Monday, January 07, 2013

Loose Ends (3)

I think that "Jacob" makes a very valid point

I think his very valid point is this: The whole idea that the relationship between two men might be lawful and blessed, but not sacramental; and the whole idea that it's perfectly fine for a female to to be Queen or head of MI5 but impossible for her to consecrate the Eucharistic clearly implies that differences (and therefore, in certain respects at least, inferiority and superiority) are built into the whole system. That makes the whole system rotten at a very deep level.

I am very sympathetic to this argument, and actually used it myself the first time I wrote about this subject, back in the Jurassic era. 

I would, however, ask "Jacob" to charitably consider my analogy with the pagans -- the ones who hypothetically believe that the male and the female principle are hard wired into the universe, and a man can't be an earth mother any more than you can make rabbit stew without a rabbit. It's not a rule that someone made up; it's a description of how things are. 

This would make things actually a lot more sticky because if 

a: Sexism and homophobia are actually implicit in the whole idea of calling God "Father" 


b: Calling God "Father" is a significant Christian belief 

then it follows that

c: telling Christians that they have to have female priests and marry same sex couples really does amount to saying that their whole concept of God is not permissible; which really does amount to saying that they can't practice their religion; which is either a very good thing or a very bad thing depending on how Christophobic you are. 

But I am now making a hypothetical argument on behalf of a hypothetical person whose hypothetical views I don't myself agree with and may not even have properly understood. Some people may question the usefulness of such an exercise.


RogerBW said...

For me the difference is establishment.

If Calvin wants to hang a sign outside his treehouse saying "No Girls Allowed", that's his business.

If the government of the country, or any part of that government, wants to do the same, that's the business of the people.

I would be entirely happy with the CofE excluding people it found icky, just as the Catholics and Moslems and Jews are allowed to do, if it were not the established church of this country.

Too simplistic? Perhaps. But in demonstrating that I am wrong you will write interestingly, so I gain either way.

Gavin Burrows said...

"Calling God "Father" is a significant Christian belief "

Let's start off by conceding I am not religious and have had a great deal of difficulty in following your theological arguments in the past. However...

Isn't calling God "Father" no more than a convenience for Christians? When small children ask you who God is, you answer "a big man who lives in the sky." But that's just to give them a mental framework with which to grasp the concept. Not because you actually think of a big man in the sky. Muslims would be more likely to say "I'll tell you later". despite actually being in the same kind of ballpark.

I am ready... nay, primed to be told what i am missing...

Andrew Rilstone said...

Roger: I pretty much agree; that was what I was implying by my "it's one thing to say "women can't be Morris dancers" and another thing to say "women can't be Morris dancers and by the way only Morris dancers can sit on the Parish Council" metaphor

Gavin: At it's simplest: I think a child who has been taught "God is a big man in the sky, you can call him Father" has a different spiritual life from one who has been taught "God is a big woman in the earth, you can call her Mother" or "God is a big thing which is something like a jelly and something like a magnetic field".

A thousand slightly cringe-making sermons have been preached on the fact that the "father" bit of "our father which art in heaven" could better be translated as "Daddy". But I think that "Christians think of God as their Dad" is of more religious importance than "Christians think that God is big" or "Christians think that God lives in the sky" even though, as you say, everyone sees what "big man who lives in the sky" is pointing at.

Gavin Burrows said...

I take your point there. But isn't the "father" bit still a kind of self-acknowledged inadequate metaphor? A Christian is saying "God made us all. A little like your Dad made you, and then proceeded to look after you when you needed it. That's about the best way I can put it with what I have to hand."

But do you actually proceed from there to say "therefore God is male?" Whereas when pagans say the Earth is female, I'm not sure they don't mean it a whole lot less metaphorically. Sexuality to them is 'creation in microcosm' in a more live and direct kind of a way.

(Please treat anything I say on this sort of subject as comments from the cheap seats. Even if I had an area of expertise, it certainly wouldn't be this!)

Andrew Stevens said...

Gavin, give a read to C.S. Lewis's short essay "Priestesses in the Church?" Agree or disagree, he makes a fairly cogent argument. He agrees that God is not male, of course.

But the most important point he makes is that Christians believe that God himself taught them to think of him as male. Christianity is an interesting religion because it believes that God actually incarnated here on earth. In doing so, he had to choose to be male or female. He chose to (appear as) male, teach people to pray with "Our Father who art in Heaven," etc. So Christianity has a need to explain this which, say, the God of Aristotle does not have to worry about. (It is no good to say "well, he had to appear as male given the circumstances at the time." If you believe in Christianity, that's simply false. He's God; he didn't have to do anything.)

Salisbury said...

Andrew Stevens writes

(It is no good to say "well, he had to appear as male given the circumstances at the time." If you believe in Christianity, that's simply false. He's God; he didn't have to do anything.)

Would not there be an argument to say--assuming omnipotence, infallibility etc--that He will, by definition, choose to do the best thing, or the optimum thing? Which in this case was, for whatever reason, the expedient thing, rather than the controversial thing.

Andrew Stevens said...

God created humans with two sexes. He could have chosen otherwise. If it would have been controversial for God to incarnate as female in 1st century Palestine, the home of his Chosen People, whose fault is that? God must bear at least some responsibility for why 1st century Palestine was organized the way it was. Why were all rabbis men in Judaism? Does this not have something to do with prior revelations?

Every argument absolving God of responsibility for the decision to incarnate as male runs into the obvious objection that he's omnipotent, infallible, etc. And, I think, all such arguments wind up looking very much like arguments that Christianity is false.

Gavin Burrows said...

It will probably come as a surprise to absolutely nobody here that I have so far mentally sided with Sam, Emily and IJC in this debate, and incline towards a in Andrew’s sticky dilemma. If a marriage between a man and a woman is intended to symbolise God’s with the Church, I cannot help but notice that the woman is given the inherent lesser role. At which point I start to feel a burning urge to pen a cross letter to the Guardian, or at least hum the Red Flag to myself until I feel better.

So despite being probably the least qualified of Andrew’s regular commentators (or perhaps the least qualified person alive), I was fumbling towards what a cynic might call “a work-around”. Is it really necessary for God to be a father? Isn’t the crux of that particular metaphor that he’s a loving parent?

God is a “he” in the original Hebrew or not-all-that-original Greek, but I would guess that both continued the convention that “he” was the generic pronoun. Could not Jesus showing up as a he be some sort of continuation of that? To a Christian, God created us as different races. But Christians don't see a great significance in Jesus being Hebrew. He came to Earth, and that was as good a place as any.

Besides, has Christianity not already modified its presentation of God as it has gone along? In some of the ‘Yahweist’ sections of Genesis he’s presented as a physical being who is in almost all likelihood male. You might manage to find a Christian today who thought of God in that way, but I’d wager you’d be hard pressed.

Plus, to mention something in passing, a recent BBC4 documentary on early Christian art claimed Jesus was originally presented as androgynous, and that he didn’t grow his beard until Mary entered the iconography. How well-accepted that is I couldn’t tell you. But it occurs to me it serves the “work-around.”

I would of course accept that you can only bend something so far before it breaks. Is substituting ‘Loving, Non-Gender-Assigned Parent’ for ‘Father’ a break point? Dunno, mate. Pass. Is 'Doctor Who' back on again soon?

Is Christianity true or false? Similar answer. I pretty much expect to live my life in a permanent state of agnosticism. To me, either the Second Coming happens or it remains an open question. Which means that in de facto terms I take on the behaviour of an atheist. But as regards an answer to that question I could only quote Woody Allen’s dad – “I can’t even work the video recorder.”

”Christianity is an interesting religion because it believes that God actually incarnated here on earth.”

This is a total tangent, but I sometimes feel Christianity itself can shy away from the ramifications of that. Of course Jesus is not literally the son of God, any more than God is literally a Daddy. No-one pictures God saying “I’ve got something for you to do when you’re older”, while Jesus runs around in short trousers playing with a winged Action Man. But the term “son of God” allows for a kind of roundabout-ness, where you can think of him as sort-of human yet able to work miracles. It may be that 'manifested on Earth' was thought too big a concept for people to easily take.

Andrew Rilstone said...

This is a very good question. I am glad you asked.

Northern accent: "He doesn't know, does he?"

Andrew Rilstone said...

New thread started.

Salisbury said...

God created humans with two sexes. He could have chosen otherwise.

Is this not, perhaps, to conflate the God of Abraham with the god of Aristotle? It seems to me more a conceit of philosophy than of practical Christianity that His actions are unconstrained.

Andrew Stevens said...

Christians have been intentionally conflating the God of Abraham with the God of Aristotle for nearly 2000 years. Whenever somebody gives me a reasonably cogent argument for the existence of God, I always have to tell them, "Yes, yes, but even if that works as a proof for the existence of the God of Aristotle, the problem you have is that the existence of the God of Abraham remains rather obviously false."

So you can, if you like, believe in a God who was stuck with whatever evolution gave him, helpless to guide his creation, buffeted by fate. I think you'll find, though, that the Greek philosophy is a large part of the appeal of Christianity to most people. Without it, there's little to distinguish the Christian God from Zeus or Wotan.