Tough Questions

Lately I find myself dwelling overly much on a particular topic, which is a clear indication I need a creative outlet for it. To be specific, I've been wrestling with the issue of homosexuality. I remain confused as to what position I should take on the matter, but I've lately had a break through of sorts in guiding me.

For a few weeks now I've been participating in discussions on the subject and finding myself assailed on the idea that homosexuality is sin. There have been prevalent, and eloquent, arguments that homosexuality is not a choice anymore than I choose to be aroused by breasts. At first glance, this argument seemed strong and formidable against my own. The scriptural uncertainty certainly didn't help my confidence.

This is not to say that I have been deliberately attempting to fortify a position against homosexuality, but rather in attempting to understand my own feelings as to the subject I continually have felt that there was something "off" about it that leads me to remain uncertain.

However, I did note a certain epiphany on the matter, and it is something I am glad to have thought of.

After some deep thinking on the matter I was reminded of a french film my mother owned, Les Visiteurs. It opens with a french lord visiting some noblemen's daughter in a clearly sexual rendezvous. In a small room, the lord is aroused by the woman revealing her ankles to him.

That's the important part there. Ankles? Arousal? What prudishness is this?

It occurred to me that over the course of ages, what visual cues arouse men have not been static. Though breasts seem to be the order of the day in this time, different cultures and times past had different ideas. What of the tribes where women run around topless and without concern? What of the medieval lords and their ankle-lusting? What of now and restaurants such as "Twin Peaks" and "Hooters"? Obviously, there is a cultural component to the sexual cues for men.

How large that component is a matter for debate, but it seems irrefutable to me that to some extent our sexual desires are not shaped by our genome or nature, but by our culture or nurture.

On the flip side, we have the studies that show homosexuality runs in families, showing a clear genetic link to the end result of homosexuality, but I began to wonder how direct that link was. Purely hypothetical, but isn't it entirely possible that instead of a gene that determines homosexuality versus heterosexuality, there was a gene that inclined its bearers to reject typical modes of arousal? Without going into detail, such a gene seems far more likely to survive natural selection than one expressly dedicated to not reproducing.

That's where I stand at the moment. I'd encourage any of you who happen to peruse this place that sees updates but rarely to share your views as well. It would be deeply appreciated.


Infidel753 said...

That's the important part there. Ankles? Arousal? What prudishness is this?

I think this is partly a matter of individual preference and partly a matter of what the clothing styles of a given culture typically conceal.

Lots of men are turned on by women's ankles even now. There's probably hardly a single feature of the female anatomy that doesn't have at least some men who fetishize it. American men do have a reputation for being very focused on breasts, but I think legs are at least as popular.

Also, whatever is typically hidden becomes that much more arousing when it is seen. Nowadays it's routine for women to dress in such a way that their bare ankles are visible, so seeing a woman's ankles is, at least, not something especially rare or suggestive of a sexual situation. Breasts are not so casually visible in public, so seeing them is more usually a sign that something sexual is in the offing. In earlier times, most of a woman's anatomy other than the hands and head was usually concealed in public, as breasts are today, and thus had a more arousing effect when seen.

But these are all heterosexual arousal responses. Regardless of how men in a given culture dress, heterosexual men are not similarly aroused by male anatomy.

The bottom line is, unless you would be capable of causing yourself to become homosexual (that is, to find other men sexually arousing) by an act of will -- and I certainly couldn't -- you can't say that those who actually are homosexual got that way by "choice".

Matoushin said...

That's a fair response, I will have to think about it.

jocelyn said...

I recently read a book on the phenomenon of sociopaths and psychopaths, written by a number of doctors who had worked with maximum-security inmates.

(Aside: Please do not read this in a way that assumes I am comparing homosexuals to psychopaths--that is not the case. I wish to simply illuminate "biological" vs. "social" causes of behavior.)

The book explained that the behavior of both sociopaths and psychopaths is nearly identical--complete manipulative, self-interested behavior to the point of destroying other people's lives (murder, exploitation, and more).

However, sociopaths are so named because there are sociological reasons for their behavior--they had traumatic and strange experiences growing up that led them to deviate from the norm. These people can be brought to function normally in society through traditional treatment and counseling (according to this book).

Psychopaths, on the other hand, appear to be incurable. It is as though their personalities have been built to make them destructive to others, and sometimes to themselves. They do not respond to traditional methods of counseling, and if released often return to previous behavioral patterns.

But regardless of what causes the actions of psychopaths or sociopaths, we all agree that the actions that brought them into the penal system were wrong, and we hold them both accountable. The apparant cause of their actions doesn't have bearing on the penalty, but has bearing on the methods of rehabilitation.

Whether we treat something as wrong, or even "sin" or not has nothing to do with whether or not that thing is something we consciously choose, or to which we are biologically predisposed.

We are all "biologically predisposed" to enjoy food, and perhaps become gluttonous. We are "biologically predisposed" to be vain and self-interested as well. And, we are all "biologically predisposed" to lust after each other in complicated ways. All of these predispositions--stronger in some, weaker in others--have complex interactions with upbringing and culture to shape our particular struggles with "sin," or deviation from the ideal.

This, of course, is the Orthodox view of sin, that even things that are "natural" (or biologically occuring, to an extent), can be sinful. Since the fall, the "natural" state of man is a sinful one. It is "natural" that a psychopath behave according to his own extreme self interests, but when he does so in a fashion that violates the rules (murder, say), it is wrong. It is "natural" for my friend to lash out at their friend in anger, but can still damage their friend. It is "natural" for me to desire men, but if I do so in a way that violates my marriage, it is wrong.

In the Orthodox church, we pray for forgiveness of sins, both voluntary and involuntary, in word, and deed, and thought. It is understood that we may be sinning all the time in ways that we are unaware (do not consciously choose), caught in behavior patterns that are difficult to wrestle out of, perhaps even unable to fix in our lifetime, because we are all broken.

It is important that we separate the terms "natural" from "good." "Natural" is not always good or beneficial. I do not say this to mean that our material existence is inherently evil--that is certainly not an Orthodox teaching. But when Christ died on the cross, he conquered death (and the sin that led to it), and the church has taught for centuries the ways in which we should turn aside from sin and death. Our interpersonal behavior, how we eat, how we pray, and how we conduct ourselves sexually all come under new standards--not standards of what is "natural" but what is truly "good".

So whatever the reasons for sexual behavior that deviates from church teaching (this includes a variety of things, not just homosexuality--but polyamory, incest, rape, polygamy, and more)... whether it is a conscious choice or an intuitive urge, we are still held accountable to the standards set up by the Church.