CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Pushing Agendas through Advocacy Scholarship

Jul 19, 2007

There is nothing like a regular supply of half-truths, misinformation and sloppy use of facts in making a case. But that is the regular practice of homosexual apologists. They are quite happy to bend the truth to suit their needs. One expects such tactics from radical advocacy groups, but it becomes more problematic when it is all at tax-payer expense.

I refer to yet another piece of pro-homosexual propaganda which you and I are subsidising with our taxes. La Trobe University in Melbourne has produced a real beauty: The Peers Outsmarting Homophobia (POSH) booklet, designed “for same sex attracted young people, workers, families and friends”.

A proper critique of this work of indoctrination will be forthcoming. But here I want to focus on just one aspect of it. The booklet contains various “myths” that it seeks to refute. The first “false belief” that it tackles is that homosexuality is a sin. The booklet seeks to rebuff this idea, and even argues that Christianity never really opposed homosexuality, but even accepted it, at least in the early centuries of the church. And its main source of information for this? Former Yale academic John Boswell.

There are many problems with using Boswell as a reliable authority here. First, he was a homosexual, who died of AIDS at age 47 in 1994. Thus he is hardly an impartial and disinterested observer concerning this issue. He instead was a very passionate advocate, pushing the homosexual agenda.

Secondly, his main works on the subject have been roundly condemned by many leading academics and experts in the field. The two main volumes he penned on the subject were Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (1980), and The Marriage of Likeness: Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe (1994). These two works have both been subjected to careful and close scrutiny, and they have been found to be seriously wanting.

Consider a few representative quotes from leading scholars in this area. David Wright of Edinburgh wrote in the important work, Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, that Boswell’s work was “influential but highly misleading”. He goes on to say that the Boswell argument “provides in the end of the day not one firm piece of evidence that the teaching mind of the early church countenanced homosexual activity”.

A distinguished scholar of early Christianity at the University of Virginia, Robert Wilken, said Boswell’s writing was simply “advocacy scholarship”. By this he meant that Boswell put his “scholarship in the service of a social and political agenda”. As Wilken notes, “In some cases, Boswell simply invents evidence to suit his argument”.

He says that the whole tenor of his work, especially as expressed in his 1994 volume, is quite unhistorical and anachronistic. That is, Boswell seeks to make the case for the presence of homosexuals in the ancient world, yet he admits that such people (as defined today) did not even exist then. Instead there were only heterosexuals who engaged in homosexual activities. Boswell even admits that the “ancients did not think there was a class of people with sexual ‘preferences’ for the same sex”.

A scholar who is himself sympathetic to the homosexual movement, David Greenberg, wrote a classic work on this in 1988, entitled The Construction of Homosexuality. He shows that the category “homosexual” did not even exist prior to the late-19th century. Before then people did not speak of a class of people as homosexuals. Yet that is the thesis Boswell tries to make in his books. Says Wilken, “Boswell creates historical realities that are self-contradictory, and hence unhistorical”.

One scholar of early Christian history, Robin Darling Young, complains about the way Boswell “struggled to force a group of documents to conform to his conclusions”. She says this about his 1994 work: “Despite its façade of scholarship, the book is studded with unwarranted a priori assumptions, with arguments from silence, and with dubious, or in some cases outrageously false, translations of critical terms. And Boswell’s insouciance about historical accuracy would be unacceptable in an undergraduate paper.”

Another reviewer of his 1994 volume is equally unimpressed: “To sustain his argument, Boswell must constantly tear words, sentences and larger statements out of the social and literary contexts in which they were embedded”. He concludes his scathing review in The New Republic by lamenting Boswell’s “tendentious misreadings of antiquity”.

When Boswell approaches the biblical texts he comes off no better. New Testament scholar Richard Hayes of Duke University says this of his interpretation: it “has no support in the text and is a textbook case of reading into the text what one wants to find there”.

Many others could be cited. Oxford historian and scholar Robin Lane Fox considers Boswell’s thesis “quite unconvincing”.

Boswell simply does not make the case he sets out to. As Richard John Neuhaus says, “what Boswell’s historical scavenger hunt does not produce is any evidence whatever that authoritative Christian teaching ever departed from the recognition that homosexual acts are morally wrong”. Or as Young puts it, Boswell’s “painfully strained attempt to recruit Christian history in support of the homosexual cause that he favors is not only a failure, but an embarrassing one”.

The truth is, Boswell’s works are bad scholarship and crass advocacy, and the fact that La Trobe University has to rely on Boswell to make its case shows just what thin ground it is on.

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10 Responses to Pushing Agendas through Advocacy Scholarship

  • Camille Paglia, professor of humanities at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, and herself a lesbian, would be expected to be biased in favour of Boswell, but was scathing of his pseudo-scholarship:

    Despite sporadic qualifications, Boswell repeatedly implies a genital subtext to intense spiritual alliances, even when his supporting manuscripts make clearly uncarnal invocations to martyred paired saints, who died in the service of Christ. …

    Whatever medieval ceremonies of union may have been found, Boswell has not remotely established that they were originally homosexual in our romantic sense. Their real meaning has yet to be determined. Sacrilegious misuse of such ceremonies may indeed have occurred, leading to their banning, but historians are unjustified in extrapolating backwards and reducing fragmentary evidence to its lowest common denominator. The cause of gay rights, which I support, is not helped by this kind of slippery, self-interested scholarship, where propaganda and casuistry impede the objective search for truth. [‘Plighting Their Troth’, The Guardian Weekly, 11 Sept. 1994, p. 18.]

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • Thanks for that Jonathan
    More solid ammunition.
    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Maybe Boswell’s scholarship was not so bad, it was just done in the spirit of postmodernism.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria.

  • Thanks Bill for a fine piece and Jonathon for the insightful quote.
    Sadly, as you know, it is not just historians that “reduce fragmentary evidence to its lowest common denominator”. In a recent conversation about sex, relationships and homosexuality with a local journalist I consistently had to challenge the same thing.
    Carl Woods also did it on a TV programe when he said ‘some children are born because of incest, so what is wrong with a homosexual finding a lesbian egg donor, using his sperm, and then getting his mother to carry the baby’!
    The Victorian Law Reform Commission is good at doing this too in their latest report on ART for single women and lesbians.
    Every bit of positive research into aspects of homosexuality, whether about supposed genetics or lifestyle or children relies on the same type of distortions and bias.
    This La Trobe ‘POSH’ booklet, like all their material on sexuality, is appallingly ‘biased’ and deals with feelings rather than truth or science.
    For a University to put its name to such material defies belief.
    Peter Stokes

  • Is your motive to convince someone not to “choose” the Gay lifestyle or to bash the nearest homosexual? Jesus defines sin as lack of love (recorded about 7 times). What is unloving about homosexuality? Queen Jane had homophobic/psychotic reasons for influencing mistranslation of Leviticus 18:22 to read “man…man. The inventor of Protestantism and modern Christianity, Martin Luther, translated that verse “Man shall not lie with a BOY as with a woman” in his 1545 Bibel. (See BibleGateway.com)
    Fred Conwell, Tijuana

  • Thanks Fred

    But there is no bashing going on here, only concern for those trapped in the homosexual lifestyle. And Jesus said if you love me, you will keep my commandments. That includes God’s design for human sexuality, which is confined to heterosexual marriage.

    Love is willing the highest good for the other person. There is nothing loving about willing a person to be engulfed in the high-risk homosexual lifestyle. And the Hebrew is quite clear in Lev. 18:22 “do not lie with a man as with a woman”. All good translations render the text this way.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hi Bill
    “Love is willing the highest good for the other person. There is nothing loving about willing a person to be engulfed in the high-risk homosexual lifestyle”
    So where does that put the love I have for my boyfriend? We have been in a monogamous relationship for over 3 years. I love him. He love me. I wish the highest good for him. He wishes the highest good for me. We are not doing anything that could even be considered high-risk. Thus, your two statements here, unsurprisingly, make no logical sense.
    Matt Page

  • Thanks Matt

    But love is not just a feeling or emotion. You have a strong attraction and feelings for your partner. But that is not the fullness of what love is all about. Just as it is a loving thing to warn a drug addict of his ways, and seek to get him off his unhealthy and risky lifestyle, so too it is a loving thing to warn homosexuals about their situation. All you two are doing is reinforcing each other’s justification for your lifestyle.

    And even if you have a “safe” and monogamous relationship, that is not the end of the matter. There are also concerns about the greater good. I believe that the institutions of heterosexual marriage and family are tremendous social goods, and ones that need to be enforced and affirmed. And partnerships that fall outside of these institutions will tend to have adverse effects on them. Your individual relationship may not seem to bother anyone, but it is another addition to the cumulative assault on the very idea of heterosexual marriage and family.

    As more and more people engage in more and more relationships of all kinds, they all take their toll on the norm and ideal of heterosexual marriage and family, the social goods of which I have outlined elsewhere.

    So again, you are just thinking about your own little world, with no thought for the greater social good. Of course plenty of heterosexuals do just the same. But in the end, the effect will be the same: the erosion of marriage and family, with all the negative consequences which that entails.

    Finally, your argument can also be used of other combinations and permutations. Three men living together in love with each other, could make the same case, and ask the same question: ‘what’s wrong with that? We love each other and we are not hurting anyone.’ Or it is the same argument used by, say, lesbian parents: ‘We love our children and offer a loving home. What’s wrong with that?’ All in spite of the data that show clearly shows that children need a mother and a father.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • The LGBTs won’t need to have to fight to have their various orientations recognised and accepted by the rest of society for the Church of England under the able and inspired leadership of Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has already done their work for them. Any last bit of protest or resistance to homosexuality, put up by the odd bishop or vicar, here or there, who is obviously in need of intensive diversity training, will simply through “natural” selection, disappear. news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/6904057.stm
    David Skinner, UK

  • NZ Census dispels the 10% homosexual myth

    “Census results … The new figures also suggest that same-sex couples are less likely to nest than their heterosexual counterparts, with homosexual couples making up just under 1% of all couples in New Zealand in 2006 … The numbers of gay men living together rose slightly from the 2001 Census to reach 0.3% in 2006, while the number of lesbian women cohabiting made up 0.4% of all couples living together … Numerically this means that there were 3516 female couples and 2655 male couples living together in 2006, compared with 867,696 couples of the opposite sex … Although the numbers only take into account same-sex couples who live together, they are the most accurate statistics indicating the number of gay people in New Zealand.”

    Do the numbers: (3,516+2,655)/(3,516+2,655+867,696)*100%=0.71%

    Source: www.stuff.co.nz/4145140a19716.html

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

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