When I put my head above the parapet earlier last year on the issue of Equal Marriage I did so because of a hunch. It wasn’t a fully formed argument nor was it clear but it was there. I am unsure where it exactly came from but it seemed to be a strange positioning against same sex marriage or, to be more precise, against those who were promoting it in the media. This was made strange by my gut reaction to same-sex unions which is fully positive. I said then that I opposed the Equal Marriage legalisation due, not because of any discomfort with homosexual relationships but because of the tenor of the public discussion. I was finding myself saying those distasteful words: ‘I’m not homophobic but..’ I didn’t know what I felt exactly but I knew I needed to say something about my discomfort.
My views were not only dismissed but were found and attacked. I was attacked, personally for expressing such views. I was insulted and bullied. Vitriolic words were sent to me. Within this I tried to remain calm and collected… and then I failed. I lashed out and in my aggression I found myself plunged into more despair and upset because I felt I’d let my God down, for whom I’d give up the praise of any human to be with.
When I fell and I tried to deal with my shame and began the necessary confessions I was taunted and abused further. All this not by fascists, not by Nazis but by ‘liberals’!
It was so strange. With one voice they spoke of their desire (and a correct desire) to be valued, accepted and understood by their society. Underneath their voice, however, was a divisive tone which essentially wanted me to stop talking. My feelings were of no value to them because of who they thought I was. Ironic. Those who wanted equality for all, tolerance and acceptance were making me feel so outside of society; out-dated, abnormal and alone.
They were protected by a vast majority of people all screaming that they are a minority. They fail to acknowledge publicly that, in fact, they are a powerful minority. This is not a conversation about majority and minority because I have come to some clarification that such terms mean nothing anymore. There’s a powerful minority in power and don’t speak for us the majority, ‘the people’. But, also we are a minority trying to overthrow the majority oppressive view. It’s all perception, misdirection, game playing and non of it real truth! The only thing that such conversations about placing ourselves in different configurations of majority/minority do is divide. But we want to be one, don’t we?
An even more upsetting thing about these times was that because I didn’t want to stand fully, unquestioningly with a political liberal agenda, I was cast out and looked upon as a fundamentalist or ‘conservative’. I use the term ‘conservative’ in a derogative term because that is where our media seems to have led us to, which is interesting. With this perception people assumed so many things of me and pre-judged me. ‘Homophobic’, ‘bigot’, ‘fascist’, ‘pathetic’.
Even writing these things is making me dismiss it all as ludicrous. How dare I speak in such terms! You can’t be bullied because you’re ‘the standard’, you’re ‘normal’, you’re the thing that everyone is trying to be ‘equal’ to: white, male, heterosexual, middle-class.
At the same time I feel like I deserve all that they are saying to me. Maybe you are closed-minded, prejudiced, irrational, stupid. Maybe they have a point; maybe I need to change and forget… the hunch.
It still sits there deep in my belly that something in this whole process doesn’t quite add up. Something doesn’t feel right. I want wisdom; pure unadulterated wisdom. Wisdom that is of God (which many people won’t appreciate or understand.) Wisdom comes from waiting, from silencing myself and the world around me to sit in the abyss of silence and re-engage, truthfully with the world through the Holy Spirit (which many people won’t appreciate or understand.) Wisdom that is from that outside place and realm; an imagination that can think of a real alternative to problems in stark contrast to what we re-conceive of half-realised patch-ups in our limited concept of reality.
I thought this was about language; in a way it is. We have no shared custom of language anymore. Is it any wonder that concepts such as ‘justice’, ‘freedom’ or ‘equality’ can be owned by both sides of an opposing debate. Words such as ‘marriage’ and ‘love’ are strongly believed to be understood by a speaker but it is not the same concept, one to another. In this environment it becomes impossible to speak because the shared understanding of what words mean is gone. The whole debate is vacuuous because no one shares life and I find myself returning, increasingly, to that Jewish spiritual insight, ‘it’s all meaningless.’
The hunch comes from Stanley Hauerwas. I return to his writing again and again (mainly Community of Character!) Along with him; John Millbank, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the quiet, compelling life and spirituality of Thomas Merton. It’s all a big mess in my head that drives my passionate heart to beat to this inescapable rhythm that seems to put me into conflict with this liberal force surrounding me. I don’t have to fight. I don’t have to say anything. I could stay quiet and ‘live and let live’… but as my wife told me “you would if you could but you can’t, can you?’
She’s right. The hunch has become a compulsion…
I am no closer to resolution. I still feel uncomfortable about the content of the debate on Same Sex Marriage despite knowing and feeling the desires of couples desperate to proclaim their love from the rooftops. Then there’s my wife’s voice again. She puts it simply, ‘I don’t know what my opinion is. We’ve cherry picked our way out of the Bible that it doesn’t matter. I’m called to love God and love my neighbour and I’ll do that.’
YES! Let me unpick that…
the church’s first social task in any society is to be herself… to be the kind of community that recognizes the necessity that all societies, church and political alike, require authority. But for Christians our authority is neither in society itself nor in the individual; it is in God. (Stanley Hauerwas)
The issue with the liberalism that is so prevalent in the media is it promotes self built stories. Whatever you ‘feel’ is right is right. “This is my experience”. I have read a book recently, which I was asked to review, on homosexuality and the church. It was a good book with some helpful contributions and reminders but it’s main argument was essentially: ‘This is how I experienced it and you can’t argue with that.’ No discussion in case I dare question the authors self-perception; self-identity!
In social debate personal stories are emotional bombs; set them off and no one has a chance. The story is a powerful weapon in our society because we have no standard story which can compare all stories to. ‘Tradition’ is lost out of fear of being dogmatic and unchanging. The problem is the baby of shared history has plummeted with the bath water.
Liberalism is successful exactly because it supplies us with a myth that seems to make sense of our social origins… A people do not need a shared history; all they need is a system of rules that will constitute procedures for resolving disputes as they pursue their various interests. (Hauerwas)
With no need to ascribe to a shared tradition/story there’s no requirement to agree what is right or wrong. Personal experience and opinions are sacred because without them where are we? The Same Sex Marriage debate shows our society for what it is; desperately lost, with no map, no common language, people talking at cross purposes, not listening, not reflecting on what is at the heart of this problem, what is linking this with all our problems.
Don’t get involved in partial problems, but always take flight to where there is a free view over the whole single great problem, even if this view is still not a clear one. (Ludwig Wittgenstein)
The most coercive aspect of the liberal account of the world is that we are free to make up our own story. The story that liberalism teaches us is that we have no story. (Hauerwas)
Individuals all trying to cohabitate with other individuals. We don’t know who we are. We have no shared history, no common language, no desire to be radically dependent on another. This is because there is so much division. Walls comfort us, barriers protect us. If we lose them we are open and vulnerable to attack and so let us agree to live in our separate lives, managing interactions through protecting laws so we can continue to feel ‘love’. This love, however, is cheap. It fails as soon as you’ve experienced it. It’s cosy for a moment and then is sand. It is all meaningless…
… But a people who have learned that strenuous lesson of God’s lordship through Jesus’ cross should recognise that ‘the people’ are no less tyrannical than kings or dictators. (Hauerwas)
We have no one else to blame for the sad, empty, disappointing existence we experience than ourselves. We have created a system of society by which we can constantly remain in conflict whilst feeling like we’re making progress towards peace. We praise the legislation on slavery, gender equality, racial equality, sexual equality… None of these have been achieved. “We’ve made steps towards them, though.” The final step, in all of these issues, remains the hearts of the other people you share the planet with. Value in the eyes of another comes not from legislation but from trusting, long term, committed relationship. Our society refuses this in its promotion of individualism, subjectivity and dismissal for any need for shared history. The closest thing, and probably the only thing, close to this authority is the Bill of Human Rights which has no universal basis except itself. It requires another authority. This is a bizarre state of affairs that this document and the beliefs held within it are un questionable, except that it is fallible because it doesn’t mention sexual orientation in it and so we add and amend, reinterpret to fit in with what it should say because it was human’s who made it, right?
The root of this problem is that we feel our authority is to be found in humanity. The problem is that humanity is not trustworthy. We are fickle, broken. We could equally do good as do bad. The foundation on which we build our society is transient and movable. The Bill also uses language which, as we are seeing, is interpreted by a society made up of human’s with mixed motives. The same, of course, could be said of the Bible but the strength and protection of the Christian tradition is an understanding that you read it with God, through God the Holy Spirit, testing it with tradition and Divine revelation.
And the final arrow the sticks into my body as I teeter on the parapet is the most painful. I look and see that the same confusion is found within the Church as well as without. They proclaim the values made of straw and the principle standing on shifting sand. The Body of Christ apes society and culture in a desperate attempt to be ‘relevant’, to feel ‘acceptable’, ‘valued ‘ and ‘loved’. It dresses up in a mini skirt and high heels and walks out into the night proclaim “I can do what I like with my body because of the freedom bestowed upon by my own innate dignity.”
I find in myself being asked the question “What would you do?” or ‘What’s the answer to?” I want to say “I’d start from somewhere else” or “I’d ask a different question.” I don’t know where that place is or what the question might sound like but I know that anything we do won’t make us ‘happy’ or at ‘peace’.
But as I say that I am reminded that I am a Christian who believes strongly that Christ entered into our world, not where he would have (in fact, did) start from!…
You see even in saying that I find myself recoiling because that concept is hijacked by a liberal understanding of the incarnation. The incarnation has been grasped by a liberal theology which promotes a type of humanism. It is very popular because it can be used by society at large with no feelings of threat or challenge because it essential tells secular society that God thinks that everything they are doing are morally right. Jesus is being brought in from the wings in the Same Sex Marriage debate as the ultimate secular humanist and he wasn’t. He upset human society.
Jesus was the bearer of a new possibility of human and social relationships… the incarnation is not the affirmation of God’s approval of the human… but God’s breaking through the borders of man’s definition of what is human. (Hauerwas)
Where does this leave me?
To be honest; I’m done. We are so far from any meaningful equality and no concept or authority which can be the moral goal, the virtue paradigm. We can build one up but it will fall like all the other moral idols we have had in the past. Our heroes are falling, one by one and with each toppling crisis we are buried struggling always to stay afloat except…
The formless void. The dazzling light which seems to penetrate the rubble of our lives. The only constant. It is there, silent because words cannot encompass nor conceive it. When in its presence it compels beauty from within you and you weep because it is so painful to sit knowing how far short you are from its radiance. Through it you see necessary difference held in perfect harmony as three persons dance in one unity. Everything is brought into sharp focus and you laugh at how distorted your view of reality was and Love… Love sings so pure you can hardly bear to hear it. It is unrecognisable and you laugh because whilst you were sure what it was, now you realise you were sat in the dark talking of things far beyond our capabilities and you see yourself and everyone so messed up and far from the target and particularly yourself…
Oh Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.