Tuesday, April 27, 2010

South Park and "Koranic values"

To its credit, the popular television program South Park has taken up many contemporary issues, illuminating them with its characteristic iconoclasm. Now it has come a cropper. I illustrate the problem with excerpts from a New York Times op-ed piece by Ross Douthat (April 25).

“Two months before 9/11, Comedy Central aired an episode of “South Park” entitled “Super Best Friends,” in which the cartoon show’s foul-mouthed urchins sought assistance from an unusual team of superheroes. These particular superfriends were all religious figures: Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, Mormonism’s Joseph Smith, Taoism’s Lao-tse and the Prophet Muhammad, depicted with a turban and a 5 o’clock shadow, and introduced as “the Muslim prophet with the powers of flame.”

“That was a more permissive time. You can’t portray Muhammad on American television anymore, as South Park’s creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, discovered in 2006, when they tried to parody the Danish cartoon controversy — in which unflattering caricatures of the prophet prompted worldwide riots — by scripting another animated appearance for Muhammad. The episode aired, but the cameo itself was blacked out, replaced by an announcement that Comedy Central had refused to show an image of the prophet.

“For Parker and Stone, the obvious next step was to make fun of the fact that you can’t broadcast an image of Muhammad. Two weeks ago, “South Park” brought back the “super best friends,” but this time Muhammad never showed his face. He “appeared” from inside a U-Haul trailer, and then from inside a mascot’s costume.

“These gimmicks then prompted a writer for the New York-based Web site revolutionmuslim.com to predict that Parker and Stone would end up like Theo van Gogh, the Dutch filmmaker murdered in 2004 for his scathing critiques of Islam. The writer, an American convert to Islam named Abu Talhah Al-Amrikee, didn’t technically threaten to kill them himself. His post, and the accompanying photo of van Gogh’s corpse, was just “a warning ... of what will likely happen to them.”

“This passive-aggressive death threat provoked a swift response [i.e. cave-in] from Comedy Central. In last week’s follow-up episode, the prophet’s non-appearance appearances were censored, and every single reference to Muhammad was bleeped out. The historical record was quickly scrubbed as well: The original “Super Best Friends” episode is no longer available on the Internet.

“ In a way, the muzzling of “South Park” is no more disquieting than anyother example of Western institutions’ cowering before the threat of Islamist violence. It’s no worse than the German opera house that temporarily suspended performances of Mozart’s opera “Idomeneo” because it included a scene featuring Muhammad’s severed head. Or Random House’s decision to cancel the publication of a novel about the prophet’s third wife. Or Yale University Press’s refusal to publish the controversial Danish cartoons ... in a book about the Danish cartoon crisis. Or the fact that various Western journalists, intellectuals and politicians — the list includes Oriana Fallaci in Italy, Michel Houellebecq in France, Mark Steyn in Canada and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands — have been hauled before courts and “human rights” tribunals, in supposedly liberal societies, for daring to give offense to Islam. . . .

“Our culture has few taboos that can’t be violated, and our establishment has largely given up on setting standards in the first place.

“Except where Islam is concerned. There, the standards are established under threat of violence, and accepted out of a mix of self-preservation and self-loathing.”


In a column yesterday at Salon.com, the always stimulating Glenn Greenwald seeks to relativize the threat against South Park, by saying (in effect) that "everybody does it." This gambit is similar to the one I encountered when I brought up the subject gay bashing by Muslim youth in the Netherlands (not just in Amsterdam, by the way).

Greenwald specifically mentions the matter of the Terrence McNally play Corpus Christi, which represents a Jesus-like character as gay, together with his disciples. A Fort Worth theater that had agreed to show a student-directed version of the play has withdrawn its offer. When the play was first to be presented in Manhattan in 1998 it was scheduled and then canceled (and then re-scheduled) by the Manhattan Theater Club as a result of "anonymous telephone threats to burn down the theater." However, a year and a half ago I saw the play presented in New York without incident. (It is excellent, by the way). Efforts to suppress Corpus Christi have not prevailed.

The claim made by Islamists is quite different. No visual representation of Muhammad of any sort is to be allowed. This, despite the abundant depictions of the Prophet in Islamic art. Some of them are to be found on the Internet. How long they will stay, I do not know. But in Iran and some other countries shopkeepers openly sell pictures of the Prophet.

Greenwald goes on to make other comparisons, some valid some not, in an effort to (in my view) make light of the threats against South Park.

What is needed is to examine the s p e c i f i c i t y of these Islamic threats to force us to adhere to their norms (however arbitrary and unhistorical), without resorting to comparison with other phenomena.

Why have those who made these threats not been at least investigated bythe FBI? The answer, is of course that whenever Muslims are involved they must be handled with kid gloves.

In this country there are Muslim imams who call for the death of homosexuals. They should be prosecuted. Yet this is not done. Why not?

Can anyone be blamed for thinking that we are seeing an increasing pattern of intimidation in this country that is wholly at variance with our traditions of separation of church and state? Islamists, of course, do not recognize this foundational principle. Their aggression and intimidation are simply unacceptable. Planes and ships are readily available to take them to countries where “Koranic values” prevail.

On these shores, it is time to draw the line.


Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sayonara Bill Moyers

I know that this posting will cause protest, but I rejoice in the retirement of that sanctimonius old doofus, "preacher" Bill Moyers, from PBS. Not infrequently (when I can bear to watch him) I agree with Moyers, but his self-righteousness makes me want to change my opinion.

There are, to be sure, all sorts of odious rightwingers on TV these days, but there is a special sort of liberal illusionism that holds that, instead of giving opinion, the spokesperson is simply describing reality. This is, of course, the kind of self-satisfaction and self-congratulation that we encounter on the NY Times editorial page every day. Well, that media dragon is going down the tubes, relatively speaking, also.

Thank Ganymede for the Internet.

Maybe I shouldn't rejoice too soon. After, all the Moyel (sic) retired once before in 2004, only to return again in 2007.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I left my heart . . .

Here are a few impressions from a short vacation in northern California. The trip combined nature (Yosemite) and urbanism (San Francisco). While I am basically a city guy, earlier trips to the National Parks with my partner Neal had given me a solid appreciation of the Parks. This enthusiasm was reinforced by the recent PBS series. Yosemite was the one significant site I had not seen. We went at an ideal time when it was mild and dry, and also before the summer rush. (Reputedly the park gets three million visitors a year). It is both like and unlike the photographs. The central zone with the enormous cliffs rising above is a supreme example of the Kantian Sublime in which sheer size compels admiration.

We then drove back through the hot Central Valley to SF. There too the weather was perfect, and we spent some time doing touristy things. My friend got his first cable car ride.

In the early seventies I started going to San Francisco on an annual basis, a custom I ended only after 1990. In those years the city was on the cutting edge of the country’s cultural revolution. This seems to have begun with the Berkeley Free Speech movement in 1964, an event I think of wryly because in the intervening years our campuses have become temples of repression.

Then there was the flower-power movement, and the whole rock-psychedelic thing.

Above all, for me there was the gay liberation movement. What glory it was to be alive in those days! We took risks, to be sure, as there was a strong possibility of losing our jobs. Some did lose them. But the sense of actually doing something meaningful for social change was exhilarating. As New York City faltered after Stonewall--a genuine watershed--San Francisco became Gay Liberation Central. The freedom of the city, not least in terms of actual sexual practice, prefigured --or so we hoped--the nation’s (and the world’s) future. The Harvey Milk film recaptured that heady atmosphere fairly well--though inevitably not the actual texture of walking the streets and patronizing the hot spots.

Today normalization rules. There are lots of new high-rise buildings, showing that prosperity persists--at least for the comfortable and well-healed. Polk Street, once the grand gay avenue, is a ghost town. Yet the Castro is thriving, full of prosperous businesses and prosperous young people. Much disparaged by gay radicals, assimilation has made it possible for gay men and lesbians to integrate with the larger communities. Most prefer this. San Francisco, it turns out, is no exception.

Still, for me the magic is gone. The hordes of tourists (ourselves included) are almost unbelievable. For their part, the homeless panhandlers have spread out from the Tenderloin and can be quite aggressive. The city’s reputation for tolerance and what amounts to a policy of subvention have kept the numbers of these derelicts high. This deplorable situation is a clear example of perverse incentivization.

The omnipresence of the homeless has made visiting the city a trip back in time. Before Clinton’s reform of the welfare system twelve years ago, which pushed most of these drones back into the workforce, or at least made them clean up their act, most American cities looked like this. A few weeks ago I took a trip to nearby Newark. It was Saturday and mine was one of the few white faces on the street. But I saw very few panhandlers. I felt very comfortable. In this respect, San Francisco is now retro, not cutting edge.

The city seems to have a three-class system. At the top are the wealthy and moderately wealthy, made up of such professsionals as lawyers, doctors, and professors, as well as many trust babies. At the other extreme stands the underclass, as I have mentioned. In between is a vast corps of young, attractive service personnel--waiters, bartenders, tour guides, and so forth. These people, who want to stay in SF at all costs, are eager to please, sometimes embarrassingly so. They know that they can be fired at any time, and there are lots of others ready to take their place. Other cities, like NYC where I live, seem to have a greater range of employment for middle-class wage earners. Nowadays, though, who knows? And all bets are off.

The moral? Times change. Carpe diem--take advantage of the opportunities. And so I did in those Golden Days not so long ago. And now again.

POSTSCRIPT. Early on in my relationship with San Francisco, the city affected me in another way. In the summer of 1973 I was recovering from a major illness. Lili J., an acquaintance who was going for a vacation in her native Denmark, lent me her apartment for a month. It was centrally located, just off Geary Avenue, and I used the location as a base for many delightful walks.

In the apartment itself, I discovered, there lurked (in addition to her formidable cat) a large cache of Libertarian literature, an enthusiasm of LIli's. At that time, I had very little idea about the nature of this approach to political theory. I was still a knee-jerk liberal, and viewed the tendency very unfavorably--as something akin to fascism (as some mistakenly still do today). Yet the books exerted the fascination of a taboo, not unlike a child discovering dad's porno cache. There was a strong representation of titles by such major figures as Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises. Also found were precursor works and contemporary commentators in the Libertarian vein.

Returning to New York, I started acquiring my own collection. A course I had taken in the field of political science at UCLA had proved almost useless; now I gave myself my own course. Like some others, I saw an application of Libertarianism to the struggle for gay rights. The most important thing though was the sense that I could at last think for myself in these matters.

Of course, I am a libertarian (small 'l') with sanity. I do not see privatization as a universal remedy (though the ploy has worked sometimes, especially in societies that are hobbled by corrupt governments using public industries as bottomless cookie jars for their cronies). I do believe in limited government, and especially in keeping the state out ot the bedroom. I am skeptical of employment-discrimination remedies and hate-crimes legislation.


Monday, April 12, 2010

Koranic values and gay-bashing in The Netherlands

Most of us, even in North America, are aware of the controversy that has reached almost epic proportions in Northwestern Europe. That controversy concerns the effects that massive immigration of Muslims is having--and may be expected to have in the future.

On the one hand, there are the multiculturalists who suggest that, as with most immigrant groups in the US, the Muslims will gradually integrate with the host societies. This process will actually be enriching, and will make it easier for Europe to engage in dialogue with Third World peoples in their own countries. Among some people at least, this view seems naively optimistic. For this reason I call the bearers Euro-Pollyannas.

Standing over against the multicultis are the antijihadists, represented by Bruce Bawer, Christopher Caldwell, and others. These writers point out that Islamists living in countries like Norway, the Netherlands, and Britain are seeking to transform the culture of the countries they live in. There is a movement to make Sharia law the equivalent of the civil law and common law, eroding the very concept of the rule of law itself. The repressive side of these efforts will impact particularly on women and gay people.

Up to now, it has generally been the pattern of immigrants to any country that they either assimilate into the host culture, or remain in separatist enclaves. The Islamist challenge to Western Europe is that--for the first time in human history, as far as I can see--they are demanding that the majority assimilate to t h e m instead of their assimilatiing to the culture in which they find themselves.

Clearly, there is some exaggeration on both sides. No one can know for certain what the future will bring. However, it would be useful to forearm ourselves about possible outcomes.

In a recent flurry of private Internet messages I have become aware of a vein of denial on the part of the multiculturalists that astonishes me. The specific issue is the violent assaults perpetrated by young Muslim men on gay people in the Netherlands. Sadly, this denialism has been coming from gay people themselves, either residents in Holland or visitors to the country.

For a number of years reports of this homophobic violence, especially on the part of young Muslims, have been accumulating. In a 2007 piece in the newspaper De Telegraaf, Boris Dittrich (Human Rights Watch) noted that "[y]ou can certainly state that Amsterdam's image of gay capital is in shambles." Dittrich’s assignment with his organization was to receive and process regular reports on anti-gay assaults from all over the world. "Incidents take place everywhere, but nowhere is the violence as structural as it is in Amsterdam at present. In my work, I am constantly confronted with it. People are coming up to me and asking me what on earth is happening in The Netherlands. The reports I receive about Amsterdam are shocking."

By 2007, when these comments appeared, a growing volume of reports about Moroccan youngsters assaulting gays had been reaching the media. As a result many “pink” tourists were changing their travel plans, opting for Berlin or Barcelona. "These cities do not have this problem. All in all you can conclude that our [gay friendly] image is well and truly smashed," as Dittrich stated in De Telegraaf.

The prevalence of PC taboos makes useful statistics hard to come by. In fact my multiculturalist opponents rely (as far as I can see) only on impressionistic generalizations.

Still, there is some relevant data. For the following points I am indebted to Bruce Bawer, who resided in Amsterdam for several years.

Bawer consulted a Report posted at coc.nl, the site of the oldest gay-rights organization in the Netherlands, COC (which stands for Cultuur- en Ontspannings Centrum, or Culture and Recreation Center). On page six the Report states: “The suspects [in antigay attacks] are just as often native Dutch as of Moroccan descent (both 36%). Since 39% of all young people in Amsterdam under 24 years of age belong to the first group and 16% to the second, Moroccans are overrepresented among suspects in these kinds of violence.” However, Bawer notes that “if 36% of suspects are native Dutch, that means 64% are not native Dutch. Most of those who aren't either Dutch or Moroccan presumably belong to the other major immigrant groups in the Netherlands--Turkish, Surinamese, Indonesian, and Dutch Antillean.” Moreover, Bawer suspects that the statistics have been subject to PC manipulation--that they have been "cooked"--and that the real figures for immigrant antigay violence are higher.

Somewhat reluctantly, the researchers admit that “relatively speaking, Turks and Moroccans have a lot of trouble accepting homosexuality." On page 24, they note that "criminologist Jan Dirk de Jong suggests that the cause of the deviant conduct of Moroccan delinquent boys lies not in Moroccan culture or education per se but is primarily connected to their street culture.” (As Bawer aptly comments: “it's just a coincidence that the violent homophobia of that street culture is utterly consistent with Koranic values?”)

According to the Report “[r]esearch shows that religion in general has a strong effect on having a gay-negative attitude, even if one corrects for such attributes as gender, age and educational level. This includes all religions, not only Muslims but also Christians and in particular people with an active religious life. Among religious groups in the Netherlands, however, negativity toward gays varies, with Muslims being conspicuous for their extreme views.”

Bawer points out that Amsterdam is hardly overrun with violently antigay evangelical Christian youth, so that there is no logical reason to drag in Christianity here. “Yet it’s obvious [he observes] why the researchers did so: in academic circles nowadays, the only way you stand even a remote chance of getting away with any criticism of Islam, however tamely articulated and amply justified, is by tucking it snugly into a blanket criticism of all religions.”

My Euro-Pollyanna interlocutors will have nothing of this. One resident of Rotterdam complains that the Report cited deals only with Amsterdam. True enough, but is the situation any different in the other major Dutch cities? Oh but it is different, my opponent argues, in small towns such as Meppel that are away from the major centers,”where it is possible to spend a day without seeing a single "tinted" face--but where one would not be advised to be performatively gay on the street--the bashing is 100% native Dutch.” No figures are offered, just an impressionistic comment. I would wager that if the statistics were available the orders of magnitude would be entirely different. The antigay violence in the remoter areas is practiced by very small numbers of right-wing youths. Yet in the major cities Muslim bashers are numerous and dangerous. In fact if natives and visitors were not careful--as they are routinely advised to be--the incidence of such violence would probably be higher. Caution reduces the opportunity for attacks. Parts of Dutch cities are no-go zones, a fact known to all but the unwary.

My opponent goes on to say that “[v]iolent homophobia is present in all young male street cultures--Muslim, Nigerian Pentecostal, Latino Catholic (if you're in LA), Russian Orthodox (if you're in Moscow), or skinhead pagan (wherever you may be be unfortunate enough to encounter them). The fact that it is so 'interfaith,' if you will, would suggest to me that violent homophobia goes with young male (street) culture, and is not linked with any specific religion.”

This last ploy is the device that is known as “moral equivalence.” In days of yore this fallacy was quite common among Stalinists and their dupes. Once when I complained to a Stalinist about the gulags, he said that it was no different from Jim Crow in the American south. Rubbish. Both were deplorable, to be sure. But the order of magnitude is entirely different. The device of moral equivalence seeks to whisk evil away by claiming, in effect, that “everybody does it.” 

The key point is the one that Bawer notes: the practice of gay-bashing among Muslim youth in Dutch cities is supported by Koranic values.

Recently, there have been a series of violent attacks on gays in the Sacramento area of California that are perpetrated by recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union. We have no difficulty in connecting these attacks with the hardcore Christianist values of the immigrants. Why can we not say the same for Moroccans and other Muslims who are acting out their prejudices in Dutch cities?
At all events, the problem of Muslim aggression towards gays is not limited to the Netherlands, and therefore cannot be meaningfully discussed in an exclusively Dutch context.  It is found, for example, in Belgium, France, Norway, Sweden, and elsewhere.  It is spreading.

We are often told that (as with Christians) we should distinguish between the good Muslims and the bad Muslims.  Supposedly we have nothing to fear from the former.  Unfortunately, the boundary between the two groups is porous.  Indonesia is often held up as a model of Islamic moderation.  Perhaps so, but in recent days intolerant Muslims managed to shut down a gay conference in Surabaya, Java's second city.

At all events what must be addressed is the specific issue of Muslim homophobia, something that the Pollyannas seek to avoid at all costs. As I noted, when we discuss Christian homophobia we rarely hear that "other groups" are equally culpable.  We recognize that there are particular features in Christian Scripture, theology, institutions, and practice that foster antihomosexual beliefs and actions, including gay bashing.  This acknowledgement is essential.

By the same token it is unavoidable for Islam as well. Whatever the Euro-Pollyannas and other excusers may say, I and many others will continue our vocal analysis of the defects of Islam.  I have written a whole chapter of my book on this subject.  A draft version is available at Williamapercy.com under "Abrahamica," chapter six.  My research is ongoing.

POSTSCRIPT. As we have seen, gay people are the victims of the violence perpetrated by young Muslim men. But some gay people deny this. What is motivating their denialism? Ostensibly, it is the mindset termed multiculturalism. This in turn rests upon the cultural relativism endemic among our anthropologists and sociologists in particular. In other words, it is sociogenetic.

There is another reason, though, and that is political. It is feared that acknowledging the problem of Koranic gay-bashing will give aid and comfort to rightwing parties. In the Netherlands this means particularly the effort led by Geert Wilders. Born in 1963, Wilders is a Dutch politician who heads the Party for Freedom (PVV). Raised as a Roman Catholic and having left the Church at his coming of age, Wilders ascribes his politics to what he calls "Judeo-Christian values." He formed many of his political views on his travels to Israel, as well as the neighboring Arab countries.

Wilders has been outspoken on a number of issues such as immigration, freedom of speech, and Islam, not only in The Netherlands, but also on the international scene, where he has become one of the standard-bearers of anti-jihadism. He advocates a hard line against what he calls the "street terror" exerted by minorities in Dutch cities. Fitna, his controversial 2008 film about Islam in the Netherlands, has attracted international attention. Shockingly, on 21 January 2009, the Amsterdam Court of Appeal ordered his prosecution for what it said was "incitement to hatred and discrimination." Wilders was also banned from entering the United Kingdom between 12 February 2009 and 13 October 2009, with the Home Office viewing his presence as a "threat to one of the fundamental interests of society." After Wilders appealed, the ban was rescinded. He visited the UK on October 16, 2009, and again in March 2010, to show his film. Neither Britain nor the Netherlands has the equivalent of the US First Amendment, which (theoretically at least) protects the espousal of unpopular, "incorrect" ideas.

In March 2010 came the announcement that a documentary film about Geert Wilders was due to be released in the United States; Wilders himself is writing a book and producing a sequel to his film, both to be released after the parliamentary elections in the Netherlands in June 2010.

So much about Wilders. He has his rightwing counterparts in other Western European countries.

It is evident that the Euro-Pollyannas think that if they can suppress reports of Muslim violence, support for Wilders and others like him will decline. This effect is unlikely to be realized, because suppression does not stop discussion, though it may move it underground. In fact the perception of the suppression creates anger, and energizes the opposition--as we have seen with PC efforts in the US.

Ironically for the multicultis, the ultimate source of the problem is the flood of immigrants that began in the 1950s and is still continuing today, thanks to misguided "family-reunification" policies. If European populations had continued to be homogeneous--that is, lily-white--the left would probably still be in power in most European countries today. It is the presence of the immigrants themselves that is propelling the turn to the right. This may be, and probably is, unfortunate. Yet the problem will not be erased by attempting to suppress discussion of the facts.


Friday, April 09, 2010

Can Christianity--and the Abrahamic faiths in general--abandon their opposition to same-sex love?

Responding to this question, let us start with the Church of England, and the worldwide Anglican Communion that is allied with it. At the outset it is well to recall the work of Derrick Sherwin Bailey (1910-1984), a British theologian and historian, who served as Canon Residentiary of Wells Cathedral from 1962 onwards. After World War II Bailey joined a small group of Anglican clergymen and physicians to study homosexuality. Their findings were published in a 1954 Report entitled The Problem of Homosexuality produced for the Church of England Moral Welfare Council by the Church Information Board.

As part of this task Bailey completed a separate historical study, Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition (London: Longmans, 1955). Although this monograph has been criticized for tending to exculpate the Christian church from blame in the persecution and defamation of homosexuals, it ranks as a landmark in the history of the subject, combining scrutiny of the Biblical evidence with a survey account of subsequent history. Bailey's book drew attention to a number of neglected subjects, including the intertestamental literature, the legislation of the Christian emperors, the penitentials, and the link between heresy and sodomy.

While it is contestable, the author's interpretation of Genesis 19, where he treats the Sodom story as essentially nonsexual--an instance of violation of hospitality--has served as a benchmark for later efforts. Following Bailey’s example, gay-friendly exegetes have been proceeding with their own plans for detoxifying the notorious “clobber passages” that condemn, or appear to condemn, same-sex conduct in the Bible. The results of this enterprise are summed up in a large tome entitled The Queer Bible Commentary.

Opinion on the success of this effort has been divided, with many gay and lesbian Christians hailing the results--and even claiming, improbably, that the Bible is a gay-friendly book--while mainstream Christian opinion has not generally been accommodating. Even if we accept the maximum claims of the detoxifiers, one must recognize that the venom of the most egregious texts, such as the prohibitions in Leviticus 18 and 20 and the “unnatural” allegation in Romans 1:26-27, has not been drawn. That poison remain obstinately in place.

At the time, however, the work of Bailey and his colleagues had a salutary impact on social policy. Their work prepared the way for the progressive Wolfenden Report (1957), which was followed a decade later by Parliament's decriminalization of homosexual conduct between consenting adults in England and Wales.

These developments were for a time a source of hope, not only in Britain and in English-speaking countries in general, but also within the world-wide Anglican communion. Yet in recent years Anglicanism has witnessed a backlash that has cast earlier progress in doubt.

The thirteenth Lambeth Conference in England 1998 approved, by a vote of 526 to 70, a resolution stating that homosexual acts are "incompatible with Scripture," There was also some soothing language about the need to combat irrational fear of homosexuality, and an admonition to listen to the experience of homosexual persons. The Lambeth Conference is not an executive which imposes doctrine or discipline but a forum for the exchange of views. Still, the sting of the assertion that Scripture could not be reconciled with approval of homosexual behavior was patent.

In 2003 the Church of England announced the appointment of Jeffrey John, a priest living in a celibate domestic partnership with another man, as the Suffragan Bishop of Reading. Many Anglican traditionalists reacted strongly and John eventually succumbed to pressure from the Archbishop of Canterbury (who had initially supported the appointment) and others to withdraw before he had been formally elected. John was later appointed as the Dean of St Albans instead. A number of Anglican provinces took a positive stand on the ordination of gay clergy and the blessing of same-sex unions.

In 2003, amid a climate of controversy, the Episcopal Church in the USA consecrated Gene Robinson, a gay man, as the Bishop of New Hampshire.

Responding to these developments, many provinces, primarily from sub-Saharan Africa but also some in Asia, America and Australia—representing about half of the 80 million practicing Anglicans worldwide—declared a state of impaired communion with their counterparts. Minority groups in Western provinces, dismayed by what they consider unscriptural actions by the Churches of England, Canada, Australia, and in the United States, have withdrawn their affiliation and realigned themselves with African provinces such as the Churches of Uganda and Rwanda.

In 2006 the Anglican Church of Nigeria issued a statement affirming "our commitment to the total rejection of the evil of homosexuality which is a perversion of human dignity" and encouraging the National Assembly to ratify a Bill prohibiting the legality of homosexuality.

While the controversy is continuing, it would seem that the lines are drawn. The leading circles of advanced industrial countries maintain their support for a more progressive policy regarding homosexuality--though with some notable holdouts. What is termed the “global South” of the Anglican churches (corresponding to what is generally called the Third World) has generally been lining up against any change of the traditional policies regarding same-sex behavior. In fact, some spokespeople wish to heighten the restrictions. Regrettably, this opposition is spilling over into secular legislation, as seen now in Uganda.

Modern Judaism shows similar conflicts, though debate has been less vehement. Summarizing the American context in broad terms, Reform Judaism is generally open to change with regard to same-sex love, and a number of ordained gay and lesbian rabbis now lead congregations. Orthodox Judaism is generally opposed, while Conservative Judaism seeks to chart a middle course. Unfortunately Reform Judaism does not have much influence outside North America.

While there are a number of Muslim gay and lesbian organizations and spokespeople, very little progress has been made in official Islamic circles, where the ulema (consensus of scholars) remains adamantly opposed.

The following negative conclusion seems inescapable. The prohibition of same-sex conduct found in all three Abrahamic faiths will be hard to change, very hard.  As I have noted in other contexts, though, these are not our only choices in the religion field.  One might recommend Buddhism where there is no deeply rooted homophobic tradition,

Of course, the "clobber passages" in the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the Qur'an are relatively few--as we keep hearing.  However, they are part and parcel with a fundamental concern in all three religions. That concern--which amounts to a group neurosis, in my view--is to establish clear boundaries of what is acceptable, indeed required in the realm of the family and sexual behavior vs. that which is taboo (to'ebah, abomination, haram).

All societies, even the most rudimentary ones, are concerned with the family in some way or other, for the reason that is essential to keep the male connected with the female after offspring are born. That in itself says nothing about the permissibility of same-sex behavior as such.  In India it is a common pattern for a gay man to get married, sire children, and then have male lovers.

The three Abrahamic religions are uniquely concerned with setting up lists of do's and don'ts.  Whatever is permissible is obligatory, and that which is not permissible is taboo, sometimes meriting the death penalty, as in Leviticus 20.

Because the prohibition of same-sex behavior is connected with this group neurosis, it will prove very difficult to excise it.

Twenty years ago I canvassed the parallel with the usury prohibition in an article in my Encyclopedia of Homosexuality. It is true that that the ban on lending money at interest was eventually relaxed.  But there is no similarity with sex regulation, because usury, except in a remote metaphorical sense (some people are in love with money), has nothing to do with sex and the family.

Similarly, we hear that the Catholic church has moderated its view about the Jews.  Hooray for that--as far as it goes.  But there is no parallel with "sodomites": renouncing anti-Semitism poses no challenge to the repressive Christian sexual ethic.

It is the Abrahamic religions themselves--Judaism, Christianity, and Islam--that are the problem, not some incidental excrescence therein that they will come to eliminate by themselves.  Prohibition of homosexuality is not marginal to these faiths, but an integral part of their sexual ethic. This being the case, supporters of the cause of sexual freedom can only hope that the so-called monotheistic faiths will gradually lose ground. Alas, this does not seem to be happening.


Tuesday, April 06, 2010


Below is an announcement of a lecture to be given by Dr. Fintan Walsh at the University of Limerick in Ireland on April 29. Once upon a time, the Irish were celebrated for their skilled use of the Engish language. As far as I can tell, this announcement is written neither in English nor in Erse. What language is it written in?

One thing seems to be clear: the author favors the fragilization of psychotic positionality. I'm all for that (I think).

"This lecture explores the notion of ‘trouble’ in the field of masculine ontology and cultural representation. Moreover, drawing on a range of case studies, the presentation considers the relationship between hegemonic masculinity and sacrificial modes of signification. The talk argues that these proliferative aesthetic practices gravely restrict relational, cultural and political transformation, not least of all because they are invariably premised upon the traumatization of the feminine, and the feminization of trauma.

"This lecture addresses the writing of visual artist and psychoanalyst Bracha L. Ettinger, whose work seeks to reclaim the feminine from psychotic positionality. While Ettinger focuses on visual art, she is more broadly interested in the manner in which our encounters with the matrixial in art practices might open lanes of fragilization that resist the foreclosure of subjectivity. I look to Ettinger’s work to redress the place of the feminine/matrixial in the field of male relationality. Drawing on a selection of illustrative performances and representations, I suggest that if male trouble is to be truly transformative, then it must be fragilizing, and the feminine (and its associated others) must be disassociated from abjection and psychosis and negotiated as the basis for a border-linking, border-sharing ethical relation."


Friday, April 02, 2010

Short mental health break

The Economist magazine has an article about the "PIIGS that can't fly." We have all heard of the economic difficulties of Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain. Originally, without Ireland, the acronym was clearer: PIGS.

Don't get me wrong: I love to travel in all those countries.

Still, if Greece is definitively rescued and Ireland (the latecomer) excused, we'll need a new acronym. Could it be, yes I think it is: PIS. As in that classic European statue the Mannekin Pis.

I'm sorry to have been absent for a few days. The rigors of revising the Abrahamica manuscript are about to drive me around the bend.