Dr. Ronald Long ambitiously and effectively explores the various ways world religious traditions have understood and evaluated male homosexuality. His insightful narrative advances the thesis that traditional religions have been concerned to promote traditional gender roles and images of male superiority. Within this context full masculinity has been defined as involving the penetration of others, i.e., their territories, their possessions, their women, and even their very own bodies. The sexually penetrated male is seen as weak, impotent, effeminate yet becomes a source of curiosity, interest, and longing for some other males. The careful examination of the complex though common recurring ways in which religions have managed this ambivalence provides several provocative insights and a reanalysis of a wide range of religious and philosophical sources, including Plato, Socrates, St. Paul, St. Augustine, as well as Eastern, Muslim, and Native American sources. Long humbles the reader with his impressive range of knowledge, his consistently clear thinking, and most importantly, by his revelation that conflicts surrounding human sexuality in modern times are rooted in metaphors of war and domination, making the appreciation of male homosexual love impossible. Long optimistically envisions the emancipation of men and women, both heterosexual and homosexual, in a re-imagination of these sexual metaphors. Thus, what begins as an examination of social and religious constructions of homosexuality ends with a cry for liberation of all.
Long's compelling narrative is organized into eight chapters. Chapter One presents his operational definitions of religion and homosexuality. Although somewhat reductionist in his definition of religion yet expansive in his understanding of homosexuality, he does effectively argue the notion that religions have a vested interest in supporting 'real' masculinity. Homosexual relations are only viewed positively by religions when they support the masculine development of men or at least do not detract from it. This assertion is followed in Chapter 2 by examples of how homosexual activity in Papua New Guinea and ancient China contribute to the masculine development of boys. In Chapter 3 Long masterfully analyzes Plato's Symposium and Socratic notions of love, and links these complex ideas to Islamic Sufism. He repeats the theme that homosexual attraction and romance must occur between a mature man and a passive, dispassionate younger man. Interestingly, the sexual needs, desires, and fantasies of the younger 'bottom' are never explored by such great thinkers. In Chapter Four Long furthers the premise that a male bottom fails to be a man through his analysis of the role of the 'Berdaches' in Native American culture. The ambivalence in which the Berdache is held, i.e., as a living war charm and a humiliated man and as a special holy person reveals conflicts inherent in imposing a dichotomous category of gender, gender role, and social behavior onto a society.
Chapters Five and Six ambitiously and effectively tackle the evolution of Judeo-Christian views of homosexuality. Long presents a well-thought-out, interesting analysis of Leviticus which argues that homosexuality is an abomination because it involves a transgression of gender norms in which one man is unacceptably behaving as a woman with another man. Israelite understanding of homosexuality is strongly influenced by the martial practices of the ancient Near East where sexual humiliation of the vanquished was routine. The Israelite sense, Long suggests,that if one of its members were penetrated the whole social body would be weakened echoes in the resistance to the presence of women and gays in the U.S. military today.
Long's presentation of the New Testament understandings of sexuality is equally revelatory. St. Paul's and St. Augustine's positions and contributions to the development of Christian sexual morality are carefully outlined and help the reader understand how homosexuality is viewed as both ungodly and unmanly. In Chapter Seven Long draws provocative parallels between Augustine's ideas of the value of celibacy and the nirvanic transcendence of desire in traditional Buddhist thinking. Once again, the man who allows himself to be penetrated has sacrificed the fullness of masculinity in his overriding pursuit of homosexual gratification. Reform Buddhist movements in Tibet and Japan are briefly analyzed though the author acknowledges the speculative nature of his ideas here, given the relative paucity of definitive sources in this area.
In Chapter Eight Long comes home to the contemporary American frontier. He passionately addresses gay rights, anti-sodomy legislation, and gay marriage; he envisions the modern male homosexual as the harbinger of revolutionary change in the reconstruction of male sexuality. One applauds his enthusiasm with a watchful skepticism about the likelihood of dismantling these pervasive trans-cultural religious and social constructions which he has so convincingly presented.
This is an outstanding book which will appeal to academicians who teach courses in human sexuality, comparative religions, and the intersection of theology and the behavioral sciences. It is appealing, highly readable, imaginative, and is likely to inspire both undergraduate and graduate students.