Posted by: aediculaantinoi | November 7, 2012


Some say that there is no such thing as bad press, particularly for minority religions or the gods revered in them, but I’m not entirely sure that’s always the case…

Many readers of my blog know that I’m not necessarily a fan of Dan Savage or of the It Gets Better Project. So, it was a big surprise to me to read (via a tip-off from a friend) that in his column today, Dan Savage discusses Antinous as a religious option.

Before rejoicing that this is the case, however, I advise you to take Savage’s caveat on his column seriously:

So a warning to everyone whose letter appears in this week’s column: My reliably sucky advice is probably going to be suckier than usual.

That having been said, let’s see what he says about Antinous:

But if I was gonna pick a faith based on gayness alone, I would go with Antinous. He was the big gay lover of the big gay second-century Roman emperor Hadrian, the dude who built the wall that kept Mary Queen of Scots from sneaking into Roman Britain and stealing the scones of stones or something. Hadrian, a bearish guy in his 40s, was hopelessly in love with Antinous, a Bithynian teenager. Hadrian’s Bithynian, like the NWATB’s Dominican, must have given amazing head, because after Antinous died—he drowned while swimming in the Nile—Hadrian had him declared a god. Take it away, Wikipedia:

“The grief of the emperor knew no bounds, causing the most extravagant veneration to be paid to Antinous’ memory. Cities were founded in his name, medals struck with his likeness, and cities throughout the east commissioned godlike images of the dead youth for their shrines and sanctuaries… As a result, Antinous is one of the best-preserved faces from the ancient world.”

My husband Terry looks like Antinous—it’s true—so, yeah, I’d hit and/or worship that.

So, there’s a lot to unpack there; but, I’ll say first that though Dan Savage’s husband is rather attractive, he’s no Antinous. But, as I’ve said over and over again, worship of Antinous is not about being gay, or having one’s understanding of gayness undergo apotheosis through Antinous as a symbol. It never has been until rather recently (and even then, only for some people), and never was in the ancient world. It was not just Hadrian’s grief over his deceased boyfriend that earned him apotheosis, it was long-standing Egyptian tradition, which would have applied had he been the Emperor’s boyfriend or the Emperor’s chamber pot cleaner.

But, Savage is also missing a larger point about religion when he prefaced his remarks above with the following:

The Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality gave me a big sad when I was an adolescent, it’s true, but I didn’t come to the conclusion that there is no God based solely on that big sad. My sexuality prompted me to question not just the faith in which I was raised, BAAA, but all faiths. And none, in my semi-informed opinion, stood up to scrutiny. I simply don’t know how any reasonable person can look at all world religions, living and dead, and come to the conclusion that one particular tribe or prophet or science-fiction writer got it right and every other tribe, prophet, and science-fiction writer got it wrong.

Seriously?!? Only the most simple-minded person, particularly in the modern world, would think that one’s choice of religion has to do with being “right,” or at very least “more right than anyone else.” The likelihood that any one religion is “right” about the nature of every aspect of reality–particularly metaphysical reality–is slim to none; what is most important, therefore, is that one’s choice of religion proves to be life-enhancing for oneself.

And, if that’s the case, then Dan Savage really ought to be doing the cultus of Antinous as his religion, as there’s no reason not to; he may not end up doing it via the Ekklesía Antínoou, though, because I suspect our general demeanor and methodology isn’t shallow enough for his tastes. (Which is a pity, because despite the research and effective spiritual technologies that we use, we have our shallow matters as well!)

I don’t know…what do you reckon?


  1. Oh, he’s just another (asshole?) atheist who doesn’t understand religion and claims to be an expert. I’m afraid he’s not alone, though, in the reckoning that a lot of people in the modern world think that religion is about being “right” and that each group/sect/denomination/tribe believes that they have a handle on the Truth. It’s not just for “the most simple-minded person”, I’m afraid. Truly pluralistic and polytheistic societies that respect other traditions without degrading them with monism baffles most people in this society.

    • Unfortunately, that’s exactly my point–which I hadn’t quite realized when I wrote the earlier bit, so thanks for clarifying this for me!–namely, that most people don’t have a very sophisticated or well-informed view of religion generally speaking, other people’s religions, or very often their own religions either. (Five years of teaching religion courses to people who consider themselves both “very religious” and “well-informed” has demonstrated this over and over again, alas.) It’s sad that such is the case, as people are certainly capable of having the intelligence and the discernment to be able to understand these things, but they’re just not willing to do so for the most part. It’s especially upsetting when atheists who consider themselves well-informed and intelligent do this as well…but then again, there are also some pagans who do it, too.

  2. And it seems obvious to me that he probably didn’t anything about Antinous before writing this column. I imagine that he googled “gay god” and came up with Antinous on Wikipedia. Seriously, do you think we can ever find someone who will talk about Antinous (that’s not us!) who’ve at least read Beloved and God before opening their mouths?

    • I’ve given up almost all hope of finding anyone who might talk about Antinous in popular contexts (and, the only ones where they have tended to is in gay thought-pieces on the internet) in which someone has any useful information to base their opinions on at all.

      Beloved and God would be preferable to Wikipedia (and certain other websites/etc.), certainly, though even it has some major problems that have not been critically evaluated by many readers.

      But anyway…I don’t expect everyone to have dissertation-level knowledge of these things, by any means. But, Dan Savage has kind of shown his hand by directly quoting Wikipedia and then attempting to make himself sound like an expert. Like he said in his preface, it was a suckier than usual day for him. 😉

  3. But you answered your own critique of Dan’s message. We live in a country filled with simple-minded people

    who feel their religion is “right” and all others are “wrong”. And they have no qualms about denying the rights of

    those who disagree. Dan Savage is a bit “out there” in his rhetoric, but that’s what gains him exposure. Also,

    his sense of history is a bit skewered but at least he tried. I’ve met his husband and no, he’s no Antinous. But

    then, how could anyone compare to a god? Especially a god we carry in our hearts and envision with our own

    personal sense of an ideal being. I feel that every time Antinous’ name is mentioned his life force is empowered

    and his memory is immortalized further. All who speak his name in a positive manner are welcome to do so, no

    matter how off the mark, historically, they may be.

    Pax vobis,

    John Jaie Palmero

    • That isn’t the issue at all: no one can control who speaks of Antinous, nor how they choose to speak of him, nor should anyone attempt to do so (historian/scholar or cultist alike). We can, however, attempt to elevate and inform the dialogue where it has taken place, and modify or critique the rhetoric of others. It is just as much one’s own right to do that as it is anyone else’s right to say what they like. I don’t think propagating the image of Antinous as “gay god, therefore gives good head” is particularly preferable nor accurate, and thus Savage’s discussion merited comment and critique here.

      The lack of comparability between Dan Savage’s husband and Antinous has nothing to do with Antinous being a god, though. Based on his repeated and relatively standardized image that has come down from the ancient world, we have a pretty good idea of what Antinous might have looked like. Some people who live in the modern world, and very likely in every generation of humans since, certainly have or have continued to resemble him (e.g. Paul Iacono); others do not. Dan Savage’s husband doesn’t, and while the comparison is meant, no doubt, to elevate both his husband’s ego and Dan’s own for having been lucky enough to attach himself to someone so attractive (and, yes, Dan Savage’s husband is attractive, I think, he just doesn’t look like Antinous), it’s still not really an apt comparison on physical grounds alone, anymore than if I said that Robert Pattinson, who is also considered to be rather attractive (though not by me), resembles Antinous, because he doesn’t remotely. “Cute guy” doesn’t always equal “Antinous,” nor does it have to, even for those of us who worship Antinous. There are infinite types of beauty, all of which should be appreciated on their own merits and without the necessity of comparing them to some other standard of beauty for their justification, nor their increase of esteem.

  4. Dan Savage tends to remind me of the old joke, “Those of you who think you know everything are extremely annoying to those of us who do.” And really, I think that’s all I ought to say. *emits harrumphing noises nonetheless*

    • I hadn’t heard that joke…but, yes, it bears some resemblance to reality in this case particularly! Eeesh… 😉

      • Well, I say “joke”–the sort of joke that turns up on posters for the office, that is.

  5. TBH I just ignore him entirely. My respect for him went out the window when he starting making opinions on trans people (transmen specifically), transition surgery, and started attacking a friend of mine via Twitter.

    Just seems to me he needed to make a religious post and grabbed onto the “most obviously” (I don’t agree with this) gay character he could find to ramble about. Which is.. well, as you say, there is way more to Antinoan (??) worship than just being gay.

    • Yes–I have not ever read his column regularly, and most certainly haven’t followed his movements for the past few years in particular, other than when he does something really stupid (which is probably at least daily, but anyway), e.g. engaging in some self-labeled bullying of Christians at a high school he was speaking at on behalf of “It Gets Better,” etc. I have always been a critic and a skeptic about him, no matter how popular he’s been in some circles (and in the Seattle area, he was huge in the late 90s in the gay/lesbian community).

      He’s not only transphobic, he’s also biphobic, and probably several other things as well. He also doesn’t honor agreements–someone I used to know paid a good bit of money in a charity auction to get to have lunch with him about ten years ago, and then never did.

      And, the fact that he is–whether we like it or not–a public figure and d-list celebrity, and yet can’t find ways to better spend his time (like on his so-called charitable advocacy campaign?!?) than to harass people on Twitter, he’s really rallying for “Scum Of The Earth” award, unfortunately.

    • All of that to say: I would normally do as you do, and just ignore him and not mention him; but, because he specifically mentioned my gods and my religion, and yet still held them up as “religion is stupid” meanwhile, it’s something that I felt needed some public comment. I’m sure you understood that, but anyway…! 😉

      • Oh no, don’t worry! I entirely understand why you responded with this post. I think I would’ve done the same thing in your shoes. He’s incredibly disrespectful and DOES need to be called out, for all that he thinks he should get away with murder just because he is a more-or-less well known queer man. Peh!

        Some of the stuff you said I had no idea he had done though. I can’t believe he would back out on that charity event, especially with all that money! Good gods.

  6. […] the “It Gets Better” project (and the person who started that project), things like GSAs in high schools (and junior highs/middle schools, if possible!) actually do help […]

  7. *snort* Right, because all religions are focused on being the only way for all of humankind, Like those damn indigenous Bon shamans and their endless proselytizing! Or those annoying Shakers, who are everywhere!

    Also, I seriously doubt he studied “all” religions — probably just the major five and a few assorted variants, and not all that in-depth. Otherwise he’d not have made such asinine statements.

    • Exactly…

      And, for the “major five,” I’m sure he came up with a list something along the lines of the following: Roman Catholicism, Episcopalian, Evangelical, Greek Orthodox, and Orthodox Judaism. You know, the real religions…and, he probably didn’t even get through a …For Dummies book on any of them. Okay, perhaps I’m going overboard here, but I suspect that the depths of his shallowness know no bounds…!?! 😉

  8. Only the most simple-minded person, particularly in the modern world, would think that one’s choice of religion has to do with being “right,” or at very least “more right than anyone else.”

    I guess I’m simple-minded then. I believe that there really is a being named Dionysos. I believe that he really does the things that ancient people said he did. I believe that when I die I really will go to be with him in an eternal festive banquet. And I believe that anyone who doesn’t acknowledge his existence is wrong in exactly the same way that they would be wrong if they said there was no Mount Rushmore. They may be right about a great many other things, and I may benefit greatly by being exposed to their perspective on those things – but with regard to this matter there is only one truth, and it is the one I hold to.

    And, honestly, this is why I tend to get along better with Christians. Our truths may be contradictory but at least we recognize that there are truths and do not equivocate. (And really, the only Christian truth I object to is their denial of polytheism and what follows naturally from that. Everything about their relationship with Christ and what they get out of that is perfectly acceptable to me. I’m just doing my own thing over on the side, quite apart from that. But I do it because I sincerely believe that it is the right thing to do, not merely because it enhances my life. Though it certainly does do that!)

    • We do tend to take “YMMV” way too far in the pagan community. We are so afraid of coming off like those damn monotheists that we are afraid to state unequivocally that our gods are real, and our experiences of them as well.

      It’s okay to feel that your spiritual beliefs are true. Even to think, in situations where they conflict with another’s, that such a person is wrong. The only problem comes when people decide that everyone MUST think as they do, or die. Tolerance does not require prevarication.

      • That isn’t what I’m saying, though; I don’t think affirming the reality of our gods or our experiences is the problem (nor should be a problem for anyone), it’s exactly what you outlined at the end of your statement here–i.e. the implied requirement of universalism and salvational concepts as a sine qua non of religion…which, unfortunately, many monistic pagans have as well, even if they don’t see a salvational element in their beliefs.

    • I should have explained myself at greater length than I had time for at the moment I wrote this piece…

      The problem is not the assumption of being “more right than anyone else for oneself,” it’s the notion that “religion = science” in terms of providing an inerrant, objective, and universal map of reality to which one must subscribe. It’s the notion that what science purports to do is what religion also ought to do…

      I would suggest a modification of your statement, Sannion, primarily in the use of the word “belief.” Your regular interactions with Dionysos and your many experiences of him, which have gone on to direct the course of your life, are not things you “believe” in–you don’t need to “believe in” Dionysos because you have had interactions with him and know he’s real, just as I do with Dionysos, and Antinous, and Hanuman, and Shiva, and Hathor, and Persephone, and any number of other deities. That you and I act and base our religious notions and engagements with the world on these given matters of our experience is not really what I’m talking about here, or what I have a problem with.

      I don’t personally think I have all the answers, or even any of them in most cases, for other people, nor that my overall map of and understanding of the universe is inerrantly correct, factual, and universally applicable. That there is a god called Antinous (and Dionysos and others) who have independent existences outside of my own perceptions, thoughts, mind, and experiences, and that I have and can and do interact with him, and that others have done and will continue to do so as well, doesn’t necessarily mean that my thoughts on the general nature and process of divine existence, theology, cosmology, eschatology, or ethics are correct or universally applicable, even to others who are interested in or who venerate and are devoted to Antinous. There are certain historical matters that are pretty well certain about him and about his cultic remains from the ancient world, and I’ll argue tooth and nail with anyone who attempts to interpret those in manners that are contrary to logic or to certainty, most definitely (and have done, including in this post!); but that isn’t the same as saying I’m Right, and my religion is Right.

      It may be a subtle difference to some, but I think it bears drawing out. Based on what you’ve described, I don’t think you disagree here…

      But, also, given that you’re about as far from simple-minded as one can possibly imagine (which may be the same thing as saying someone is “mad”–and who am I to contradict such a notion?!?), your own view on these things may be far more nuanced and complex than I can summarize or comprehend. So…! 😉

  9. […] I’ve considered writing about for a while, but particularly after this post the other day, is something that many people might not quite understand, and perhaps a fine distinction that […]

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