Sunday 9 December 2012

It's Not Natural (Part 2)

The Idealistic View

The second view of nature can be called the idealistic view. There is some overlap with the realistic view in that it too encompasses nature as ‘all physical things’ as well as ‘the non-human’, but there is one important difference.

The idealistic view presupposes and explicitly states that nature is good. 

It holds that:

  • while some things may be of a sad or distressing nature, and while some things can even be thought of as being ‘evil’, they are still said to be natural in that there will a good in the long run, in the grander scheme of things;
  • thus, things are unnatural when they are truly evil and there is no good in the present or the future, since nature could not produce evil on its own.

This view of nature or ‘natural’ is strongly conditioned by observation of the real world, but is ultimately conditioned by cultural values and practice including ecclesiastical values. This is particularly the case in the negative form – unnatural – where such an epithet is a vehement alternate word for ‘bad’ or ‘unacceptable.’

“Behaviour which is ideologically so alien or personally so disgusting to those affected by ‘ideal nature’ that it appears to have no redeeming qualities whatever will be labelled ‘unnatural,’ regardless of whether it occurs in (‘real’) nature never or often, or among humans or lower animals, because it will be assumed that a ‘good’ nature could not under any circumstances have produced it” (Boswell, p13).

Thus it is not surprising that adversaries frequently characterise gay sexuality as being unnatural when in reality, they merely object to it on religious, ideological or cultural grounds.

Gay Sexuality and The Idealistic View

Here are some ideas from Boswell.

  • The ‘idealised’ model of what is natural took hold in the very early Christian centuries and the ‘realistic’ model was eschewed or ignored. Thus, the idea that homosexuality was unnatural took root and may have been started by a chance remark of Plato in his Laws, in which he describes it as para physin, traditionally translated as ‘against nature’ but more probably translated in Plato as ‘unrelated to birth’, ‘non-procreative’, as all his earlier works discuss sexual desire as almost exclusively homosexual without the epithet ‘unnatural’.
  • The idealised notion that what is outside of nature is unnatural became the touchstone of human ethics for the first few centuries after Christ and thus any sexual activity that was non-procreative was deemed unnatural;
  • However, this view fell into disfavour after only a few hundred years, but was revived by the Scholastics in the 13th century. 

St Thomas Aquinas
the most famous Scholastic of them all
The Scholastics were a branch of theology and philosophy that grew out of early monasticism and was influential from the eleventh to the fifteenth centuries. It espoused dialectical reasoning and used logical inference to defend Christian dogma and to counter contradictions and arguments. Thus the ‘idealistic view’ came to be a decisive and controlling explanatory device that premised all branches of learning from the technical sciences to dogmatic theology. God has given us nature to teach us. Nature is his His creation. It is therefore good. That which humanity offers is lesser and can be seen as unnatural.

In the twenty first century, this view has been discarded by science and philosophy long long ago. It has been utterly rejected in almost all spheres of life. 

We regularly and frequently do things that would be deemed unnatural according to this view. For example, we fly on aircraft, we sail in ships, we drive in cars, we comb and wash our hair, we shower, we shave, we cook our food, we clean our teeth, we eat special food on special days like Christmas, we grow flowers and plants indoors, we dye fabrics different colours, we practise birth control. Not one of these things among the thousands of others that I have not mentioned belong in the ‘natural world;’ they are all unnatural in this sense. Yet the power of the idealistic view is brought to full force against gay people on the erroneous assumption that homosexuality does not occur in nature. This stigma is just intellectual laziness and emotional blackmail couched in the language of philosophy but drowning in inconsistency.

“Although the idea that gay people are ‘violating nature’ predates by as much as two millennia the rise of modern science and is based on concepts wholly alien to it, many people unthinkingly transfer the ancient prejudice to an imagined scientific frame of reference, without recognizing the extreme contradictions involved, and conclude that homosexual behaviour violates the ‘nature’ described by modern scientists rather than the ‘nature’ idealised by ancient philosophers” (Boswell, p15).

The use of the idealistic view to denigrate homosexuality as being unnatural (and therefore immoral) is nothing more than a powerfully derogatory label based on “historically sanctioned prejudices and ill-informed ideas about ‘nature’” (Boswell, p15).

Please don’t miss this point.  Gay sexuality does not violate nature in any way. It violates only an idealised view of nature by ancient philosophers.

A Scientific Understanding of Gay Sexuality

Again, allow me to go the modern understanding of gay sexuality, based on biology, genetics and psychology; in effect, the nuts and bolts of the first half of Being Gay Being Christian

Human sexual orientation consists of two dominant orientations: heterosexual and homosexual. The former is about 95% of the population while the latter is about 5% of the population. Thus, gay sexuality represents statistically about 1 in 20 people. Gay sexuality has been identified in every society and culture on earth without exception so the anthropologists tell us and has been identified back as far as human records go, so the historians tell us. 

Identical twins Mat and Jon Price of Proud2Be Project
We know that sexual orientation is largely genetically determined; not 100% but substantially. Studies to date show that for men, the genetic component is somewhere between 31 and 74%, probably closer to the larger figure, and for women, around 50-60%. Genetic studies show that in monozygotic twins (identical), which share 100% of genetic material, the concordance rate of having a gay twin if there is already one of them gay is about 52% for men and about 48% for women, compared to 5% in the general population; a dizzying increase. In dizygotic (fraternal) twins, which share 50% of genetic material, the concordance rate is about 22% for men and 16% for women, still way above the 5% figure for the general population. 

Both psychology and medicine have not been able to identify any signal for illness, pathology, psychopathology or proclivity to becoming ill in the future as a result of being gay. A gay sexuality is characterised as being a completely normal and consistent variation in the phenomenology of human sexuality by modern science and this is not controversial.

Let no-one say that being gay is unnatural. Let no-one say that a gay sexuality goes against nature. On the contrary, it is very much a part of the natural world for human beings.

Theological Traditions

Let’s now take a brief look at some of the history in the early church regarding the philosophy of natural law.

In so far as the Gospels are believed to be an accurate account of the words of Jesus, given that the earliest of the Gospels was probably written about 40 years after his life and ministry, there is no record in any of them of Jesus uttering a word about ‘nature.’ He does talk about storms and the birds and the trees and the fields and various elements of the natural world, but this is not the same thing as the category ‘nature’ as we are using it here.

Paul’s writings did not refer to nature in the abstract. For him, it was always used in the sense of ‘the nature of something’ eg. the Jews, the gentiles, the pagan gods. In Being Gay Being Christian, I discussed the use of the term para physin in the Book of Romans where Paul is talking about homogenital activity, usually, and language scholars would say erroneously, translated as against nature. But we have seen that Paul uses the word much in the same vein as does Plato meaning standard, typical, ordinary, characteristic, expected. Thus, para physin is better translated as ‘beyond what is usual,’ or ‘beside what is ordinary or expected’. A really good translation encompassing both words para and physin would be unexpectedly or uncharacteristically or atypically. It is does not carry the meaning of unnatural as characterised in the idealistic view.

In the epistles of Peter and Jude, the ‘natural’ is actually set in opposition to the righteous, completely going against the model that says the natural can only be good.

The early years of the Christian church were heavily influenced by Platonic and Aristotelian models of ‘ideal nature’ where Platonists viewed nature as either explicitly or implicitly a semi-divine force that transformed the ‘ideal’ into the ‘real’. They considered its dictates to have the force of moral law, as we have been discussing. Greek enculturated Jews took this idealised nature as being the earthly reflection of the will of God.

But once again, more inconsistencies, even for the people of the ancient world. For example, it was known that animals (the natural world) did have incest. Fathers were known to mount female offspring, so it was not a uniform and fully explanatory model, as obviously incest was roundly repudiated. Platonic and other non-Christian models of nature served to ensure that early Christian thinking had no place for real nature. However, ideal nature while being the dominant model for the first few centuries, which included Augustine and the early church fathers (the Patristic period), eventually fell away not to rise again until the Scholastics began to champion it. 

In the ancient world, the primary duty of a man was to reproduce in order to provide an heir for land and property. Thus, Christians found it difficult to reconcile such a pervasive value with what they were being told were the demands of Christ and the apostles, eg., the championing of celibacy. The New Testament taught that celibacy was the highest response to human eroticism. Paradoxically, not only was there no Scriptural imperative to procreate in the New Testament, it was considered morally superior not to. It did not make sense. Yet at exactly the same time, both masturbation and homosexuality were deemed equally unnatural as was failure to divorce a barren woman, all on the same grounds.

St Augustine (354 – 430CE) considered intercourse within marriage for any other reason than for procreation to be inherently sinful. This is so far out of our way of understanding human sexuality today that it is hard for us to accept that this great man believed such nonsense. He actually instructed Christian women to have their husbands perform non-procreative sexual acts with prostitutes if they found it absolutely necessary rather than sullying the marriage bed with such base conduct; for us today, completely risible, incredible and intolerable.

In his writings, Augustine was ultimately unconcerned with nature; much more with grace. Although he uses phrases like ‘the natural use’ and ‘against nature’, his use of the word focused on concepts of something being ‘normal’, ‘characteristic’ or ‘native’, more in line with Paul’s use of the word and the category. Homosexuality, being relatively unfamiliar to him, is thus seen as incongruous and contrary to human custom. 

In the Patristic period, Boswell states that objections by theologians to homosexuality were based more on non-conformity to gender expectations than to appeals to nature, ie., a man be mounted by another man would be a counter-cultural act rather than an unnatural act. In the west in the post-Patristic period, ‘ideal nature’ is absent from any serious theological works and has been considered to be unrelated or even in opposition to Christian moral issues. 


The harm that has been caused the LGBT community because of the argument of natural law espoused over the centuries has been incalculable. Before the rise of modern evangelical fundamentalism only one hundred or so years ago, the dominant argument against homosexuality was that it was contra naturampara physin – against nature. And this philosophy has leeched its way across history and into our everyday thinking right out of the Latin declarations in Rome whence it was first made. To this day, many everyday people still think that being gay is unnatural. The Catholic Church needs to look at its teachings and doctrines again. There are many people within its folds who have called and continue to call for such a review. Its teachings on human sexuality which officialdom believes are in keeping with the Gospel go where the Gospel does not go and trample upon the lives of good people both gay and straight and encumber them with burdens that are unnecessary and untrue.

In the twenty-first century having come through the Enlightenment and the acceptance of a scientific approach to knowledge, we have achieved a superior understanding of how human beings are “fearfully and wonderfully made” to that of the first few centuries of the Christian era and the mediaeval world.

We of faith still believe in a creator God whose Spirit has never stopped creating and continues to do so in and around us. As a gay man of faith, I understand that God’s vast creative act is an act of such breath-taking diversity that we will never fully appreciate and understand all there is to know even just about this world let alone the cosmos and the realm of God’s Spirit after we leave here. Part of that incredible diversity is the wondrous creation of gay people amongst the crowning glory of creation, the human race. We are not all just cookie-cutter cut-outs; little straight ginger-bread men and women. No, we are diverse and different and wonderful. So far from being the result of a fallen sinful world where I just happened to have drawn the short straw in the game of a capricious and adolescent deity, as a gay man I believe in a loving God whose generosity of heart stretches over all the earth and to every person. 

I do not pretend to have it all worked out. There remain so many questions, but I choose to believe (that’s what faith is) in a relational God who is passionate about us all, created straight and gay, where we are all valued and loved. For me, a gay man, it is the most natural thing in the world when I care for my partner, share our lives together, hold him, kiss him or make love to him. It is not against my nature. It not against nature at all.

Being gay is the most natural thing in the world.

[1] Boswell, J. (1980). Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality: Gay people in Western Europe form the beginning of the Christian era to the fourteenth century. The University of Chicago.

Pax et Amor - Stuart

It's Not Natural (Part 1)


We all know that certain Christians, usually fundamentalist evangelicals and pentecostals, attack the legitimacy of being a gay person because of Scripture. They pull out Leviticus and Romans faster than you can say Westboro Baptist and speedily go in for the kill, telling us that our lives are a rejection of God, that we are living in sin, that we will not inherit the Kingdom of God, and my favourite, that we are an abomination.  There’s not much love and grace here, just arrogance and judgementalism. Now, you will probably know that in my book Being Gay Being Christian, I deal with these issues and the six Bible passages that are used ferociously to deny our lives in quite some detail. I make an effort to attempt to set the Biblical record straight systematically on what it does and does not say about gay people and I do so based on modern scholarship.

But this is not the whole story of the repudiation of the gay person by the Christian church. This is actually only half of it. The other half is what I want to write about in this post - and that is about nature. There is a large and historic discourse set against the gay person based on the idea that being gay goes against nature. That everyday kind of language is not the exact language this discourse uses. Rather, it uses the more philosophical lexis of ‘natural law’, but my ‘everyday’ rendering of it gives you the idea of where we will be going as we examine these claims. Some of it I admit is a little complicated, even somewhat byzantine in parts, but it is worth examining because there is a long history here that affects all gay people and their loved ones, whether they are Christians or not. So, let’s take a look.

Who Is Saying This?

We’ll begin our examination first by looking at who exactly is saying this stuff. Who are the main perpetrators of such thinking? Who says that being gay goes against nature? The answer to this one at least is an easy one. The Roman Catholic Church has historically used the ‘natural law’ argument against the beauty and legitimacy of a gay life rather than the Scriptural argument relied on by Protestant denominations of all persuasions. 

While the Catholic Church does quote Scripture in its official teachings, it mostly relies on philosophical discourse in its approach to theological and ethical issues and uses Scripture to augment its argument or as a base from which to argue further. It is ‘high’ knowledge, educated and learn-ed thinking couched in often arcane, dense and difficult language. Believe it or not, official Catholic teaching actually comes out in Latin first and only then is it translated into the various vernaculars.  While the evangelicals appeal to the authority of the Bible, the Catholics appeal to the teaching authority of the Catholic Church which itself teaches is a Christ-given authority. They call this teaching authority the Magisterium and Catholics are taught from a very young age to accept its teachings without question. It becomes the official doctrine of the Catholic Church.

Now when I use the term Catholic Church, I really should make a distinction in the language. You see, as I argue in my book, there are really two Catholic churches: one is the official Catholic Church based in the Vatican in Rome with its powerful Magisterium and its doctrinal declarations. The second is the grass-roots Catholic Church at the local parish level in the cities and suburbs around the world. While most Catholics at the local parish level listen to the official teachings of the Church, they don’t always believe or follow those teachings to the letter. Rather, they will often follow their own heart and conscience and many may choose which teachings feel appropriate for them personally. 

The most obvious example of this is the Church’s pronouncement that the use of contraception is an immoral act. The figures suggest that in the world’s most populous Catholic country, the United States of America, 98% of fertile Catholic women ignore the teaching and use contraception yet still call themselves Catholic. While the official line is that you can’t just pick and choose what suits you, for many Catholics in the twenty-first century, that is the reality.

Now again, while some Protestant adversaries of gay sexuality do use natural law philosophy from time to time, they mostly look to Scripture, so it really is the official Catholic teaching that we’re talking about. And the Catholic Church is by far the largest Christian denomination on earth, so the ability to influence a lot of thinking is clearly apparent.

What Does It Claim?

Well, in a nutshell, there are a couple of fundamental propositions that the natural law adherents stack up one on the other. There is a long history here but I enumerate them below for you in eight short propositions first:

  1. Nature is created by God;
  2. Therefore nature is good (because God only creates that which is good);
  3. Nature reproduces (this phenomenon has been woven into the fabric of nature by God);
  4. Therefore, according to the order of nature, all sexual acts must include the possibility of reproduction;
  5. This implies that all sexual acts which exclude the possibility of reproduction are against nature and therefore against God’s order;
  6. Homosexuality is a sexual act that does not include the possibility of reproduction and is therefore against God and His order;
  7. Anything that goes against the order of God cannot be of God and can be considered immoral;
  8. Therefore homosexuality is immoral.

One way of summarising the natural law position is the aphorism:

Sex     =     Procreation

Therefore,                          Homosexuality    =    Sin

I will deal with this systematically because a lot is riding on this claim.  We’ll start with some philosophy and then move to some history.

Two Views of Nature

Over the two millennia since Jesus walked the earth, there have been two distinct views about nature: the realistic view and the idealistic view. Occasionally they overlap, and occasionally as you shall see, people have ascribed to one but when it suited them, aligned themselves to aspects of the other and just conveniently forgot to mention that they were changing camps in doing so. We'll start with the first in this post and then move onto the second in Part 2.

The Realistic View

There are three ways that the realistic view of nature is typically seen. 

1. Nature is seen as as the character or essence of something, eg. the nature of love, the nature of lions, human nature, the nature of baroque music.

‘Unnatural’ here would be seen as something uncharacteristic of the person or thing, some way that it differs from the usual.

2. Nature is seen as the composite of properties or principles of everything that exists in the universe, eg., “the laws of nature” and even in the sense of “death is part of nature.”  

‘Unnatural’ here would therefore be seen as that which is not part of the scientifically observable world, eg., ghosts or miracles.

3. Nature (or natural) is seen as something that is outside of human interference or intervention, ie., that which is not man-made. It denotes what occurs without man’s intervention, eg., not damming a river (human intervention) but allowing it to take its ‘natural’ course.

‘Unnatural’ here is seen as either: 
characteristic only of humans as in ‘hunting for sport is unnatural (as opposed to hunting for food like the animals do); 
or simply artificial, as in unnatural fibres or foodstuffs, eg., polyester 

The great historian of homosexuality, John Boswell (1) on whom I rely significantly in this post, reminds us that there is a cultural inconsistency here in the use of our language. He says that homosexuality, which we will see further on is wrongly argued as not occurring in nature, is deemed ‘unnatural,’ but polyester, a fibre that also does not occur in nature, is considered to be ‘non-natural;’ an altogether softer descriptor and possessing less intensity. 

It is interesting isn’t it? Why the inconsistency? ‘Unnatural’ versus ‘non-natural’; yet both holding exactly the same deemed quality of not occurring naturally in the non-human world (in this third sense). It we were consistent, we would call them both unnatural or both non-natural, but consistency alas is something that is missing in abundance from the natural law argument against gay sexuality, or to borrow Shakespeare’s gorgeous phrase, “more honoured in the breach than in the observance”. 

Animal Model

This third sense of the use of ‘nature’ is in great measure a model of its own, such has been its influence in Western thinking and has been the most common control or standard to evaluate what is natural. It could loosely be described as the ‘nature minus humans model’ or ‘animal model’, but despite its significant influence on thinking, it is fraught with difficulty on various levels when examined closely. 

It is really not possible in the twenty first century to view that which is uniquely human as less than natural or unnatural. In biological taxonomy, human beings, like sheep, cows, goats, apes, lizards and frogs, belong to the Kingdom Animalia and are as much a part of nature and what is natural as any other constituent of the animal kingdom. To consider any act or intervention of humanity as being outside the realm of the natural in fact does not make sense, ie., is illogical, and is demonstrated so. Humanity is understood by science and modernity as being part of nature (q.e.d.), not set apart from nature.

Boswell makes the following important point about how we deem something to be natural or unnatural.  He says that in reality, what is often considered natural or unnatural is entirely subjective and conceptually ambiguous when there is the presence of more than one individual. For example, two people may agree that the dyed hair of a third person looks unnatural. One person means only that it does not suit the person (in their opinion), while the other one means that dyed hair is inherently unaesthetic or undesirable.

Gay Sexuality and The Realistic View

So how does the ‘realistic view’ of nature and its evaluation of what is natural and unnatural as espoused by the church inform the arguments against gay sexuality? 

Regarding gay sexuality, the realistic view: 
a) distorts the truth of what is really happening by

  • ignoring the truths of science
  • making declarations in authoritative language that are false, and

b) is enveloped in the inconsistencies to which I alluded above.

Homosexuality Is Unnatural

There are two assumptions that underlie the belief that homosexuality is unnatural in the ‘realistic model’ as described above:
  1. The belief that any sexual behaviour that is non-reproductive is unnatural; 
  2. The belief that homosexuality does not occur anywhere else in animals other than humans.
Let’s take a look at both, the first in a series of bullet points.

The belief that any sexual behaviour that is non-reproductive is unnatural

a. Many heterosexual married people engage in sexual activity that is non-reproductive. In today’s society, this is not only considered not unnatural, but is considered to be a good and sensible thing to do in terms of the planning and management of family size;

b. Many heterosexual unmarried people engage in sexual activity that is non-reproductive. In today’s society, this is considered acceptable. There are very few virgins walking down the aisle or waiting for them at the front of the church. Such sexual activity is even thought sensible by society before undertaking a commitment to marriage;

c. Both married and unmarried heterosexual people engage in sexual activity that is actually predominantly non-reproductive. People generally enjoy their sex lives as part of the richness of partnered life that brings intimacy, erotic pleasure and fun. There are lots and lots and lots of reasons why people have sex. Procreation is only one of them. For the most part, sexual activity for consenting adults is not about procreation.

d. Many animals have an oestrus cycle when the females come ‘on heat’ and are receptive to sexual activity. Human beings do not technically go on heat and we do engage in sexual activity in non-fertile periods. This is a fact of life and has nothing to do with procreation.

e. Where heterosexual couples do have sexual activity that is reproductive, there is typically an intentionality to the act, eg., “we are trying for a baby”. In this instance, a couple is consciously and intentionally attempting for a pregnancy. In all other instances, this sense of intentionality is absent.

f. The converse is also true. In most sexual activity within a partnership, it is not only that intentionality is absent but that couples typically and actively avoid pregnancy where they are not specifically wanting to have a baby;

g. There is a clear inconsistency here too, in that historically, Western societies have encouraged and idealised celibacy, which has a clear non-reproductive outcome, as being natural. In certain parts of Scripture, celibacy is touted as the highest form of human sexuality. St Paul states that if he had his way he wished that everyone were celibate, for that was the highest sexual calling, or so he thought. If consistency were the rule, celibacy would not be lionised; it would be deemed unnatural as being non-reproductive.

h. In modern times, the practice of masturbation, another sexual activity that is non-reproductive and therefore deemed unnatural by ‘the realistic view’ is perfectly accepted as being a normal and natural part of adolescent development. It is assumed that all adolescents will masturbate frequently as the opportunity arises (no pun intended) and will continue to masturbate into adult life, whether partnered or not. As a Psychologist, I regularly have to ask about people’s masturbation activity if it is pertinent to a relationship or sexual problem. Masturbation is routine, if not always overt, and it is frequently part of a partnered relationship to some degree.

i. Masturbation is also a time-honoured and clinically proven technique used in sex therapy. One of the areas I specialise in is sexual dysfunction and I regularly receive referrals from GPs and Urologists, mostly for men, who are struggling with some dysfunction. Very often, part of sex therapy is the teaching of a regimen of masturbation eg., for erectile dysfunction and rapid ejaculation, where physical stimuli and cognitive focus have to be re-trained. This is a highly effective treatment for most patients.

These points show clearly that what is deemed unnatural by the official teaching of the church is not accepted by the vast majority of society. It is essential to see that cultural mores change over time and what is considered unacceptable in one era is deemed perfectly acceptable in another. So too, with what has been deemed natural and unnatural. There is a definite cultural aspect to this which makes a mockery of a pure ‘animal model’ of nature. 

The Catholic Church appeals to the realistic view when it suits but ignores it at other times. It forbids its people from using contraception as we discussed above based on natural law philosophy. Contraception by definition does not allow for reproductive sex so it is deemed unnatural and therefore against the order of God and therefore an immoral act. Yet by the same reasoning, its insistence that its priests remain celibate should also be deemed an unnatural act. Yet it does not do so despite it being an incredibly difficult and often soul-destroying undertaking for its men. On the contrary, it celebrates celibacy as the highest form of human sexuality despite it being non-reproductive. It conflates the body and desire with a lower form of sexuality and even historically with sin and profanity. Its priests do not have to sully themselves with base flesh and desire like the rest of humanity. Or at least that’s the official line! We know better.

The belief that homosexuality does not occur anywhere else in animals other than humans

Here is what I wrote in Being Gay Being Christian about this second false assumption.

“Why not, instead, allow that God made gay people too and that homosexuality is part of the natural order? After all, there is plenty of evidence of homosexuality in the animal kingdom. In 2006, the Natural History Museum of the University of Oslo staged an exhibition about this much ignored topic. The scientists reported the following:

Homosexuality has been observed in most vertebrate groups, and also among insects, spiders, crustaceans, octopi and parasitic worms. The phenomenon has been reported in more than 1500 animal species, and is well documented for 500 of them, but the real extent is probably much higher. The frequency of homosexuality varies from species to species. In some species, homosexuality has never been reported, while in others the entire species is bisexual.

In zoos around 1 in 5 pairs of king penguins are of the same sex. The record is held by orange fronted parakeets, where roughly half of all pairs in captivity are of the same sex. Some homosexual pairing in the animal kingdom may be brief; others mate for life. Do such animals annul the Creator’s design? Obviously not. If we believe in the vast creative act of God, then these animals are part of it. They are part of His world, part of His divine plan. Just because it’s not the predominant way that animals mate doesn’t mean that such behaviour does not exist and is morally wrong, objectionable or disordered. It just means that it is atypical, nothing more. Clearly, there is far more homosexuality in the animal kingdom than anyone ever believed and we are understanding this more and more as science continues to investigate this phenomenon. It is essential that anyone who argues against homosexuality based on false notions that it is against nature should be strongly challenged” (177-78).

And challenge I am doing.

It is demonstrably untrue that homosexuality does not occur in the natural world outside humans. It is manifestly present and it would appear, not as a rarity but in abundance. Because homosexuality is found throughout the animal kingdom, the ‘animal model’, ie., nature minus humans, which suggests that only such a view characterises what is natural, cannot be sustained if you argue that homosexuality is unnatural. You cannot have it both ways.

Boswell makes a rather refined point here. He adds that many animals actually engage in activity that is unique to their species, but no-one assumes that this is unnatural. On the contrary, it is regarded as being part of that species’ ‘nature’ and is useful to biologists and naturalists as a distinguishing feature. Thus if humans hypothetically were the only species to exhibit homosexual behaviour, this would not be grounds for considering it unnatural but grounds for distinguishing its taxonomy biologically, behaviourally and emotionally. In fact, most of the behaviour that is exhibited by humans is unique to humanity and is respected because it is unique, eg., literacy, numeracy and language acquisition.

Please go to It's Not Natural (Part 2) to continue.

Friday 23 November 2012

Abomination - You shall not lie with a man

Here is an interview I did on New Zealand breakfast television in October 2012. 

The show is called Good Morning and my interviewer is Rod Cheeseman. I wasn't sure what he was going to ask, but among other great questions he surprised me by asking about one of the sledgehammer scriptures from Leviticus in the Bible.

You shall not lie with a man, as with a woman: it is abomination. 
(Leviticus 18: 22 King James Version) 

But I am very grateful that Rod did bring up this this verse as it gave me an opportunity to talk about it outside the context of my book and to open it up to a wider audience. 

This 'abomination' verse has caused so much trouble for so many people and is the best example I know of how not to use the Bible. I have another post on that more general topic which you can read here

This interview is only abut six minutes and I don't get the opportunity to go into as much detail as I do in the book, but you, your friends or loved ones might find it helpful.

Watch it here and you can re-size it for the whole screen by clicking on the far right icon at the bottom. Please do share it around if you think it might be helpful to someone you know.

Pax et Amor - Stuart

Friday 9 November 2012

Talk Show - Gay Talk Tonight 1 & 2

Recently I was in New Zealand to do some promotional work for Being Gay Being Christian. I did some interviews, some public speaking and had the wonderful opportunity to shoot a documentary on same-sex marriage - more about that in a future post. It was quite an exciting time I can tell you. 

Gay Talk Tonight Host - Andrew Whiteside
While there, I had the happy opportunity of appearing on Gay Talk Tonight, a net-based talk show hosted and produced by media whiz and film-maker Andrew Whiteside. Gay Talk Tonight is a forum where, in a small interview of about twelve minutes or so, guests are interviewed by Andrew on all manner of subjects related to living freely as as a gay person. And so I felt it a huge honour to be asked to appear and to have my story and the story of BGBC alongside such an illustrious lineup of people. Andrew asks all his guests at the end of their interview the same question: what makes a happy life? It was great to be able to offer a few thoughts of my own on this.

Andrew is a such a professional and his interviews are always interesting. You can click on the following title to go to his webpage where you will find many other interesting people in the same short format. I encourage you to have a listen.

Gay Talk Tonight  

Below you can find my own interview. Andrew has generously placed much of our hour together in two parts; something he normally doesn't do, so a real honour. Both are about twelve minutes each. They are here on the BGBC Blog, on the above link of course, and on YouTube as well (under the title of Being Gay Being Christian). If you watch them here, you can watch them as you see them on YouTube and best of all, you can also re-size them to fit the whole screen. I hope you enjoy these interviews, and please, if you know someone who might benefit from watching, do pass this blogpost around.

Part 1

Part 2

Pax et Amor - Stuart

Sunday 21 October 2012

New Zealand Interview and Visit

This week, I'm off to New Zealand to do some media events around the city of Auckland. How exciting and how blessed that I get to speak about some of the issues of which I am most passionate.

I will be on the support side of a debate/discussion on the topic of Same Sex Marriage which will be available for download from in the not too distant future. I will also be doing some television spots with various interviewers on the issues of the book. There will be some radio too and a magazine interview. I will be speaking at the Sunday evening service of the Metropolitan Community Church in Auckland on 28 October and at the mid-week evening meeting of the Auckland Community Church on 30 October. I am also looking forward to doing an internet interview with talk show host Andrew Whiteside on his Gay Talk Tonight show 

The New Zealand people have been very welcoming well before I have even arrived and I must say I am just so impressed by how open they are to talking about these sexuality issues which, for some of them, must be quite confronting.

Below, you can find an interview I recorded a few months ago with Justin Gregory from Radio New Zealand's Spiritual Outlook program. Justin and I had a wonderful chat about all sorts of interesting issues: 

  • the church 
  • traditional teachings on gay sexuality 
  • the evangelicals 
  • the Catholics
  • my own history of suffering
  • my journey to self-acceptance and self-love
  • the reasons I wrote the book
  • the intended audience of the book
  • how I see myself these days

It was broadcast on Sunday afternoon 21 October and released on-line the same afternoon. A pastor wrote to me immediately and said:

I have just listened to the broadcast, and rather sorry I am not in Auckland to hear more from you. Your book was given to me several months ago ( a birthday present ) and I am so pleased to have it, so pleased you wrote it. The book is so very useful in my ministry. Thank you! A most excellent book that should be on every Christian minister's bookshelf.

I hope you enjoy the interview and if you find it helpful, then purchase a copy of Being Gay Being Christian if you haven't read it yet or tell someone else who might need to hear about it. Or tell them about the website: or tell them about the book's Facebook page or my own personal page. There are a lot of people out there who need to hear this message: gay people, their family, their friends, their church associates, their clergy. Let's see if we can spread some good news!

Pax et Amor - Stuart

Saturday 11 August 2012

A Letter To James: Fathers and Their Gay Sons

On the first Sunday in September, Australia celebrates Fathers Day. Depending on the kind of a relationship you have with your father, it can be a nice day, spending some time with your dad and probably having a barbecue and a drink with him, a few laughs and some good discussion about the government, the game or the grandkids. Or perhaps it's a torment, fraught with tension because the relationship is not so good. Whichever of the two (or somewhere in between), we are definitely reminded of the father relationship at such a time. We all recognise that it is an important one. Gone are the days when dads were just bread-winners who put no emotional input or nurturance into the family or the raising of the children but just stuck to putting bread on the table and a roof over heads. These days, dads do it so much better. Or they should. We know so much more about parenting these days. We have learned from the mistakes of past generations and have set out on a greater adventure of parenting than our grandfathers or their fathers could ever have imagined.

One of the more difficult family relationships is that of father and son. Two guys competing for dominance in the family, one wanting to conserve the previous generation's values, the other rejecting them and believing that dad is fairly irrelevant to his more modern way of thinking. There is not uncommonly a tension between father and son. This is actually something that modern psychology can live with fairly comfortably because there is supposed to be a separation and a distinction between father and son. It is the psychological journey of adolescence. 

However quite often, there is more going on than this. Typically, men are socialised from a very young age to think that you have to be in control at all times, that you have to be a man - that usually means a 'man's man', that you have to tough it out, that you shouldn't give up, that you should face the fear and do it anyway, that you should stand your ground, that you should never show weakness or softness, and you should - - - -  well any other of a hundred different macho cliches.

Rough and Rusty
by Myphotoevolution: Flickr
Now it's pretty obvious to all that this stuff is gendered. It is masculine to be this way. It is not masculine to be different from this. In fact, it is considered feminine or girly not to demonstrate these so-called manly qualities. And softness is something a real man must never show. So a real man is not supposed to be too emotionally demonstrative. Showing too much care or tenderness is left for the womenfolk lest a man's sense of masculinity is called into question, either by himself or God forbid, by other men. Being too emotional highlights your softer side and that calls into question your masculinity because women are supposed to be the emotional and nurturing ones. We all know that, don't we?

As a result, men haven't always given their sons the necessary love and connection that is deserved from a parent. Many sons grow up with a disconnect (to use that horrible modern usage) between themselves and their father. I know - I see them in my Consulting Rooms regularly. "No, never really had much to do with Dad. He was always busy when I was a kid and he never seemed to have much time for me or what I was into anyway. Not really sure how to talk to him." And so generations of sons have grown up effectively estranged from their fathers and unable to relate to them. You might be one of these sons or you might be one of these fathers. Thank God this is changing, but we've got a long way to go yet.

So what happens when a son tells his father, "Dad, I'm gay?"

I am writing this post to fathers for a number of reasons. The first is because Fathers Day is coming up and it will be the first I have experienced after the loss of my father on Christmas Day 2011 three weeks shy of his 84th birthday. I wanted to commemorate him somehow for this special day and I thought a post about his response to my coming out to him as a gay man would be a good way to do this. Secondly, I recently read a letter from a father to his son that has gone viral on the web, originating in Los Angeles. It touched my heart immediately, as it has done to many others, and quite frankly, it brought me to tears. I titled this post after the young man James of that letter. Finally, in an earlier post, I wrote a piece to American Moms about their children being gay. And I did think that one day down the track I should probably write something to the dads too to even up the score. You can see the post to Moms here and I suggest you read it first, if you haven't already, before you proceed with this one. It will background you considerably on some of the more important issues related to this topic.

So, dads, how about it? You've read the post to Moms and acknowledge the issues involved. Your son comes to you and tells you that he is gay. What are you going to do? What are you going to say?

Here is one dad's response, the response of a father to his young James.

Where do I start? My first inclination was to silence. I just felt the pain of the onslaught and could utter no word because no word is possible. But this is a blog and blogs are about words. So how about by stating that this letter would have to be one of the cruellest things I have read outside the context of war atrocity. Its impact and intention are forces of destruction and death. He even uses symbols of death at the conclusion of the letter in the passage on the funeral. Like death, it is the ultimate rejection of life, and in this sad case, of his son's life. The emotional and psychological impact of this letter could be utterly devastating even fatal to someone if they were struggling. I do hope James has lots of support over the coming weeks. Judging by the comments on the Net, he will. 

James has received the message that he is not good enough to enter into his father's house, and why? Because of a sexual orientation no less, an aspect of life that James has no control over. It's like saying, "You are not welcome here because you have blue eyes or are left-handed. I reject you and your life as a result. You are not good enough for me. Take your blue eyes and your left hand and get out of my presence and never return."

Let it be said that this father is not an individual only in his homophobia. He is a product of a society that transmits this homophobia from generation to generation and so the responsibility must be shared between the individual and the society. However, I do find it difficult to imagine that in the twenty-first century any father could cast off his child so completely and ostracise his son so absolutely based on attitudes to homosexuality. We are not living in the 1940s after all. This is mind-numbing and willful ignorance at its worst and is a screaming example of why people need to be educated out of their ignorance and into some semblance of intelligent analysis around these issues.

Does this father not know (clearly he does not) that being gay is not a choice? Does he not know that being gay is not a lifestyle and should never ever be characterised that way? Does this man not know that being gay is not unnatural for gay people and that in fact we are wired this way genetically, biologically, physiologically and psychologically? Does he not know that our sexuality cannot be changed and that it remains stable across the lifespan as is his own? Does he not know that James didn't just wake up one morning and decide to join a sexual minority group? Does he not know that human sexual orientation is part of the fabric of what makes a person who they are - just as much as personality, temperament, aptitudes and eye-colour? Where has this man been for the last twenty-five years? Has he done any reading at all? Has he at least not seen something on the television about gay people and how it all works? For goodness sake, even 60 Minutes ran a large segment on it that you can still see on YouTube. And while we're on the topic, has this man never heard of the internet? Has he even bothered to take a look at what science has to say about human sexuality and do some exploration about our understanding of how it all works? It would appear not.

His letter is damning. Not of his wonderful son, who had the courage to disclose this part of his life to this selfish troglodyte  - no easy thing to do by the look of it - but utterly damning of himself. He has failed the basic test of parenthood. He has rejected his child, not because he is a killer or a thief or an arsonist, but merely because James is gay.

You know fathers, this letter in its brevity is actually a good diving board from which to plunge into the issues around this topic for straight men. So let's dial it back after James' father's attitudes and look at this systematically.

First, your son's being gay says nothing about you and your masculinity. Your own sense of being a man is not compromised because you have a gay son, not now, not ever. You do not have to worry that you have not been man enough for him to emulate. No, sexual orientation does not work that way. And anyway, would you really be comfortable with a masculinity that mandated rejecting your child because he didn't fit into some masculine stereotype? I wouldn't have placed too much value on that kind of masculinity.

Secondly, your son's being gay does not mean you failed as a parent. No, absolutely not! If anything, it means that you succeeded as a parent because your son trusted you to handle his disclosure and treat it with respect. Just think for a moment about how hard it is for a son to tell his dad that he is gay. Your son trusted you enough to tell you, the one person he more than likely feared telling the most. This shows that you have built a good relationship between the two of you and proclaims loudly that you have been a successful parent and done a great job of raising your son. He was able to summon the courage and come to you with this most personal of declarations. And think of what that says about how he feels about you? Even though he was fearful of telling you, he went ahead and did so regardless, because he wanted you to be able to share the truth of his life, not some fakery that he would have to act out in front of you. You get the real son not the fraud. In my book, that's not bad!

Thirdly, it is important that you show your son unqualified acceptance. He has had a long and probably difficult journey in accepting himself, so now you must traverse that same road vicariously. And you need to show him acceptance straight away as you begin that journey. He is the same young man you have always known. He has a personality, a temperament and a sexual identity just as you do. It's just that his sexual identity is oriented down a same-sex path not an opposite-sex path. Come on, you can do it. Make the mental shift. It's not that hard. Millions of dads have done it and will tell you it's the best thing they ever did regarding their gay sons.

Fourthly, be vigilant against homophobia - the non-acceptance of gay people for who they are. In men, it is very much tied up with that masculinity stuff we were talking about at the top of this blog. You know all that masculine macho stuff that all of us males are exposed to. There is a new lesson here; a really important one. There is not one masculinity, but many masculinities (plural). In other words, there is more than one way to be a man. Lots of straight guys don't much like stereotypical masculine past times like cars and engines and sport and action movies and  - - - well you know the list. There are many ways to be a man and lots of straight guys are into all sorts of past times and hobbies and pursuits that are not always valued by the stereotype.

As a gay man your son will traverse his life in much the same way as everyone else. There will be disappointments, sorrow and challenge, as well as joy, laughter and success. He will have his friends and probably a partner with whom he falls in love and maybe even wants to share his life. Certainly that happened to me and I feel wonderfully privileged and blessed to have found such a great guy.

Fifthly, you will need to get your head around the sex. Gay men, just like straight men, really enjoy sex and, like straight men, we have it in many different ways, not just one way. As you become more and more comfortable with your son and his friends, your distaste for gay sex will evaporate as you learn and understand these guys. They are people, not a behaviour, and not a sexual behaviour. Really, I think it shows a mark of both maturity and respect that you abandon your original attitude to your son's sex life as quickly as possible and just accept the fact that sex is physical, mental and emotional for all of us and that we all have different things that turn us on and that we enjoy. After all, we gay people don't generally go around decrying heterosexual sex just because we don't do it. It is not a huge mental shift. You can do it if you are willing. Surely there is room in our collective psyches for mutual understanding and acceptance that we're not all cookie-cutter sexual beings.

And finally, be prepared to do some listening. Your son's journey has probably been a tough one, so give him the chance to talk if he wants to. Don't problem solve. Just listen. Be a good hearer for him and offer support where he asks for it. You have a lot to learn about being gay and because your son is gay, you will want to learn more about this orientation and his life. It's quite exciting and very interesting stuff. If you want, you could even go and talk to some other dads at places like PFLAG or other groups, dads who have trodden this path before you. They will tell you that they have learned so much and that they are incredibly proud of their sons and feel just so privileged to have them in their lives. Now that sounds pretty cool to me.

One other thing before I share a little of my own dad. Religion. I want to tell you that the traditional teachings of the church on human sexuality need to be revisited. They are full of quite destructive premises and have caused untold harm to good people and frankly, to the reputation of the Gospel. And there are many errors in the way these issues are argued by fundamentalists of every Christian persuasion. If you are Christian, I urge you to do some homework and find out about this. You could start by reading my book, Being Gay Being Christian which has been very helpful to many people and which has been very well received. Get your bookstore to order you a copy if they don't have one, or just click on the cover at right and you can purchase it online.

Bill Edser - Surprise 80th Birthday Party January 2008
My father was born in 1928. His name was David, but he was known as Bill. He married my mother and they were together for 63 years, having four sons, one of them gay - me, the third son. Dad was an electrician as a young man and eventually educated himself so that he could be manager of an electronics company. He was on the conservative side of Australian politics and was a faithful Catholic coming from a fiercely Catholic family in those old Pre-Vatican II days. He went to Mass every Sunday his whole life and had all of us boys educated in Catholic schools. Dad was pushing 70 when I told him I was gay. Here is what he said.

I was very close to both my parents. Gay kids often are if given the chance. They had been part of my life in every aspect as I was growing up and venturing into young manhood, study and career. We were in my living room sitting in comfortable couches and had finished a cuppa. I ventured into the feared territory and made my disclosure nervously and falteringly. There was silence at first. For me, it felt like an eternity. Looking back, it was only a matter of about a minute. Dad moved himself forward in his chair in my direction and said, "Stuart, we have always loved and supported you and we always will." With that, I got teary which made him teary and Mum was already teary. I knew that no matter their journey, we would be alright. We talked some more and they asked me many questions which I answered as honestly as I could. As I talked, I could see them nodding and eventually they said that "it's all starting to make sense now," as they began to join up all the dots of my life.

Now my father has gone. He succumbed to a form of dementia in his final years which took him cruelly. It was very hard for us to watch. He died in my and my mother's arms. I watched him take his four last breaths and counted them, then he was gone. I kissed him goodbye and cried out to him how much he was loved by us all as he passed away. He had lived and died for his wife and four sons and his love was unconditional.

2001 Christmas l to r  Me, Dad and Chris.
I was playing with being blonde
and this was Chris' first Christmas with us
"Stuart, we have always loved and supported you and we always will". I will never forget those words. They are of the strongest and most influential words anyone has ever spoken to me. He never asked me to change. He never asked me to seek psychiatric help. He never asked me to repent. He knew this was the truth of me and that this was how I was. He accepted me and launched himself and my mother on a journey of exploration that would include lots of talks over coffee around their kitchen table and their accepting and loving my partner Chris and our lives together.

So dads. What's it going to be? Can you be the man you need to be at this time? Can you step up and be brave against a world that is still homophobic? Can you out-think the heterosexism of this world, the belief that everyone is straight or ought to be? Can you truly love your son as being a man and not some creature? Can you allow the love that you have in your heart to well up and overflow and be offered unconditionally to your son?

Book Cover: A Mormon Dad and his Son
Please don't be like the father of James who put himself and his ignorance first. His shame will live on if he does not change. His son James deserves to have a dad who will be there for him, support him and love him all his days. And that dad should be able to enjoy the warmth of the friendship and love of his son and his partner. 

Fathers, show the love you have in your heart to your son.
Demonstrate it.
Don't just be a man.
Be a good man!
Don't just be a father.
Be a good father!

Pax et Amor - Stuart

Friday 29 June 2012

Gay Marriage - the Perth Interview

As we all know, the topic of gay marriage has been all the rage for quite some time now, not just in Australia but around the world. On 18 June 2012, I was called by ABC radio 720 Perth to do an interview with their Drive time presenter Russell Woolf about this topic. Russell and I had talked extensively earlier in the year about the book and I had found him interested, interesting, well-informed and very willing to discuss the myriad issues brought up by a book like Being Gay Being Christian. Of course, I jumped at the chance of a second interview and was very happy to discuss the topic of gay marriage with him even though I had not very much time to collect my thoughts or to prepare.

At the conclusion of the interview, Russell's producer came back on the line and told me that the phones had lit up and that texts were coming in thick and fast in support of what I was saying. She told me that it was one of the best responses to a story they had had. Isn't it great to know you're not alone! :)

Below is the audio of the interview. I hope you enjoy it.

Russell Woolf
Drive Presenter ABC Radio 720 Perth


Deal With it Bishops

On the weekend of 17 June, the hierarchies of the church in Sydney, namely the Catholic, Anglican and Greek Orthodox bishops, decided to have read a 'pastoral' letter in their respective churches about the vexed topic of gay marriage. This was obviously done in response to the strong support for marriage equality that the people of Australia have offered, despite the recalcitrance of our political leaders. However, congregants were trapped as they had to sit there and listen to clerics denigrating the lives and relationships of gay people with out-dated theology, poor science and a naivete around LGBT people and issues. People had no right of reply or any chance to offer an alternate view in the church-service scenario. It was a top-down, heavy-handed approach by the conservative church telling people how to think and how to behave, encouraging them to lobby politicians to oppose marriage equality should a bill come before the Parliament.

I was not a happy camper with this state of affairs as these same clerics took to the airwaves and to the print media over the following days to sell their dinosaur position.

That weekend, I decided to write a reply to my local newspaper, the Newcastle Herald. I wrote it quickly and sent it in under the title, 'A Response To The Bishops.' The opinion piece was duly accepted and they published it on the following Wednesday under the title, 'I am gay and Christian: deal with it, bishops,' which made me sound like a petulant child or an outraged adolescent. Even though the title is nothing like the tenor of the piece itself, I am glad they published it and I understand that many people read it.

For your interest, here it is.

Pax et Amor - Stuart