Monday, March 6

Flash! Dennis Prager Predicts Oscar™ Upset Thirteen Years Ago!

Saturday, via s.z., I became aware of the "legendary, award-winning analysis" that is Dennis Prager's "Judaism’s Sexual Revolution: Why Judaism (and then Christianity) Rejected Homosexuality". The article was published in 1993, but it remains fresh and relevant today as the day it was written.

Just a couple of points to start off with: first, those of you who click through the link expecting for some reason to find an explanation of Why Judaism (and then Christianity) Rejected Homosexuality, as opposed to finding, say, Why Dennis Prager Thinks His Sexual Bigotry is Divinely Inspired are, in all likelihood, too literal minded for your own good. Second, this blog makes no claim of either religious insight or secular insight into religious thinking. If you, dear reader, find yourself confused as to why on the one hand some aspects of Talmudic law apply to your own behavior, while others can be ignored with impunity by the very people (such as Dennis Prager) who are urging the former on you, it's a matter best taken up with your pastor. Bear in mind that Mr. Prager can write two Townhall columns worth of marriage advice while he himself goes through a divorce. For that matter, bear in mind that he's a professional author who uses "dialogue" as a verb. God works in mysterious ways. Finally, to those of you asking (you thought maybe I didn't hear you?) what difference there is between a Jew expounding "Judeo-Christian" values and, say, Spike Lee and Harry Belafonte hosting a Steppin Fetchit retrospective at the Met, well, just remember when the time comes why your names are in the book.
When Judaism demanded that all sexual activity be channeled into marriage, it changed the world. The Torah's prohibition of non-marital sex quite simply made the creation of Western civilization possible. Societies that did not place boundaries around sexuality were stymied in their development. The subsequent dominance of the Western world can largely be attributed to the sexual revolution initiated by Judaism and later carried forward by Christianity.

This revolution consisted of forcing the sexual genie into the marital bottle. It ensured that sex no longer dominated society, heightened male-female love and sexuality (and thereby almost alone created the possibility of love and eroticism within marriage), and began the arduous task of elevating the status of women.
Wipe out homosexuality at a stroke? Done. Elevate the status of women? Give me a few millenniums, will ya?

It may very well be that these, the first two paragraphs of the piece, are as far as I get. Having actually read the whole thing, I'm yet undecided as to whether there is much reason to go any further.

It's difficult to come up with another contemporary thinker who can, in a single sentence, dispense with the histories of Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, five thousands years of Ancient Egypt or modern China, and finish breakfast without having acknowledged Copernicus. If "one of the three most interesting minds in American Jewish life" (according to Jewish Week) is willing to forget the minor unpleasantries which have accompanied the Jewish people in that history of the dominant West, well, who am I to quibble? An if the more priapic-minded among us would like to know just when God required monogamy as part of the bargain, well, again, God is not Mr. Prager's problem.
Human sexuality, especially male sexuality, is polymorphous, or utterly wild (far more so than animal sexuality). Men have had sex with women and with men; with little girls and young boys; with a single partner and in large groups; with total strangers and immediate family members; and with a variety of domesticated animals. They have achieved orgasm with inanimate objects such as leather, shoes, and other pieces of clothing, through urinating and defecating on each other (interested readers can see a photograph of the former at select art museums exhibiting the works of the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe); by dressing in women's garments; by watching other human beings being tortured; by fondling children of either sex; by listening to a woman's disembodied voice (e.g., “phone sex”); and, of course, by looking at pictures of bodies or parts of bodies. There is little, animate or inanimate, that has not excited some men to orgasm. Of course, not all of these practices have been condoned by societies — parent-child incest and seducing another's man's wife have rarely been countenanced — but many have, and all illustrate what the unchanneled, or in Freudian terms, the “un-sublimated,” sex drive can lead to.

I don't really have anything to add here. I just thought this was really hot.
Among the consequences of the unchanneled sex drive is the sexualization of everything — including religion. Unless the sex drive is appropriately harnessed (not squelched — which leads to its own destructive consequences), higher religion could not have developed. Thus, the first thing Judaism did was to de-sexualize God: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” by his will, not through any sexual behavior.

Right. One of the truly remarkable things about the Christian Old Testament is the absolute lack of sexual behavior in it.

Did you enjoy that "higher religion"? I know I did. It's simply impossible for these guys to argue their own superiority without assuming it first. And forget that this same God will be impregnating Mary in the second half of the book--He does it in a very spiritual way. No foreplay to speak of, a hallmark of Western sexuality ever since.
Throughout the ancient Near East, from very early times, anal intercourse formed a part of goddess worship.

See? Without the Judeo-Christian tradition, even if you're a goddess you take it in the ass.
In India until this century, certain Hindu cults have required intercourse between monks and nuns, and wives would have intercourse with priests who represent the god. Until it was made illegal in 1948, when India gained independence, Hindu temples in many parts of India had both women and boy prostitutes. In the fourteenth century, the Chinese found homosexual Tibetan religious rites practiced at the court of a Mongol emperor. In Sri Lanka through this century, Buddhist worship of the goddess Pattini has involved priests dressed as women, and the consort of the goddess is symbolically castrated.

Y'know, Dennis, Oneida is not just a brand of flatware.
Judaism placed controls on sexual activity. It could no longer dominate religion and social life. It was to be sanctified — which in Hebrew means “separated” — from the world and placed in the home, in the bed of husband and wife. Judaism's restricting of sexual behavior was one of the essential elements that enabled society to progress. Along with ethical monotheism, the revolution begun by the Torah when it declared war on the sexual practices of the world wrought the most far-reaching changes in history.

If you say so, though my vote's still with the fun-loving goddess buggerers who invented agriculture. And, again, this is no comparative-religion blog; I wasn't even aware the Torah had declared war on anybody. By the way, aren't we supposed to be talking about homosexuals?
The revolutionary nature of Judaism's prohibiting all forms of non-marital sex was nowhere more radical, more challenging to the prevailing assumptions of mankind, than with regard to homosexuality. Indeed, Judaism may be said to have invented the notion of homosexuality, for in the ancient world sexuality was not divided between heterosexuality and homosexuality. That division was the Bible's doing. Before the Bible, the world divided sexuality between penetrator (active partner) and penetrated (passive partner).

As Martha Nussbaum, professor of philosophy at Brown University, recently wrote, the ancients were no more concerned with people's gender preference than people today are with others' eating preferences:
Ancient categories of sexual experience differed considerably from our own... The central distinction in sexual morality was the distinction between active and passive roles. The gender of the object... is not in itself morally problematic. Boys and women are very often treated interchangeably as objects of [male] desire. What is socially important is to penetrate rather than to be penetrated. Sex is understood fundamentally not as interaction, but as a doing of some thing to someone...

Well, okay, so long as a professor says so, given enough ellipses. And thank God, if I may use His name, the Torah didn't declare war on food. I mean, I like corned beef as well as the next guy, but not as a steady eating preference.
The Hebrew Bible, in particular the Torah (The Five Books of Moses), has done more to civilize the world than any other book or idea in history. It is the Hebrew Bible that gave humanity such ideas as a universal, moral, loving God; ethical obligations to this God; the need for history to move forward to moral and spiritual redemption; the belief that history has meaning; and the notion that human freedom and social justice are the divinely desired states for all people. It gave the world the Ten Commandments, ethical monotheism, and the concept of holiness (the goal of raising human beings from the animal-like to the God-like).

And all I got was this lousy tee shirt.
Therefore, when this Bible makes strong moral proclamations, I listen with great respect. And regarding male homosexuality — female homosexuality is not mentioned — this Bible speaks in such clear and direct language that one does not have to be a religious fundamentalist in order to be influenced by its views. All that is necessary is to consider oneself a serious Jew or Christian.

Pssst. Dennis. Don't look now, but a lot of those serious Christians have rather gleefully condemned you to eternal Gehenna fire.
Jews or Christians who take the Bible's views on homosexuality seriously are not obligated to prove that they are not fundamentalists or literalists, let alone bigots (though, of course, people have used the Bible to defend bigotry). Rather, those who claim homosexuality is compatible with Judaism or Christianity bear the burden of proof to reconcile this view with their Bible. Given the unambiguous nature of the biblical attitude toward homosexuality, however, such a reconciliation is not possible. All that is possible is to declare: “I am aware that the Bible condemns homosexuality, and I consider the Bible wrong.” That would be an intellectually honest approach.

It's up to you, religious contrarians...but don't bother trying, 'cause you've already lost.

TOMORROW: more intellectual honesty from Dennis. Plus: why some Levitical pronouncements are more equal than others, why slavery is not good, and how 3,000 years of psyche-crushing patriarchy represents the true liberation of women.

9 comments:

harry near indy said...

prager, who's jewish, works for evangelical protestants. that makes him a putz in my book.

plus, all this going on about sex ... goddamm, this whole fear of it. it's puzzling.

but he is right about one thing. guys would fuck just about anything.

iirc, another jewish social commentator once said, "men would schtup mud if they have half the chance."

that was lenny bruce, who'll i take over prager any day of the week, including the sabbath.

D. Sidhe said...

It looks like he wrote this using the Focus On The Family MadLibs book.
His point seems to be that if people get to screw without getting married, it makes married people have to have boring and depressing sex.

Dennis, your neuroses are your own problem. May I recommend a therapist?

wilhelm said...

Jews or Christians who take the Bible's views on eating shellfish seriously are not obligated to prove that they are not fundamentalists or literalists, let alone bigots (though, of course, people have used the Bible to defend bigotry). Rather, those who claim the consumption of shellfish is compatible with Judaism or Christianity bear the burden of proof to reconcile this view with their Bible. Given the unambiguous nature of the biblical attitude toward eating shellfish, however, such a reconciliation is not possible. All that is possible is to declare: “I am aware that the Bible condemns those who eat shellfish, and I consider the Bible wrong.” That would be an intellectually honest approach.

Sr. Prager isn't the only one who can play MadLibs.

R.Porrofatto said...

My my, shades of Civilization and Its Discontents.

Thus, the first thing Judaism did was to de-sexualize God: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” by his will, not through any sexual behavior.

Hold on a minnit. Didn't God create man in his own image and likeness? Therefore we must assume that God has a penis, yes? So, here's God, with his holy, limp and lonely penis, and the first being he creates is... a MAN?!! Now, what are we to infer from that, hmmm?

I think that Dennis is incorrect in one other aspect: while a de-sexualized Judaic God may not have fucked anyone to create the heavens and earth, he certainly fucked the rest of us by creating Dennis Prager.

fiver said...

It must be so much more fun to be a wingnut than it is to be a liberal. You can just make stuff up. No more research or logical thought or history, you can write whatever happens to justify your own personal worldview.

Forget reality, I wanna be a wingnut! I think I'll start by writing a column on how Western Civilization was created by carnivorous space monkeys, and anyone who says otherwise is clearly evil.

Christopher said...

What's baffling to me is that a large number of the ancient societies he lists, numerous ones went on to become inredibly great. The Greeks, The Romans, the Egyptians, the Indians, the Chinese, the Mesopotamians... All of these societies had the kind of sexualisation he's talking about, and yet at the same time they were incredibly successful civilisations, whose inventions, from writing to mathematics to government to philosophy underly practically all of modern thought.

More then that, they generally seem to have been much more powerful then contemporary Jewish empires.

I'm just baffled by the idea that anybody could find such a poor thinker at all compelling.

jackd said...

I guess we're all picking out our "favorite" (in the sense of jaw-droppingly obtuse) passages. Here's mine:

It is the Hebrew Bible that gave humanity such ideas as a universal, moral, loving God;

Prager must have special wingnut definitions of those terms, where "universal" means 'associated with one tribe out of many in a region', "moral" means 'setting out arbitrary rules' and "loving" means 'nice to that tribe as long as they're obedient about shunning or killing the other tribes in the area'.

Stephen Stralka said...

I used to be uncertain whether the supidest man on the planet was Dennist Prager or Cal Thomas. Then Cal Thomas actually said some sensible things about the intelligent design trial in Dover PA. (He approved of the judge's ruling.)

Prager wins.

he who is known as sefton said...

Maybe, just maybe, you're wondering how come you're so privileged as to receive this communiqué. Well, answer is simple, thanks to www.google.com and through the search words "blog" and "'Lenny Bruce'", I found the u.r.l to your website.

After perusing your website, I conjectured you'd be interested in my post titled, "sweetest nookie". In this post, you'll find some notions about how Lenny, were he around today, might comment about the recent kerfuffle in the Middle East.

Anyway, you'll find the hyperlink to the post just below

toodles

http://hewhoisknownassefton.blogspot.com/2006/08/sweetest-nookie.html