This Is Not Sparta

This is a clip from Os Guiness, descendant of brewer Arthur Guiness and conservative Christian author and speaker. He’s arguing that Christians are making their cultural arguments very badly. He compares the public image of Christians making traditional arguments to “American Gothic.”

He argues that Christians need to make a better case as to why the cultural shifts they oppose are harmful to the Liberal proponents as well as their conservative opponents.

I’m 100% behind this so far. Conservative Christians need to adapt their arguments and focus on secular – meaning non-sectarian – reasoning. Arguing that harm will result from a certain legal shift would be a fair secular argument. But then Guiness goes on to make one of the strangest historical arguments I’ve ever heard:

“So for instance, you look at cultural Sparta, which was strong on homosexuals. A lot of people advocate the Spartan culture – homosexual, lesbians gay and so on. They forget, Sparta was strong on homosexuals, it was very bad on women.

Many of the cultures which have a high view of homosexuality have a very low view of women. And women whom we love and feminists who we appreciate; do they realize what they’re choosing?”

Ok, let’s break this down.

1) The whole argument rests on anachronism. The Spartans, like the rest of the ancient greeks, had no concepts like homosexual and heterosexual. They felt that humans were attracted to beauty, and their standard of beauty included the young, slightly androgynous male – think Michaelangelo’s David.

If we must bring modern concepts into this, it’s probably best to say that the greeks believed that everyone was bisexual.

2) The phrasing “strong on homosexuals” is odd. Taken generously, I suppose it could mean that the Spartans saw a place for male-male sex within their military culture. But again, this rests on anachronism.

The ancients believed that sex was always a power game: the dominant penetrator and the submissive penetrated. There was no place for a relationship of equals. Young men traded their sexual favors for guidance, protection and support, while older men got sex and status. This created hierarchies within the military that were supposedly beneficial. This is nothing like our ideas of egalitarian relationships today.

3) I don’t believe that Sparta was any worse than the surrounding cultures in regards to its treatment of women. In fact, it may have been moderately better. The fact that Spartan men were supposed to be completely focused on war left a great deal for women to do, and they had the necessary social and political power to do it. They controlled property, they could be literate and they could gain positions in political councils.

One thing is clear: they were better off than Athenian women.

4) I have yet to meet a liberal or homosexual of either gender that I would call “pro-spartan”. In my experience, Laconophilia is usually found among radicals who are outside the left-right spectrum. Calling liberals “advocates of Spartan culture” because they don’t oppose homosexual acts is like calling North Carolinians “advocates of Cuban culture” because both groups have a thing for tobacco.

At the very least, Guiness needs to propose a mechanism by which acceptance of homosexuality will result in a lower status for women. We can imagine some – men are off chasing men and have no time for women – but they don’t pass the laugh test and don’t have anything to do with Sparta.

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