No morally upright critique of vice, sin, iniquity an corruption would be complete without a condemnation of homosexuality. And boy, does L. O. Curon let the condemnation flow freely in Chicago, Satan’s Sanctum. He does everything except actually use the word “homosexual.” Which I’m guessing no one did in polite company in 1899.
(One interesting side light. When Curon wants to get graphic about sexual practices he considers immoral, he retreats into ancient history and ancient Greek literature for his examples. It’s an interesting use for a classical education. Some of that is at work here in this passage.)
Anyway, back to Curon. And some of his purplest prose yet (starts on p. 145)!
The dens of the sexual pervert of the male sex, found in the basements of buildings in the most crowded, but least respectable parts of certain streets, with immoral theaters, cheap museums, opium joints and vile concert saloons surrounding them, are the blackest holes of iniquity that ever existed in any country since the dawn of history. A phrase was recently coined in New York which conveys—in the absence of the possibility of describing them in decent language—the meaning of the brute practices indulged in these damnable resorts, and the terrible consequences to humanity as a result of unnatural habits—“Paresis Halls.”
No form of this indulgence described by writers on the history of morals, no species of sodomy the debased minds of these devils can devise, is missing from the programme of their diabolical orgies. In divine history we read of the abominations of the strange women of Israel, with their male companions, in their worship of Moloch, Belphegor and Baal, and of the death penalties pronounced by Moses against the participants in them. To suppress the brutish immorality, and prevent the spread of disease arising from it, the Jewish law giver put to death all his Midianite female captives except the virgins. Profane history tells of the infamies of the Babylonian banquets, of the incestuous and “promiscuous combats of sensuality” of the Lydians and the Persians; of the Athenian Auletrides, or female flute players, who danced and furnished music at the banquets of the nobility and wallowed in the filth of every sensual indecency, and of the polluted condition of Roman life, prior to, and as the Christian era dawned, but in all the untranslatable literature of eroticism no description of the debaucheries of the ancients, if freely interpreted into English from the dead languages in which they are preserved, could depict the nastiness these yahoos are reported as having introduced into our midst, and rendered more hateful and disgusting by the squalor of their underground abodes. The young are lured by them, ruined in health and seared in conscience. The very slang of the streets is surcharged with expressions, derived from, and directly traceable to, the names of these unmentionable acts of lechery.
Not content with the private and crafty pursuit of their calling, they must flaunt it in the faces of the public and under the very eyes of the police, in a series of annual balls held by the “fruits” and the “cabmen,” advertised by placards extensively all over the city. At these disreputable gatherings the pervert of the male persuasion displays his habits by aping everything feminine. In speech, walk, dress and adornment they are to all appearances women. The modern mysteries of the toilet, used to build up and round out the female figure, are applied in the make-up of the male pervert. Viewed from the galleries, it is impossible to distinguish them from the sex they are imitating. Theirs is no maid-marian costume; it is strictly in the line of the prevailing styles among fashionable women, from female hair to pinched feet. The convenient bar supplies the liquid excitement, and when the women arrivals from the bagnios swarm into the hall, led in many instances by the landlady, white or black, and the streets and saloons have contributed their quotas, the dance begins and holds on until the morning hours approach. The acts are those mainly suggestive of indecency. Nothing, except the gross language and easy familiarity in deportment, coupled with the assumed falsetto voice and effeminate manners of the pervert, would reveal to the uninformed observer what a seething mass of human corruption he is witnessing. As the “encyclopedia of the art of making up” puts it, “the exposed parts of the human anatomy” usually displayed in fashionable society are counterfeited so perfectly, the wigs are selected and arranged with such nicety, the eyebrows and lashes so dexterously treated, and the features so artistically touched with cosmetics, as to make it very difficult, at first glance, to distinguish between the impostor and the real woman. The big hands and tawdry dresses, the large though pinched feet and the burly ankle, betray the sex of the imitating pervert.
No reason, except that the police are paid for non-interference with these vice pitted revels, can be given for their toleration. The city’s officials are either in collusion with their projectors, they are incompetent, or are the willing tools of these stinking body scavengers. These beasts look with disdain upon the votaries of natural pleasures, and have an insane pride in their hopeless degradation.
More than anything, he wants to prevent people from living like this. From falling to this. The fact of such people in a society are a sign not just of its decadence, but it’s weakness. Which is why society needed to be regimented, tightly controlled, scripted and organized, young people given strict guidance and things to belong to — sports clubs, Boy Scouts, classrooms, armies. (The hymn that most reflects this awful worldview is “Earth and All Stars.”) A weak society cannot engage in uplift, cannot defend itself from barbarians (Filipino cockfighters and Chinese opium dealers!), cannot redeem the world.
And this is the face of the Liberal Christianity of the late 19th and early 20th century that we inherit — a faith that saw itself as acting to redeem the world, a world that human beings would have to redeem if it were to be redeemed at all. If Curon is a churchman (I and believe he is; he devotes a whole introductory chapter to quotes from other churchmen on the evils of Chicago and the need for better or more moral government), the faith he subscribes to puts the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ far to the side. Jesus doesn’t really save us, and he is almost peripheral to our actual salvation. Rather, Jesus empowers us to save ourselves using all the scientific tools that mass industrial democratic civilization give us.
This is the legacy of Liberal Christianity that I oppose. Because we still struggle with that, in the ethics of Niebuhr, the social activism of Martin Luther King, in all the revolutionary nonsense (pseudo and real) of liberation theology, which in the end, makes human beings the agents of their own salvation. Indeed, necessary agents of their own salvation, as it won’t otherwise happen if human beings don’t act.
In this, the cross and empty tomb become quaint stories, things to sing sanctimonious and sentimental hymns about, but which don’t really matter. Because the saving of the world is man’s work.