Monthly Archives: October 2011

C Rulon: The Homosexual Orientation & the Religious Right

By Charles L. Rulon
Emeritus, Life & Health Sciences
Long Beach City College

The homosexual orientation

Decades of research has documented that sexual orientation (which sex one is erotically and/or romantically drawn to) ranges along a continuum, from exclusive attraction to the opposite sex to exclusive attraction to the same sex. Having a homosexual orientation means having essentially a life-long erotic and/or romantic attraction primarily to individuals of the same sex.

According to the American Psychological Association “Sexual orientation is closely tied to the intimate personal relationships that meet deeply felt needs for love, attachment, and intimacy . . . .Prejudice and discrimination make it difficult for many people to come to terms with their sexual orientation identities, so claiming a lesbian, gay, or bisexual identity may be a slow process.” {1]

Having sex with some¬one of the same sex is not synonymous with having a homosexual orientation. Such sex acts are not uncommon among those who are heterosexual, especially in early adolescence, or in the absence of opposite sex partners. Also, many gays have had heterosexual sex. And one can have a lifelong homosexual orientation, but remain celibate.
Also, one’s gender identity (the deep psychological sense of being male or female) should not to be confused with one’s sexual orientation.

Is having a homosexual orientation a choice?

Having sex with the same sex is usually a choice. Having a homosexual orientation is not. The homosexual orientation is not a lifestyle or preference. Nor is it a temporary condition, any more than a heterosexual orientation is a free choice or a temporary condition. Our own experiences tell us that we just can’t be erotically attracted to or romantically fall in love with just anyone. And remember, for centuries gays were tortured, castrated and burned at the stake. So one must ask, why would anyone, much less untold hundreds of millions throughout the ages, choose to be gay, only to spend their whole lives in mortal fear of being discovered?

Until just a few decades ago homosexuality was officially labeled a mental illness in the United States — an illness that could potentially be cured. In addition, since homosexual activity could be criminally prosecuted, gay men either sought out treatment or were often forced into treatment to avoid prison.

To treat this “mental illness” therapists and medical doctors used electric shock, drugs, prostitutes, and hormone injections, plus every kind of psycho-therapy imaginable, all with little to no success. Aversion therapy was common in the 1960s and 1970s. Gay men would be shown erotic pictures of other men. If they became aroused, they would receive an electric shock to their genitals, or be given drugs that induced vomiting.[2] Did these men change their sexual orientation? No. More drastic treatments such as castration and frontal lobotomies (cutting nerve fibers in the frontal lobe of the brain) were also attempted. They also failed.

It wasn’t just the United States that held homosexuality to be curable and that criminalized homosexual behavior. In 1952, renowned English mathematician Alan Turing (the key intellect in breaking the German codes in World War II, critical to winning the war) should have been “knighted and feted as a savior of his nation,” according to Richard Dawkins. Instead, he was convicted of gross indecency in the U.K. after admitting to a sexual relationship with a man in private. In private! He was given the choice of two years in prison or chemical castration through estrogen injections. He “chose” estrogen. Two years later he committed suicide with cyanide.[3]

Finally, “marriage cures”, of course, failed. Many gays married and had children in hopes of “out-growing” their homosexual orientation. But rarely was there any change. They just weren’t nearly as romantically and erotically attracted to their spouses as they were to those of the same sex; their sexual fantasies remained homosexual ones. Such marriages were usually doomed to failure.

In conclusion, considerable scientific re¬search over the last few decades continues to confirm that the homosexual orientation is a largely unchangeable core aspect of a person’s being. To quote Bryant Welch, executive director of the American Psychological Association’s Practice Directorate back in 1990: “Sexual orientation is at the very bedrock of our personality structure…It’s fair to say that mainstream opinion holds that a characteristic so fundamental as sexuality is not likely to change.” And gays, themselves, report having experienced little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.

Even if the homosexual orientation is not a choice, aren’t homosexuals still mentally ill?

Not according to the American Psychological Association. Several decades of research and clinical experience have led mainstream medical and mental health organizations in the U.S. to conclude that (if not being harassed or imprisoned by society, or taught to believe by their church that they are sinning and going to Hell) gay men, lesbians and bisexual people, on the average, live lives as healthy, happy, productive and well-adjusted as do heterosexuals. In one large study, 85% of gays interviewed did not see themselves as sick and did not wish to be cured of anything. For them, it seemed quite natural and normal to seek out love and sex with members of the same sex. In fact, 60% of gays are college graduates, compared to the national average of only 18%. And 50% of gays are in professional and management positions, compared to the national average of only 16%.

So if the homosexual orientation is not a choice, what causes it?

So far researchers have had the most success in determining what DOESN’T cause the homosexual orientation. For example, they have found very little support for any of the many proposed psychological and sociological theories. The homosexual orientation does not seem to be caused by being seduced or molested by an older person of the same sex. Nor are parents to blame. The dominating mother/distant father “cause” turns out to be a myth. Also, the sexuality of the parents does not appear to influence the sexuality of the children. Gay parents almost always raise straight kids. Nor is it “spreading”; gay teachers and other role models can’t “give it” to their students. The often heard claim that “since gays can’t reproduce, they are out to recruit the young” is a harmful myth that only perpetuates homo¬phobia.

Because all of the scientific research studies provided little support for any of the many psychological and sociological theories to explain homosexuality, researchers turned to biology. Decades of scientific studies have examined every conceivable biological possibility. Currently, the evidence points to sexual orientation being caused by a combination of genetic, hormonal and environmental influences during fetal development. Yet, the bottom line is that, although there are many smoking guns, the ultimate cause(s) still eludes scientists. But for that matter, scientists also don’t know what causes most of us to be heterosexual.

But if homosexuality is genetically caused, wouldn’t evolution have weeded it out?

Q. If the homosexual orientation has a biological cause, wouldn’t it have been eliminated through natural selection long ago? After all, isn’t the “evolutionary game” to have the largest number of successful offspring?

A. Since homosexual behavior has been documented in hundreds of different animal species and has persisted in the human species across the planet and throughout recorded history, several hypotheses have been advanced to explain its apparent survival value.
1. Although the homosexual orientation is believed to have a genetic component (the “gay gene”), it’s also likely that additional biological and environmental components combine with this genetic predisposition to influence brain development before birth. These non-genetic factors would not be weeded out by natural selection.
2. It’s possible that the “gay gene” has strong survival value in strengthening social cohesion and friendships between men and between women, very important for human survival. It’s only when other biological and/or environmental factors influence the fetal brain does the homosexual orientation emerge.
3. Women carrying the “male gay gene” may be more fertile and have more offspring than other women, thus spreading this gene.
4. Homosexuals are not sterile. Many do have children. In fact, ironically, persecuting gays has only succeeded in forcing many to stay in the closet, to marry and to have children, thus spreading the “gay gene.”

Conservative Christians disagree with scientific findings

Many conservative Christians strongly disagree that being a homosexual is not a choice. They are convinced that God would not create people to be homosexual, only to condemn them to burn in eternal Hell after His followers had tortured, castrated and burned them to death at the stake. These Christians therefore believe that homosexuality is a choice sinful people make.
Other Christians admit that homosexuality could be biological. After all, humans have been biologically and mentally degenerating since Adam and Eve. But these homosexuals can still choose not to sin by remaining celibate their entire lives, or by going to church, marrying and having children as God intended. After all, “God hates the sin, not the sinner.”

Still other Christians believe that “demonic spirits” have invaded certain sinful people and chemically influenced their brains and sex hormones to make them gay. But prayer and conversion to Christ will either overcome this disposition, or drive out those evil forces, thus restoring gays to heterosexuality as they were initially created by God.

Still other Christians remain convinced that homosexuality is the result of male children growing up without a loving father, or is the result of innocent children having been physically seduced by homosexual child molesters. They believe that conversion therapy can cure those who really want to change.

Conversion therapy

In the last few decades, various Christian groups have been touting conversion or reparative therapy programs to free gay men from this “sinful, immoral sickness”. “Ex-gays” have been paraded as success stories. The large majority of mental-health professionals, however, view these conversion therapy programs with strong skepticism. They now believe that conversion ministries and conversion therapists are trying to force gays into a mold that doesn’t really fit and that could lead to depression, even suicide. (Ironically, the two male co-founders of Exodus, a widely advertised conversion program, purportedly fell in love with each other and left the program.)

In 1990 the board of the American Psychological Association’s stated that scientific evidence does not show that any of the conversion therapies work and can do more harm than good. In 1998, the board voted to oppose conversion therapy, saying that it could “reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient.” Again in 2009 the APA’s governing council, in a resolution adopted on a 125-to-4 vote, put itself firmly on record in opposition to reparative therapy. This position was supported by 83 studies on attempted sexual orientation change conducted since 1960. [4]

Mainstream therapy today

Because of the scientific research, the large majority of therapists and counselors have changed their focus in the last few decades. Rather than assuming that they must try to cure their gay clients, therapists are now trying to help them to love, live and work in homophobic societies. This change in therapeutic practice is significant in that it defines homophobic societies, rather than gays and lesbians, as the source of the problem.

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[1] www.apa.org/topics/sorientation.pdf. Also see www.apa.org/pubinfo/orient.html.
[2] see http://discover magazine.com/2009/sep/09 for a “century of treatments ranging from horrifying to horribly unscientific” in failed attempts to turn gay men straight.
[3] The God Delusion, R. Dawkins (2006) p. 289.
[4] www.apa.org/topics/sorientation.pdf.

C Rulon: Homophobia has thrived throughout history, fueled by scientifically ignorant religious dogmas

By Charles L. Rulon
Emeritus, Life & Health Sciences
Long Beach City College

“Judeo-Christian dogma, which still governs most people’s attitudes toward homosexuality is as archaic and as destructive as have been its attitudes toward sex…Its condemnation of homosexuality as a sin and a crime for which no punishment could be too severe had made miserable and wrecked the lives of untold numbers of men and women… Homosexuality is not a problem that homosexuals create, but that ill-informed and bigoted people create.”

—Ashley Montagu, anthropologist and author of over 60 books

Throughout much of Christendom homosexual behavior was condemned by God and punishable by torture and death. In 538 A.D. the Christian Emperor Justinian decreed that homosexuals were to be tortured, castrated, paraded in public and then burned alive. This legal standard remained for the next thirteen centuries in Europe. Yet, harsh laws never succeeded in eradicating homosexuality at any time in history. But it did cause gays to live double lives in constant fear. Many also grew up despising themselves, believing they were sinful shameful people.

Finally in the late 1800s some physicians and therapists in Europe and the United States began to think of homosexuality as more of a sickness than a sin or crime. Penalties slowly began to ease. Scientific research and investigation continued. By the 1940s researchers came to believe that the homosexual orientation (being erotically and romantically drawn primarily to the same sex) was beyond individual control. By the 1960s some psychologists went even further and began to view homosexuality as just a normal variation in human sexual behavior. Most of us are born heterosexual, some of us are born homosexual and some of us are somewhere in between.

Religiously inspired condemnation continued in the U.S.

But regardless of scientific findings, until quite recently most Americans continued to believe that homosexuality was either a disease, or an abominable sin against God, or even a crime to be punished. They continued to believe the scientifically discredited hate propaganda that people choose to be gay, that homosexuals were child molesters and trying to recruit the young, that homosexuality was spreading and endangering the family unit. Many state legislatures passed discrimination laws to protect citizens from the “gay menace.”

In addition, most states had sodomy laws going back to colonial days. Oral and anal sex, referred to as crimes against nature, were outlawed. These sodomy laws, many of which carried penalties of up to 20 years in prison, were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1986, even if carried out between consenting adults (a classic example of religious absolutism).

As the Religious Right gained strength and power in the 1970s and beyond, their leaders remained adamant that homosexual behavior was a grave sin against God. They pointed to several biblical passages for proof. They pointed to AIDS, which many believed was God’s punishment for engaging in this “perverted lifestyle.” Pope John Paul II even issued an official paper on sexual ethics in the 1980s, which called homosexual behavior a “moral evil”. He urged Catholic bishops to oppose all legislative efforts to condone it. Televangelists, priests and ministers, plus conservative columnists and radio personalities continued to attack gays, calling them “incest practitioners,” “biological mistakes,” “sick deviants” and “perverts who are sinning against God”.

Jerry Falwell blamed gays and lesbians for the destruction of the twin towers on 9/11/01, saying that “We have made God mad.” Reverend John Hagee (an extremely influential televangelist with ministries throughout the U.S., Canada, Africa, Europe, and most of the third world) asserted that Hurricane Katrina was God punishing New Orleans in part because of a homosexual parade that was to be held there.

And when in 2008 Pastor Rick Warren, an important evangelical leader, was asked if he actually equated same-sex marriage with incest and pedophilia, he answered: “Oh, I do.” President-elect Obama chose Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration.

“They are a threat to family life…how can you promote family life if you allow homosexuals to openly flaunt…living with another person of the same sex and not be able to propagate children. That’s what this whole thing is about. Go forth and bear children — that’s what God said. And that’s what our nation is based on — the family unit.”

—California State Senator

“The …homosexual community preys on young adults at their most vulnerable and experimental stage. If such victims are not rescued by reparative therapy…as much as 25% of the population could become gay…Western civilization could take a terrible nose-dive…You are playing with dynamite in destroying the sexual ecology of the human race.”

—Rev. Louis Sheldon, Orange County, Calif.

“I say to those of you of the leftist, militant, homosexual crowd: Take it somewhere else. Get out of the schools. Get out of our churches. Take your deadly, sickly behavior and keep it to yourselves.”

—Rush Limbaugh

Condemnation fuels persecution

Condemnation of gays and lesbians fuels physical and verbal violence, even murder. Today gays and lesbians in the United States are still frequent victims of hate and moral zealotry. Today powerful fundamentalist sects want to return America to Old Testament morality. And today in dozens of countries in Africa and the Middle East homosexuals face imprisonment and even death by hanging, stoning, or being buried alive.

Of course these Christian guardians of morality who quote biblical passages condemning homosexual behavior conveniently ignore all those passages in which their god also instructs his followers to kill brides found not to be virgins on their wedding night, plus children who curse their parents, plus those who work on the Sabbath, plus all the children in enemy villages, and on and on.

The reason for conveniently ignoring all of those biblical passages is obvious. To quote Dr. Gerald Larue, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Southern California:

“[The Christian Right knows] that public proclamations on any of these other issues would decimate their followings and affect the ‘bottom line.’ So they play it safe. If they were truly honest, they would admit that some biblical teachings…are nothing more than products of long dead clergy that reflect ancient, long outmoded norms. As long as such dogmas continue to be recognized as authoritative …they will continue to serve as cruelly judgmental, anti-hum¬nistic, socially destructive weapons.”

Discrimination continues to decline

Since the 1970s, much of the world has become more accepting of same-sex sexuality between partners of legal age. Africa and the Middle East are glaring exceptions. The attitude of many Americans toward gays and lesbians is also mellowing. Today about half of those polled no longer believe that people choose to be gay, but that they were likely born that way. This is up from 13% in 1977. The large majority of Americans polled now say they support gays being protected from job and housing discrimination. And a strong majority believes that committed gay couples should be given the same benefits enjoyed by married straight couples. In fact, a slim majority now also supports gay marriage. (But not Republicans, with 72% still opposed.)

In 2003 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 (Lawrence v Texas) that the sodomy laws still found in many states were unconstitutional. More recently, several state supreme courts have ruled that bans on gay marriage are also unconstitutional. And in Sept. 2011 the military ended its 18 year “Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell” policy regarding gays in the military — a failed policy that had resulted in over 14,000 gay men and women being kicked out of the army, air force and navy. (However, several Republican contenders for President have gone on record opposing this change.)

Some closing thoughts

In the first half of the 1800s moral battles were fought over slavery. In the first half of the 1900s moral battles were fought over the right to buy contraceptives and the right of women to vote. In the 1960s and 1970s moral battles were fought over civil rights, women’s rights, interracial marriages, women wearing slacks, unmarried couples living together, and the legal right of wives to file rape charges against their husbands. Today moral battles are being waged over gay marriage, teaching evolution in the schools, death with dignity, and forcing women to stay pregnant against their will.

In all these cases biblical passages were/are quoted. Today, in spite of all the amazing scientific and medical discoveries of the last several hundred years, tens of millions of Americans continue to side with “God’s Revealed Truths” over science, rationality and humanistic ethics.

Do the Ideas of Perfection and Highest Good Apply to Human Reality?

By Juan Bernal

Question: In Immanuel Kant’s moral argument for God, the goals of perfection and highest good play important roles. Are these ideas even applicable to human reality?

Kantian: Kant argues that rational beings ought to strive to promote the highest good. Hence, such beings ought to believe that the highest good is possible. But they can do this only if they suppose the existence of God. Hence rational beings ought to suppose the existence of God.

Moi: What is so important about striving for the “highest good” (Summon Bonum)? Can’t we be morally responsible agents just by striving for improvement (a higher good)? Isn’t striving for this realistic goal, which is not perfection, sufficient for moral virtue?

Kantian: But where do you draw the line and say that it is good enough even though far from perfect? Is the present state of affairs satisfactory, or if not, what percentage increase in goodness will be sufficient?
To be truly a moral agent you need a clear idea of perfection.

Moi: I don’t have a clear idea what a “perfect” world would be; but I don’t need that idea in order to conceive of a better world. I surely don’t need to calculate the “percentage increase in goodness that is sufficient” in order to say with justification that a world of so much suffering, oppression, and inequality is one we can improve upon.

This is like saying that before I could say that John Mize, the homerun hitter of the past [See Wikipedia information at wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnny_Mize], could have been a better hitter, I need to have a clear idea of what a perfect hitter would be. I don’t. All I need is to be able to say is that his hitting average could have been higher, his strike-out rate lower, and he could have hit more homers with men on base.

But I surely don’t know what a perfect homerun hitter would be. In fact, I suspect that the idea is not even a coherent one.

Kantian: Oh, yes it is; and surely you know what a perfect hitter would do. He would hit a home run every time. A perfect bowling score is 300. And a perfect world would be one in which each rational being is as happy as she deserves
… you ask about striving for the summum bonum. Kant thought that a person of good will strives for the highest good, which Kant described as deserved happiness. In order to be deserving and worthy of happiness, one would have to be a free moral agent with a good will, acting for the sake of duty, etc … Happiness is achieved when all goes in accordance with one’s will.

Moi: I’ll set aside for now the issues of Kant’s moral theory and his argument for God. Instead. Permit me to focus on the ideas of perfection and highest good. Let me try to tie these things together. In a perfect world everyone realizes the full measure of happiness that he deserves. That is the “highest good.” In a perfect baseball world, every hitter hits a homer at each plate appearance, assuming that the hitter deserves to do this. (Why wouldn’t he deserve it? After all, each individual could be a free agent with a good will, acting for the sake of duty, i.e., athletic excellence.) In a perfect bowling world, every bowler bowls a 300 game every time he bowls, assuming that the bowler deserves this. All are happy because things went in accordance with their will (hitter wanted to hit homer every time; bowler wished to bowl 300 every game) But does this really make sense?

Kantian: Yes, of course it does. Why shouldn’t it?

Moi: Assume that every hitter realize perfection and presumably each pitcher also realizes perfection (i.e., he strikes out every hitter he faces) and every fielder achieves perfection (fields so well no hitter ever gets on base), a baseball game could not even be played. How could it be played? Every hitter at the plate implies a contradiction: he hits a homerun and the pitcher strikes him out. So in this “perfect” world the game of baseball could not even get started. Now with regard to bowling: if every bowler achieved perfection as a bowler, he would bowl 300 every time he bowled; but so would all other bowlers. Nothing of the game of bowling would remain to hold anyone’s interest. The whole point of bowling, i.e., competition, would be eliminated. In short, athletic competition involves some conflict of interest, some uncertainty as to outcome. Without these, can there be any such thing as athletic competition? But the realization of perfection or the highest good for each player would eliminate the conditions necessary for that form of life, athletic competition.

Kantian: Of course you just talking about the conditions for athletic competition. This is only a small part of life.

Moi: I admit that these examples are only from the world of athletic competition; but the questions raised can apply to most (if not all) of human action, interaction, i.e., to the human world. In a world in which everybody realizes his/her “highest good” (perfection), such things as competition, struggle, uncertainty about outcome, conflict, etc. would not even apply. Hence, much of human activity and human reality, in this imaginary world of perfection and highest good, becomes distorted beyond recognition.
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The main point: When we try to apply such concepts as ‘perfection’ and “highest good’ to the human world, we find reason for concluding that they really do not apply. Forcing such concepts onto the human world requires such a transformation of that world that it is no longer recognizable as human.

C Rulon: Christianity, Sodomy Laws & the Consenting Adults Act

By Charles L. Rulon
Emeritus, Life & Health Sciences
Long Beach City College

Christianity developed as a sex-negative religion

To quote from a once popular college human sexuality text (Luria and Rose, Human Sexuality) “Early Christianity was guided by an ascetic doctrine that was followed in preparation for the second coming of Christ. This doctrine believed in a strict self-denial of bodily pleasures. Everything sexual was considered base and rooted in lowly bodily strivings that detracted from spiritual pursuits. . . All forms of sexual behavior other than for procreation within marriage were banned. Even thinking about fornication or having a wet dream was considered a sin that required penance.”

Church law exerted a strong influence over the development of English law. In 1533 Henry VIII made sodomy (unnatural sex acts such as anal intercourse and bestiality) crimes. American settlers brought with them many of these English laws. California made anal sex a crime in1872 and oral sex in 1915.

The Consenting Adults Act

The Napoleonic Code (adopted in France in 1810) contained no criminal laws relating to oral or anal sex between consenting adults in private. Spain, Portugal and Italy later followed suit. In the twentieth century, Denmark legalized consensual adult sex in 1930, Switzerland in 1937 and Sweden in 1944. But in the United States oral sex, anal sex, cohabitating, fornicating, and homosexual acts between consenting adults in private remained illegal. Some of these acts even carried heavy prison sentences in numerous states.

Finally in 1962, Illinois became the first state to revise its criminal code regarding sexual acts between consenting adults in private. The Illinois Bar Association wrote that the only purpose of laws concerning sexual conduct should be to:

a) protect the individual from force and coercion,
b) protect the youth against adults who would take sexual advantage of them, and
c) protect the public from displays of sexual activity that may be disruptive of the peace.

They also stated that the purpose of laws should not be to determine and enforce standards of morality. Such morality laws, they wrote:

a) infringed on the right to privacy,
b) inflicted cruel and unusual punishment,
c) encouraged disrespect for the law in general, and
d) conflicted with our constitutionally guaranteed separation of church and state.

Furthermore, the Illinois Bar Association noted that no harm to society could be shown to result from what consenting adults in private chose to do sexually.

Fourteen years later in 1976, by only one vote, the Consenting Adults Act became law in California. So from 1976 on, adult couples in California could legally cohabitate and could engage in oral sex, anal sex, fornication, group sex, adultery, and same sex activity in private with no fear of being arrested. (Still, the California Penal Code [Section 288a] read that “Any person who has oral sex with another person under age 18 could, if convicted, spend up to a year in jail.”)

In 1981 the city council of Washington D.C. followed California’s example and passed its Consenting Adult’s Act. But the U.S. House of Representatives, reacting to pres¬sure from the Christian Right, overturned it. This was the first time in history that Congress overturned a law passed by a city council that did not clearly tread on federal prerogatives.

In 1986, by a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the sodomy laws that still existed in half our states. The Court’s majority opinion cited “ancient roots” as its justification. In other words, the condemnation of sodomy had roots in English common law reaching back to King Henry VIII and in the fact that all 13 colonies outlawed sodomy, as had all states until 1962. The four dissenting justices strongly disagreed. Justice Blackmun offered a strongly worded plea for expanding the zone of privacy to include human sexuality in all its forms, traditional or not, approved by society or not, as long as the parties involved were consenting adults. It also did not escape notice that our former laws forbidding interracial marriages and permitting slavery also had ancient roots.

By 1986, 24 states still had laws against oral and anal sex, referred to as “crimes against nature”. The following states actually imposed jail sentences of from 5-20 years for sodomy, whether straight or gay, married or not: Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. Thus, to admit that one was gay or lesbian in these states was, in essence, to admit to a felony! Furthermore, any member of Congress who attempted to overthrow these sodomy laws was accused of promoting free love, incest, promiscuity, homosexuality, collapse of the family, and moral decay.

In the 1990s, a few state supreme courts and legislatures finally began to disavow their old sodomy laws. The right to sexual privacy appeared to be slowly winning. But it wasn’t until 2003 in Lawrence v Texas that the U.S. Supreme Court by a vote of 6-3 finally held that these sodomy laws were unconstitutional.

Nevertheless, the Christian Right remains adamant that all homosexual acts are grave sins against God. They point to selected biblical passages for proof. They point to AIDS, which some still believe is God’s punishment for engaging in this “perverted lifestyle.” In 1986 Pope John Paul II, the spiritual head of one billion Catholics, issued an official paper on sexual ethics that called homosexual behavior a “moral evil.” He urged Catholic bishops to oppose all legislative efforts to condone homosexuality. As of 2011 this position hadn’t changed. Also, homosexual acts between adults in private are still illegal in about 70 countries.

The Idea of an Intelligible Universe

By Juan Bernal

Question: Did mono-theistic religion give us the idea of an intelligible universe?

YES, the source is religion: Loren Eiseley gave some interesting comments about a contribution of theism to science. In his book Darwin’s Century, he wrote that theism provided the view that the universe possesses order which can be interpreted by rational minds.

“For, as Whitehead rightly observes, the philosophy of experimental science was not impressive. It began its discoveries and made use of its method in the faith, not the knowledge, that it was dealing with a rational universe controlled by a Creator who did not act upon whim nor interfere with the forces He had set in operation. The experimental method succeeded beyond men’s wildest dreams but the faith that brought it into being owes something to the Christian conception of the nature of God. It is surely one of the curious paradoxes of history that science, which professionally has little to do with faith, owes its origins to an act of faith that the universe can be rationally interpreted, and that science today is sustained by that assumption.” (p. 62)

Theism has gained much from modern thinkers who have criticized many poorly formed conceptions found in the theistic tradition. But a certain respect is appropriate toward the religious tradition which inspired our quest for truth and spiritual values.

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NO, the idea pre-dates mono-theistic religion: According to George Lakoff and Mark Johnson in their book, Philosophy in the Flesh, the idea that “the universe possesses order which can be interpreted by rational minds ” does not originate from theism (Christian theism?), but originates much earlier with an ancient folk theory that the world is intelligible, an idea that drives part of the early philosophy of the pre-Socratics, and is one of the assumptions found in Plato’s and Aristotle’s philosophies. To quote Lakoff and Johnson:

“The forms of thought that we saw as emerging in the pre-Socratics and finding their most sophisticated expression in Plato and Aristotle are ..anything but quaint and archaic. They exist not only in contemporary philosophy and theology, but they lie at the heart of Western science. The Folk Theory of the Intelligibility of the World is a precondition for any form of rational inquiry.” (p. 390)

Yes, in part it is true that “the religious tradition …inspired our quest for truth and spiritual values.” But that quest for intelligibility and ‘truth’ is much older than the “religious tradition” and has often been frustrated by various religions (something that defenders of religious tradition tend to forget). However, both this aspect of the “religious tradition” (the quest for God’s truth) and the scientific assumption of the intelligibility of the world are off-spring of much older intuitions (“folk theories”) and philosophies. We find early signs of the scientific spirit in some of the Pre-Socratic philosophers and in Aristotle’s philosophy, as well as in the metaphysical thought of Plato.

C Rulon: Creationists & the Cambrian

By Charles L. Rulon
Emeritus, Life Sciences
Long Beach City College

The Cambrian Period

The Cambrian is an ancient period in geological time that lasted from 542 million years ago (mya) to 490 mya. It is the earliest time in geological history that plant and animal fossils appear in abundance. During the Cambrian a menagerie of multicell­ular life “exploded”, including fossils of algae, sponges, worms, mollusks (animals with shells), arthropods, and ancient jawless fish. It appears that nature had begun to experi­­­ment with a rich variety of fun­da­mentally different body designs, several of which served as rough blue­prints for all to come. The beginnings of most of today’s major animal body types are first seen as fossils in the Cambrian.[i]

The Cambrian and Creationism

Creationists love the Cambrian “explosion”. To them, it proves that all the major types of animals (phyla) suddenly materialized, being instantly created by God. In the early 1970s I debated Dr. Duane Gish from the Institute for Creation Research near San Diego Cali­fornia.[ii] Even though Dr. Gish had a Ph.D. in biochem­istry, he had turned his back on the scientific method in favor of sham science supporting the young-earth Genesis creation story.[iii] The debate was held at Long Beach City College in front of a large audience made up of students from science classes and creationist Christ­ians, mostly bussed in from the community.

Dr. Gish told the audience that the earliest known fos­sils appeared suddenly with an explosive abundance in the Cam­brian rock strata and that they were already highly complex forms of life represent­ing all the major phyla. “One minute, no phyla; the next minute 38 phyla, the same number as today.” The con­clusion, said Gish, was inescapable. Instead of evolution, the fossil record supports the sudden creation of all major life forms.[iv]

However, the scientific reality is quite different:

a. In stark contrast to the teachings of the Institute for Creation Research, the “Cambrian Explosion” didn’t take place in a few days some 6000 years ago, as required by a literal reading of Genesis-1. Instead it took place over a period of at least 15 million years from roughly 525 to 510 million years ago.

b. The number of different phyla identified in the Cambrian is not 38, as Gish asserted; it is a highly variable number, subject to fallible human interpretations of fossilized remains. Many of these early body types are only found in the Cambrian. Furthermore, while almost all of the now living marine phyla were present, most were represented by classes that have since gone extinct. Cambrian echinoderms were strange-looking, not our familiar starfish, sea urchins and brittle stars. Also, there were no bony fish, amphi­bians, reptiles, birds, or mam­mals found in the Cambrian. Bony fish first appear about 80 million years later, reptiles about 200 million years later and mam­mals some 300 million years later. There are also no insects, ferns, conifers, or flower­ing plants found in the Cambrian. Thus, the creation picture Gish painted was extremely misleading.

c. One possible explanation for this apparent “explosion” of diverse life forms in the Cambrian is that for the first time hard shells, tubes, scales, spines and cara­paces had evolved. Calcified struc­tures can leave excel­lent fossils compared to soft-bodied animals, which leave poor or no fossils. Dr. Gish rejected this possibility.

d. Finally, and contrary to Gish’s creation model, but of critical relevance, the Cambrian fos­sils are not the earliest fossils of animals discovered. Millions of years earlier there were the Ediacaran fauna, the first animal-like organisms to be fossil­ized. Some look like sponges, some are a bit like jelly-fish, some like sea anemo­nes, and others like worms. Also, there are pre-Cambrian fossil imprints of tracks and burrows. In his presentation, Gish simply dismissed all of these earlier fossils as unproven specu­lation by desperate evolutionists.

“God did it” is bad theology

Theologians have come to realized that it’s bad theology to rely on “God did it” answers for scientific unknowns, since one’s faith is now potentially at risk if science can fill in these gaps. This risk is quite high given that scientists have been extremely suc­cessful over the last few centuries in replacing “God did it” answers with naturalistic explanations.
The Cambrian Explosion is one such example. Since my debate with Gish almost 40 years ago, there has been the discovery of several new Cambrian fossil beds. There has also been the develop­ment of new high-tech fossil discovery tools and molecular clock dating techniques. These tools and techniques have resulted in the discovery of more and more pre-Cambrian fossils.

As one example, some fossilized microscopic ancestors of all the bilateral ani­mals have been found in the Doushanto for­mation in China, which dates to some 50 million years before the Cam­brian.[v] Also, there is now evidence that several of the phyla found in the Cambrian go back much earlier, with ances­tors spread out over hundreds of millions of years in the pre-­Cam­brian.[vi]

Yet, almost 40 years after I debated Dr. Gish, the Cambrian is still being used as evidence for “intelligent design,” the Trojan Horse of creationism.[vii]
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[i]There are at least 30 different locations where ancient Cam­­brian rocks are ex­posed. At three of these locations fossil beds have been discovered where freak conditions amazingly preserved soft body parts as well as shells, spines and carapaces. These three locations are the Burgess Shale of British Columbia (discovered in 1909), Sirius Passet of northern Greenland (1984), and the Chengjang site of southern China (1984).
[ii] The Institute for Creation Research (ICR) is one nerve center for the young-earth creationists’ move­ment. For five decades it has presented an instantaneous creation model, which it claims is a scien­tific alter­na­tive to evo­lution. This model matches a literal reading of Genesis 1. Out­dated refer­ences, purpose­ful misquotes, illo­gical argu­ments and half-truths dominate.
[iii]Sham science is selectively picking out data which appear to sup­port what believers already know to be true, while ignoring, distorting and explain­ing away data which conflict with their beliefs.
[iv]See Gish, D. 1978 (1985), Evolution, The Fossils Say No! Creation Life Publishers.
[v] Why Intelligent Design Fails, 2004, by Mark Young and Taner Edis (Editors): A devastating critique of all of the scientific claims put fourth by the ID/creationist movement.
[vi] Dawkins, The Ancestor’s Tale, 2004. Also visit and type in “Cambrian” in their search engine.
[vii] Stephen Meyer, director of the Center for Science and Culture (<), an arm of the conservative Christian Discovery Institute, has (along with others) produced a CD-ROM curriculum module: The Cam­brian Explosion: Bio­logy’s Big Bang. The purpose of the module is to demon­strate that the theory of Intelligent Design is a more plaus­ible theory for explaining the Cambrian Explosion than is evolution and, therefore, should be included in public school science classes.

C Rulon: Christianity & Solitary Vice

By Charles L. Rulon
Emeritus, Life & health Sciences
Long Beach City College

Q. How about having our schools and media encourage frequent masturbation as a substitute for sexual intercourse?

A. Ah! A brilliant partial solution to overpopulation, poverty, unwanted pregnancies, and sexually transmitted diseases! In many ways masturbation is perfect. Not only does it relieve the sexual tension that partly drives people to have sex in the first place, it also requires no devices or hormones, is free, safe, available to everyone, and requires no seduction games. It’s also easy to learn, is very pleasurable, and dramatically increases the number of female orgasms. It might also strengthen your arm. Sex educators and sex therapists have long taught that masturbation is no less natural or healthy than sex with a partner. And as Woody Allen once quipped: “Don’t knock masturbation. It’s having sex with someone I love deeply.”

In women the clitoris, not the vagina with its few nerve endings, is the site for orgasms. Sexual intercourse without clitoral stimulation seldom leads to orgasms in women. But masturbation does. So if we value a society in which women also have the opportunity for considerable sexual pleasure, then masturbation (and oral sex) must rank high on the list.

Q. So why haven’t our secondary schools been required to teach the virtues of masturbation?

A. Because we’ve all been raised in a sexually confused culture when it comes to any form of sexual pleasure outside of marriage. Even though the Bible never specifically refers to masturbation (nor to birth control, oral sex, or abortion for that matter), many conservative churches still see sex as a powerful urge which tests a person’s willingness to conform to religious values. Resisting such a powerful impulse demonstrates religious commitment. Not masturbating is still thought by these churches to be spiritually character building. It represents a form of self control over a strong sexual impulse that is considered morally wrong, particularly if accompanied by lustful and immoral sexual fantasies. (Ouch(!), since at least 80% of all males and 50% of all females engage in “lustful and immoral sexual fantasies” when they masturbate).

“The facts of life can be told in 15 minutes … The way sex education is taught in the schools encourages experimentation… It’s the cause of promiscuity and destroys the natural modesty of girls.”

—Phyllis Schlafly

Q. Where did we get such sex negative beliefs in the first place?

A. From Christianity, which evolved as a very sex-negative religion. For example, the biblical Jesus taught that the sin of adultery was committed in a man’s heart if he looked at a woman with lust (Matt. 5:27-8). Since sexual passions and lust are deep-seated in human nature, Jesus’ admonition furnished a basis for the Apostle Paul’s and then Augustine’s pronouncements regarding sex.

Saint Augustine, a founding church father, proclaimed that sexual intercourse was inherently evil, a product of original sin and justifiable only when the intent was procreation. Married couples who used an “evil appliance” (some form of primitive birth control) to forestall conception were in mortal sin. He also severely condemned all non-marital sexual outlets including masturbation, premarital-sex, oral sex and homosexuality. Even thinking lustful thoughts or having a wet dream required penance.

These pronouncements resulted in extreme sexual repression and in warfare against the human body, which became seen as sinful and corrupt. Everything sexual was considered rooted in “lowly bodily strivings” that detracted from seeking God.

Now zoom ahead in the United States to only a century or so ago. Masturbation, referred to as “self-pollution”, was purported to cause insanity, blindness, epilepsy, paralysis, homosexuality and even genital cancer. Thousands of girls caught “excessively” masturbating had carbolic acid or a hot iron applied to their clitorises, or even had their clitorises cut off. And boys caught engaging in “self abuse” could have their penises blistered with mercury ointment. [1]

Q. What about today?

A. Today, many who masturbate still report feelings of guilt, shame and disgust. Few can bring themselves to tell their mates, lovers or friends that they masturbate. The entire issue is further complicated by our insecurities and by widespread misinformation: “You won’t enjoy sex as much,” “It’s a sign of psycho-sexual immaturity,” “People who masturbate are lonely and too unattractive to find a mate,” “If I really turned my partner on, she wouldn’t need to masturbate,” and “It’s condemned by God.”

Accepting masturbation and oral sex have been difficult for our culture. Until 2003 oral sex was actually illegal in many states — a “crime against nature”. And the powerful Roman Catholic Church still takes a strong position against masturbation, declaring it to be “an intrinsically and seriously disordered act.” President Clinton (under extreme pressure) even fired his Surgeon General, Joycelyn Elders, in part, over a comment she made regarding the value of masturbation to help prevent the spread of AIDS.

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[1] Of particular interest, see Alex Comfort’s book, The Anxiety Makers. The web also has many relevant articles on devices to prevent masturbation and on masturbatory insanity.

The Judeo-Christian God and Poseidon – Are they equally mythical beings?

By Juan Bernal

Proposition: We have as much reason for thinking that the Judeo-Christian God is real as we do for supposing that the god Poseidon, of Greek mythology, is real. In short, neither is real.

This is affirmed by a number of the new atheists (Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins), by my fellow blogger, Chuck R., and by me. However, one of our colleagues from the world of philosophy, Pablo, strongly disputed the proposition at issue. I shall take a close look at his contention.

I am not a great defender of Dawkins and Harris with regard to their harsh views of all things religious. (I won’t rehash here my arguments on this subject.) However, despite my problems with Dawkins, Harris and other “New Atheists,” I am sympathetic with their views concerning much of theology (especially attempts to ‘prove’ existence of a deity). I share their suspicions about the intellectual pretensions of Christian philosophers and other theistic philosophers.

It’s in this context that I took special interest in the following statements by Pablo in an recent e-mail exchange of views. Let’s look at what he says in response to the proposition above. To quote Pablo:

Nothing new here but I’m getting to see more clearly why so many disdain Dawkins’ view of religion. Chuck seems to agree with Dawkins and Harris that the empirical status for God (we still need to distinguish between the God of Abraham and the more refined view of the scholastics) is no better than that of Poseidon. I have never heard anyone argue for any evidence for Poseidon as they have for God which I have cited on more than one occasion. Juan asks how I know this. It’s not up to ME to find evidence for this, but him! I deny on a number of grounds (historical, unclear concept of Poseidon and his nature, lack of interest except, perhaps, to scholars of Greek mythology, etc.) For some 2 thousand years, now, theists have been searching for evidence for the existence of God. This is far more substantial than any for Poseidon or any of the other Greek gods. To conclude that all these scholastic thinkers were mere ignorant mortals (Harris had so stated) despite their use of reason and logic, the same used by scientists, philosophers, legal experts, and on and on, is a bit more than I can bear! Have these critics of theistic arguments been deluded? Are they rationalizing, what?

Pablo main concern seems to be the “existential status” of God. He is convinced that the “God of Abraham” has a more substantial claim to being real than does Poseidon, the Greek God of the ocean. On the other hand, Harris, Chuck R, Dawkins and I would say that they don’t differ at all with regard to their existential status. Pablo refers to their relative “empirical status.” But what exactly is meant by the claim that ‘X has empirical status’? Does this mean that X in fact exists? Or is this just an obscure way of saying that we have empirical evidence for believing that X exists? This is not completely clear. But we should not be surprised to hear a ‘philosopher’s’ speak this way. Philosophers often resort to strange locutions in their talks and writings.

At any rate, given either interpretation, the skeptics on this issue are surely correct: the God of Abraham and Poseidon do not differ one iota in this respect. Neither exists as a matter of simple, empirical fact (otherwise why would we spend so much time with ‘arguments’ for their existence?) and there is no incontrovertible empirical evidence for the reality of either one. (We’re still waiting to hear back from Pablo on this point.) The ‘facts’ that Pablo cites — that for two thousand years theists have been searching for evidence that the God of Abraham exists and that “the scholastic thinkers used reason and logic” – do not support his claim that one has more “empirical status” than the other. There aren’t any reasons (that would pass the test of scientific, rational objectivity) or incontrovertible evidence for the existence of either claimant to the title “God.” The history of philosophy and religion shows that experts often spend hundreds of years promoting and defending a theme which eventually proves to be wrong; history also shows that even those who resort to “logic and reason” often get things wrong. In short, logic and reason, which are undoubtedly crucial in most projects, do not insure that one will always hit upon the truth.

Ultimately, all that Pablo does is remind us that there have been a great deal of theology and philosophical apologetics on behalf of the Judeo-Christian deity, and not much, if any, for the ‘god’ from Greek mythology. “Yes, this is likely true,” we could reply to Pablo, “but so what?” Nothing whatsoever about the “existential status” of the Judeo-Christian deity follows from this. Furthermore, Pablo’s complaint about Harris’s reference to theologians as “ignorant mortals” does not seem to be relevant to the claim about the relative status of the gods at issue. It surely is not relevant to anyone’s (including my) general skeptical views about the value (intellectual or otherwise) of theological efforts to prove existence of the deity. Many who hold such skeptical views regarding theology in general (e.g. John Dewey, Walter Kaufmann, Daniel Dennett) do not see any reason for insulting or denigrating religious faith, religious culture, and religious philosophy en toto. Pablo is simply mixing separate issues here.

Speculation on what really underlies Pablo’s strong views on this matter:

Pablo might simply express the views of someone raised in the culture of Western religion whose thinking is conditioned somewhat by the religious Judeo-Christian culture. This excludes all second- and third-generation non-believers and enlightened atheists. But those in the first group (I’m included), regardless of our philosophical training cannot help thinking that, as Pablo states it, the case for the Judeo-Christian God “is far more substantial than any for Poseidon or any of the other Greek gods.” After all, we grew up in a culture that takes for granted that the God of the Old Testament and the Christian God (Christ?) have far greater claim to being real than the characters (including ‘gods’) of ancient Greek myth. Great religious cultures (Judaism and Christianity) are based on the reality of this God (or is it “gods”?). Some of us may even find it insulting that someone would place the Judeo-Christian God on the same level with a mere mythical figure like the Greek god Poseidon. Hence, Pablo’s strong and emotional reply to what seems to be a simple observation, namely, that when referring to the existential status of any supernatural being or ‘god,’ there really is no difference between the Judeo-Christian god and any of the gods of Greek mythology.

C Rulon: Christianity and Sex

By Charles L. Rulon
Emeritus, Life & health Sciences
Long Beach City College

The biblical Jesus and sex

Contrary to popular belief, the biblical Jesus said nothing specific on the subjects of abortion, contraception, homosexuality, or sex in general, except for a few, but far reaching, comments on divorce and adultery. For example, he taught that one committed the sin of adultery by marrying a divorced woman (Matt. 5:32) and that adultery was committed in a man’s heart if he looked at a woman with lust (Matt. 5:27-8).
Yet, the record of Jesus’ teachings is very fragmentary. Scholars only have copies of copies of the original New Testament manuscripts. And even the originals were written decades after Jesus died by people who never or barely knew him. In addition, there has been considerable editing over the centuries. So we really have no firm basis to know what Jesus actually said or did in the first place.
As a result, there has been scarcely a popularly held traditional belief about Jesus that has not been regarded with considerable skepticism by those experts for whom the scientific, historical and linguistic evidence counts. Thus, theologians, as well as believers and non-believers alike, have reached all possible conclusions regarding Jesus, including casting him in roles ranging from stern ascetic, to proponent of free love, to “Jesus Christ, Superstar.”

In 1985 the Jesus Seminar was organized to determine which, if any, of Jesus’ sayings, deeds and miracles could possibly have been authentic. Over 75 religion professors and other scholars contributed. By 1993 they had concluded that less than one-fifth of the sayings attributed to Jesus could possibly have been authentic. [1] Thus, the Jesus Seminar conclusively demonstrated that no particular Christian sect owns Jesus; no sect can rightly claim to know what Jesus really said or did as justification for their own policies, moral values and dogmas.

The Apostle Paul and sex

The Apostle Paul was even more instrumental in the founding of Christianity than was Jesus. He was also probably the first important Christian teacher to speak out specifically on sexual morality. Some believe that Paul’s unsympathetic attitude toward sexual pleasures was deeply influenced by the more stoical elements in early Greek philosophy. [2] Stoicism held virtue to be the highest good, best attained by repression of emotions and an indifference to pleasure or pain. Sexual emotions were particularly suspect. Paul definitely seemed to have considered marriage and sexuality inferior to chastity and celibacy.
Defenders of Paul point out that his writings were strongly influenced by his belief that Christ would return and the world would end in his lifetime. After all, if the kingdom of God was at hand why worry about sex, marriage and family. Instead, one should be preparing for the Second Coming. In any event, Paul clearly elevated the single, celibate state to a status of greater purity than that of the married state. Abstaining from sexual activity of any kind led to a higher moral state (I Cor. 6:18-20; Gal. 5:16-17).
But again, the same reservations biblical experts have about the teachings of Jesus can also be said for the Apostle Paul. What Paul actually wrote and his reasons for writing it are currently mired in controversy and passionately debated.

Saint Augustine and sex

Living some 400 years after Jesus, St. Augustine is believed to have had as much impact on present day sexual attitudes as any other Christian theologian. He was truly one of the monumental figures of the early Christian Church. As a bishop, Augustine proclaimed that sexual intercourse was inherently evil, a product of original sin and justifiable only when the intent was procreation. Married couples who used an “evil appliance” (a contraceptive device) to forestall conception were in mortal sin. [3] Augustine even argued that sex in marriage was tainted with the sin of lust. One could minimize this sin by only having quick, unfeeling sex and only when pregnancy was desired. Baptism not only washed away “original sin,” but also the sin of lust in the making of the baby.
Augustine’s writings also severely condemn all non-marital sexual outlets including masturbation, pre-marital sex, adultery and homosexuality. Even thinking about fornication or having a wet dream was a sin that required penance. Augustine did concede, however, that prostitutes must be allowed as a necessary evil so that everything would not become contaminated with the sin of lust.

God’s laws against non-reproductive sex spread to America

In time, the Catholic Church came to idealize celibacy and virginity. Some early Christians even castrated themselves to avoid temptation. Love of God became the only “pure” love and celibacy became a means of proving one’s love for God. As the influence of the Church spread, virgin nuns were wedded to Christ in a spiritual marriage that was believed to be superior to the physical unions of men and women. As sexual expression was suppressed by the Church, the idealization of women, as reflected in the Virgin Mary, was promoted.

Church law exerted a strong influence over the development of English law. In 1533 Henry VIII made “unnatural” sex acts such as anal intercourse and sex with animals crimes. American settlers brought with them many of the laws of the English courts. All 13 colonies outlawed oral and anal sex, plus other forms of non-reproductive sex, as did all states until 1962. Unless sexual activity could lead to reproduction, it was viewed as a “crime against nature”.

“There is no aspect of American sex law which surprises visitors from other countries as much as this legal attempt to penalize pre-marital activity to which both of the participating parties have consented and in which no force has been involved.”

—A. Kinsey, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, 1948
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[1] The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus (Macmillan Press), 1993.
Price, R., 1998, “The Jesus Seminar: Historians or Believers?” Free Inquiry, Winter, pp. 9-10.
[2] Harvey, V.A., 1985. “New Testament Scholarship and Christian Belief,” Free Inquiry, Fall. www.secularhumanism.org
[3] Noonan, J.T., Contraception: A History of Its Treatment by the Catholic Theologians and Canonists. New American Library: New York

Our Beloved Filo-Sofi’a – Is she Dulcinea or Aldonza?

By Juan Bernal

Dulcinea: Don Quijote’s imagined damsel, a mythical lady of perfect virtue and beauty beyond description.

Aldonza: The actual woman that Quijote pursued, a poor, young woman who worked at the roadside inn frequented by mule-drivers and ruffians of all variety.

(Both ladies are characters in Miguel de Cervantes’ great novel, Don Quijote De La Mancha)

Elements of the Story:

As Miguel de Cervantes [1] described him, Don Quijote was an elderly “hidalgo” (Spanish nobleman) who read too many romantic novels and became deluded and partially insane as a result. He became obsessed with the idea that he was a knight of old, who would take up the mission of fighting evil and defending all that’s good and beautiful. Part of his romantic delusion required that he have a lady to whom he would dedicate all his knightly accomplishments, a lady of unsurpassed beauty and flawless virtue. He named her “Dulcinea” and in his feverish delusion somehow associated her with a young woman who worked at the roadside inn at a place called Toboso, a poor woman of questionable virtue named Aldonza, whom Quijote had not actually ever seen. So he was free to imagine what his “lady’ must be like. At one point in the story he had his faithful squire, Sancho Panza, make the long journey to Taboso and deliver a letter he had written to his ‘Dulcinea.’ [2]

After Sancho finds and talks with Aldonza at the Toboso, he returns and reports to his master. What follows is a hilarious and revealing dialogue between Quijote and his squire [3]:

Quijote: Tell me all about it. What did you say? What did she reply? Did you find her stringing pearls to send to her noble knight? Or bordering a clothed message with gold?
Sancho: Well, I found her husking several baskets of wheat in the corral.
Quijote: Tell me, did not the grains of wheat become pearls in her hands? Surely they were white grains of the highest quality?
Sancho: Nope, just regular, low-grade grains of wheat.
. . . .
Quijote: So tell me more. What charming conversations did you have with her? Did she ask much about me?
Sancho: She did not ask anything. I just told her about your dedication to her and all the penance and hardship that you endured for her, naked from the waist up in the frigid mountain as if you were a wild animal, going without food and sleeping on the floor, with beard uncombed, crying and bemoaning your fate.
Quijote: There you messed up, for I do not bemoan my fate. Instead I bless her and bless every day of my life for making me worthy of loving as grand and tall a lady as Dulcinea of Toboso!
Sancho: Tall she is not. She stands a bare micro inch taller than me! (Sancho is a very short fellow.)
Quijote: What? You measured yourself with her? How did that happen?
Sancho: Well I helped her to lift the sack of wheat onto a shelf and standing close to her I noticed that we were nearly the same height.
Quijote: Well, anyway I shall adorn her stature with millions of measures of gratitude from my soul. Now tell me, when you stood near to her, did you not perceive her fragrant, heavenly aroma, an aroma so sweet I lack the words to describe it?
Sancho: All I can say, Sire, is that I smelled a faint hint of masculine-like sweat; and it must have been because of all the work she had done, she was perspiring and wet with sweat.
Quijote: That can’t be! Your brains must have malfunctioned and you smelled yourself, because I know very well how sweet a rose smells, or the scent of a lily in the meadow, or the aroma of diluted amber.
Sancho: Yes, Sire, it could be true. I have often given off an odor and thought it came from another as from your lady Dulcinea. But it is not that much a mysterious happening, as much as the work of some little devil up to his tricks here and there.
Quijote: All right, all right, so she finished with the husking and put away the wheat. Then surely she read my letter. What did she say when she read it?
Sancho: She did not read it because she said she could neither read nor write. She tore up the letter into little pieces, saying that she did not want anyone to know her secrets, and asked that I just tell her what your wrote. So I told her about your love for her, all the brave deeds you do for her, and all the penance that you endure for her. Hearing all this she thought it was funny and said she would like to meet you sometime. But she laughed hilariously when I told her your title: the Knight of the Woeful Countenance.

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Commentary

Obviously Sancho’s earthly and realistic perception of “Dulcinea” is very different from Quijote’s illusory picture of the lady. Dulcinea is really Aldonza; and Aldonza is nothing to brag about. But reports from the real world do not have any effect on the mind of Quijote. He is completely dedicated and in a state of deep, Platonic love!

Now, what does all this have to do with philosophy? Maybe not much or maybe a great deal. Lately I have entertained the idea that many enthusiasts of philosophy appear somewhat ‘quixotic’ in their love and devotion to ‘philosophy,’ or what they perceive as philosophy. Granted that they do not actually think of philosophy as a nearly divine lady, but some of their praise for philosophy sounds similar in some respects to Quijote’s exaggerated praise and delusional love for his lady Dulcinea.
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Philosophy as a Divine Calling?

There is an ancient history behind the Romantic’s love and praise for philosophy, which in an exaggerated form sees the philosophy as a calling from the gods. We can find seeds of this attitude in Socrates’ defense of his practice of philosophy with the citizens of Athens in Plato’s dialogue, The Apology. In considering the possibility of pardon should he agree to stop his philosophical questioning and examining the beliefs of the people, Socrates rejects that possibility with the following statement of his commitment to philosophy:

“Some one will say: Yes, Socrates, but can’t you hold hour tongue, and then you may go into a foreign city, and no one will interfere with you? Now I have great difficulty in making you understand my answer to this. For if I tell you that to do as you say would be a disobedience to the God, and therefore that I cannot hold my tongue, you will not believe that I am serious; and if I say that daily to discourse about virtue, and of those other things about which you hear me examining myself and others, is the greatest good of man, and the unexamined life is not worth living, you are still less like to believe. Yet I say what is true, although a thing of which it is hard for me to persuade you.”

(Apology, The Dialogues of Plato, translation by Benjamin Jowett, Oxford University Press, 1952, page 210) [my emphasis]

Socrates characterizes his work in philosophy as a “calling of the God” and as the “greatest good of man,” and rejects a life without philosophy as a life not worth living. Given such statements of the value of philosophy, it is easy to understand the boundless praise and nearly divine status that many people apply to philosophy.
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Is there an Analogy?

Obviously the character Socrates is very different from the delusional Don Quijote. The ‘Socrates’ of Plato’s dialogues is an admirable, courageous, rational character, not given to romantic delusions. Don Quijote, while exhibiting an odd type of courage and commitment, is obviously out of touch with reality. Without his realistic, unimaginative companion, Sancho Panza, to look out for him, Quijote would have quickly fallen prey to the many predators of the Spanish countryside. But there is an interesting analogy between the quixotic illusion and the Socratic vision. Both envision a divine-like object to which they are completely devoted. Socrates saw philosophy (as he practiced it) as being a divine mission and the greatest good available to humanity. Quijote saw his lady as nearly divine in virtue and beauty. Socrates was willing to do anything, even accept a death sentence, for his philosophy. Quijote was prepared to undergo all trials and tribulation, all impossible struggles and hopeless combat, for his lady Dulcinea.

Suppose we take the perspective of a Sancho Panza – the realist who is not captivated by all this talk of divine status, greatest good to man, and incomparable beauty – and ask: Does the Socratic idea of a divinely-inspired philosophy also need the remedial shock treatment that the real, flesh-and-blood Aldonza brings to the mythical Dulcinea? Is philosophy as envisioned by Socrates and all the Romantics who followed somewhat like the mythical Dulcinea, i.e., a rather pretentious calling but not one that actually takes place in real life? On the other hand, is philosophy as actually practiced by real, fallible humans, more like the poor, uneducated Aldonza? (It can be of some assistance to the sciences, to governance, and the business of living; but it is folly to see it as a divine calling, as searching for a deep Truth, or as being the greatest benefit to humanity.)

Philosophy is not a noble, lady of highest culture. Philosophy is more the working woman who is very much a human being and subject to human limitations. Philosophy is not a divine calling; it is not the “Queen of the Sciences,” nor “the greatest good of humanity.” Philosophy is just hard, piecemeal work. Much of it is the natural preserve of the academics (they manage to clarify a few things); some of it is the work of ordinary people trying to get some understanding of a range of human problems. Much of it goes on without notice or appreciation by the world at large. Much of it is like poor Aldonza, busy in the corral of the roadside inn, just preparing a batch of wheat for the next baking of bread.
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[1] Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes is one of the greatest novelists of the Spanish language. His masterpiece, Don Quixote (1605), is one of the most important and influential books in the history of the novel. Cervantes lived from 1547 to 1616. He and Shakespeare died on the same day, Died: April 23, 1616. Cervantes’ stature in Spanish literature is equal to Shakespeare’s in the English language.

[2] Likely most contemporary readers are familiar with Quijote, Sancho Panza, Aldonza, and the confused antics of the “Knight of the Woeful Countenance” by way the “Man of La Mancha” a 1965 a very successful Musical by Dale Wasserman.

[3] This is my attempt at translating the dialogue between Quijote and Sancho Panza from Spanish to English. For those interested and motivated enough, there are surely much better English translations of the novel and of this particular dialogue, as a number of excellent translations of Cervantes’ work are readily available.