Tuesday, December 11, 2012

That Would Be An Ecumenical Matter


Well, it's obviously a mess, but.

There is a famous story about a Catholic and a Jew who wanted to get married. The local Priest didn't think Catholic boys should marry Jews, and the local Rabbi certainly didn't think that Jewish girls should marry anyone other than Jews. However, the local Vicar thought that it was his job to marry anyone in his parish who wanted to get married, regardless of their faith, so he married them. 

Anyone who ever read the Dandy knows that the longest word in the English language isn't "antidisestablishmentarianism", it's "smiles".

Some Anglican clergy have genuine, sincere, theological beliefs that marriage is something which can only occur between a man and a woman. I realize that territorial battle lines have been drawn, and you either have to see these people as martyrs or homophobes, when they are mostly neither. The point isn't whether they are right, the point is that it's really what they think.

It is very easy to write a law which says "so far as the state is concerned, marriage is now between any two people regardless of sex, but naturally, the Seventh Day Adventists and the Wesleyan Holiness people don't have to marry two men if they don't want to, any more than they have to marry two people who they don't think are sufficiently Wesleyan, sufficiently Holy or sufficiently Adventurous." The state has no interest in what ceremonies are performed by particular sects. 

But it is very difficult for the law to say "marriage is now between any two people, but individual clergy of the established church don't have to marry two ladies if they don't want" because the whole point of the established church is that it will marry anybody, christen anybody, and bury anybody who asks them do. (It prefers that the parents of the people it christens so some signs of understanding the Anglican teaching on baptism, and that the people it buries are dead.) 

So, as someone with some background in games design, the proposed law which says that any sect is free to conduct same sex weddings if they want to, no sect has to conduct same sex weddings if it doesn't want to, and the established church isn't allowed to even if it does want to is actually a brilliant manoeuvre  given that the rules of the game are where they are. If we didn't have establishment, then the situation wouldn't arise, but we do, and we're stuck with it, because Dave and Ed and Nick love basking in the reflected glory of the Queen, and any suggestion that we might change the Queen's job description would be denounced as treason by the people who really run the country (Murdoch and Dacre.)

It's still a mess, though. I still think we should go for the Hamlet option...


Sam Dodsworth said...

If you are thinking about asking to be married in church, you should discuss this with your local parish priest... Some priests may be willing to take such a marriage, others may not be prepared to do so, on grounds of conscience, and may not allow the use of their church either. The law of the land permits them this choice.

- "Marriage in church after divorce: a leaflet for enquiring couples", Church of England

Andrew Hickey said...

The difference is that unlike sexuality, whether you're divorced or not does not (I believe) come under anti-discrimination laws. The problem for the established church is that, should they refuse to marry a same-sex couple while legally allowed, that might be enough to cause legal action.

Of course, I'd argue that that meant they should either not be established, not refuse to marry same-sex couples or, preferably, both, but unfortunately that isn't the view of the Church leadership.

Sam Dodsworth said...

Religious services are already exempt from the Equality Act. So the problem is neither that the Church is forbidden to use discretion nor that they're subject to anti-discrimination law.

Sam Dodsworth said...

And, in the end, I'm not going to let this pass:

I realize that territorial battle lines have been drawn, and you either have to see these people as martyrs or homophobes, when they are mostly neither.

The nuanced position between "homophobic" and "not homophobic" is "a bit homophobic". Theology does not create a magical extra dimension on the graph that makes discrimination against gay people not homophobic. Nor, for that matter, is there an extra dimension on the sexism graph that makes it not sexist to deny women positions of authority for theological reasons.

The problem for people who have views that are a bit homophobic or sexist is that sexism and homophobia are now so widely accepted as bad things that even the worst bigots routinely argue that "it's the PC Brigade who are the REAL sexists/homophobes". Nobody wants to be lumped in with the Bad People because of their entirely reasonable and nuanced position, after all. But the grounds for holding the views don't affect the definition.

Andrew Rilstone said...

One of the reasons I don't post here as often as I used to is that I'm a lazy so-and-so with two boxed sets of Merlin to get through. But one of the other ones is that it sometimes feels that I like articles, at great and pedantic length, on subjects like "What do we mean when we say "racist" or "homophobic" " or "What were the purposes and limits of C.S Lewis's use of deus au malas homo, get detailed feedback along the lines of "we don't like the font" or "never heard of them, I suppose they play folk music?" and six months later we go back to the same argument as if I'd never written the first one. I think I spoke before of my sympathy for Dave Sim (BLOGGER THINKS DAVE SIM RIGHT ABOUT EVERYTHING, INCLUDING FEMINIST BALL OF FIRE MAKING UP NAMES FOR POP GROUPS) when he said "I've told you what I think. Why are we still talking about it." (OK, he said "I have told you what is really going on in the universe", but the point is the same. If you choose to define the belief that red-haired people can do absolutely any job in the world except cast certain sacred Blondomantic spells as "gingerphobia", then you could certainly defend that usage. If you choose to limit the term gingerphobia to those people who have a visceral hatred for red-headed people, that is fine to. To use the same term to smuggle in the belief that all people who are gingerphobic in sense (1) are really gingerphobic in sense (2), is not even wrong: it is a pun. And it doesn't tell us anything about the correct exposition of the sacred texts of the Blondomancy; or how much wiggle room a secular society should give the Blondomancers; or how you carry on making laws in a country where the constitution gives special status to that particular cult, when you have decided in advance that you aren't prepared to change the consitution (even though a majority of the Blonde Wizards would like it to be changed.) I appear to have got stuck in an extended metaphor several paragraphs back. It doesn't help that arguments about the relationship between religion and government in a particular nation is being made by someone who would (I assume) claim to not believe in religion, governments, or nations. On the positive side, I can very nearly play three chords on the ukulele, though not actually strum at the same time.

Sam Dodsworth said...

To use the same term to smuggle in the belief that all people who are gingerphobic in sense (1) are really gingerphobic in sense (2), is not even wrong: it is a pun.

From my perspective, what "sense 1" and "sense 2" have in common is that they both perpetuate the oppression of ginger people.Which would make what you call a "pun" the distinction between individual and structural gingerphobia, I guess.

Robert said...

What do you think of 'Merlin'?

Emily said...

I think you are overlooking a third sense of the term gingerphobia, which is ‘holding the belief that red-haired people are less capable or less valuable than blondes’. Using this sense, it is not illogical to note that people who hold gingerphobic beliefs go on to act in a range of ways that reflect these beliefs – whether by politely arguing that gingers should not cast Blondomantic spells or physically attacking them.

As a red-headed queer woman, I don’t care much about the sacred texts of the Blondomancy but I do not think it is illogical or unreasonable to notice that Blondomancy views me as lesser. If I can do “absolutely any job in the world”, it is down to the painful battles fought for those rights, sometimes against visceral hatred, sometimes against “genuine, sincere … beliefs”.

I don’t think I owe the Blonde Wizards special politeness because they are a privileged and powerful cult or and I don’t think I owe them sympathy for the problems that special status causes them. I also, more regretfully, don’t think I can help them when society moves faster towards justice and equality than Blondomancy does. That is a job for the Blonde Wizards themselves - to either own their gingerphobia or change it.

(As an outsider – it appears the Head Blonde Wizards requested the right to exclude gingers from certain Blondomantic spells. The rest of the Blonde Wizards appear to be divided between being furious that this exclusion was given and furious that gingers may be allowed to perform Brunettamantic Spells instead. It seems you just can’t win.)

Emily said...

To break out of the metaphor and address this rather meanspirited phrase "If you choose to define the belief that red-haired people can do absolutely any job in the world except cast certain sacred Blondomantic spells as "gingerphobia".

The Church can't really claim that marriage is the bedrock of society AND simultaneously claim it is demanding and petty for LGBT people to ask for the same rights.

Andrew Hickey said...

Emily, I don't think Andrew is being mean-spirited as such. Rather, he's annoyed that the conversation is going over old ground.

His comments in this thread summarise, rather briefly, a rather more coherent version of the same argument that he's made at http://www.andrewrilstone.com/2012/06/that-would-be-ecumenical-matter-1.html . His summary is rather grumpy and oversimplistic because he knows Sam has already read the longer discussion on the matter. The point comes over far better in the longer blog post.

Emily said...

I read the longer post. I thought, like this one, it created a false dichotomy between nice people (who it would be mean to call homophobic despite their stated desire to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation) and nasty violent people (who just happen to share the same beliefs as the first lot, totally coincidentally!) I utterly disagree. There is obviously a difference in degree between eg the homophobia of the leadership of the CofE and that of Westboro Baptist Church but that's a pretty low bar to meet

Emily said...

I am not saying the CofE is homophobic to shame it or bully it into changing. I see no reason for it to listen to me (or vice versa). But it's leadership are campaigning to retain the right to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation - what else should I call this other than homophobic?

Andrew Hickey said...

"I thought, like this one, it created a false dichotomy between nice people (who it would be mean to call homophobic despite their stated desire to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation) and nasty violent people (who just happen to share the same beliefs as the first lot, totally coincidentally!)"

I disagree -- reading the longer post, I'd argue that it talks about a difference between casual bigotry and deep-seated hatred. He doesn't say that it's wrong to call the former 'homophobia':

"I don't think that the Person Who Was Wrong was asking “Are the various druids' remarks examples of homophobia (2)”: they clearly are, because they clearly differentiate between homosexuals and heterosexuals to the former’s disadvantage, (granted you believe that being able to marry is an advantage, a question that we can leave in the air for the time being.)"

Rather, he distinguishes between people who perform bigoted acts and people who are motivated by bigotry -- between "someone doing something homophobic" and "a homophobe":

"Some people claim that all instances of Racism (2) actually arise from Racism (1): Mr Smith’s belief that Ruritanians can’t cook really comes from a deep ideological belief that Ruritanians are sub-human fiends who will be put on the first train back to Ruritania when he’s running the country. He’s got the bee in his bonnet about their cooking ability because he thinks that’s all he can get away with right now.

But while that might be true in a particular instance, it seems pretty unlikely that all erroneous beliefs and prejudices come from blind hatred. It’s actually more likely that Racism (1) grows out of Racism (2) — a sincere and superficially reasonable resentment against the chef who inadvertently poisoned you turns into a a general resentment against anyone who looks or sounds a bit like him. Which is, of course, a good reason to jump on dodgy assumptions like “No Ruritanian can cook” and “Every American is a gun touting fundamentalist” whenever you hear them."

I don't see that as a defence of Racism (2) -- far from it. But the distinction between "she's a homophobe" and "she did something homophobic" or "she holds a homophobic belief" is a reasonable one -- if nothing else from a public relations position, people are far more likely to change their opinions or behaviour if you say to them "you know, what you're doing is homophobic" rather than "you're a homophobe".

What I do think, though, is that when, as with the Anglican leadership, you're not just uneasy about performing a marriage ceremony yourself (arguably homophobia (2)) but you devote large amounts of time, money, and political pressure to attempting to ensure that *no-one* can perform such a ceremony, then you've gone way past "uncharacteristically homophobic behaviour from someone who's normally OK" and into territory as bad as it gets.

Either way, though, I think I'm starting to mansplain here, and since as a straight cis married man who holds no position of ecclesiastical authority the law only affects me in an indirect way, I'll bow out. I know I'm venturing here towards the "I know it's your life to you, but it's an interesting word game to me, and that's far more important!" territory.

I just don't think Andrew was actually saying you shouldn't call the discrimination homophobic, but maybe that you shouldn't call the disrciminators homophobes. Loving the sinner and hating the sin...

Sam Dodsworth said...

Needless to say, I'm solidly with Emily on this.

Also... I'm really not comfortable with talking about hypothetical "gingerphobia". It erases the misery and harm that homophobia causes real live people. As, for that matter, does making this a question of pure theology without acknowledging that theology has consequences for believers.

Emily said...

I think the phrase “loving the sinner, hating the sin” exactly sums it up.

That phrase is used by churches to hide their homophobic behaviour and beliefs under a pretty phrase. I refute the idea that being an LGBT person or being in a same-sex relationship is sin and I refute the idea that I am a sinner for doing that. I have never felt loved when the church told me so.

I equally refute the idea that you can hold homophobic beliefs or do homophobic acts and not be homophobic. It may be a more effective debating/psychological technique to separate these two things but that doesn’t make it an accurate description. (Encouraging people to view their homophobic beliefs as separate from their self-identity as a good person is a good first step to getting them to see the two things are inconsistent. Being called homophobic pushes people into denial in order to avoid the pain of being wrong.)

It’s a good strategy but weak logic.

The other part is why I got drawn into this argument and why I called Andrew’s earlier comment mean-spirited. I am unbelievably tired of being told that asking for equality is too demanding. I am unbelievably tired of being told if I just asked nicely, bigots and homophobes would spontaneously change their behaviour. It is and they won’t.

It’s bad logic (not supported by evidence) and bad strategy.

It is inaccurate and unhelpful to pretend that homophobes/racists/sexists are all either motivated by blind hate or by sincere and superficially reasonable resentment. It is my understanding (based on looking at a wide range of civil rights campaigns – women’s suffrage, feminism, the US civil rights movement, the LGBT rights movement) that most prejudice comes from a deep rooted belief that another group is inferior to you (and therefore deserves fewer rights, less self-determination or it is acceptable to exploit them to your advantage) or that another group is worse than you (and must therefore be controlled and fought against).

People who hold these beliefs will behave in a wide range of ways, depending on their personality, their circumstances and the wider social context. It is incredibly difficult to get people to change their deep-seated beliefs. Even with perfect logic and beautiful politeness, people will fight hard to avoid admitting they are wrong. The most effective strategies are a combination of individual engagement and working for wider social change.

To give an example - why is the CofE arguing that LGBT people should not be allowed to marry in church, rather than that they should be imprisoned to protect the rest of society? It made those arguments loudly in the 1950s and before and the reference texts have not changed. Because the social context has changed – it is no longer illegal to be LGBT and LGBT people are visible across society, which makes it harder to demonise them. Why has the social context changed? Because people fought two battles – against blind hatred and the people who said it was demanding and unfair and mean for LGBT people to expect to be treated as equal to straight people.

I don’t believe Andrew is homophobic or holds homophobic beliefs but he is defending the CofE’s right to behave in a homophobic way without being called homophobic and he is using the same arguments that homophobes use.

Andrew Hickey said...

Just to clarify in case my earlier comment came off wrong, the "loving the sinner, hating the sin" bit was referring to the anti-same-sex-marriage people, not people in same-sex relationships as sinners.

(I was trying to be clever in that comment, which I should never do that early in the morning. At least I deleted my 'hilarious' joke about them being 'accidentally but not essentially' homophobic).

Also, Emily, just to clarify, when you say "I don’t believe Andrew is homophobic or holds homophobic beliefs but he is defending the CofE’s right to behave in a homophobic way without being called homophobic and he is using the same arguments that homophobes use." -- you're referring to Andrew R rather than me, right? Because I'm not saying that you shouldn't call the church homophobic.

Emily said...

@Andrew Hickey - yes, I got that :). I was trying to explain why that formulation does not work in either case. I don't want to be loved despite my alleged sins. People who hold homophobic beliefs don't want to be identifed as homophobic OR holders of homophobic beliefs, they want to be thought of as nice people.

I genuinely don't think either of you are homophobic or I wouldn't bother engaging with this discussion.

Jacob said...

I think it depends on your attitude to blondomancy.

I'm not a blondomancer, and I'm fine with blondomancers being *allowed* to discriminate against ginger people in purely religious matters on relgious grounds.

But I'm not fine with them actually *doing* so. If ginger people are excluded from blondomancy, that proves that blondomancy is Bad and Wrong.

The complaint is not against people who merely say that ginger people should be excluded from blondomancy, but who say that and who *also* say that blondomancy is the most important thing in the world and that the entity that decreed the "no gingers" rule is perfect, and who thereby give their implicit approval to the exclusion of ginger people.

And that, in my view, puts them right back in the same box as the sense 2 gingerphobes, I'm afraid.