“Those very people who have been nourished by godly doctrine, who instruct others in what they ought and ought not to do, who have heard the Scriptures brought down from heaven; these do not consort with prostitutes as fearlessly as they do with young men.
“The fathers of the young men take this in silence: they do not try to sequester their sons, nor do they seek any remedy for this evil. None is ashamed, no one blushes, but, rather, they take pride in their little game; the chaste seem to be the odd ones, and the disapproving the ones in error.”
St John Chrysostom in Anatolia Turkey (one of the cradles of early Christianity)
Right! Now, for this rant, I’ll use the discussion generated by the reprinting of Akilah Holder’s 8 April 2018 article “It’s Not about Gay Rights, It’s About What’s Right” in Wired868’s Facebook group.
Much of the egregious arguments she advanced were effectively dealt with by Ms Jessica Joseph as one can follow HERE. But a few more things need to be said.
Lemme just say first that despite my own agnosticism and disdain for organised religion, my aim is not to make a mockery of the Bible or Christianity or dismiss it in the way many atheists do.
I have no issue with most of what atheists and humanists say but I do have major problems with those who follow in the ‘school’ of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens. I think their brand of atheism is just as Eurocentric—thus intolerant, myopic and racist—as Western Christianity.
I’ll take, for instance, the atheism of Dr Sikivu Hutchinson over Hitchens any day. Being raised in the African-American community, she gets the nuances, the space for organisation and agitation in the Black churches that Harris will never understand.
But I cannot look past the disgraceful history behind the Bible and Christianity any more than I can ignore the ways in which the Bible and Christianity are still being used to dehumanise and demean peoples of the global south, my friends in the LGBTQI community and heterosexual women; and to create rationales for intervening militarily in the global south.
In fact it is more important now to directly confront the excesses of Christianity twinned with political policies, given the inroads they have made in the US political system and in places like Brazil.
Among the many things I find frankly insulting is this position taken by many evangelical Christians that their beliefs are under attack. In Ms Holder’s article, for instance, we see: “For far too long, the LGBTQI community has dominated the discussion of gay rights, and it’s high time the Christian church pushed back. You see, there can be no informed decisions when one side of an issue is discussed, when one side of an issue is highlighted in the media.”
This is patently dishonest and an Orwellian use of language. It’s worse that this is a woman and one of African descent too—no, I am NOT bringing race and gender into this; race and gender were ALWAYS present. And if she, Pastor Gill and others cannot or refuse to see what’s right in front of their faces, they’re either dangerously naive or lying hypocrites.
That position she takes comes from a dishonest, popular right-wing narrative that Christian beliefs and ways of life are under attack. It’s a martyrdom narrative almost as old as Christianity itself that has become one of the main pillars of modern evangelical Christianity—and like the early Christians, some have provoked conflicts and inviting retaliation in order to claim victimhood; but that’s another story.
The historical fact is that for at least five centuries, the Americas, Asia and Africa have been under the boot of Western Europe and Euro-America—both fundamentally racist and misogynist—which used Western Christianity, Catholic and Protestant, as their principal vehicle as they made inroads into the global south.
In some former colonies, blasphemy was still on the law books up to fairly recently and applied specifically to slanders against Christianity. With specific regards to gay people, for years colonial legal systems criminalised homosexual acts—even anal sex between consenting heterosexual adults.
What has been happening since the 1960s is that those people who made up the oppressed, marginalised groups have been the ones pushing back.
Today’s displays of outrage by evangelical Christian groups—whose bases, not coincidentally, are in the mid-west United States—and the underlying white nationalist supremacy, are responses to challenges to their long-held pretensions of exceptionalism and entitlement.
There is an inherent arrogance in the Christian ethic—actually it applies to all Abrahamic religions in varying degrees and this comes from the patriarchal Eurasian cultures that shaped them—that makes it near impossible to have any rational discussion with most devotees.
Starting with the title of her piece (not being about gay rights but what is ‘morally’ right), there is that hubristic fiction that Christianity alone knows what ‘god’ and ‘good’ is or isn’t; and that morality only began with Christianity.
Indeed, morality is frequently spoken of as if it’s some universally accepted set of beliefs that transcends cultural or economic circumstances. Our notions of what is ‘morally’ right is called masculine—correctly, masculinist—morality by Marilyn French in her book ‘Beyond Power’.
Incidentally, essentially every single thing that makes up Christian beliefs, passages, myths, even names—Christ, Amen, Messiah, Satan, Yahweh—were appropriated from some of the same pre-Christian/Judaic belief systems they now condemn as ‘pagan’ and heathen.
Anyone who has studied the Egyptian or Sumerian sacred sciences, to cite but two, can spot the parallels. The very Ten Commandments came out of the 42 Declarations/Admonitions of Ma’at; the papyrus of Ani was transliterated almost 150 years ago—just read the damn thing.
And let’s not even get into the fact that we have absolutely no idea what was originally written in the original books of the ‘Word of God’—another ‘pagan’ concept—because, particularly regarding the Gospels, there are no originals nor the copies of the originals or the copies of the copies of the original manuscripts.
What has come down to us was extensively edited, mistranslated and even forged passages. Plus there’s the irony that King James, who commissioned the Bible many evangelicals liberally quote from to condemn gays and lesbians, was himself in a homosexual relationship with George Villiers, who he subsequently made the Earl of Buckingham.
Today’s evangelical activism has its own backstory; since their humiliation at the 1925 Scopes Trial, most US evangelical Christians became decidedly apolitical and severed ties with mainstream society. Many of today’s pro-evangelical publishing houses and bible camps came out of their attempts to essentially create self-contained, self-affirming communities.
It was an outraged response to Federal instructions to racially desegregate public schools and in particular the removal of the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University, that galvanised the evangelicals. Not porn, not divorce, not abortion, but race.
One Paul Weyrich, an arch conservative, who was trying to organise evangelicals politically for years on those issues with no success—many Southern Baptists for instance were in favour of Roe vs Wade—saw the opening he was looking for and helped kick-start what is today called the ‘Moral Majority’, using those ‘family values’ issues to deflect from racist motivations.
This is not to discount older schizophrenic attitudes surrounding sex in Western Christian culture. Indeed it’s interesting just how far back into history we can trace this paranoiac fear that has the amazing ability to regenerate itself regardless of how high the mountain of empirical evidence discrediting it rises.
It goes back to the beginnings of patriarchy over 4000 years ago and became codified in Greece roughly 3000 years ago, rooted in ideas about women’s destructive sexuality and theories of the self in which the ‘lower’ self was considered female, sexual and thus dangerous.
Christian theology took it a stage further (or lower) through the writings of Tertullian, Jerome and especially Augustine and. well, here we are.
In other words much of the reflexive resistance towards educating youths about sex and intimacy are rooted in ingrained superstitions about sexuality coupled with racist ages-old European middle-class stereotypes about the destructive sexuality of African, Native, Asian peoples and even their own peasants.
These became embedded in Euro-American thought. Holder’s homophobia, for instance, and that of many other Eurocentricised people, such as Pastor Victor Gill and friends, are nestled in a wider patriarchal mindset that obsesses over controlling all forms of sex—the apparent gateway to societal ‘decay’—and particularly the sexual behaviour of the lower classes.
So, the religious notions that these are divine sanctions are simply facades masking secular cultural Eurasian ideas. As Jessica Joseph and I have written—to say nothing about the many theologians and religious scholars who have also written on these topics—none of this has anything to do with any god.
Insofar as the Bible is any guide for sexual behaviour and marriage (it is NOT), the passages allegedly condemning, say, same-sex desire and homosexuality do no such thing when one carefully examines the earliest writings.
In fact, another piece of history—as I pointed out in an earlier article—was that not only does the Bible NOT speak about homosexuality in the way we understand it today, but Leviticus and the whole Deuteronomic writings reflect nationalist impulses that emerged due to the military situation facing the Hebrews at the time.
Faced with encirclement by the vastly superior forces of Assyria and Egypt, the Levites sought to bring together very diverse Hebrew tribes under a common identity. They also needed manpower and so all sexual acts outside of procreation—acts that were also common among the Egyptians, Canaanites and Assyrians—were condemned in those contexts. (See Aviva Cantor’s “Jewish Women, Jewish Men” and Errol Miller’s “The Prophet and the Virgin”).
Further, staying with Leviticus, the word often used in 20:13, ‘abomination’, is a mistranslation of toevah which referred to the act of being penetrated like a woman. Rabbi Steven Greenberg in “Wrestling with Gods and Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition” was clear that among the patriarchal Levites sex by its very nature ‘humiliates and demeans’— in other words, it’s a power relation where, influenced by patriarchal ideology, to be seen as feminine in any way was demeaning. (Karen Jo Torjessen argues the same point in her book “When Women Were Priests”).
In the Christian Era the early theologians like Augustine expressed similar feelings of disgust towards a man allowing himself to be used ‘as that of a woman’ because:
“[T]he body of a man is as superior to that of a woman as the soul is to the body.”
There’s a word for that: misogyny. Even today, traditional Jewish men begin their mornings with a prayer thanking god for ‘not making me a woman’.
Note also that in the New Testament, there’s another passage anti-gay advocates love to cite, 1 Corinthians 6:9, despite the fact that neither of the words used in that passage to denote homosexual—arsenokoitai and malakoi—are found in extra-biblical Greek homoerotic literature.
Erotic rituals featured significantly in early Christian history. Easter, for instance, comes from the same Egyptian spring solstice fertility festival that we celebrate today as Carnival.
Although inheriting Greco-Roman misogynistic attitudes and values, the very powerful influence of the older matri-axial belief systems could not be circumvented.
Sexuality was considered sacred in the ancient world. Priestesses who functioned in the temples were often erroneously called temple ‘prostitutes’ because of the sexual functions they performed and that bias led to mistranslations of the word hierodulae, which meant ‘sacred women’.
They played vital roles in everyday political and economic activities. Through Margaret Starbird in “The Woman With the Alabaster Jar” and Raphael Patai in “The Hebrew Goddess” we know that at some periods of Jewish history they were even part of ritual worship in the Temple; and although Levite Jews denounced the worship of the Goddess Asherah—written as Ashtoreth in the Bible—they could not eliminate it.
Among their duties was that of anointing. “Thou anointed my head with oil” was a reference to the ritualistic anointing of the head of the god-king’s penis as he was in service of the Divine Mother. (See also “When God Was a Woman” by Merlin Stone and “The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets” by Barbara Walker).
Be that as it may, among Hebrew sages the issue was not homosexual desire, but conducting oneself as a man in a way as to be considered effeminate. Also, many scholars have commented on the near total silence by Jewish sages about lesbianism. Maimonides’s mediaeval Code of Law, recounted in Rabbi Greenberg’s book, is instructive:
“It is forbidden for women to rub against each other… while the behaviour is prohibited, one does not punish it with lashes because no specific biblical prohibition has been violated and no sexual intercourse took place at all. Consequently, such women are not prohibited from marrying a priest… and neither is a [wife] prohibited from remaining with her husband [after a same-sex extramarital affair] because this behaviour is not formally considered sex.”
Greenberg’s comments in response to this is equally important:
“Women must be under surveillance, despite the fact that sex between women is not adultery. It would seem that, for Maimonides, the problem of female sexual relations is fundamentally an issue of male disempowerment.” (pg 91)
Even well into the Christian Era, homosexuality did not come in for any condemnation outside of the Church’s condemnation of all sexual acts, heterosexual, marital, extramarital, etc. Celibacy was the highest virtue.
More important is the revelation by John Boswell’s book “Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality” in which he shows that same-sex unions existed in Catholic Europe at all levels of society and among the clergy as well as among nuns.
Neither is the other argument that homosexual relations are unnatural of any validity. It has been well known since the time of the ancient Greeks that same-sex pairings took place in the animal world.
Furthermore, Boswell informs us, “Western philosophical tradition regarding ‘nature’ was unrelated, if not opposed, to most Christian moral issues. Most ‘natural morals’ schools were not opposed to homosexual behaviour, but the term ‘unnatural’ was applied to everything from postnatal child support to legal contracts between friends.”
I have no doubt that Ms Akilah Holder, Pastor Gill and those in Cause T&T are sincere in their beliefs. But that misplaced piety is a major part of the problem because of how easily it’s manipulated.
This is what Ludwig von Mises meant when he used the term ‘useful idiots’. What we are seeing here is what happens when one uncritically accepts foreign ideas and theologies with no understanding of the need for critical, de-colonial analyses.
And don’t insult my intelligence and say that the Bible was simply misused or taken out of context. This is a collection of books spanning nearly a thousand years and different—often very different—cultures of the Mediterranean, Palestine, Asia Minor and the Nile Valley. Different hands wrote from different cultures and biases; much of the cultural contexts in question were already sexist centuries before any of the scriptural passages were written.
This is not piety, let’s be clear on that; it is bigoted thinking masked by religious pretensions to holding the moral high ground. It’s easy to take the moral high ground, as Ms Holder did, when one is blissfully ignorant as to how those morals came about in the first place.
We need to have a clear understand about that because in the Caribbean—much more than in the Europe that screwed up our heads—religious authority is what oriented our social history. This is an authority that needs to be challenged a lot more than is done presently.
I refuse to look past the fact that the exact same way Western religion was used to enslave, colonise and dehumanise my ancestors and other peoples of the global south, is the same way it is being used today, for the same purpose—the extraction of mineral resources and expansion of geopolitical goals.
Sexuality is just part of the new round of culture wars that is a gateway to economic and military wars. We’d do well to start seeing our sexual selves through our own eyes for once and not one through the sterility cults of the West.