Sunday, April 15, 2012

I wish I’d kept the Private Eye cartoon of the publisher holding a large manuscript with the title “Bugger All.”

“Actually, Mr Frobeshire”, he is saying “when we said ‘write what you know’…”

Of course, we know what “write what you know” means: it means “write what you know and not what you read in some book”. You don’t have to be a vampire to write a teenaged vampire novel (though it probably helps) but for god-sake don’t set it in a trendy high school in California if you went to a bog-standard comp in the north of England. You’ll end up looking like a wally. (See also under Rowling, J.K.)

I mention this, because regular readers may have spotted that I am terribly reluctant to write about what I know: the interesting stuff is what I don’t know. On an average day, I work out what I think about DC’s opportunistic piece of shit Watchmen knock offs in the act of writing essays about them (essay = trial run). On a good one, I catch the eureka moment of consciousness on paper. I still think that the “What I really think about Matt Smith” piece is the best I’ve ever written.

At some point, I’m afraid I am going to have to come back and have another go at the marriage thing, which ought to be interesting, because I’d like to figure out what I think. I’m a bit reluctant to do so because I don’t know where I will end up; and I’m fearful of colliding with the brick wall of people who already know, and who, indeed, have declared in advance that no other viewpoint is conceivable. Go one way, and I’m actively working towards the downfall of western civilisation; go the other, and I’m simply a Nazi. A while back, I wrote a few lines on one of those forums about what I understood Clause 29 to have been, and why I think it came about. “A small-minded over-reaction to the use of some arguably age inappropriate sex-ed material in junior schools”, I think I said. Whereupon I was roundly accused of supporting genocide, or at any rate, supporting people who supported genocide.

You can see my reluctance.

But here is one thing I'd have to sort out before I started. I'm asking the question, you understand, because I don't know the answer, not because I do.

What does the Church of England think about voluntary celibacy in marriage? 

And come to that, what does the Church of England think about the voluntary separation of married couples?

See, if I’ve got this right, the Church of England thinks that God invented marriage for three purposes - Procreation, Sex and Companionship. There was also a sort of big meta-reason: he intended the relationship between a married couple to be a sort of icon of the relationship between Jesus and the Church. 

This iconography does not, incidentally, make marriage a sacrament in the way that solemnly re-enacting the Last Supper is a sacrament: note that the prayer book has a Sacrament of Holy Communion, a Sacrament of Baptism, but a service for the Solemnization of Marriage. Very clever people who say that the Church of England regards marriage as a sacrament may be making an honest mistake; people who talk about marriage “having a sacramental dimension” (very probably “in a very real sense”) are deliberately trying to throw dust in your eye.

Not sure where they got the “first, marriage was ordained for the procreation of children”, part from, either. The Bible seems pretty clear that God made Eve because Adam needed a helper, and that they only “knew” each other after they’d been kicked out of the garden. But going to the Bible to find out about Christian marriage will tie you up in knots: the Old Testament seems to regard polygamy as permissible but inadvisable; the New to regard marriage as a necessary evil.

So anyway: what’s the Church’s position on non-consummation: if two consenting adults get married, is sex compulsory? And what happens if a married couple lives apart for some reason: say if a woman chooses to marry a sailor who is only allowed to come ashore for one day every seven years; or even if a prison visitor chooses to marry a convict who he will never live with or possibly even touch? Unusual set ups, certainly: uncommon, inadvisable, but does the church forbid them or say that the couples in question are not really married?

Come to that, what happens if a couple who don’t really like each other marry — say, because their parents really want grandchildren, or because the future King of England has pretty much got to have a beautiful Queen, or because one or both parties is pregnant, or even to secure a dowry or an inheritance? I mean, these may all be really, really bad ideas, and the Church might counsel against them, but are the couples in question Not Really Married? And suppose, while continuing to dislike each other, they stick to their vows, stay together, and make the best of it. Married, or not married? You tell me.

You see where I am going with this. Marriage was ordained for three purposes: babies, sex, and companionship. Certain Christian factions appear to be arguing that a proposed new kind of marriage is a contradiction in terms; an impossibility; a sin and (in some cases) the harbinger of the end of western civilisation -- because it can’t possibly produce babies. Logically, they must mean either that if you remove any one of three elements from the prayer book then what you are left with is not marriage; or that you can have marriage without sex, or marriage without companionship, but you cannot have marriage without babies. (Which is a problem in itself, because the church does, I believe, permit very old people to get married if they want to.) Or else they are working from some source of ecclesiastical authority other than the Book of Common Prayer. (Johnthelutheran helpfully points out that the prayer book definition is taken for granted in actual English law.)

I am not terribly interested, for the moment, in finding out what the Church of England ought to think; or hearing arguments for an against disestablishment; or hearing from people who think that what the Church of England thinks is bronze age savage sky fairy sky fairy sky fairy wobbly sets wobbly sets wobbly sets. I’m interested, for the moment, as a point of information, in finding out:

a: what the church of England does in fact teach about voluntary celibacy and voluntary separation in marriage and

b: when, or on what basis it was decided that Cranmer made a Mistake and that marriage was ordained, not for three reasons, but only for one.

I’m sure this stuff must be written down somewhere. In a book.