Shop Right

Al Mohler's confessed "fascination" with homosexuality (see below) sent me back to a "Shop & Save" column I wrote for PRISM magazine in 1999.

In that column I noted — and praised — the relatively recent recognition by conservative evangelicals of the idea that investment and consumer decisions should be in accord with one's professed values. Evidence of this newfound recognition included the Timothy Plan (a socially screened mutual fund) and the Family Research Council's program (now defunct) on "Stewardship and Corporate Responsibility."

It was such an unexpected delight, I wrote, to see the FRC using a phrase like "corporate responsibility" that I didn't want to douse this timid spark by criticizing the rather limited list of social concerns that these efforts took into account. It was particularly curious, I pointed out, that the largest component of FRC's program had to do with what it referred to as "Homo-, bi- and transsexuality." Hence the column's title: "Buy Curious."

The remainder of the column explores the idea that one might be able to write things one otherwise wouldn't be able to in an Evangelical Press Association publication if one uses really long, elliptical sentences.

The FRC Web site points out that American church members "generate $2,952 trillion* in annual income." This means the purchasing power of the "religious" market vastly outweighs the paltry $220 trillion* a year "gay market." Our values are bigger than their values. The rallying cry is clear: use the economic might of Christian America to prevent h/b/ts from subverting our culture via health insurance and shows like "Ellen."

It may seem a bit odd, in a world of human rights abuses, ethnic cleansing, ecological and agricultural decay, sweatshop exploitation, child labor, religious persecution and persistent racism, that the most powerful, affluent and educated Christians in the history of the world have chosen to concentrate their efforts combating corporations that provide generous health care for their employees' Significant Others because, while these benefits may only go to aid ailing parents or siblings, they may also aid Persons of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters or, even worse (and the worst thing, apparently, that we can imagine) Persons of the Same Sex Sharing Living Quarters.

One might even ask whether this particular choice of priorities does not reflect something askew in the brand of Christianity that has evolved in our culture — and whether this apparent obsession with sex doesn't betray something unseemly and leering about us. One need not even disagree with the FRC's stance on the specific issue of domestic partner benefits to explore whether their preoccupation with h/b/ts doesn't reflect some kind of irrational or subrational fear, and whether such phobias properly determine the agenda for a people whose priorities are supposed to reflect those of Christ and of Scripture — although perhaps it's better to avoid loosening the lid on that particular can of worms and not risk troubling the deep waters of psychological and/or childhood trauma that might await anyone willing to ask, directly, just why this particular sin, of all sins, seems at once so utterly repugnant, yet strangely compelling and fascinating, to so many of our coreligionists.

That's about when I realized I needed to quit that job.

* (The way-too-high-seeming figures are the FRC's.)

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  • Patrick Mullins

    How could you quit a job where you HAD to write long, elliptical sentences? Not to get criticized for florid verbiage sounds like it would be such a pleasure in this pallid age–although I guess you couldn’t be expected to sustain it if the readers thought it flatulent.
    Anyway, I thought it was good writing, although I now just accept that enormous numbers of people do have “irrational and subrational” phobias–and they will suffer and die (or make others do so) to hold onto them.
    No, well, I guess I can see why you’d quit, because there would be no way to keep doing campy-intellectual written chivalry on a regular basis. Fun, but probably not very good for you.

  • Beth

    Somewhere along the line, Christianity — or at least some forms of it — seems to have developed the concept of ‘supersins’, sins which are carried not only by the sinner, but by society as a whole. Jerry Falwell invoked the supersin concept when he blamed 9/11 on “abortionists, feminists, gays,” etc. Terrorism was God’s punishment of the entire country for the supersinners in our midst. The supersin concept is dangerous and perverse. It twists our relationship to our fellow human beings from that of a loving brother or sister, to that of a barracks chief who must keep his fellow prisoners in line or face the camp commadant’s wrath.
    I think there was a very good reason for Moses to outlaw ‘lying with a man as with a woman.’ In many ways, freeing the slaves was the easy part. The real challenge was to take these twelve ragtag tribes and somehow transform them into a proud, unified nation. He had to instill a sense of responsibility in people for whom discipline was something that came at the end of a whip, and, more importantly, he had to prevent tribal warfare from tearing the fledgling nation apart. There was no room in Mosaic law for ‘he said, she said.’ If ‘he’ was from my tribe and ‘she’ was from yours, no court on earth could convince me to take her word over his. In the rape of women, this wasn’t a big problem. This was after all, essentially a property crime and the loss of the woman’s value was the same whether she’d been forced or not. With male-on-male rape it was a different story. If a tribal brother claimed a member of another tribe had forced himself on him, there would have been no choice but to wipe away your brother’s shame with the blood of his attacker. Yet if a tribal brother insisted he had been seduced, there would have been no choice but to defend him against the other tribe’s murderous attack. The only solution was to declare homosexuality itself an ‘abomination’, eliminating the question of force or seduction altogether. Both participants were unclean and so both had to be put to death.
    Why then has this one obscure Levitican law been given such importance by some modern Christians? In part, no doubt, because of the twin fears of rape and one’s own ‘unacceptable urges’, but there’s got to be more to it than that. Homosexuality is an ideal supersin because most of us are not particularly tempted by it. It’s easy to accept a law that places you squarely in the camp of the ‘avenging angels’ with little or no risk of ever finding yourself the victim of their wrath. Then there is the added benefit that some people are severely tempted by it, and even more shocking, some don’t consider it a ‘sin’ at all. Thus we have not only a ‘crime’ that we can safely unite against, but also easy, obvious targets for our rage. This makes the law against homosexuality uniquely attractive to a certain twisted type of person, and an ideal way to garner support for a totalitarian regime. Modern American society and law forbids us from condemning people based on race or religion, eliminating previous fascist favorites like Gypsies and Jews. Who’s left besides abortionists, feminists, and gays?

  • bellatrys

    Well, as I in my admittedly-amateur status understand the scholarship, the words translated as ‘sodomy’ in the KJV and ‘abomination’ really have the original Hebrew connotations of ‘sex dedicated to fertility cults’ and ‘tabu,’ which makes it a matter of not engaging in the worship of strange gods, in specific, for theological/mystic/ritual grounds, not because it’s somehow more horrible than horrible (burying the dead is also similarly tabu, so is menstruation) and there’s a lot of discussion in Judaism past and present about why there *isn’t* more explicit condemnation of homosexuality, in the TANAKH. (One ancient commentary school I I read about said, Well, back then they were more virtuous so they weren’t *doing* it–!)
    The rising fixation may have something to do with “definining yourself in opposition,” a common ideological trend in the past as well as today, and particularly with the post-Alexander entanglements with Greek culture. But originally it doesn’t seem to have any reference to same-sex committed partnerships – the “abomination” references could equally refer to heterosexual temple sex in honor of Asherah.
    According to my OUP Classical Latin dictionary, “fascination” is derived from the same root as “fascism” – to bind – and literaly means “to cat a spell on, bewitch.” This would go with the obsession we see – they’re hypnotized on the subject.

  • none

    Bellatrys–it probably does have a lot to do with “defining oneself in opposition,” which always induces hypnosis in whatever domain–loving the alien. Glamour causes fascination, and the French word for glamourous is “fascinant”–I can’t see that homosexuals are more glamourous in general than heterosexuals, but there is a good deal of preoccupation with it in many homosexual communities in the form of “diva worship,” “phallic worship,” et alia. I wasn’t sure what you meant by the “post-Alexander entanglements with Greek culture.” Did something specific happen around the time of Aristotle therefore? The institutionalized education-oriented pederasty of ancient Greece continued well up to the 1st Century A.D. Imperial Roman period of Plutarch, who pronounced male loves “graceless” when compared to male-female loves. However, even then there was no system of legal constraints which later grew out of the pastoral tradition, as Foucault puts it.
    Male homosexuality as “committed partnerships” was never condoned by the Greeks, and Aristotle explicitly opposes it. Female homosexuality is condemned in particular, as in the dream types given by Artemidorus, because the “male role” is being appropriated by one of the participants; so that, in this case, it was not the specific (and unnamed, incidentally)sexual acts (which later became a major focus), but rather the fact that in Greece women were subordinate in every way to men. This eased up some later in Rome, when wives were given more value beyond mere extension and property of the husbands, but social inferiority was usually the mark of the adult homosexual; legalized, outright punishments would come later. Of course, relative social powerlessness of homosexuals is still in effect in all of the obvious ways.

  • bellatrys

    Well, there were lover-heroes in the Athenian folk tradition, with statues to them and all. That sounds kind of like committed relationships. I’m very leery of all the modern attempts to sort out what the ancient felt or didn’t feel about sexual relationships, because so much of it is polemic, or working off polemics unawares. The Greeks criticized the Persians because their women weren’t free like Greek women, frex, but made to wear veils and observe purdah. Yet one of Xerxes’ navy commanders was a lady. It’s always more complicated and not clear cut, and it’s very hard to sort out nuances of sexual behaviour, even in our own familiar culture, because some of it we take for granted and others we don’t like to think about.
    What happened with Alexander is that he invaded and conquered all the Middle East and established Greek culture from Turkey to Egypt, and very strongly in between. Thus all the Greek ruins in Syria, thus the fact that the most famous Queen of Egypt had a Macedonian name, thus the problematic social issue of circumcision and the humiliation of being different when everyone excercised naked. Thus the Gospels being written not in Hebrew, but in Greek.
    One thing which happens is we see in Jerusalem, anciently, a much more puritanical interpretation of rules, like the one against the images of living things, where out in the boonies, in Syria, you get icon-style murals of Old Testament scenes all over the local synagogue, with David and Joshua looking like Caesar and Alexander. They didn’t feel threatened or obliged to define themselves by being Not Like Pagans, it seems. There was a lot of immersion and accomodation throughout Magna Graeca, and it went both ways, with Judaism being “cool” and exotic in the Empire, and then you get an equal radicalization and reaction, before and during the early Christian era, just like what you see today in Islam – or here in Christianity, too.

  • Beth

    That may be true in other parts of the bible, but Leviticus doesn’t use the word ‘sodomy’ at all. It forbids ‘lying with a man as with a woman.’ I think you’re right about ‘abomination’ meaning merely ‘tabu’, though. Leviticus also refers to shellfish, or the eating of it, as an ‘abomination’.
    Excellent points about over-simplifying ancient cultures in your last post, by the way. Simplistic generalizations are as inappropriate for them as they are for us.

  • Patrick Mullins

    Bellatrys and Beth–Oversimplifying ancient cultures is obviously not a virtue, but rigorous historical scholarship is not only necessary but does shed light on ancient cultures when it is in the hands of someone like Foucault in his 3 volumes of The History of Sexuality–an expert on homosexuality if ever there was one, and who knew all the texts that were available to him as well as having a wide–many would say too wide (i.e., the fascination with Sade)–experience.
    “Lover-heroes” may have been celebrated in sculpture–exceptions were always made for the nobility in slave-owning cultures–but these did not resemble the domestic arrangements modelled on heterosexual couplings many gay couples have nowadays–whether more informal or with the new marriages,; the whole culture was different, so that would have to be too. Primarily, moderation was always advised and there is the well-known aggrandizement of Socrates for being able to resist Alcibiades (meaning that he would not have been condemned for the indulgence, but neither would he have been given accolades.}
    This bears some repeating because Greece is the paradigm of the homosexual-tolerant culture for most people, but it did have its own rules–the eromenos was definitely not supposed to be turned into a lifelong homosexual. And there was certainly no gay marriage–which doesn’t mean in any way that there shouldn’t be now; after all, we know, for example, that our music doesn’t in any way resemble Greek music because there is none of it still extant, except maybe one fragment. There is not a single fragment of Republican Roman music left. We aren’t the same.