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.Wipe out homosexuality at a stroke? Done. Elevate the status of women? Give me a few millenniums, will ya?
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.
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.