Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Deeper on Subservice and Asking

The argument about language and subservience, and the female approach as opposed to the male, starts to look like a justification for male exclusive priesthood!

I'm saying (so far) that Anglican women rise to be bishops and then use the language of subservience, either regarding father God or Jesus Christ. These are above, these are followed, and the language is male. In the myth, God becomes human and a sex is chosen.

When men have used this language of subservience, for donkey's years, they have nevertheless been privileged priests and bishops, so in a line and sharing the gold-dust handed down. So they became used to being in the hierarchy that uses the hierarchical language, and indeed in their churches they have exclusive, hierarchical rules - the bishop is the cornerstone and the lower clergy stand in his place dotted around the bishop's parishes.

Now it becomes important that if women join this hierarchy then they should do so equally, but it becomes difficult to wipe away hundreds of years of split sexual approaches to such religious language.

The female approach to subservient language really was just that, because the role was given from the fixed barrier in place. Indeed there was the all-important mythic impossibility of the semi-deified virgin mother, and made statue (doesn't move, something to look at), for men to dote over while impossible for any woman. The best woman was sexless and mind you don't menstruate.

So the woman rises to the top and joins the full hierarchy. She can now identify with the first women who had leadership, even in the proto-orthodox line, as well as the men, and of course in the many later-on heretical groups where women retained important leadership roles until snuffed out by authority or faded out.

For me, the equality will only be right when the language ceases to be one of subservience. It is important not to 'follow' any human being in a religious doting sense.

And the sex barrier remains, because for a man there will always be participation in that hierarchy and in the 'love' of the fellow man Jesus like a friend or colleague, even a superior one, like a bond, whereas for the woman Jesus will always be that of a lover, or a male friend who could be a lover but is not but with whom she does not bond.

Yes, I know, that there is the gay relationship, where Jesus can be a man's lover. But what of the lesbian, for whom he is a friend but of another sex? Friend, colleague but perhaps still not one to bond with. I understand gay men are often attracted to opposites - I'm not sure how universal this is. I'm not sure how iconic Jesus as an opposite can be to be an object of desire to a gay man; I rather think that the attraction of the religion of Jesus to a gay man is in the ritualistic and theatrical actions of doing the job. But not for some, so again it's hard to generalise. Heterosexual women often choose gay men friends because they are safe: one wonders if Jesus as unavailable is a religious iconic friend in this sense because he is always unavailable - a bit like the devotion to Mary by a gay priest or bishop (she can never become real, she is never sexual to him, as well as having been de-sexed).

I have very close male friends, and no desire to get into any sexual expression with them. This surely comes as some relief. But it doesn't alter the nature of the bond. With a woman, closeness really does come with the sex, and more than that, with repetition. The intimacy comes body to body in a way not so with a man. And you want that intimacy. The woman also invests her emotion into such a relationship.

We hear of nuns who invest their sexual desires into a Jesus icon. But surely most women do not. The relationship is presumably quite cool and, because of subservience, might even be at a critical distance. He really is unavailable.

There is another issue too. The attractive female bishop. There are going to be a number of male priests attracted by the boss, or the boss of other priests. It is going to create mixed up desires in a setting where the desires have been regulated by single sex authority and desexed statue women. Some people are just going to have to learn to be professional, and when relationships start, to declare them when they involve a potential clash of interests. Because start they will because sexual difference and desire have a power that rivals any religious syphoning of the sexual instinct.

My own view, developed over the last few years, is that all forms of cult-of-the-individual are harmful, and this includes devotion to spiritual figures. The Christian religion is built on hierarchy and is therefore damaging: damaging to those trying to build personal authenticity.

There are models of Trinity and Unity that emphasise the social and loving, but all forms of following are necessarily hierarchical. They are either based on dogma or an uninformed league table approach of higher ethical people. What is important, instead, is the way, either some pre-made or discovered versions, or ones you work out for yourself.

I don't think women bishops will ever be equal until the language of Christianity is radically rewritten, but so radically rewritten that it becomes of form of very liberal Judaism or thoroughly and not classically unitarian. Its references to Jesus would have to be at an angle and more occasional, with perhaps more emphasis on transcendence or on ethical human striving.

But until women are bishops, there won't be any rewriting.

Meanwhile, interesting developments in the Church in Wales, where they even had Charles Handy involved in making suggestions for future structures. He is a sort of miracle worker of organisation participation. Trouble is, he does this for firms that are still selling their products. Basically, the Church in Wales is small and collapsing. It is facing widescale social irrelevance, in a setting where various non-conformist groups have vanished chapel by chapel, but it is a single organisation that realises that it may not have a future. Perhaps the odd woman bishop might help there too. Hard to say, but there is nothing unique about the Church in Wales. The Church of England might be desperate to hang on to establishment, but in its attitude towards women and gays it is straining its relationship with state and society.

After all, the replacement amendments in November for the Church of England General Synod might be just as cackhanded as July's, and with no amendments (the cleaner option) still might not achieve the two thirds majority vote needed. And if the vote doesn't achieve the two thirds, and another five years wait before the equality issue returns, can the Church of England keep taking the internal pummeling it gives itself over these predicaments that change its future?


Suem said...

"I'm saying (so far) that Anglican women rise to be bishops and then use the language of subservience, either regarding father God or Jesus Christ. These are above, these are followed, and the language is male. In the myth, God becomes human and a sex is chosen."

Hmmmmmm. Well, I take your point, feminist theologians have long grappled with the problem that God is the ultimate Patriarch. However, (as you point out and are aware) we make God in our own image and ascribing gender and humanity to a deity is is a reflection of our limited understandings as much as anything else. As long as this is understood - and it often isn't- then the gender barrier is not a problem.
Subservience is another issue. Subservience to a deity is a wholly different matter to subservience to a human being. Men and women are/ should be equals but we cannot claim to be equal to God, whether we are male or female.

You write of women's relationship with the figure of Jesus:
"The relationship is presumably quite cool and, because of subservience, might even be at a critical distance. He really is unavailable."
Not sure I agree - I don't know if there is a sense of subservience to Christ (the most human form of God) but more a combination of closeness, adoration and worship. Worship is not quite subservience; we can worship and adore a lover. That's not a cool or distant relationship but rather one of sweetness and intimacy - and doesn't voluntary subservience have a strong sexual and passionate element for some people? I think the relationship with a Christ figure does have a quasi-sexual element for many people and I think it can have this for men, irrespective of sexuality, as well as women. I can't quite say why I think this though and I suspect women may have an advantage - also helped along by the closeness of relationship between Jesus and women in the gospels.
Anyhow, those are my thoughts:)

Murdoch Matthew said...

The most persistent and influential human illusion is that of being an awareness, a consciousness, steering the organism from a cockpit behind the eyes. We imagine that consciousness animates the body, as in the Adam and Pymalion myths, or the horror movies about malevolent dolls. We project this understanding onto the universe, supposing that it too is animated by a consciousness. But our awareness is an effect of our organism, produced by neuro-chemical processes; the universe has no apparent organs. Further, this one planet has produced "life;" the universe that we can observe is inimical to life. God is a story created, elaborated, and told by human beings. Subservience to a deity is a projection of tribal society. (Yes, some tribes had their wise women who ruled along with the warriors and chiefs, but those aren't the models the West has followed.)

Sex in the church. The former bishop of New York left his wife and started dating the female priest in charge of vocational discernment. His staff pretended not to notice, even when he created a scandal in trying to create a preferment for his girl friend. He retired with full honors and visits parishes with his now-wife. It is to barf.

C. A. Tripp in The Homosexual Matrix speculates that human love requires some sort of barrier to overcome. The male-female difference provides plenty of difficulty for heterosexual pairings, but gay men often chose partners from other ethnic or age groups. Many male couples we see in our neighborhood are Asian-Latino, Anglo-African, etc., etc. My husband is 27 years my junior. Gay couples aren't much into subservience -- each partner does what they are best at or what needs doing at the time; it's the straights who try to project gender roles on us.

I think you're onto something, Adrian. The whole language of religion is messed up.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

It's a tricky area to write about, and often avoided, but grateful that comments add to the points I was making. As for the drawing (commented on elsewhere) the whole point is to set up the contrast between the bleeding obvious sexual signals for males and the clerical collar, and this is hardly an image likely to be made in public, except at fancy dress parties.

Suem said...

As for the picture, in the case of a young, attractive male vicar, isn't there also a contrast between the bleeding obvious sexual signals for females ( or straight females and gay males) and the clerical collar?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

There is, I'm sure, but not a new problem.