Aristophanes and Gay Marriage

In a post last week I commented on the subtle sophistry involved in the homosexual lobby’s recent attempts to portray the fight for gay marriage as a fight for civil rights. In today’s post I thought it might be worth mentioning that this is not the first time that the gay community has indulged in sophistry to twist the truth.

But what do I mean by sophistry? In an article I wrote last year for the Chuck Colson Center, titled ‘Sophistry in Ancient Athens,’ I explained how the sophists were teachers that arose as a result of Athens not having a police force.

The ancient city of Athens didn’t have a police force. Thus, if somebody committed a crime against you – if, for example, they embezzled your money or stole your property – the only way you could achieve justice was by taking them to court.
Ancient Athens also didn’t have any lawyers. Thus, anyone who found himself in court had to be prepared to argue the case himself.

One thing that ancient Athens did possess was plenty of unscrupulous characters. Many of these less-than principled folk discovered that if you were clever enough you could persuade the court to agree with you even if you were in the wrong (especially if your opponent was not very bright).

In the latter half of the fifth century BC, a group of teachers arose in Athens called Sophists. The Sophists claimed to be able to teach students how to prove impossible propositions, such as that nothing exists or that motion is impossible.

The Greek playwright, Aristophanes, poked fun at the Sophists in his comedy The Clouds. In his play, an elderly farmer named Strepsiades goes to a special school called “The Thinkery” where Socrates (caricatured here as a Sophist) promises to teach him how to use persuasive rhetoric to prove that right is wrong and wrong is right. Overjoyed at the power he will wield once Socrates has taught him the secret to proving anything, the unscrupulous Strepsiades breaks forth into this refrain (taken from Alan H. Sommerstein’s wonderful Penguin Classics translation)

“So I give myself entirely to the school – I’ll let it beat me,
It can starve me, freeze me, parch me, it can generally ill-treat me,
If it teaches me to dodge my debts and get the reputation
Of the cleverest, slyest fox that ever baffled litigation.
Let men hate me, let men call me names, and over and above it
Let them chase me through each court, and I assure you that I’ll love it.
Yes, if Socrates can make of me a real forensic winner,
I don’t mind if he takes out my guts and has them for his dinner.”

Although The Clouds was a work of dramatic fiction, it isn’t far off from the truth of what actually went on in Athens. Though it is unlikely that the historical Socrates was anything like Aristophanes’ portrayal, the Sophists were just as unscrupulous. Many of the youth flocked to them to learn how to be clever enough to persuade courts and other audiences, even if what they were saying was false.

The chorus of clouds in Aristophanes' comedy

What does any of this have to do with homosexuality? Quite simply that the homosexual lobby uses tactics of sophistry similar to the characters in Aristophanes’ play to get us to think that ‘gay marriage’ is something it is not.

I don’t refer to the fact that it is not really marriage, though that is perhaps the most obvious example. Rather, I’m thinking of the way we keep hearing that laws to allow gay marriage will simply extend to same-sex couples the rights that the government already gives to married couples. President Obama’s own comments show he has bought into this reasoning. Yet there is a fatal flaw to this utterly-simplistic and naive narrative. At least that is what I argued in another piece I did for the Colson Center, titled ‘Sophistry in America‘. This is what I wrote:

If we accept that the principle of equal protection under the law means that same-sex couples should be entitled to the same rights as married couples (including the right to call their union a “marriage”), then in order to be logically consistent we would have to say that a definition of marriage that includes both heterosexual and same-sex unions, yet excludes unions with animals or multiple partners, is also failing to provide equal protection under the law. Indeed…if someone is bisexual, then in order for their sexuality to be fully expressed, their “marriage” must include a minimum of at least one person from each sex. At least, that is where the argument against “discrimination based on sexual orientation” could go…. [The reality is that] any new definition of marriage that [we] may wish to proffer opens the door to an endless series of redefinition in the years to come. This is because what is true of the word marriage is true of any noun: to define a word as one thing is necessarily to exclude that word as being some other thing. A noun that can mean anything is a noun that can mean nothing.

Consequently, if we say that it is unconstitutional for the word “marriage” to exclude anyone or anything, then we are beginning a process whereby the word must necessarily be eventually emptied of all content.

Suffice to say, if [the laws restricting marriage to one-woman and one-man] were set aside, then not only would a union between one man and one woman no longer have a monopoly on the term “marriage,” but in principle any definition of marriage (even one broadened to encompass homosexual unions) could eventually be challenged as unconstitutional by an extension of the same logic.

In short, the word “marriage” must finally come to cover anything we could possibly imagine. However, to do that would render the term incoherent, and that is something that not even the homosexuality community wishes to see happen.

Further Reading

Sophistry in Ancient Athens

Sophistry in America

Gay marriage: A Civil Right?

The Tyranny of the Minority: How the Forced Recognition of Same-Sex ‘Marriage’ Undermines a Free Society.

2 thoughts on “Aristophanes and Gay Marriage

  1. …And so we have postmodern SOPHIST carpenters rebuilding our cultural framework…with their redefinitions…and with their use of the word “civil rights”…

    Like the laws governing how many beams…how many supports you need to keep your roof from collapsing in on you…are the laws of the universe.

    So…when they misuse word meanings…as Mr. Phillips details above…the cultural house over all of us can — and will —and even some wings…will fall in on us…

    “Signed” A mom who adopted a son from a collapsed moral house situation…

  2. I am a PhD student researching the topic of education in ancient Greek theatre and came across your article whist searching for an image of Aristophanes’ cloud chorus. My inquiry includes rhetorical research.

    As you mentioned, the agon of Clouds employs rhetorical devices, or as you refer to it ‘sophistry,’ and also references those rhetorical devices, as the play discussion education–or mocks it rather (though sophistry was really the teaching of persuasion, this ‘bad/unjust/immoral’ teaching you refer to is a specific form called Dissoi Logoi see Aristotle’s Rhetoric II.24.10). There are moments in the debate between Hetton Logos (Sommerstein translates it better argument) and his foil, Kreitton Logos (worse argument), where I believe there are three levels of persuasion/rhetoric/sophistry happening (refer to lines 1088-1100). Hetton Logos tries to convince his opposite that it is okay to be loose assed (a phrase meaning that a man has been sexual active with multiple men or on a myriad of occasions). Kreitton Logos disagrees (he thinks you should be discreet about your homosexual interactions). Hetton logs proves his point in this elenchus:
    HL: Tell me: From what type of person do advocates come?
    KL: From the wide-arsed.
    HL: I agree. Again, from what type do tragedians come?
    KL: From the wide-arsed.
    HL: Quite right. And from what type do politicians come?
    KL: From the wide-arsed.
    HL: Then do you realise that you were talking nonsense? Again, look and see which are in the majority among the audience.
    KL: There, I’m looking.
    HL: Well, what do you see?
    KL: That, heavens above! The wide-arsed are the vast majority. At any rate, I know that one is, and that one over there, and that one with the long hair. (1088-1100)
    Hetton Logos convinces, through a trick of rhetoric, Krietton Logos of his opinion. But the real contest is for Pheidippides, whom both want to tutor. Krietton Logos, a good sophist, knows his audience. He chooses to advocate things he imagines a young boy will want (sex). Pheidippides does side with him. But phenomenologically Hetton Logos, that clever trickster, wants to win over the audience of the theatre. He calls them all promiscuous, which is why it’s okay to be so. And everyone laughs, because they all know they like sex (with men).

    It is quite funny that a blog against gay marriage would cite the Greeks, let alone this play in particular. Maybe you didn’t read it all.

    Sophistry was the art of persuasion. Anyone trying to persuade someone of an argument is using it. Like the people you mentioned, and also like you yourself.

    I would like to point out where you make giant leaps in logic, the same you accuse others of:
    1. If ‘marriage’ includes men marrying men, it must include animals too!
    No one ever said this. It is a rhetorical device where you align something you don’t like with something abhorrent. For example: Hitler lived in Germany and wanted genocide. What do other people living in Germany want? More genocide? You see, this argument is essentially guilt by association.
    2. To define a word as one thing is to exclude all other definitions, therefore my definition is correct. Firstly, words change meanings all the time. That is why they print new dictionaries. Pick up a dictionary from 40 years ago and compare it to one today. I did this once and found a lot of definitions that were offensive to women. But back then, it wan’t problematic to print it that way. Back then there was a fight for interracial marriage. Second, if we are going by original definitions, marriage was primarily a legal contract whereby one man bought the property (his wife) off another man (her father). I believe men wanting marriage are looking to commit to their love for each other. In this case it does not match the original definition.

    Here is why it is an equal rights issue: there should not be things some citizens can do and others cannot. No one can marry multiple partners (though the Mormans, who are in heterosexual relationships, are the ones pushing for this). No one can marry animals. I want to visit the person I love and have devoted myself to if he is in the hospital. I want to commit to being with him for the rest of our lives in the same way that my sister did to her husband. In sickness and in health. For richer or poorer. That is what it is about. Nothing else. ‘Civil unions’ are ‘separate but equal’. The tumultuous 60’s taught us that this is indeed a contradiction of terms. If you are separate, if you are the other, you are not equal.

    I hope some day you can understand that. Us homosexuals have been around since ancient Greece. We’re not going anywhere.

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