Last month I had a great time with the Catholic HOPE group meeting at the Cathedral for the Immaculate Conception. My assignment was to discuss how world religions view same-sex relationships.
The true-false quiz I used to get the discussion going was so popular that I thought Camp readers might like to give it a try. Do your best and then I’ll give you the answers.
1. T/F About two-thirds of human cultures have tolerated or esteemed same-sex relationships.
2. T/F There were no “homosexuals” until 1869.
3. T/F The King James translation of the Bible (1611) is named for an English ruler who said, “Jesus had his John, and I have my George.”
4. T/F Heterosexual marriage has not been a church sacrament during most of the two thousand years of Christianity.
5. T/F In some city-states, ancient Greek parents were embarrassed if their teen-age sons had not been abducted by older men by a certain age.
6. T/F In some New Guinea tribes, boys must be inseminated by men in order to help the boys become men, and in order to prevent the boys from becoming pregnant, a lime-eating ceremony is conducted. But an older man who tries to receive the semen of a younger man is considered a monster.
7. T/F The world’s first “novel,” the Sumerian/Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, is about a same-sex friendship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu.
8. T/F “He who claims that he experiences no desire when looking at beautiful boys or youths is a liar, and if we could believe him, he would be an animal, and not a human being” was said by a Muslim legal scholar in the 12th century.
9. T/F Same-sex relationships among Buddhists were prevalent in Japan in the 16th century.
10. T/F The berdashe (or more properly, the Lakota winktes, Navajo nadles, Cheyenne he man ehs, and the Crow badé, for example, or two-spirit people), men who play the social roles of women (or vice versa), are highly revered.
ANSWERS: All are true, though #2 is a trick question. The word “homosexual” was invented in 1869. The concept of “homosexuality” as an orientation is still foreign to many cultures today, where same-sex activity is regarded as what some people sometimes do, but these activities do not necessarily define their identity
It is difficult for us to read about early civilizations and those untouched by our own culture because of our preoccupation with romantic and sexual love. Our movies, our commercials, and our personal conversation shape our attention in this direction. But in other cultures, people focused not on love and sex but on heroism, agricultural cycles, and religious and political traditions.
That’s why in many of them, same-sex activity was nothing like the wedge issues that characterize today’s politics. Knowing this makes it easier to understand, for example, how David and Jonathan, who made a vow of love to each other, could have had a sexual relationship without the Bible explicitly saying so. If I tell you that I just married a young couple, Jack and Jill, you will assume they have a sexual relationship without my having to say so directly. Homer does not tell us the favorite positions of Achilles and Patroclus because their sexual behavior is not the subject of the Iliad.
Even in some cultures officially hostile to same-sex behavior, private relationships are of no concern; nor are they an impediment to marriage so long as social forms and obligations are honored. We might call that hypocrisy, but we view things in terms of the individual rather than the stability of society.
Here’s a bonus question: Where can you find busts of the Roman Emperor Hadrian (76-138 AD) and his beloved partner Antinous, who Hadrian had declared a god? [use as illustrations?>
ANSWER: The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art here in Kansas City.
The Rev Vern Barnet, D.Min., does consulting, teaching, and writing for religious and educational organizations here. His Kansas City Star column appears each Wednesday. He speaks Oct 5 at 11 am on “Same-Sex Relationships in the Religions of the World” at Blue River Community College.