Honesty is the best policy
Sexual taboos lead the way to hypocrisy and tragedy
CNN reports that Bishop Eddie Long, Baptist church leader and staunch opponent of gay marriage, will defend himself from allegations of sexual assault on younger men. If the allegations prove true, then Bishop Long’s case will be the latest in a succession of gay sex scandals involving publicly anti-gay crusaders.
Of course, people who bill themselves as defenders of traditional sexual mores and values do not have any exclusive claim to scandalous sexual misconduct (although it is possible they have a slight edge). But when scandals involving those who profess such beliefs do arise, what really distinguishes their cases is less the severity of the transgressions and more the depths of their hypocrisy. They rightfully attract condemnation, for sexual hypocrisy, more than other kinds, ruins lives.
Professor Shayne Lee writes that black church culture is reflexively traditionalistic, characterized by “a plain reading of Scripture, making it virtually impossible to foster an inclusive embrace or acceptance of homosexuality.” Life for gay black Christians is unenviable, to say the least. Yet the suit against Long alleges that, in some instances, the bishop read from Scripture to justify his misdeeds to his victims.
Similar hypocrisy seems to take an even
darker and weirder bent in societies that have exceptionally repressive sexual attitudes. Nadya Labi at The Atlantic writes that gender segregation in Saudi Arabia is so strict that otherwise heterosexual men and women often seek sexual companionship from members of the same sex, as if they were “cell mates in a prison.” Although sodomy is a capital offense, the behavior is rampant. “Don’t ask don’t tell” is a way of life for many people.
More horrifyingly, Pashtun men in Afghanistan are known to sometimes take on young boys as sex slaves. Although homosexual behavior of all kinds is common, Pashtun men appear to be in total denial about their sexuality and reason that Islamic prohibitions on homosexuality “mean they cannot ‘love’ another man – but that doesn’t mean they can’t use men for ‘sexual gratification.’”
The common denominator to all of the above cases is an extreme theological conservatism that turns various aspects of human sexuality into a taboo. It marks the line between a principled but reasonable defense of traditional sexuality and an irrational, uncompromising one. Strict taboos make frank and meaningful engagement with questions of sexuality impossible, contribute nothing to the public discourse, and produce baffling and nonsensical rationalizations. Taboos demand the believer to engage in doublethink. In the case of sexual taboos, they produce real human tragedies.
Human sexuality seems to be peculiar as an area in which people from disparate cultures worldwide sometimes prefer to plug their ears and sing rather than seriously address a basic and important aspect of humanity. The result is behavior and thinking that is sometimes truly bizarre and almost always unambiguously harmful. It is detrimental to both the public discourse and the lives of real people.
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