Sunday, June 14, 2009

Why Judaism Rejected Homosexuality

Dennis Prager has a very interesting article entitled "Judaism's Sexual Revolution: Why Judaism Rejected Homosexuality." He writes,

"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."

Much of the time the modern, Western narrative of progress is used as the framework for the story of sexual liberation that is the defining mark of contemporary Western progressive politics. So anti-homosexuality must be the conservative position and pro-homosexuality must be progressive. It just is. Don't ask questions. But Prager reminds us that promiscuity and pro-homosexuality attitudes are far older than the Judeo-Christian view of marriage. He writes:

"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.

Prager here connects true progress in elevating the status of women with conservative Judaism, not with the rejection of Torah.

It is probably impossible for us, who live thousands of years after Judaism began this process, to perceive the extent to which undisciplined sex can dominate man's life and the life of society. Throughout the ancient world, and up to the recent past in many parts of the world, sexuality infused virtually all of society.

Does this remind you of any society you know?

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."

- snip -

"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."

- snip -

"Judaism cannot make peace with homosexuality because homosexuality denies many of Judaism's most fundamental principles. It denies life, it denies God's expressed desire that men and women cohabit, and it denies the root structure that Judaism wishes for all mankind, the family."

You can read the whole thing here.


David said...

I read the whole of the essay. Very interesting. There is a book by British psychoanalyst, JD Unwin, called Sex and Culture (1934) in which he makes a direct link between heterosexual monogamy in marriage and civilisation, and a correlative decline of civilisation with increasing promiscuity, divorce and down-grading of marriage. He draws on a number of historical examples to prove his point, which itself largely draws on Freud's theory that civilisation is a result of the sublimation of sex drives. Modern sexual practice seems to be tending towards a kind of pre-sublimated sexuality, which Freud labelled 'polymorphous perversity', which is the antithesis of civilisation. Strange that western governments are actually encouraging this suicidal development!!

Craig Carter said...

As John Paul II taught us, culture precedes and drives political economy - contrary to the beliefs of Marxists. So the problem both is and is not government. It is certainly the case that governments are doing stupid things to destroy the very social fabric that allows us to have order and peace without totalitarianism. (See my rants about the stupidity of Britain's Labour government for examples.)

But why do they get re-elected for destroying the social fabric? That is the more important question. What cultural trends and beliefs lie at the source of such policies? I firmly believe that we in the West get the government we deserve.

David said...

Living in Britain I completely agree with you about the stupidity of the Labour government here. You probably realise though that the nationally elected governments in the EU are like castrated lions with no teeth because so much sovereignty has been handed over to the profoundly undemocratic EU. This produces apathy and resignation in the electorate - something that was only slightly overcome recently with the expenses scandal. People don't feel that they have any say or control over what happens in their own country; and even if this is an illusion, it is still a powerful one. Also, the fact that a government gets voted in again does not mean it is the most popular here: Tony Blair did not get the majority of the votes the last time he got in, he simply had more votes than the Conservatives or Lib Dems (who together had more than Labour).
It is an intractable problem though, because British culture has largely been vulgarised quite literally "beyond belief", with only a vestige of sub-Christian culture left.

Andrew said...

Wouldn't this cut a bit at the rhetoric of Christian marriage being "traditional"? I mean, I guess it depends on how far back we want to go, and if we go all the way back to creation we could justify calling it "traditional", but I doubt that's what most people hear when conservatives talk about "traditional" marriage. I think what they do hear is thrown into question a bit by the content of the post.

All this to say: I think it might be more honest for Christians (and Jews and Muslims, if they want) to simply argue that Christian marriage is what God wants, rather than "traditional" marriage. It throws more focus on to special revelation rather than natural law, but in all honesty I'm not sure what the tactical advantage of referring to the latter is in the current cultural-philosophical context.

Craig Carter said...

I think that when most conservative Christians hear "traditional marriage" they think "marriage in the Judeo-Christian tradition" which until recently dominated Western culture.

Of course, it is also traditional in the sense of "original" (i.e. pre-Fall). And after the Fall, sexuality was fallen just like everything else so the situtation Israel encountered in paganism was the manifestation of fallen sexuality. But to call the fallen perversion "traditional" seems a bit far-fetched to me.

The secular pressure to make Christians talk about marriage is strictly religious terms is based on the prior assumption that religion belongs in the sphere of the private. It is a strategy for marginalizing Christian ethics, as if marriage were the quirky, irrational preference of some wierd sect, instead of the natural order which is reflected in nature and willed by God.

Andrew said...

You're right about what Christians hear, but I'm talking about non-Christians in Western culture. I think they hear "what we practiced in European culture from the middle ages until the 1950's" or something like that. And in that sense, I'm not sure it's really useful to appeal to the "traditionalness" of Christian marriage in dispute with those kind of people.

And I didn't suggest switching to "religious" language because religion should be private; in fact I think much the opposite. I just think you're going to have an equally difficult time in our current context arguing for the state to support "traditional" marriage because of its "naturalness" as you would simply arguing for it to support "Christian" marriage because of its "naturalness".

Craig Carter said...

I wasn't questioning your motives, just your strategy. My sense is that we can not abandon talk of natural law unless we are ready to accept the ghetto. Pope Benedict XVI is my inspiration here.

As for non-Westerners, I live in the most multi-cultural city in North America and Tyndale, where I teach, reflects the ethnic (white minority) make-up of Toronto. My chuch has people who speak 60 different mother tongues. My experience is that non-Westerners are not hostile at all to "traditional" marriage. They mostly appreciate it - especially women from Muslim dominated countries. The opposition to traditional marriage comes from white, middle-class, middle-aged liberals who are interested in using multiculturalism as an excuse for trashing the Christianity they no longer believe in.

Andrew said...

Point taken about who opposes "traditional" marriage. I suppose my friendly criticism should be focused on when we are in dialogue with the liberal types. But given that it is those types we meet in the intelligentsia and media, perhaps my point retains some of its force.

As for natural law vs. ghetto, I'm not sure there's a historical reason to think that's true. What I mean is, at least in the abstract, there's no reason why abandoning natural law for special revelation as the basis for civil law would require joining the ghetto. The fact that "Christendom" bears the name of God given in special revelation should testify against this fact. As for whether Benedict's binary choice is relevant in our current context (as opposed to the historical abstract), I'm still not sure he's right: do you really think the liberals we are arguing with, the ones in power, are more likely to listen to an argument from natural law than one based on special revelation? Most of these kinds of liberals immediately object to anything like natural law precisely because it is too "theological" for their secular ideals.

Craig Carter said...

I don't think it is primarily a matter of what they are most likely to listen to or not. I see it as more of a communication issue - I want to convey accurately what the claims of Jesus Christ actually are.

When I say something like: "Traditional marriage is God's will" I don't want to be understood as meaning "If you accept the whole of the Christian revelation you would naturally believe this, but if you don't then of course you can ignore it." Rather, I want to say: "Traditional marriage is right for everyone at all times in all places; those who practice it will be blessed whether they accept the whole of Judaism or Christianity or not."

The question is: "Just exactly what do Christians claim about marriage?" My worry is that many Christians are accepting the right of secular society to dictate what they are allowed to claim. That is the theological problem we need to address. It's Christian education and it's evangelism. And after that, it is also social ethics.