Aristotle and Homosexual Conduct
A recent note from a Princeton scholar on homosexuality:
Dr. Jeffrey Satinover, M.S., M.D., Department of Politics, Princeton University and Laboratoire de la Physique de la Matiére Condensée, Université de Nice USA, 203-221-0031 email@example.com: "Any program, club, or curriculum that signals to students that homosexual behavior is 'just another lifestyle' places children at tremendous risk. Data from the Centers for Disease Control indicate that for boys and young men in North America who identify themselves as homosexual even if the identification is only temporary, which as has been documented in numerous large-scale sociological studies in America, France, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, as is the case with the majority of such self-identified homosexuals - the risk of being either HIV positive or dead by age 30 may now be as high as 65%."
Satinover here offers more evidence for what I would take to be a key part of an Aristotelian critique of homosexual conduct (at least among men): it is contrary to natural law, and it places those who practice it at severe medical risk. To put it differently, the medical risk involved in male same-gender conduct is vastly greater than that involved with cigarette smoking. Yet no one would accuse those who try to end smoking of being bigoted or prejudiced against smokers.
Brent Pickett offers a fair-minded article on homosexuality in history, including a discussion of homosexuality and Aristotle.
I offer here a number of points:
1. Pickett offers strong support for the point that "homosexual identity" did not exist until the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries. Although same-sex conduct took place, there is no evidence that these persons thought of themselves as "homosexual"--indeed, the balance of the evidence suggests that these persons married and had families.
2. This is devastating for the widespread belief that humans have a gay identity caused by a "gay gene"--if this actually exists, it must not have been activated in the human population until about the twentieth century. While it would not be surprising if some cases of homosexual conduct are at least partially influenced at a genetic level, there is no evidence in ancient history for the notion that people are "born gay". The "gay identity" is a modern social construct that simply did not exist until very recently. There is no reason to think it is fundamentally caused by biology.
3. Aristotle's every reference to homosexual conduct is negative. There is a good round-up on his views in the Politics and in the Nicomachean Ethics. In light of the fact that his hero Plato roundly condemned homosexual conduct, there is every reason to believe that Aristotle shared Plato's views. When Aristotle differs from his teacher, his disagreements are usually clearly expressed. The suggestion that Aristotle's condemnation of homosexuality was less strong than Plato's is possible--but historically the less probable reading.
4. Jesus did not explicitly affirm or condemn homosexual conduct. But every ancient Jew on record condemned homosexual conduct (cf. Leviticus 18.22-30). If Jesus disagreed with this, he never said so as far as we know. When Jesus disagreed with leading Jewish interpretations of the Torah, he seems to have usually been very clear about it (Mark 7, Matthew 5.20-48). There is therefore every historical reason to believe that Jesus upheld every line of the Torah's condemnation of homosexual conduct: "Do not think that I am come to destroy the Torah and the prophets. I am not come to destroy but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, not one letter nor one stroke shall pass from the Torah until all is fulfilled. Therefore whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, the same shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven". (Matthew 5.18-19).
5. There is no intellectually honest case for trying to evade the force of Paul's brutal condemnations of homosexuality and lesbianism (Romans 1.18-27). The attempt of some recent writers to minimize this represents a text-book case of ideological bias trying to corrupt scientific history.
Why is Aristotle important? Because an Aristotelian perspective makes it clear that opposition to homosexual conduct is not based on theology--it is based on the design of the cosmos. Homosexual conduct places the human body at war with the laws of the cosmos in the same way that smoking does, or drug abuse, or alcoholism--or several other forms of socially destructive behaviour. This point is re-inforced by recent work, summarized aptly by Satinover.
Aristotle also suggests that policy against homosexual conduct is not (in the last analysis) based on bigotry, prejudice, intolerance, or homophobia: it is based on a reasoned analysis of the nature of homosexual conduct itself.
Finally, Aristotle promotes compassion and patience: no one suggests that crusades against cigarettes or drugs are based on intolerance or hatred toward smokers or drug addicts; they are based rather on reason and a concern for general social well-being.