One of the aim’s of the Religious Discrimination Bill was to give religious organisations the capacity to operate under the guidelines of what they perceive to be God’s authority, as opposed to earthly authorities, like Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act 1975 and Sex Discrimination Act 1984.
In the early hours of 10 February, 2022, last minute changes the bill saw the insertion of clauses that would prevent institutions like schools being able to discriminate against staff and students who are homosexual. Nonetheless, these alterations were rejected in the Senate because the bill still did not address transgender issues, thus the government was concerned transgender staff and students may still be vilified.
Some church groups also rejected the changes because it meant they were not getting what they wanted – the right to discriminate against staff and students on the grounds of gender identity, sexual orientation, and marital status. They argue religions should be allowed to uphold their beliefs, traditions, and values, even if these are prejudicial, because God’s authority should be higher than government mandated laws.
God’s authority in America allows discrimination …
If the Religious Discrimination Bill were to go ahead, one only needs to look at American to see the type of discrimination that could arise. For instance, Hillsong demoted a choir director when it became known they were openly gay. The director’s skills and expertise in leading a choir were never in question, rather, it was a case of not wanted to be seen as supporting LGBTQ+. This is the same Pentecostal church Scott Morrison has affiliations with, which begs questioning the possibility that the Morrison government wants the same sort of discrimination to be legal in Australia?
Hillsong is a form of Christianity that claims to love everyone, but if you’re homosexual then you’re not entitled to have positions of responsibility. Perhaps, Brian Houston (who just happens to be a close friend of Morrison) doesn’t know of the history of Castrati!?
Castrati, Transgenderism Approved by God’s Authority
Castrati were singers who had their testes and/or scrotum removed before puberty so they produced less testosterone and, in turn, maintained the capacity to sing high notes as adults. The procedure was usually not of the boys choosing, rather poor parents did it in exchange for money and to profit off their child’s gifted singing abilities. The procedures were approved of by the Catholic Church, an institution established on the premise that it is a mediator of God’s authority.
The trend began in the 1500s to enable choirs the flexibility of singing songs with a full range of harmonies. The mutation of boys anatomy was deemed an appropriate solution to fulfil the “need” of producing heavenly melodies. Castrati were “necessary” because women were banned from church choirs. Further, the procedure could be justified using Matthew 19:12 – a Castrato was an eunuch made for the sake of the kingdom of the heavens.
Castrati were popular throughout Europe and highly valued in Vatican choirs. As effeminate men, many adjusted their identity to suit their circumstances, which in some cases involved homosexual relationships. If they could still achieve erections, they could be sort after by affluent women who wanted an affair with a hairless lover who could not impregnate them.
Castrations were made illegal in Italy in 1861, but the practice was not banned by Papal rule till 1903. Italian doctors are reported to have continued making castrati for the Sistine Chapel choir until 1870.
The last Castrato, Alessandro Moreschi (1858-1922), followed the centuries old tradition of being the director of the Sistine Chapel choir. It is unclear if Moreschi’s castration was done purely to preserve his vocal range or if it was done to cure an inguinal hernia. Either way, the transgender-like procedure he went through was never viewed as being a threat to the morality of Christendom. He was nicknamed the “Angel of Rome” and recordings of his work are now on YouTube.
Religious Freedom or Religious Abuse?
Christianity’s history of supporting transgender-like procedures on religious grounds – Castrati and eunuchs – is a poignant backdrop for considering modern issues of gender identity and sexual orientation in modern churches. Essentially, when the purpose of altering a male’s anatomy to make them more like a woman suited their needs, Christianity approved transgenderism. Moreover, effeminate men were glorified for their feminine singing skills and any homosexual behaviours were largely ignored. Fast forward to today, and Christians can be discriminated against for exercising their free will to be transgender and/or homosexual.
When governments banned castrations, were they discriminating against religious traditions? Or were they putting the welfare of individuals above cruel religious practices?
So too, if governments prevent religions from being able to discriminate on the grounds of gender identity, are religious faiths being discriminated against? Or are the freedoms of individuals being protected from cruel religious practices?
Freedom of religion that leads to religious abuse was a prime consideration that lead to the development of human rights. Why have a bill that overrides this aim?
Castrati is not the same as homosexuality …
The common tread between Christians historically supporting Castrati choir directors and contemporary Christians discriminating against homosexual choir directors is that both situations represent practices that are supposedly supported by God’s authority. Discerning what is God’s authority ultimately comes down to which version of the Bible one reads and how it is interpreted. Idiosyncratic issues of what is “God’s authority” regarding gender identity and sexual orientation is nuanced by historical and cultural contexts.
It could be argued that Pentecostalism formed as a reaction against the practices of other Christian denominations and their practices, like Catholic Castrati, who supposedly misinterpreted God’s authority. Then again, it could be argued that churches who accept LGBTQ+ Christians are a reaction against other Christians, like Pentecostalism, because they have misinterpreted God’s authority … the circular arguments are endless. Not all denominations of Christianity are equal, and even within specific churches, Christian attitudes can vary.
So, if the Bible is the official document that defines God’s authority, why are there so many variations? … Dear Australians #2.6: the Bible’s authority …
This blog is part of a series that I hope will encourage deep, thoughtful, respectful discussions about issues relating to the Religious Discrimination bill. If you’d like to be kept up to date, subscribe to receive notifications of new posts by email.
PREVIOUS BLOGS IN THIS SERIES
Davis, E. (2020). What was a castrato? And what did they sound like? Amp.classicfm.com. https://amp.classicfm.com/discover-music/what-is-a-castrato/
Perrottet, T. (2007). Why Castrati Made Better Lovers. The Smart Set. https://www.thesmartset.com/article0806070116/
Feature image: Public Domain