Thursday 17 February 2011

On This Issue the Crunch Comes

In her Indaba-Do's and Indaba-Don'ts Rachel says:

I think I have been taken aback somewhat by my feelings regarding reaction to my thoughts about marriage and how I define it... On another blog, my views about marriage were regarded as narrow-minded and only worthy of ignoring. What I want to learn to do is listen whilst at the same time being true to what I think, without articulating anything other than an openness and I am finding it challenging.

Well, alright, I see it is my fault so let's see if I can help. First of all, I'll tackle a few things fairly haphazardly and then move to some sort of conclusion. Rachel says:

I have been reading around a little in search of some help and I came across the following which I quote below. I know that my biggest failing is a fear that in my own mess-ups I might put a stumbling-block in someone's way to Jesus. In part this is a problem of ego, God can work around my mess-ups because he invites me to work with him but he doesn't rely on me.

First of all, don't worry about that on my account. I'm not 'on my way to Jesus', in the sense meant above, because on that basis there really would be some ego in operation. It is why St. Paul himself comes across as such a mixed-up character, in that his protestations against ego and about his littleness suggest one huge ego problem. And indeed Rachel writes:

I have often been very struck by Paul's wanting to be all things to all people and at one time I think I used this as an excuse...

Paul, however, does not want to engage in matters that "don't count." For him the gospel was central, and he would not become involved with anything that would hinder the persuasive power of the gospel...

David E. Garland correctly observes that Paul's accommodation has nothing to do with watering down the gospel message, soft-pedaling its ethical demands, or compromising its absolute monotheism. Paul never modified the message of Christ crucified to make it less of a scandal to Jews or less foolish to Greeks. The preacher of the changeless gospel could adapt himself, however, to changing audiences in seeking their ultimate welfare, their salvation. Themelios 33:2

The problem with all this sort of material was that Paul was the articulator and maker of this salvation focused 'gospel'. The biggest relativism was the cultural flux that took a Jewish for Jews last days monotheism and made it a universal last days monotheism to suit another and different group of people, and later became its own proto-orthodoxy. You cannot water down what is your own construction. The immediate-messianic has this transfer of concepts problem that involves the 'scandal' - entirely self-produced for those wanting a monotheism that isn't Jewish law, that is messianic and coming, to include the Gentiles as the Jews, to be, in other words, the innovation that saved this religion from the destructions that affected all the other messianic Judaisms at the time.

Now here we are in another time of cultural flux, and this time Christianity isn't making the running, dealing in the cultural flux, but being defensive.

I see that today's culture affirms freedom of choice and human rights but that we also need to concern ourselves moreover with our responsibilities to each other and God. Under pressure to do the most 'loving' thing I confuse love with tolerance: the 'great virtue' of our times. Caught up in cultural relativism, I think I am promoting happiness when I affirm freedom of choice but I know we do not always make the right choices.

Cultural relativism can be read two ways. One is the postmodern way, or relativity, and the other is a clash of objective truths (as with Isaiah Berlin). If Rachel and company believes she has 'the truth' then she has a clash of objective truths, but if she thinks she has a relativist point of view then she is dealing with her relativity among relativities. You can't claim you have the truth and then demote everyone else to relativities. No, they have to be wrong if you are right.

This is why so much conserving postliberal theology is utter drivel, much of which is this frozen religion-culture: somehow ecumenical (as chosen) that becomes a measure of identity and standard of role performance. If it is postmodern (poststructural, more accurately) among the postmodernities, it forms its rigidities for no reason whatsoever other than the way some people in past cultures (starting with Paul) shifted ideas about to produce what was arrived at about a few hundred years ago.

If, however, you believe that something is right, and secured, then give it some foundation. It is no good relying on the biblical narrative or some Church tradition as some kind of moving target, just because nothing can be grounded in culture, religion or Church as manufactured. Either we are dealing in open and fluid relativities, or there is a ground point of truth and the rest is just wrong.

Having conviction is irrelevant. Tony Blair told us how he was 'convinced' and was so without the supporting evidence regarding his action in Iraq. For something to be so, according to the rules of how much so, you need research. Either that or you need the dogma that states you are right and they are wrong and locates that dogma in God (some think that's what Tony Blair did regarding Iraq!).

Plus, tolerance is not some fishing strategy by which you soft pedal something in order to be more effectively caught within the net: tolerance is something that should be active and intended and maintained. I have no time for sensitivity or tolerance when it is no more than a show, that in time simply becomes removed for what is actually of someone's conviction or intolerance. When I quote the Unitarian mantra of "freedom, reason and tolerance", these are to be maintained: the result meaning difference together.

So I can not live in a conviction vacuum and if someone can show me otherwise, I will listen, I really will but for now, I can not help but think that marriage is between a man and a woman. Is it really going to become so outrageous to think this?

Yes it is so outrageous, because all this dogma is clashing with people's real lives, emotions and desires for something that is positive and constructive when it takes place.

The Church of England's teaching (if we can call it that) in Issues in Human Sexuality fails because it comes from a discredited document, an example of bureaucracy-speak that results in different rules for different sorts on the basis of clerical hierarchy.

This opens up debate about whether there should be a different set of expectations for clergy. Shouldn't all Christians seek to transform themselves into the same pattern of Christ-likeness, without a hierarchical ascendency of pre-requisites dependent on position in the church?

It is a document of duplicity worthy of the rubbish bin. Lambeth 1.10 1998 is something from on high that has no authority beyond its application on high, which is why it has no "clear ruling" and not just in its effectiveness regarding "other people" in the Church.

Now we also have implied the old one about the Bible providing its own metanarrative, as assumed here:

What I want to know is does that mean there is a different theology regarding what Christian marriage is. I think that marriage echoes the covenant between God and his children Israel in the Old Testament and Jesus and the Church in the New Testament.

The Bible doesn't provide its own metanarrative. It has several and many within, and has so because it did historically and continues to do so. It is the Churches that decide how the Bible gets read. It is not an automatic generator of its own meanings. Nor is it a predominant metanarrative even for Christians among a fluidity of meanings outside: just see how many of them talk; check out the sociology of knowledge. So, not surprisingly then, the Bible has no clear view on marriage (but so what even if it did).

Ah, this is how sociology helps, to begin with. Rachel asks (boy, is she dealing with some primitive assumptions here - what are they revealing?):

...if homosexuality was thought good for everyone, everywhere, humankind would die out. Could it be that God has written the laws of marriage into the very fabric of existence even without the written word?

Beyond the silly argument there (and I don't even want to indulge in evolution's flexibility regarding evolving minorities...), the answer is no, because the simplest study of the sociology of the family throughout the world will find no universal concept of the family that is cross cultural. Not regarding mothers and fathers, nor tribes, nor in the raising of children: not at all. All the sociologists who tried to develop a sociology of the family based on universal principles failed to do so. More from Rachel:

Christian pontificating about marriage is often however about the ideal and married people are called too to inspect their conduct and wonder whether in their relationship they are loving each other as God would have them love each other. Heterosexuals also fail to embrace God's ordained sexual ethic.

Ah! Heterosexuals also fail the ordained sexual ethic: whereas, presumably, homosexuals always fail the ordained sexual ethic.

No, sorry. You see, it was all made up anyway. That's what the sociology of the family demonstrates. Your so called biblical ethic is actually not there, with no one metanarrative, because a Church keeps putting coloured spectacles on your nose.

The game is up. The State has one job to do, which is to provide means of recognition that is non-discriminatory to marriage. What any Church does is up to it, and even if established there will have to be a division between State and Church should the Church wish to embed discrimination. In this sense, even the established Church is now a sect.

Perhaps someone who is a Christian of a different viewpoint from Rachel can answer her because, you know, it is not always my fault.


Gary Paul Gilbert said...

Excellent, Adrian! There is not a shred of empirical evidence to back up the universalizing heterosexist remarks Rachel makes on family and marriage. She smuggles in value-laden terms to try to fill the lack of facts. The American Anthropological Association, which issued a statement on marriage equality in 2004 and later filed a friend of the court brief regarding Proposition 8 in California, says human diversity should not be a grounds for denying people human rights. Rather diversity is to be celebrated.


There have been many different kinds of cultures and familial relationships. Diversity is an irreducible reality. An American mainline Protestant view on civil and religious marriage equality would base itself on the dignity of the person and argue that denying people civil liberties is unethical, no matter what theological gibberish one cites. The dignity of the person was used to argue against slavery when the scripture was ambiguous.

More importantly, Rachel writes about LGBTs but does not seem to have spoken with them about their different experiences of the tradition she praises. It reminds me of the tribe somewhere who told missionaries they would not convert to Christianity because they could not understand why one should feel bad about oneself all the time. Eventually the missionaries used guns to impose their good news.

A more enlightened approach to a spiritual tradition ought to be to see it as a work in progress and one that requires the feedback from all members of society.

The Church of England should take stock of its past overt discrimination against other spiritual paths and its continuing privilege as regards religious and nonreligious approaches to ethics.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Murdoch Matthew said...

First, in traditional marriage, the woman was property given by her father to the husband. When marriage became a civil contract freely entered into by equal partners, the nature of marriage changed so that the gender of the partners became irrelevant.

Second, Genesis is myth, and tells us nothing about the shape of the Earth or the biology of sexuality. (We aren't created "male and female" -- we all start out female and the XYs among us develop in a more or less masculine direction. Wherever they land on the continuum is fine -- there's no Platonic male ideal the individual is supposed to conform to.)

Third, a moment's thought should keep anyone from worrying about what would happen if everyone were homosexual. NOT a danger. Somewhere around 10 percent of vertebrates, give or take a couple of percents, show same-sex attractions. Gays aren't going to swamp the breeding population anymore than everyone is going to turn left-handed.

Fourth, "marriage" is a word and not a thing. It means whatever hearers understand it to mean. With increasing numbers of same-sex partners pairing off as social units, it seems appropriate to use the word to refer to them. (My wife and I used to look at our acquaintances in university and reflect that there were a hundred different arrangements, all called marriage. Some same-sex couples my husband and I know seem more married than many celebrities or politicians.)

Finally, trying to confine the meaning of marriage to heterosexual couples is another ploy to avoid treating same-sex couples as equal members of the social order, just as is the right-wing insistence that gay refers to a disgusting sexual act and not to orientations or loving relationships. Stigmatizing through linguistics.

Erika Baker said...

"So I can not live in a conviction vacuum and if someone can show me otherwise, I will listen"

Excellent.... shall we talk about Tobias Haller again?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Well as Rachel has asked assistance from other Christians with different views, I hope they can help.

Whatever systemic outcomes regarding evolution (the same sex minority) the other given is the diversity of human relationships for 'not being alone' and the raising of children.

The ethics of this centre around the individual and the needs of coming together and how children are raised. The State's job is very limited, providing points of recognition and ethical protection for law. Obviously the job of religion depends on the religion, but it centres around symbolic affirmation and celebration.

Erika Baker said...

Well, I have offered her Tobias Haller a few times now. A bible believing Christian could do worse than engage with a thoroughly scholarly and biblical analysis of this issue.

But the problem isn't what Rachel believes or doesn't believe. She is perfectly free to believe in whatever God she wants and to live accordingly.
She is free not to marry a woman, she can carefully select straight friends, she can shun gay married members of her family. She is perfectly entitled to live by her beliefs.

But what she's really trying to do is argue that others have to live by them to.
And that is completely unacceptable.

If Rachel wants the freedom to live by her beliefs then I want the freedom to live by mine.

It's quite simple, really.

Erika Baker said...

As for children, this is such red herring that I'm astonished it still comes up as a serious argument.

Marriage is open to the birth of children, but children aren't its sole purpose.

The churches know that. There isn't a single church that demands evidence of fertility before people can marry. All churches will marry people of post-menopausal age, knowing very well that there can be no children. They will marry people who have been knowingly rendered infertile through hysterectomies, bone marrow transplants etc. No-one comes up with hand-wringing theology that these people really cannot be married or that maybe a second class civil partnership should be invented for them.

There are straight couples without children, with their joint children, with IVF children, with children from surrogate mothers, with children from donated eggs, with children from donated sperm, with adopted children, with fostered children, with children from previous relationships - every permutation is possible under the banner of marriage provided you're straight.

But when it comes to gay couples, the only children that count are the joint biological children a couple cannot have. And boy, do they count! Because suddenly, God says that this is the one defining factor that makes a marriage. So children become defining and overwhelmingly important only when they can be used as a tool against same sex relationships.

This is not remotely logical nor intellectually honest.

Erika Baker said...

"Excellent, Adrian! There is not a shred of empirical evidence to back up the universalizing heterosexist remarks Rachel makes on family and marriage."

And furthermore, there isn't even a Christian basis for it either.
This Christian sexual ethics everyone is talking about is certainly not biblical. I know it cozy and warming but it's actually not prescribed in the bible anywhere:
Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire, Jennifer Wright Knust. HarperOne 2011.

And Tobias Haller has a review of it here:

I am forever astonished that bible believing Christians are more determined than anyone else to ignore what the bible really says and what new research discovers in favour of sticking with their own favourite interpretations.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the state should be permitting the marriage of homosexuals.

I don't think the state should be permitting any form of marriage arrangements between competent people.

Why should the state be involved in any of this.

People should be free to engage in whatever relationships they like. Some will be marriages.

It is people who would will this, not the state who would permit this.

Gary Paul Gilbert said...

Anonymous, Families need the protection of the state. Marriage is a civil contract in which two people agree to take care of each other. The state is there to help the couple and any children they have. For example, if one parent dies, the other is assumed to be the parent of the children. Without marriage or a second-class version of marriage, the two people are viewed as legal strangers. At death, such a situation can be horrific for the survivor if blood relatives come in to claim property. What the state recognizes in marriage is that two people (and children if they have children) become a family.

In New York State, where my husband,Murdoch, and I reside, marriage gives 1,324 rights and obligations, and, at the federal level, 1,138. Currently, New York State gives us the state rights, but the federal government withholds the federal benefits.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Yes the State ought not to direct people, but it can and should provide recognition for protection. The State enacts the Law that is a working referee.