Jennings book event prep: Open thread over Intro and Part One

In his introduction, Jennings lays out the basic outlines of contemporary homophobia, drawing on official documents from the U.S. Supreme Court and the Vatican. In Part One, he moves through the works of Plato, showing how Plato, while initially immersed in a culture where pederasty was widely accepted and even institutionalized, gradually evinced greater and greater skepticism toward homoeroticism. Finally, he argues that Plato’s Laws provide a kind of blueprint for implementing an ideology of homophobia in order to repress homoerotic desire.

What did you think, dear readers?

4 thoughts on “Jennings book event prep: Open thread over Intro and Part One

  1. I read the book a few months ago, so it isn’t fresh in my mind, but I did have a lingering question. First, let me say that I was convinced by his reading of the New Testament texts and wholeheartedly agree with his normative stance in the conclusion. However, I had a lingering question around his analysis of Plato.

    It seems that one strategy of some others who are in favor of homophilic love is to argue that some or all New Testament references to homosexuality are actually critiques of the practice of pederasty (or other sexual relationships that are based on unequal standings of power). In other words, the practice Paul was writing against was pederasty, not homosexuality as we understand it. Presumably, this was because the older individual was taking advantage of the younger. Thus, according to this argument, when two adult people have a consensual sexual relationship from positions of relative equality, that should not fall under the New Testament critique.

    However, according to my reading of the book, this argument actually seems to closer to the critique that Plato and others were making against the practice pederasty (e.g. page 28) and is not found at all in Paul. Jennings makes a clear descriptive link between Plato’s disapproval of pederasty and the later Christian homophobia of all forms of same-sex love. However, does Jennings intend to make a normative defense of Greek pederasty as well? In other words, does he think that Plato was wrong in his critiques, or is he agnostic on this point?

  2. Though the form of homosexuality Plato was most familiar with was pederasty, it seems pretty clear to me that he’s trying to stamp out all homoerotic behavior insofar as it doesn’t contribute to reproduction and is thus “irrational.” So I don’t think Plato is critiquing pederasty as such, as people sometimes claim Paul is doing, nor does rejecting Plato’s critique of homoeroticism mean that “anything goes” sexually.

  3. In general, I think Jennings would be inclined to judge pederastic relationships on a case-by-case basis rather than applying any kind of blanket rule. If they’re exploitative, the problem is that they’re exploitative, not that there’s an “icky” age difference, etc. (keeping in mind that pederastic relationships are by definition with post-pubescent young people — pedophilia would be a blanket prohibition, as basically everyone agrees).

    He has a book coming out called New Horizons in Queer Ethics that deals with this question along with other “uncomfortable” forms of sexual expression that can’t easily be brought into the normative framework of monogamy (like polyamory, prostitution, BDSM, etc.). But I don’t think that his analysis of Plato depends in any strong sense on his own personal opinion about pederasty.

  4. Thanks, that’s helpful. I hesitated to post my comment because I realize that the book is almost entirely descriptive and not arguing ethics. But, I assumed you would be familiar with his wider project.

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