I have and will always retain mixed feelings about St Paul’s first chapter of Romans. This is not just because of what scholars today argue back and forth it may or may not be saying about “homosexuals”, a word which like “bisexual” and quite a few other nomenclatures the bible doesn’t have in the original.
Faced with the extreme and – as with Michael Jackson till recently – uncritical fandom of the late Freddie Mercury revived by a controversial bio-pic film, I will even be giving the apostle some benefit of the doubt on something I think it’s time we realized about the gay subject. But I will say first and before even broaching the sex theme that, whatever we conclude, I think there’s a solid reason to call Romans 1 possibly the weakest chapter in the New Testament. It is the clearest example of Paul’s own “seeing through a glass darkly” and has vastly more claim to be censored out or just ignored than the Epistle of James Luther so oddly wanted pitched out of our bibles. What the apostle states about universal belief and which is mixed in with what he says re sex, is shaky and without hard evidence thus weakening the case against easy acceptance of what he says on the related sex theme.
The apostle whose argument suggests sinners are without excuse as regards the moral law, maintains that the eternal power and divine nature, though invisible, are understood through the creation so that what can be known about God is plain to see.( Rom 1:19)
I don’t seek to pick arguments for the sake of it here. I once lived years in Asia and in 2012 I even wrote a book, The Divine Circle: Asia, David and God Consciousness (https://goo.gl/ZHYQPw ) in which I explored what people in especially Asian cultures do think about God and, if raised in Buddhist/atheistic cultures, whether they do have a conception of creation. I stressed little known cases where it seems (as among the Karens of Burma who have lived, often persecuted, among ethnic Buddhists), there is a tradition of the true if withdrawn creator God. But this kind of tradition is far from widespread in the world, and where it occurs the belief is less developed than the apostle assumes.
Converts to Christianity from (“atheistic”) Buddhist cultures or the societies dominated by figures like Mao or Kim Jung Un can experience the biblical idea of a creator as a revelation in itself. Like the author of Mao’s Last Dancer, now a Catholic, they simply thought of their leaders as a kind of deity if they ever thought of the matter, which it seems they didn’t much.
RIGHT AND WRONG: LEVELS OF BIBLICAL INSPIRATION
So here we have it. You can’t say the apostle is altogether wrong, but you can’t say he’s completely right either. It looks as though he optimistically exaggerated. He did so for reasons we can guess at from scholarship, such as the fact Tarsus, Paul’s birthplace, was a major almost founding place of the Stoicism which assumed a vague monotheism, while some intellectuals in Rome like Cicero, of whom Paul might well know as an educated Jew, also held loose notions of a monotheistic kind. But the masses almost certainly thought and believed nothing of the kind.
The problem arises today when Christian conservatives, evangelicals and fundamentalists, determined to promote an inerrant scripture, take approximations to truth and generalizations like Paul’s on the gentiles, as absolute, literal truth. These people then want and imagine an inerrantly correct, sexpert apostle who has also said the last word on the related “homosexuality” word he didn’t use. Levels and types of biblical inspiration are just not envisaged: all or nothing must be true.
So there are people who still fail to see how, read today and at a certain face value level, what Paul states could even strike moderns as a kind of hate speech – after all, those he refers to are portrayed as virtually demonic idolaters, a symbol if not the root of most evil! Rightly or wrongly read and understood thus, these few verses have periodically functioned in harsh, oppressive ways. My poem A Saint’s Mistake on this site puts what case there is against the apostle and his influence, however unintended, in this area. (Those who feel any association at all with “hate speech” is too strong and always unwarranted, in fairness should read the following impassioned article in the Sydney Morning Herald from a gay male answering to the controversies around Australian rugby star Israel Folau who told gays they were all bound for hell if they didn’t repent. shorturl.at/klrS8 )
To the extent homosexuality and those of gay orientation are indicated by the apostle (recreational bisexuality seems more likely as even a former archbishop of Canterbury has suggested), the mind boggles. And it is not merely cynical insolence to wonder would Paul know by our standards quite what he was talking about and be guilty of thinking of his Roman sinners in some limited fashion, rather as today some people still imagine gays to be just effeminates or drag queens. Paul’s condemnation is basically directed upon out-of-control sexual excess influenced by a widespread classical world view that what we call “homosexuality” is always and only a supplement to an innate heterosexuality that it must be exceeding. The notion that homosexuality could be innate, lasting preference was not unknown – ancient astrologers for example accepted it – but it wasn’t mainstream.
When I question what Paul may even have known about gays, I do so in light of something bizarre I recall from a few years back. In the wake of physical attacks on and even a couple of murders of gay people in Israel from members of the Ultra-Orthodox sect (perhaps nearest to what Paul converted from), a sect opposed to the right of gays to demonstrate or even exist, when asked who homosexuals were and what they did, they couldn’t answer. They simply knew they were bad people who did evil things, so needed to be opposed!
ELUSIVE FREDDIE, HIDDEN MESSAGES
Accordinly, I listen to Paul in Romans 1 with scepticism, yet not total. In the connection he makes to “idolatry” he might actually be touching on something meaningful that could apply across the centuries to today. I am thinking of something like the phenomenon of the late glam rock star Freddie Mercury (1946-1991) of the band Queen in his less explained or known side. This side, it seems, included not just getting associates to supply cocaine and young male prostitutes but purveying dark even satanistic, occult messages to fans.
Granted that super camp Mercury was “the great pretender”, a mass of contradictions, shy and brazen, reclusive and public, deliberately elusive and hard to assess. But his chief guitarist, who described Freddie as “complex”, believed his unexplained lyrics were mostly about himself. In which case a few questions can be asked, including because Mercury, whose “We are the Champions” has been something of a gay anthem, represents a species of identity and even spirituality for some gays that could be considered unhealthy and subversive.
I am not into rock/pop music so it’s only this weekend in which TV is putting out a docu on the lesser known Mercury and there is review out of a new film bio (Bohemian Rhapsody already criticized as somewhat downplaying both the dark and tragic sides), that I idly picked up something on youtube about Mercury and the devil. The source turned out to be the super-alarmist American kind for which toleration of gays is a sign itself of the end of days and any illness, like the AIDS from which Mercury died after a life of self-admitted extreme promiscuity, is the inevitable result. However…a few of the facts and sayings on record cannot be dismissed as only bravado and irony on Mercury’s part. They do look like part of a larger, apparently consistent pattern. When before his death an interviewer asked did he expect to go to heaven, Mercury said no, he didn’t even want to, hell would be “much better” and those who go there more interesting. Through his weird fantasy lens on life he might actually have meant it.
At a performance at The Rainbow room in London he displayed his gloved hand with its studded diamonds and asked did the audience like his claws which were a present from the devil himself. The gesture chimes with ideas of the celebrated Bohemian Rhapsody lyrics which declares “Beelzebub has a devil set aside for me” and Mercury described himself as “a devil on stage”, possibly meaning that in the realm between real and dream he admitted to inhabit, he had somehow “sold” himself to be directed by a familiar spirit. Bohemian Rhapsody’s lyrics with its person shot dead and a life thrown away could well describe its author sold out for fame and gain.
I can’t automatically consider it just fundamentalist fantasy that Mercury regarded himself as anticipating and helping to introduce a new religion, essentially that of the Satanist Crowley who envisages the new age of Horus and its new ethic of “Do as thou wilt”. The lyrics of “One Vision” are fairly explicit. They include:
“ No wrong, no right
I’m going to tell you there’s no black or white
No blood, no stain [probably a rejection of atonement doctrine]
All we need is a one worldwide vision
One flesh, one bone, one true religion….
Now listen all you people
Put out the good and keep the bad
Don’t believe all you read in the bible
You sinners get in line
Saints you leave far behind
Very soon you’re going to be his disciple….”
Disciple of who? The song itself is titled “Great King Rat”, possibly a symbol for the devil or Crowley’s Horus or Antichrist.
Fundamentalists would dismiss what I could say supports their own negative reading, namely a certain dark side bias in Mercury’s birth data.
Mercury probably gave himself the name Mercury because born under Mercury-ruled Virgo and with Mercury in the sign too, he was strongly Mercurial along with some of the bisexual tendencies associated with strong Libra (Virgo itself is often gay) given several planets in the sign. The Achristou asteroid which over the years I have found to be (as in Crowley’s chart) strong for Satanists and those on the dark side, can be taken as Antichrist. That asteroid is in conjunction (hence in close affinity or serious conflict depending) with the effective deity planet, Pluto. Horus is in close aspect with Mercury’s identity-giving Sun. Asteroid Lucifer is significantly on one of the six world points making for fame and influence, but the most difficult one at 15 Leo.
I think we have the right profile and I suspect Mercury could represent the kind of subversive sex as“idolatry” St Paul had in mind. He also represents the bisexuality the apostle had principally in mind and which incidentally is the reason Mercury didn’t marry as he had wished – his intended decided she couldn’t cope with being married to an active bisexual. I don’t seek to give the rap to all bisexually inclined persons who from the bible’s King David to Victorian society’s Charles Dickens have supplied the world many notable figures and visions. All the same and in terms of spirituality, for a variety of reasons they can (as in no boundaries Queer theory) present a greater complication than gay with a greater handle like Crowley on marked decadence. As the mentioned devil video pointed out, in the case of Crowley, paedophilia was very much part of the picture and it seems that the also Libran, Alfred Kinsey and his lover Wardell Pomeroy, (who together may have underminingly cooked the books about sexual reality), were overly interested in Crowley’s sexual legacy in all its unhealthy variety.
It is possible to obsess about and effectively “worship” sex; and, especially where there has been lack of adequate fathering, the devil may even be seen as a substitute parent who is source of eros. (In the case of Mercury his chart shows any devil in his life was more akin to the sex and destroyer god, Siva. The natus shows asteroid Siva at powerful midpoint of Jupiter (one’s beliefs) in Libra and Chiron, the wounded healer – though if anything Chiron seems to be more wounded than healing!). Although the misleading conservative Christian theory is that gayness is not an orientation but only a “lifestyle” and the product of wounding around especially a father figure, in fact many men today are wounded, isolated and needy through unfathering and lack of appreciation of what the male is and/or can be.
GAYS AND MEN’S BUSINESS
This same weekend that Mercury has had some attention, is the same one that produces a long, rather depressing feature in The Australian about unfathered or variously wounded heterosexual males now taking to the woods in increasing numbers to deal with men’s business, mates rituals, gourmet hugs, prayers to the sky and earth gods (of New Zealand apparently?!) in the face of subtle but increasingly powerful misandry in society via movements like #MeToo. These leave men feeling isolated and unsure of their role in families or anywhere and confused about the very meaning of “masculinity”.
I think it is possible that if they can be rid of some of their own political and erotic obsessions, increasingly in the future gays may have something of healing and insight to offer to the understanding of male sexuality. For one thing, gays understand rather more and as straight men need to accept, that it is OK to appreciate the male body and one’s own body and to understand phallos, beyond phallus, a spirituality that attaches to the penis at unconscious levels and regularly influences male devotion within religion.
The phallos idea is obviously a difficult subject, but it is not ungodly, unbiblical, idolatry or blasphemy. It is already there in (the implicitly gay) Jeremiah where a connection is understood to exist between penis and devotion to the creator (See my poem on this site “Jeremiah’s loincloth”); and even despite everything, and more heterosexually, St Paul counsels men to love their wives as their own bodies.( Eph 5:28).
Loving their bodies is what a surprising amount of men both gay and straight, but particularly straight, don’t do. The train of thought started by St Augustine for whom (unless to procreate) the penis rose only in defiance of God, must have some radical substitute theologically and psychologically. Though few would go so far, the typically masculine way of dealing with everything sexually, especially ascetically, is an aggressive either/or approach as opposed to a more “feminine”, tantric one, accepting of the energies which just flow through, both absorbed and transcended. I have said more on this in the What Gays Want essay on this site, especially Part Two.
Images of the male need to be re-thought and broadened. I suppose that for even just including the image below I can be accused of merely adding to insecurities by highlighting of their type a rather “perfect” male form (though for me there’s nothing ideal where tatts are included – I loathe them!). But if one is to start somewhere or anywhere, the point of an image like this is that it’s just different, not sporting, not pornographic but reflective and almost understated like a quiet oil painting in its presentation. It’s a long way from the kind of self display that was a feature of Mercury’s performance and the kind almost of destabilizing false religion that can attach to it and still influences.