04 November 2012

Bronze-age Goat-herders My Ass

One of the words I don’t really get is the term “construct” when used as a pejorative noun. This is a scholarly construct some Wikipedia editor will write dismissively in explaining why there should be no article on the Ebionite gospel, or the Ur-Hamlet is nothing but a modern construct.—as though that were a reason for neglecting the evidence on the subject. As Jason Thibeault points out (“Jim Garlow: Sexual orientation is a ‘modern construct’, therefore a choice”) so is gravity a modern construct, but that doesn’t mean that people could float off the earth until Isaac Newton named the force and described it in mathematical terms.

I mean, gee whiz, most things are modern constructs, if they are of any importance. Today’s Puritan Bible—the Hebrew Tanach in the Septuagint order alongside the Greek New Testament writings—is a modern construct. The second law of thermodynamics, so much beloved by the anti-evolution crowd, is a modern construct. The Rapture, for christ’s sake, is a modern construct. While the Rapture is bullshit, the second law of thermodynamics is (as far as I know) still the best scientific approximation of the truth, and the Puritan Bible at least closer to the original texts than its predecessors (though that’s not saying much), all are recent constructs viewed against the long reach of history.

It’s not the recentness of the construct that matters, it is its utility, or its beauty, or its ability to explain the evidence. In the case of the phrase “sexual orientation,” however, we are not even talking about a construct of any sort, but only of a different phrase for something that has been understood for centuries: different people are sexually aroused by different things.

The ancients were quite aware of this fact; there’s nothing new about it. Different things turn different people on. At present we have a more detailed understanding of human sexuality than in ancient times, and we have made categories and lists of the various possibilities; orientation is part of this and refers to the gender to which one is sexually attracted, as in same (homo) or different (hetero). The increasing precision of the terminology may be new, but the knowledge isn’t.

This character that Jason is replying to—apparently his name is Jim Garlow, though I don’t know who that is otherwise—gets the meaning wrong in his little diatribe, by the way; he says that sexual orientation is how one sees oneself, which it most emphatically is not. But that’s only the beginning of his willful ignorance; he’s trying to make a distinction between attraction and practice. As his parallel he claims that every healthy heterosexual male is naturally polygamous, but that these men don’t have to act on that natural desire. Similarly, therefore, just as men who are attracted to women other than their lawfully wedded wives don’t have to act on their attractions, so men who are attracted to other men don’t have to act on theirs. How this bizarre concept is supposed to be any sort of parallel he doesn’t explain. I mean, a man who is attracted to more than one woman can still have sex with somebody, by his reasoning, but who is the other man supposed to have sex with? Or is he supposed to remain celibate? Or what, exactly?

No, Jason nails this one, and I was with him all the way through this paragraph:
Each person in society contributes to the society most optimally when they are healthy, happy and in a career well suited to them. Finding a loving consenting partner (or multiple, if polyamory is allowed for those that so choose) to support you and to provide comfort and yes, even consensual sexual relations, is a big factor in determining whether or not someone will be happy. So it is objectively better for society if people who are naturally gay have all the same recourses toward autonomy, toward self-directed pursuit of happiness as do straights and straight-enoughs.
But then, with his final paragraph, he lost me:
But these people would never see that, because some bronze-age goat herders wove their homophobia into their Bible and said God wrote it.
Oh, man, bronze-age goat-herders? Did you have to go there?

No, no, no… The iron-age urban dwellers who wrote the books that would eventually be incorporated into the bible were far from the bronze-age goat-herders whose lifestyle they idealized (and probably made up). That’s like calling Tennyson a medieval jouster because he liked to write about them. And as for the claim that modern-day homophobes get their fix from the Bible—do they really? Out of that vast collection of noble poetry, blood-drenched history, clever fables and upward of a thousand lies (as one of Mark Twain’s characters put it) there are no more than a few references to homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13, Romans 1:27), and while they are nasty, they hardly constitute a major theme. One of the indications of just how desperate Bible-believing homophobes are is they way they have read homosexuality into various passages, such as the destruction of the cities of the plain by fire. No, it doesn’t look as if they get it from the Bible; rather they use the Bible as a crutch for their prejudices.

I mean, when was the last time you saw any of them complain about people who reap to the very edges of their fields, not leaving anything for the poor and the alien? But that's in there too; check out Leviticus 23:22. It's in the book, as Johnny Standley used to object to those who didn't believe in the power of Grandma's lye soap.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Right on! good work, sbh!


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