Lesbianism in Victorian England


In Victorian England, terms such as lesbian and sapphic came into use for female relationships. For some time, the Victorians never seemed to consider criminalising female homosexuality.

Apocryphally, these were also due to be criminalised in the 1885 legislation know as the Labouchere Amendment, until Queen Victoria declared them impossible, whereupon the clause was omitted – a joke that serves to underline a common, and commonly welcomed, ignorance, at a time when lurid, fictionalised lesbianism was often figured as an especially repulsive and seductive French vice.

“The single best thing about coming out of the closet is that nobody can insult you by telling you what you’ve just told them.” – Rachel Maddow

One of the first people to break the amendment was Oscar Wilde. The judge sentenced him to two years hard labour, although he wished he could punish him even more saying that, “this is the worst case I have ever tried.” A week earlier, the same judge tried a case of child murder.

Judeo-Christian Marriages


Man + Woman “Nuclear Family” (Genesis 2:24)

  • Wives subordinate to their husbands.
  • Interfaith marriages forbidden.
  • Marriages generally arranged, not based on romantic love.
  • Bride who could not prove her virginity was stoned to death.

Man + Woman + Woman’s Property (Genesis 16)

  • Man could acquire his wife’s property including her slaves.

Man + Brother’s Widow “Levirate Marriage” (Genesis 38: 6-10)

  • Widow who had not borne a son required to marry her brother in law.
  • Must submit sexually to her new husband.

Male Slave + Female Slave (Exodus 21:4)

  • Slave owner could assign female slaves to his male slaves.
  • Female slaves must submit sexually to their new husbands.

Male Soldier + Prisoner of War (Deuteronomy 21:11-14) & (Number 31:1-18)

  • Under Moses’ command, Israelites kill every Midianite man, woman child; save for the virgin girls who are taken as spoils of war.
  • Wives must submit sexually to their new owners.

Rapist + His Victim (Deuteronomy 22:28-29)

  • Virgin who is raped must marry her rapist.
  • Rapist must pay victim’s father 50 shekels of silver for property loss.

A Nuanced Look at Prostitution in Ancient Greece


In ancient times, the Greek port Corinth was famous for its sacred prostitutes.

After landing at the Corinthian docks, sailors would apparently wheeze up the thousand-odd steps to the top of a stunning crag of rock called the Acrocorinth, which offered 360-degree vistas of the sparkling Mediterranean. There they would pass beneath the marble columns of the Temple of Aphrodite, goddess of Beauty and Love, within whose incense-filled, candlelit confines 1,000 comely girls supposedly worked around the clock gathering funds for their deity.

Since the Renaissance, this idea had gripped antiquarians, who liked to imagine that congress with one of Aphrodite’s servants offered a mystical union with the goddess herself — uninhibited pagans coupling in ecstasy before her statue in the perpetual twilight of the temple.

In fact, this lusty vision of Corinth was created entirely from a three-line report by the Greek geographer Strabo, who writes around 20 CE:

The temple of Aphrodite was once so rich that it had acquired more than a thousand prostitutes, donated by both men and women to the service of the goddess. And because of them, the city used to be jam-packed and became wealthy. The ship-captains would spend fortunes there, and so the proverb says: “The voyage to Corinth isn’t for just any man.”

Having said that, modern historians have found that the image of a pagan free-for-all needs some serious qualification. Continue reading

On Doormats and Prostitutes


“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat, or a prostitute.”

– Rebecca West

On First Principles


“I was trying to get a program going about fundamentalist Islam, or not even fundamentalist actually beyond… where it’s extreme radical Islam, so-called you know, basically people who support ISIS, of which there are some in the UK. Although, they’re hard to interview because it’s actually a crime to Glorify Terrorism is what it’s called. And so they have to talk very gingerly around the subject.

But if you get into a debate with someone who is sincerely committed to ISIS’ brand of Sunni Islam, where they’re saying “Actually, yes, sex slaves are okay,” they’ll say “Slaves isn’t quite the right term but we approve of that.” And then they say, “By what authority do you challenge what we believe?” Continue reading

Conversations: Political Correctness


Xanthippe
We know that socio-economic factors explain most violence in societies.

Helena
This is true, but religion fuelled tribalism and bigotry should not be excused in its entirety. Consider the jihadist movement, how many more architects and engineers must hit the wall at four hundred miles an hour before we admit to ourselves that violence is not merely a matter of education, poverty, or politics?

Sappho
Good point. The exploitation of secular values, the demand for tolerance of misogyny and religious hatred, are not merely the result of broad socio-economic factors. Nor are forced marriages, honour killings, punitive gang rapes, or the homicidal loathing of homosexuals. Continue reading

Conversations: Unintelligent Design?


Zoe
The biologist J.B.S. Haldane is reported to have said that, if there is a God, He has “an inordinate fondness for beetles.” What do you think about that observation?

Helena
To be honest, one would have hoped that an observation this devastating would have closed the book on creationism for all time.

Sappho
The truth is that, while there are now around three hundred and fifty thousand known species of beetles, God appears to have an even greater fondness for viruses. Biologists estimate that there are at least ten strains of virus for every species of animal on earth. Many viruses are benign, of course, and some ancient virus may have played an important role in the emergence of complex organisms.

Helena
Unfortunately, viruses tend to use organisms like you and me as their borrowed genitalia. Many of them invade our cells only to destroy them, destroying us in the process—horribly, mercilessly, relentlessly. Viruses like HIV, as well as a wide range of harmful bacteria, can be seen evolving right under our noses, developing resistance to antiviral and antibiotic drugs to the detriment of everyone.

Sappho
Evolution both predicts and explains this phenomenon; the book of Genesis does not. How can you imagine that religious faith offers the best account of these realities, or that they suggest some deeper, compassionate purpose of an omniscient being? Continue reading