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The Problem of Heterosexuality.

One of the things I find most objectionable in the CDF document on same sex relationships is its title: “Homosexualitatis Problema” (The Problem of Homosexuality).  I have a double objection here – there is no problem in homoerotic sexuality, but only in the religious based discrimination and the violence it engenders, and the  systematic use of the pseudo-scientific, medical term “homosexual” and its associated terms. This word was originally coined in a late nineteenth century medical usage to denote same sex attraction as a pathological condition, and its continued use serves similarly to locate an entirely natural orientation as somehow problematic.

There is a simple remedy, however. Like “homosexual”, its counterpart “heterosexual” was also originally coined as a medical term, to denote a pathological obsession with the opposite sex. Now, there is obviously nothing pathological about opposite-sex attraction, any more than there is in a same-sex attraction. I suggest however, that there is most certainly something pathological about an obsession with viewing the world around us, as well as history, scripture and religious teaching, through an exclusively opposite-sex perspective. This obsession is more simply described as “heterosexism”, and is the sense in which I suggest there is indeed a “problem” in heterosexuality.

It is this pathological obsession that persists in describing a nineteenth and twentieth century version of Western marriage as “traditional”, completely ignoring the many ways it had previously undergone fundamental change over many periods of history; which persists in describing minority sexual behaviours as “unnatural”, in total disregard for the evidence from history, anthropology, medicine or zoology; and which promotes the view that same gender genital activities are “plainly” condemned by Scripture, even though the meaning of the half-dozen texts of terror is far from plain, and are easily outnumbered by many more sympathetic passages, and others condemning behaviours which are widely accepted in the modern world.

Yet when people, gay or straight, attempt to approach Scripture or the history of the Church from a gay or lesbian perspective, it is we who are dismissed as “twisting” the truth to suit our purposes.

In fact, there is nothing in Christianity, Judaism or other major religions that is inherently opposed to same sex relationships, except where religious texts are distorted by heterosexual distortions. So it is that Christians have appropriated the “sin of Sodom” for a pejorative term for “homosexuality”, even though the story itself was about attempted rape and a failure of hospitality.

Not all religions have approached sexuality with this heteronormative perspective. Many polytheistic religions recognized gods and goddesses with same gender or polysexual erotic interests, or even identified divine patrons of homoerotic love. Many societies see same sex attraction or cross-dressing behaviour as associated specifically with pronounced spiritual gifts, or with religious occupations. Some observers even suggest that modern Christianity is unique among world religions for having spread homophobia around the world, through its colonial missionary activities.

Other faiths, though, have also been guilty of some modern distortion of their authentic messages with pandering to the heterosexual agenda. At The Wild Reed, Michael Bayley has a stimulating discussion of a new book, Heterosexism in Contemporary World Religions: Problem and Prospect, which shows who heterosexism has distorted the modern presentations of several world religions, as well as Christianity, and how homophobia is in fact incompatible with them.

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Heterosexism in Contemporary World Religion: Problem and Prospect, notes Daniel, is a much-needed invitation to exit that terrible, damaging and corrupting closet of fear that heterosexism forces us into. The scope of the book’s content provides the guiding light for this exodus journey. Co-editor Judith Plaskow, for instance, explores the dismantling of the gender binary within Judaism; Ann-Marie Hsiung examines gender and same-sex relations in Confucianism and Taoism; Yu-Chen Li reconstructs Buddhist perspectives on homosexuality; Mary E. Hunt shares insights and advice on eradicating the sin of heterosexism; Ghazala Anwar offers a defense of same-sex marriage based on the Qur’an and other Muslim sources; Kelly Brown Douglas examines heterosexism and the Black American Church community; Anantanand Rambachan highlights the irreconcilability of Hinduism and homophobia; and co-editor Marvin Ellison defends same-sex marriage on Christian grounds.

Without doubt it’s an essential book in the ongoing quest to banish heterosexism from our lives and from our religious and cultural institutions.

At the Wild Reed, Michael also includes an extract from the introduction to the book by Catholic theologian, Dan Maguire. Read Michael’s post in full.

and an extract from the contribution by Catholic theologian Dan Maguire.

Recommended Books

Crompton, Louis: Homosexuality and Civilization

Katz, Jonathan: The Invention of Heterosexuality

Naphy, William: Born to be Gay: A History of Homosexuality (Revealing History)

Stuart, Elisabeth: Gay & Lesbian Theologies: Repetitions With Critical Difference

Ellison, M M and Plaskow, Judith: Heterosexism in Contemporary World Religion: Problem and Prospect

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