Thursday, June 16, 2011

St. Matt's, the Wider Church and Scripture

On the face of it, by challenging their bishop, +Ross Bay, along with our other bishops, to proceed full steam ahead to ordain gay persons who live in same sex partnerships, St Matt's is riding a white charger whose name is Right and Righteous Cause. How can the bishops of our church, including their direct target, +Ross Bay, withstand the thundering hooves and steaming nostrils of this valiant steed?

One rebuttal, a horse whisper that might calm the strident gallop of the charger, is to ask what St Matt's commitment to our church consists of. Is it a commitment to provoke, prod, and push us to change, whether we agree to it or not? Or is it a commitment to love us through the changing scenes of life?

If there is one thing I am sure of, it is that our bishops love their dioceses, and love this church. They can appreciate the prophetic mode St Matt's takes up and pushes towards them, but they know that their dioceses and this church are sums of many diverse parts. We have different theologies, ecclesiologies, missiologies and pneumatologies in our midst. We also have a range of challenges, not least of which is the fragile state of many parishes (literally as well as spiritually in Christchurch!). How do the bishops love their churches through these days, with a love which binds us together? Not, I suggest, by going with the agenda of one parish with a singular track record in annoying other Christians. Not, I suggest, by leading the church according to rhetoric around 'violation of human rights' rather than good Scriptural theology. And not, I suggest, by relying on challenges to polity via Title D machinations.

Our bishops are better than that.

They know, for instance, that if we Anglicans play out our future wrongly we will slowly but surely be ground into statistical dust. One possible future is being played out before our eyes in the shape of the ever declining, constantly selling off churches NZ Methodist Church. Booming along, thank you very much, are Pentecostal, Protestant, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. Not one of which is contemplating moving away from traditional Christian sexual ethics. If we Anglicans disappear off the landscape, Christianity in Aotearoa NZ and Polynesia will be just fine. Do we want to be a footnote in future church histories written by Baptist or Apostolic scholars?

Perhaps we do. Perhaps that is the price we should pay according to our 'Matthean gospel' to avoid 'violations of human rights.' But could we please have a discussion about this before anyone goes to court to change us?

There is another error St Matthew's is making in its protest and in its confrontation with +Philip Richardson's wisdom on a way forward. They are acting as though the wrestling with Scripture on homosexuality is done and dusted. Nothing to see there, nothing to learn there. Sexual ethics for today is ours to determine without recourse to ancient spiritual truths. Only reckoning by the compass of 'human rights' matters.

Scripture is not done and dusted on homosexuality. At the heart of conservative responses to homosexuality, whether it is the caution of someone such as myself, or the outright opposition of others to change to the status quo, lies a simple anxiety about salvation. When St Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 that neither malakoi nor arsenokoites will inherit the kingdom of God, what do those two words mean? I understand that scholars debate the meaning of these words, and also debate whether these words, even if they mean what most English translations say they equate to in English, apply to faithful, monogamous, same sex partnerships. The key word in that sentence is debate. Nothing is settled. No bishop of our church can confidently say that same sex sexual activity is beyond the scope of these verses to speak to it. Whether we can ever settle that debate in our lifetimes, whether we can ever come to some agreeable compromise on how we might live in or with the debate and nevertheless bless same sex partnerships, I do not know. But I do know it is a huge presumption to speak and act as though that debate is over, as though 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 is easily set aside. The kingdom of God, let's face it, lies at the heart of the gospel on any understanding of what the gospel is, for it is unmistakeably central to Jesus' own teaching. It would be irresponsible of a gospel church to advocate for styles of living which exclude people from the kingdom of God.

Again, perhaps I speak as a lone-ish voice in this cautionary way, perhaps I am missing something about where our church is at. If so, I look forward to the bishops collectively telling me to remain in my corner of the wilderness, out of earshot! But I do not think I am missing anything. Our church is not at all in a settled place.

Our bishops know that. They are not fools. St. Matt's might take account of that. I hope they do.


hogster said...

You are certainly not a lone voice Peter. You are most certainly a thoughtful and cautious one.

You rightly point out a lesson to be learned in comparing the state of certain denominations. History I think shows something not un-similar to natural selection at work.

If churches want to reinterpret scripture according to the norms of our culture the freedom is there, but it comes at a cost.

Reinterpret the Gospel to the point where it is no longer functions as the Gospel of Christ and something of that natural selection process kits in.

Think of it as a filter with gospel shaped holes and only the authentic bits can get through.

Tough but true.

Peter Carrell said...

Your evolutionist insights are pertinent, Hogster!

Zane said...

Don't the way the 'gospel shaped holes' look depend on who wields the scissors?

I dare to say that at the end of the day, though from very different positions, Glynn and I are both encouraging people to focus on a certain gospel and to live it out fully.

The evangelical gospel which I'm pushing(liberally!)at "my" St Matthew's, has a focus on holiness, peculiarity and living ina way which is radically different to the world around us. Meanwhile Glynn, and "his" St Matthew's push a gospel which is shaped around inclusivity, equality for all, tolerance and non-discrimination.

We've got very different shapes in the filter for very different gospels to fit through!

I hope that there is somewhere a real and true 'canon' which we can measure our shapes against, it doesn't look like the view of the majority of the Communion matters any more, and the attempts to have a new canon in the draft covenant are being rejected too.

Zane Elliott
St Matthew's Dunedin.

Bryden Black said...

I like your notion of “filter with Gospel shaped holes”, hogster; and for then taking it up at St Matt’s in Dunedin Zane. Useful homiletic tool; thanks.

Once upon a time of course, there were such Things as “Rules of Faith”, then Creeds, then canons at Ecumenical councils, etc. And there was “one holy catholic and apostolic Church” affirmed (even if there were fuzzies like “monophysites”!) Nowadays we have even the likes of the Regius Prof of Divinity, Oxford, subscribing to the Nicene Creed “loosey/lucy goosey” - whatever that means ... And that’s about the sum of it: our default “available believable” (Ricoeur) makes heretics of us all in the west - so Peter Berger again, with his “Heretical Imperative”. [to assist those who have objected to my style(s) ... enjoy!]

Sorry to be such a squeaky old record, folks! BUT one more time, if we do not as a church attend to the likes of Paul’s absolute fulcrum at Rom 12:1-2, we deserve our Darwinian fate, which is probably God’s providential judgment (if Amos 7 is anything to go by ...). Ouch!!! “Judgment”! Now there’s a real swear word ....

Anonymous said...

I think when anyone is claiming prophetic insight that the wider church has the right and duty to test that insight against the Biblical tests - of (1) compatibility with the teaching of our Lord, (2) the traditions of the Church, and (3) the fruits that are displayed. This latter is a key test proposed by Christ in Matthew 7:15-21 as a protection against false prophets.

I will leave the first two tests for wiser commentators, but on the issue of the fruits, I suggest the following might be relevant:

(1) This path has already been trodden by the Episcopal Church - and far from leading to a more inclusive community, it has lead to division and turmoil, and to the exclusion of many.

(2) St Matthews itself has, as you suggest, been a source of annoyance and division amongst Christians, many of whom (including myself) feel that they have been dismissive of others and of God.

(3) I also do not see any evidence that God has blessed their approach. In 2007 (my most recent statistics)St Matthew's approach led them to having 1.5% of the Holy Communion attendance in the Auckland diocese. In other words they have not become a beacon of hope in the city of Auckland, but rather remained a middling parish (25th in my ranking out of 81) in the diocese.


Peter Carrell said...

That visit, Bryden, of Darwin to the Bay of Island missionaries in 1835 was more ominous than first thought :)

Peter Carrell said...

Thank you for your very pertinent comment, Margaret.

It is often being observed that in the most liberal, inclusive Anglican churches around the world, there is a distinct lack of evidence of secular society beating paths to join in regular worship, now that the last of the barriers to doing so has been broken down.

Andrew W said...

Peter, I'm a little concerned about choosing 1 Cor 6:9-10 as the exemplar for this debate. Asking what the Scriptures do or do not prohibit strikes me as the common question, the "Pharisee's" question, the wrong question. Rather, we should focus on exploration of what the Scriptures commend.

From my perspective, Scriptural prohibitions exist for two reasons:
- to highlight our sinfulness, and need of grace and mercy
- to contrast with the affirmations of holiness, for we are often slow to understand.

The prohibitions are not "lines in the sand", that abruptly demarcate good and bad. They are warning beacons, that say "anywhere near here and you're going the wrong way".

And on this particular issue, the affirming evidence is overwhelming. The church needs to quickly retreat from this particular bog, and focus on some of the other follies it's spent the last century or so introducing.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrew,
A couple of responses:
(1) I think 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 is at the heart of conservative evangelical concerns (if not conservative catholic concerns) because it is not about prohibitions so much as about salvation, and thus underlines that these matters are more than 'what are the prohibitions'.
(2) I do not actually understand what the 'follies' are that we should be working on de-introducing.

Janice said...

In one of his comments James mentioned the problem of ignorance of the humanities. In the context of any discussion/debate about the rights or wrongs of homosexuality, my concern is that those doing the debating are very likely to be ignorant of the sciences and, in particular, of how scientific research is designed, analysed and interpreted. This is because those in favour of seeing both homosexual orientation and activity classed as being normal expressions of human diversity will undoubtedly appeal to research that tends to support that position.

Those doing the debating need to understand that most such studies are seriously flawed. John Ioannidis, an epidemiologist and biostatistician and professor at Tufts and Stanford in the US, has shown that, "80 percent of non-randomized studies (by far the most common type) turn out to be wrong, as do 25 percent of supposedly gold-standard randomized trials, and as much as 10 percent of the platinum-standard large randomized trials." The linked article (on p2) states that, "similar issues distort research in all fields of science, from physics to economics .... And needless to say, things only get worse when it comes to the pop expertise that endlessly spews at us from diet, relationship, investment, and parenting gurus and pundits."

The main problems lie in study design and investigator bias, which may be unconscious. For example, there was a study several years ago that purported to show that certain brain structures were larger in homosexual men than in heterosexual men. It was based on a post-mortem study of the brains of homosexual men. However, (and from memory) only 6 brains were studied and that is far, far too small a sample size to give the study the power to detect what was being looked for (flaw 1). Furthermore, all the men had been suffering from AIDS dementia, the effect of which on brain structure sizes is unknown (flaw 2). Finally, the researcher failed to mention that the structures, though larger than average, were all within the normal size range for men (flaw 3).

In the last year or so I have come across several writers (both Christian and atheist) who quote Augustine's The Literal Meaning of Genesis when castigating Christians with whose views they disagree. This is the passage they use.

"It is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn."

What they don't quote is the next bit.

"But more dangerous is the error of certain weak brethren who faint away when they hear these irreligious critics learnedly and eloquently discoursing on the theories of astronomy or on any of the questions relating to the elements of this universe. With a sigh, they esteem these teachers as superior to themselves, looking upon them as great men; and they return with disdain to the books which were written for the good of their souls; and, although they ought to drink from these books with relish, they can scarcely bear to take them up. . . .

When they [non-believers] are able, from reliable evidence, to prove some fact of physical science, we shall show that it is not contrary to our Scripture. But when they produce from any of their books a theory contrary to Scripture, and therefore contrary to the Catholic faith, either we shall have some ability to demonstrate that it is absolutely false, or at least we ourselves will hold it so without any shadow of a doubt. And we will so cling to our Mediator, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, that we will not be led astray by the glib talk of false philosophy or frightened by the superstition of false religion"

Bryden Black said...

One of the important not to say also interesting things about Peter’s choice of 1 Cor 6, Andrew W, is Paul’s fascinating use throughout the Letter with “body”.

We should note the ease with which he switches seamlessly between the Christological use, referring to Christ’s personal body, especially in its risen state, the ecclesiological use, of those people who are incorporated into Christ, all together, and the Eucharistic use, of that which is broken, shared and communicated in the Supper. 1 Corinthians spells it out clearly, among 6:15-20, 10:16-17 & 11:1-27, 12:12-13, ch.15. So the ethical/moral implications drawn up in 6:9-10 have an overarching context, I suggest, one which we surely need to appreciate and formally endorse when considering what we might be tempted to view as merely an ethical issue on its own - as if we were simply engaging in a piece of secular ethical thinking.

I know all too well that many western Christians find ethics and morality and such legal, prescriptive stuff a default understanding of ‘the Faith’. But to be blunt: it ain’t true folks! Jesus’ social project is far richer and more exciting than such a dumbing down! The implications of the Coming of his Father’s Rule are far deeper than any ethical exercise. And I suspect you see this, with your talk of “holiness”. Doxology, orthodoxy and orthopraxis are a seamless garment in Christ Jesus.

Andrew W said...

Where to start? A grab-bag in no particular order:
- a high tolerance of divorce
- willingness to delegate social upbringing of children to schools (not just vocational and educational)
- families where both parents work long hours outside the home
- loss of confidence in proclamation of scripture to transform lives
- dilution of the doctrine of human depravity, and subsequent loss of understanding of God's grace
- individualism and careerism

These are social/spiritual issues where the church needs to be pushing back firmly against society. Instead, time and again we let society define the fight, defending at a point of their choosing half way down the slippery slope.

As for 1 Cor 6, Paul's argument is fundamentally about the transformation in Christ. He is not arguing that X, Y or Z will disqualify you for the Kingdom, as opposed to A, B or C which won't. Instead, he's picked a grab-bag of common and visible immorality, to say "No more, be transformed". It's not an exhaustive no-go list, but a contrast to the radical transformation in Christ.

As such, it's really a waste of time to argue the fine details of that list. Only the broad brush strokes are relevant. If we want to know what a holy sexual relationship looks like, there's more than enough positive evidence from Scripture. Debating the borders is to cede the fundamentals of the argument.

Father Ron Smith said...

" How can the bishops of our church, including their direct target, +Ross Bay, withstand the thundering hooves and steaming nostrils of this valiant steed?" - Peter Carrell -

Perhaps by moving themselves from the trajectory of the thundering hooves?

One way out - very pragmatic - would be to answer the challenge being made by St.Matts on the issue of how the Church sees the position of LGBT people who feel they are called by God into ministry, while the Church denies that possibility.

I do believe that Bishop Philip's answer is pragmatic, in that, at this point in time it would be very difficult for him, personally, to ordain a gay candidate - even if he were convinced of the theological propriety of doing so. ACANZP has to make a definitive answer on this issue of homosexuality in the Church and the World quickly - before it loses credibility in the eyes of many in the Church who have come to an understanding of the intrinsic validity of different sexual-orientations

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
What particular merit do people have, described by you as "many in the Church who have come to an understanding of the intrinsic validity of different sexual-orientations"? Why should the church worry about losing credibility in their eyes. Are they two people or twenty thousand? Is this a group which sees "intrinsic validity" in those oriented towards pedophilia, necrophilia? Unfortunately you have not defined "different"? If you are going to restrict the range of valid sexual orientations, could you please give reasons, or explicitly state that it is merely an arbitrary preference to restrict the range.

I hope you see that our church should not be beholden to a lobby group which might be asking rather more than any church could reasonably give.

Peter Carrell said...

A further question Ron: would you accept ACANZP giving the answer which is given by the Roman Catholic church. That is a definitive answer. Surely the giving of a definitive answer, one way or another, is enough to maintain our credibility as a church?

Or, is your position to relentless push for our church to give one and only one answer, the answer which is acceptable to you?

Since you are a catholic Anglican I would be interested in your reasons for distinguishing yourself from Rome on its teaching on homosexuality. In this instance it has nothing to do with the authority of the Pope (the traditional sticking point between catholic Anglicans and Roman Catholics), and everything to do with a considerable combination of theology and philosophy within Roman Catholic thought. What is wrong with their conclusions and why?

Yes, I am being a bit relentless here myself with my questions. But that is to make a point: I think you are oversimplifying the issue before our church.

Father Ron Smith said...

"Are they two people or twenty thousand? Is this a group which sees "intrinsic validity" in those oriented towards pedophilia, necrophilia??"

- Dr.Peter Carrell -

Peter Carrell, you're doing a 'Peter Jensen' on my now. Do you, like The Archbishop of Sydney equate, e.g., 'sexual-orientation' with paedophilia and incest (and polygamy)? I can't believe it.

As for the number in the Church who believe that sexual-orientation has nothing to do with one's capacity to believe in God, and that it should not impede a call to being ordained in the Church; perhaps it's time we had a survey. That might really move the bishops into some sort of affirmative action.

Father Ron Smith said...

"A further question Ron: would you accept ACANZP giving the answer which is given by the Roman Catholic church. That is a definitive answer."

- Dr.Peter Carrell -

On this question, Peter. I thought that you would have realised that not all Anglican catholics think the same as Roman Catholics. Nor are we bound by their Magisterium.

Regarding your statement above, I might ask you, as a 'catholic' Anglican, (though also an evangelical protestant); how you view another couple of R.C. dogmatic statements:
1. about the Assumption of the BVM, 2. about the Primacy of Peter,
3. about the evil of contraception
4. about the non-validity of Anglican Orders.

(F.Y.I., I am agnostic about #1, but disbelieving of the others.

James said...

Fr. Ron -

I think one way of re-interpreting some of the things you've heard here is:

Christians have a rather robust agreement on issues of sex ethics. They form a coherent whole, with different principles intimately bound up with one another.

What we now have is a challenge to our sex ethics. But since our sex ethics involve a large whole with coherent, interconnected aspects - we can't simply say, "ok, let's say it's alright for guys to have sex with guys and women to have sex with women according to the same pattern we currently allow guys to have sex with women." In removing the element of gender in sexuality, we are introducing something radical, that is perhaps more significant than, e.g., "stability" or "faithfulness," when considering sexual relationships. It would, e.g., perhaps make more sense for the church to permit men and women to be priests who are heterosexually non-monogamous, than to permit persons in gay sex relationships who are monogamous to be priests.

So we really do need to think about sex as a "big" issue: who / what are we to have sex with, and under what conditions?

To simply say, "ok, let's have it all the same, except for adding gay and lesbian relations" - that would sort of be like the church saying: "We no longer need to ask our members to refrain from stealing articles of clothing" or "We no longer need to abstain from killing people with poison." Were we to re-visit such matters, we would need to re-consider the entire ethic of property ownership and theft; or the ethic of human life and the taking thereof.

I am not comparing gay people here with thieves or killers here; this is simply the case for thinking of any sin, and we are all sinners. The question is about cases of what the church takes to be cases of unrepentant sin, specifically, when we are dealing with ordinations.

I will agree that it may make some LGBT people uncomfortable to discuss necrophilia, pedophilia, incest, etc. etc.. However, when we as a church discuss such things, it isn't "comparing" LGBT people to such persons. It's simply examining the ethical issue as it must be examined, if we are to discern a change in our sex ethic which modifies it in a most fundamental manner.

The question here of "orientation" I also find problematic. From a Christian point of view: a person is to be sexually oriented toward his or her spouse. Before marriage - relational interplay should not be "sexual" or sexually tinted. We should all be open here to guidance by God. So "sexual orientation" is, in a Christian context, a foreign notion - and assumes a culture of promiscuity, in which we're already involved in improper sexual interactions. In many ways, this is "normal enough" in today's culture. However, we shouldn't allow this to become "normative" for us - especially not amongst our clergy.

Some may complain that this will make of all our clergy prudes. I would answer: refraining from pornography, and lusting after persons who are not one's spouse does not necessarily make one unfit for loving social interaction. And if we think otherwise, we need to revisit the degree to which we are allowing larger society to condition our expectations.

Brother David said...

You offer up false comparisons Peter. Incest, pedophilia, bestiality, sexual promiscuity, necrophilia, etc., etc., etc., are not sexual orientations. They are sexual aberrations.

An orientation is a drive deep within an individual’s personality which leads them to normally find individuals of one gender or the other delightful, exciting, alluring, and carnally desirable. There are two opposite poles of sexual orientation: heterosexual and homosexual. Humans fall somewhere on the scale between the two poles based on the level of attraction they feel toward the two genders.

Incest is not an orientation. Heterosexual and homosexual people may fall in love with and/or have inappropriate sex with relatives of the gender to which they are oriented. Pedophilia is not an orientation. Crimes of pedophilia are committed by heterosexually and homosexually oriented people.

An orientation involves erotic excitement at the thought of intimacy with one sex and a level of disinterest in, recoiling from, or revulsion at the idea of intimacy with the other sex. Incest, pedophilia, bestiality, promiscuity, adultery, polyamory are NOT orientations. They are sexual acts, committed for a diverse array of motives, by people who have a heterosexual orientation, a homosexual orientation or fall somewhere on the scale of attraction between the two genders.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
You have not actually responded to my question. When you speak of the validity of different sexual orientations, how many are we talking about? Bishop Gene Robinson once criticised those who spoke only of GLBT and said there were many other letters to consider. I am appealing to you to be clear with us about what is intrinsically valid and what is not. I do not imagine either you or I (or Peter Jensen) think of, say, necrophilia as a valid orientation. But your general statement re "different" orientations begs some further clarification.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
Again re our church giving a definitive answer, you have not responded to my point! No doubt I have not been clear. Let me try in this way:

You want our church to give a definitive answer. Suppose that answer happened to be one that coincided with the definitive answer of Roman Catholicism (which is definitive and which is more or less the opposite of what I think you are looking for). Would you accept that our church had given a definitive answer? Or would you continue to campaign for a different answer because, in reality, you are not asking for any definitive answer, just the one you agree with.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi David,
It is a helpful distinction to introduce "sexual aberration" alongside "sexual orientation." Certainly, say, necrophilia is an aberration (as is, it would appear, (male) mercenary soldiers raping (male) Libyan rebels, etc).

Nevertheless is the distinction always straightforward? Pedophilia (as an aberration) appears to involve a strong orientation towards children (as much as it may also involve an orientation towards one gender of children in particular).

+Gene Robinson once spoke of the limitations of the letters "GLBT" claiming there were many other letters of the alphabet to consider. I don't know if you have comment to make about that - it has puzzled me!

Brother David said...

If you study pedophilia Peter, you will quickly learn that its dynamics are not about sexual attraction, they are about power over a weaker person. Often times the victims of a pedophile are of either gender because it is not about gender orientation.

The case of male rape in Libya is another example of power over the powerless. It is not about sexual gratification per say, but about the humiliation of the victim.

I have been perplexed as to what the heck +Gene was trying to say when he made that statement. I have no idea where he was headed. I am as puzzled as you are.

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks David. I am quite relieved to find that you too are puzzled by that remark of +Gene's!

Father Ron Smith said...

" Certainly, say, necrophilia is an aberration (as is, it would appear, (male) mercenary soldiers raping (male) Libyan rebels, etc)."

- Peter Carrell -

Sounds like the thought of a typical heterosexual male here. What about the rape of (female) Libyan rebels? Is that not also an 'aberration', Peter?

Really, you macho theologians will have to clean up your own act if you want to be heard on 'sexuality'

Peter Carrell said...

Yes it is also an aberration, Ron. You know that, I know that, and I am disappointed that you might think I do not know that just because I did not mention it. Just resigned Congressman Weiner has also been involved in aberrant behaviour ... and I forgot to mention that!

"Macho theologian"? Really? But I do not do weight-training.

James said...

David, your remark:
An orientation involves erotic excitement at the thought of intimacy with one sex and a level of disinterest in, recoiling from, or revulsion at the idea of intimacy with the other sex. Incest, pedophilia, bestiality, promiscuity, adultery, polyamory are NOT orientations. They are sexual acts, committed for a diverse array of motives, by people who have a heterosexual orientation, a homosexual orientation or fall somewhere on the scale of attraction between the two genders.

My remark above was rather trying to get at: when we have good, healthy sexual freedom - we do not have "erotic excitement at the thought of intimacy" with anyone other than our spouse - and if we are single, we don't have erotic excitement at the thought of intimacy with anyone. Of course, there are moments when we're tempted by lust, and when lust overcomes us. But this isn't sexual freedom.

"Orientation" is an interesting way of thinking of things - but it certainly isn't a "thing" - it's rather a way of describing desire. I find no compelling reason to describe orientation only in terms of gender. Men may be oriented toward women who are blond, have large breasts, etc.; there's no a priori reason for excluding factors other than gender.

"Orientation" fails theologically from a Christian perspective since we don't assume that people should be erotically motivated or predisposed toward all persons of a given gender. The erotic needs to be associated with one's spouse.

When I am experiencing sexual freedom, as a single man - what I experience in thinking of women I see and meet is indeed "some level of disinterest in, recoiling from, or revulsion at the idea of intimacy" with them. The thought of engaging in erotic intimacy ... actually provokes a mild "yuck" response ... more than a simple intellectual acknowledgement that it's inappropriate. There's somewhere a visceral awareness that erotic intimacy there would be highly inappropriate. And that's not bad - it maintains sexual freedom, and allows contact and attention to be other than erotic. Women like that, generally.

Theologically speaking, "eros" shouldn't be confused with "orientation" - it needs to be directed at the one person one loves erotically, with whom one has become one flesh. "Orientation" works much better in a meat-market type society where we're eying people over as candidates for possible encounters, where there is "erotic excitement at thought of intimacy." If one isn't in agreement with this ... one probably hasn't experienced the kind of sexual freedom which is available to us if we live as Christ asks us.

"If you study pedophilia Peter, you will quickly learn that its dynamics are not about sexual attraction, they are about power over a weaker person. Often times the victims of a pedophile are of either gender because it is not about gender orientation."

This is simplistic. What you mention is true of many pedophiles - but of many others, it isn't. Many pedophiles experience their relationships and intercourse as profoundly mutual. To say otherwise is to treat pedophiles much like we treated homosexuals decades ago, with clinicized explanations of what the pedophile supposedly experiences. This is another attempt at foisting all norms regarding sexuality into "power / consent." Sexuality simply isn't so simple as that. Men and women can mutually abuse one another when the situation is not unequal in terms of power, when both consent.

James said...

David -

I'd like to add a word of thanks for your comments in this thread because they are thought-stimulating. They're helping me think more sharply about my own thoughts on "orientation." You may certainly disagree ... but this is helpful, and this is what healthy debate is about. And I admit ... the way I framed things in the other thread with remarks about Bishop Spong early on ... not knowing about your time with him ... that was not a good way to start a thread of comments.

Father Ron Smith said...

Before I begin this post, I need to warn you, Peter, that someone is interfering with your blog - erasing my last message before it could be posted. Ron. NOW:

" Before marriage - relational interplay should not be "sexual" or sexually tinted. We should all be open here to guidance by God. So "sexual orientation" is, in a Christian context, a foreign notion - and assumes a culture of promiscuity" - JAMES -

I find it strange that you should say that 'sexual orientation ' is 'foreign to the Christian context! Well how do you explain the
'normal' existence of both male and female orientation? Do heterosexual Christians not have an orientation towards sexual congress with the opposite gender? Fooled me!

Also, regarding the prohibition of sex before marriage; it is obvious you are not a working parish priest, otherwise you would have recognised the tendency towards the approval of engaged couples (as the Archbishop of York recently stated)
'tasting the milk before buying the cow'? (I find that quite a beastly way of talking about pre-marital sex, myself. But then, he is ABY.)

James said...

Fr. Ron,

When I speak of "before marriage," I am not advocating for strict boundaries, or "all which occurreth before the marriage is hellworthy" etc. etc.. Remember that in a previous thread I was the one who mentioned that all human consciousness is metaphorical; and that we're always already involved in interpretation. Yes, we need to trust the parish priest in discerning propriety. No, I don't advocate one-night stands. Yes, I hope the parish priest won't simply say "oh wonderful" to intercourse if it's a boyfriend / girlfriend but there's no engagement. And beyond that ... well, don't ask me, ask your parish priest.

"Do heterosexual Christians not have an orientation towards sexual congress with the opposite gender?" - thank you for sharpening my thinking, because yes, in a very general, abstract, teleological sense, this would be true. I see an attractive woman, I approach her and try to suggest a beautiful and lofty topic for discussion; somewhere in all of this is a hope that we might engage further in discussion; somewhere is a hope that we might exchange phone numbers, etc. etc.. It all might or might not happen; nonetheless I approach her with my putatively lofty topic. Am I thinking at that moment, "hey, we could have kids and stuff?" A better man than myself might. I can honestly tell you though, that at the telephone number stage, I'm not (usually) thinking about marriage or making flippy-floppy. But I would also say that if we are to admit such very abstract teleology, that one also shouldn't have too many problems with the thought of barren couples marrying within a framework which accepts procreation as a part of the general teleology of marriage.

James said...

Fr. Ron, to continue - this is then to say - "orientation" can be a useful term, but also has its limitations. It's a very new term; it's a term for explaining how some people want to have sex with the a different gender, and some the same. And it's widely agreed that this itself is more of a "spectrum" type of issue, with some guys wanting to have sex only with guys; some only wanting to have sex only with girls; and some all along various points between these two extremities.

Here already the metaphor breaks down a bit; it's not simply a matter of polarities. And along each polarity, there are specificities; in my case, women I'm attracted to, and women I'm not.

And actually, in my case ... all of them are: women I don't want to have sex with. Since: I'm not married.

As a Christian, if I ever do approach marriage, I hope: my attraction is upon one woman - that I'm not attracted to all women. So yes, there is some theoretical understanding of this notion; but it's not very topical, nor very applicable theologically, and seems to contain bad presuppositions. Perhaps one could better speak of attractional predispositions? I find this much more better.

"Orientation" sounds more like ... a rather forced sense of things, as if one is trying to "re-route" one's tendencies which are already somewhat "forced" and not according to what one wants. This is understandable, if one finds one's self attracted to people who one generally doesn't want to be attracted to.

The metaphor of "orientation" makes me think of a compass needle automatically floating towards north. This is a very impoverished metaphor, as far as I'm concerned, when speaking of potential romantic attraction. Notice I say romantic here ... this is already a long way off from "erotic" attraction. When I am in a state characterized by relative sexual freedom (which isn't to say, all the time) ... romantic attraction is very different from, and quite distant from erotic interest.

It's important also for us, I think, to regain a notion of the importance of sexual freedom ... and the desirability of experiencing romantic attraction, without erotic attraction - with erotic attraction developing only after deep romantic attraction and engagement.

Regarding the automatically floating needle of orientation pointing toward a particular pole - This is most certainly not my experience with women. I like to interact with men and women, with lots of different "desirable" factors, many elements of desirability more or less the same in my case for both genders. It's only after a good deal of contact with a woman that I begin to think, "is this person interesting for me in a romantic sense?"

I'd suggest that "orientation" was borne of a culture of persons that begin evaluating other persons primarily in terms of sexual availability; rather than getting to know people, and only after much contact (and discernment) beginning to wonder about romantic possibilities. This is why I associate "orientation" with "meat-market thinking" and would urge Christians to find more apt metaphors. It's understandable that we adopted it, as we adopt many aspects of secular culture; but I'd suggest that we can do better than this for discussions amongst ourselves.

Brother David said...

Many pedophiles experience their relationships and intercourse as profoundly mutual.

James the definition of a pedophile is someone who sexually abuses prepubescent children. There is absolutely nothing mutual about it.

Father Ron Smith said...

" Notice I say romantic here ... this is already a long way off from "erotic" attraction." - James -

Post-pubertal (and maybe pubertal) romance is often tinged with the erotic - except, of course, for a-sexual beings - who may have absolutely no idea of the erotic.
perhaps the6y have a lesser burden to bear with no propensity for sexual SINS

James said...

Fr. Smith - I'd agree - I most certainly did not have much sexual freedom around puberty and would agree with you there.

David, I shan't dramatize it, as I could with your own language - but you are insisting that we "not listen" to the pedophile here. That the pedophile's most basic right of defense be denied.

Have you noted how discourse on pedophiles in the U.S. has become much shriller, with "sex offenders" lists created in some towns which are accessible as public databases with addresses and photos?

I'd suggest that in the rather torrid change our sexual ethic has undergone, we're also in a way forced to re-arrange our categories. And in many places, pedophiles are bereft of the most basic justice.

I don't wish to "rub this argument in your face," but I would like you to think: in argumentation for LGBT concerns, some are taking rather judgmental stands against pedophiles and denying them the love of Christ.

It's also important to recognize that a much higher percentage of gay men suffer from pedophilia than straight men. Part of my concern here is: for gay men. I realize it's unpopular; but if we did only that which was popular, we would still be stigmatizing gays.

Father Ron Smith said...

" The erotic needs to be associated with one's spouse." - James -

I can't believe what you've just said here. Are you living in a monastery - as a monk? If so, you need to get out and see how real people live in the real world - even clergy.

What really needs to be made clear is that paedophiles are usually those who seek to exercise power over children - in a sexual way. This is a sickness, rather than a sexual orientation. As you suggest, paedophiles need to be accepted by the Christian community, too, but not in any way encouraged to exercise their power over children.

Homosexuals can be accounted to be as healthy in mind, body and soul as their heterosexual counterparts. They are not sick, they are just fundamentally different in their sexual orientation, preferring to love a person of their own gender.
They do not choose their sexuality, it is a given - just as heterosexuals do not choose their sexuality, is is a given.

Homosexuality is not a 'life-style', it is an ontoglical reality for the person involved, and they have no choice in the matter.

Brother David said...

James, perhaps you have no idea with whom you are discoursing, but of your interlocutors here, I am the one who is the trained and licensed psychologist. And though I work in the field of industrial psychology, I certainly had my share of clinical psychology and human behavior in university.

And at this moment I would posit that much of what you say here is a self imposed concept of chastity that has no basis in the sciences of human psychology and sexuality, but some strange connection to your personal interpretations of the expectations of Christian scripture.

Your out-of-the-blue defenses of pedophiles seriously makes me ask myself with whom are we dealing here? And what immediately comes to mind is that you may well be someone whose name we might find on one of those lists in the USA. Seriously!

There is no such correlation between gay men and pedophilia that you assert. The vast majority of pedophiles are heterosexually identified men. You may check the literature on the subject, or better yet, telephone the closest police department for confirmation of the sexual orientation of those to whom they are alerted locally.

This is now another topic about which I shall no longer respond with you. The conversation is over.

James said...

David, I said nothing in contradiction of your very true statement that the vast majority of pedophiles are heterosexually identified men.

I've also been asked if I'm gay when defending homosexuals - so it isn't particularly surprising that you "Seriously!" wonder if I might be on a sex offenders list given that I think that Jesus loves pedophiles.

I've spent hours in conversation with murderers, whom Christ also loves ... so there's yet a bit more material for your vivid imagination.

And finally ... perhaps most scandalous of all ... I've spent hours in serious conversation with Fundamentalists - ("oh my!")

Brother David said...

As a general note to anyone else who reads and comments here, I would like to point out that just because gay men are tired of having our sexual orientation lumped in the same boat with folks who engage in the sexual aberrations of pedophilia, bestiality, incest, etc. does not mean that we do not believe that all people are loved by God.

Nor does it mean that GLBT folks are engaged in discriminating against them and repeating what was perpetrated against us. Sexual orientation and sexual aberrations are not on a par.

I do not know the stance of every national professional practitioner's association's stance on sexual orientation vs sexual aberration, but non that I am aware of connect the two, including medical doctors, nurses, pediatricians, psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers, to scratch the surface.

Brother David said...

PS -
Has a tread or part of a thread disappeared? I was sure that there was a thread where we mentioned the Dali Lama and buddhism, but for the life of me cannot find it now. Did I dream this?

James said...

Fr. Ron, re. the erotic needing to be directed in general towards one's spouse, and in general not towards persons other than one's spouse - knowing your predilection toward thinking in terms of "camps," I'd like you to know that I became most "existentially" convinced of this in a discussion with a Catholic woman.

Post-Victorians tend to be rather "hung up" about "prudishness." They fear that something might be sexually holding them back ... that some taboos are preventing them from acting naturally, or "repressing" them. A need arises to show one's self and others that one is not like those other, unliberated, sexually repressed persons ... that one walks in freedom and light, with regard to sexuality, free of the darkness of repression, taboo and stigma.

There are few more inspiring passages on sex than Foucault's introduction to his first book of the History of Sexuality, that introduction called "We Other Victorians." This first volume is one of the most important academic works for the LGBT movement (though one needs to take much of it with a grain of salt ... or a whole cartload thereof). But "We Victorians" is profound of its unmasking of the anxieties of late-Romantic subjectivity in the area of sexuality.

In the end, it's our very fear of "repression" which drives us forward into odd, circular motions attempting to enact and prove our sexual "liberation."

In short, we "remain" Victorians in our very thrall to this odd notion of "prudishness" and "sexual repression."

I'd suggest that, after reading it ... one can more easily embrace an approach that seeks sexual freedom either in no erotic involvement, or only in the erotic passion of one's own spouse. One may observe the antics of others, and the great and graphic sex discourses of our times, realizing simply that they're enacting a drama in which one doesn't take part. If the anxious then react anxiously to one's failure to take part in the verbal and social sexual antics around one ... one may let them, with a smile. Or suggest that they read Foucault. It's as simple as that, really.

Of course, Foucault "got over" this hurdle in a manner which Christians can't. But it's obvious enough in reading the introduction that this also isn't necessary. One may also love simply as God intended us to love, and as Christ taught us in the Sermon on the Mount (e.g. Matt. 5:28&29).

James said...

Fr. Ron, here's a quote from "We Other Victorians":

Today it is sex that serves as a support for the ancient form – so familiar and important in the West – of preaching. A great sexual sermon – which has had its subtle theologians and its popular voices – has swept through our societies over the last decades; it has chastised the old order, denounced hypocrisy, and praised the rights of the immediate and the real; it has made people dream of a New City. The Franciscans are called to mind. And we might wonder how it is possible that the lyricism and religiosity that long accompanied the revolutionary project have, in Western industrial societies, been largely carried over to sex.

The notion of repressed sex is not, therefore, only a theoretical matter. The affirmation of a sexuality that has never been more rigorously subjugated than during the age of the hypocritical, bustling, and responsible bourgeoisie is coupled with the grandiloquence of a discourse purporting to reveal the truth about sex, modify its economy within reality, subvert the law that governs it, and change its future. The statement of oppression and the form of the sermon refer back to one another; they are mutually reinforcing. To say that sex is not repressed, or rather that the relationship between sex and power is not characterized by repression, is to risk falling into a sterile paradox. It not only runs counter to a well-accepted argument, it goes against the whole economy and all the discursive “interests” that underlie this argument.


Foucault wrote this in the early 70's, noting how this "sexual sermon" had already been sweeping over Western discourse in the last decades. And it's still going on - and on - and on - and on. This is probably one of the reasons we're seeing so much sex ... it is getting so utterly boring, one needs more and more of it displayed, or it must be mentioned more prominently and graphically, for anyone even to notice.

Bryden Black said...

My tuppence worth of comment in response to the recent series of comments above - not least surrounding professional and/or not professional underpinnings to such comments:

I too first encountered Michel Foucault’s writings in the early 1970s, having also read some the earlier phase of this French ‘movement’, in Claude Lévi-Strauss’s work. As a result, I could not agree more with James. Furthermore, it is quite fascinating to juxtapose Brother David’s ‘information’ about his own profession and associates - as if they were an insulated guild and not part of a wider ‘movement’ also. The removal of “homosexuality” as a “disorder” to be addressed by the US ‘professionals’ of the 1970s makes for a key study in the history of the sociology of knowledge. Which is why I now block-copy Milbank’s quote again; clearly it has not been heard at all:

“The pathos of modern theology is its false humility. For theology, this must be a fatal disease, because once theology surrenders its claim to be a meta-discourse, it cannot any longer articulate the word of the creator God, but is bound to turn into the oracular voice of some finite idol, such as historical scholarship, humanist psychology, or transcendental philosophy. If theology no longer seeks to position, qualify or criticize other discourses, then it is inevitable that these discourses will position theology: for the necessity of an ultimate organizing logic (as I shall argue in Part Four) cannot be wished away. A theology ‘positioned’ by secular reason suffers two characteristic forms of confinement. Either it idolatrously connects knowledge of God with some particular immanent field of knowledge - ‘ultimate’ cosmological causes, or ‘ultimate’ psychological and subjective needs. Or else it is confined to intimations of a sublimity beyond representation, so functioning to confirm negatively the questionable idea of an autonomous secular realm, completely transparent to rational understanding.” So writes John Milbank in his now famous introduction to Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason.

What this means for us, as Christian practitioners as well as hopefully thoughtful - and loving! (see other thread re Romans) - people, in the second decade of the 21st C, as those deeply predisposed to certain ‘mind-sets’ is ... once again, you guessed it, an ever more careful attention to Rom 12:1-2, the absolute fulcrum of that Giant Letter.

Father Ron Smith said...

"ever more careful attention to Rom 12:1-2, the absolute fulcrum of that Giant Letter." - Bryden Black -

I disagree that the first two verses are the 'absolute fulcrum' of the epistle to the Romans. This pericope needs to be understood in the proper context of it's congruity with the rest of chapter 12.

Favourite texts is one of the great temptations of the apologist for the legalistic evaluation of the Scriptures. Even Paul was guilty of it in his days as Saul. I suspect he may not have completely gotten rid of this didactic tendency until much later in his regenerate life.

The fulcrum of the Christian scriptures is, quite logically, to be found in the Gospels, where the word-made-flesh in Jesus is the ultimate revelation of Truth. The rest is commentary - as liable to problematic interpretation as any other learned treatise.

A little more practise of making Eucharist, a little less navel-gazing, and a little less hot air in preaching dogmatics would, I am sure, help disciples of Jesus to better understand what is required of them as his hands and feet in the world he has redeemed.

James said...

ah, thanks Bryden, nice to see a wee bit of Milbank. As I mentioned in an earlier thread - I tend to take "thinking men" in general - like Foucault and Milbank - as rather "dirty" characters whose work is in need of much honing and sifting.

Brother David, I failed to mention, I've also had quite some contact with the literature of psychology. I studied philosophy at a faculty begun by Cardinal Mercier, who firmly believed in the importance of the integration of philosophy and other disciplines - and which actually owned the property upon which the adjacent faculty of Psychology was built. Quite a few of our professors also taught psychology and were psychoanalysts. Lots of Lacan. We were more interested in the "theoretical" side of things. So more the questions - "how does psychology deal with classification in general?" You might be aware of some of the work of Husserl and others in laying out the danger of what some call "psychologizing" reason. There's a great danger when psychologists, without proper training in other disciplines, begin extrapolating their own categories upon the rest of reality.

When we allow those who have studied psychology to make statements like, "pedophilia is, by definition, abuse" - we allow them to abandon thought. They're saying: "DON'T THINK OF THIS! We have already defined it for you."

When we allow the clerics to go teaching the laypeople that Jesus is dead ... but then get very, very dogmatic about the sex psychology - what are we then? We don't cherish the belief in God, but the sex stuff is sine qua non.

We get very, very angry when discussing the Communion's problems with Christology ... insisting upon closing a thread ... and making such odd complaints that I post a link to an article I wrote ... so I suppose, we musn't discuss what entails denying Christ since we can not do so without beginning to spin into irrationality - but then we must toe the line and accept sexual ethics as unthinkable and pre-defined - going so far as to imagine that a person who does not accept this belongs behind bars because of sexual delinquency.

Now I also want to forgive, and David, I'll accept that your statement above about me was simply not you on one of your better days. It's a pity, because you *are* beginning to think more in this thread than we usually see.

But to move further in the Foucauldian vein, it does seem that we're in danger of a terribly exclusionary form of discourse ... already imagining the punishment of those who don't comply ...

Are we moving into a future of the church where the two Peters and Bryden are in danger of being thrown into ecclesial prison when in response to their insistence that we think about sexual ethics, we reply: "Thinking about sex ethics is for sexual delinquents"?

James said...

More thought about prudishness in our times.

We tend to be very prudish about prudishness itself. Think about it. "Well, she's a bit of a prude, really." Scandal, scandal! "What dark sexual spooks are haunting about that mind?," we think. This is one of the favorite themes of cheap porno flicks: "Prudish woman exhibiting symptoms of being haunted by dark sexual fantasies ... Don Juan type notices and finds clever way of liberating such ... volcano of animalistic erotic urges released ..." etc. etc..

Maybe the reason she doesn't wanna have sex with ya, is just because: "She's perfectly happy not having sex at this moment of life, and finds waggling bums, photos of crotches etc. not 'her thing'"?

Think of how prudish we are when someone suggests that some type of sex might not be appropriate or beneficial. "Oh but if you are allowed to say that xyz form of sex is NOT beneficial and healthy ... just think of what might ensue! We might have censorship of free speech, like having less pictures of guys and gals on the net with their privates out! Less bums and titties on the telly before 9PM! People might start hating people who do that! There would be suicides amongst people who like to do that! We could return to THE DARK AGES!"

It tends to be a rather paranoid slippery-slope type thinking, not so different from the "prudes" of an age bygone - "If we allow people to talk about SEX - well then my neighbours might start talking about SEX - before you know it, we'll be having people engaging in open sex here in the streets!"

In both instances of prudish thinking, there is some legitimacy to each of these arguments. The problem is: there is a lot of legitimacy in the alternatives as well. With each question, we need to be engaging in multiple avenues of thought, and seriously engaging multiple possibilities - such as ... e.g., "Isn't it possible that the Western public has so by and large learned to effectively love gay people, that even if we allow persons to express disagreement with a narrow interpretation of sexual ethics, that they will nonetheless find ways of lovingly engaging those with whom they disagree? Isn't it possible that there's also a "free speech" issue here?" We are tending toward draconian solutions - like here, St. Matt's appealing to legal process to force through an issue in the church, based upon the speculation (which I don't see justified) that persons in New Zealand believe that churches not having gay priests is some sort of terrible scandal.

And we fail to see how we have made "progress" without resorting to draconian measures. I.e., it's unlikely that, were we to curtail the availability of pornographic DVD's in shops where children are likely to be present, that somehow public libararies would be again considering removing Lady Chatterly's Lover from the shelves.

We also seem to be imagining that "progress" is some weird, linear continuum in which the only directions are "foward" and "backward," with "forward" meaning more sex in public, more priests engaging in exotic sex acts, all people earning exactly the same paycheck ... and "backward" meaning chastity belts, hair shirts, and serfdom.

Indeed, it seems almost as if our 21st Century "prudish thinking" has adopted the "linear" type of thought of past generations, whereas those who are not so narrow-mindedly "progressive" realize that changing behavior and norms will not automatically make our culture identical to that of previous decades ... that by, e.g., allowing for more open discussion of sexual ethics, we will not thereby automatically revert to using rotary telephones, repopularize the hula-hoop, or begin reconsidering whether women should vote.

Anonymous said...

“The erotic needs to be associated with one's spouse.” James

James, can you expand please how you see the actual concrete chronology of this. Your teaching that you are advocating as the Christian teaching is that prior to marriage the erotic be not “associated” with anyone at all. I am struggling to work out how you actually envisage someone deciding to marry another particular individual person – clearly the erotic may play no part in this decision. Suddenly after marriage what was previously forbidden one now discovers “associated with one's spouse”? Fascinating. Do expand on the details of how this actually works for you, and for others who follow this teaching. Seriously interested. Fascinated, to say the least.

It is reminiscent of the papal teaching which takes your point seriously and literally, and to its logical conclusion – if a man looks at his wife with lust he has committed adultery.


James said...

Alison, a few more words.

What you've essentially done here is taken a very general statement, and somehow developed in your mind some very rigid distinctions and prohibitions based on it, and then imagined me somehow accepting such utterly rigid sexual prohibitions.

It's not a bad example of what Foucault described as this "sexual sermon" that western culture's been awash with for the last sixty years or so.

Very, very simply, I would suggest: next time, just think a little bit. Try to use that powerful imagination of yours, also to imagine other things ... and to ask yourself,

"Is there anything that warrants the thought that this guy is into utterly rigid distinctions and prohibitions in sexual behavior?

Or ... am I more sort of into my 'Fundamentalist bogey man' vein of imagining all sorts of kinky and exotic things, since here is a guy who said something that I wouldn't have put in such terms?"

I could just as well ask you:

"Oh, Allison! You don't think the erotic in general needs to be oriented towards one's spouse! Yaknow, I'm just like, uh, all curious if you're into letting husbands grab other women's boobies or copulating with them in restrooms when need calls and uh, if you don't like this, how you then persuade them not to."

If I had said this though, it would have made me look pretty dumb. Now ... in general, persons who do believe that it's good to have sex with one's spouse, and not other persons are quite used to being derided. And we tend to be rather generous with the "new prudes" and their florid imaginings. But I would suggest ... even though such imaginings don't look dumb (because of our cultural associations), they belie a lack of general lack of the application of critical faculties. I.e., they're not particularly intelligent.

I hope you don't mind me calling you out on this one. Philosophers used to call this "taking one to the woodshed." Though with the change of language and rise of the new prudes ... I suppose they're no longer free to use such language without being called for sexual abuse ... since ... many now have sexual associations with discipline itself. This is yet another drawback of the "new prudishness" in sexual discourse - things inevitably become "sexualized" which needn't be, and the field of possible charges of "abuse" expands, thus limiting freedom.

Bryden Black said...

Ah; the delights of Monday’s revelations!

Confining myself to “Romans” in particular and “Anglican theology” generally, in the first place. Any elementary exegesis of Rom 12:1-2 (even without the likes of Cranfield, Käsemann or NT Wright (to name but three) - let alone some of the classics) will show Paul’s shift from formal theological presentation, chs 1-11, to general exhortation, chs 12-15: the pattern is frequent. See COD “fulcrum” -“the point ... on which something turns”. But what makes these two verses especially rich is the very content.

The NIV translation captures it nicely: “In view of God’s mercies ...”. For this immediately links with 11:32, the climax of his entire theological presentation, re both “Jews and Greeks” (1:16) - which naturally ushers in his response, vv.33-36, a rich source of contemplation, a positive well-spring of any “theology” worthy of the name! Nor does the immediate context end there: 12:3 invokes also the very substance of the presentation, “by the grace given me”. So; Ron, naturally you have something of a “contextual” point ...! But beyond that ... I will not even comment on the ‘canon within the canon’ tendencies that undergird your offsetting of the Gospels and the Epistles. So back to “content”.

As EG Selwyn showed in his seminal Essay appended to his commentary on 1 Peter (pp.363-466), published in 1947, there is a set pattern of NT Catechetical material that surfaces throughout the Letters, from Romans to 2 Peter. It even links directly with some key words of Jesus as expressed in the Gospels, as well as naturally back into the OT. Rom 12:2 is such a verse, already shown by my citing Eph 4:22-24, invoking the image of a pair of scissors, on another thread. In addition, we might catch the nuances of logiken, invoking that which befits the “view” of the contents of chs 1-11, “mercy”, as well as “spiritual”, since such “reasonable” worship conforms to the truth of God’s reality. A Reality Who seeks precisely “conformation” to the (broken but now renewed) Image in which we are made, and which therefore requires “transformation” unto God’s “holiness” - singularly expressed in the Son’s own “sacrifice”, which itself supremely expressed the divine “will” and was a “great delight/well pleasing” to the Father (so the baptismal voice, ala Isa 42). Nor is this Son a mere Gnostic ‘phantom’ but Word enfleshed as “body” (there is no dualism of spirit/body in Rom 12:1-2): just so, our own false worship (Rom 1 - and Robert Gagnon has clearly shown how Gen 1-3 are explicitly echoed throughout Rom 1:18ff) is found via our human “bodies”. The start of Romans Pt 1 is tied directly to the start of Romans Pt 2, exegetically. I could continue to demonstrate the textual intensity and sheer compression with which these mere two verses are laced ...

As for your last paragraph. I am increasingly disgusted by views which are phantom projections of one-eyed determinations of your prejudice. Yet again, the ironies of a Jn ch.9 scream! You Ron have no idea of - are totally blind to - my “practise [sic] of making Eucharist”. None at all! [Despite the hint referencing Ted Yarnold ...] In which case, I ignore too those other elements of this tendentious paragraph. Period.

Father Ron Smith said...

" I am increasingly disgusted by views which are phantom projections of one-eyed determinations of your prejudice.' - Bryden black -

All of us on this site known something of the way in which you, Bryden (laddie?), are so easily disgusted; and begin to wonder: what is at the root of it all? Is it that nobody reads every one of your very lengthy dissertations; or do you believe that you have a hotline to God?

Your constant quotes from those theologians you find worthy - or those 'at whose feet you have sat', can be quite exhausting for the rest of us mere clergy-persons, who just want to get on with the practical work of the gospel.

I find your constant down-putting of those with less class-room time than yourself to be quite sad and demeaning. There are other avenues to spiritual enlightenment than those you arrogate to yourself. "Experience will decide!"

Bryden Black said...

“All of us on this site ...” Some indeed Ron, some indeed. This I acknowledge. BUT “by no means” all. I wonder what makes for the difference, truly?

Brother David said...

My problem with Bryden's writing is that he does not take into consideration anyone who uses English as a second language, or third.

I get lost in all the parenthetical phrases, etc.

Anonymous said...

Dear James

I have no idea what most of your response to me is supposed to mean, but since Fr Carrell has let it pass moderation, I will have to assume it is not ad hominem.

We already have Rev. Dr Bryden Black and Peter Bryden-lite Palaiologos here. You need not start copying their style.

My question was and is simple and genuine in response to your points. I thought your answer would help to explain your particularly unusually different approach and experience. But then again – maybe your response already has explained much, much more!


(not “Allison”)

Bryden Black said...

Scuse; prego!
Es tut mir leid!
Désolé, mon frère!
Apologías, mi amigo!

Zvkanaka baba!

But then may I suggest you try German: there's the famous quip about Karl Rahner's brother translating him into German! Cya!

James said...

Dear Alison,

I'm sorry if my response disturbed you, and reading it over, I can indeed see why that might be the case.

With my remark which you quote - I found that there was simply no warrant for you to assume that I was advocating strict prohibitions which it seemed into the remark, in not being able to see how young people should meet and court (as my response would be: we probably share quite the same beliefs here).

This is meant to simply describe a general teleology; various concrete prohibitions needn't be read into it.

Can't you see, in general, how it's good for us to associate our erotic desire with our spouses, and in general to avoid lusting after persons who are not our spouses?

I'm also using the word "erotic" here as it tends to be used in contemporary parlance - e.g., erotic film; erotic book; those things that tend to have particularly viscerally arousing effects. It could be that you assumed I was speaking in the more "academic" sense as in describing, e.g., a Renaissance Epithalamion as "erotic." My use of the term came from David's use above, associating it explicitly with sexual arousal.

I think here, we've both simply been "imagining" a bit too much into one another's words. My apologies for my own part in this confusion (and for the extra l!).

James said...

Br. David, you are doing most excellently with your English in expressing yourself.

Bryden, I love your prose and also understand how "keeping it simple" isn't always possible, especially when discussing faith and reason.

Anyone who has difficulties with Bryden's prose should try a hunka Milbank, Foucault, Derrida - or for that matter even Hegel, Kant, etc. etc..

I'd be perfectly happy to give up difficult language entirely if our church were willing to employ a language and thought paradigm shed of certain Victorian equivocations. But since we're dragging in some rather complicated thought by default ... in e.g. being epigones of Schleiermacher ... it means that there are a lot of presuppositions underlying our thinking which need to be exposed, and such exposure usually requires rather daring works of thought, which will likely confound some.

I.e., the things that we "state simply" ... frequently in reality are not at all simple, with mountains of prejudices through which we must discerningly sift.

I'd exhort those who have problems with Bryden's prose to simply pay a bit more attention; or to gear up one's reading and thinking skills.

We Anglicans are falling to often into the same simplistic, soundbyte-guided narrow mindedness. Liberation from such comes at a cost - and part of that cost involves difficult work of the mind.

Anonymous said...

Bryden's quote from Milbank expresses pretty much what I said on another thread about liberal theology (soi-disant 'progressive') "playing politics", and is entirely descriptive of an acquaintance of mine. There is no fear and trembling in liberal theology, and neither is there a word of God 'senkrecht von oben' - the shadow of Kant has precluded that possibility. I have often mused why numerous Anglicans have been captivated by the nonsense of Jung, and concluded that it is ersatz relgion for those who have ceased to believe in the real possibility of revelation.
As for psychology (and its mythopoeic cousin psychoanalysis), it really needs to return to seeing itself as a branch of philosophy.


Father Ron Smith said...

"As for psychology (and its mythopoeic cousin psychoanalysis), it really needs to return to seeing itself as a branch of philosophy."

- Peter the Greek -

There are some who say that theology is also just 'a branch of philosophy'. However, Psychology does have roots in objective 'reality'.

Bryden Black said...

“As for psychology (and its mythopoeic cousin psychoanalysis), it really needs to return to seeing itself as a branch of philosophy.” - Peter the Greek

Ron’s reply: “There are some who say that theology is also just ‘a branch of philosophy’. However, Psychology does have roots in objective 'reality'.”

In all seriousness, Ron: are you really suggesting that Christian theology does NOT have its roots in objective reality? For if you are, I seriously hear one of the greater theologians and missionaries of the last century, TF Torrance, either groaning and/or rolling in his fresh grave - and/or the latter with hysterical laughter!

Bryden Black said...

Thanks for the 'prop-up' James - tho I am quite quick to demur being in the company of those other names! Let's just stick to style, shall we!

For all that, laziness of mind and 13 sec sound-bytes are indeed a blight on this our late phase in western civilization. May the spirit of St Benedict rescue us!

James said...

Fr. Ron, philosophy too has its roots in "objective" reality. Those who don't grasp this need a bit of a "reality check."

Philosophy is simply less bound to dogmatic assumptions than psychology is. If you don't like dogmatism, you should stay away from psychologizing-type reasoning. Husserl was pretty good at putting a lid on this stuff, as many others after him. My thesis advisor, with a PhD in psychoanalysis and a practicing analyst, would agree.

Brother David said...

I'd exhort those who have problems with Bryden's prose to simply pay a bit more attention; or to gear up one's reading and thinking skills.

Wow, there is nothing spiteful or arrogant about you, is there?

James said...

Brother David,

I complimented your English at the beginning of my post. I was thinking that you would be sensible enough to realize that my exhortation wasn't particularly directed toward you. In general, however, I'm more in favor of "upping capacity" of readers than "dumbing down" of texts. Not all necessarily need to understand everything. Interlocutors do need to be sensitive and try to keep things simpler, but if there's too much pressure, more interesting discussions are easily derailed, and we lose a lot.

I did not mean this exhortation for you, as you're obviously doing marvellously. Congratulations to you. You have more highly developed skills in English than I've had for any second language.

Brother David said...

James, I knew that you had not directed it at me, but that you did not cut anyone else any Christian slack was my point. There may be many reasons that folks who wish to participate in discussions here on Padre Peter's blog have less ability than you, Bryden or Peter the Greek. (I call you out by name only because you three are the most challenging to me to comprehend.)

Anonymous said...

"there's the famous quip about Karl Rahner's brother translating him into German!"

Rev. Dr. Bryden Black, New Zealand's self-professed Karl Rahner


[but who will dare to be his Hugo?]


Anonymous said...

“I found that there was simply no warrant for you to assume that I was advocating strict prohibitions which it seemed into the remark” James

I don’t know, James, where you read that I’m assuming you are “advocating strict prohibitions”. I’m simply trying to understand better how you understand the regular progressing of developing a sexual relationship as you seem to want to approach orientation differently possibly than most. If you want to continue hiding behind shifting definitions of words, that’s your prerogative, but it won’t help anyone to understand your points and certainly not present the possibility of being convinced to change to your perspective.



Father Ron Smith said...

"For all that, laziness of mind and 13 sec sound-bytes are indeed a blight on this our late phase in western civilization. May the spirit of St Benedict rescue us!"

- Doctor Bryden Black -

On balance, my own preference would be to defer to Francis of Assisi - but I do see where you're coming from Bryden. 'Disciplined minds' - a la Bendedict and even Blessed Anthony of Padua - were by-passed by Francis in his discernment of 'great learning' as a possible barrier to real 'understanding' of the Gospel, based on praxis rather than theory.

God save us from intellectuals, who claim to 'know God' better than the simple Doers of the word:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit (the simple), for they shall inherit the earth".

Sadly, too often: 'great minds do think alike'- to the demeaning of others who may struggle to be heard

I love the humility of Francis: "I thank God that he has called me, the meanest of his creatures, to preach the Gospel."

Bryden Black said...

One of the things I might have learned from von Balthasar, Ron, on account of his depicting the Holy Spirit in objective and churchly form coupled with the subjective form of the lives of the saints is that the Body of Christ, to be that Body, requires all the necessary charisms. So perhaps we should not be tempted to off-set Benedict and Francis, or Clare and either Theresa, or Simeon the New Theologian and Seraphim of Sarov, etc. etc. Even if I too, knowing something of your pedigree, see where you might be coming from.

I would however be stronger in my denial - once again thanks to TF Torrance - of any improper dualism, whether Neo-Platonic or Medieval or Kantian or pseudo-scientific, of any off-setting between: theoria and praxis or praxis and theoria; or the theoretical and the empirical; or the intelligible and the sensible; or the spiritual and the material. All such dualistic tendencies have been a truly ghastly blight upon western civilization’s capacity to discern created reality and/or the Reality of the Divine. For sadly, we have lived and continue to live in the shadow of succumbing to such temptations, which are actually rather more examples of essential confusions.

PS: Ali; while I have certainly enjoyed reading a fair amount of Karl Rahner, in the end, I fancy he falls victim precisely to such dualistic tendencies.

James said...

David - you do have every right to point out that our prose is sometimes a bit dense and that can have its fruitfulness in calling us to think a bit about simplifying when possible.

I'm also a bit of an arrogant cad much of the time, I must admit ... this is a thing I pray about for the Lord's help, and when I let up on it, I make big mistakes.

The healthiest situation is probably compromise by both parties. I know I'm often trying to simplify my prose, and I expect Bryden & Peter P frequently do as well. But we also need to "breathe." People with a particular sort of mind are often rather odd birds. If that mind isn't a bit free to run about, and then share, it can become a stifling and ugly thing for its owner.

I'm very pleased that this is a place where Bryden and Peter P are free to engage in thought that's a bit outside the boundaries of what one usually finds, and confuses and annoys some. Unfortunately that's always a part of thinking "outside the box."

Fr. Ron, one of the beauties of congregations which are not "very conservative" is: they tend to offer more freedom to those who think in ways that are challenging to others, without accusing them of pride or trying to force something upon others (usual associations of "intellectuals" amongst very conservative individuals - associations which are in their own way grounded, but unfortunate). Yes, simplicity is beautiful; but often there's a lot of terrible work uphill until we get to that child-like simplicity. And when the church is entrenched in very complicated prejudices, we most certainly can't use simple thought all the time. But I do see where you're coming from; and I often need to dwell in that which is simple and elegant more frequently than I do.

I'll admit that my language is sometimes unnecessarily complicated. I sometimes speak in manners which are difficult to understand, and it can be a challenge for me to re-formulate in more common, clear language (which is so important). I was brought up with more reading and less oral communication than most, which probably formed habits of mind early on. I know it can be irritating; I've often heard this. When I write - I often need multiple rounds of editing to yield prose that isn't unduly complicated. In commenting, my editing is limited. Apologies for times I'm more confusing than I need to be.

James said...

A very interesting video for this post / thread, Philosopher Roger Scruton addresses the issue of sexuality and personhood

James said...

This lecture of Scruton's has, I believe, been heard before - it ends with his very quotable quote that pornography users "risk the loss of love in a world where only love brings happiness." One of the themes brought out with force - albeit mostly implicitly - is that of intentionality - one of Husserl's great themes. This also speaks to the notion that sexual desire is not primarily an issue of "orientation" but rather is person-related.