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Vestiges of Anal Apocalypse: Maxim and "Sodomy"

Mon 8 Dec 2003 In: Comment

The religious roots of "sodomy" and its relevance to the Maxim Institute's concept of "legislative creep" are examined by Wellington researcher Craig Young. On 27 November, the Maxim Institute website accused the lesbian and gay communities of engaging in "legislative creep" over impending relationship and parenting law reforms that will end discrimination against same-sex couples and families. In doing so, the Institute committed an almighty blunder, which may indicate that monitoring, dissection and rebuttal of their pseudoscientific attacks on same-sex relationship and parenting equality is drawing blood. "Creep" is an interesting choice of word, which indicates contamination and impending menace. It may indicate that the Maxim Institute is reverting to the default setting of "sodomy" discourse. Forty-something and above members of our communities may remember "sodomy" as an obsession of the Christian Right of the mid-eighties. In tracts like C. James Bacon's "The Social Effects of Homosexuality," gay men were accused of being perverse threats to the stability of civilisation, as we cannot control our desires and became reservoirs of disease as a judgement on our allegedly decadent lifestyles. Then Parliament passed homosexual law reform and we consigned this concept of anal apocalypse to the philosophical garbage bin. Where did "sodomy" come from? In 1997, US Catholic gay historian and theologian Mark Jordan published an historical investigation of "sodomy" as a theological category in medieval Catholicism and afterward. According to him, "sodomy" is a badly designed stitch job that consists of several disparate concepts cobbled together and oversimplified to refer to "sodomy" and "sodomites" as anal apocalypse. Originally, scriptural references and early Catholic theological accounts regarded "the sin of Sodom" as callous affluence and the absence of social conscience. In others, it referred to financial corruption. When it does refer to sex, it condemns heterosexual marital adultery if read in context. In the work of the Catholic theologian Ambrose, this concept of affluence ("luxuria") got mapped onto one particular meaning, condemnation of sexual promiscuity. Augustine simplified it still further, and "luxuria" and "licensia" (promiscuity) got jammed together. Gregory the Great introduced the final element, which is punitive retribution for gay sex, which is seen as "blasphemia," and we witness the emergence of "sodomites" as a particular identifiable grouping. In the seventies and eighties, US fundamentalist Protestants mobilised against Jimmy Carter's presidency and worked out a theological compromise that recuperated Catholic theological scholarship before the emergence of secular and humanist philosophies during the Renaissance, and enabled dialogue and collaboration with conservative Catholics. Added to that, the Reagan Presidency renewed the Cold War, and World War III was an ever-present threat. These fears got displaced onto HIV/AIDS and the "apocalyptic anus" due to social conservatism within the United States in the mid-eighties. (Mind you, the Christian Right weren't the only ones to go too far- so did some Freudo-Marxist gay male radicals. Witness Guy Hocquenghem and Leo Bersani's accounts of the anus as the door to liberation and the reformulation of male identity. I agree with Gayle Rubin, who says an arse is just an arse, and anal sex has no intrinsic radical qualities.) When the Maxim Institute refers to "legislative creep" or slither, I suspect it has an unconscious spectre of a lubricated anus and impending penetration, invested with qualities that corrode heterosexual male identity and dominance. This lubrication fuels a "slippery slope" to paedophilia and polygamy. Well actually, no, it doesn't. The Maxim Institute is guilty of "categorical creep" in revival of the tired old category of sodomy from the eleventh century. As I note above, "sodomy" was a jerrybuilt phantasm built on several categories stitched together. This construction fell to pieces during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when faced with modern sociology, psychology, epidemiological statistics and microbiology. Science displaced "sodomy" and its "dumbed down" and mutilated misunderstandings of gay male social identity and sexuality. On June 24th 2003, the United States joined the rest of the modern world and recognised the validity of Jordan's historical account. No-one buys this archaic theological curiosity anymore. Apparently, no-one except the Maxim Institute. Recommended Reading: Mark Jordan: The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology: Chicago: University of Chicago Press: 1997. Craig Young - 8th December 2003    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Monday, 8th December 2003 - 12:00pm

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