I'm still reading John Boswell's Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality.
Boswell's book is about the transition within Christianity from tolerance to intolerance towards homosexuality. Around the fifth century, a more negative attitude towards homosexuality developed. And
yet, according to Boswell, we have not yet arrived at full-fledged
intolerance, for, during the early Middle Ages, homosexuality was
treated more as a peccadillo than a serious sin. When the
church did choose to stigmatize it, the required penance was less than
that mandated for other sins. Boswell states on page 180: "The
eighth-century penitential of Pope Saint Gregory III...specified
penances of 160 days for lesbian activities and as little as one year
for homosexual acts between males. In comparison, the penance for a
priest's going hunting was three years."
Boswell also talks about
homosexuality within medieval Islam. He states on page 197: "Spanish
Islam was noted for its rigidity in legalistic and moral matters,
produced outstanding jurists and theologians, and was generally ruled by
Muslims considered fanatics in the rest of the Islamic world.
Homosexual love imagery was a standard currency of Islamic mystical
writings both in and out of Spain. Many of the authors of gay erotic
poetry on the Iberian peninsula were teachers of the Qur'an, religious
leaders, or judges; almost all wrote conventional religious verse as
well as love poetry."
Remember Richard the Lion Heart, the king of England in Robin Hood
who left for a while so he could fight battles? Boswell refers to a
chronicle in which Richard is said to have fallen in love with the king
of France. They ate together, slept in the same bed, and had passionate
love towards each other. I don't see an explicit reference to sex in
the chronicle, however. (It depends on what passionate love entails.) One
thing I wonder as I read Boswell's book is if some of the relationships
that Boswell considers to be homosexual were merely close friendships.
It's like the relationship between David and Jonathan in I-II Samuel:
some believe it was homosexual, but others maintain that it was a close
friendship, without a sexual component.
As I read Boswell
yesterday, I recalled a conversation that I had with a conservative
Christian. I forget what precisely he and I were debating, but much of
our discussion centered around whether or not a belief in the Bible was
essential for morality. He was saying that gay marriage should not be
recognized by society because it goes against the Bible, and, when I
questioned his notion that the Bible should influence public policy, he
replied that my position would allow theft and murder. I then said that
theft and murder are also banned in societies that are not based on the
Bible, and that the stigmatization of those things flow from universal
moral principles. He then said that, until recently, most societies in
the world stigmatized homosexuality.
What Boswell is arguing is
that this has not always been the case, that there were times when many
societies----even Christian societies----accepted or tolerated
homosexuality. Boswell is seeking to answer the question of when and
why homosexuality became stigmatized.