Monday, July 04, 2011

Moral equivalence about homosexuality is a serious confusion

Below, I made a comment about Thomas Cranmer. In his response, commentator Alex mentioned in passing that he began to read a biography of Cranmer but was put off and lost interest in reading more when he found that the author of the biography dedicated the book to his homosexual "partner."

Subsequently, someone who occasionally reads this blog (but does not comment) came to me and said, apropos of that exchange, "Well, if you're going to refuse to read any book written by a sinner..."

The implication was pretty clear: Alex shouldn't have been put off from reading the book, because all books are written by sinners, after all.

Now, this is a completely misguided way of looking at it, as I tried to tell the reader. But I lacked time and clarity, being, among other things, taken very much by surprise at the remark. So here is further detail.

First, the author of that book about Cranmer (I haven't tried to look it up, so I don't know the author's name) is not simply "a sinner." The remark about "not reading any book written by a sinner" reflects a failure, or a refusal, to acknowledge that homosexual activities are not just generic sins. They are sins against nature. They are perversions. Hence, the author is not just "a sinner," he is a person with a seriously warped sexuality, a person with a serious problem. Moreover, he glories in and is proud of this perversion. He is openly living in a sexual relationship with another man and is so proud of this that he dedicates his book to him. One wonders: Suppose the author had dedicated the book to a minor child with whom he was having an affair. Would my reader then have made the remark about "refusing to read any book written by a sinner"? It is completely understandable that someone would feel less inclined to read a book, and especially a book about Cranmer, upon seeing the dedication to the homosexual "partner."

Second, the author of the book is attempting to normalize his perversion in society by publically dedicating the book to his sexual partner. He is being "in your face" with the reader in an attempt to promote acceptance of his sin. This attempt to corrupt the morals of society, and in particular, of Christians in society (likely a large part of the audience) is an additional wrong.

Third, and relatedly, by spitting in the face of the Christian morality of two thousand years, the author of the book is insulting his likely audience by making this reference. So on top of everything else, the author of the book is rude to his readers.

Fourth, self-identified "gay scholars" often have an agenda. In literature, this takes the form of bizarre reading of texts in order to talk about sexual matters frequently, to turn all literature into pornography. In history this can take the form of weird psychologizing of historical figures and baseless implications that these characters were homosexual. "Queer studies" has been a horrible blight on the humanities for quite a while, but I suspect my reader has never heard of it and hence was unaware of the fact that the dedication calls into question the quality of the book's scholarship.

Having (unfortunately) paid good money for the book, Alex might have decided to see how good or bad it was by further reading. But I fully support his decision to stop reading and would also support him if he simply dropped it into the slot for the local library book sale. Or into the garbage can. Life is short, and of the making of books there is no end.

I write this, because it is important that someone be willing to come out and say such things. Increasingly it is considered simply "not done" to call homosexuality a perversion in public or even to be annoyed or put off by proud displays of it, as in the dedication of the book about Cranmer. So upside-down has our society become that the author's action in dedicating his book to his homosexual lover is not considered bad manners but saying frankly why there is a problem with his doing so is considered bad manners. Unfortunately, such acceptance of proud, active, and blatant homosexuality as, at most, "just another sin," is becoming prevalent among Christians, even among Christians one would have thought to be conservative. But such moral equivalence is part of what has gotten our country into the mess we are presently in. It should therefore be answered clearly.


Alex said...

The author of the book on Cranmer is Diarmaid MacCulloch. Here's a few details about his background and attitudes according to Wikipedia:

He joined the Gay Christian Movement in 1976, serving twice on its committee and briefly as honorary secretary. From 1978 until 1990, MacCulloch was a tutor at Wesley College, Bristol, and taught Church History in the department of Theology at the University of Bristol. He interrupted his teaching to study for the Oxford Diploma in Theology (awarded 1987) at Ripon College Cuddesdon.

In 1987 he was ordained deacon in the Church of England and from 1987 to 1988 he served as Non-Stipendiary Minister at Clifton All Saints with St John in the Diocese of Bristol. However, in response to a motion put before the General Synod in 1987 by the Revd Tony Higton regarding the sexuality of clergy, he declined ordination to the priesthood and ceased to minister at Clifton.

Regarding the clash between his sexuality and the Church and his own retreat from religious orthodoxy he said:

"I was ordained Deacon. But, being a gay man, it was just impossible to proceed further, within the conditions of the Anglican set-up, because I was determined that I would make no bones about who I was; I was brought up to be truthful, and truth has always mattered to me. The Church couldn't cope and so we parted company. It was a miserable experience."

Lydia: I wholeheartedly endorse every word in your forensic commentary - which sums up my considerations, in the matter of not reading MacCullough's biography of Cranmer, better than I could.

I have a copy of The Book of Common Prayer, published by Everyman Library, with a scholarly introduction by MacCullough in which he makes no reference to his homosexuality.

Alex said...

Postscript to my comment of a few minutes ago.

Diarmaid MacCulloch is the correct spelling of this man's name. If I have made any mistake (spelling it MacCullough or whatever), please rectify it before publishing my post.

Thanks, Lydia.

awatkins69 said...

100% agree with what you write here. Well-said. But do you think it would be morally *wrong* for someone to buy such books, and hence be supporting the author and being part of his readership? Especially considering the reasons you've listed. I'm inclined to say that, though one is perfectly justified (in fact, probably more praiseworthy) if he feels disinclined to continue with the book, on the other hand, it is not wrong to support authors if one still feels the urge to keep reading.

Lydia McGrew said...

Alex, I had to simply publish both the comments, because Blogger doesn't allow editing comments--only deleting or keeping them.

A. Watkins, I think it's a matter of prudence, how one spends one's time, etc., whether one reads the book. Of course, if one came to believe or find out that there actually were pornographic elements in such a book, then one should stop. But if there's nothing that is actually going to mess with your mind, then it's a matter of whether it's worth it. I would myself want at least to have a recommendation (countering the concerns in #4), and then, I wouldn't want to keep the book lying about where children could pick it up and read the introduction and ask what he was talking about.

In general, I think it's a good thing not to be swayed too much by fashion even in one's reading. I'm getting the sense that McD. is becoming something of a fashionable historian (someone else mentioned to me a book of his on church history), and considering all the great books there are out there, with Google books now, too, I would guess that one could do better than McD. as an historian. (I read a passage of his church history book. It was silly, though silly in a rather predictable way that one would expect from skeptical scholarship. Shoddily argued. Did a lot of moving from bare possibilities to treating those as certainties. Smoothly written.)

And if you tell someone else that you're reading the book, and especially if you recommend it, I think it's only fair to tell that person about where McD is coming from, in case the _other_ person prefers not to read him given that information.

There's an author of popular history books who, as far as I know, is not homosexual. Thomas Cahill, author of _How the Irish Saved Civilization_. I was curious about that book for a long time, having heard so much about it. Finally, someone loaned it to us and recommended it, so I read it. It's the darndest thing. The book is charming and contains a lot of really interesting information. I learned several out-of-the-way things from it. (Who knew that tax collectors had such a raw deal from the Romans?) But it's seriously marred by the fact that Cahill has this weird “thing” about sex. He brings it up all the time, unexpectedly, and in strange and deliberately offensive ways. For example (and this isn't actually the worst example), he tells some out-of-the-way Irish saint's story about a saint helping a girl who was pregnant out of wedlock by making the baby disappear. He relates this to the contemporary abortion controversy and works in a sneer at pro-lifers. His underlying theme--subtle and not-so-subtle--is that the Irish are uninhibited while the English have problems with sexual inhibitions. It's _really annoying_, and for that reason I can't recommend the book. I have to tell people about this hangup Cahill has.

Alex said...

Why I haven't thrown out my copy of The Book of Common Prayer which has an introduction written by Diarmaid MacCulloch. (I also possess a regular 'pew' edition published by Oxford University Press.)

The Book of Common Prayer is tamper-proof for the following reasons: Any alteration to the received text would be spotted by countless readers and scholars. It could not be surreptitiously 'revised' in the interest of any minority group or modified by special pleading without arousing enormous controversy.

A mere outline of the book's genesis and liturgical history written by an authority - even with a hidden or an explicit ideological agenda - would not corrupt the integrity of the text itself. The bias of such an authority, if detected, could be safely discounted. Even if it wasn't, the meaning of the text would not be affected. So despite my aversion to MacCulloch's 'celebration' of his homosexuality, I still have this book on my shelf.

A biography or history written by someone with an ideological agenda is another matter. The scope for a partisan evaluation of biographical and historical information is liberal in more senses than one. That's why an upfront declaration of 'orientation', perspective, or vice on the part of a biographer/historian is important. It will almost certainly influence the judgments and emphases presented in the work. A reader must take this intentional and possibly pernicious influence into account.

In the case of a work on a religious subject or theme, there is a particular temptation to peddle propaganda while dissembling a sympathetic and orthodox standpoint.

Lydia McGrew said...

I think what Alex quoted from MacCulloch is so typical, too. Notice the nonsense about "being honest." No one would accept that with, say, theft. "So I'm just a kleptomaniac, and that's who I am. The church has a problem with people who habitually steal from stores. It can't cope with open kleptos like me, and I wouldn't lie, so we parted company."

There are all kinds of things we wouldn't accept this for. But when it comes to being _actively and proudly_ homosexual, then it's just "being honest" and the church "can't cope" with this "honesty." What a lot of hooey. And yet so many people are taken in by this transparent ploy to legitimize acting on one's perverse inclinations.

Gina M. Danaher said...

Great discussion here and Lydia, you are 100% correct on this issue. Also about Cahill. I loved How the Irish Saved Civilization. It IS a charming book, but you are right on regarding Cahill. He does the same thing in all of his other books. He diminishes the importance of right or biblical sexual morality and makes subtle remarks directed at those who would wag a finger at the loose morals of past or present cultures.

Lydia McGrew said...

Hey, Gina--Another thing too about Cahill is that he insinuates things about the past that he's just wildly conjecturing. If it has anything to do with sex or with gender roles and sounds surprising, it's probably not reliable. I remember one passage where he says something about how women in the Irish church “may have” acted as priests. Like most popular historians, he gives _no_ support for this, and that's exactly the kind of thing that should make one's antennae go up. It sounds like an extremely weakly-supported conjecture. Or in one place he sort of leers over the fact that some Irish people in ancient times rode horses naked. Whether this is true or not (he doesn't say how we know this), it needn't “mean” anything.

Alex said...

The claim that homosexuality is frequently associated with great artistic achievements has gathered a lot of momentum since 'coming out of the closet has itself been acclaimed as a courageous and meritorious act.

I suppose the most notable example is William Shakespeare - who by inference from his sonnets 1 through 126 which appear to be addressed to an unidentified young man - has first place in the homosexual Roll of Honour. (Perhaps Marcel Proust is in second place, though he is said to have fought a duel with a critic who published a reference to his homosexuality.)

There are many others and you can make your own list. Quite recently I learned that Walt Whitman is presumed to have had homosexual proclivities.

If it's true that among all the 'great artists' and aesthetes, living and dead, homosexuals are found in numbers way out of proportion to their actual numbers, then it looks as though they can justify their claim to be a very significant cultural presence in our civilisation.

Lydia: I've left lots of questions in the air (for instance: what is meant by 'great art' and by 'cultural presence'). But if it's not drifting too far from the shore, I'd be interested to read your take on this topic.

Lydia McGrew said...

Well, Alex, the revisionist historical agenda at this point is *so huge* in the academy that I would not listen to any claim that someone "was" homosexual or "had homosexual inclinations" without pretty much duplicatng the research for myself. I utterly distrust the mainstream academy on this stuff. It all started with the attempt to overrate women and minorities. Now the attempt is to "claim" everybody and his brother for the list of "homosexual artists." Once the academy got used to being dishonest about history in support of an agenda (and remember that this is expressly encouraged by postmodernism), there were no limits. And remember too that many homosexual "scholars" or liberal "scholars" believe that more or less everybody "has homosexual inclinations," so they will be inclined to "find" what they are looking for. Even expressions of opposition to or disgust with homosexuality will be taken as “evidence” for such inclinations, so it's pretty much exactly like Freudianism. If you say you don't hate your father, that just shows how much you're suppressing your hatred of your father. Any time you see a statement that “so-and-so might have had homosexual inclinations,” just toss it out the window. It's clearly baseless speculation.

Lydia McGrew said...

Shakespeare, sure, I'm extremely familiar with his sonnets because of my specialty in grad school. (My PhD actually wasn't in philosophy but in English lit. with a Renaissance specialty.) And those sonnets to the “lovely boy” sure are strange. But even there, there are oddities that don't match up with a straightforward homosexual interpretation. For example, he repeatedly urges the young man to marry and have children so as to defeat time. In the second part of the sequence, the speaker is involved in a torrid, and, he says, sordid, heterosexual affair with a dark-haired woman. In one sonnet (I don't have time to look up the numbers) he expresses great anger that the “lovely young man” of the first half is also apparently having sexual encounters with the dark-haired woman. He calls the young man his “good love” and the woman his “bad love.” This is some evidence that the relationship with the young man was entirely intellectual, a matter of some sort of grand Platonic admiration--what in a very young person one would call a “crush,” but without clear sexuality. This fits too with many of the expressions of admiration for the young man's lofty character in the first part of the sequence. So the sonnets can, odd as it sounds to contemporary ears, be interpreted in a way that is not homosexual.

In any event, the Shakespeare example is one of their “best” cases. But sometimes, almost any artist who was unmarried, for example, is a candidate for being perversely “baptized” as homosexual.

Lydia McGrew said...

I shd. add, too, that the English "public school" system did unfortunately encourage homosexual activities or at least romantic feelings as almost a stage of young male development. This could mean that various influential artists, etc., who were sent through the English public school system would have had some such incident in their past, an incident they might not even have felt overly concerned to hide, though they later emerged as unequivocally heterosexual. The contemporary Euro-American approach to these matters in which homosexuality is treated as an ineradicable, innate stamp on one's character, a part of the very fabric of one's identity, lacks categories for dealing with such people, though I believe the phenomenon has been fairly common in certain times and places. It is probably part of the reason for the incredibly successful takeover now of England by the homosexual lobby. The attitude fifty years ago among the elite in England seems to have been one of tolerance and amusement, probably in part because of public school experiences even among those who did not directly participate. Homosexuality is far more often treated as a matter for humor than for anything else in a lot of British literature. I'm sure the purple mafia in England has taken full advantage of this unwariness.

Anonymous said...

Lidia, excellent (if depressing) exchanges on this topic. I thought I was the only soul out there who believes one's preferences in using his genetalia is not something to be disclosed publically. Nor does it or should it be proudly displayed or worn as a badge of honor. Moreover, the so called gay pride parades held nearly everywhere are extremely uncivil and offensive and in a properly ordered culture would never be permitted. But your point seems, rightly, I think, that the more extreme such language and exhibitionism on the part of homosexuals and their advocates, the easier it becomes to normalize it. But at bottom, it's just another sign of a culture rotting from within.

Lydia McGrew said...

Another point occurs to me: Suppose that we were able to make an objective and well-informed investigation and discovered that homosexuals are more strongly represented among artists--even genuinely talented or great artists--than in the population as a whole. I would not be surprised if a similar investigation revealed that the same is true of alcoholics and people with mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, those who commit or try to commit suicide, etc. Yet no one would introduce a curricular push to celebrate the contributions of alcoholic people to history! Alcoholism would not therefore become something to be proud of. What this would mean would be that artists are more likely to have a screw loose, to be unhappy or mentally unstable, than the public at large. That wouldn't come as a surprise at all. In fact, most of us would take that to be highly likely from the vague data we already have. So if it were possible (which it doesn't seem to be now) to get uncorrupted data, and if that data showed a high representation of homosexuals among great artists, I would classify it as part of a larger, interesting, but certainly not complimentary phenomenon of artistic mental instability and unhappiness.

Alex said...

Thanks Lydia, for your several replies to my inquiry about the repeated 'discovery', by partisan investigators, that there's a sort of symbiosis between great art and homosexuality.

I agree that in the present climate of opinion, one would be advised to duplicate for oneself the historical 'research' which continually props up the idea that homosexuals tend to be more artistically gifted than any other minority group.

From the homosexual propagandists' point of view, such 'discoveries' strengthen their demand not only for acceptance but also for approval.

Your classification of homosexuality together with mental instability and unhappiness as part of the process which, in the exceptional person, produces 'great art' is very plausible. There's probably a thesis already about the Great Artist Syndrome (a term I just made up) which is being worked up at an avant-garde university.

Kelly said...

What a well-written explanation. Thank you for being courageous and writing it!