The Church of England and complementarity

The Church of England tries to dismiss Cameron’s latest drive for gay marriage:

However, the uniqueness of marriage is that it embodies the underlying, objective, distinctiveness of men and women. This distinctiveness and complementarity are seen most explicitly in the biological union of man and woman which potentially brings to the relationship the fruitfulness of procreation.

This argument simply doesn’t work. Because other things that embody the underlying, objective, distinctiveness of men and women are korfball and mixed-voice choirs. Sure, you could play korfball with all-male or all-female teams, as indeed you could make up a choir with all-male or all-female voices. But it wouldn’t be the same, eh?

Incidentally, I can’t be the only person that was amused by the use of the adverb ‘explicitly’ to describe ‘the biological union of man and woman’ 😀

Cardinal O’Brien revisited

You will remember our friend, Cardinal Keith O’Brien. He hit the news earlier this year for his comments on gay marriage, which were strongly condemned by gay rights activists and others on Twitter. Well, he’s back, with a different message this time:

Scotland’s most senior Roman Catholic, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, has accused the prime minister of acting immorally by favouring the rich ahead of ordinary citizens affected by the recession.

The cardinal also denounced David Cameron’s opposition to a “Robin Hood tax” on financial institutions.

And he urged Mr Cameron not just to help “your very rich colleagues”.

These views have received a rather less hostile response than his previous comments. But this leaves me glum. You will know that I believe that we should listen carefully to what people say, so that we can understand their true meaning. And he’s entitled to his views. But I really can’t understand why the Twitterati expect us to listen to and respect the views of someone who only a month ago they were describing as an “idiot”.

There are two further problems:

  1. To the extent that we should ever be expected to listen to those in authority just because they are in authority, that can only extend to those subjects that they are authoritative about. I would suggest that Cardinal O’Brien, ex ante, should be considered authoritative about marriage, which has been important to the church for many centuries, but not about the economic impact of a financial transactions tax. That’s not to say he doesn’t have a contribution to make, but it does mean that we should take account off the fact that the Cardinal, on the subject of taxation, is playing away.
  2. One must wonder whether this is part of a revenge attack on the government, to punish them for their views on gay marriage. Perhaps Cardinal O’Brien wishes to apply pressure on the government in the hope that this might lead to concessions on the gay marriage issue. If that is the case, and it’s certainly plausible, then it would be pretty daft for those who criticised Cardinal O’Brien so heavily over gay marriage to support him now.

Fox hunting and gay marriage

Gay marriage is indeed the topic du jour. And an argument that I’ve seen doing the rounds is that opponents of gay marriage need not worry, because they don’t have to marry a gay. They just have to tolerate other people, who may be gay, getting married.

This brings to mind a debate from an earlier decade: fox hunting. In the fox hunting debate, you’ll recall, it was proposed that there are some activities that are so pernicious, so depraving, that they corrupt not only those who partake of them but potentially others in the community around them. As this risk cannot be tolerated, it’s accepted that part of society can impose its will on the rest of society.

Once you have accepted that those opposed to fox hunting, most of whom know next to nothing about fox hunting, can legitimately stop those who want to hunt foxes from doing so, you cannot complain when those opposed to gay marriage, most of whom know next to nothing about gay marriage, seeking to stop gays from getting married. Those who seek to restrict the liberty of others must accept their own medicine when the iron hand of authoritarianism knocks on their door.

Posted from WordPress for Android. Post may be amended or reformatted later.

The real lesson from Cardinal O’Brien’s comments

Another day, another Twitterstorm. This time it’s around comments from Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, on gay marriage. First, an article he wrote for the Sunday Telegraph sparked protest. Then, his comments on the Today Programme the following day, during which he compared the issue of gay marriage to slavery and said the plans were grotesque, made things worse.

The very worst dregs of humanity came out to protest against him, against the Catholic Church and against religion in general. Here’s a taster:

These are by no means the worst. They’re just a selection of the many thousands that were posted.

And every single one misses the point. It’s easy to say that Cardinal O’Brien is an idiot, a bigot, an anachronism who can safely be ignored. Or perhaps even locked up, out of sight. But there’s a fundamental error in this analysis: if he is such a feebleminded person with such obvious character flaws, how did he rise to become the most senior Catholic in Britain? The explanation doesn’t fit the facts.

Calling him a bigot is also incredibly lazy. The critic can put his/her feet up, job done. There’s no need to understand O’Brien any further, because he’s a bigot! The true thinker would be asking “given that O’Brien’s explanations are confusing and erratic, what actually is his true meaning?” Insulting him and his church’s followers means that meaning will never come to light, because the critic has closed his mind.

I’m reminded of John Francis. John Francis is a man you may not have ever heard of. He did two profound things as a young man: he started walking around the world and he stopped talking.

In a radio interview I heard with John, he explained the value of silence. He found that in most arguments you never listen to your protagonist. While they’re talking, instead of listening to them you spend the time thinking about what an idiot they are and how you’re going to crush them with the force of your argument. As a result, you argue against what you think they’re saying instead of arguing against what they’re actually trying to say.

In O’Brien’s case, we need to dig deep to understand his meaning. He’s clearly finding it difficult to articulate his point in a way that we can understand. We need to stop talking and listen. Then – and only then – can we have a prayer of finding out what he’s really trying to say. And that’s the real lesson from his comments. It’s a pity that so many people prefer the sound of their own voices.

Lynne Featherstone misses the point on marriage

Equalities minister Lynne Featherstone said the government was entitled to introduce same-sex marriages, which she says would be a “change for the better”.

Ms Featherstone also appealed to people not to “polarise” the debate about same-sex marriages.

“This is not a battle between gay rights and religious beliefs,” she said.

“This is about the underlying principles of family, society and personal freedoms.”

Lynne Featherstone wants to allow gay marriage. Here at the Church of the Dead Dad, we’re all for it. However, we’re observant enough to notice that our friends at the Church of England aren’t quite ready. The Anglican Church encompasses a wide set of beliefs, held together somewhat loosely (and occasionally tenuously) by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The issue of gay marriage is likely to create huge problems for the unity of his church and it’s right that he should be given more time to allow others in his church to get comfortable with the idea.

Unfortunately, the Coalition has continued much of the clumsy and cack-handed approach to equality as the Labour government. Lord Carey’s comments reflect a justifiable fear that, once gay marriage is legalised, churches may be forced to accept gay couples for marriage, on fear of being sued under discrimination law. This is much in the same way as Catholic adoption agencies have been told they must consider gay and lesbian couples as potential parents and Christian hotel owners were sued for refusing to rent a room to a gay couple.

Were the government to make it crystal clear that no church would ever face legal challenge for refusing to marry gay or lesbian couples, I suspect the Church of England’s criticisms would melt away. It would then have time to acclimatise itself with our more liberal social attitudes, as indeed it has done many times in the past. But beating up the church without recognising that it’s the government’s own policies that are to blame is particularly shameful.