Friday, 23 November 2012


Blogposts have been slow of late for fairly good reasons - death, illness, pressure of work, no time to think things through, so I am considering how to deal with it. To stop the blog or to go on a little more intermittently? For now I am picking up issues started elsewhere..

The Church of England has had women priests since 1994, which, historically speaking, is not very long ago, and the next natural and expected step was that female bishops would follow. So the failure of the C of E to allow women bishops (the history is here) is regarded as a disaster for the church, as indeed it might be.

My own relation to the state religion has been mixed but not in the least unfavourable. As religion it has a relatively tolerant history, allows for a very broad set of beliefs and opinions, its historical texts and liturgy are beautiful, its buildings are stunning (the buildings it came to own that is), and its slightly stiff friendliness is an attractive aspect of the nation as I have known it.

Sometimes, in fact, it seems not so much a church as an institution, and it is as an institution that it is most susceptible to change and modernisation. As a church its problems are different.

I am aware there are various theologies but the bedrock remains The Apostles' Creed that it shares with Catholics, Lutherans and others. Given that, with God the Father, God the Son, and all those books of the Bible based on patriarchal histories, values and beliefs, it might be that Christianity is simply a patriarchal religion.  So maybe it isn't Christianity that is wanted but a more female-balanced religion with, if desired, some similar notions - creation, fall, sacrifice, redemption, some shared values and if further desired, some overlap in hierarchy. 

In fact I do sometimes wonder why feminists want to engage with Christianity at all. I rather suspect that once we have female Archbishops - as we will - some theological moves in that direction might become inevitable. Do you want a female historical Jesus is the key question? A great deal hangs on that. You might not, and I wouldn't blame you. But then of course it wouldn't be Christianity in the old sense but something different, possibly something just as valid and good. Maybe better. Who knows?

As the Independent puts it: The Church will need to address what has become a jaw-droppingly embarrassing PR problem. 

It depends what you're looking for. A religion isn't exactly a brand, nor entirely an institution. It isn't a model of the state either. Maybe then the answer is to separate church and state. Then you can have a heresy that, in time, could become a proper orthodoxy.

Disestablishmentarianism opposed to Antidisestablishmentarianism. Bring back the long words.


Muse said...

It seems so much of this is about ego. About proving a point. 'You won't let me so I shall prove that you must.'
I have no need to feel included by a group of people who guard their rules and exclusivity thereby placing themselves on a pedestal of their own construction. It is odd to me this need to alter religious institutions.
It is like peeling an onion and hoping to find an apple. What you have is an onion. It stinks. It makes your eyes sting, it's not fit for purpose. Go plant an apple tree.

Phil Simmons said...

In many ways, this is a case of the chickens coming home to roost. The CofE has tried for such a long time to be all things to all people - Catholic to English Catholics, Protestant to its 'evangelical' members, something in-between to those who don't really want to reflect too deeply om matters theological - that it forgot that one of the functions of religion is to give believers a fixed set of things to believe in. That has been, as you point out, one of its great social and humane strengths, and while it retained the ability to blur its beliefs into a general consensus on the correct form of ritual (whether or not the Eucharist is transsubstantiation or symbolism, e.g.), the precise philosophy could be left up to personal interpretation. However, crudely put, the genital configuration of those appointed as clergy is something which does not admit of much debate, and although the Protestant tendency might see it as an administrative issue unconnected to the Word of God, the crypto-Catholic one is suddenly brought up against a crisis of legitimacy which harks right back to the compromise bodged in the days of Henry VIII, in which the episcopal line was suddenly separated from direct appointment by the Pope and therefore, through St Peter, from Christ Himself.

Personally, I view this all as an example of the abiding absurdity of religion in general, and the bureaucratic structure of religions in particular. But it would be a mistake to underestimate its importance to those who believe that these things are of fundamental importance to the human race. Such folk usually find a way of ensuring that it becomes so, even for those who neither share nor understand their irrational beliefs. I'm trying hard not to say it, but God help us all.

George S said...

Thank you for both comments. I'll reply tomorrow if I may, not that I have very much useful or informed to say, except this has been a point of curiosity for some time.

George S said...

I'll attempt a proper reply addressing both points. There is a phrase in Phil's that seems to me to lie at the core of the issue. It is where he talks about the Protestant tendency to see the question as 'an administrative issue unconnected to the Word of God'

I am not a party to this Word but I can see how one might be, and that, if one were, how that Word would be open to interpretation on some levels yet fixed in others. It would need to be fixed in some things if only because religion is about absolutes not relative things. From that point of view the church seems to me fixedly patriarchal in its core beliefs for reasons I have already given.

That is as a church of believers. If you change the fixed things you are no longer the same religion as before.

But a church is also an institution: Institutions are relative and can change with the times. And indeed the church has changed as an institution. It could do so because the nature of the religion as an institution is not ultimately part of the core belief. Phil rightly points to the fuzzy origins of the institution of the Church of England. The CofE can change any time it wants providing it doesn't change its core beliefs, eg introduce a fourth Person of the Trinity, denies Original Sin, or reject the historical Jesus as the foundation of the faith. Having a myth-Jesus is not quite the same thing: the act of Salvation is no longer a unique claim, just an allegory.

My understanding of this does not run deep but that is how it seems to me.

My question, Muse, echoes yours. Why would feminists want to join an essentially patriarchal religion? Why would secular feminists be so enthusiastic about it. It would be because they are thinking of the CofE exclusively as an institution, not as a religion.

On real life ground-floor level tt is more complex than that of course. I think Christianity is, at belief core, a male voice choir led by God the Father whom Christ the Son addresses as Abba (Father). It is a male choir to which a marvellous strong choir of female voices have contributed experience, thought, vision, work, and power, albeit in the name of Christ and his Abba.

Your image of the apple and the onion is very good. In those terms the main meal has been onion with an apple side-dish.

I am not against onions (I like onions in fact). I am not against a patriarchal religion, nor am I against a matriarchal religion. I even think there are sub-matriarchal systems working within patriarchal religion., as there would have to be to keep the religion running at all. It may be that sub-patriarchal system worked in matriarchal religions and will do so in the future.

I simply imagine that feminists would want a main course of apple, or at the very least, a main course, equal apple and onion. I think both are possible, just that Christianity is essentially onion.

Interesting BTW that both the words patriarchal and matriarchal (fatherly/motherly) refer to parenthood. It is in some respects a family matter.

My own feeling is that the CofE as an institution - especially as a state institution - should be bound by the laws of the time. It should be an equal ops workplace and regulated as such. I believe other religions, as institutions, should be treated the same way. I recognise however that a religion is not identical with its institutions. Religions are based in items of faith.

The CofE is already splitting and might split again.

I know I am speaking from a position of relative ignorance. It would be interesting to have a feminist Christian explain her theology - what it wants to retain and what to reject. Bethany over at FB was doing that job with some power, but I still think she wants the best of two not entirely compatible worlds.

Marly Youmans said...

Stray thoughts, perhaps of interest...

Galatians 3:28 KJV King James Version "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." That seems pretty clear, doesn't it?

And yet I don't see how once can rightly regard the worldwide Anglican Communion as simply an institution to be regulated because Christianity regards the powers of the world as in some sense warring against the church. That old sense of "the Powers" has eroded a good deal, of course, just as a sense of evil has, but tension always exists between what the culture wants and what the church seeks to preserve. One doesn't let the cat in to regulate the (church) mice. A rather boggling problem, then.

Actually I think that very tension between culture and church has been enormously fruitful for a great number of writers through history--Chaucer, Donne, Herbert, Buechner, endlessly on... And that is quite interesting to me.

You limit the religious understanding of human beings to "items of faith." I'd say that excludes being in communion with God. If one has a dry list of "items of faith" but nothing else, then one has nothing. Communion with God via prayer or the Eucharist is something in which "the culture" does not believe. Period. It is a chasm of understanding that cannot be crossed by even an interested person without experience. So: another boggling problem. You can't grasp it until you can grasp it. And you can't just grasp it by just going through the motions, either.

George S said...

Good to have your comment, Marly. Let me go to the points one by one.

1. Yes, but once we have read all of Paul, can we be clear about everything or just about the bits we like? This is one of the bits we like (and I like it too)

2. Yes, a boggling problem.

3. Tensions are always creatively fruitful. (This conversation is an example). In institutional terms though tensions do tend to be seen as problems unless you have something firm enough to agree about. You can fudge some of the problems but some are harder to fudge than others. It is human to fudge. Churches are highly specialised institutions. The CofE has been a rather human sort of Christian institution used to fudging, but in this case the worldwide communion of Anglicans is actually splitting and so may the Anglican communion in England itself. (I am trying to understand the nature of the split as it exists.) Religious experience can exist outside churches of course. Christ's own example is against institutional religion. That example though is held to be unique because, at some level, it is a historical example. That is the claim that everything else has been standing on all this time.

4. This is the really tough one, because being in communion with God is a personal experience and hard to verify. And which God? There are a few on offer and they are generally jealous of each other. It may be those very items of faith that determine which channel you tune into so you can have the communion. The Christian mystics are Christians not a group of intellectual Theosophists. Communion does not come without history. The church too is its history. People read ancient texts and repeat centuries' old prayers.

It is really the history question at the bottom of this. I don't much care whether the CofE has women bishopsor not.

In so far as it is an institution like any other I very much hope it does.

In so far as it is a church, it must decide for itself.

In so far as it is a body of faith it must look to some consistency in its beliefs.

In so far as there are individual Christians they may commune with whatever God they believe to be Christian in any way that works. Nor could I have any opinion regarding that.

Gwil W said...

The Austrian RC Cardinal was in Budapest a couple of weeks ago to pick up some highest award or other from the Leader. There was a happy smiley heligeschein press photo of the presentation to keep us all happy. Meanwhile today a priest who has left his job to live officially and openly with the woman he loves and has been with for 3 years is front page news. The world is still nuts, George! Or I am.

George S said...

No, it's the world, Gwilym. Though occasionally we are too.