Historical Notes: A triumph of science over religion - Arts and Entertainment - The Independent

Historical Notes: A triumph of science over religion

EXACTLY 50 years ago Alfred Charles Kinsey published an 804-page tome which smashed America with the force of a meteor. Sexual Behavior in the Human Male enraged religious leaders, university presidents and leading psychiatrists. But it also did more to promote sexual liberation in general and gay liberation in particular than any previous book.

The statistic which found its way into all of the headlines was Kinsey's assertion that 10 per cent of all American adult males were "more or less exclusively homosexual", including 4 per cent who were "exclusively homosexual throughout their lives, after the onset of adolescence".

The accuracy of those numbers has been challenged repeatedly since they were published, and the debate heated up again last year, when James H. Jones published a massive new biography of Kinsey. Jones broke the researcher's most carefully guarded secret - the fact that he was having sex with men throughout his marriage - and suggested (not very convincingly) that this behaviour might have affected Kinsey's scientific methods.

What made Kinsey's work revolutionary was his assertion that scientists had to divorce their judgements about sexuality from the "ancient religious codes" which were "the prime source of the attitudes, the ideas, the ideals, and the rationalisations by which most individuals pattern their sexual lives".

By adopting a disinterested tone and divorcing all of his judgments from the traditional Judaeo-Christian influences, Kinsey eventually made it possible for millions of people to think about sex very differently. His book was another crucial step in the evolution which had begun a century earlier with Darwin: the gradual triumph of science over religion which ultimately made gay liberation possible.

In 1948, the legions of psychiatrists who had made handsome livings by trying to convert homosexuals into heterosexuals were oblivious to Kinsey's achievement. They were apoplectic over Kinsey's findings - even though their progenitor, Sigmund Freud, had written in 1937 that while "homosexuality is assuredly no advantage", it was also "nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation [and] it cannot be classified as an illness".

Religious leaders and academics were even harsher: Henry Van Dusen, who headed Manhattan's Union Theological Seminary, called the report's statistics evidence of a "degradation in American morality approximating the worst decadence of the Roman era", while the President of Princeton University compared the report to "the work of small boys writing dirty words on fences".

But Kinsey's conclusions would have a much more lasting effect than the words of his critics. He had begun a process that would eventually produce a dramatic change in the way the American establishment thought about homosexuality.

Kinsey wrote that, considering the number of homosexuals he had uncovered, it would be "difficult to maintain the view that psychosexual reactions between individuals of the same sex are rare and therefore abnormal or unnatural, or even that they constitute within themselves evidence of neuroses or even psychoses". That was the conclusion which enraged psychiatrists most of all. But exactly 25 years later, it became the official position of the American Psychiatric Association, when it removed homosexuality from its official list of mental disorders in 1973. For gay Americans, that action was just as revolutionary as the Declaration of Independence had been for the colonies

Charles Kaiser is the author of `The Gay Metropolis: 1940-1996' (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, pounds 20)

Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week