It’s interesting to note that in most cultures outside of Europe, homosexuality was accepted and openly practiced prior to European colonization. The acceptance of homosexuality from a religious aspect has been debated throughout history.
Because Christianity has so many different denominations, to say that Christianity as a whole does not accept homosexuality is an incorrect statement. In fact, literature exists suggesting that during the Middle Ages, some Christian communities accepted and allowed homosexuality to thrive. John Boswell, an historian and professor at Yale, wrote two books, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality and Same-sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe, both arguing that the attitude of the Christian church towards homosexuality has changed throughout time, volleying from complete social acceptance, to total persecution.
Persecution against homosexuality rose during the High Middle Ages (c. 1000 – 1299). During the Medieval Inquisitions, sodomy and homosexuality were major charges leveled against prominent men during the Trial of the Knights Templar. Much of this was fueled by the works of theologian Thomas Aquinas, who argued that “special sins are against nature, as, for instance, those that run counter to the intercourse of male and female natural to animals, and so are peculiarly qualified as unnatural vices.” He also stated that sodomy was second only to murder in the ranking of sins.
However, the intolerance of homosexuality was constantly fueled by decrees put out by the church. At the start of the Renaissance, homosexuality was once again accepted. Ironically, it was most practiced by those that outwardly spoke of its sin. Upon the rise of Girolamo Savonarola, a Dominican friar turned preacher turned prophet, homosexuals were once again persecuted under religious pretenses. Savonarola spoke out against the decadences of Florence and Venice, focusing a moral persecution on homosexuality. The church began to arrest men suspected of sodomy, and with the instatement of the Officers of the Night, began a list of those men thought to practice homosexuality. Men were fined or jailed, boys were flogged, and the worst punishments included public stoning and burning at the stake. Upon the fall of Savonarola, when he was shown to be a farce, the persecution of homosexuals eased up a bit, but didn’t go away.
When the Spanish conquered the Americas, they were horrified to see that the aboriginal peoples openly practiced homosexuality, and even celebrated it. They immediately brought punishment upon those that practiced, referring to them as berdaches (derived from the French bardache implying a male prostitute), and inflicting punishment that included public execution, burning at the stake, and being torn apart by dogs.
The religious persecution of homosexuality has led to legislation being passed throughout history banning homosexuality and sodomy. Laws are based on morality, and it wasn’t until 2003 that sodomy was decriminalized in the United States.
I focus on Christianity as it is the most widely practiced religion. Their scripture is the Bible, a series of books written by man but said to be ‘God-breathed’. The Old Testament of the Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic, and the New Testament in Greek.
It is said that in those languages, there are no words that directly translate to homosexual or homosexuality. The Bible is the most popular book in the world, and the most translated. It has been translated into over 2000 different languages. Various versions omit various books, depending on the belief system of that particular domination.
Passages from the Bible, often from the Old Testament book Leviticus, are used to confirm a belief that homosexuality is indeed a sin. Leviticus 18-22 is the most often used verse, stating that ‘man shall not lie with man as man lies with woman’. This has been used as an argument against homosexuality. However, other interpreters maintain that the passage does not condemn homosexuality, but refers to prostitution, or ‘sex without love’. The argument for this lies in the fact that the original languages that the Old Testament was written in (Hebrew and Aramaic) did not contain words that directly translate to homosexual.
It is also argued that subsequent translations of the Bible are interpretations, and that words were changed according to a particular bias. It has been likened to a game of ‘Telephone’, where the original message gets garbled and changed according to what a particular person hears, as opposed to what was actually said.
It’s quite probable that a satisfactory explanation for religious intolerance or acceptance will never be achieved. However, as with all things, Christianity continues to change, and more and more Christians are moving toward a model of acceptance and tolerance of their homosexual brethren.
Some religions show the same model of tolerance/intolerance for homosexuality as Christianity. Other religions, like Buddhism, do not preach one way or the other about the issue of homosexuality, but basically adopt a ‘do unto others’ attitude – how do your actions affect others? – in their religious values set.
As it stands, the religious debate will continue until the end of time. To argue right or wrong will not accomplish much. Thus, I offer this post as a sort of objective look at Christianity and homosexuality.
Next, we’ll look at the psychological aspect of homosexuality, and take a peek at the possibility of a genetic explanation, and what that could mean.