Monday, 5 September 2016

Dr Ashenden's Bible

A Jersey vicar has said society could begin to disintegrate if the traditional view of marriage was lost. The Reverend Canon Dr Gavin Ashenden, Vicar of Gouray, was responding to the appointment of the Bishop of Grantham, who is gay and in a relationship. Dr Ashenden said it was marriage between a man and a woman that held society together. "Anglican Christians look to the bible and tradition and say 'we do what we do because God tells us to'," he said. (BBC News)

I’m always very suspicious when someone says that something must be true because the Bible says so, or because God says that it is so, in the Bible.

I always think of G.K. Chesterton’s short Father Brown story, the Sign of the Broken Sword, in which he explains how diverse and dangerous different readings of the Bible can be:

'Sir Arthur St. Clare, as I have already said, was a man who read his Bible. That was what was the matter with him. When will people understand that it is useless for a man to read his Bible unless he also reads everybody else's Bible? A printer reads a Bible for misprints. A Mormon reads his Bible, and finds polygamy; a Christian Scientist reads his, and finds we have no arms and legs." 

"St. Clare was an old Anglo-Indian Protestant soldier. Now, just think what that might mean; and, for Heaven's sake, don't cant about it. It might mean a man physically formidable living under a tropic sun in an Oriental society, and soaking himself without sense or guidance in an Oriental Book. Of course, he read the Old Testament rather than the New. Of course, he found in the Old Testament anything that he wanted -- lust, tyranny, treason. Oh, I dare say he was honest, as you call it. But what is the good of a man being honest in his worship of dishonesty?

Now I’m not saying that Dr Ashenden is saying he finds and approves of that in his Bible; obviously he has a very different point of view, one which draws – selectively – from parts of the Old Testament in books like Leviticus, to show that the Bible says that homosexuality, or at least homosexual acts, are wrong.

But this is, of course, selective. It is part of a Holiness Code, which runs on and on through a number of chapters of the book. Here are some of those around the same area:

Lev 18:21 "'Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molek, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.

Lev 18:22 "'Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.

Lev 18:23 "'Do not have sexual relations with an animal and defile yourself with it. A woman must not present herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it; that is a perversion.

Lev 19:26 "'Do not eat any meat with the blood still in it. "'Do not practice divination or seek omens.

Lev 19:27 "'Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.

Lev 19:28 "'Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.

While sacrifices to Molek have rather fallen out of fashion of late, few people would consider the sayings on hair or on tattoos to be of great religious significance, yet here they are all part of one unitary code.

And we have others like this, which could lead to rather a lot of deaths of children, especially teenage rebels, if taken literally as what the Bible tells us to do:

Lev 20:8 Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the LORD, who makes you holy.

Lev 20:9 "'Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death. Because they have cursed their father or mother, their blood will be on their own head.

And these, which are more to do with ideas of ritual purity (in which the poor woman usually gets the short straw) than what God wants; but it is what the Bible says:

Lev 20:18 "'If a man has sexual relations with a woman during her monthly period, he has exposed the source of her flow, and she has also uncovered it. Both of them are to be cut off from their people.

And this, which, of course set the path for the creation of the whole Church of England:

Lev 20:21 "'If a man marries his brother's wife, it is an act of impurity; he has dishonored his brother. They will be childless.

Henry VIII married his brother’s widow, and had no male heir, only Mary and miscarriages! This verse was one of those used to justify why the marriage was under a curse.

And this one caused around 60,000 people to be put to death during the witch crazes of the 16th and 17th centuries:

Lev 20:27 "'A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them; their blood will be on their own heads.'"

In fact, they were not stoned, they were tortured, and hanged and burnt. But the justification for that murder came from this verse, which I'm sure Dr Ashenden, whatever his curious thoughts on the demonic, would not consider as a valid practice.

Some of these Dr Ashenden may approve of, some he may ignore. In other words, in looking to the Bible , he is looking to his Bible, and picking those parts which agree with his particular tradition, and ignoring those which do not.

His tradition sees homosexual acts as wrong, and quite probably sees homosexuality as disordered in some way biologically.

But biology should not be the cause for us to treat others in any way that discriminates against them. It is an error which one find in Plato, where what is natural is considered to be what is right, and has also been the basis for racial discrimination in history.

As Karl Popper notes:

“This failure to distinguish between legal laws or norms on the one hand and natural laws or regularities on the other is characteristic of tribal tabooism : both kinds of law alike are treated as magical, which makes a rational criticism of the man-made taboos as inconceivable as an attempt to improve upon the regularities of the natural world.”

Christians in the same tradition as Dr Ashenden regard homosexuality as a cultural artefact which can therefore be “cured”; in this they are ironically actually close to agreement to the post-modernists who regard gender as fluid and a matter of choice.

The notion that sexuality is a social construct has become quite pervasive in post-modernism, but I suspect it is incorrect. . Since the early 1990s, researchers have shown that homosexuality is more common in brothers and relatives on the same maternal line. This suggests a genetic component is at work.

In perhaps a less controversial area, autism was pronounced by Bruno Bettelheim to be at one time caused by “refrigerator parent”, i.e., it was a social construct created by how parents behaved towards their children. Bertram Rimland was one of a number of scientists who proved, among other matters, that autism was around four times as likely to affect males as females, which again is a sure sign of a genetic component.

While basic sexuality is often seen as a binary system of male and female, the new legal framework also allows for a third category to allow for transgender individuals. However, this actually still fits within the old framework, in that it assumes sexuality can be chosen but is still a binary choice. Genetic sports, such as hermaphrodites, or Siamese twins, are outside the legal framework.

This shows how difficult it is when trying to fit biology to legal frameworks, and the same applies with respect to theological matters, where part of a framework is imposed regardless of cultural context , but other parts of the same framework are discarded.

But it also has nothing to do with free speech. Marriage in the church of England is described as being between a man and a woman; marriage in secular society can also be between two people of the same gender. Marriage in the Old Testament is frequently described as being between a man and several wives: the great Kings of Israel, David and Solomon had several wives, and nowhere did a prophet arise telling them this was wrong.

And yet that was part of the tradition, and of course, the Mormons picked that up, and Islam picked that tradition up as well. Legal problems now arise when a Muslim from a country where polygamy is legal moves to a country where it is not. Canada, in particular, has had problems with this, as a little research will show. What is legally marriage is fluid, because marriage is part of a cultural framework rather than a biological one.

Gavin Ashenden is perfectly within his rights to say "Marriage in the Church of England is between a man and a woman". That is purely factual. He might like that to be the norm for society, but that is not the case, so that if he doesn't qualify what he is saying, he is saying something factually inaccurate. 

And when it comes to hate crime, Dr Ashenden is being evasive in just talking about saying "marriage is between a man and a woman", because on his blog, when discussing sexuality and homosexuality in particular, he speaks about an evil which "sets out to twist and deform what God has made good" and describes there  "the conservative or orthodox thinks that he or she is trying to be obedient to a pattern of hierarchical holiness, in which our sacrifice and submission play a part in freeing us from the lure of self indulgent evil."

He also says that: "If the Pilling report does, as so many have warned, legitimise same sex blessing, then it will be contradicting the Gospels and affirming there is no need to repent when Jesus taught there was a need to repent."

Somehow these attitudes do not appear on the interviews on BBC Radio Jersey!

What Christians like Dr Ashenden want of course, is stability, and what they fear is that loss of control over where they find their identity in the church. But that is also exactly what Gay Christians fear: losing their identity within the church because they have to exist underground. They also want stability.

Everyone deserves to live in safety and to feel respected. What is needed is a discussion of differences with taking refuge behind theological barricades, and listening to the other point of view, not the arguments, but the unmet needs behind the arguments.

We humans are all probably to some extent hard-wired, when in conflict, to revert to tribalism – to divide the world between the good “us” and the evil, alien “other. It is time to seek something better. Or as Chesterton put it: When will people understand that it is useless for a man to read his Bible unless he also reads everybody else's Bible.


Nick Palmer said...

Excellent post but "Bertram Rimland was one of a number of scientists who proved, among other matters, that autism was around four times as likely to affect males as females, which again is a sure sign of a genetic component" has probably been overtaken by research which suggest that many females have been undiagnosed because normal female relations and strategies masks the appearance of the syndrome whereas normal male behaviour enhances it.

Maureen Morgan said...

God has told him... Every time I here that I am reminded of this:

"I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do because I notice it always coincides with their own desires."
- Susan B. Anthony

Can I have a link for this wretched vicar's blog please Tony?

James said...

This sums up the Ashendens of this world to a tee.