Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Hypocrisy and bigotry - a marriage of true minds

I was at a bit of a loss as to what to write about and the Pope gallops to my rescue. A strange event, indeed. He is, I assume, a highly intelligent man. And I also assume he is sincere. Both of which make his most recent pronouncement particularly alarming. Homosexuality is, apparently, as dangerous to the survival of humanity as climate change.

How has he arrived at this conclusion? What warped sense of logic underlies it? He speaks of "human ecology" - what the hell does that mean? Homosexuality is nothing new and is not even unique to human beings. A few years ago, for example, in the swannery in Abbotsbury in Dorset, two male swans were behaving exactly the same as male/female couple would. Was that a threat to swan ecology? Benedict's execrable nonsense would be risible were it not for the fact that this man's office, and hence his thought, is considered worthy of respect by so many who have political power.

By his argument, if I decided to set up home with another man I would be doing the equivalent of destroying part of the rain forest. So I better not do that, had I? The point is, however, that I do not want to. My desire is predominantly heterosexual and has remained that way for a long time now. And, yes, I give much, albeit not total, credence to "gender theory". I am also aware that there appear to be physical, neurological and genetic aspects of transgender that seem to point to a very real difference between such individuals and the majority of others who share their birth physiology. Their external bodies may have conformed to one set of gender expectations but their minds and, to use the Pope's terminology (and mine), souls may conform to another.

What are such individuals expected to do? Lie? Pretend to be what they know deep within themselves they are not? The putative founder of the religion that Benedict espouses would have two words for such behaviour - "whited sepulchres". I cannot imagine what it must be like to know that you are in the wrong body, but I believe that the last thing a spiritual leader should demand is that such a person denies who she or he is. My assumption is that spirituality is concerned with exploration of who we are and our relation to divinity - not on pretence and deceit.

One of his justifications for his opinion is that the institution he serves and leads is concerned with the "family" and associated values. The family, he asserts, is the cornerstone of a stable society and the church has always supported it, he would claim. This is a lie. Little honour or respect was given to the wives and children of priests as the discipline of clerical celibacy was strengthened and enforced. The women were referred to as prostitutes and often enslaved and the children bastards - devoid of civil rights.

As far as the church was concerned, family life was of secondary importance. It was - and still, I feel, remains - a lesser calling. The true and ideal life for christians was to be untainted by sexual desire and the propagation of the species. This still appears to be the case, although the church, with its denial of abortion and contraception would deny it. I find it particularly grotesque that a celibate sould demand to be called "Father". It is a mockery. For, unlike biological fathers, it is a title which demands honour, with the priest referring to all and sundry as "my child". And the reality is that, were he to have - as many do - biological children he could not own them as his. He would have to deny them, hide them. He would have to lie. All in order to serve a church that claims to value families.

And in their defence of family values this same church has conspired to protect child molesters and to rubbish the claims of those on whom they preyed. This same pope, in an earlier office was highly instrumental in the cover-ups - his latter-day apology notwithstanding. One thing I cannot accuse this sick institution of, however, is inconsistency. From what I have gleaned from the media coverage of this whole farrago is that the church has announced will double its efforts to eliminate active homosexuality from its almost totally homosocial ranks. This will, apparently, help to avert further molestation. To which I have only one word -"Bollocks!". In the first place it is impossible to enforce and in the second all it will do is further drive people into denial and deceit.

But then, who wants honesty, integrity and openness. Certainly not the Pope.

Which comes back to my original point. I do not doubt his intelligence. However, if he is sincere, what or who is his sincerity serving? I cannot see it is anything other than the institution itself, which has long lost any pretence to serve the divine. It has become a self-perpetuating and self-validating organism whose only real purpose is to keep itself in power. Whatever virtues the man from Galilee, if he existed, had, they have been long buried in the power politics and scapegoat hunting that has typified institutional christianity - of all persuasions - for the last two millennia.

As we are surrounded by so many nativity scenes, I am reminded of Yeats:

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

Sometimes I feel the nightmare may be reaching an end. Then someone speaks- this time the Pope -and I think again. The christian nightmare is still with us.

I hope not for long.


Geraldine Charles said...

The mind boggles! I've been thinking about this since yesterday and am no closer to imagining the kind of apocalypse that a few people of indeterminate gender might cause on a planet of billions. Maybe Benedict fears that the Garden of Eden story wouldn't be so great without "real" men and "real" women - no more Adam & Eve? Well, there's always Adam & Lilith (whoops, they disowned that one). Adam & Steve? Eve and Lilith (that one sounds interesting ....) A Garden with a cast of thousands?

He's talking of the dangers of "blurring the distinction" as though this is something that we could achieve by so-called political correctness alone. And with an enthusiasm worthy of Sarah Palin's spiritual advisors, ignoring all the findings of modern science, philosophy, you name it.

The danger in blurring the distinctions, surely, is political. How can the Church keep women in their subservient place if we can't be 100% sure how to define "women"? How can a celibate priesthood keep itself safely masculine without essentialist definitions? At this stage I begin to believe the old story about putative popes having their goolies checked on a special throne .... do they hang well, or is a rough (approximate) beast trying to slouch into the Vatican powerhouse?

All this is doubly interesting, as two days previously Benedict chose to praise Galileo - who after being forced to recant his theories spent most of his life under house arrest thanks to the Church ... maybe in another four or five hundred years they'll adopt gender theory. If they survive that long - for as you so rightly say - all this comes from a Church which did little or nothing about the abuse of children until they were forced to ...

You'll notice I managed all that without a single mention of Pope Joan!

Geraldine Charles

Brian Charles said...

Well done for not mentioning Pope Joan! I like the picture you paint of a Garden with a cast of thousands. How much more wonderful a myth that would have been! And I also love the story of the special chair in the Vatican.

On another note, in his official Christmas message, Benedict has spoken of the defence of children from abuse with no mention of his own actions as inquisitor-in-chief in which he instructed bishops that they - and not the secular authorities- had jurisdiction over abusive priests.
See http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/apr/24/children.childprotection

He is reputed to be a formidable theologian and I therefore assume that his interpretation of canon law was accurate. English secular law, for example, long contained the concept of "benefit of clergy" which was finally abolished as late as 1827. Such a concept must surely have originated in canon law. This, however, is no defence. A law which thus facilitated the abuse of children should, surely, have been challenged and changed rather than restated and re-enforced.

I can feel another rant coming on....