The body and homosexuality, part 1

Many Baha’is may wonder why Christians make such a big deal about the physical resurrection. It may seem irrelevant to what really matters in religion – worshipping God and serving others. The Baha’i explanation, that it was a spiritual event, may seem more applicable to us today, since we can experience the same spiritual resurrection in our own lives.

I’d like to take a moment to give a concrete example of how the physical resurrection is an integral and necessary component of our faith and practice as Christians. I’ll use the example of homosexuality.

Both the Baha’i Faith and the Catholic Church forbid homosexual behavior as morally wrong. We also both insist that we must love the person who has an inclination to commit homosexual behavior. In other words, we love the person but we condemn the act. So in this respect Baha’is and Catholics are in complete agreement.

What is interesting is that we come to this agreement from very different directions. It appears, in other words, that the philosophical underpinning for our positions is different.

In recently rereading the Baha’i compilation Homosexuality I found several themes, and I’d like to call attention to a couple of them.

One theme is that homosexual behavior is against our nature. This is found in several quotes from Shoghi Effendi, such as this one:

No matter how devoted and fine the love may be between people of the same sex, to let it find expression in sexual acts is wrong. To say that it is ideal is no excuse. Immorality of every sort is really forbidden by Bahá’u’lláh, and homosexual relationships He looks upon as such, besides being against nature.

Why is it that it is against nature? Presumably God could have created us differently, right? Why did God create us in this way?

My questions presuppose that the Baha’i Faith takes a voluntarist position on morality – that something is right or wrong simply because God wills it so. This is what I believed as a Baha’i, based on many passages where Baha’u’llah insists on the divine prerogative. For example

Were He to pronounce water to be wine or heaven to be earth or light to be fire, He speaketh the truth and no doubt would there be about it; and unto no one is given the right to question His authority or to say why or wherefore. Whosoever raiseth objections will be numbered with the froward in the Book of God, the Lord of the worlds. `Verily He shall not be asked of His doings but all others shall be asked of their doings.’

Recently I came across this article that says the Baha’i Faith doesn’t necessarily teach theological voluntarism. That’s news to me. If anyone can expand on that, I’d love to hear it.

In any case, as regards homosexual behavior, although Shoghi Effendi is quite adamant that it goes against human nature, I can’t find anything in the Writings that explains how. In fact, based on what I know about the Faith’s teachings, I don’t see why it should particularly go against our nature. The Writings teach that human beings are essentially creatures of spirit. Our bodies are not part of who we are. They are instead tools that we use for a while as we grow spiritually. Furthermore, after we die we have no gender, since the categories “male” and “female” are biological and thus pertain to our physical bodies only.

So I would think the Baha’i Faith holds that homosexuality is not intrinsically opposed to our nature. Or to use Baha’i jargon, it is a social law rather than a spiritual law. (I’m open to correction on this point, especially considering the way in which Shoghi Effendi discusses it, which I’m not sure how to fit in the larger Baha’i belief system.) In any event, the Baha’i Faith definitely teaches that homosexual behavior is wrong. Why would that be? This excerpt from the Universal House of Justice looks like it might give an answer…but then it doesn’t.

As to why Bahá’u’lláh forbade the expression of sexual love between people of the same sex, this question relates to the broader and more fundamental question of the purpose of the laws of Bahá’u’lláh and of the Bahá’í teachings on sexual morality The laws do not represent a sterile and inhumane legal code, but rather the divine prescription, a definition of how an individual must act in order to achieve true freedom and spiritual happiness in this world and the next.

The House of Justice then quotes Baha’u’llah where he says the Prophets of God are physicians, and no one should question their prescriptions. But there is no mention as to why it was necessary for Baha’u’llah to give this particular prescription.

The only explanation I’ve been able to find is this one, again from the Universal House of Justice:

Bahá’í teachings on sexual morality centre on marriage and the family as the bedrock of the whole structure of human society and are designed to protect and strengthen that divine institution. Thus Bahá’í law restricts permissible sexual intercourse to that between a man and the woman to whom he is married.

So the reason God forbade homosexual behavior is to promote social stability. I have no argument with that, as far as it goes. But that’s just it – that’s as far as any explanation goes (unless there’s a Writing I haven’t come across).

So in short, from what I’ve been able to learn over the years, the Baha’i Faith teaches that homosexual behavior is wrong, that God forbade it with our best interest in mind, but there is no clear explanation as to why it would be in our best interest. There seem to be two possibilities: (1) It goes against our nature. But then that begs the question as to why it is against our nature, of which there appears to be no explanation. (2) The family is the bedrock of society, so in order to promote the stability of society, marriage has to be defended. It could also be a combination of these two. Either way, what it ultimately comes down to is divine fiat – God said so, so that’s how it is.

The Catholic Church also believes that God forbade homosexual acts, but we also believe that there’s a reason for the prohibition that we can know. We believe that everything God wills, he wills because of the nature of who he is, and he wills the good for us based on the nature of who we are as human beings. So by understanding what our nature is, we understand why homosexual behavior is wrong (i.e. counter to our own well-being). The fact that we humans are a body-spirit combination is fundamental to this understanding. I will go into this in greater depth in part 2.

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One Response

  1. […] ← The body and homosexuality, part 1 The BBC’s anti-Christian bias […]

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