Friday, December 5, 2008

Something about shellfish

I am still thinking about "Prop 8 - The Movie" and particularly the part where Jack Black comes out looking like a glutton, parodying Jesus, holding the shrimp cocktail in his hand and making the shellfish argument. Of course, we all know the shell fish argument and its rebuttal. This particular argument by analogy seems to be perceived as particularly persuasive by gay men, although it is so easily rebutted it seems bizarre that it has such staying power.

That image of Jack Black with the shrimp reminds me of a parody I once saw of the famous deleted scene restored for the 1991 re-release of Spartacus. (In the film, Lawrence Olivier acted the role the Roman senator and Tony Curtis acted the role of his new young male slave.) In the scene, Crassus used the metaphor of eating food to discuss sexual behavior, referring to sex with women as eating oysters and sex with men as eating snails:
Marcus Licinius Crassus: Do you eat oysters?
Antoninus: When I have them, master.
Marcus Licinius Crassus: Do you eat snails?
Antoninus: No, master.
Marcus Licinius Crassus: Do you consider the eating of oysters to be moral and the eating of snails to be immoral?
Antoninus: No, master.
Marcus Licinius Crassus: Of course not. It is all a matter of taste, isn't it?
Antoninus: Yes, master.
Marcus Licinius Crassus: And taste is not the same as appetite, and therefore not a question of morals.
Antoninus: It could be argued so, master.
Marcus Licinius Crassus: My robe, Antoninus. My taste includes both snails and oysters.

(In the film, the slave Antonius soon runs away from from this situation and his implied future to join Spartacus.)

So I am wondering why gays find this argument convincing while heterosexuals tend to find it trivial. For those who experience sexuality as a union of opposites with the potential for procreation, it seems off center. Perhaps it is that eating as a metaphor for sexuality is more compelling for those who conflate oral and anal with genital. (I'm not a Freudian, but ...)It seems to me that accepting this metaphor one would have to view sex is a form of consumption, And that seems to me to be fundamentally narcissistic, not about the "romantic love" that gays are claiming makes their relationships as marriage.

Quite a few months ago I did a two part post (here and here) exploring some thoughts on cannibalism and Christianity. A formerly sexually active gay man posted a great comment at Stand Firm that I will provide in part below:
As for cannibalism. No, most gay people are never going to eat their partners. But I’m going to say something a bit provocative here about gay sex. I have always thought of sex between two men or two women as a form of ritual cannibalism, and even a kind of perverted sacrament, in which the person seeks in the object of his desire the qualities and attributes he cannot find in himself. The sex act is almost an act of consumption, but one doomed to futility and frustration because it cannot provide the fulfillment which is really being sought. “Looking for love in all the wrong places"--in search of something that only the healing and restoration afforded by God’s grace can provide.


BillyD said...

Honestly, I think you're reading far too much into this. The reason that the example of shellfish is raised at all is because Leviticus describes it, along with homosexual sex*, as "an abomination" (toevah). Since some people quote Leviticus' use of "abomination" as proof that God especially disapproves of homosexuality, the example of the equally abominable shrimp cocktail is counterposed. Almost always, it is accompanied by other examples of practices forbidden by the Old Testament but whose prohibitions are meaningless for Christians, such as wearing clothing made of mixed fibers (shatnez).

*according to Jewish commentators, the phrase used (mishkevei isha) refers specifically to anal intercourse

Perpetua said...

Hi BillyD,

Right. The problem with Christians using this as an argument is that in the New Testament, in Acts, the Old Testament prohibitions against what one can eat are rescinded, but prohibitions against sexual behavior are retained. And all of this is also discussed in the Epistles.

So Christians hear or read this argument from other Christians and it makes no sense. I mean, it only makes sense if the ones making the arguments are "picking and choosing", ignoring Acts and the Epistles, rejecting the witness of both Luke and Paul.

See Acts 10 (and particularly 10:9-44) and 15 (and particularly 15:19-20).

Acts 15 19"It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.

Also for Anglicans, see Article VII of the 39 Articles.

VII. Of the Old Testament

The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for in both the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man. Wherefor they are not to be heard, which feign that the old Fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral.

BillyD said...

You're missing the point, Perpetua. It's not the prohibition that's the focus of the shrimp cocktail example, but the abomination aspect. People arguing against gay rights often use the word abomination to show the supposed enormity of homosexuality - to show that homosexual behavior is especially wrong. Pointing out the fact that shrimp cocktails are just as abominable to the Biblical mind as sodomy gives the lie to the assertion that the word means what those who favor it say it means.

My purpose in posting was not to argue whether homosexual sex is allowed or forbidden. I don't think that anything I say is likely to have much of an impact on your way of thinking. No, I only wanted to explain why your very creative musings about eating and homosexuality were off the mark.

And, of course, Acts 15 does not say that the dietary prohibitions are rescinded. The prohibition of blood is specifically retained, as is the one forbidding the meat of strangled animals. As far as I am aware, however, the Church has let these prohibitions fall by the wayside, especially the one against blood. Ever hear a preacher argue that eating English black pudding or Portuguese morcela was a sin?

Perpetua said...

Hi BillyD,

FYI, in the Prop 8 debate, I didn't see or hear anything using the word "Abomination".

And Prop 8 was only about marriage, it did not take away the many rights provided in the Family Code for Domestic Partners:
"Family Code section 297.5. (a) Registered domestic partners shall have the same rights,
protections, and benefits, and shall be subject to the same
responsibilities, obligations, and duties under law, whether they
derive from statutes, administrative regulations, court rules, government policies, common law, or any other provisions or sources of law, as are granted to and imposed upon spouses."

So Prop 8 wasn't about calling same-sex behavior an abomination. It was about preserving the institution of marriage as a union of one man and one woman.

I do think you make a good point about blood and strangled animals.

BillyD said...

FYI, in the Prop 8 debate, I didn't see or hear anything using the word "Abomination".

Since I live on the other side of the continent, I'll take your word for it. You might want to google "abomination" and "homosexuality," or even "abomination" and "Proposition 8," though, to get an idea of what I mean. "Abomination" has a long and continuing use in American discourse about homosexuality.

The Underground Pewster said...

Excuse me while I wipe the pulled pork barbeque off my face. I was working on a draft about the shellfish argument a while back and found this, Kendal Harmon at T19 posted this thread for use as counter-arguments to the shellfish argument.

"Leviticus is against same sex practice, but Leviticus says we should not eat shellfish. So how could we possibly listen to Leviticus?"

"As for the case itself, it falls apart quickly once you quote the summary of the law which still is used in many rite I services in the Episcopal Church and it ends…

'you shall love your neighbor as yourself'

which is of course a quote from…


So the trouble is that there are continuities and discontinuities between the two testaments, and simply pointing out that there is a discontinuity in the area of specfic food practice, doesn’t mean that in the area of teaching sexual morality there isn’t a continuity. Leviticus is also powerfully against lying. Indeed, much of it is an extended and important commentary on the ten commandments. So is the teaching on sexuality like shellfish or is it like lying or 'loving your neighbor as yourself'"?

And by the way, gay sex ain't sex.

BillyD said...

"And by the way, gay sex ain't sex."

Hhmm. This seems the same sort of word game that led President Clinton into committing perjury, except for him it was oral sex that "ain't sex."

Perpetua said...

I have heard the word homoeroticism used to distinguish same gender erotic behavior from heterosexual behavior that has a sexual reproductive potential.

The Underground Pewster said...

Homoerotic is the an appropriate description of at least the attraction.

BillyD said...

The problem with making the sort of distinction you're talking about, Perpetua, is that there's a lot of heterosexual sexual behavior whose reproductive potential is nul. And "erotic behavor" covers an awful lot of ground that doesn't include anybody's definition of a sex act. And I think that you'll find that "homoeroticism" generally refers to the representation of homosexual desire, as in art and literature.

I have to admit that the idea of religious conservatives trying to read homosexual behavior out of the realm of sex is something novel for me. Besides the windmill-tilting aspect of it, have you thought of the consequences if people really did stop thinking of it as sex?

Studies have shown that boys who take "purity pledges" are four times (!) more likely than their peers to engage in anal sex, because in their world anything other than penile/vaginal sex "doesn't count." I suspect that by not calling homosexual behavior "sex," conservatives hope to delegitimize it further, but I think that the net result will be to take a certain amount of its potential stigma away.

Perpetua said...

Well, one way to imagine how I think about it is to imagine a circular dart board with the concentric rings going further and further out from the center "Bull's Eye". Mutually consenting heterosexual intercourse within a marriage that results in conception is the "Bull's Eye".

My concern is that as a culture we are loosing our sense of the center of the target and teaching our children to view outer concentric rings as equivalent to the "Bull's Eye".

BillyD said...

Perpetua, I understand your concern. Saying that only penile/vaginal sex is "really sex," though, is like saying that only hitting the bull's eye is "really darts." I guarantee you, the net result of pretending that gay sex is something other than sex will be more straight boys experimenting with gay sex, and feeling less guilty about it. It also kind of takes the steam out of calls for abstinence - if gay sex isn't really sex, then taking part in it is neither here nor there when it comes to abstaining from sex.

Y'all will, of course, suit yourselves.

Matthew said...

Congratulations on the Village Voice linkage! After having read the column in question, I rather doubt that the readers thereof will be capable of understanding your argument.

There's a certain sort of New Yorker who is hip and trendy, but prefers not to think. Actually, come to think of it, that applies to an awful lot of people today, doesn't it?