April 23, 2011

Homosexuality and Integral Traditionalism: A First Response

As a break from my usual reading and pondering, I have been studying another form of traditionalism- NOT traditional sorcery or witchcraft, but a minority intellectual movement of Neoplatonic Western thinkers that have evolved a loose perspective referred to as "Integral Traditionalism". And what a vibrant, violent time in my head it has been! I've recently been perusing the works of M. Ali Lakhani, Frithjof Schuon, and Rene Guenon, and while I've enjoyed some of their clarity of writing and thinking, and certainly enjoyed some aspects of their aesthetics, I've also begun to consider some of the aspects of their thinking that I personally consider flawed.

Since reading Lakhani, I've begun to understand now, in ways I never did before, why these traditionalists- and why exoteric mainstream religionists, who are so closely aligned to them, in form if not in depth or essence- are offended by homosexuality so much, or why they refuse to allow homosexuality a place in this world without adding a note of criticism to the very notion.

I've decided to make a few open responses, over time, to the traditionalist camp, in the hopes that they or others may help me to see what I am not seeing- if indeed I am the blind one. Who is lacking clarity of vision in some of these cases is far from certain.

Here is my first reaction to some of Lakhani's considered opinions about "traditional understandings of sexuality", specifically his contentions about homosexuality. After reading and pondering, I think the fact that homosexual human beings exist at all is a direct threat to the entire philosophical foundation of integral traditionalism, and to the "Perennial Wisdom Tradition" or "Perennial Philosophy" throughout the last 1700 years of Western history.

I would like to present a touch of background, to help make my points. In the integral traditionalist worldview, male and female are not just designations given to surface gender differences. That male and female creatures exist here in the formal world is an "echo" of spiritual and eternal principles in the divine world. That male and female creatures here can mate and produce new life is a literal "image" of a deeper divine reality.

To these traditionalist thinkers, sexuality has an unavoidable sacred role, function, and purpose because human sexuality is (or should be) a re-creation of a divine unity that exists above. In the mind of the traditionalist, "God" or the "First Principle" has a feminine and a masculine nature within itself- it is a divine androgyne. That union within itself makes it able to "pour forth" all things. Creation, to these thinkers, is an outpouring of goodness and power, driven by a divine fertilization from within the divine itself.

A man and woman who unite sexually in a sacred manner are re-creating and re-enacting the divine wholeness, the divine androgyny, and can have a "paradisal vision" of the unity that existed before the breaking apart of things, or before things came to be in "two-ness".

Thus, sexuality in the human world (like everything else) is supposed to follow in accord with deeper principles, which are eternal. To "do it" differently is to go against universal principles, and to create disharmony. And this (obviously) means that homosexual humans (male or female) are running contrary to the eternal principles, but so are 'straight' men and women who use sexuality in a non-sacred way, for instance, just using sex for egoistic and physical pleasure.

This "misuse" of sex is the equivalent of not appreciating a great work of art for the art it is, but instead, tearing off a piece of the corner of the canvas upon which it is painted to use it as toilet paper (to make a humorous example). However much you appreciate the convenience of the toilet paper and enjoy being clean thanks to it, you're really missing the greater point of the majesty of the art you're ignoring.

Traditionalists believe that homosexuals are doing something specifically contrary to the eternal principles- they are isolating themselves. You see, "complementarity" is the term used to describe how male and female forces are intended from eternity to "work" in this world. Male and female are intended to complement one another, and in the complementary relationship, fulfill one another- and ideally, to bring forth new life. For two men (or women) to have sex, totally excluding anything female (or male), is to isolate one principle from the other, so it is a denial of both complementarity and unity, and ultimately, a denial of new life.

But here's where the problem begins. The Traditionalist view is easy to understand. But if what they say is true, then homosexuality shouldn't exist at all- and yet, it does. You can say that people are just making a choice to selfishly move against universal principles instead of in accord with them, but anyone who really examines this issue can see that this is not the case, with the vast majority (if not all) of true "homosexuals".

Just on the personal level, I've interviewed quite a few homosexual men and women, and they have all- in full isolation from one another- confided in me that their own sexual urges were not consciously chosen by them; they can recall, far back into their youths, feeling sexual attraction for members of the same sex, long before they knew anything at all about "homosexuality" or "heterosexuality". They also display some characteristics that would appear to be physiological in conjunction with their status as "homosexual", though that rule is far from perfect. Like "heterosexual" people, homosexual individuals cannot be stereotyped away.

The fact remains- homosexuals are no more "choosing" to feel as they feel, than I am choosing to feel attracted to women. This presents an extreme dilemma to the traditionalist. And it gets deeper. Members of close to 1500 different animal species (from primates to gut worms) have been observed engaging in acts of "homosexual" behavior, with almost 500 of them demonstrating it regularly. And what's more, many animals do (contrary to popular belief) engage in non-procreative sex. (I give a link below to a report on a study entitled "Same-sex sexual behavior and Evolution", a recent study published in the Journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution" which may interest some.)

Traditionalists of all varieties say that humans, being humans, have choices that animals don't have, to behave wrongly in the face of cosmic principles. But they can't claim that animals are choosing to 'sin' or act against the cosmos- by definition, in the traditionalist camp even, animals are not in the same moral category as humans; they are fully incapable of 'sin', incapable of doing anything other than behaving according to nature, to instinct. And if nature itself is driving them to homosexual carrying-on, then the dilemma of the traditionalist rises to the level of a crisis.

Apparently, if "Nature is good", and "Nature is the great teacher"- if Nature is the first revelation of God's goodness, perfection, and omnipotence- as so many Traditionalists claim, then she's teaching a lesson that's contradicting their Neo-platonic preaching. Clearly, simply following their logic, there must be a possibility that there is a "homosexual" eternal principle somewhere out there, too, manifesting itself in this formal world just like every other principle.

As strange or humorous as that might sound (and as infuriating as it might be to traditionalists) this is a possibility that they have not considered (presumably) due to the particular constraints they have accepted on their own thinking. Should I blame the Supreme Principle, or human traditionalists for this seeming error? I would tend towards the humans, myself, just to preserve their own claims about the Supreme!

Bear in mind that I'm only speaking in terms of possibility here for the "homosexual principle"; I am not even convinced myself that "eternal principles" in the sense they mean exist at all. But that is a debate for another time. It does seem odd to me, however, that "The Supreme Principle" is happily and eagerly declared to be the source of all things, but when it comes to homosexuality, suddenly, there is a refusal to connect the two in any way. Before I proclaim this a flat failure of traditional metaphysics, I will say that it is more likely an unconscious obedience to dominant strains of Western religious and cultural idiosyncrasies, the matrix of which we more often see expressed as "conservative thinking".

And now we have arrived at the rub- that homosexual humans or animals exist is more than just a challenge to Traditionalist dogma; it is a form of death to their cause and philosophy. And this is why, I think, throughout recent history (history dominated by traditionalist views at the level of religious and political authority), homosexuality among humans has been ignored, murdered, denied, and blamed on "immoral but fully free and reasoned choices by humans" to sin against the cosmic order, or in every other way blamed on anything but the "transcendent reality".

To be charitable, it should be noted that M. Ali Lakhani, the gentleman and Integral Traditionalist whose essay entitled "Toward a Traditional Understanding of Sexuality" I read to write this response, did point to the fact that Integral Traditionalists do not favor violence or persecution to homosexuals for any reason. He says that "tradition demands tolerance, rooted in compassion." Sadly, the austerity and dignity of his traditional talk, in this age or any other, has seldom manifested such an outcome.

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Link to Journal Article Review: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090616122106.htm