Friday, 21 June 2013

Prove it to me

The modern world is a product of the enlightenment, the scientific revolution. In science nothing is accepted as true until it has been proved beyond a burden of doubt. Until strong evidence is found, verifiable, recorded, replicatable evidence, nothing is true.

Yet before evidence was recorded, verified, replicated, was the truth untrue. Did the act of observation give substance to something which, before science described it, was a pack of lies? Did evolution for instance exist before Darwin wrote his book? If Darwin had demanded proof before he spent considerable money, time and effort investigating his theory, he would have never left England. He, like all scientists, needed to make a leap of faith, to invest himself in a theory he had faith in, but no evidence, in order to see if it worked. He had to do this before he knew for sure one way or the other. It was only after living his life in pursuit of evolution that he discovered evidence to support his faith. The scientific revolution has led many people to demand evidence before acceptance, but this is a fallacy. If we refuse to first proceed on faith this severely hampers us and our understanding of the world.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Women in leadership 3 – Judge for yourselves

In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul finishes his argument about women in leadership by asking his readers to: “judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory?

We see that Paul is not creating a law for the Church here; he is very specific about this. He claims not on Holy Authority for these pronouncements, but founds his argument on the ‘nature of things’. And the nature of cultural concepts are not stable, they change between cultures. It is not always, in every society, dishonourable for a woman to have short hair. Therefore Paul asks his readers to judge for themselves. He only asks that if it is dishonourable, then do not do it in Church.

Evangelical Christians who hold to the exclusionist position found their argument on Paul’s teachings. This position, which has become known as ‘headship’, relies on his writing. But we must keep in mind that Paul is writing for a specific reason, he is writing a pastoral letter for a specific church, not a law book for the Universal Church. To fully understand Paul’s message in order to faithfully apply it to ourselves we must try to uncover his reasoning, not just his pronouncements.

Women in leadership 2 – the Bible says…

The argument that many Christian evangelicals often use to exclude women from leadership is usually an appeal to scriptural authority. This is the solid rock, the safe fortress for any Christian who chooses to exclude women from certain roles to retreat to. If the Bible says something, we have to follow. Who are we to go against scripture? Paul did not allow women in positions of leadership, and he was an apostle. So we have no authority to go beyond what Paul did. What the Bible says is what God says, the two are the same, and woe to the person who goes against God.

The counter argument is that the Bible also says lots of things we no longer do, such as to abstain from pork or shellfish. The Bible is clear that we have to stone people for wearing mixed cloth, and we have to sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem, which no longer exists. But these points are easily argued against, as examples of the Law which we are no longer bound by, while Paul’s teachings are for the good and godly organisation of the Christian Church after the Law has been fulfilled.

Yet what about Paul’s regulations for the church, which we also no longer follow? He demands that women wear hats in church, and men aren’t allowed, that women have long hair, and men have short hair. In most modern churches you will see many women with their head’s uncovered. Yet Paul clearly writes in 1 Corinthians 11: 1-16:

I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.

Women in leadership 1 – different roles for different …?

Many Christian evangelicals refuse to countenance women taking positions of leadership and authority in the Church. There are many arguments for this position, and some are better than others. Some people prefer the complementarian position, which argues that men and women are equal, but with different roles.

This position argues that it’s only a coincidence that the man’s role happens to be one of leadership, and women happen not to be suited for this. Unfortunately this then begs the question, what is the woman’s complementary role, which men aren’t suited for? Without using biology, it’s very difficult to come up with one. And if the argument is predicated on biology (men can’t get pregnant for instance, since they don’t have a womb), this then begs the question, what is the biological reason why women can’t be priests or pastors?

Unfortunately the complementarian argument fails because it is based on the idea of the different inherent characteristics of men and women. And these have proven to be based not on unchangeable ‘nature’, but on changeable cultural conceptions and contexts. Rather than being one’s intrinsic nature, they are externally imposed by society.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Representing God

In C.S.Lewis’ article ‘Priestesses in the Church’, Lewis presents an argument where he picks an analogy of Church and uses it as an example of his opposition to women’s ministry. His analogy is the conversation in Pride and Prejudice:

‘I should like Balls infinitely better,’ said Caroline Bingley, "if they were carried on in a different manner ... It would surely be much more rational if conversation instead of dancing made the order of the day."

‘Much more rational, I dare say,’ replied her brother, ‘but it would not be near so much like a Ball.’"

Lewis then argues that this argument translates to the situation in the church, that if women priests were allowed, it may be more rational but it wouldn't be near so much like a church any more.

A Ball by definition is about dancing, so if you remove the dancing it is no longer a Ball. The question is: what is the definition of a church, without which, it would not be church any more. I do not accept, as Lewis accepts, that church is defined by a man standing in front of the congregation, representing God to us. For me, a church is about God Himself, and the worship of Him by the whole congregation. It is that worship which, if removed, stops church from being church. Not the gender of the person presiding over the worship.

Defining marriage: description or prescription?

Marriage has never had a precise universal definition. It has never needed one. It has also never been possible to create one. This is because there is no such thing as a universal form or type of marriage. Marriage and people’s understanding of it changes across culture and across time. In its broadest sense, it is a social contract between people that establishes rights and obligations between them. Within such a broad definition it is almost unrecognisable, indistinct from any other social contract, yet attempts to narrow it to something we recognise as our own excludes partnerships which have historically and culturally been recognised as valid marriages, often within the pages of scripture itself.

Is marriage a ceremonial act? There have been common-law marriages that preclude ceremony. Is marriage between adults? The definition of ‘adult’ varies.  Is marriage about mutually consenting partners? Many marriages have been conducted without female consent. Is marriage the basis for a family? There have been marriages that have been infertile. Is marriage somehow about the legitimisation of sex? There have been many marriages with disabled or impotent partners which do not involve the sexual act. Is marriage between two people? Solomon had hundreds of spouses. Which one was his valid wife? Is marriage between a man and a woman? Again, we can easily find examples of marriages in other cultures that have not had this quality.

What then can we say about marriage universally? Almost nothing. Yet does that preclude us from saying what we can about our own society, our own cultural understanding of marriage? Of course not. But we have to recognise that we are not defining a universal object, but a cultural subject. Our dictionaries do not prescribe the definition of words, they look at how words are commonly used and describe them, as they are. The dictionary is updated regularly, because as society changes, our use of words changes.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Equal (and opposite) rights

Lincoln is a superb film, Spielberg’s historical masterpiece. And Daniel Day-Lewis proves, if more proof was needed, that he is one of the greatest actors of our time. But is Lincoln just a finely crafted work of entertainment? I think rather that, like the very best art, it contains principles which resonate with us today.

As Abraham Lincoln sits with the vice President of the Confederacy, the VP complains about the 13th amendment, crying that “all our traditions will be obliterated. We won't know ourselves anymore.” Nowadays it is de rigeur to claim that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery much at all, but about states’ rights. But this obscures the fact that those states’ rights under discussion included the right to enslave others.

Spielberg’s film cuts to the heart of this matter. For many at the time, the ability of white people to oppress and enslave black people was not only tradition, law, and economic necessity, but a natural law instituted by God, a fundamental human right, and constitutionally protected.

Ask not for whom the bell tolls...

As the opening music of the movie 50/50 introduces us to Adam we see him running the streets of his city. Safety conscious, he jogs on the spot, waiting at an empty crossing, refusing to follow a fellow runner who jogs across the road without stopping. He waits diligently for the green hand to show and only then crosses the empty junction.

In a wry exchange with his counsellor after his diagnosis of cancer Adam explains that he doesn’t drive, because it is the third leading cause of death in America. Then comments ironically, ‘behind cancer though’.

For this is a film that shows us we cannot control our lives, however hard we try. If we do all the right things, and follow the rules to the letter, we can still be struck down out of nowhere. Death, in this case cancer, is random; it can strike anyone, anywhere.