Homosexuality: the difference between TV and Greek Tragedy

bible wedding

Blogging is a fascinating way to interact with people over an issue or topic.

Once in while a blog will unexpectedly come back to life after months of lying dormant. It usually happens when A) somebody references it month later B) when the topic hits the news again. The dying embers leap back to life in flame! 

This week my old post on and Evangelical approach to same-sex marriage has fired back up – for obvious reasons. I’m not going to link there because I just can’t wade into the 195 comments without getting lost.  I did, however, want to report about a most interesting exchange that came out of it.

Someone who disagreed with my saying that ‘homosexual’ as we currently understand and conceive of the term, never existed until the 19th century. Some people keep wanting to argue about sexual acts and missing that there are broader issues of orientation and identity that were not addressed in Greco-Roman culture or the greek language of the New Testament.

One such person – let’s call him TM – engaged the issue this way: 

For example, the statement “The Bible (the inspired written word of God) is not talking about homosexuality. It didn’t exist.” seems somewhat confusing, even if we only focused on the Roman era of indulgences of the First Century. Are you suggesting that homosexuality didn’t exist in this era… simply because they may have called it something else?

This is along the lines of your attempt to make a point about television – in one sense, it didn’t exist; and yet in another, it did – as plays/theater. Are you suggesting that simply because the presentation was different that there weren’t actors and actresses who presented drama, comedy, tragedy and more to a mass audience? Are you really going to argue that because a word didn’t exist that means the concept didn’t exist?

Do you see the how the analogy works? This is really important to see because those who sincerely believe that they are being faithful to the scriptures are often mashing contemporary experiences into ancient writings in a way that is … how should I say this?
Let’s try it a different way: when your faith is constructed in such a way that you need your sacred text to speak to every area of your life – then you will, by necessity, fit your modern data into the provided molds.

My response to TM included 3 points of departure:

“TV is indeed different from ancient theatre.

1) One can sit alone in a house and watch TV, absent of the social connection and crowd interaction.

2) One can also change the channel when it gets boring. You can not do that at the theatre.

3) Plays also so do not have commercials which deeply influence us.

In those three ways I would say that one can not simply say “TV and theatre are the same” as you have.

You are comfortable mashing modern categories onto the ancient & calling them the same. This willingness to mash is why you are frustrated that the Bible isn’t talking about what we are talking about.  TV is a different medium than ancient theatre – I hope that you can see that.”

It seems like a great example of the where the ‘two’ sides are missing each other in this debate.

It reminds me a great deal of the ongoing issues of conservatives ‘starting in the middle’ that I am perpetually having to point out.

That is where Ray Comfort takes the highly refined and cultivated modern banana and reads meaning, design, and intention back into it by the ‘creator’ – even going as far as it’s fit to the human hand, its easy pull tab opening, and its built-in disposal wrapping.

Maybe it would be easier for us to talk about TV & theatre in a categorical way before we wade into the elevated hostilities of the same-sex debate.

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19 comments
phule77
phule77

I think that another thing we have to deal with here is a culture of dismissiveness.

If there is something that we think is wrong (in this case, homosexuality) we tend to have an attitude of scorn or dismissiveness/belittlement toward it (see also, George bush, Fundamentalism, Inerrancy).

Generally if you can afford to be dismissive toward something, you're going to use very poor or weak logic in your argument, such as the comparison to posters in a theater advertising for the group that donates to keep the theater open, to commercials for beer and cars. Or homosexuality and pedophilia. Anything which is beyond the pale is simply not worth the respect a reasonable argument would take.

We then have to consider...do we then dismiss those who are dismissive? We can't really argue with them to get them to be less dismissive, unless they're inadvertently dismissive. It's a definite question...

Isaac FL
Isaac FL

maybe this is not related to the homosexuality conversation, but it makes me ask myself some questions, like is the Bible is inspired by  God meaning that "He" actually wrote it, or was God the inspiration for it? like if I was to write a song to my wife she inspired me but she didn't wrote the song. If God "wrote" the Bible then it is easy to say, "well God said that a man that lies with an other man blah blah blah" is wrong, is a sin or whatever, but if God was the inspiration there is margin for human selfish, hateful destructive words, and the songs that actually talk about God tend to be less.
Perhaps if we address the issue of "God said it's His word", we could move forward and understand a different way of life

MarshallPease
MarshallPease

Of course live theater has commercials. Since it is a social experience, you will encounter people who want to sell you eg investment opportunities. The theater will at least have posters for future shows, and may well be dispensers of supplementary pharmaceuticals, which will be suitably displayed. The performers will be hawking their paraphernalia. Local shopowners will be setting out. And so on.


The Television medium offers particular options, but the core experience of watching actors perform dramas remains the point of the thing. Might also point out that "theater" is a pretty broad category, a cafe is not the same as a stadium. Not to mention a setup on a streetcorner.

JeffSaysICant
JeffSaysICant

Yeah, but don't you think Job 38:35 is a Biblical reference to television?  So that disproves everyone's points. 

Matthew McCracken
Matthew McCracken

Whoa, that analogy is bizarre! Really appreciate the post, though. I've encountered this objection quite a lot. The anachronism leads to me despair, more or less - as you say it's a prime example of where we're talking past each other.

Perhaps I'm jumping the gun here, but I'm so often convinced that there are (so many) issues/problems behind the issue/problem in these debates, to skip them is to always "begin in the middle," as you say. The Bible being (one of) the chief contender(s); with the issues @KirstenG raises causing so much of the cognitive dissonance.

How do you think we move forward when our conversation partners aren't having/don't want to have that discussion? Just this evening I was in a conversation where, once my interlocutor established we held divergent opinions re. Scripture, they rather unceremoniously said it was "going nowhere" and bailed. It was sad to me, because I thought to myself: "This is exactly where productive dialogue starts! I see your need for a universal foundation, you see my lack of confidence in the Bible being it. Let's have an honest conversation now about why we think what we do and consider later that important issue 'x' that was obscuring our deeper, more fundamental, motivations."

jacksonnickd
jacksonnickd

Couldn't agree more, Bo.

And I'm with you too, Phule. I'm an actor and a lit major. It's different. I want to go on explaining the differences, but I think Bo has already done a great job of distinguishing the two. All I will say is, I'm an actor, and they're diffferent.

KirstenG
KirstenG

"Are you really going to argue that because a word didn’t exist that means the concept didn’t exist?" 

Um, yes. Isn't that exactly what you're trying to argue?

Isn't this Foucault's point about subjects being produced through discourse - that, as Stuart Hall aptly summarizes, subjects are produced through discourse both as figures who personify particular forms of knowledge and as the positions from which they can have meaning at all (i.e., within the context that gives rise to them)? 

The critique leveled against Foucault (erroneously, in my opinion) is that meaning being tied to context devolves into a meaning-less relativism. 

Thus, the problem continues for many evangelicals continues to be the seemingly inevitable question, "If we must historicize scripture - take into account its context - then how do we have any basis from which to claim *anything* as universal? Where do we draw the line?" It's related to the issue you (Bo) present about wanting to "mash" our modern conceptions into the biblical (historical) text. If our concepts *can't* be mashed in there, then how are we to know what's universal in the text? How can we say that anyone can pick up the Bible, read it, and understand it (through the work of the Spirit) if it seems that we need to do the work (read: academic study) of uncovering the historicity of the text?

phule77
phule77

Speaking as somebody with a theater degree, the statement that television is the same as theater is incredibly insulting.

There are actors who do TV, theater, and even film, but they will tell you that each of these things is incredibly different, and that they have different aims and purposes.

Much like trying to equate pedastry and homosexuality...

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@MarshallPease Marshall - seeing a 'poster' on your way into a 1st century play is not the same as watching TV alone in the 21st century. 

TV commercials have a powerful effect on us. Plus you can change the channel. 

Please don't say they are the same experience.   -Bo 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@JeffSaysICant ummmmm I will have to look that one up :) But I am sure that you are correct.  If so I will withdraw the point I am trying to make and pull down the post entirely.  -Bo 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@mattmccrac @KirstenG I think that you 2 are really onto something. 

Maybe the 3 of us could think about HOW to engage this in more meaningful ways down the road? 

I could sure use it...  -Bo  I am under the impression that many could use it . 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@jacksonnickd THANK YOU so much for chiming in!  I am (admittedly) using this as an analogy - but I KNEW that there were real knowledgable people out there who I hoped would back me up :) 

I am glad to be in dialogue about this sort of stuff. ... -Bo 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@KirstenG You have touched on the CORE of the issue. How is anyone to read and understand anything?

AND if someone reads the same thing and understands it differently ... HOW am I to navigate that? 

Actually, this is the MOST interesting thing (IMHO) that we could spend the next 5 years discussing! 

-Bo 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@phule77 I SO appreciate you taking the time to write in! 

I knew that this was something that I needed to bring to light when the comments started rolling in. 

I think that it is important that we all understand how each other is processing the information.  -Bo 

MarshallPease
MarshallPease

@BoSanders @MarshallPeaseI thought we were comparing modern theater with modern TV. Talking about first century theater begs the question of modern vs. ancient practice. And watching TV while drinking beer alone in a bowling alley is different than going to a superbowl party.

I really am not clear about your argument. Surely in the ANE there were eg men whose private erotic fantasies revolved exclusively around other men. Yes? If there wasn't a public context for them, then they must have been severely closeted, and who can blame them. Maybe we should look to practice in Yemen or someplace around there as a model. Or even pre-Stonewall NY. The contexts don't seem THAT different, ymmv.

KirstenG
KirstenG

@BoSanders @mattmccrac What I maybe didn't articulate as well as I could have was the point about being produced as subjects (of discourse) through our positions. Foucault uses this great analogy of the Velasquez painting "Las Meninas," (http://employees.oneonta.edu/farberas/arth/Images/110images/sl14_images/velazquez_lasmeninas_large.jpg) which he says has two centers/subjects/spectator positions/meanings - the child painted in the center of the painting and the off-canvas couple, the King and Queen of Spain (who are posing for a portrait), that everyone *in* the painting is looking at, including the child. The couple is reflected in a mirror in the background of the painting. 

In order to understand the painting, you have to subject yourself to the discourse of the painting as a spectator, and to get both meanings, you have to see both spectatorial positions (looking into the painting from off canvas and being in the painting looking out to the couple posing for a portrait).

Inserting our own conceptions (of 'sexuality,' of 'gender,' of 'race,' and - I would say - even the idea of 'self' at all) into sacred text is to overlook how we must subject ourselves to the discourse of the Bible in order to be in the position of 'spectator' at all. We want there to be *one* transhistorical, transcultural discourse (well, maybe not 'we,' but someone, somewhere), but what we have are multiple, diffuse discourses to which we must be willing to subject ourselves in order to understand.

phule77
phule77

@BoSanders @phule77 I think that our culture is just as given to poor, overly broad analogies about things that they don't really understand as they are to slippery slope arguments.

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @phule77  There is no doubt that this is true! You are 100% correct.  -Bo