02 September 2011

Book Review: The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology

Mark Jordan is the Richard Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Divinity at the Harvard Divinity School. He wrote this book and then wrote a sequel entitled Recruiting Young Love which I have reviewed elsewhere on this blog.

This book is nothing like the next book except that they are both period pieces about how Christian conservatives like to control sexuality in some pretty psychologically crazy ways and how those ways are characterized by then-present hostilities with foreign nations.

The first tid-bit that I found to be tremendously fascinating was the story of St. Pelagius. You see. In Spain, a thousand years ago, a battle was raging between Christians and their Moorish/Muslim overlords. Apparently some well known bishop was captured, but in his place, he sent his distant young cousin/nephew, Pelagius, who was a hotty. How do I know a young nephew of a captured bishop was a hotty, because apparently every hagiographer that wrote about him for the next three hundred years makes his hotness one of the central themes of this Catholic saint's martyrdom.

You see, the caliph who captured the bishop and took Pelagius as the substitute was smitten. And apparently, as we are led to believe all Muslims are this way, the sultan wanted Pelagius who rebuffed him. I read the translations Jordan provided, and frankly, I thought he was a big prissy bakla that didn't want to put out for some old man. The caliph told him he'd have all the riches in the world and live the life of someone being kept by a sugar daddy. Pelagius wasn't having it. Well, as you can tell, he was eventually killed. And what do our hagiographers tell us happened to him? In his divine beauty, he went to heaven where he lived the glorious life of someone being kept by a sugar daddy -- and not just any sugar daddy, the sugar Father.

Anyhow, this hagiography apparently is the origin of how sodomy, as a sin appeared in Christian theology. In Bowers v. Hardwick, the infamous US Supreme Court case that upheld a Georgia sodomy statute in the 1980s, only to be overruled 20 years later, the court's opinion said they sarcastically said they would not challenge a law that existed since the time of Henry V (fourteenth century English monarch). But you see, they were off by about 300 years. Sodomy was invented as a category of thought a few hundred years before that.

Jordan then goes into an extended exposition about how the theologians and confessional-manualistas went into this long and tortured process (tortured in the affective sense) of trying to contain the latent explosion that lie just beneath the surface. One of the biggest dangers facing the confessional-manualistas was how to extract confessions of man-on-man sex without giving confessees any ideas, tips or pointers.

You see where this is going? It's worth the read if you are or were Catholic or are interested in how religious thought has shaped the present struggles of LGBT folks throughout the world.

The version I read was a 200 page hardcover published by University of Chicago Press (May 1, 1997), ISBN-13:978-8486329402. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was used at abebooks.com and amazon.com for the paperback version.

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