Filed under sex

Dewey Decimal Project: 820.93 GOL Sexual repression and victorian literature

After my disappointment reading Mamet, I decided to go in a direction that was bound not to disappoint because I would come at it with low expectations: An academic approach to some obscure corner of literary study. This is one of those books that I sometimes wonder how it got on the shelves and if they ever left the shelves before I picked it up. My rating on Goodreads is the only rating it has, although there are another eight mysterious figures who’ve added it to their books, some even marking it as “to-read” but none have it marked as “read” besides me. On Amazon, there are no reviews and only a generic cover image.

So I may be the only one to have read Mr Goldfarb’s work in recent memory. In it he makes an argument that the societal mores around sexuality didn’t prevent louche ideas from appearing in literary texts of the era. Of course, even so, things were still discreet and the discretion along with the academic writing make for a not that exciting read. 


The Holy Spirit, the Pope and Homosexuality

There’s been a great deal of jubilation and consternation regarding Pope Francis’s conciliatory remarks about homosexuality on the plane from Brazil to Rome. “Who am I to judge?” “Gays should be fully integrated into society.”

The conservatives were quick to argue that there is no change in church doctrine reflected in these remarks, and they have a valid point, although there is an implicit re-opening of the door for celibate gay clergy that Benedict XVI closed during his papacy.

And among liberals there were those who argued that the pope’s remarks didn’t go far enough. 

As someone who has argued that the moral imperative for the church to recognize equal rights for gays and lesbians, a reader might be well-justified in assuming that I might fall into that latter category. The truth is I do not. I think that the Pope did as much as could be done with his remarks.

But surely the Pope can set any doctrine he cares to, the reader might object. Why not just make the declaration and be done with it.

And my answer is the Holy Spirit. As a Catholic, I believe that the Holy Spirit acts through the Catholic Church, not just among the saints in the streets and the parishioners in the pews but even in the clergy, even, shocking as it might seem, through the Pope (including, to the surprise of some people to whom I’ve spoken to, through Benedict XVI). The shortage of clergy, I believe, is the Holy Spirit trying, in her own wonderfully indirect way, to get the laity more involved in the running of the church (something that popped up a bit explicitly in Francis’s comments about the role of women in the church). And while recognizing gay rights, up to and including marriage, is a moral imperative, the experience of the Anglican communion shows the problem with simply making a declaration. Were Francis to declare that gays should be allowed to marry in the Catholic Church, there would be an immediate schism, and those who criticize the attitudes towards gays in the Catholic Church would then turn their attention towards the even more virulently anti-gay neoCatholic (paleoCatholic?) movement. 

No, what needs to happen first is a transformation of the hearts of the members of the body of Christ. And it is this transformation that I see being sparked into becoming realized through Francis’s comments and giving hope that the Church, while it may bend towards justice slowly, will bend towards justice inevitably. 


Why Christians should support equal rights for gays and lesbians

The key justification for the widespread anti-gay stance of many Christians today is scriptural. It’s hard to get past the scriptural prohibitions on homosexuality, even if we were to discard the Old Testament texts as having been superseded by the new covenant, there are still the passages in the Pauline epistles. So given this, then the question is settled, end of discussion, right?

Perhaps not.

There is a moral question on which Christians are universally united (I suppose there might be some marginal sects which disagree, but they are vanishingly small, if they exist), in direct opposition to scriptural teaching. More universally even then doctrines that most Christians consider central to the church, such as the Trinity, or the idea that Christ was both fully human and fully divine.

Before reading further, I suggest you take a moment to see if you can figure out what moral stance Christians take that is contrary to the clear teaching of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments.

The answer is slavery. The institution of slavery was considered normative throughout most of the history of Christianity. A few early figures, such as St Patrick stood up against slavery, but in a limited context, excommunicating Coroticus for enslaving some of St Patrick’s converts to Christianity while raiding Ireland. Not until the sixteenth century with the question of the treatment of the native Americans by the Spanish and Portuguese was there any official statement from a pope indicating that the Church opposed enslavement of native peoples, but even the three bulls issued by Pope Paul III in 1537 did little to change the overall attitude towards slavery. And Paul himself made a number of decisions in the years that followed in support of institutional slavery.

As slavery began to fall into moral disfavor in the late 17th and early 18th century, it’s interesting to note an attempt to re-interpret scripture similar to what some contemporary theologians do with the passages on homosexuality. Just as the contemporary theologians make the argument that prohibitions of homosexuality should be read as prohibiting such behavior as it related to pagan cultic practices, these attempts fell short in their persuasiveness. After all, the literal meaning of the text is clear. Instead, anti-slavery forces were forced to focus their moral arguments on the lived experience of slavery and its outcomes, the idea that the people who had been enslaved were human beings with souls and capable of salvation (for African and American slaves, this was a surprisingly long-lived question), the impact of slavery on these same people in their real lives.

If we look at the impact of the anti-gay stance of so many Christians, we can find similar outcomes. Youths find themselves hating themselves and their lives so much that they fall into drug abuse, depression and suicidal tendencies. Surely, this cannot be the result of a Godly view.

But it’s not being gay that we condemn, some Christians will protest, it’s acting on homosexual urges. And I can sympathize with that claim. I was there once myself. The problem is that this is easily said, but not so easily done. I’ve been at social gatherings among people who would never say anything racist or sexist who are comfortable with homosexual slurs. And I attribute this directly to the claimed stance of condemning the sin and not the sinner. 

The fact of the matter is that sexual orientation is an inborn trait, something that’s part of our created nature. And unless we subscribe to the Manichaean heresy, than we believe that creation is inherently good (in fact, that is the essential message of Genesis 1, not the absurdity of a 6,000-year-old earth and all the deception inherent in creation that such a belief necessitates), and from that comes the fact that homosexuality cannot be inherently evil. It’s precisely this point that causes many evangelical Christians to deny the clear results from biological and psychological studies that show that people are born gay and that sexual orientation is fixed. 

What Sandra Fluke actually said

I had been curious about this, and I managed to find this transcript of her testimony.