Saturday, August 11, 2012

Never mind the equality, feel the liberty?

Always interesting to venture out of one's local framework of ideas to see what others are saying. I live in Christchurch where the local newspaper is the Press which is part of the Fairfax 'empire'. What we read in it (aside from locally contributed opinion such as I posted on the other day) is pretty much the same as what we read when we journey to Wellington (Dominion Post), Nelson (Nelson Mail), or even Sydney (SMH) or Melbourne (Age). Things are different in Auckland (NZ Herald, though some call it the Horrid!). Yesterday, travelling towards Dunedin I picked up a copy of the Otago Daily Times. In it they were running an opinion piece out of the Maxim Institute, written by Bruce Logan. Fairfax doesn't seem to give Maxim a go.

Anyway, Logan tackles the question of the day from a slightly different Francophone angle: not 'equality' but 'liberty'. I think he puts my concerns in a helpful way: marriage is marriage. Some parts of it can be altered, and need regulation (registration, dealing with dissolution), and the State has an appropriate role in the rules regarding such. But the State defining the essence of marriage (strictly speaking, 'redefining') is new territory in the history of humanity.

"Well, some French friends put the notion of equality under examination. They say same-sex marriage "n'est pas l'egalite, il s'agit de la liberte". It's not about equality; it's about liberty.
Governments who choose to redefine marriage seldom understand what they're doing. "Il a toute la laideur de la fierte." It has all the ugliness of pride.
The issue is not about equality or the success of any one couple's marriage. The issue is about the connection between the state and marriage in civil society. Who decides what marriage is and what it's for?
Marriage is neither essentially religious nor a product of tradition. It is not the child of the state.
Neither is marriage what Lynne Featherstone, the British Equalities Minister, claims. "Marriage is a right of passage for couples who want to show they are in a committed relationship, for people who want to show they have found love and wish to remain together until death do them part." Her historical vision is limited; her logic is deficient and her fusion of the Anglican Prayer Book with modern idiom disingenuous.
Marriage is the consequence of who we are.
We do not make it; it makes us. We are male and female.
In the simple and hopeful business of being alive, we have children in a union of accepted responsibility, love and thankfulness. It is the cementing of two opposite halves of the human being through which new life may be created. That some couples decide not to get married does not change the biology. That some cannot have children or decide not to is beside the point.
To say that you do not believe in marriage or that it is superfluous does not change the truth of its historical and cultural value.
The dogma that asserts marriage is primarily about love and commitment is frequently accompanied by the counter-claim: "I'm in love and committed so why do I need to bother about marriage?
Marriage is what I say it is and anyway I don't need it." That blurring of the status and meaning of marriage is contributing to a range of unfortunate consequences yet to be grasped."

The whole argument is here.

17 comments:

liturgy said...

Greetings Peter

Once again, in saying "But the State defining the essence of marriage (strictly speaking, 'redefining') is new territory in the history of humanity" I think you are over-reaching the evidence.

As elsewhere, a section of opinion in New Zealand regards marriage as incapable of dissolution except by death.

The first legislation in New Zealand providing for divorce was passed in 1867.

I won't give a list of the various stages of the state's altering understanding, but divorce in New Zealand was fundamentally altered when Parliament passed the Family Proceedings Act 1980, which came into force the following year.

Blessings

Bosco

Father Ron Smith said...

When I was Vicar of the Hibuscus Coast Anglican parish, Bruce Logan and his family were schoolteachers at Orewa High school. I knew them well. This is why I was surprised to find that Bruce, in his latter years, became a spokes-person for the conservative think-tank, The Maxim Institute - financed, I think, partly by American conservatives. In fact, an organisation not short of money, with which influence can be more easily exerted - not too different from the large newspaper proprietors.

Knowing this, gives me a better personal perspective on where Bruce is actually coming from in this, any his other articles which are not exactly liberal-thinking.

One can hardly argue that - in the civil sphere - marriage is limited in scope to a heterosexual union.
What ever civil society decides to make it, marriage becomes whatever is lawfully possible. Civil authorities are not bound to any one particular religious opinion as to what governments decide to call the legal institution of the state of union between two people.

What the Church authorities decide for themselves on this matter is entirely up to them. However, they cannot rule on civil recognition of two people living together in a monogamous amicable relationship. Nor should they want to manage that

the Church and State in Britain is rather different. the Church is legally bound to the State, so that what goes on in either affects the other. That situation is not relevant in New Zealand, and the Churches have no jurisdiction over the State legal system. The Church in Britain has been assured that there will be no legal enforcement on them to have to 'marry' same-sex couples. There will probably be the same provision in New Zealand. so where's the problem? We cannot force the civil realm to accept religious attitudes.

Bryden Black said...

I sense that both Bosco and Ron are missing the real point here, which is this.

Marriage has been found and founded in countless cultures as a key - some would say, the key - social institution. While it is also found in a variety of forms, matriarchal, patriarchal, polygamous, polyandrous, monogamous, it is first and foremost a social phenomenon, long before it is an object of any legislature - let alone a creation of positive law. Where the law has entered into the scene in western societies, it has been to recognize an existing social reality - even divorce Bosco!

Fast forward to the 21st C, and what we are being presented with now is just this: a creation of a novelty via the means of positive law. And, as I’ve already commented on another thread, there is quite literally nothing to stop such a “will to power” by the state - with its overreaching desires - to leave matters to this sphere alone! As William Cavanaugh observed only the other night in this city of Christchurch, one more time we are witnessing a “migration of the holy”, one towards the state. And those who have eyes to see, with which to read the signs of the times, should be very wary ...

Father Ron Smith said...

" Where the law has entered into the scene in western societies, it has been to recognize an existing social reality - even divorce Bosco!"

- Bryden Black -

No-one would argue with that, Bryden.

In fact, this is precisely what is happening in this new incentive towards western society's readiness to 'recognise an existing social reality' - that Same-Sex Couples feel they have the same right to legal, civil recognition of their intentionally-monogamous, faithful partnerships as other married couples.

Their chances of being faithful to one another in 'marriage' are no less than the present chances of a heterosexual couple (look at the statistics of the breakdown of heterosexual marriage).

Bryden Black said...

Upon further reflection, there is another important line of thinking which endorses this French approach to the question of Gay Marriage à la Liberté. It is this.

The logic of Planned Parenthood, first established in America and now pretty well world-wide via such things as pharmaceutical aid (yes; I am a tad cynical at this point!), is self-confessedly one of freedom. The origin of this freedom is again self-confessedly derived from the technological advances in, firstly, disease control, with penicillin’s ability to treat both syphilis and gonorrhea, then secondly, in preventing pregnancy via the oral contraceptive pill for women.

Thereafter, these two technological ‘advances’ establish a powerful sociological thing known technically as a “plausibility structure”: a collective frame-of-mind that deems certain things as being-the-case. Here it is the case that sex may be a natural form of human behaviour irrespective of certain consequences - for those consequences have been seemingly effectively removed. Further, add the notion that freedom of sexual expression is de rigeur, as a function of self-authentication, and we arrive at the 21st C view, espoused by a cultural studies lecturer at Victoria Uni I have heard, that we have at least eleven kinds of sexual activity, all the way from the one night recreational stand to biological parenting between a man and a woman. This phenomenological view of sexual behaviour is but the plausibility structure of our contemporary world, ‘natural and obvious’. And all in the name of human freedom: freedom from consequences and freedom for self-fulfilment.

It is little wonder therefore, in this cultural setting, that we have such an imminent Bill as that now proposed at the Beehive. Yet what an utter human tragedy, where that venerable gift of “libertas” has become so severed from its true setting and telos.

And of course, we shall never allow such studies as those that have traced the effects of the pill on the brain development of teenage girls, or the effects of higher doses of oestrogen in cities’ water supplies, or the increased percentage chances of breast cancer among women who use the pill—all such scientific data must not be allowed to get in the way of our deemed plausibility structures and blatant desires. For freedom rules; OK!

Bryden Black said...

Oh dear ... I thought someone might try to 'justify' our present legal moves that way, Ron. Unfortunately, such a line of thought just goes to show how little is adequately understood ...

Father Ron Smith said...

" Yet what an utter human tragedy, where that venerable gift of “libertas” has become so severed from its true setting and telos." - B.B. -

A little bit pompous, unrealistic and perhaps self-righteous? But the U.S. Republican Party would agree with you

Bryden Black said...

What a delightful antidote to the grey and portentous clouds (heavy with rain the Met Office assured us), which daylight brought, my email Inbox also brought me, via Peter’s ADU. A rip snorter of much mirth and merriment, with splendid side-splitting cackles to boot!

I refer, Ron, to your reference to “the US Republican Party”. Many thanks for the antidote!

For truly Martin Luther’s Libertas is hardly a friend of either Republican or Democrat, so low has their political culture fallen these days across the Pacific. Nor is this my own - how did you put it - “pompous, unrealistic and perhaps self-righteous” diagnosis. I heard it only last week at a lecture from one of the leading public intellectuals of the US on his way through to Australia. Such is his standing moreover that even Obama has appointed him recently to one of his commissions although he normally sides with the ‘opposition’. But he serves - desires to serve - because he “gets it”!!

I really do suggest, Ron, that you try to understand what it is your interlocuters are saying before you vilify them. If Libertas is a difficult notion for you (which frankly it fully appears to be), then please start with that epic 1520 Treatise, “The Freedom of a Christian”. Thereafter, Eberhard Jüngel’s The Freedom of a Christian: Luther’s Significance for Contemporary Theology (1988) is especially helpful; it certainly has helped me. For finally, none of us would wish to be among those “for whom nothing can be said so well that they will not spoil it by misunderstanding it” (Martin, near his conclusion).

Father Ron Smith said...

Bryden, in reply to your gratuitous insults, may I ask where you imbibed your own theological stance - art, that is, from 'sitting at the feet of Dr.Rowan Williams?

The time will come - for you as for many would-be theologs - to begin to think for yourself, without having to refer back to a whole plethora of other (sometimes doubtful) idols of your own limited persective. This is why the thrid charism of 'Reason' has been added to the ancient biblical and sola-scriptural diet of the hoary conservatives in Anglicanism.

The propensity for the study of bibliographies, rather than the content of the original writers is always a source of amusement to those of us who like to use the brain cells, the pragmatic pastoral experience - and the conscience - that God has given us, to inform our participation in the mission of the Church into which we are called

A little learning can be dangerous; and the attempt to parade it in the face of the experience of others - sometimes more so.

When you've been a parish priest - even as long as I have - you may have cause to reflect on your mis-understanding of the realities of the Mission. This is not just an academic exercise but rather the gift of God's life to the meek and lowly of the world.

Bryden Black said...

May be this is an antidote to my last comment, more to your liking, Ron.

“This book is about an article of Christian faith, the pre-existence of Christ. Some Christians say that the whole of Christian faith depends on it, but others claim to find it a quite incomprehensible myth from primaeval times. Nowadays many people can find some relevance for their lives in the life, message, suffering and death of Jesus of Nazareth. And while they do not find the fact that Jesus did not remain dead but was raised to life by God capable of proof, they accept it in rational trust. But even with all the good will in the world, many Christians find it quite incomprehensible that Jesus should have not only been born as man, but as Son of God have already been pre-existent ‘before all time’: that, as dogmatic theology puts it, he was the eternal, consubstantial and uncreated Son of God before his incarnation, the second person of the Trinity. Of course in worship they keep repeating the formulation of the Council of Constantinople from the year 381, ‘born before all time’. But they do not know what to make of this statement in the year 1992. Preachers, catechists and teachers of religion also dodge these difficult questions of christology and trinitarian doctrine because they are at a loss over them. And even academic theology often displays its perplexity here.

However, in this book a theologian has ventured to investigate the historical roots of this article of faith and how it may be understood today. The result is a work which I would describe as Catholic theology in the very best sense, concentrated on the gospel. Its whole conception emanates a broad Catholicism and ecumenical commitment, since Protestant theology in particular (from Harnack, Barth and Bultmann up to present-day Protestant theologians) has major significance in it. The narrative, with its clear systematic summaries, is gripping, as the book sets out to relate the history of theology as a history of conflict. The style and language arc brilliant throughout, since the author also wants to communicate with readers who have no theological training. He has not contented himself with traditional scriptural exegesis or with the usual interpretation of dogmas. He has set out on an in-depth investigation: what theological substance and existential significance underlies these statements about the pre-existence of Christ? And his answer is neither the usual repetition of an incomprehensible dogma nor the simplistic rejection of a statement of faith which is incomprehensible to many people. The book seeks to understand how it could come about that Jesus of Nazareth was proclaimed as the pre-existent Son of God.

Karl-Josef Kuschel was born in 1948 and teaches ecumenical theology and theological aesthetics in the University of Tübingen. He is one of the few theologians who has also acquired competence in literature and literary criticism. Indeed in the German-speaking world over the past fifteen years he has made a name for himself as the most significant specialist in the interdisciplinary field of theology and literature. 1978 saw the publication of a book which originated as his Tübingen dissertation entitled Jesus in Contemporary German-Language Literature. It was to prove a pioneering work in its field. Since then Kuschel has produced numerous studies in this area: monographs on specific topics, anthologies of modern literary texts, interviews with contemporary writers, and portraits of great authors of the twentieth century. His published work has now become quite considerable.

Bryden Black said...

Part 2

Kari-Josef Kuschel’s competence as a literary critic has doubtless benefitted this first major theological book. For the first time, he has attempted to put the question of pre-existence in the wider framework of cultural history. His chapter on ‘The “Theology of Crisis” and the Crisis of the Era’, for the first time in research, shows surprising analogies in literature, physics, music, painting and depth psychology to the ‘primal question’ of the origin of the world and humankind. In this way he succeeds in bringing pre-existence Christology out of the narrow confines of theology and showing that behind it lies a basic human question which is constantly raised anew in varied forms within the history of culture and religion, particularly in situations of crisis and epoch-making paradigm shifts.

This ‘hermeneutics of crisis’ has also proved fruitful for the interpretation of biblical statements about pre-existence. Here Kuschel follows the ideal of a ‘contextual exegesis’ and for the first time has written a history of the biblical concept of pre-existence as it is reflected by the Old Testament, intertestamental and New Testament texts. He is concerned with something more than a ‘history of ideas’. His account is indebted to a complex hermeneutics in which perspectives from the history of religion, history, sociological criticism and cultural history are combined. This book succeeds in demonstrating the social and political conditions which first made possible the rise of pre-existent entities like ‘wisdom’ and ‘Son of Man’ as early as in the Hebrew Bible, along with the literary form in which they appear: hymns in the wisdom literature, the language of dreams in apocalyptic, hymns to Christ in the New Testament. One of Kuschel’s special concerns is to work out the poetic dimension of the statements about pre-existence and to demonstrate analogies in modern literature and painting.

In this way Kuschel’s book succeeds in demonstrating two things. First, statements about pre-existent entities in the Old and New Testaments are related to crises and the end-time, or are indicators of the concern of particular communities to assert themselves in the competition with other religions and ideologies. But, secondly, statements about pre-existence are also expressions of trust in a transcendent foundation for creation and history. However, nowhere in the Bible are pre-existent entities, whether Wisdom, Son of Man or Christ, rivals to the ‘Godhead of God’. Rather, they emphasize God’s revelatory action in creation and history and emphasize the universal significance of the Christ event in particular. Particularly in its analysis of the New Testament, this book does not limit itself to ‘passages’ in which statements about pre-existence ‘occur’. Kuschel also investigates the question why statements about pre-existence are absent from numerous New Testament writings or why they are not taken over. Above all he carefully illuminates the Jewish and Jewish-Christian background to the idea of pre-existence. The result is a gripping chapter about acceptance and rejection, adoption and repudiation, reaction and counter-reaction. And this section on the New Testament in particular gives rise to fertile perspectives on the dialogue between Christian and Jews which is urgently necessary today, but which for centuries has been overburdened by the dogmatic christology of pre-existence.

Bryden Black said...

Part 3

So here is a book which opens up fascinating perspectives for a dialogue between theology and the study of religion, a dialogue with Judaism and also with contemporary culture. It also offers ground for a dialogue within theology between the various theological trends: liberation theology, feminist theology and above all the disciplines of dogmatics and exegesis, between which there is so much alienation in contemporary theology, both Catholic and Protestant. This book is a pioneering work for a question of christology and the doctrine of the Trinity, which is as central as it is disputed. It is no abstract theoretical treatise but a dramatic introduction to the discussion from Harnack, Barth and Bultmann down to Rahner and Schillebeeckx, Pannenberg, Jüngel and Moltmann. It is a monumental work, but one which is brilliantly written and exciting to read. It is a book which I would like to have written myself.”

May 1992 Hans Küng Forward to Born Before All Time? The Dispute over Christ’s Origin (Crossroad, 1992)

K-J K also went on to co-edit Hans Küng: New Horizons for Faith and Thought (1993), which doubtless you may enjoy too, its being devoted as festschrift!

Shawn said...

Ron once again trots out the claim that out the tired old claim that conservatives are mindless, unthinking and irrational followers of dogma.

His claim that "reason" was added to our understanding of Biblical interpretation at some point is pure nonsense, as is the silly claim that Protestant sola Scriptura rejects reason.

In fact reason has always been one of the tools that the Church has used, and conservative Protestants also use reason in theology. The real difference to liberalism is that sola Scriptura theologians do not place reason on a par with scripture, as a separate source of revelation.

But in truth it is not reason that Liberals follow. The claim to reason is just a dishonest cover for the promotion of liberal political dogma.


Father Ron Smith said...

"Karl-Josef Kuschel was born in 1948 and teaches ecumenical theology and theological aesthetics in the University of Tübingen. He is one of the few theologians who has also acquired competence in literature and literary criticism" - Bryden Black -

Maybe.But for pure theology - grounded in pastoral, exegetical, theological and pure, contemporary scholasticism - give me Hans Kung every time. His tenure at Tubingen was at least equally rematkable to that of your friend, Herruschel.

Now Hans Kung, one of the younger periti (together with Joseph Ratzinger) at Vatican II, is someone who was a personal challenge to the Popes of his day - and may still be for all I know.

His understanding of the Bible, Biblical Criticism & Church History makes him a more valuable source for theology than those with a more eclectic career - like Kuschel.

Do try to read Kung's 2002 auto-biography. You may be surprised to read of his authentic plea for the modernisation of the Church. He, too, had to battle with hoary traditionalists who refused to be dragged into the 20th/21st century world (for which Christ died).

Kung also travelled the world extensively in his search for experience of the Church in situ. His writings stem - not just from his academic capability, extensive though that is - but also from his practical and pastoral engagement with other religious traditions as well as Christianity. Not a bad basis for a balanced world-view!

Bryden Black said...

Oops! Apologies Ron; there seems to have been confusion and crossed wires here, all of which needs to be sorted.

This electronic medium we share allows a max of approx 4000 characters per comment. As we both know Hans Küng is a voluminous writer of massive tomes. He even confesses to such at the end of this Forward, when we says of K-J K’s own tome, “It is a book which I would like to have written myself.” So even a slight Forward such as this to Kuschel’s book, Born Before All Time? The Dispute over Christ’s Origin, is beyond the scale of a single posted comment: HENCE THE THREE PARTS.

1. What you quote is Hans Küng’s handiwork, not mine.
2. K-J K is Küng’s “friend” and colleague at Tübingen, not mine.
3. The festschrift devoted to Hans on the occasion of his 65th birthday, the customary retirement age, which I mentioned last time as being co-edited by this friend, includes exactly such a section as one might imagine deriving from the author of Infallible?, which I
“imbibed” decades ago. Indeed; Section “I Church” opens the series of essays with three devoted to matters of authority. Section II is then devoted to “Catholicity” and III to “The Ecumenical World” - with more than a few pertinent comments in both for present Anglicans ...
4. At least Küng and I share one thing in common, as per your final commendation paragraph: I too have “travelled the world extensively”. Which is one reason for my passionate defence of the Anglican Communion Covenant as a means of trying to hold the AC together. Alas; it is now inevitable the AC will dissolve into fragmenting blocs. Where ACANZ&P will end up is anyone’s guess; or whether even this current Provincial unit will itself maintain cohesion is anyone’s guess. Liberty rules; OK!

Father Ron Smith said...

Dear Bryden, I do acknowledge your extensive travel and consequent knowledge of the big wide world - I've done a bit of that myself, in connection with a long career as a travel agent.

However, with all your skills at exegesis, hermeneutic and other theological accoutrements, I have a suspicion that you might be using the wrong word in your last epistle on this thread. When you speak of Hans Kung's 'festschrift' to Keschel (who was one of kung's students as well as his friend), you have this to say:

" at the end of this Forward, when we says of K-J K’s own tome, “It is a book which I would like to have written myself.” So even a slight Forward such as this to Kuschel’s book,"

My dilemma here is: your use of the word 'Forward' - used twice in this bit. Do you mean 'Foreword' - in other words, the classic preface at the beginning of a publication?
Or am I being cruelly pedantic?

Bryden Black said...

Your “dilemma” is easily resolved Ron: of course I mean Foreword rather than Forward. You are not “pedantic” but gloriously English!

Thereafter, and nonetheless, I do trust you are no longer “confused” about who is writing what and why. And so why I relayed the entire piece.