Thursday, September 13, 2012

Crazy talk?

This is the American Embassy in Egypt responding to protests catalysed by an American film ridiculing Mohammed:

"Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others."

This is typical of the muddle we in the West are in when we try to balance the freedom of speech essential to the health of democracy with the need to accommodate the intolerance of religion, especially religion which does not value freedom of speech. The result is crazy talk because in the West, including in America, no one rejects the actions of those who 'hurt the religious beliefs of' Christians. Such statements as this one from the Egyptian embassy lack integrity because they are responding to the religious beliefs of one and only one religion, Islam under the fig leaf of concern for all religions. Within the last few days we have had no lesser figure than the Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Nick Clegg, issue (then withdraw, claiming only a draft, etc) a speech in which opponents of gay 'marriage' in the UK are described as 'bigots.' Those opponents include many citizens of all faiths and none, including Muslims. But they definitely include many, many Christians. Otherwise we look round the last decades at films, artworks, cartoons, opinion columns and the like, as they cheerfully defame Christians, Christianity, and cherished figures within the Christian tradition, including Jesus and Mary. Never rejected by Western governments.

The crazy talk flows from a flaw in liberal thinking which focuses compassionately on the issue at hand and conveniently overlooks the bigger picture. By failing to see the bigger picture liberal thinking is liable to lead us into an illiberal world. In the United Kingdom, for example, a failure to incorporate British Islam into full participation in its social democracy will lead (as birthrates of Muslims rise and birthrates of non-Muslims decrease) to a Britain controlled by the most illiberal set of laws the world has ever known, Sharia.

We in NZ might not be quite as crazy as other parts of the West, but we have our own liberal hand-wringing going on here to. Actually, right in the Anglican church. Expectantly, +Richard Randerson has shared his liberal thoughts on gay 'marriage' in a sermon published by, unsurprisingly, St Matthew's in the City. Thus,

"I believe God is leading us all in a new journey of discovery, and strident claims of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are not appropriate to the debate."

Well that would be nice, wouldn't it? If I oppose gay 'marriage' and refuse to perform such ceremonies then I am not 'wrong' and therefore, I presume, cannot be discriminated against if, say, I applied to be the next vicar of St Matthew's in the City. Yeah, right! No, beneath the pleasant words of this sermon is an attempt to shift the thinking of our church along the 'journey' and the bigger picture of such shifts is always that 'right' and 'wrong' will be redefined.

But the pleasant words hide other difficulties. Here is +Richard talking about an forum at a high school some years ago in which questions were asked of him (as a visiting bishop) about sex:

"I said instead that there is a broad spectrum of types of sexual relationships, everything from promiscuous and abusive relationships at one end of the spectrum to a sexual relationship at the other end that arose from a deep love and ongoing commitment to another person. And that what mattered was not so much where we might currently be on the spectrum, but what we aspired to, viz. a committed relationship grounded in love."

What is not said is the basis for +Richard espousing the ultimate value of "a committed relationship grounded in love." Given that this is an unnatural state of affairs for the normal male, on what basis is this authoritative ethic handed down from the episcopal vantage point? Elsewhere in the sermon we are told that we should bless same sex partnerships because we now know that they are not an 'aberration.' The 'crazy talk' here is that we should bless a certain natural state with an unnatural ethic without any clear basis for pronouncing that ethic being given, noting that +Richard effectively rejects Scripture as a source for ethics since he subjects it to interpretation through 'deeper principles'. We might also observe, in respect of the citation above, that +Richard offers no guidance to someone 'on the spectrum' who is quite happy to remain there and not aspire to a committed relationship grounded in love!

Also hidden in this sermon is the arbitrary nature of its focus on change concerning gay 'marriage'. Randerson's ethic re marriages blessed by God boils down to this sentence, "The ethical criterion is to do with the quality of the relationship, not the orientation of the partners." Let us suppose this to be true. Necessarily this means that other kinds of relationships can and should be blessed: a quality relationship between a brother and a sister, or between three people, or more. The bigger picture here is whether we are going to be consistent in the application of a liberal ethic driven by reason rather than Scripture. It is simply arbitrary discrimination to press for gay 'marriage' to be permitted within our church and not for all other kinds of marriages.

A final point which I find deeply disturbing about this sermon. On the matter of parenting within marriage +Richard somewhat casually presses home a point about equality of care of children in respect of same sex couples and diverse sex couples,

"Can same-sex couples “provide the stability necessary for family life, so that children might be cared for lovingly and grow to full maturity”? The answer to both questions is Yes, based on the evidence of the number of same-sex couples in long-term committed relationships, and on the basis of research that shows children may be cared for equally well in same-sex families as in hetero-sexual ones."

Here we have a somewhat classic liberal waving the flag of 'research' to make an argument while missing the obvious point that what a same sex couple can never ever provide for a child is a mum and a dad. Parenting is more than 'care' (which in general terms can be provided by couples, same or mixed). It is about role modelling and about roles. A father is not a mother and a mother is not a father. We should never mistake research into the general ability of couples of different combinations of sexes to care for their children for a definitive argument against the importance of a child having a mum and a dad wherever possible.

No one disputes the importance of caring for those who find themselves marginalised in society and in church. From that perspective +Richard, St Matthews-in-the City, and others in our church are offering a distinctive challenge to the rest of us about how we include, welcome and support those who are different, whether that is in orientation, lifestyle, theology, churchmanship and the like. But the compassion being demonstrated does not face all the issues at stake, nor does it offer in its talk about these things a convincing theological underpinning to how we might act. If the strongest argument for gay 'marriage' is what is put forward here, then I suggest we are doing a disservice to ourselves, by which I mean every person belonging to our church.


Father Ron Smith said...

Jesus said: "Happy are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you ON MY ACCOUNT. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is in heaven; this is how they persecuted the prophets before you" - (J.Bible)

From the scriptures., we have Jesus' own instruction to Christians who protest against abuse - suffered by them on account of their faith.

Presumably, Muslims may not be bound by this tolerance of what they perceive to be abuse against their Prophet.

I guess, Peter, that all experience of abuse against one's treasured beliefs have to be seen in the light of these words of Jesus.

And then, of course, there is the question of what constitutes the common human rights of a Faith Community - as against the perception of what might constitute an 'individual's rights'?

Religious discrimination can be an insidious thing - on any level.

Andrei said...

Dark forces have been unleashed - the Christians portrayed in that incredibly crude film are Copts who are under siege of course in Egypt.

I don't believe that despicable thing is American at all - though Americans may have played a patsy part in its production.

We are being drawn into something both nasty and dangerous

Bryden Black said...

What is also patently obvious, beyond the bigotry left right and centre, is that with the death of Pope Shenouda III this last March a true leader of his stature has yet to emerge for the Copts. And with that sort of vacuum, all sorts of people will try to grab the lime-light - especially in this world of the mass media and internet, which often lacks any genuine depth, and thrives on montage after montage after montage.