This post is meant to engender conversation as relating to several things, namely the use of the ancients to justify our ignorance of the present.
“Homosexuality,” Plato wrote, “is regarded as shameful by barbarians and by those who live under despotic governments just as philosophy is regarded as shameful by them, because it is apparently not in the interest of such rulers to have great ideas engendered in their subjects, or powerful friendships or passionate love-all of which homosexuality is particularly apt to produce.”
From here, which is an essay on early views of homosexuality. It should be eye opening as we discuss the usual devoid-of-history ‘what happened before’ and ‘never has…’ statements. I bring this up because a commenter who believes that homosexuals (exclusively male, it seems) cause AIDS noted when I said that he should read more that he was going to read Plato. I haven’t gotten around to addressing it yet, but um, dude, Plato was okay with the gay.
And, both our religious (Justin Martyr, et al…) and political founders were okay with Plato. So, um, where does that leave us? Think of it this way. A good deal of Christian theology is built upon the likes of Plato as is American political ideology. Plato, as many ancient Greeks and Romans, believed that homosexuality was acceptable. I hesitate to use the word natural here, because I believe that Plato saw ‘natural’ as something relating more to procreation and less according to biological predisposition. Of course, there is the notion that Plato had different meanings for homosexuality ranging from love to simple intercourse to rape.
Ah, my friends, how difficult it seems to ensure that the working of an institution shall be as unquestionable as its theory! Presumably it is with states as it is with human bodies – one cannot prescribe one definite treatment for one subject which involves no physically injurious consequences along with its beneficial effects. For example, these physical exercises and common meals you speak of, though in many ways beneficial to a city, provide dangerous openings for faction, as is shown by the cases of the Milesians, Boeotians, and Thurians. And, in particular, this practice is generally held to have corrupted the ancient and natural rule in the matter of sexual indulgence common to mankind with animals at large, and the blame for these corruptions may be charged, in the first instance, on your two cities and such others as are most devoted to physical exercises. Whether these matters are to be regarded as sport, or as earnest, we must not forget that this pleasure is held to have been granted by nature to male and female when conjoined for the work of procreation; the crime of male with male, or female with female, is an outrage on nature and a capital surrender to lust of pleasure. And you know it is our universal accusation against the Cretans that they were the inventors of the tale of Ganymede; they were convinced, we say, that their legislation came from Zeus, so they went on to tell this story against him that they might, if you please, plead his example for their indulgence in this pleasure too. With the tale we have no further concern, but the pleasures and pains of communities and of private lives are as good as the whole subject of a study of jurisprudence. (Laws I 636a-d)
That was exactly my own meaning when I said I knew of a device for establishing this law of restricting procreative intercourse to its natural function by abstention from congress with our own sex, with its deliberate murder of the race and its wasting of the seed of life on a stony and rocky soil, where it will never take root and bear its natural fruit, and equal abstention from any female field whence you would desire no harvest (Laws VIII 838e-839a).
Many will note that as Plato matured, he grew to call for an abandonment of homosexuality, but it seems that for him, homosexual love and heterosexual love were almost the same. I might contend that what Plato was raging against was not the act or feeling itself of either homosexual or heterosexual love, but love itself. In reading snippets of Plato, it seems that he viewed love as an unbridled beast which could not be contained, therefore it was not the physical actions of intercourse which he plotted against, but the need, if that makes any sense. Further, if you note Laws I 636a-d, Plato is not specifically speaking about homosexuality, but about reproduction, and in a very real way, love. Note again Laws VIII – it was not about the act, which he seemingly was in favor of, but in the fear that procreation was not being carried out. We see such mentality in ancient cultures and even now in pre-modern peoples such as tribes in Afghanistan in which men are married to women, and will engage in procreative intercourse naming it love, but regularly engage in what we would deem (but they adamantly reject) as homosexuality. We know that the ancient Athenian men were married, had children, but engaged in fraternal intercourse with males younger than themselves.
In sum, you may in fact believe that homosexuality is a sin and find ample evidence in Scripture to do so, but if you tout the fact that instead of reading modern takes on the issues you will instead turn to the loftiness of Plato, then in fact, you are reading a gay man who supported the child molester Socrates as divine while proclaiming that you have pedagogical level not yet attained by the remainder of we mere mortals.