I know I’ve been away from writing for many weeks (months?) but I thought I would come out of my shell because, after all, the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage is a landmark decision. I’d probably rank it up there with the Emancipation Proclamation and Women’s Sufferage. It accords the gay community the same rights as any human being and thus recognizes them as equals and not as abberations.
A friend who is devoutly religious reacted to this in her Facebook timeline by posting a black-and-white picture of a bride and groom in a church wedding with the caption declaring that “The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony has not changed” and then punctuating this point by claiming thet gay marriage is “unnatural,” citing a verse from Matthew 19. “I don’t know why they [the gay community] have to do this,” she wrote.
Her friends chimed in.
“The end of the world is near!”
“It’s a sin against God and humanity. Don’t they know that they will burn in hell?”
“I have gay friends and while I tolerate their antics, I don’t have to accept their beliefs.”
At the same time, I am reading Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari, a book I discovered because I heard that Mark Zuckerberg was reading it. A best-seller in 2014, the book is an anthropological study of mankind evolution, from the hunter-gathers of old to the modern shapers of society today. It is an enlightening book as it touches on topics such as the difference between humans and other animals, how “fiction” is used to form large-scale cooperation between people, the evolution of religion from animism to the monotheistic religions like Islam and Christianity, even how we are hard-wired genetically through evolution to be xenophobic and explains why humankind tends to be sexist, racist, even heterosexist.
Back to my friend, who claims that homosexuality is unnatural. Harari counters this by claiming that “a significant number of human cultures have viewed homosexual relations as not only legitimate but even socially constructive, ancient Greece being the most notable example.”
The Iliad does not mention that Thetis had any objection to her son Achilles’ relations with Patroclus. Queen Olympias of Macedon was one of the most temperamental and forceful women of the ancient world, and even had her own husband, King Philip, assassinated. Yet she didn’t have a fit when her son, Alexander the Great, brought his lover Hephaestion home for dinner.
He further highlights how we can be myopic by our cultural beliefs, claiming that while biology enables, it is culture that forbids.
How can we distinguish what is biologically determined from what people merely try to justify through biological myths? A good rule of thumb is ‘Biology enables, Culture forbids.’ Biology is willing to tolerate a very wide spectrum of possibilities. It’s culture that obliges people to realize some possibilities while forbidding others. Biology enables women to have children – some cultures oblige women to realize this possibility. Biology enables men to enjoy sex with one another – some cultures forbid them to realize this possibility. Culture tends to argue that it forbids only that which is unnatural. But from a biological perspective, nothing is unnatural. Whatever is possible is by definition also natural. A truly unnatural behavior, one that goes against the laws of nature, simply cannot exist.
It’s a mind-opening perspective for me, something that was really quite obvious but I couldn’t articulate well. From a biological perspective, nothing is unnatural. Whatever is possible is by definition also natural. A truly unnatural behavior, one that goes against the laws of nature, simply cannot exist.
If it can be done, then by definition, it is natural. It is the Christian belief that claims that it cannot and should not be done. And while our country is predominantly Catholic, I am still hopeful – even optimistic – that this will happen in our country. We call ourselves Christian but we aren’t, at a fundamental level, purely Christian. We could be, as Harari claims, syncretic.
Monotheism, as it has played out in history, is a kaleidoscope of monotheist, dualist, polytheist and animist legacies, jumbling together under a single divine umbrella. The average Christian believes in the monotheist God, but also in the dualist Devil, in polytheist saints, and in animist ghosts. [Doesn’t this sound like us Filipinos?] Scholars of religion have a name for this simultaneous avowal of different and even contradictory ideas and the combination of rituals and practices taken from different sources. It’s called syncretism. Syncretism might, in fact, be the single great world religion.