Twilight Saga and Gay Marriage
April 19, 2011
What does the Twilight saga have to do with gay marriage? Surprisingly, the popular young adult vampire romances can be a stepping point towards understanding why the question of marriage between homosexual lovers is so contentious in the United States.
Stephenie Meyer’s quartet of vampire romances has enjoyed unprecedented commercial success, having racked up some 100 million sales worldwide. The novels have an accessible intensity, but are not particularly well written; Stephen King has remarked that Meyer “can't write worth a darn. She's not very good.” However, he also recognised the appeal of the books, stating “it's very clear that she's writing to a whole generation of girls and opening up kind of a safe joining of love and sex in those books.” There is something to King’s remarks in this respect, but the issue goes much deeper than his analysis suggests.
Meyer belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS for short), more commonly known as the Mormons, and acknowledges that her faith has influenced her work. Although she claims she has not consciously promoted the virtues of sexual abstinence, it is hard not to find this theme developed in the narrative, and many critics have commented on this element in both the books and the films adapted from them. The theme of abstinence helps enormously with their appeal – it means they have the potential to reach an incredibly wide audience since abstinence is a selling point for many of the world’s 2 billion Christians, who make up about a third of the population of the planet. Of course, the books are enjoyed by non-Christians as well, but there can be little doubt that they would not have sold 100 million copies without accessing this vast market.
More than this, however, the LDS has a highly mythic attitude towards marriage, one that many other Christian denominations share in broads strokes, but which is it quite explicitly developed among the Mormon community: the idea that marriage is eternal. When a man and a woman marry among the Church of the Latter Day Saints, they are not just marrying for life, but for all time, for they believe that the two souls joined in marriage will be together not just in this world, but in a world to come. Of course, many Christians believe something similar, but the theme is most explicit among the followers of Joseph Smith.
The theme of the joining of souls is far older and far more widely accepted than just Christianity, however. Plato, in The Symposium, has the comic playwright Aristophanes tell a mythic tale of the origins of sexuality, in which humans were once very different creatures who were cut in half by Zeus. These original humans were of three kinds: hermaphrodites, who were split into men and women, and two kinds of double-gendered beings, who were split into two men, or two women. Love, in this myth, is thus each soul’s attempt to find the other half of its original whole. Although clearly drawing on the patterns of Greek myth, Aristophanes’ tale appears to have been entirely Plato’s invention.
If Plato was happy to accept the union of homosexual souls, why are certain Christian sects frequently resistant to homosexuality? After all, Plato’s work had a huge influence upon Christian theology and metaphysics (whether or not one considers Plato an influence on the Gospel of St. John, Plato's philosophy certainly influenced how this document was later interpreted).
The quick and easy answer is Leviticus, the book which records the social codes of the Israelites from roughly 2,500 years ago, which clearly takes a dim view of homosexual acts between men. But this answer only goes so far, since Leviticus also takes a dim view of men who see women menstruating, the wearing of garments made of more than one kind of fibre, and tattoos (to name just a few things). Not to mention it quite clearly endorses the ownership of slaves, something almost no-one advocates today, no matter how old school their religious beliefs. Furthermore, it is quite clear that Jesus considered the only important part of Leviticus to be 19:18 which advocates “loving they neighbour as thyself”, and indeed stops an adulterous woman from being stoned to death in John 8, despite this being the prescribed penalty in Leviticus.
The vague gesturing at Leviticus is shorthand for a very different kind of argument: we’ve always done it this way. Since marriage has traditionally been between a man and woman, and perhaps just as crucially, since marriage has traditionally been about bearing children as much as (or, in many eras, more than) love, there is a sense that allowing ‘marriage’ to mean the loving union of two men or two women must be some kind of error. In a religious tradition such as the Bahá'í Faith that accepts progressive revelation, this kind of adjustment would be comparatively easy. But in a tradition that believes revelation happened only in a particular stretch of time, this kind of change is challenging.
This is the situation facing the LDS, since it believes that God’s law doesn’t change, although mankind can certainly get it wrong and need correcting. Within this theological framework, it’s very difficult to make peace with gay marriage, as nothing in the existing canon of scripture speaks in favour the idea that God intended gay marriage after which humanity simply misunderstood the divine will. As a result, gay marriage becomes a metaphysical threat to the mythic conception that two married souls will remain together in eternity: to someone invested in this story, marriage just means a man and woman joining their souls together forever, and any other reading of the term ‘marriage’ can feel either threatening, disturbing, or at least, misguided.
This is a key part of the story behind the political action the LDS took in California to try and overturn gay marriage by supporting Proposition 8. This decision brought a lot of criticism and prejudice against Mormons (the blind eye the LDS has tended to turn towards polygamy among some of its members in Utah did not help in this regard). Some have even touted a rather strange idea that Church and State prohibited them from politically campaigning. This, however, is nonsense: nothing in the First Amendment prohibits being motivated towards political action by religious beliefs, and if it did the notion of freedom that is integral to the identity of the United States as a nation would be irreparably damaged.
In respect of Proposition 8, the responsibility for its passing cannot be wholly levelled at its supporters, but also at the failure of opponents. One advertisement intended to rally voters against the amendment featured a pair of lesbians being harassed by teenage Mormon boys (the kind who, according to LDS practice, are encouraged to conduct door-to-door outreach). The thrust of this entire campaign was misguided: supporters of the gay community did not need persuading to vote against Proposition 8, but moderate Christians were open to be influenced. Making out that religious folk are the enemy was not an effective way to curry their favour.
Imagine the difference if the same funds had been used, not to make an ad painting the LDS as the enemy, but showing two lesbians on their wedding day, clearly in love, and overlaid with the famous words from 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7, so frequently used at weddings: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.”
The Twilight saga is at its heart a love story in the tradition of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, about two souls who find each other, remain abstemious until marriage, and then stay together for all eternity. They are, as it happens, a man and a woman. (Well, a vampire and a woman). If conservative and moderate Christians in the United States and elsewhere are to be won over to the idea of gay marriage, it requires new stories of the love between a man and a man, and a woman and a woman. Those stories are there to be told. But instead of telling them, too many advocates for the gay community insist on making the followers of traditional religion the enemy, thus making their situation worse rather than better.
Slavery ended in the United States because too many Christians could no longer reconcile the practice with their belief in the essential dignity of all people. Slavery ended, despite the fact that Leviticus endorsed it. It didn’t matter. Because deep down, Christians – even many conservative Christians – have a sense of right and wrong that is rooted in their theology, and that theology is always subject to change as new aspects of the love that is, for them, the essence of God is revealed. If the goal is acceptance of gay marriage, demonizing religion is counter productive. The secret of overcoming homophobia in the United States doesn’t lie in ‘defeating’ Christianity, but in demonstrating the love between a man and a man, and a woman and a woman. And in this regard, the true story hasn’t even begun to be told.
Surely, if God is all powerful, he can change his mind?
If God is indeed a woman, then it's Her prerogative and a self-fulfilling prophesy....
My burning question is whether the Judges should have been selected by AV or FPTP. A modicum of research suggests they were unelected and non-hereditary, which doesn't seem quite fair.
Posted by: Ttocb.blogspot.com | April 19, 2011 at 11:08 AM
Chairman: "Surely, if God is all powerful, he can change his mind?"
I believe the argument goes that since God is omniscient he has no need to change his mind. Although how any theist can claim to know anything much about God's mind is a mystery to me!
"My burning question is whether the Judges should have been selected by AV or FPTP. A modicum of research suggests they were unelected and non-hereditary, which doesn't seem quite fair."
*laughs* The same is true for the leadership of resistance movements, such as the French maquis, which the Israelite Judges quite resembled in many ways - although the latter seem to have been marginally less vicious. ;)
In many situations, notions of 'fairness' aren't necessarily the most applicable idea to apply. And of course, 'fairness' as a social virtue is a comparatively modern concept. But you knew that, right? ;)
Speaking of voting reform in the UK, I was on the fence about AV until I saw the "No" campaign's advertisements. Now I'm strongly inclined to vote in favour of AV.
All the best!
Posted by: Chris | April 19, 2011 at 11:43 AM
Couldn't agree more. I note the No campaign has recruited sports personaities, but to compare an athletics race with a popularity contest is an analogy too far (as analogies usually are). Politics IS a popularity contest, and AV seems to most logical solution - given that all solutions will contain a paradox of some description. The words 'least of all evils' come to mind.
Posted by: Ttocb.blogspot.com | April 19, 2011 at 01:03 PM
PS - there are quite a few instances in the OT of God regretting his actions or having remorse. The common interpretation is to go for esoteric and ridiculous meanings of the words 'remorse' and 'regret' to explain away the inconsistency. However, if God were omniscient, there's surely no reason why He coulnd't have foreseen his regret or remorse and known about it before it happened - or is that inconsistent with omniscience?
Posted by: Ttocb.blogspot.com | April 19, 2011 at 05:41 PM
Chairman, Re: AV: my jaw dropped when they used the race metaphor as *evidence* against AV. "The winner doesn't win!" they declare. Shock, horror! When you apply the metaphor AV is trying to replace, it comes out strangely. What an astonishing revelation. :p The counter cases - e.g. where someone wins an election under First Past the Post with, say, just 5% of the vote, and hence nothing close to a mandate - aren't dealt with at all. Dreadful ad campaign, ugh.
I'd rather have proportional representation than AV, on the whole, but of course, we're not being offered *that* choice. :)
RE: God. The theology of the Old Testament as written is very different from any modern theology that I know of (other than the child's conception of God). For instance, a lot of theologians these days take a view of God as self-limiting, the idea being that the image of God controlling everything is inconsistent with the idea of a loving God. Taking this as a starting point(rather than medieval imputations of omnipotence and omniscience) a lot of modern theology envisions a God of persuasion rather than a tyrant, one who suffers along with humanity, but lets them lead their own lives, while still (perhaps) having some plan operating at a scale beyond individual lives.
But it's also worth noting that the vast majority of work in theology is conducted by people who are not Biblical authoritists (i.e. creationists, people who think that the Bible is literal truth). So examples such as the ones you cite above aren't enormously problematic, reflecting as they do earlier concepts of God that were possessed at the time the scriptures in question were written.
As ever, the news service reports the wackiest stories and the resulting lens distorts the range of actual positions on the ground. The Bible itself is decreasingly relevant to modern theology, which is not to say that modern theologians reject the Bible - they just don't take its content uncritically.
And to be honest, even medieval theology was more advanced than some of the crackpot theology that gets reported in the news today. Augustine rejected Biblical literalism 1,500-odd years ago, for instance.
Posted by: Chris | April 20, 2011 at 11:31 AM
Logging into your blog is hideously tedious - is there no better way?
Not so sure about PR - that could result in an almost permanent stalemate.
The one good thing about FPTP is that it facilitates the swift removal of a bad government at the end of its term - but that's about it.
AV is perhaps the best of all worlds - well, depending on your view of quantum mechanics. I suppoe there could be a universe where the system is perfect, but it certainly ain't this one.
Posted by: Ttocb.blogspot.com | April 20, 2011 at 03:46 PM
Chairman: why is logging on so tedious for you? For me, once I've logged in my browser remembers my settings and I remain logged in for several weeks at a time.
What mechanism are you choosing to log in with (e.g. TypePad, Wordpress), what browser are you using and do you have cookies disabled? These may all be factors in your problems. You might find it easiest to register for TypePad and use that account to connect instead of your current option, but without knowing more it's hard to be sure.
The reason for the login system at all is to try and manage spam better - it was really becoming quite difficult to deal with the volume of garbage coming down the pipe... I'm not enormously happy with the login system - I prefer the names to the incomprehensible references the login system sometimes spits up - but I can't go back to the spam volume again. I was just unmanageable. :(
As for alternative vote - wow, never heard such high praise for AV before! :) As for proportional representation creating an almost permanent stalemate - a paralysed parliament, incapable of acting? What could possibly be wrong with that. *chuckles* >:)
All the best!
Posted by: Chris | April 26, 2011 at 03:28 PM
I think people just like thinking "us" and "them" to much.
It's kind of like those cases where activists continue to harass a second group that has already grudgingly done what was demanded of them. This of course could lead to the creation of strawmen to again blame them, which will of course cause the second group to get pissed at the first group, and thus a circle of hate and intolerance continues.
Most people don't have the integrity to redefine an enemy as a friend and would rather continue thinking of their past enemy as a bastard.
It's perhaps ironic that someone who demands change can still more or less believe that "People never change". I guess they secretly wish for a 'caveman solution' to their problem.
That turned into quite a rant, a bad habit of mine perhaps. :P
Posted by: Mathias Bäckström | May 19, 2011 at 05:57 PM
Mathias: thank you for your "rant" - these sort of stream-of-consciousness rambles are most welcome here! :)
I wrote about this "us" and "them" mentality in the serial Enemy: A Morality Tale, particularly Bias and The Enemy.
This division into "us" and "them" is natural, but today we have ideals that can propel us beyond such divisions - but this is never easy! Sometimes splitting into "teams" isn't a bad thing - it's good to get issues from multiple perspectives. It becomes destructive when opposing "the enemy" is more important than attaining positive goals.
Thanks for commenting!
Posted by: Chris | May 31, 2011 at 12:05 PM