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Homosexuality & Same-Sex ‘Marriage’

JUVENAL VS. EPICURUS

By Leland D. Peterson | January 2004
Leland D. Peterson is Emeritus Professor of English and Latin at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. His scholarly articles have appeared in such periodicals as Modern Philology, PMLA, and the Harvard Library Bulletin.

True to its Jewish heritage, Christianity from the beginning has treated homosexual acts as an abomination. Christianity’s judgment of homosexuality has been consistent. It remains to be seen if the Episcopal Church will be able to retain its title as a Christian denomination.

But there is a non-Christian witness from the first century A.D., that of the satirist Juvenal, whose judgments of homosexuality are consistently ignored today. A pagan’s denunciations would considerably strengthen the arguments of today’s Christians if they could show that non-Christians could be as strongly disgusted by homosexual acts as any Christian.

The intellectual climate of first-century A.D. Rome had much in common with the intellectual climate of Western civilization today, and the common link is the ancient Greek philosopher of hedonism, Epicurus. Benjamin Wiker, in a cutting-edge essay on the Epicurean-Christian conflict that appeared in this journal over four years ago (“The Christian & the Epicurean,” Jul-Aug. 1999), laid the foundations for the link between Darwin and Epicurus that he elaborated on in a book three years later, Moral Darwinism (InterVarsity Press, 2002). “Epicureanism is the root of Darwinism,” he argued in the book, “…which entangles nearly every aspect of our contemporary culture” by excluding the evidence of divinity in the creation, and design in Nature. Darwinian materialism has been the agent of a materialism in 21st-century America that gives us a “completely Godless, soulless universe,” entirely in accord with the aims of Epicurus, who believed that the good life was a liberation from any belief in gods concerned with mankind, the immortal soul, and any kind of an after-life. With the triumph of secularism has come a moral revolution bringing to the fore arguments favoring abortion, euthanasia, and homosexuality.

Aware that the popularization of Epicurus in the De Rerum Natura of Lucretius in first-century A.D. Rome had been highly influential, Wiker credits a traditional Roman Stoicism and a nascent Christianity as the intellectual forces that eventually discredited and eliminated Epicureanism until its revival centuries later in Renaissance Europe. But there was a pagan man of letters of uncommon eloquence in first-century Rome, Juvenal, whose writings were widely read by early Christians and non-Christians alike. He was keenly aware of a disastrous moral decline that he documented with an abundance of detail. His chronicle is unique in its sweep and exposure of a decadence he clearly saw as not merely scandalous, but as the onset of a moral anarchy that could lead to the downfall of civilized society. Comparing the Rome of his day with the ancient, primitive (pre-Lucretian) Republican Rome, he denounces attitudes and practices that are seen as evidence of a new moral sensitivity unique to today’s secular America. Though he has as much to say about political, social, and moral corruption in general, we shall limit our observations in this essay to homosexuality and same-sex “marriage.”

Juvenal’s second satire, omitted from school texts of Juvenal and translated with omissions even in the Loeb edition of Juvenal, begins as a discourse on the homosexuality of those who seem to be masculine heterosexuals.

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