Title: "Down, proud flesh, down!" Credit: Craig Young Comment Sunday 26th February 2006 - 12:00pm1140908400 Article: 1134 Rights
While I am a firm opponent to repressive conservative Christian orthodoxy, some bygone 'heresies' may raise some laughs - and reflection. Were any of these heresies gay-positive? It's possible that the third/fourth century CE Ophites could fit that description. According to contemporary Catholic polemicist Celsus, they worshipped a serpent, believed that there were two good and evil gods, and the bad one created matter, venerated Judas Iscariot and practised 'sodomy.' Now, the latter may not mean that they were gay as we understand it. As Mark Jordan tells us, sodomy includes everything from nonprocreative heterosexuality to gay sex to bestiality. Moreover, Celsus may just have been engaging in religious vilification. It's hard to assess the validity of this, as the Ophites faded away during the course of the fourth century and didn't leave their own records. While the Flagellants arose from eleventh century monastic practices, they engaged in public displays of self-whipping, beginning in Italy and then proceeding in Austria. They delivered thirty three strokes a session, one for each year of Christ's life, and often did it to the sound of gasserleider, specifically composed hymns. All of this may suggest that contemporary fundamentalist spanking enthusiasts have ancestors in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.However, they also engaged in anti-Semitic pogroms en route. Eventually, the Papacy got embarrassed at their kinky antics, and eventually handed them over to the tender mercies of the Inquisition. Finally, we come to the Adamites, Protestant heretical nudists, who took to disrobing in religious enthusiasm, and were associated with Anabaptist movements in the radical reformation of the early sixteenth century. Unfortunately, their Bohemian neighbours didn't like their nudist pacifist antics, and so they massacred these unclad peaceable souls.From seventeenth century England, Tamsyn Williams uncovered some Puritan anti-Adamite propaganda pamphlets that date from the time of the Civil War and Puritan Commonwealth. These salacious illustrated pamphlets depict a risque episode wherein an Adamite minister was standing atop a stool, baring his body and soul, whereupon a young woman entered the meeting hall, and soon, one particular part of his anatomy was more upstanding than the rest of him. Happily for the sake of decorum, the Adamites had prepared for this contingency, as an elderly man was on hand with a stick and struck the offensive appendage, exclaiming: "Down, proud flesh, down!" However, I suspect the survival of the Adamites was nothing more than the equivalent of an urban legend at this stage, and was intended for nothing more than sectarian titillation of its Puritan audiences. What lessons does this hold for us today? Well, fundamentalist corporal punishment enthusiasm is obviously nothing new, although one can mourn the fate of the gentle Adamites, even if their methods of church discipline were somewhat literal. Unfortunately, persecuting pornographic pamphlets are nothing new, either. Paul Cameron has his own historical antecedents. Recommended: Leonard George: A Dictionary of Heretics and Heresies: London: Robson Books: 1995. Mark Jordan: The Emergence of Sodomy in Medeval Christian Theology: New York: Crossroads: 1997. Tamsyn Williams: "Magnetic Prints" in Lucy Gent and Nigel Llewellyn (ed) Renaiisance Bodies: London: Reaktion Books: 1995. Craig Young - 26th February 2006    
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