Before examining the Buddhist attitude towards homosexuality it might be useful to look at opposition to it and try to understand the roots to this opposition. Most societies through history have given some place to homosexuals, usually a marginal and inferior one, and have tolerated homosexuality to one degree or another. In Europe however, opposition to homosexuality has been vociferous and enduring, at least after the triumph of Christianity. Christian hostility to homosexuality can be traced to certain theological concepts. Early Christianity’s ambiguity towards sexuality gradually gave way to an acceptance on condition that it could only be for the purpose of procreation. This was justified by God’s command to Adam and Eve that they “be fruitful and multiply”. Homosexual sex can not produce progeny and thus is opposed to God’s primal purpose, as is masturbation, coitus interruptus and bestiality. The other source of Christianity’s hostility towards homosexuality is the doctrine of divine retribution, the idea that God punishes human immorality, individually but also collectively.  . Consequently homosexuality is not just against God’s will but also dangerous, even to those who do not practice it. The most well-known but by no means the only biblical example of God’s collective punishment for humanity’s moral failings is the fate of Sodom.  . The city and its inhabitants were incinerated because some their men committed sodomy. Modern scholars have suggested that the sin that brought down this terrible punishment was not sodomy or homosexual rape but failure to treat strangers with hospitality.  . Be this as it may, for 2500 years that is how Jews and Christians have interpreted the story. And since biblical times countless natural and man-made disasters have been attributed to God’s wrath. The fall of Rome in 410 CE was seen as God’s punishment for the city’s rejection of the Gospel and its persecution of Christians. In his legal code of 559 the Christian emperor Justinian linked “famines, earthquakes, and pestilences” to homosexual practices. The Black Death of the 1340s was God’s punishment for vice and corruption, and the Mongol invasion was “the hammer of God”. The destruction by lightening of the spire of London’s St. Pauls in 1561 was taken to be a warning from God that he would punish the city for its moral laxity. The catastrophic Lisbon earthquake of 1755 was widely attributed to God’s punishment for the city’s supposed decadence.
Although the belief in divine retribution on a collective scale has faded considerably in the last few centuries it is by no means dead. Directly after Hurricane Katharina wrecked New Orleans the television evangelist Pat Robinson announced that the disaster was God’s punishment for America’s policy on abortion. Robinson is not a lone crank, several million people regularly watch his television programs. In 2007 the Anglican Bishop of Carlisle warned that the recent widespread flooding in the UK was a result of sexual immorality, including homosexuality. Predictions of doom and destruction for immorality have long been a feature of Christian sermons.
More sophisticated Christians are reluctant to express their opposition to homosexuality in these terms today as it tends to invite ridicule. The talk now is more about homosexuality being “unnatural”, about it “undermining the family”, “the breakdown of traditional values”, “concern for young people” and “the health risks of the homosexual lifestyle”. However, below such rationalizations the ancient ideas about procreation and divine retribution probably still lurk.
Of course homosexuals are by no means the only evil-doers who can provoke God’s wrath. But as they are generally already disliked by the majority and as their numbers are small, they have always been a favoured group to single out, denigrate and blame for actual or potential catastrophes.
Related to what has just been said, is a point that deserves to be considered. In the last few years it has become common to accuse anyone objecting to homosexuality, same-sex marriage or same-sex partners adopting children, of being a hate monger and their discourse as hate-speech. While it is true that many Christians harbour an intense opposition and even a hatred of homosexuals, there are just as many who genuinely try to adhere to Jesus’ exhortation to love everyone, including those considered to be sinners. These more reasonable Christians say, and they are probably being genuine when they do so, that they love homosexuals despite disapproving of their behaviour. Therefore, homosexuals should be careful not to do to others what has so often been done to them; accuse them of things they are not guilty of. To disapprove of someone’s behaviour or lifestyle is not necessarily the same as hating them.
Few non-religious people object to homosexuality beyond admitting a personal distaste towards it. However, some sociologists, psychiatrists, social workers and others have expressed unease about same-sex partners adopting children. One argument they put forward is that it could be psychologically harmful to deny a child a mother, as would be the case with two married men, or a father, as would be with two lesbians parents. At present there is no evidence to address this concern one way or another, adoption by same-sex couples being only very recent. But the reality is that many children are brought up by a single parent, or by no parents (orphans), and grow into well-adjusted adults. It is also true that some children grow up in thoroughly dysfunctional heterosexual families and manage okay too. Having a loving parent or parents and a stable home life is undoubtedly the optimum scenario but this has never been guaranteed by a two-parent heterosexual marriage, as any child-protection agency will attest to. Should same-sex couples be allowed to adopt children some of the resulting families will succeed and others not. Certainly, same-sex families are more likely to succeed if there is more acceptance of homosexuality and legal protection of such families.
- See Divine Retribution: A Forgotten Doctrine, by Andrew Atherstone in Themelios, Vol.34 No. 1 [back]
- The story is told or referred to at Genesis 18,16; 19,29 and Jude 7 [back]
- At Isaiah 1,10ff, Jeremiah 23,14 and Ezra 16,49ff it is not Sodom’s sexual sins that are emphasized but lying, pride, hypocrisy, etc [back]