The Homophilic Bible? (And a Personal Gut Check)

The Homophilic Bible? (And a Personal Gut Check) June 23, 2009

Adam Kotsko writes that Theodore Jennings’s forthcoming book, Plato or Paul?: The Origins of Western Homophobia

completes a kind of trilogy on homophobia, consisting also of The Man Jesus Loved: Homoerotic Narratives in the New Testament and Jacob’s Wound: Homoerotic Narrative in the Literature of Ancient Israel.   The strategy here is clear, aggressive, and absolutely necessary: he absolutely abandons the defensive stance of “explaining away” the supposedly “obvious” homophobic elements in the Bible that “everyone knows” about and instead presents us with a scriptural account that is deeply homophilic, even to the point of presenting us with a possible male lover for Christ himself. Once this ground is cleared, the question then becomes how a Scriptural tradition that is so overwhelmingly affirming of same-sex eroticism came to be read as the legitimation of homophobia. This final book is an attempt to answer that question.

Having not read any of these books, I have no idea how good or bad their theses are from a hermeneutical standpoint.  I will say this, though, I welcomed the very prospect that this might be true with a genuine feeling of relief and excited possibility that almost surprised me.  I mention this because it made me grateful that I didn’t lapse into the sort of sick response to good news about an “enemy” which C.S. Lewis aptly describes in Mere Christianity (and which I discovered last week via  Hilzoy):

Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.

While I have a good deal of antipathy towards theocracy and many philosophical qualms with Christian theology, spirituality, and morality, ultimately my primary reason for opposing Christianity is the same reason I oppose all religions:  it’s simply false.  And it encourages unhealthy habits of mind like “faith,” which is the genuine antithesis of truth-seeking, and superstition and rational authoritarianism, etc.

But that said, I do not wish to discover that Christianity must be interpreted as morally repugnant, outdated, or absolutely incapable of spiritually good and helpful insights at every turn.  And the more humane, morally defensible, anti-theocratic, anti-authoritarian, and ethically ennobling that it can interpreted to be and, therewith, the more that my problems with Christian thinking and practice can be narrowed to epistemological objections, the better (even though, to my mind, those epistemological objections take the form of serious ethical objections as well).

I really don’t want to see Christianity as as bad as possible or the black any blacker than it has to be.  At least I don’t according to today’s instant gut reaction check as I read this glimmer of hope for a Christianity which is not merely not homophobic but downright homophilic, not on the side of moral regression but on the side of moral inclusion, and, in sum, not a darker but a lighter shade of gray.

See my follow up post to this one, with further reflections on what the meaning of attempts to find a “True Christianity”–whether homophobic or homophilic–really amount to

And for more on Christianity and homosexuality, take a look at my remarks on Anglican Archbishop Narzil-Ari’s rejection of gays and their supporters and then my reply to the notion that gays should just leave Christianity if they do not like what it (supposedly) says about homosexuality.

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