Homosexuality, Biology and the Bible
© Ogaga Ifowodo
In my essay on the disturbing attitude to homosexuality in Nigeria entitled "Homosexuality and Nigeria's Enochs and Josephs" (NVS, 19 December 2011), I highlighted the efforts of Rev. Jasper Akinola, former primate of the Anglican communion in Nigeria, to exclude gays from the church and to turn same-sex relations into a crime punishable by long term imprisonment. His assumption, obviously, is that imprisonment is a cure to the "evil" of homosexuality, though if he succeeds in his aim (I hope not) he will learn the contrary soon enough when his prisoners return from jail with their desire intact.
I also claimed that the views and actions of Akinola lack Christian love and understanding. The majority of the responses I received confirm my charge, with the most charitable claiming that my essay proves I am myself gay (as if I would thereby be insulted) and that I had lost any claim to being a human rights advocate. The less charitable simply declared me "an apostle of the devil." It seems the responses were drawn mostly from the sanctimonious army of the "born again" that thrives in substituting irrational frenzy for knowledge - the sort the apostle, Philip, might have asked, "Understandeth thou what thou readest?" But then I assume that in their endless paroxysm of spiritual possession they can even read or know what it means to say that "the letter killeth."
A minority of my born-again readers did, however, echo the cry of homosexuality as an unnatural practice, proof of which is that it cannot lead to procreation. As an argument, it appeals only to emotion, not reason, and I will take it up in the next and concluding essay. For now, I will say only that it gives false justification for the urge not only to demonise but, also, dehumanise and even banish homosexuals from society. Their same-sex desire is judged a personal and unpardonable choice. Nature cannot possibly have a hand in their condition; it simply cannot be the case that they are unable to help their feelings just as heterosexuals cannot help theirs for the opposite sex. But never a second to ponder why homosexuals would choose the most unpopular and dangerous thing to do in a homophobic world. Never a nanosecond to ask why gays would risk being ostracised or killed rather than be their "natural" heterosexual selves. Yet, it can be their fault only to the extent that the fig tree Jesus cursed so that it withered had chosen to do an unnatural thing: refuse to bear fruits. Jesus judges its difference from other fig trees in the matter of fruitfulness (procreation, if you will) as a crime against nature punishable by death.
But if we ask, What is the source of desire - or of pride, the primal sin - we cannot escape the conclusion that it comes from God's nature ("likeness") "breathed" into man. (A caveat: I do not believe in the myth of creation in Genesis but make these biblical references solely for the sake of argument. Science has proved beyond doubt that human life, never mind the earth itself, are not under ten thousand years old as the creationists, or "intelligent design" proponents, would have it.) The Old Testament prophets, Isaiah and Amos, and the author of Lamentations, assert that all things, good and evil, are created by God. The book of Samuel corroborates this view. As King Saul's punishment for disregarding the strict order to "utterly destroy" the Amalekites - to "slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass" - he loses his kingdom to David. Consequently, "an evil spirit from the Lord came upon him" and drove him mad.
It may yet be argued that God did not create evil. And that this was the work of Satan, the eternal scapegoat. From whence then did Satan, head of the heavenly host as Angel Lucifer, acquire the sinful desire of pride or the power to create what was not already created, even though without God "was nothing made that was made?" Why, after evil had somehow been created behind God's back, couldn't he undo it all by saying simply, "Let there be no sin, now or forever more?" Well, because man and woman owe their nature to God, and that nature is both good and evil. Having failed in his task of creating only that which was "good," God "repented" that he had made man. Curiously, despite wiping out in the great flood all the sinful men on earth save the righteous Noah, evil somehow found its way back!
Not even Paul could explain the riddle of the source of evil; of homosexuality. When he says in the first book of Romans that God gave men and women up to "the lusts of their hearts to impurity," that he caused them to exchange "natural relations for those that are contrary to nature," the language betrays what Paul seeks to hide: that God, in effect, wills these men and women to the "unnatural" acts as punishment for not acknowledging his supremacy. So petty does Paul make God appear here that the list of evils deserving of death is repetitive and long: envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness, gossip, slander, hating God, insolence, haughtiness, boastfulness, disobedience to parents, invention of evil, foolishness, faithlessness, heartlessness and ruthlessness! Murder is rightly a crime, but Rev. Akinola must set his sights on criminalising the rest of these evils.
But biblical myths and early Christian pastorals aside, studies abound on the question of homosexuality and biology. Like most attempts to understand complex human phenomena, in particular such abstruse realms as neuro-biology and psycho-sexuality, the topic is still laden with many unanswered questions. But long after regarding homosexuality as a pathology whose cure psychiatrists sought in vain, and after the ugly epoch of forcing lesbians to undergo hysterectomies, sexual orientation is now seen as a biological issue. This better informed view may be called the hormonal theory of sexuality. Among many, the case of Richard Pillard, a professor of psychiatry whose brother and sister are gay - and whose grandfather (as he believes) was too - buttresses this approach. Studies by Pillard and the psychobiologist, James Weinrich, lead them to theorize that gay persons underwent a partial form of sexual differentiation in the womb.
What follows is taken from the essay, "Homosexuality and Biology" by Chandler Burr (The Atlantic magazine, June 1997). As foetuses, human beings start out with complete female and male "precursors" of the genitals - vagina, uterus, and fallopian tubes for women; vas deferens, seminal vesicles, and ejaculatory ducts for men. These organs are called the Mullerian ducts in females and the Wolffian in males. An embryo gets its chromosomal sex at conception, which determines whether it will develop testes or ovaries. In females, the sexual organs develop without any help from hormones; the Wolffian duct simply shrivels up. With males, however, the process is more complex as they need two kinds of hormones: androgens from the testes to prompt the Wolffian duct into development, and the inhibiting Mullerian hormone to defeminise the male foetus. Pillard's rational deduction is that the Mullerian hormone, or its analogue, may have brain-organizing effects and if enough of it is not produced to prevent the brain from defeminising, the result would be "psychosexual androgyny." Gay men, then, are males with biologically induced female aspects, and vice versa for lesbians. This view is corroborated by the findings of other scholars - Richard Green, Simon LeVay, Robert Goy - whose research shows that boys "who manifest aspects of gender-atypical play are often gay." Such gender-atypical play as dressing in women's clothes, playing with dolls, or taking the role of the mother is believed to indicate a homosexual orientation up to 75% of the time. What is striking about this research is that sex-atypical behaviour can be induced or reversed with hormonal manipulation in animals at the prenatal stage. No doubt, this is a promising line of scientific inquiry into the cause of homosexuality.
I had promised to also discuss the question whether homosexuality is a sin, an illness, a lifestyle choice or a crime. That must now wait till the concluding essay where I will focus on the theme of sex, sexuality and power. I shall also visit the tendency across cultures of reactions to same-sex relations to be deeply visceral and atavistic in nature.