggest a stroll around the JONAH web site. Or maybe prepare yourself with a few stiff drinks. This is no Bible thumping, fire and brimstone on- line ministry. It’s put together by extremely sophisticated people, and its on- line library of readings--- with articles fully reproduced--- contains some well crafted (but nevertheless revolting) pieces by major conservative Jewish intellectuals, such as Norman Podhoretz.

The secular, liberal East Coast Jewish community may essentially be on our side, but they’re obviously not the whole story. If you thought that contemporary Judaism might be a safe haven for gays, think again.

(An extremely thorough, intelligent and detailed discussion on the topic of Judaism and homosexuality by Ian Silver can be found here)

20 Comments:

Blogger thephoenixnyc said...

As always a lucid, interesting and brilliantly written post that gets my mind running in top gear.

Its interesting that some other transcendental religions and philosophies make no real refernce to homosexuality.

11:42 AM  
Blogger Bruce said...

Phoenix,

Yes, I am convinced that it's really monotheism, with its built- in intolerance, that has opened the door to all the problems.

12:10 PM  
Blogger Joshua said...

I know all about JONAH, and hope that it vanishes off the face of the earth :)

9:43 AM  
Blogger GayProf said...

Until recently, the Catholic position (as I understood it) was somewhere in between the Jewish and Evangelical Protestant perspective. On one hand, the Church considered being attracted to the same-sex a "natural" possibility. Efforts to change this "orientation" were not exactly encouraged. However, they condemned any type of actions that might result from those desires (including fantasy based on those desires). So, you could be "gay" as long as you didn't think about or act on it.

Over the past decade, and particularly with the new Pope (Hitler-Youth), the Church has been brining their view more in line with Protestant assumptions.

11:02 AM  
Blogger The Gay Species said...

Christian Platonist Saint Paul abhorred all sexual relations, yielding only that "it is better for men to marry than perish." His vitriolic condemantion of body worshipping homosexuals as idolatry, is still sinfully inferior to those who judge others (see, Rom 1:20-2:11).

The Gospel of John tells of Jesus's Beloved Disciple, who alone with Jesus's mother stood beside his lover as he was crucified (Jn 19:26-270,and how his Beloved might be immortalized with Jesus after his resurrection (Jn 21:20-23), which exercised Saint Peter.

Whether the Levitical Code influenced early Christianity or not is unclear, the early Church as expressed in the Didache considered homosexuality gravely sinful. Thomas Aquinas's natural teleology (from Aristotle) justified the grave sin of homosexuality as a perversion of the natural law (cf., laws of nature), along with contraception and abortion. The "purpose" of the penis is to impregnate women and reproduce only. Any other "use" is sinful (including fellatio).

Cardinal Ratzinger developed a "new" hypothesis in 1986: "Homosexuality is intrinsically disordered." While a homosexual "inclination" is natural, acting on the inclination is disordered. Alas, theologians went into a frenzy. Now God is the Author of Disorders, and although God's goodness is manifest in homosexual inclination, human sinfulness is manifested in acting on the divine's creation. Talk about untenable!

While Jesus is observed to have said nothing about homosexuality, Paul's Jewish roots still regarded it as one of the worst abominations. What gave Paul the inspiration to make such an assessment remains an enigma (he wasn't even an apostle, and only "saw" Jesus in a vision).

As Christianity spread through the Roman Empire, homosexuality was widely practiced. But as Louis Compton's magisterial Homosexuality and Civilization documents over two millennia, Christendom blamed every misfortune on male homosexuals. An early Christian writer misinterpreted the Story of Sodom and Gommorah as a tale of homosexual license, when it is a story of inhospitality by not letting visitors rape the inhabitants' daughters (Jesus views it this way).

The Levitical prohibitions seem to form the basis for the Abrahamic contempt for homosexuals in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. But the Levitical Code is superceded by the Christian Dispensation -- so much for theological purity! And, since Jesus is the Word made Flesh, the God Incarnate, the Fullness of Revelation, why is his Beloved and his silence on homosexuality trumped by a Jewish homophobe (St Paul)? One might reasonably surmise that the Incarnate God would have mentioned homosexuality if he thought it as grave as Saint Paul, and would not have taken to himself a Beloved Disciple (who literally reclines on Jesus' breast at the Last Supper).

As one surveys the Hebrew and Christian Testaments, one finds so many inconsistencies between its manifold reports. Many Christian biblical scholars actually differentiate between a Christological and Pauline Gospel as not mutually entailed, and both not following from the Hebrew Covenant. While David's love for Jonathan would seem to suggest that the most noble Hebrew character, coupled with Christianity's messiah and his love of another man, might have made Christianity more hospitable to its homosexual principals. Alas, homosexuals have become the pariahs by which "trials by ordeal" are adjudicated. So much for the Gospel of Love, which has become the Gospel of Intolerance, Hate, and Inquisition. How this aberrant belief became so dominant is another enigma without any answer.

Taken as a whole, the Abrahamic religions are pretty toxic nonsense. Anyone who embraces the jealous, wrathful, vindictive, tormenter Yahweh as "god" after an encounter with the Book of Job is yet another inexplicable enigma. Jesus seems like a pretty gentle and loving individual who is standing against his own Tradition in preaching God is love and love of each other is the divine imperative.

As often, hate, intolerance, special privilege, "us-vs-them" mentality, and self-righteous fanatics trump even the best of Jesus's intentions. As others have observed, Yahweh's creation is revealed as "good," but not so Yahweh, much less those who put their faith in the Terrorizing Tribal Deity. Why people become irrationally consumed with these tribal stories of a "privileged" people, with arguably the worst deity ever manufactured, is evidence of religion's power. Animistic fear of the unknown always creates demons, and in the Abrahamic tradition, one of those demons is the deity itself! Indeed, an impartial examination of Satan suggests a nicer, more worldly, and realistic Power than this nomadic tribe's deity. Hate conquers love, fantasy conquers reality, and being "elected" is just a special privilege that elevates one over another -- all of which argues against this toxic religion. A Queer God Incarnate gets crucified, a righteous and holy man gets tormented, and fear with hate motivates continued persecution of others.

From my vantage, these features argue for atheism, not for faith in a dubious deity who gets his jollies tormenting his creation. I view Yahweh as a projection of human anxiety, fear, and distrust writ in our insecure psyches, a story that reveals just how pernicious our constructs can imprison us. Jesus's message of tolerating abuse for the sake of love, accepting humiliation as a virtue, and not taking pride in one's self is about as unjust and inhumane a message imaginable, but given his Tradition, it seems to be The Message itself. At least, he knew the persecution of gays, since his own crucifixion for being a Lover is exactly the consequence of being human in an intolerant, self-elevated, and privileged religion. Beligerance, not mutual respect and affection, seems to be the Abrahamic legacy.

But look at Abraham closely. This "father of nations" has no confidence in Yahweh's promise to grant him an heir, so he screws his maidservant Hannah, begets an illegitimate child Ishmael, whose enmity with his son Isaac by his wife Sarah is still being fought in the Middle East to this very day. And Abraham is "our father in faith?" From beginning to end, these stories should suggest a better alternative, but people seem to embrace misfortune in exchange for a future soteriology and a present-day hegemony over others. It is the impetus of all Abrahamic religions that degrades, dehumanizes, and murders others. Sad.

12:16 PM  
Blogger Bruce said...

Gay Species,

If I understand you correctly, you are in essence saying that if the Jews hadn't perverted Jesus's message of love, everything would have been just fine. Hate and intolerence, even practed by the fathers of the Church, is essentially the fault of the Jews. That, my friend, is nothing more than theological anti- Semitism.

I will not dignify such thinly disguised bigotry with a rebuttal. If I have misinterpreted your remarks, I apologize in advance, but I really don't think I have.

If have considered removing your comment from the post, since it really does push the limits of free speech. I have decided, however, to let other readers decide. If others find it offensive, I will, of course, remove it.

2:06 PM  
Blogger Ur-spo said...

not only are your posts fascinating and thoughtful reads, but the comment section is an mind-full.
Please keep writing.

2:24 PM  
Anonymous Ian Silver said...

I have to agree with Bruce, that "blaming the Jews" is the message I got from the gay species' posting. Firstly, you conveniently forget that Jesus & co. were practising Jews, until their deaths. Secondly, Paul not only abandoned Judaism, but was vindictive towards it, making a major point of negating halacha, in an attempt to forge a religion that would appeal to the predominant Hellenistic culture, with its obsession about the afterlife.

My impression is that you know bugger-all about Judaism, especially modern Judaism, Mr Species. As for Mr Ratsinger, I know a 'phobe when I see one.

Monotheistic religions are really struggling with the overlay of the past three centuries of social homophobia. In a private letter to Bruce, I spoke about my movement (USCJ.org), which is exactly at the same spot as the Anglican movement, in trying to adapt tradition to our modern understanding of homosexuality, as normative for homosexuals. Eliminating societal homophobia is an imperative, surely, of all authentic religions.
Pointing the finger at The Jews as the source of all the world's troubles reveals your obvious bias. Bruce is a brilliant and thoughtful person who is open to opinions. I don't want to start an ad hominem debate here, as it demeans Bruce's blog, but if the uniform fits, wear it.

3:26 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Within Catholicism there is an alternative view of homosexuality than the "official position" of the Ratzinger and his gang of Revanchists. (Current Catholic theology seems to be that everything was better the way it was in 1950.) Although I will say most Catholics leave the church behind after they come out from under their parents' wings, there are a significant minority who stay for more mind-fucking under the guise of organizations like Courage (founded by Cardinal O'Connor) and a bizarre fetishism of chastity and abstinence, which is really an extension of Paulist and Thomist attitudes that sex is basically grotesque animalistic procreation. For Catholicism, to admit that homosexuality is okay in some circumstances upsets their applecart of absolutism that all sex outside of holy matrimony is sinful. It's sort of like what happens to any fabric with inconvenient frayed ends...you start to pull at the strings of logic on the outside and the whole construct just unravels.

This century, or maybe this millennium might be the one where the monotheistic religions either transform or get replaced by something else. Ironically, the newer forms of Christianity are even more preposterous and bizarre than anything we've got now. And new sects like Scientology, Mormonism and the Lubavitchers prove to be extremely hostile to any understanding of homosexual sex. Rational thought should prevail, but I have doubts of that happening any time soon.

12:08 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

Once again, Bruce, your blog continues to be among the best.

12:11 AM  
Blogger Bruce said...

Mike,

Thanks for your thoughtful and kind comments.

I have to agree with you. the monotheistic religions seem to have painted themselves into a corner, and instead of trying for a new start, based on a more rational approach, they continue to restrict their perspective even more.

But we in certain circles in the West should not suffer under the illusion that the established monotheistic religions are loosing ground. All of Africa, Latin America, and a good part of Asia are in their thrall, not to mention Eastern Europe, including countries such as Poland, members of the European Union. In South, South east, and East Asia, Christianity and Islam continue to make headway against more tolerant non theistic spirtual traditions.

And look, my friend, at what has happened in our own homeland. Despite some progree we have made in gay rights, the religious right has a position of dominance unimaginable 30 years ago.

Sorry to be so negative, but reason and empiricism go hand in hand.

Stay well and keep the faith (no pun intended).

2:00 AM  
Blogger Lotuslander said...

I find it ironic that the very gay emperor put into law the order to stop the persecution of the Christians. And I remember last summer the Jews, Christians and Muslims united against world pride.

6:32 AM  
Blogger Bruce said...

Lotuslander,

Thanks for your comment. Hadrian was, in fact, against religious persecution. His famous edict is aimed establishing the rule of law, making clear that Christians should be punished only for documentable violations of Roman civil law. It had very little to do with his attitude toward Christianity per se. And when the Jews revolted and as a group violated Roman law, they were, in fact, punished.

It would be nice if we could find some connection between Hadrian's homosexuality, and tolerance and a sense of justice. But I don't think we can. Since he was never persecuted for his homosexuality, it is unlikely that his sexual orientation had much to do with his position on religious persecution.

He had no experience of having been persecuted himself for sexual or any other reasons, so he had notheing to transfer over to persecuted peoples. Most likely Hadrian's edict stems from his attitude toward proper legal procedure.

Thanks also from pointing out denial of gay rights is the only thing that has brought the three religions together.

8:26 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

It's also ironic that King James, who authorized the favorite English translation of the Bible used by the most thumpingest of thumpers, was homosexual.

1:28 PM  
Blogger Dyneslines said...

For some time there has been evidence of blogger fatigue.
That is, there are more and more blogs but fewer and fewer people to read them.

In a rational world (which ours is not, alas) this thoughtful essay would suffice to put to rest this decline. I have read a good deal on the issues concerned. Yet, remarkably, Bruce's post makes new points. I am continuing to ponder them.

7:39 AM  
Blogger The Gay Species said...

Bruce,

Re-read my post. I cannot fathom your misinterpretation at all.

If I understand you correctly, you are in essence saying that if the Jews hadn't perverted Jesus's message of love, everything would have been just fine. You don't understand me in the slightest, because I don't write in "essences," and I said nothing about Jews perverting Jesus's message. NOTHING! You're preverting my post, however!

What a bizarre mis-reading! I notice Silver reads it similarly, while no one else does. Is it a Jewish thing to read lines that aren't there? To find "essences" of lurking anti-Semiticism?

But bigots are bigots, and false implications of anti-Semiticism is just as bigotted as racism and homophobia. Worse, what IF I had made such a claim? Why would it have been anti-Semitic? It's clearly implausible, but not if evidence supported it.

I prefer you DELETE all my posts, as I don't want any association with bigots. May I suggest closer reading of texts in the future. It may benefit yourself and readers.

12:58 PM  
Blogger Bruce said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:56 PM  
Blogger Bruce said...

Gay Species,

I have no problem in leaving your comment posted for all to see. If you wish to delete it, that is, of course, your prerogative.

11:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you.

I am a Pagan/Wiccan interested in Eastern philosophies such as Buddhism as well as tribal beliefs like Shamanism, and I truly believe that it is ALL monotheistic religions with no exceptions whatsoever that are at the root of most world's problems.

They're intolerant by nature and pretend like they're the one and only "true" path...if there ever was one.

No one can drill into their heads that there are no absolute truths because everything is relative and that tolerance and open-mindedness are crucial in this time and age.

I think monotheistic religions are just there to give a false and illusory impression of justice and self-righteousness, to make miserable or ordinary people feel better about themselves or better than others.

And more than ever, we should be focusing on real issues like global warming and human rights' violations instead of judging and condemning other people's harmless behaviors based on a hypopcrite and ridiculous sense of "morality" and "right" and "wrong".

7:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

and I would just like to add that Jesus would laugh at what modern day so-called followers of Christ have turned his legacy into...Jesus was a revolutionary of his time, a forward-thinking and a rebel person for his time who accepted people from all backgrounds without condemning them, he only condemned hipocricy and selfishness.

If he lived today he would probably be an activist for human rights, the environment and justice for all people, regardless of their sexual preferences and way above the stupid sense of "morality" that present-day monotheistic religions brag about...

What followers of the three main monotheistic religions have made of their faiths are to blame, for today's divisions and post-colonial problems and narrow mentality of a large part of the world's population. Monotheistic religions have just become means to control the masses.

Long live TOLERANT polytheistic, pagan, tribal and non-monotheistic beliefs (philosophy, Eastern philosophies) and let's hope monotheistic religions start to fade and die away to give way to a tolerant society.

7:47 AM  

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