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DIG DIRECTOR

Larry Gross
Larry Gross is the director of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and is a pioneer in the field of gay and lesbian studies....








 
 

Inventing Sin: Religion and Homosexuality

No matter their own scandals, religious institutions through history have a consistent scapegoat: homosexuals.

There they were, lined up in all their finery across the top of the front page of The New York Times of March 31, 2005, occupying perhaps the most prime piece of real estate in all of journalism: Sheik Abed es- Salem Menasra, deputy mufti of Jerusalem; the Rev. Michel Sabbagh, the Latin patriarch; Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, the Armenian patriarch of Jerusalem; Rabbi Shlomo Amar, the Sephardic chief rabbi; and Rabbi Yona Metzger, the Ashkenazi chief rabbi. What brought together these religious leaders more accustomed to squabbling over slivers of land in the Holy City? They came together to denounce plans by international gay leaders to hold a WorldPride festival and parade in Jerusalem, saying it would desecrate the city and convey the erroneous impression that homosexuality is acceptable.

“This is not the homo land, this is the Holy Land,” said Rabbi Yehuda Levin of the Rabbinical Alliance of America at the news conference, adding that the proposed celebration of the right to be gay would mean “the spiritual rape of the Holy City.”

* * *

On Sunday, April 24, 2005, as described by Frank Rich in The New York Times, “Justice Sunday,” the judge-bashing rally being disseminated nationwide by cable, satellite and Internet from a mega-church in Louisville, Kentucky, focused the hostility of “people of faith” against that perennial target of the right: activist judges. But, what sort of judicial “activism” has roused the ire of these defenders of the faith?  Rich continued:

The “Justice Sunday” mob is . . .  lying when it claims to despise activist judges as a matter of principle. Only weeks ago it was desperately seeking activist judges who might intervene in the Terri Schiavo case as boldly as Scalia & Co. had in Bush v. Gore. The real “Justice Sunday” agenda lies elsewhere. As Bill Maher summed it up for Jay Leno on the “Tonight” show last week: ” ‘Activist judges’ is a code word for gay.” The judges being verbally tarred and feathered are those who have decriminalized gay sex (in a Supreme Court decision written by Justice Kennedy) as they once did abortion and who countenance marriage rights for same-sex couples. This is the animus that dares not speak its name tonight. To paraphrase the “Justice Sunday” flier, now it’s the anti-filibuster campaign that is being abused to protect bias, this time against gay people.

* * *

On Nov. 29, the Congregation for Catholic Education, the Vatican department in charge of seminaries, published a long-awaited “instruction” ordering seminaries to bar candidates for the priesthood who “practice homosexuality,” have “deeply rooted homosexual tendencies” or support “gay culture.”




These apparently disparate events reflect a current reality: At the start of the 21st century, religion remains intertwined with politics, and few topics arouse as much religious fervor as those concerned with sexuality-as we are witnessing in the battle today over gay marriage. Indeed, for the three Abrahamic religions, as they’re sometimes called, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, homosexuality has provided a rare example of a truly common cause-the unusually harsh and virulent condemnation of homosexuality by religious authorities through the ages.

In nearly all societies throughout human history, religion offers answers to fundamental questions concerning the origin and meaning of things. Religious systems of explanation offer accounts of the creation of the world, as well as specifying the rules for proper behavior-and the consequences for infractions-that have been imposed by the Creator. In “Civilization and Its Discontents,” Freud summarized what “the common man understands by his religion-the system of doctrines and promises which on the one hand explains to him the riddle of life with enviable completeness, and, on the other, assures him that a careful Providence will watch over his life and will compensate him in a future life for any frustrations he suffers here.”

In Western culture, the dominant religious traditions for the past two millenniums have been Christian, built upon, but significantly differing from, Judaism. In contrast to most other major world religions-Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Islam-Christianity has been marked by what sex historian Vern L. Bullough terms a general antagonism toward sexual expression. However, homosexuality has been singled out in Judaism and Christianity for condemnation far greater than that directed toward most other forms of sexual behavior.

Old Testament views on sexuality were shaped by principles that resulted in hostility to homosexual acts. The first was a focus on procreation as a necessary goal and duty, embodied in the commandment to “be fruitful and multiply.” This fundamental injunction led to the expectation that everyone would marry as early as possible and engage in marital sexual intercourse on a regular basis. In this context, any sexual act that could not promote appropriate procreation was sinful. Thus, because conception was viewed as the product of male semen planted in the female womb, lesbianism did not evoke the same sort of condemnation: As one Biblical scholar put it, “In lesbianism there is no spilling of seed. Thus life is not symbolically lost, and therefore lesbianism is not prohibited in the Bible.”

Dig last updated on Nov. 30, 2005


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By Dave Trowbridge, December 2, 2005 at 3:42 pm Link to this comment
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Michael, one “draws” the line at non-consensual relationships: marriage can only exist between consenting beings. (This understanding, BTW, is in line with Catholic teaching, which holds a marriage null—non-existent—if not freely consented to.) Adults of whatever gender can consent to a relationship, children and animals cannot.

Frankly, I think those who condemn homosexuality have not the mind of Christ.

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By Yankee in exile, December 2, 2005 at 11:27 am Link to this comment
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Thank God for science.

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By Rob Burke, December 2, 2005 at 8:29 am Link to this comment
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The “threat to the family” presented by the opponnets of gay rights and gay marriage imples that if homosexuality is recognized as a valid way of life for those who freely choose it, many more people would go that way. If a significant number of traditional marriages occur because the partners consider the gay alternative attractive but reject gayness only because it is unnatural and sinful, then the human race is indeed in deep trouble. It must be quite heartbreaking for the wives of Dobson, Phelps etc to know that they are only the second choice of their tormented but devout husbands.

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By M Henri Day, December 2, 2005 at 8:13 am Link to this comment
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But dear Ms Respess, you are not <u>expected</u> to get it ; you’re just expected to do as you are told. That is why the Benedictines, for example, chose as their motto not sape, but ora et labora....

Credo quia absurdam....

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By Andy Hurvitz, December 1, 2005 at 5:26 pm Link to this comment
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The Catholic Church is increasingly part of the lives of Africans and Asians where traditional and public “family vaules” are adhered to. While Western Europe and North America may be moving towards liberalization in our secular laws in regards to gay issues, we can’t expect that the Church is going to suddenly reverse its teachings and say homosexuality is OK.

However, as a non-Catholic and a gay person, I object to and fear any faith that condems those biological facts that cannot be changed. We are born gay and remain that way—but Christianity is a lifestyle choice and how one practices it can be reformed and modified to tolerate and understand the truth about human sexuality. If it is “true” that Christ was born in immaculate conception then anybody who accepts the Church’s teachings on sexuality is being informed by a lie.

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By rheomode, December 1, 2005 at 4:22 pm Link to this comment
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A quote from J. Krishnamurti cuts to the heart of the matter:  “All following is evil.”  Until that is understood, there will continue to be those who are torn between their “faith” and the reality of their lives.

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By Michael, December 1, 2005 at 3:26 pm Link to this comment
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Sexual taboos in western society has for centuries included adultery, sodomy (homosexuality), pedophila and intercourse with animals.

While adultery hardly gets a notice except with the parties involved, sodomy has “come a long way” down this same path. However, heterosexuals are the majoritiy and thus homosexuality holds less attraction than does adultery. Pedophila has fewer advocates still and “farmsex” is still way down there on societal approval lists.

So where do you draw the line? All or nothing? Or is it “do as I say and not as I do?”  Ideally, none of the above is the healthiest for society. But would a lesbian couple approve of their child (adopted or otherwise) marrying a horse? How would they answer the very same questions they put forth to justify their position? Okay then marry your horse because that is your sexual preference? Or would it be well that’s different, a horse is not a huuman being. To which heterosexuals will say, well that’s different, we’re of opposite sexes and can naturally produce offspring.

So if one has to draw a line then best to draw it at none of the above because then any argument used to justify one can be used to justify the other. The road to Singapore, as they say, is paved with good intentions.

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By Michael, December 1, 2005 at 1:57 pm Link to this comment
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Disjointed comments from a 20 year convert to Catholicism…
The thing about the “new” strictures of the Vatican against practicing gay priests is overblown.  The Vatican need only say the same thing about heterosexuals.  Heterosexual priests aren’t allowed to practice either, so what’s the big deal?
It’s time for priests to be allowed to marry. And gays too, while we’re at it.

It’s time for gays to be allowed in society to live openly and with the same rights as heteros, including marriage.

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By Grok Your World, December 1, 2005 at 12:49 pm Link to this comment
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Great photo! We “used” that one ourselves at grokyourworld.com.

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By natalie brown, December 1, 2005 at 12:00 pm Link to this comment
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The church is the last stand of the patriarchial establishment of spiritual and state control.  The collusion between the two is nothing more than the bullies on the playground of our lives.  They are so desperate to control what is in heaven and on earth that they have confused themselves relative to God.

They function only by what is ordained by man, not by the creator, their souls are veiled with power, greed and control in order to satify their own inadequacies, real or imagined.  They require our love and prayers, they too are born into sin and are of sin.

I would rather be the camel that slipped through the hole of the needle rather than the one left to hold the needle looking up at the light trying to find the hole.

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By Nicole Grande, December 1, 2005 at 11:49 am Link to this comment
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For the love of God, why do we have to continue this debate?  It seems to me that the only people who put their energy into this matter are the religious fanatics.  Perhaps if they moved on to more pressing matters, like, peace and feeding the hungry, they would get over their hidden perversions.  I think their interest in what goes on in someone else’s bedroom is just their own perversion looking to be quenched.

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By peter, December 1, 2005 at 11:32 am Link to this comment
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as a homosexual myself, i have come to realize that i play an essential role in society and organized religion. without me - and the millions of other men and women like me - politicians, clergy, and the “faithful” of all stripes would have no convenient way to distract themselves from that tedious, old question of navigating a moral, ethical, godly course in a world of ever-increasing information and ever-dwindling resources.

and that would just suck, y’know?

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By Margaret Harnish MD, December 1, 2005 at 11:09 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Excellent article. Those of us who have bothered to study the subject of homosexuality know that there is abundant proof of the genetic basis for homosexuality. The very unchrist-like posturing by the culture’s “moral” leaders is just the continutation of the tradition of exclusion of what they peceive as different from themselves. Apparently SOMEONE must be the scapegoat or the enemy. The Church has a long history of genetic discrimination ; look how they continue to perceive women! The heart goes out to those who have been demonized by an ignorant, bigoted hierarchy so bereft of christlike or even human kindness.

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By Sandy, December 1, 2005 at 10:05 am Link to this comment
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Until the church can show me when or where Love is ever a sin then it’s incessant teaching of condemnation towards homosexuals is one of the most blatent heresies of Christ’s teaching ever. It takes the second commandment to love your neighbor as yourself and adds this caveat, unless your neighbor is gay. And make no mistake two people of the same gender can most definitely love one another with the very same love a hetersexual couple does. The emotion is one and the same.

However I as a lesbian take up my cross and hang there saying “Father forgvie them, they know not what they do”. Perhaps one day these self-righteous hypocritical Saducees and Pharisees will one day come to know they are forgiven, only as they forgive, and that blaspemy of the Holy Spirit (Love) is the only sin that isn’t be forgiven.

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By Marsha L. Respess, December 1, 2005 at 9:54 am Link to this comment
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As a lesbian I feel threatened and unwelcome in my own country.  I live in California where anti-gay groups are trying to put at least 3 propositions on the ballot for next year that would not only ban same-sex marriage but would also overturn all the hard-won domestic partner legislation we have and I fear that this will pass because even the people I always considered to be progressive are opposed to same-sex marriage and their arguments are just as nonsensical as the rigt-wingers.  I am at a loss to understand the hostility that we engender.  After Gene Robinson was installed as the first openly gay bishop the Anglican Church has started to splinter over it and one of the most vociferous critics was the archbishop from Uganda who somehow saw this as terrible threat yet not the civil war raging in his own country that continues to kill thousands of people every year.  With all of the poverty, misery, disease, death, and war in the world it is a mystery why homosexualty is seen as a terrible threat.  When the Catholic pope issues an edict it is about not the suffering in the world but gay priests.  I don’t get it and I never will.

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Dig Director's Blog

Jan. 17, 2006

Pope Benedict XVI has intervened in the upcoming Italian elections, specifically on the issues of abortion and same-sex marriage—no extra credit for guessing what side he’s on.  The topic of same-sex marriage is especially touchy, as Spain, another predominantly Catholic country, recently legalized same-sex marriage despite the Church’s explicit opposition, something the pope seems to have taken as a personal affront.  If the same thing were to happen in Italy it would be truly insulting to the newly installed Bishop of Rome and Vicar of Christ….

- - -
Dec. 14, 2005

Scapegoats talk back, and the boys in black squabble over the meaning of the Vatican “instruction.”

- - -
Dec. 13, 2005

The fight between several conservative Southern California episcopal parishes and the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles escalated…

- - -
Dec. 1, 2005

Speaking of religion, the current controversies over same-sex marriage are mostly derived from the hostility of religious institutions to the inclusion of lesbian and gay people in the “sacred institution” of marriage.

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