S Gurumurthy had written an article in the Sunday Express stating that though the homosexuality was never approved or celebrated in the Hindu ethics, it was wisely ignored because of its tolerance towards marginal deviant groups. In contrast, the Judeo Christian worldview due to its intolerance towards any deviation punished such marginal groups. Jerry Thomas responds to such comparison.
S Gurumurthy, a Hinduvatta ideologue had written an article titled Homosexuality is not a virtue (Sunday Express, July 5, 2009). We too say amen to the statement that homosexuality is no virtue. He also presented an interesting argument. His argument has been that homosexuality is a deviant behavior of a microscopic marginal group, a vice that should be better ignored than discussed. This article is not a response to this argument though this should be evaluated.
However, in presenting this argument, he used a comparative approach of the Judeo-Christian worldview versus the Hindu worldview. When one reads Gurumurthy’s article, one may conclude that the Judeo-Christian worldview is in fact hostile and intolerant even to the marginal groups of no significance but the Hindu worldview is wise and tolerant and ignores such marginal groups. This article is to correct such erroneous projections and cite the real reason behind the uncompromising stand of Judeo-Christian worldview and mild response of Hindu worldview.
Let me quote the relevant portions from Gurumurthy’s article along with my comment:
“This is how the media had headlined the Delhi High Court judgment holding Sec 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which makes homosexual acts offences in law, partly unconstitutional. Sec 377 of the Indian Penal Code was not Manu's code. It was Macaulay’s. This colonial law made homosexuality punishable. In Judo-Christian tradition, homosexuality was seen an act against the law of God, punishable even with death.”
My Comment: This is partially correct. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code was not based on Manu’s laws. In fact, hardly there has been any law in the Indian Constitution which is based on the Manu’s law as Manu’s laws are contrary to the democratic and egalitarian spirit which Judeo-Christian worldview offers.
Also, though the Old Testament (Judaic) and the New Testament (Christian) Bible condemns homosexuality, it is only in the Old Testament that the death penalty by the nation state has been prescribed for the homosexuality. New Testament is not given for a nation-state but for the spiritual world and has no prescription of capital punishment by the nation state.
“In all Abrahamic traditions, the hostility to homosexuality originated in the story associated with a city as Sodom (the etymological source of the world ‘sodomy’) where the sexual sin was first committed according to their texts, though the respective accounts varied. This is the philosophy of the law against homosexuals in Abrahamic societies.”
My comment: Though the statement about the etymological origin of the word sodomy is correct, arguing the origin of the philosophy of this law from that story is definitely wrong. The argument against the homosexuality in the Judeo-Christian worldview is not based on the story of Sodom but on the story of creation.
In the story of creation, the Holy God of the Bible did not create Adam and Steve to be the intimate partners but Adam and Eve.
Let me quote some relevant portions from the Bible:
Genesis 1:27 “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
Genesis 2: 24 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” (This carries the connotation of the sexual relationship).
Further Jesus Christ Himself said:
Matthew 19: 4-6 “Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."
If this creation story is true, then homosexuality is unnatural. That is why Apostle Paul wrote:
Romans 1: 26-27 “Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.”
So, it is the creation story and not the story of Sodom which is the origin of opposition to homosexuality.
This point is very important as I would now show that the mild response of the Hindu law giver Manu to homosexuality is not based on any wisdom or tolerance but the Hindu creation story of four castes. As long as the caste system is preserved, Manu in fact had a ‘liberal’ view on sexual ethics.
S Gurumurthy writes:
In the Indian — read Hindu — civilisational ethos, humans had never been seen as belonging to one uniform behavioural class. The Indian civilisation had recognised diversity in behaviour and morals. It therefore never imposed one moral value or rule for all. But it believed in a hierarchy of moral principles. It held out right conduct as ideal for the rest to imbibe and follow, but on their own volition. Even as it had evolved normative moral principles for the mainline society, it had subtly ignored, rather than focus on or punish, the deviants. Those who could not follow an ideal were never held as illustration for others to follow.
My Comment: If an unsuspecting reader were to read this, he/she would think that Hindu civilization was very tolerant which Gurumurthy explicitly states in the later part of the article. However, let us read Manu to understand the “hierarchy of moral principles” especially in relation to sexual ethics.
Let me begin with the laws on adultery and then the laws on marriage which will in fact reveal the philosophy behind the Hindu sexual laws.
Manu 8: 359 “A man who is not a Brahmana ought to suffer death for adultery (samgrahana); for the wives of all the four castes even must always be carefully guarded.”
Note the exception made for Brahmin.
Manu 8: 374-379 “A Sudra who has intercourse with a woman of a twice-born caste (varna), guarded or unguarded, (shall be punished in the following manner): if she was unguarded, he loses the part (offending) and all his property; if she was guarded, everything (even his life). (For intercourse with a guarded Brahmana a Vaisya shall forfeit all his property after imprisonment for a year; a Kshatriya shall be fined one thousand (panas) and be shaved with the urine (of an ass). If a Vaisya or a Kshat
riya has connexion with an unguarded Brahmana, let him fine the Vaisya five hundred (panas) and the Kshatriya one thousand. But even these two, if they offend with a Brahmani (not only) guarded (but the wife of an eminent man), shall be punished like a Sudra or be burnt in a fire of dry grass. A Brahmana who carnally knows a guarded Brahmani against her will, shall be fined one thousand (panas); but he shall be made to pay five hundred, if he had connexion with a willing one. Tonsure (of the head) is ordained for a Brahmana (instead of) capital punishment; but (men of) other castes shall suffer capital punishment.
Of course, by now one can totally agree with Gurumurthy that Hindu laws never imposed one moral value or rule for all. But it believed in a hierarchy of moral principles. The only question is whether it was any virtue to do so. Let is read more on this ‘diversity’.
There are many other similar laws also prescribed by Manu- the Hindu law giver.
Manu 3: 12-13 “For the first marriage of twice-born men (wives) of equal caste are recommended; but for those who through desire proceed (to marry again) the following females, (chosen) according to the (direct) order (of the castes), are most approved. It is declared that a Sudra woman alone (can be) the wife of a Sudra, she and one of his own caste (the wives) of a Vaisya, those two and one of his own caste (the wives) of a Kshatriya, those three and one of his own caste (the wives) of a Brahmana.
Manu 3: 17-19 “A Brahmana who takes a Sudra wife to his bed, will (after death) sink into hell; if he begets a child by her, he will lose the rank of a Brahmana. The manes and the gods will not eat the (offerings) of that man who performs the rites in honour of the gods, of the manes, and of guests chiefly with a (Sudra wife's) assistance, and such (a man) will not go to heaven. For him who drinks the moisture of a Sudra's lips, who is tainted by her breath, and who begets a son on her, no expiation is prescribed.”
Whether in adultery or in marriage, one can see that Manu was concerned more about the preservation of the caste system and its hierarchy. This fits well into the creation story mentioned by Manu.
Manu 1: 31-32 “But for the sake of the prosperity of the worlds he caused the Brahmana, the Kshatriya, the Vaisya, and the Sudra to proceed from his mouth, his arms, his thighs, and his feet. Dividing his own body, the Lord became half male and half female; with that (female) he produced Virag.”
Laws of the Manu were tuned to preserving this creation story- caste system and its hierarchy. In this, homosexuality posed almost no threat and therefore it was ignored.
Therefore when Gurumurthy writes:
“Tolerance for the deviants from generally accepted human conduct is part of the Indian ethos. Here, the society would wisely ignore the marginal deviants rather than punish them, even discuss them — a more subtle, sensible social management principle. The society felt, even now feels, shy to discuss them. That is why the traditional religious scholars have refused to be drawn into the current debate on the issue. In the Indian tradition, homosexuals, as elsewhere, were thus regarded as deviants. But, here, unlike in the Abrahamic, the right of these deviants to exist without being punished was never denied; and will never be. Yet no one can argue here or elsewhere that homosexuality is a virtue. No law or court of law can declare it as a virtue. That is the crux of the debate; and that is what is being obfuscated.”
In the light of the reasons stated in this response article, I totally disagree with Gurumurthy’s argument that the reason behind the mild response of Hinduism has anything to do with tolerance or wisdom or the uncompromising stand of the Judeo-Christian worldview has anything to do with intolerance. Since homosexuality does not attack the caste system, Hindus are mild as the entire corpus Hindu sexual ethics stems from and for the preservation of caste and its hierarchy. It takes a propagandist of the stature of Gurumurthy to present the highly discriminative laws of Manu as diversity (“never imposed one moral value or rule for all. But it believed in a hierarchy of moral principles”) and the unintended consequence of this vice caste system as wisdom. It also shows the audacity of a propagandist to present the pure and uncompromising sexual ethics of Judeo-Christian worldview as intolerant and base the entire argument on the ignorance of non Christian general readers.
Such black propaganda from anyone is no virtue either and it needs to be responded. Therefore this article.
S Gurumurthy’s article can be read here: