A. The Charge. No decent person in his right mind would be tempted on his or her own to engage in such an odious practice as sodomy. Therefore such indulgence must be inspired by the Devil, who tempts his victims to engage in sin.
B. Historical Background. While many religions acknowledge the maleficent influence of evil spirits, Christianity and Islam are the only faiths to have elevated the Devil to a powerful indvidual status that can compete with that of the Godhead itself. These religions regard the Devil as a rebellious fallen angel who is tireless in his efforts to tempt human beings to sin. In Christianity, the Devil has been thought to have a particular affinity with witches, heretics, and other sinners.
This notion that same-sex behavior is the product of diabolic intervention gained credence in the advancing climate of superstition that blighted the closing phases of the Roman Empire. This is evident in Justinian’s punitive Novella [new law] 77, of 538 CE, which excoriates “certain men, seized by diabolical incitement, [who] have abandoned themselves to the basest forms of lasciviousness and engage in practices contrary to nature.”
Notions of this kind feed upon two free-floating assumptions. 1) The Devil thrives as a virtually independent power, able to do his will largely unchecked by God or humanity. This concept, generally absent from the Hebrew Bible, probably stems from the migration of Iranian (Zoroastrian) dualism to the West. 2) Paradoxically, homosexuality, while everywhere rejected by decent opinion, seems to exercise an irresistible attraction on those who have been exposed to it. Otherwise inexplicable, such an attraction became more understandable when ascribed to diabolic intervention.
Needless to say, this paradox is rooted in the contradictions of the anti-homosexual polemic itself, and in the well-known fact that tabooed behavior patterns acquire glamor from their very forbidden status.
There are a number of parallels between the medieval witchcraft delusion and the condemnation of sodomy. Both witchcraft and sodomy have been commonly regarded as the work of the Devil.
Few subscribe to a belief in witchcraft today, but same-sex behavior still attracts eccentrics who field the diabolical allegation. Writing on October 27, 2011, Daniel Avila, a lobbyist and spokesperson for the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage of the U.S. Catholic Conference, asserted that because being gay is not genetic, it must be the work of the Devil. Avila penned the column in the Boston Pilot, the newspaper of the Boston Archdiocese. In the column, he claims that because no definite genetic connection can be established for homosexuality, then logically it follows that homosexuality must be the work of the Devil. He holds that whenever natural causes disturb otherwise typical biological development, leading to the personally unchosen beginnings of same-sex attraction, the ultimate responsibility, on a theological level, is and should be imputed to the Evil One, not to God.
The scientific evidence of how same-sex attraction most likely occurs has not satisfied Avila. And so he reaches a strange conclusion which goes somewhat as follows. People of faith must look back to Scripture’s account of the angels who rebelled and fell from grace. In their anger against God, these malcontents prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. They continue to do all they can to mar distort, and destroy God’s handiwork.
C. Response. Today, few people, even religious individuals, subscribe to the antiquated belief in the Devil as a real person. It is a picturesque survival from former times. Relegated to the level of superstition and popular imagery, as seen in the movies, the notion is no longer really viable.
BIBLIOGRAPHY. Jeffrey Burton Russell, Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1984.