In Christian theology, we are told that we are made "in God's image and likeness." Taking a broader view across all religions, it is more accurate to say that humans make gods & goddesses in our image and likeness – even where they are visualized in non-human form, their reported behaviour is frequently anthropomorphic.
This is especially obvious outside of the monotheistic religions. In these, the necessity for imagining gods & goddesses in relationships and interactions with other gods produces tales of jealousy, rivalry, and amorous adventures that look remarkably human. Reflecting what each culture sees in itself, the deities also reflect a range of interests, temperaments – and sexual preferences. Many pantheons, especially those from Classical Greece and Rome, China, India, South America and Oceania, feature prominent gods and goddesses who had homosexual relationships or adventures. (Hindu deities are especially notable for the ease with which many of them change gender from time to time).
This much I knew. But the biggest surprise for me yesterday, when I was reading some more about LGBT themes in mythology, was the discovery that in some mythologies, there are gods who are specifically designated not just as practitioners, but even as patrons of male homosexuality.
Chin, a small child or dwarf god, introduced homoerotic relationships to the Mayan nobles. The nobles obtained youths of the lower classes to be the lovers of the noble’s sons. Such unions were considered legal marriages under Mayan law, and any attempt on the honour of the younger partner was punishable as adultery.
Chin was also known as the “death god”, and one of four lesser deities closely associated with the four Mayan creator gods, the Becabs
Now, let us return once more to Cardinal Newman. He never disclosed physical sexual activity, or its absence with St John, but in the absence of evidence, it is assumed that his close emotional relationship was suitable celibate. In the case of both the (Catholic) Canadian altar server, and the (Anglican) Jeffrey John, we have clear statements of both that their relationships with their partners are celibate, and so (presumably) exactly comparable to that of Newman and St John. Yet the popular assumption around these men is precisely the reverse of that applied to Newman. Whereas he is assumed to be celibate, they are assumed not to be. If modern standards had been applied to Newman, he should have been barred from the priesthood altogether, let alone raised to high office and a path to sainthood.
Boswell, John : Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe
Alan Bray, The Friend
Nehemiah was one of many Hebrews taken to Babylon as a slave, where he was engaged as a “cupbearer” to the Persian king Artaxerxes (the Persians had replaced the original Babylonians as rulers) . The purpose of a cup-bearer was not simply to carry the wine glass – it included the responsibility for tasting and testing all the king’s food and drink, against the possibility of poisoning. As such, it was a position of great responsibility, and personal intimacy – and it was standard practice for slaves in positions of such personal intimacy in the Royal household to be castrated. It is likely, then, that Nehemiah was a eunuch. (According to one historian, cupbearers to the king were always the most attractive men). Living in such close proximity to the king, and sharing in his meals, also meant that he shared in a life of great luxury – almost as much as the king himself.
We can and will do so for the wider church.
- Queering the Song of Songs (my-queer-spirituality.blogspot.com)
Prequel: Before Christianity
Studies of the animal kingdom, and of non-Western and pre-industrial societies show clearly that there is no single "natural" form for either human or animal sexuality. Homosexual activity has been described by science for all divisions of the animal kingdom, in all periods of history, and in all regions of the world. Most religions recognise this. The monotheistic Christian religion teaches that God made us in His own image and likeness – but other religions, when they attempted to picture their many gods and goddesses, created their gods in human image and likeness, and so incorporated into their pantheon many gods who had sex with males – either divine or human.
The Rape of Ganymede
Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said….
And they all forsook him and fled.And a youth ("neaniskos") accompanied him, clothed in a linen cloth ("sindona") over his nudity ("gumnos"). And they seized him. And he, leaving his linen cloth, fled nude ("gymnos").
And they came into Bethany, and a certain woman, whose brother had died, was there. and, coming, she prostrated herself before Jesus and says to him, "Son of David, have mercy upon me."..But the disciples rebuked her. And Jesus, being angered, went off with her into the garden where the tomb was, and straightaway a great cry was heard from the tomb. And going near Jesus rolled away a stone from the door of the tomb. And straightaway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand nad raised him, seizing his hand. But the youth, looking upon him, loved him and began to beseech him that he might be with him. And going out of the tomb they came into the house of the youth, and he was rich. And and after six days Jesus told him what he wast to do and in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the kingdom of God. And then, arising, he returned to the other side of Jordan.
(Source: The material above condenses a passage from “Homosexuality & Civilization” by Louis Crompton, which makes an excellent and stimulating introduction to the history of homosexuality.)
undermined and washed away in the deeper waters of the Christian symbolic, for insofar as as women are members of the body, they too are called to be Christ to others; so that they too must also act as “groom” and “husband”; to the “bride” and “wife” of the other, whether it is to a man or woman. For it cannot be said that within the community only men are called to love as Christ does.”
Loughlin’s reading of the text had transformed it into a queer text. The very incongruity of this reading with the “original” reading is enough to stimulate laughter. I find it funny that this passage should be read so often and do solemnly at weddings, the great ceremony of heteropatriarchy.
-Stuart, Camping Around the Canon, in Goss “Take Back the Word“
The threat posed by gays and lesbians to family and society is often proclaimed by men – named “fathers”- who have vowed never to to beget children. The pope lives in a household of such men – a veritable palace of “eunuchs”for Christ – that reproduces itself by persuading others not to procreate. Why us the refusal of fecundity – the celibate lifestyle – not also a threat to family and society?