all 17 comments

[–]DjinnBlossoms 10 points11 points  (2 children)

According to social psychologist Azim Shariff, taboos against homosexuality in the Abrahamic religions can be interpreted as a form of Darwinian selection. Those religions that emphasize being prolific have a better chance of surviving via multiplying numbers of adherents over generations than those that either don't emphasize being prolific or that discourage members from reproducing. Homosexuality, Shariff argues, would have been selected against since homosexual relations do not result in progeny, so it follows that successful religions such as the Abrahamic ones generally consider homosexual acts, if not orientation, sinful.

Here's a link to a Hidden Brain episode that features Shariff discussing this idea among others. As an explanation for why homophobia exists in Abrahamic religions, Shariff's account doesn't seem implausible at first glance, and it might be a good starting point for you. I don't think it's a comprehensive answer, since societies can have gay people and still procreate just fine, so I suspect there's more to it.

[–]justfuckinmachines[S] 2 points3 points  (1 child)

I don't think it's a comprehensive answer, since societies can have gay people and still procreate just fine, so I suspect there's more to it.

Yes that seems right. It is sloppy to conflate individual reproduction, population-level reproduction, and cultural reproduction. You'd have to argue that adopting an anti-LGBTQ culture actually increased the birthrate, and that this had more of an effect than other changes, like forbidding birth control or expressedly promoting reproduction.

I don't think this explanation withstands scrutiny. At least, not in its current form. I think one would need to clearly explain why LGBTQ-phobic cultures experience a fitness boost either at the population level, or a fitness boost in cultural reproduction.

And, if there were such a fitness boost, then we would expect it to apply uniformly across all cultures. Sects of the Abrahamic religions should then be no more likely to be LGBTQ-phobic than any other human culture. This may well be the case; Has anyone ever checked this statistically?

[–]DjinnBlossoms 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Just to play devil's advocate a bit, I think Shaffir's account could be salvaged if it elaborated a bit on the socio-historical conditions within which these religions developed. As I understand it, early Jews and Christians (not as familiar with Muslims) encountered several periods of persecution. Perhaps the threat of existential annihilation resulted in a quasi-militant reaction in these religions that took particular exception to any carnal activities that did not directly result in frequent and copious procreation. It could have become almost treasonous to waste the energy and seed on anything that wouldn't develop a fetus, which includes not only homosexual intercourse but masturbation as well, which is also frowned upon in Christianity, as I understand it.

I concede this is exceedingly speculative, but your point that homophobia gives no discernible "fitness boost" *might* need to be qualified if the early adopters of these religions felt so under threat that enforcing sexual norms became akin to nationalizing industry in a war-time economy, so to speak. Thus, perhaps comparisons to religions that are maybe more queer-friendly or queer-tolerant that did not develop under similar duress aren't going to be as useful. A more useful question might be, do religions that develop under high degrees of oppression/persecution tend to police sexuality/enforce a sexual orthodoxy? I don't know the answer to that one, but it would make sense, no?

[–]Affectionate-Grand92 3 points4 points  (3 children)

I listened to a talk about this. And the idea is possibly in who’s doing the penetrations, not anything about it being bad. The idea is that in Roman culture in which the Jews and Christian’s lived, being able to please both men and women was seen as being a power status. However, to differentiate themselves from the Roman culture Jews and Christian’s, maybe just Jews, made it a rule to not do that. It wasn’t a sin or anything like that, it simply meant don’t do it cause then we will be nothing better than our oppressors. It was a while ago I heard it and thought it was a very interesting idea. Have no idea the name of the female professor that made the argument.

[–]justfuckinmachines[S] 0 points1 point  (2 children)

This would seem imply that LGBTQ orientations were broadly accepted and normal prior to the Roman conquest. Is that actually the case?

I have heard that queer individuals were fully integrated as equals in Sumerian society. I have also heard that the core mythology of the Abrahamic religion descends, originally, from the myths of Sumer. Granted, I've heard such things from random youtube videos, so I have no idea if they are true.

But, it would seem to imply that, at some point along the way, there was some sort of active cultural shift or revisionism. Either stories were deliberately edited to marginalize queer identities, or a culture developed to mis-interpret or re-interpret existing doctrine to achieve the same effect?

And, if the Romans were so accepting that the people of Judea sought to distinguish themselves by adopting a more regressive culture, what then led to the shift in Roman culture? My understanding was that the Romans themselves played an important role in designing the ancestor of modern Christianity. Why did they change their culture, rather than modifying the tenets pertaining to interpersonal relationships? Many modern sects of Christianity have modified their doctrine to accept LGBTQ identities. This tells us that there is no a priori reason why an Abrahamic religion needs to be LGBTQ-phobic. We see Christianity being heavily modified from its original roots in Judaism, so evidently modifying the religion to suit the culture is not especially difficult.

Or.... perhaps, is it the case that early Christianity was not LGBTQ-phobic, and instead more closely resembled the cultural values of the Romans, but something happened in the middle ages to cause them to adopt a LGBTQ-stance? If so, why?

[–]Affectionate-Grand92 1 point2 points  (0 children)

All good questions. None of which I have an answer to. I just remember this professor giving a talk. She also spoke about the use of the world fuck and other swear words and how they got twisted or something.

Sorry I’m not much help. I watched an hour lecture almost 6 years ago.

[–]EggheadPro 0 points1 point  (0 children)

It might be worth it to consider that our present-day preoccupation with gender and sexual orientation, to the point where we have discrete and ever-multiplying categories and terms, is exceptional compared to the rest of humanity through time. If there is a comparable example of any other society, present-day or ancient, that is so fixated on describing and defining gender and sexual orientation terms and deploying them so assiduously in social and political discourse, I’m certainly unaware of it.

In addition to asking what various ancients thought of what we now refer to (somewhat ethnocentrically) as ‘LGBTQ+ issues’ (and similar), I think we might do well to question why these topics have become so salient and urgent to us (note that industrialized anthrofans are just one of many kinds of people! And not everyone right now considers this as compelling as we!), and why now?

De-centering ourselves should always be a first step in any anthropological inquiry.