Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Not really a 'debate ' at all

Being generally in life rather slow to catch on, I’ve failed until recently to appreciate the precise nature of the current western and Anglican debate about matters of human sexuality.
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise after the interminable conflict over women’s ordination to discover that those who wish to see a radical departure from established tradition have, despite the endless talk about dialogue, not the slightest interest in listening to what others are saying, or of entering into a conversation with the aim of changing hearts and minds, only in ridiculing, silencing and marginalising those who disagree with them. This is a one way street: those who fail to obey the instruction can expect to have their driving licences taken away from them. It's the "Newhaus law" again, I'm afraid. *
To that end, whatever arguments are put forward, and however reasonably they are expressed, accusations of homophobia, judgementalism and lack of charity, are repeatedly levelled at those who express any kind of reservation about current Anglican trends. One comment on this blog has charmingly suggested that ‘I get out more’ – well, in the face of such irrefutable logic and erudition, one's only option is to retire  gracefully from the battle and accept defeat.
Then the penny dropped – it doesn’t matter a jot what we say, the force of our arguments are of no consequence whatsoever. The very fact that contrary opinions are expressed is itself worthy of condemnation.
We are probably deluding ourselves if we think that any constructive engagement is possible with those who, from an assumed and often vicarious victim mentality, regard their opponents and their opinions as beneath a civilised person's contempt and on a par with those who defended racism or the slave trade.
Not, of course, that the rhetoric used by some of those who are also opposed to change has always helped in this regard.
No one needs to be reminded that the whole area of human sexuality is an immensely complex one – far too complex and mysterious to be regarded as ammunition in a political battle. There are many conflicting opinions and a great deal of conflicting research, but there is so much we do not know, so many determining causes of which we are unaware in relation to the determination, stability and permanence of sexual preference and orientation.
It needs to be said in view of some of the propaganda readily believed about “traditionalists” that the response of many of us has also been to operate (I hope, sensitively) both in our private lives and pastoral ministry from a position of tolerant and charitable conservatism: not to seek to condemn or stand in judgement (we are all in need of God’s mercy and forgiveness), but also not to advocate change to society’s basic institutions and the Church’s theological stance until we know far more than we do at present. My suspicion is that experience of its absence will prove that there is more wisdom in the Catholic Christian tradition than our culture now acknowledges.   
But my own feeling is that, in this small corner of the Lord’s vineyard at least, we have lost this ‘debate’ – the zeitgeist is against us, the atmosphere has become too overheated and politicised and too tied up with the shibboleths of fashionable opinion for any rational or truly 'theological' consideration of these questions to take place either within the Church or in the wider society.
We are about to find out.

* Not that anyone needs to be reminded, but the reference is to the maxim of the late Fr Richard John Neuhaus, the famous American convert from Lutheranism to Catholicism,  that if orthodoxy is merely tolerated, it will soon be proscribed. Our opponents seem - by their language at least - to be intent on going one step further, cutting out the interim stage and going straight for proscription.


  1. Perhaps I too am slow to catch on.
    In a religious context I have unknowingly known homosexuals for years before being made aware of their sexuality by people who often have an axe to grind. That is how it should be. If people want to be treated the same as everyone else their sexuality is a private matter. Less acceptable are those with a chip on their shoulder who push their sexuality expecting the rest of us to applaud. Those who complain fail to see the damage they do to their cause, alienating people for no reason.

  2. I should have to withhold judgement on what a "reasonably expressed force of argument" would look like until I see it. Until then, the consistent absence of such reasoning doesn't exactly bode well if one's desire is not to be considered "homophobic." I have yet to meet anyone who is prepared to affirm that marriage is inherently procreative in each and every case when it becomes inconvenient for heterosexual marriages (infertility), and those who insist as much are invariably equally keen to affirm the permanency of marriage, when their own arguments against SSM entail the dissolution of all marriages at menopause. Maintaining a view which entails such contradictions in the face of those very contradictions - and without even making the appearance of an attempt at squaring them - is the very definition of a prejudicial (rather than rational) belief.

  3. As you know well, the traditional answer using the argument from natural law to the contracting of a marriage where the woman is beyond the age of child-bearing is to say that the relationship should be of such a kind and character from which generation can follow. I suspect that for you, at least, that would constitute a priori a 'homophobic' and prejudicial belief.
    That's simply where we are in this 'debate': there can be (logically) no meeting of minds on this issue..
    I'm also far from sure that sure anyone's primary desire should be "not to be considered 'homophobic,'" since that term is itself such a highly subjective, nebulous and shifting one (if it's not just a way of demonising opponents) and seems to be defined solely according to the political agenda of the moment.


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